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Well, here it goes!

Just sent my first submission proposals to Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon and Dragon magazines.  I hope they like them. I haven’t submitted any writings proposals before, but I am fully aware that I am more likely to get turned down than accepted.  Every writer’s workshop has insisted on that.  It would be nice if they accepted my ideas, because then I would get paid for them.  But, should they choose to reject my ideas, I will post them here anyway.  I like them, that’s why I sent them!

I would like to do more game design to expand on the Dark Sun Campaign setting as I felt the book was lacking in material.  Fortunately for me, a few in my gaming group have indicated they would like to return to my Dark Sun campaign.  I shall have to enlist them as guinea pigs.

Anyway, wish me luck!

There are no atheists at game tables…

Dude, I know you saw that blast of holy light. C'mon! It's real!

Pardon my wizardly musing, but I have noticed trend growing in my game group. Atheism. Not their atheism, (I could care less about their personal worldview), but character atheism.  I have to ask: Does that make any sense?

What is atheism? Put simply, it is the denial of the existence of a higher power. It is not skepticism as to the truth of a divine being. It is the acceptance, as true, the following proposition: “God does not exist.” How does one come to that conclusion? Well, again to keep it simple, by examining the evidence, or lack thereof, and reasoning one’s way to that conclusion.

Again, I am not about to comment on a player’s personal position on that proposition.  My focus is on the player’s character at the game table.  That is why I have been generally perplexed by the atheist PC.  I have to ask: why doesn’t your character believe in the gods? Seriously.  Given the evidence (in the game world), good and evil priests are wielding divine magic and hurling it at each other, raising undead armies and using very powerful blessings to accomplish various tasks.

Isn’t that enough evidence to prove the existence of very powerful deities influencing the world? Sometimes, especially on Aber-Torril and Krynn, the gods themselves walk the land.  Does it make any sense for a PC to not believe in the gods?

To be sure, I have no problem with a PC who, for whatever reason, hates the gods and does not worship them. That is completely different.  But outright rejection of the divine?  It makes no sense to me.

Perhaps I should develop an atheist theme wherein you don’t benefit at all from divine magic, nor are they harmed by it. I could base it off of the “NegaPsychic” character class from Paladium’s “Beyond the Supernatural” (a great game, by the way).

Or, I could tell them that there are no atheists at the game table.

…because his name is on the box.

Drizzt Do'Urden (Duh!)

Yesterday, my group and I got together to celebrate the belated birthday of one of our own. He’s a huge R. A. Salvatore fan so we got him the new Legend of Drizzt board game.  I had purchased the Wrath of Ashardalon game some time ago and it had been received well, so I figured this would be an excellent gift.  Wrath of Ashardalon is a fun game and makes for a quick D&D-esque experience and is easy to play even after a drinking way too much beer from watching football before sitting down to play a game. Why wouldn’t Drizzt’s own boardgame be any different?

Indeed, it is pretty much the same set-up as Wrath of Ashardalon. And like Wrath of Ashardalon, it is a quick game for bored gamers who can’t decide on what type of campaign to get involved in or what character to make once a campaign has been decided upon.  The game designers incorporated some new elements in the Legend of Drizzt that separates the dungeon from the Ashardalon dungeon.  I am glad for this because I was afraid that this would be an exact duplicate of Wrath of Ashardalon.

Also, the character powers were custom-made to parallel their counterparts in Mr. Salvatore’s novels.  My friend had a huge smile on his face as he summoned Guenhwyvar. You know, the big cat that follows Drizzt around. Yeah, well if you play Drizzt you get to have Guen…

There are, however, plenty of choices so playing Drizzt, Wulfgar, and the team can be different each time you approach the game.

I played Bruenor only because, for reasons beyond my understanding, the game designers decided not to have Thibbldorf Pwent make an appearance. Seriously. Where is the battlerager? While I am not a huge Salvatore fan (I prefer the early years as opposed to the past 10), I thought Thibbldorf was pretty cool. I’m pretty sure most people do to. Why did they not include him? The saving grace (from my perspective) was that Bruenor can take an extra point of damage to inflict another point on a creature he recently attacked.  Drizzt, of course, gets to make two attacks…and have a cat…

I got the impression that Drizzt is a little over-powered. But I guess that should be expected as his name is on the box.

