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Dungeon cheese

Musical digression: Apparently there’s a genre of black-metal-influenced electronic music called “dungeon synth.”  According to the Dungeon Synth Wiki:

Dungeon synth is a genre of music characterized by its strong use of atmosphere and melody to create a sonic reality usually pertaining, in concept, to the fantastic or historical periods.  The genre draws influence from the Dark Ambient music genre, while encompassing musical structures that are relatable to medieval and folk music.  Many artists within the genre have been known to draw inspiration from a variety of other musical styles such as film music, video game music, and classical music.

To each their own and all that, taste is subjective, bla bla, etc., but after listening to about a dozen artists randomly selected from the wiki list, I can confidently say that Dungeon Synth music does not transport me to an alternate fantastic or historical sonic reality.  If “atmospheric” simply means using lots of minor keys and occasional nature samples (especially rain) and bestowing your work with Lovecraftian/Norse Pagan/fantasy-themed titles and art, then I guess it’s pretty atmospheric.

The generally simple harmonic progressions are “relatable” to folk music, but how the musical structures of Dungeon Synth are “relatable to medieval music” is a total mystery, since I haven’t heard any chant, dance forms, or musical techniques that were, you know, actually used by medieval composers…  The melodies, harmonies, and rhythms are OK, but pretty forgettable, about what I’d expect to hear on a SyFy original movie soundtrack.  That said, what really grates on me about this music is the common use of some of the cheesiest of cheesy faux-orchestral timbres (flutes, oboes, horns, strings, percussion) that I’ve ever heard, straight from a circa-1996 Casio keyboard soundbank.  I get the impression that this is part of the aesthetic; fans of Dungeon synth expect cheesy 1990s synth-orchestra sounds, sort of like how “chiptune” fans expect everything to sound like lo-fi 8-bit video games from the 1980s.  Maybe there are some rogue Dungeon Synth composers out there who defy the aesthetic by incorporating actual medieval musical structures and techniques and using high-quality instrumental samples.  If there are, I’d really like to hear them because I might actually dig that stuff.

Again, it’s all a matter of taste.  I’ve reluctantly passed on albums by bands I normally enjoy only because I didn’t like the snare drum, cymbals, keyboards, or other sounds, so I’m not just nitpicking to be mean.  Given the genre’s fantastic bent, I can only assume there are significant numbers of D&D players in that community who are inspired by dungeon synth.  If so, that’s cool — don’t let me pee in your cheerios.  Surely there’s music I listen to that someone else would find ridiculous or objectionable…

 

 

BoL Careers for OD&D

It’s always interesting to see how other folks try to combine elements of BoL and OD&D.  I haven’t seen the finished version of Simon Washbourne’s recent BoL Hack, but I confess to being somewhat disappointed with the draft I read — there were some good ideas, but ultimately the rules come down too heavily on the BoL side for my taste.  I’ve enjoyed the challenge of running D&D-style hex-and-dungeon-crawls with BoL, tweaking the rules in places to better accommodate the resource management elements essential to that playstyle.  On the other side, at times when the OD&D itch simply must be scratched, I find myself wanting to incorporate certain BoL-isms.  The foremost of these is the simple, flexible Career system.  My take on BoL Careers in OD&D is pretty straightforward:

Each character (Fighting-Man or Magic-User, regardless of race) begins with two Careers at Rank 1: one for background (upbringing) and one for profession (immediately prior to adventuring.)  If the character’s prime attribute is 15+, he may choose a third Career at Rank 1.  Consideration of character attributes should factor into the player’s choice of Careers.  (For example, academic careers such as Scholar and Alchemist are poor choices for an illiterate Fighting-Man with INT 5!)

Partial Career list: Alchemist, Artificer, Barbarian, Beastmaster, Beggar, Blacksmith, Craftsman*, Engineer, Executioner, Farmer, Healer, Hunter, Merchant, Noble, Performer*, Priest, Sailor, Scholar, Soldier, Thief

As per the BoL rules, these Careers are fairly abstract representations of skill groups.  A Thief character would know how to case targets, use stealth, pick locks, disarm small traps, pick pockets, fence stolen goods, etc.  Careers do not influence the character’s combat abilities except in rare special circumstances (i.e. a PC would only add his Soldier career if fighting in formation with a unit of Soldiers)

*For vague careers such as Craftsman and Entertainer, the player must choose a specific discipline, i.e. a Craftsman might be a carpenter, brewer, bookbinder, shipbuilder, etc., and a Performer might be a musician, storyteller, singer, dancer, acrobat, etc.

