Tuesday, February 23, 2010

[Solo GPC] 495: The Hall of the Dead

I had wanted to get to this year before our move. I knew that, whatever might transpire, it would be a watershed year and a good point to leave things off for the time being (no fear, we have every intention of continuing the campaign once we're settled in at our new place--we just have no idea how long that might take).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Donations for a Friend in Need

Hey folks.

I just want to take a moment here to address something that's come up in the life of a dear friend and fellow gamer.

A., who plays the inimitable Otterkin ranger Rumple Wumpkin in my D&D Wilderlands campaign, was recently diagnosed with malignant breast cancer. A terrible blow under any circumstance, but one that was especially unexpected and devastating for someone like A., who is in her 30s and was, prior to her diagnosis, focused on building her own business.

As a self-employed entrepreneur, A. has now been thrust into the jaws of the American healthcare system with very little money to fall back on. Today, as I was thinking of ways to help her out in her hour of need, I thought of putting a PayPal donation button up on my blog. If you look to the sidebar, you'll see it there. A. asked if I could handle things, so donations will be going to my PayPal account, then disbursed to her via a check. If you have any questions or issues about the donation process, feel free to drop me an email at dlarkins78 [at] gmail [dot] com and I'll do my best to answer your query.

Gamers have, by and large, always struck me as a compassionate bunch of folks. I know these are tough times for a lot of people, but any amount--one dollar, five dollars, whatever--would be greatly appreciated, as it would go towards defraying A.'s medical expenses and covering for her lost work as she begins treatment this week.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

[Solo GPC] A New Coat of Arms

After Sir Herringdale's contemplative communion with the Yale that he killed in this past year's hunt, Des and I got to talking about updating his coat of arms. The golden hand on field of black was the symbol of Sir Hervis, Herringdale's father, and Des wanted to retain that but also incorporate something personally meaningful. After fooling about with my heraldry software, here's what she came up with:

And so a new coat of arms is born!

Friday, February 19, 2010

[Solo GPC] 494: On His Majesty's Secret Service

After last year's break from serving as Earl Roderick's dogsbody, we were back to scripted events in the GPC. King Uther, still stricken with a wasting illness (and--according to whispered rumors--calling for Merlin in his delirium) had, during one of his more lucid moments, proclaimed that Logres should be seeking alliances with other powerful kingdoms. Earl Roderick's embassy to Malahaut the previous year had failed. This year, the Earl selected Sir Herringdale, one of his most renowned knights, to travel as Royal Ambassador to the Kingdom of Estregales. There, it was said, King Canan had done what no other Cambrian king had managed: through political maneuvering and military might, he had forged a strong alliance between the lowland lords and the mountain chieftains.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

[Red Box Memories] It Was 20 Years Ago Today...

Well, okay. I don't know if it was 20 years ago today precisely. All I know is that sometime early on in 1990 I took the plunge and bought a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules, known in Internet parlance as the "Mentzer Red Box"--so named for the set's editor/compiler, Frank Mentzer.

I expect that over the coming weeks and possibly months I'll be doing quite a bit of thinking about the last two decades, both in terms of the gaming hobby overall and in terms of my own journey through the hobby, and so with this post I'm inaugurating a series called "Red Box Memories" in honor of that fateful purchase. (And, frankly, because I think the Mentzer Red Box, being a sort of the unappreciated cousin of the Red Box that preceded it, the so-called "Moldvay/Cook" Basic Set, upon which the retro-clone Labyrinth Lord is patterned, could use a little bit of a shout-out.)

My thoughts on that Tale of Two Red Boxes definitely deserve a post of their own. For now, I'll just say that it's strangely appropriate that I'll be relocating back to Santa Fe 20 years after getting into the gaming hobby. I was living in Santa Fe at the time of my purchase of the Mentzer Basic Set--which I picked up from the gone-but-not-forgotten Wargames West in Albuquerque, of which I've blogged about a bit in the past--and moved away shortly thereafter.

Packing up my gaming collection, which is fairly lean compared to earlier iterations, I was nonetheless struck by an interesting comparison. All told, my RPG books alone fill up five--or six?--banker's boxes. That's not counting miniatures, terrain, or my various binders of print-outs and paperwork, nor is it counting non-gaming books purchased directly in support of RPG or miniatures gaming. When I moved away from Santa Fe (about a year-and-a-half after buying the D&D Basic Set), I was able to fit all my gaming material--all of it--into a single banker's box.

I remember this well, because my mom--who, for those of you who are astrologically inclined, is a Virgo incarnate--suggested organizing my stuff in the box utilizing hanging files. So I had my Red Box tucked into one folder, my Third Edition GURPS Basic Set in another, my copy of I.C.E.'s Robin Hood "Giant Outlaw Campaign" (purchased for use with GURPS after seeing Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves--hey, I was 12) in another, and whatever character sheets, dungeons, and other assorted paperwork I'd managed to generate in the previous 18-odd months in a fourth and final folder. And that was it as far as RPGs went. All my miniatures stuff, including paints and brushes, fit inside my Fantasy Warriors box. It's quite funny to reflect on that single banker's box and game box multiplying into the boxes and boxes of stuff I'm carting back now. And my collection, as I said, has been winnowed over the course of several moves in the last decade and compared to some of the gamer's shelves I've seen around the 'Net is positively anemic! Such is the way of the hobby, I suppose. I could probably narrow my whole book collection down to a single shelf of essentials...but where's the fun in that?