We all (generally) enjoyed the game, but not enough to play for too long. I think its fun, but it is not really a substitute for role-playing with your gaming group. A nice distraction, but that is all.

But this latest installment of the Wizard’s 4E board game series led me to ponder the following:

What is it with Wizards of the Coast game designers obsession with so many game components? There are so many pieces to the board games, that Jer, a member of my gaming group and NOT a fan of the board games, basically said he would rather jot down his condition on a piece of paper. (which I responded, “so shouldn’t we be playing D&D?”)

But even the table top version of 4E is littered with too many components to it now (fortune cards, power cards, miniatures, etc.) that I am not exactly sure what I am playing anymore.  It has just recently struck me: why, when I print out a character sheet from the character generator, do I get 8 pages of cards? I don’t want to play Magic, I want to play D&D. What is up with the all the cards?

I digress. Legend of Drizzt was a fun game, even if some of the pieces seemed a little superfluous.

Winter is Coming

First, I got married and I’m really excited because, while my wife thinks my gaming hobby is nerdy, she is totally supportive of my interest in, and writing about, gaming.  She does a great job at pretending to be interested in my stories and character ideas. Who could ask for anything more?

Second, winter will be setting in here in Upstate New York which means my group is going to start gaming again. And with the start of the “gaming season”, I have found myself contemplating what I need to do to keep my player’s interested in our games.  You see, I have a problem. I love to role-play. I mean, I really love role-playing and I don’t think my players are all that into it.  They like the challenge of a fight and the thrill of opening a treasure chest, but when it comes to interacting with my NPCs (or each other for that matter!), it’s like pulling teeth.  I have been desperately trying to figure out a way to get these guys serious about role-playing something.

Compounding the issue for me is that I have just discovered George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series. (Yes, I know. I am way behind the times on this one.) I purchased Robert Schwalb’s RPG set in Westeros and it is fantastic! I have always liked the story-teller game system. (It uses a roll and keep system similar to Legend of the Five Rings and Seventh Sea.) But, more importantly, character design is linked to house design. Meaning, in order to make your character, you have to build your character’s family house!

How cool is that!

Anyway. As you can probably guess, I want to play Song of Ice and Fire. But will my players? We shall see. My players have been uncertain and non-comittal about starting up again. The last time we hit a lull in gaming we didn’t return to gaming for quite some time. My great concern is that, indeed, a long winter is around the corner: a winter devoid of gaming.

Gaming is a source of joy.

So, what happened in the past year? Well, I got a job working with a firm that ate up quite a bit of my time, which was expected. My role-playing group continued to gather each week to play Darksun and we had quite a bit of fun. (I will try to do a recap at some point and pick up where I left off with prior posts).  My job, unfortunately, was temporary and after six-months my contract was up and I was let go. Also, my gaming group decided to put on hold any campaign during the summer months as many in my gaming group have families and would prefer to enjoy the summer outside doing family things.  We live in upstate New York. Winter seems to last an eternity and the summer months become a flurry of events, outings, cookouts, picnics and vacations. Gaming generally takes a back seat anyway.

After being let go, for the past few months I have been looking for work and “freelancing” as an attorney taking whatever client comes my way.  Needless to say, I’m broke. And given my financial situation, I haven’t been feeling too good about the future.  I am currently writing, part-time for a local legal publication that pays the bills, but that is about it.

There is, however, a silver lining to all of this.  Well, two silver linings. The first is my fiance and her heroic level of patience and understanding with my struggle to find legal work. The other is that I have discovered that I missed writing this blog, writing adventures and being creative.  In order to keep my sanity, I’m going to pick this blog back up and write. I will find time, no matter what, to keep at it.  My gaming group will be gathering to play again in a few months and I have a ton of ideas. Sitting down and putting those ideas to paper has been such a source of joy and relaxation during the past few months, that I am almost taken aback by how much I really do love gaming. Perhaps I should try to get published…?

I don’t know. The thought has always been in the back of my mind, to take part in game design and story-telling. Perhaps this could happen in the future. But as of right now, I’m focused on the next job interview and writing to keep me sane.