Task rolls using Careers are made using 2d6, adding the Career Rank and other relevant modifiers (difficulty, pertinent attributes, etc.) and consulting the Reaction table (2 = very bad, 3-5 = bad, 6-8 = uncertain/mixed, 9-11 = good, 12 = very good)

Career Ranks do not increase as the PCs gain levels.  If a character wants to advance in a Career, he/she needs to train in that skill.  This requires regular practice and study over a prolonged period — usually a number of months — and also usually requires some financial investment for tutelage and/or materials.  At the end of the training period, a Task roll is made to determine whether the PC successfully gained the next Rank.

 

[actual play] Out of the Ziggurat, back to Greenwax

The latest from my library Wilderlands game:

An entire session was spent on the battle on the think-machine plateau in the Ziggurat’s entry level.  Standing between the PCs and their objective — the gateway platform that would enable their escape back to the undercity of Greenwax — stood a formidable gang of enemy melee fighters (clones of Mixit and Aseret, the party’s two fighting-women) and two flying, armored security bots that fired paralytic darts and beam weapons.  Despite some early confusion on the part of Aseret and Mixit (due to fighting foes with their likenesses) and paralyzed ranged fighters (who had to be healed with antidotes), it seemed that fortune certainly favored the party in this encounter — there were a few wounds, but no one pushed close to death.  The group’s secret weapon in this encounter turned out to be Hexil the Phraint (temporarily under the control of our new player), who used his prodigious jumping ability to attack security bots in mid-air with his two-handed sword.

After some discussion, the group decided to make for the gateway platform with all haste — no time to rest or fiddle with the think-machine any more, for fear that reinforcements may be en route.  They managed to reach the platform, place the petroglyph tiles in proper sequence, and teleport back to the chamber in Greenwax’s undercity.

The following session found the party safely back in their rented house in Greenwax, at which time the party learned that they had been absent for two months.  During that time, tensions between Rallu, the City-State of the Sea Kings, and the ascendant merchant power Lenap, have increased dangerously.  There have been several naval skirmishes along the shipping lanes just south of Greenwax, and concerns about escalation have caused some merchants to consider alternate trade routes.  Compounding Greenwax’s trade woes, strange weather along the Antillian Peninsula’s western coast (near the Palsaith Forest) has been causing shipwrecks and affecting a well-travelled shipping route from Viridistan.

The group checked in with their friend Nial Voort, captain of the Dart, at the Sea Devil Saloon.  Voort shared plans to sail for Viridistan in approximately a week’s time, once repairs to his ship have been completed; he plans to take the Antillian route, and offered the PCs passage if they lend their arms and magic (he has a favorable attitude towards the PCs, who on an earlier voyage had repelled an attack by shark-men and magically warded off some strange winds.)  The PCs agreed, and sought other engagements for the week.

They went to visit their old friend Bartolo the halfling in his upstanding establishment the Honey Drop Inn, who offered them some short-term employment: to head north into the Mad Devil Jungle to harvest and bring back wax and honey produced by a certain local breed of carnivorous green jungle bees.  Dangerous work, for sure, but reasonably profitable — 50 gp per barrel.  Bartolo agreed to provide a wagon, barrels, and draft animals for the trip.  The party estimated that it would take a total of three days travel and two to three days to collect the honey — they would be cutting it close to get back to Greenwax in time, but they agreed to help their friend Bartolo, whose operation was short-handed after one of his regular crews had a bad run-in with some bees…  Having stocked up on poison antidote and insect-repellent candles, the party was now ready to enter the jungle.