Monday, February 15, 2010

RIP Destination Unknown

Edit: He's back by popular command!

[Solo GPC] 493: A Terrible Gnashing of Teeth

This year proved to be a real nail-biter, both in regular play and in the Winter Phase. It was also kind of a big shift thematically, which threw Des for a bit of a loop, but I had my reasons. Permit me to explain my GMing machinations...

On paper, the year 493 in the GPC is a whole lotta nothin'. Earl Roderick goes on a diplomatic mission to Malahaut to try and drum up support for an alliance but meets only brick walls and eventually returns home all put out. No thanks. Plus--and especially after the rail-roady events of the previous year--I thought a little break was in order from all the scripted stuff. Branch out a bit, refocus things on Sir Herringdale's personal life and struggles. As Uther's kingdom begins to fall apart, as the High King withdraws into melancholy and illness, what goes on in the life of one of the kingdom's most esteemed knights?

I had downloaded an adventure from RPG Archive a few weeks ago called "The Adventure of the Poisoned Lake" and was looking for a chance to use it. It features some mystical elements, but nothing too over the top for pre-Enchantment Britain. I really liked how the GPC had gotten off the ground with fighting a Giant; I wanted to get back to that a bit this year.

See, the way the time line works, you're not going to see a bunch of crazy faeries and goblins and manticores and what-have-you running around Britain until the so-called Enchantment begins, shortly after Arthur takes the throne. Uther period adventures are much more pragmatically-based. But there are still supernatural elements lurking about the fringes--sort of the "supernatural natives," if you will. I thought the Poisoned Lake adventure would stand up well to that litmus test.

In the course of planning things out, I started thinking about adding a little more to the year's events. Every period in the GPC has a dozen or so short mini-scenarios listed at the back, things that the GM can just sprinkle in here and there to add little touches distinctive of the period. I chose to throw first one, then two of these mini-scenarios into the mix once Herringdale got through the Adventure of the Poisoned Lake (or rather, if he got through--as written, this is not a solo-PC-friendly adventure!).

So yes, I made some tweaks to the deadliness factor of the adventure as written. But Herringdale nearly bought it twice even then. Granted, the first time was because Des was unlucky enough to have me roll a "20" on the Enchanted Forest Encounter Table, but still...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

[Boardgame Corner] Great Game: Plague & Pestilence

One of the things keeping us busy during our run-up to the Big Move is visiting with various friends for farewell luncheons, dinner-movie nights, and other such little get-togethers. Last week, we headed over to a good friend's house for fried chicken sandwiches and some board gaming action.

Now, I'm not a huge board gamer most of the time. (If anything, I'm more of a wanna-be wargamer.) I've got a few "non-traditional" boardgames in the closet (i.e. the kind you can generally only find in specialty game stores), but I still haven't gotten around to busting out my copy of Arkham Horror and it was only in the last year or so that I finally played Settlers of Catan (and loved it, of course). But our friend is pretty much a board gamer exclusively insofar as he's a gamer at all. He plays Munchkin, Chez Geek, Lunch Money, Spank the Monkey, etc., etc. I turned him on to Zombies!! the last time we got together and he loved it, so this time I decided to bring along another of my old favorites, a little small-press affair called Plague & Pestilence.

I picked up my copy of P&P about 10 years ago as a little impulse purchase at what was then my Not-So-Friendly Local Game Store. I played the heck out of it with my girlfriend at the time for about a year or two, then it went up on the shelf. I recently dusted it off to play a game with Des and was reminded of what fun it is.

For one thing, I love the look of the game. It's all black and white, with art reminiscent of 15th-century woodcuts. As for game play, if you've played the classic Nuclear War game, you know how P&P works. Basically, each player represents a medieval polity of some sort. Everyone starts out in a time of prosperity, and everyone starts with the same number of Population Points. Play moves around the table as each player takes turns rolling dice to see how much their population grows that turn and then playing a card from their hand.

The cards you play can either boost your own population (examples include "Bumper Harvest" or "Trade Center Established"), reduce or even steal your opponents' population (stuff like "Famine" or "Pied Piper"), or build improvements to give you benefits (for example, "City Walls" reduce your losses from the "War" and "Mongol Raid" cards). Play proceeds in this fashion until a player turns up the dreaded "Death Ship" card--and then things really get fun!

Now instead of rolling dice each turn to see how much your population increases, you roll to see how many Population Points you lose to the Black Death. Hooray! Certain improvement cards can help mitigate this loss, but it's a rare turn that you escape the reaper's scythe altogether. Meanwhile, you're still furiously playing cards from your hand, either trying desperately to bolster your flagging population or accelerate one of your opponents' death spirals. In the end, the winner is the last player holding Population Points.