Dark Sun Campaign: Second Session

Art courtesy of Luis Royo

The session began with the PCs sleeping through their first night in the desert.  They had only the supplies they had stolen from the slave caravan and not much else.  The PCs slept through the night with only a meager fire to keep them warm, (Arak was using the patchwork quilt that doubled as the defiler/concubine’s spellbook to help keep him warm).  All but Arak, the goliath barbarian and Kirith Blackhand, the human warrior, failed their endurance check to withstand the cold temperatures of the night.  As such, those that failed began play with one less healing surge. 

They took turns watching the dark desert around them.  Their unlikely companion, Polinius, captain of the guard, was not trusting of the PCs and refused to sleep the night.  The moons, Ral and Guthay, cast a silvery light upon the desert giving the rolling sand dunes a soft incandescent glow.  With the crackling of the fire (and the snoring of the goliath) as the only sounds the PCs heard that night, their first night of freedom went without incident.

The next morning the PCs (at the equivalent of 6am when the sun was already baking the land at a cool 78 degrees) had to figure out where they were located on the map they had found in the slaver’s quarters before they had escaped.  I provided the players with a cloth map that came with the Dark Sun 2ed. box set volume 2 (a wonderful role-playing aid).  The skill challenge required them to use whatever skills they felt would help them locate where they were.  Polinius, believing he was a prisoner of the ex-slaves refused to help them.  The PCs discovered they were just west of the northern road leading out of Nibenay.  To the east was the Black Sands region and the Silver Spring Oasis.  They surmised (correctly) that the half-elf woman from the day before was showing the caravan a short cut to the Silver Spring Oasis when she led the caravan into a trap.

The PCs, with the urging of Arcott, decided to head to Nibenay in order to get to civilization as soon as possible.  Arcott revealed that he is the son of a Nibanese noble, a wealthy merchant.  He said that his father would reward the PCs for helping him escape captivity.  When pressed as to why he was placed into captivity, Arcott couldn’t remember. 

Polinius tried to convince the players to take the main road to Nibenay in hopes that the party would come upon another slave caravan or a Nibanese patrol.  Kirith and Akais quickly saw through Polinius’ ruse and challenged him on it.  Polinius again refused to help the party as they were nothing more than slaves.  At this point, Kurrix and Arak decided they had enough.  Before anyone else in the party could react, Arak delivered a critical blow to Polinius, cutting open his abdomen and knocking him to the ground.  As Polinius attempted to keep his guts from spilling on the warming sands at his feet, he was quickly finished off by the rest of the party.  Akais, the psion/wizard, cynically noted that meant there was more water for the party.  Arak joyously noted that he now owns two axes, one an executioner’s axe, the other a battle-axe.

The PCs decided to head south to the mountain range that bordered the Crescent Forest and then turn east toward Nibenay.  Because they no longer had Polinius to drive the wagon, they had to do the “Learning to Drive” skill challenge.  For each failure the jostling of the wagon would spill approximately 10 gallons of water over the course of an hour. They failed three times before rolling the four successes they needed.  By the end of the day, they had gone from 47 gallons of water to 17.

The second day of travel toward the mountains brought a fierce Tyr Storm upon the PCs.  The party found a rock outcropping to help shield them from the stinging sands that were blowing around them.  They also decided to flip the cart on its side to help shield them from the weather.  The storm was fierce and the excited kank nearly broke loose from its bonds as both Arak and Kirith tried to hold on.  The rest of the party struggled to breathe as sand swirled around the party, thunder crashed deafening the party members.  Arcott and Kurrix were targeted by a lightning strikes as well. 

As the PCs skirted the foothills, Kurrix decided to scout ahead.  Kurrix discovered an old man with a herd of goats pleading with a hill giant.  The hill giant was sun-baked and was wearing dirty and smelly rags, in both hands it had two goats.  The old man pleaded with the hill giant not to take more than two.  “Please mighty G’Gax! No more than two!”  Kurrix, the shadowy thief, shot the hill giant in the shoulder with an arrow.  Leaping from his hiding place Kurrix got the attention of the hill giant.  Kurrix ran back to where the party was located, hill giant in tow.