[BoL] careers, tactics, and the fog of war

I’ve been reading a bit lately on the webs about Free Kriegsspiel and ways referees handle the fog of war in their games, which naturally got me reflecting on my own refereeing.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard players, when determining what their PCs will do in a combat against a group of foes, ask one of the following questions:

  • “Which one looks like the leader?”
  • “Which one looks the toughest”
  • “Which one looks the most injured?”

In the swirling chaos of combat and limited visibility of the fog of war, how would one really be able to determine the answer to any of those questions?  I confess that I haven’t always been consistent in my response to these questions, but I think that I’ll do something like this in future BoL sessions:

If the PC is in an advantageous position to make that kind of comparison, he/she can make a Mind roll and add career ranks in Soldier, Mercenary, or Gladiator to make a successful judgment.

 

[BoL] Phraint PC race

The Phraint is an insectoid creature from David A. Hargrave’s marvelous Arduin GrimoireEmperor’s Choice has an excellent description, upon which the Phraints in my campaign world are closely (but not perfectly) modeled.

phraint

All Phraint PCs have the following Traits.

  • Natural Armor (B): Phraint chitin is as hard as plate armor, providing 4 points of damage reduction.
  • Jumping (B): Phraints have the ability to make prodigious leaps.  Base distance is 15′ vertical and 25′ (running start), with an additional 5′ for each point of Strength possessed by the phraint.
  • Keen Sense (Smell) (B): The insectoid phraint olfactory system is highly evolved and able to discern a wider spectrum of scents than humans.
  • Can’t Lie (F): as per BoL: Mythic
  • Cannot speak (F): Phraints are unable to formulate the sounds of human speech, but are able to communicate with other intelligent lifeforms through a limited form of telepathic sending (targets must be visible.
  • Emotionless (F): Phraint minds are logical and incapable of feeling or understanding emotions.
  • Outcast (F): The vast majority of Phraint PCs will be outside normal phraint society — outcasts or rogues who, for various reasons, have left their hives for a life of adventure.

Preferred weapons: two-handed sword, javelin

Common careers: Laborer, Mercenary, Gladiator

Black Ziggurat explorations nearing their end?

Our session started late this week, but the PCs seemed to make some headway in finding their way back to Greenwax.

Exploring the secret passage branching off from the vegetation-covered hallway:

  • In an adjacent passage they found two corpses who apparently killed each other in a shootout: an android and a human wearing a brown leather jacket and broad-brimmed hat.  A quick search of the android’s body yielded a boxlike weapon that fired small silver bolts, extra bolts and a yellow-striped security access card.  The human had a revolver in his hand and an old rotted whip on his belt.  Benji was attacked by a rot grub during the search; after its messy removal from his arm (and its subsequent bandaging), the corpse’s satchel turned up extra bullets for the gun and a small golden idol.
  • The spiral staircase ascended over 100′ and terminated at a small landing and a sealed door.  Adjacent to the door was a card slot with a red horizontal stripe above it.  Access denied…

Returning to the main hallway, the PCs used their security card to access the quad-brain think machine.  After some experimentation, they managed to retrieve the petroglyph sequence that would enable them to return to Satur/Greenwax via the gateway platform.  As they stood weighing their options — to continue exploring the Ziggurat in search of finding Ghaelus and “great weapons” to aid Dirjin’s people against the Illithids, or return to Greenwax before the Svirfneblin’s protective enchantment wears off any further — they were interrupted by the sound of booted feet.  Coming up the stairs towards them (from the direction of the gateway platform) was a war party that, so far as the PCs could determine, was composed of melee-weapon-wielding clones of Aseret and Mixit, the two fighters who had fingers pricked by the Ziggurat’s double doors…  How many clones are there?  Are there other creatures with them?

Looking forward to playing out this encounter next week!

More Black Ziggurat action!