The game we played with our friend last week was the first time I'd played P&P in a multiplayer setting, and naturally this added a whole new layer to the game's proceedings. But the highlight of the game was at about the mid-point, when Des and I unintentionally reenacted the Hundred Years War. Here's how it played out.

At the start of the game I'd drawn the "Major War" card and two "Technological Innovations": "Pikes" and "Gunpowder Weapons". I held on to these three cards, keeping an eagle eye out for a chance to use them. One thing I was concerned about was the "Negotiated Peace" card, which can cancel any "War" card and can be played by any player, not just the ones going to war. So I let my two opponents blow their "Peace" cards canceling a couple "Minor War" cards, then I sprung my offensive.

"Major War sucka! And two Technological Innovations! Take that!"

But Des proved to be every bit as cagey as your esteemed correspondant.

"Alright," she said with a maddeningly cool inflection to her voice. "I'll play two Innovations too: Long Bows and Crossbows."

Blast! Foiled! Our mutual innovation cards canceled each other out, which meant the war would come down to a single dice roll. The way things work when War is declared is that both players roll a die. Each Innovation adds +1 to the roll and the higher roll wins the war. Each "War" card lists losses for the Winner and the Loser. A "Major War" inflicts losses of 10 PPs on the Winner and 20 PPs on the Loser--ouch! However, I had City Walls (and Des didn't), which reduce war losses by 5 PPs. So I stood to lose a mere 5 PPs to Des's potential 20 PP loss. A fair gamble, I thought. Of course, now my edge had been nullified, so it came down to a dice roll.

Imagine my joy when my roll came up a "6"--ha! Des then proceeded to nonchalantly roll a "6" of her own. Curses! Consulting the rules, we found that in the event of a tie roll, both players suffer the Winner's losses and roll again, continuing to do so until someone produces a winning roll. Thanks to my City Walls, I only lost 5 PPs to Des's 10, but the numbers game was already soured a bit. Better win on the next roll!

We rolled another tie.

Then another.

Then another.

Time and again, our dice rolls (rolled with two separate dice, mind you) came up on the same number, whatever that number happened to be. Our friend had been watching in stunned disbelief and by the fourth or fifth tie was laughing so hard his face was red.

It was either on the fifth or sixth roll that a winner finally emerged--and it was Des. In the end, my City Walls meant she lost 10 PPs and I lost 15, but that wasn't counting all the lost population from those tied rolls. Despite being on the ropes and losing more population than me, Des emerged triumphant; clearly she was France and I was England.

In the end, we both lost to our friend. Des never recovered from the losses suffered in our Major War (she was also the one who drew the Death Ship, and suffered an immediate loss of 10 PPs for doing so), and she was the first to run out of Population. Things were pretty close in the last few rounds, but in the end our friend won when he ignominiously finished me off with a Pestilence card, wiping out my last 5 Population Points.

The makers of Plague & Pestilence, Hillary's Toy Box, have gone the way of the Black Death, but apparently Chessex has plans to do a reprint of the game at some point in the near future. Until then, copies do come up for sale on eBay occasionally, but I understand it's one of those deals where collectors can be relied upon to bid the auction up to exorbitant levels. Nevertheless, if you can find a copy at a reasonable price, I highly recommend Plague & Pestilence as a great bear-n-pretzels (or, in our case, sandwich-n-cupcakes) game.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

[Solo GPC] 492: High Treason!

I'd like to start off this session update with a quote from the GPC at the end of its description of the events of this year:

Do the knights feel railroaded? They deserve to, for they were. But Uther is the king, after all, and considering that they could have been executed for their part in this, they also ought to feel fortunate.

Oh yeah, it was that kind of year. Lots of heavily scripted action, which can sometimes be fun, and sometimes--as in this year--it's there to set up things for later on and you just have to sort of power down, get through it, and see how well the PCs hold up to the beating. At this point, I don't know about Des, but I'm definitely looking forward to the Anarchy Phase when things bust wide open and the PCs suddenly hold their destiny in their hands, for better or for worse. But that's neither here nor there at the moment; we've got another year to chronicle. Let's begin back at the beginning.

Monday, February 8, 2010

[Solo GPC] 491: Siege Terrible

Moving preparations continue apace, but Des and I took a little time out yesterday to get back into some Pendragon. The year 491 would find the now-Notable Sir Herringdale moving in ever higher circles of power, just in time to see the beginning of the end. Timing is everything, as they say.

As I had done before we started playing 490, I had left off last session by telling Des she'd have a choice to mull over for the following year. This time it came down to two options, between being in a battle and winning Glory, or skipping the battle and possibly witnessing an important event that won her none. (This little bit of foreshadowing was actually suggested directly by the GPC, and I rather like it. I don't mind dropping a couple future details in the name of player anticipation.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

[Solo GPC] 490 (Session 2): Watching the Wheels

After the high drama of last week's session, this week was quite low-key by comparison. We finished off the year 490 with a series of ominously foreshadowing events, events which, with a couple exceptions, Herringdale was largely merely a witness to rather than an active participant.

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