The battle between the party and the hill giant (lvl 8), took place on the slopes of the mountain side.  It was very steep and required the PCs to make athletics checks vs. DC 20 in order to make a full move, otherwise they could only move at half speed.  As they approached, the hill giant threw rocks at them.  The combat included two rock slide traps and a cave system that allowed the PCs to “teleport” to the other side of the battlefield.  The PCs, especially Arak and Kirith, rolled well with regard to the Athletics checks and closed the gap quickly to engage the hill giant.  The hill giant was soon dispatched.

The old man, Olki’in, thanked the party and invited them to his mud hut.  He led them through the mountains along a goat path to where he and his goats resided.  Inside he fed them goat meat and fermented goat’s milk.  He told them that G’Gax was plaguing the mountain side for some time and that A’exa Rae, Wife of Nibenay, couldn’t defeat the hill giant.  Upon further inquiry, the PCs learned that A’exa Rae was a low ranking Nibanese Templar that managed a logging camp a half a day’s journey from Olki’in’s hut.  Olki’in and the other goat herders provided food for the loggers and the guards.  Olki’in also informed the PCs that, because they were ex-slaves, he would have to tell A’exa about them.

The group, using various methods of persuasion, convinced Olki’in not to reveal too much when they spoke with the templar.  (Arak tried to scare the old man, Akais, Kurrix and Arcott tried to reason with him, and Kirrith used his Mark of the Free to show the old man that he was not a slave and would not submit to anyone.)  The following day, the PCs went to the logging camp.

The camp was located at the base of the mountain range within the Crescent Forest, a vast and dense jungle.  The camp itself was surrounded by a wooden palisade and constantly patrolled by guardsmen.  Inside, the PCs saw wooden and mud structures that were used to house the guards, the slaves and the supplies.  They noticed two clay structures.  One was being used to store something covered by cloth that they couldn’t identify and the other was A’exa Rae’s palace.

A’exa Rae wore a white gown made of kestrekel feathers and sat on her throne, rather smugly and bored, while a small obsidian sphere floated over her open palm.  She was surrounded by four goliath guards bearing shields with her mark.  Within five feet of her was her thrall who carried a magical shield that the party identified (via history checks) as the Earth Shield.  (They didn’t figure out its powers).  A’exa spoke with them via telepathy.  The PCs, given their brash natures, were extraordinarily polite and reverent.  Arcott, spoke the truth to A’exa and she was not pleased to discover escaped slaves in her palace, but, upon mind probing Arcott, discovered he was telling the truth regarding his capture and station as nobility. 

As a condition for sending a runner to Nibenay looking for Arcott’s father, (and for not being put to work as slaves), A’exa “requested” (read: ordered) that the PCs look into something that has been hunting some of her foresters deep within the jungle.  The party agreed and headed out into the jungle, led by two guardsmen.

Within a few hours, the party was surprised by a group of halfling cannibals. The guardsmen were hit by poisoned darts and taken out quickly.  The party was then quickly surrounded by the halflings.  Akais and a halfling wilder engaged in a psychic duel as they blasted each other with their powers, while the rest of the party engaged the halflings.  Within a few rounds, it was clear to the would-be halfling chefs were not going to get to eat humanoid for dinner and attempted to escape.  Kurrix and Arak wouldn’t allow that to happen.  Kurrix used his bow with deadly effect and Arak charged head first into the brush and cleaved one of the halflings in two with a mighty swing of his executioner’s axe.  Through out this battle, Arcott issued orders and inspiring words to maximize the party’s effectiveness.  At the end of the battle, one of the guardsmen was revived and informed the party that up until recently, halflings were not common in the jungle.  He has no idea where they come from.

The next session will bring the party to the logging camp and the start of their first minor quest: “Hunting the Hunters.”

Dark Sun Campaign: First Session

This past Sunday was the first session of my Dark Sun campaign (and the first time I’ve DMed in over three years) and I have to say, I think it was a success.  It was a success in so far as everyone had fun and I the fear of surviving Dark Sun was sufficiently placed upon the players.  The group consists of five players.  They include: Akais, a human wizard/psion hybrid (a classic Dark Sun character!); Kurixx, a human shadowy rogue; Arcott Landier, a human Nibenese warlord; Arrak, a goliath barbarian and Kirith Blackhand, a human Urikite fighter (gladiator theme).  I asked my buddies to make simple backgrounds that could be developed as the campaign progresses.  I want to put as much “power” of campaign direction in their hands as possible because, for my gaming group, I’m the only one who has ever explored the Dark Sun setting.  So, I want them to go and explore wherever they want.  Their backgrounds will come into play as they push the campaign in those directions.  I started the group out as slaves (no equipment) being transported across the sandy wastes.  As background music for this opening scene I used a youtube.com video “an arabic prayer for divine mercy”.  It was perfect to set the tone.