I haven’t had enough free time lately to do full actual play writeups, but here are some highlights from the last couple sessions:

  • A room containing a pool of bubbling, viscous, lavender liquid.  Suspended on a pulley system above the pool is an empty rectangular metal cage.  Lining the walls of the room are waist-high tables, some of which are marked with old rusty reddish-brown stains that may have been blood.
  • Several impassable doors with card-slots in the adjacent wall.
  • After fighting off a vicious gang of mutants (and capturing a stun ray pistol), the party investigated a large cylindrical apparatus with four wired-up brains floating in separate tanks — a technology which Dirjin observed to be nearly identical to the “think machines” built by Illithids.  The party opted not to tinker with or destroy the machine for the time being, but to continue exploring in hopes of finding some clues about its purpose.
  • A large chamber, dominated by a shallow sandy pit with a pond at one end and some rocks near the center.  In five places, steps lead down into the pit.  Surrounding the pit are twelve statues of robed figures, all with cowled heads bent attentively toward the center.  Closer observation reveals tiny, ant-sized boats sailing on the pond, a cluster of tiny buildings on the shore, and a tiny castle perched atop one of the rocks.  A high-pitched horn faintly rings out at irregular intervals.
  • A passageway and room constructed of grey fibrous filaments that seem similar to spiderwebs.  Inside the room is a low dais with a pedestal set in its center — a gateway chamber, upon further investigation.  The pedestal contains a complete set of petroglyph tiles and a card-slot.  Elvira remembered the proper arrangement of tiles that led from Greenwax to the frozen plain, but the party doesn’t know the arrangement that will open the way back to Greenwax (if such is possible.)
  • An unusual hallway, smelling of earth and loam, with rough flagstones underfoot and walls and ceiling covered with twining vines and creepers.  Midway down this passage, the cautious adventurers notice the gleam of metal in a gap in the greenery.  Vigorous work with axe and blade clears away the vegetation to expose an old sliding door; further careful examination reveals a trap designed to spray the victim with some kind of liquid.  Deactivating the trap, the door is opened to reveal a dark passageway and an ascending stairway.

 

Into the Ziggurat!

Report from the 4/14/16 lunch-hour session.

The party left the Traders’ Mound and headed back to the roadside stone platform where they came through the one-way Gate, in hopes of finding some clue that would enable them to return to their own world.  The spell of protection laid upon them by the svirfneblin was of little comfort, and few of the adventurers had any real enthusiasm about entering the Black Ziggurat.  Not finding anything, they pressed onward, with the faint hope that the ominous structure looming in the near distance contained not only the answer to the mystery of their missing patron, but also a return Gate to the undercity of Satur…

Arriving at the Ziggurat unchallenged, the party ascended the wide main stair, flanked on each side at regular intervals by squared pillars capped with domes of smoky gray quartz.  The double doors at the head of the stairs was tall, twenty feet or more, and of a flat black metal.  Mixit, one of the warriors, stepped forward to knock; she felt a pricking at the knuckle as her hand contacted the door, and the doors swung silently inward.

The vast entry hall was dark.  As they carefully made their way into the chamber, the party’s light sources revealed doors in the east and west walls, two 5′-diameter holes in the floor spaced 40′ apart, with a facedown human corpse between them.  The group’s curiosity was piqued by the corpse’s accoutrements: grey mesh-looking suit, metallic belt, and a strange tubelike device.  The cause of death was a crushed skull, which Yee Mun (who had some training as a healer) determined to have been received by falling from a great height…

As the party looked up towards the high ceiling, from out of the darkness swooped two spindly, bat-winged creatures with blank visages and barbed tails — Nightgaunts!  One of the nightgaunts grabbed a surprised Aseret and proceeded to hoist the warrior up into the air.  Mixit narrowly dodged the other’s clawed grasp, and the fight was on.  The party managed to slay the unburdened nightgaunt, which swooped to clutch with claws and lash with barbed tail, without much difficulty.  Aseret, on the other hand, struggled mightily in vain to free her awkwardly-pinioned arm so to swing her torch at the creature’s featureless face.  Yee Mun concentrated and cast a feather fall spell on Aseret — just in time, as seconds later the remaining nightgaunt released the warrior.  Rather than tumbling to a messy doom below, Aseret floated down.  Seeing the death of its companion, and possibly perplexed by the unexpected behavior of its prey, the nightgaunt retreated up into the dark recesses of the ceiling.