The PCs began their Dark Sun experience bound within the bowels of a great slave caravan wagon slowly making its way through the sandy wastes of Athas.  The sun, at its zenith, beat down upon the caravan at temperatures reaching 140 degrees.   As there was no breeze, the heat was particularly oppressive.  Baking the PCs, they all failed an endurance check (DC 22) and began the adventure with one less healing surge.  Adding to their misery was a refuse pile and their fellow slaves, hanging lifeless from their bonds, baking in the sun.  As they looked through the cracks between the wooden planks of the caravan into the desert beyond they saw no signs of civilization.  They were in the middle of nowhere with no hope of escape.  When suddenly, the caravan came to a halt. 

Peering through the cracks between the wooden planks of the caravan, the PCs saw the slaver, the captain of the guard and a half-elf woman (accompanied by a large lion) arguing.  The half-elf woman was tall, tanned and stoic in the face of the tongue lashing she was receiving by both men.  The PCs navigated their way through a skill challenge where they reasoned their way to what was going on: the half-elf woman was hired as a guide and she intentionally led the caravan into a potential trap.  As a result the caravan guards were going to lighten their load by killing the slaves and escaping on smaller wagons with the water supply.  Kurixx used his wild talent “mental tools” to create a small scalpel and began to cut his way out of his bonds.  The goliath used his brute strength to break the bonds.  When the PCs were freed, a warning shout was heard by guardsmen on top of the great covered wagon: “Raiders!”.

Cresting a great sand dune was a great horde of gith, their obsidian tipped spears gleaming in the sun.  The half-elf woman knocked the captain of the guard to the ground and ran off with her lion pet into the desert.  As arrows were shot at the oncoming horde, the PCs heard the captain of the guard bark the following orders: “Get the water! Kill the slaves!”  As the guards from the upper floors of the great wagon made their way to the slave pens, Kirith pulled a plank of wood from the wall to use as a makeshift club.  The Arak tore the leg from a dead slave to wield as a makeshift flail.  Kurixx picked the lock on the wooden door and the three guards sent to slit the throats of the slaves were surprised to see a desperate group of slaves ready for a fight. 

Their first fight included Akais using his psionic abilities to throw guardsmen across the lower deck of the wagon, an enraged barbarian beating opponents with a bluddy stump and Kirith losing his hand due to a critical hit from a bone-axe wielding guardsmen.  (I, as the DM, rolled many critical hits this session and was terrified of inadvertently killing all of the PCs, but they had some good crits as well).  While the group battled the guardsmen, Kurixx snuck past the melee in search of a weapon.  What he found among the cargo were three vials of healing salve.  After dispatching the guardsmen, Kirith used the salve to stop the bleeding from his severed hand. 

The PCs searched the cargo room and found some gems, a handful of ceramic pieces, a vial of poison, a small shield and the equipment from the guardsmen which included 3 suits of leather armor, a short bow, a stone mace, a bone long sword and a bone axe.  Now with some equipment, the PCs freed the other slaves and climbed the ladder to the caravan wagon’s mid-deck in search of water and a map of the Tyr region they had over heard the slaver talking about.  Peeking their head up through the floor of the mid-deck, they saw three more guardsmen on the far end of the massive wagon doing some looting of their own.  The group snuck past them to the top floor of the wagon to where the slaver resided.  There the group saw an opulent two room floor lined with potted flowers and silk pillows.  As they approached the door to the slaver’s room, they heard a shout and a loud thump.  Opening the door they saw the slaver’s harem surrounding the body of the slaver, a knife in his back. 

The harem consisted of twelve women of various races led by a dwarven woman named Brela.  When the PCs barged in, Brela was rummaging through a bureau and she was not happy to see them.  Brela and “her girls” were not interested in escaping with a bunch of men.  Akais initially negotiated with Brela to allow him to take the slaver’s map, but, because he was concerned with sharing water with a potential enemy, he and Arak tried to bar the door and lock the harem in the wagon.  This infuriated Brela and the PCs began to hear chanting coming through the door.  Along with the chanting, the PCs noticed the potted plants begin to whither, blacken and turn to ash.  With a thunderous explosion, the door burst open.  The group was unharmed, but they now had to deal with an angry harem led by a defiler.  In addition, the guardsmen below them decided to make their way to the top deck to investigate the explosion. 

At this point, the group became divided between the defiler (level 5) and her twelve minions (level 1) and the three guardsmen (level 3).  Arak and Kirith Blackhand cut a swath through the minions (with the help of Akais’ static charge) and engaged Brela.  However, Brela zapped Arak with a critical hit to the chest knocking him to below 0 hit points and Kirith was soon bloodied by her magical onslaught.  In the other room, Arcott, still unarmed but using his mastery of war history to aid the party with extra attacks and inspiring word, was being chased around the room by a guard wielding a stone mace.  The guardsmen would break his mace upon Arcott’s shoulder, pull a plank from the wall and break that on Arcott as well before he was finally killed by Kurixx’ arrows.  Akais was eventually overwhelmed (critical hit: stunned) and was almost instantly killed by a massive blow by another guard (another critical hit).  Brela would eventually be killed by Kirith and Arak would be healed. (He had failed his death saving throw twice…he was very close to the edge).  During this entire fight, Kurixx was hiding among the harem’s pillows and picking off opponents with the short bow he had previously lifted from a guard.  When the PCs defeated this double encounter, they found what Brela was looking for: an ornate quilt that doubled as her spell book.

The PCs exited the wagon to find the slave caravan overrun by gith raiders.  One wagon was burning and another was swarming with gith.  The PCs could hear the screams of the dying guards and the gurgling glee of the gith.  The PCs, looking past the carnage filled melee, saw the desert beyond and their freedom.  The goal of this encounter was to cross the battlefield before they are swarmed by gith savages.  To make matters more interesting (or worse if you are a PC), a mekilott (level 10) was let loose and was crossing the battlefield (thanks to Kurixx).  Akais used his static charge to slow the mikellot down enough to allow the PCs to skirt the battlefield and avoid any additional combat.  As the PCs lamented their lack of water, they noticed a smaller wagon being surrounded by gith.  It was defended by the captain of the guard and they noticed a lone barrel of water on the wagon.  The PCs charged into the fray hoping for some water.  The gith were accompanied by a small group of baazrags that had latched onto the captain of the guard.  The PCs cut through the enemies rather swiftly and offered the captain a simple choice, let them ride on the wagon or be killed.  The captain acquiesced without protest.  The captain of the guard, named Polinius, took the reins and ordered the kank soldier to pull the wagon forward.  The PCs then left the burning slave caravan behind. 

Because the PCs didn’t kill Polinius, they avoided the skill challenge “learning to drive”.  If they had to accomplish this skill challenge, they would’ve lost 10 gallons of water for every skill check failure due to the tumultuous journey through the desert.  The session ended with the group making camp for the night.   The PCs never had a chance to take a 5 minute rest and they didn’t even ask as the players were absorbed into the fast paced nature of the session.  The next session will involve the PCs trying to figure out where they are on the map and surviving the desert trek to civilization.

I rewarded Kirith with the first legendary boon of the campaign, a battle scar titled “Mark of the Free”.  (I felt bad for cutting off his hand…but then again, this is Dark Sun, its gonna be brutal.)

“Mark of the Free”
“Many freed slaves bear the marks of their former captivity, whether it is in the form of crisscrossing scars made from a slaver’s whip or the haunted look of a mind tortured by the cruelty of the noble class.  You, however, bear the mark of a slave who has no master. One who is determined to survive, no matter the costs.  Stories of how you won your freedom will vary widely, but all will know you by the scars you display and the fierceness of your demeanor.”
Power: (Utility, Daily) When interacting with slaves or ex-slaves, you may add a +5 to your diplomacy checks for the duration of the encounter as the members of these casts look upon you with awe.  When interacting with nobles, templars, merchants, etc. you may add a +5 to intimidate checks for the duration of the encounter as the members of these casts know you are not one to take kindly to orders.  This power will not work on creatures without a social hierarchy.

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