When it seemed clear that the nightgaunt wouldn’t be returning soon, the party warily turned back to their examination of the human corpse’s items.  After some careful experimentation, the party divided up the mesh armor (soak 2), force-field belt, flame projector, and boots, resolving at the next session to examine the two holes in the floor.

nightgaunt_by_dloliver-d4gwy2j

NIGHTGAUNT
Strength 2, Agility 2, Mind 0, Lifeblood 10
Brawl 1, Defense 1, Armor 2 (leathery hide)
Attacks: Claws (+3, grapple/lift), Barbed tail (+3, damage 1D)
Traits: Flyer, Stealthy

The Black Ziggurat beckons…

The PCs have been searching for their missing patron, the sorcerer Ghaelus, who disappeared while searching for the Black Ziggurat — yes, THAT same unspeakably-ancient, multiversal, dimension-shifting fortress/entity.  Well, in last week’s session the PCs found a Gate (one-way, though they didn’t realize this at the time) leading from the undercity of Satur to a frozen plain on a dying world.  Several miles from their point of arrival was a massive pile of dark stone, the Ziggurat itself.

They encountered two travelers on the road in a wagon drawn by two furred ice-lizards.  Dirjin, a githzerai, and Hexil, a phraint, offered the shivering travelers passage in their wagon to a nearby svirfneblin Trading Mound.  Gark, the Mound’s leader, provided the PCs with food, warm clothes, and some more information about the Ziggurat’s manifestation on this world:

“In its own way, the Black Ziggurat is responsible for the slow death of our world.  Many years ago, to appease their dark gods and their own hunger for power, the wizard-kings of the earth went to war.  The Black Ziggurat – as you may have seen its cursed pile on the plain above – was the focus of their struggle, as each vainly believed that mastery of the Ziggurat would enable supremacy over his rivals.  To this end, they pursued dark sorceries that drew upon the power of the sun to create mighty engines and weapons that ravaged the planet and depleted the sun’s essence beyond a critical point.  Every year now, the light grows weaker.  Winters are longer and harsher.  Crop harvests yield less.  The surface dwellers are struggling to survive – perhaps we dwarves have it easiest, being already conditioned to subterranean life.  When the sun finally dies and expends its last rays, so will be extinguished the hopes of all who live on the surface.  We who live below may yet live on for a time, drawing warmth from the depths of the earth and sustenance from our traditional food supplies; even then, though, we must face eventual extinction as the planet cools into a ball of ice.  This is the future our diviners have seen, and the reality we face, barring the return of the Builders who created this world.”

“The Black Ziggurat is, at its core, a living talisman that feeds on dark energies.  It radiates promise – of wealth, power, pleasure, knowledge, security, whatever one desires – and drains those who enter of their spirit.  If you go there, you will need wits and weapons to defend yourselves from the physical dangers therein, but more importantly you will need powerful protection from the Ziggurat’s innate magic.  Do not tarry overlong, for as the wind and water wear away the stone, even the strongest incantation can be weakened over time if enough force is exerted against it.”

The PCs passed the night in the mound and underwent a ritual of protection by the svirfneblin geomancers.  Arioka, the elf archer, traded her hourglass for a vial of powdered fungus with potent soporific properties which, when mixed into a paste, could be applied to arrowheads as a sleeping-poison.  The party then climbed into the wagon — Dirjin and Hexil decided that, for the time being at least, their interests lay with the party — and set off towards the Ziggurat.

lunchtime library game update

Wow, I guess it has been since I posted anything here…

My weekly lunchtime game at work is still going strong.  Not long after finishing the “Temple of the Lizardmen” adventure (3 sessions or so), I decided (with the group’s approval) to shift back to Barbarians of Lemuria from D&D 5e.  My main reason was that, given that we have less than an hour of time together each week, I didn’t want to deal with the time-suck of walking each player through their class options when they hit 3rd level.  So we’re back with “BXoL” and are plugging right along.  I’m delighted to report that the campaign has taken a science-fantasy turn (psionics from Barbarians of the Void and mutant creatures/plants from Barbarians of the Aftermath), now that the PCs have been gated to another planet and are about to enter the Black Ziggurat…  If I have time, I’ll try to post some after-action reports again soon.

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