Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Episode 2: Race #3 - [Mystery Race B]

I'm seriously enjoying the hail of guesses each new race post incites. Not that I'm going to tell even if someone guesses it right. Though a Captain Power, He-Man, Bravestar, Dune, Star Fox crossover is starting to sound pretty inspired.

Here's the new race. Squishy, as promised.

Race B

   Humanoid (reptilian)            0 RP
   Medium                                0 RP
Base Speed
   Normal                                  0 RP
Ability Score Modifiers
   Flexible (+2 Dex, +2 Int)      2 RP
   Linguist                                 1 RP
Racial Traits
   Feat and Skill Racial Traits
      Silent Hunter                      2 RP
      Shards of the Past              4 RP
   Movement Racial Traits
      Swim                                  2 RP
   Other Racial Traits
      Amphibious                       2 RP

Total                                       13 RP

Tomorrow... something else.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Episode 2: Race #2 - [Mystery Race A]

And the first really real alien race is.... Well, it's clawed, and has armor, and sees in the dark.

That should totally narrow down what universe we're playing in, right? 

Race A
   Humanoid                               0 RP
   Medium                                  0 RP
Base Speed
   Normal                                    0 RP
Ability Score Modifiers
   Flexible (+2 Str, ­ +2 Wis)       2 RP
   Standard                                 0 RP
Racial Traits
   Defense Racial Traits
      Natural armor                      2 RP
      Resistant                              2 RP
   Feat and Skill Racial Traits
      Quick Reactions                  2 RP
   Offense Racial Traits
      Claws                                   2 RP
   Senses Racial Traits
      Darkvision 60 Feet              2 RP
      Low-light vision                  1 RP

Total                                         13 RP

So two down, four more to go. Tomorrow expect something... squishier.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Episode 2: Race #1 - Human

And the first alien race is... not aliens at all. Yup, there's humans in the universe we'll be playing in, and here they are. But, to bring them up a notch to compete with some of the other races in the weird and wild galaxy, they've got the new "Heroic" trait. There might also be some in-story benefits to choosing this race, but you never can tell. Check 'em out.

   Humanoid (human)         0 RP
   Medium                           0 RP
Base Speed
   Normal                            0 RP
Ability Score Modifiers
   Human                             0 RP
   Linguist                           1 RP
Racial Traits
   Feats and Skills Racial Traits
      Flexible bonus feat       4 RP
      Heroic                           4 RP
      Skilled                          4 RP

Total                                  13 RP

Okay, now that the known quantities out of the way, check back tomorrow for the first mystery race to kick off our week-long march of aliens. 

Episode 2: Prepare for Lift-Off!

We've got our group for our second episode! And since a few of these faces look familiar, I've added an additional spot in the group to keep up the level of new blood. In alphabetical order, here's the party of bold explorers headed for the stars.

James Jacobs: [Race & Class Currently Classified]
Rob McCreary: [Race & Class Currently Classified]
Erik Mona: [Race & Class Currently Classified]
James Sutter: [Race & Class Currently Classified]
Andrew Vallas: [Race & Class Currently Classified]

This is another Paizo rich crew, which is something I'll definitely be addressing next episode. For now, though, lets talk character creation. We'll be using Pathfinder rules with a sci-fi skin, so expect those spells and supernatural abilities to be some manner of tech, futuristic mysticism, alien evolutions, or what not. That said, not everything's a perfect fit, so only the following classes are being allowed (unless you can convince me otherwise). Listed next to each is a profession or two that members of this class might largely be viewed as.

Classes Permitted
Alchemist (Scientist)
Barbarian (Berzerker/Grunt)
Bard (Diplomat)
Cleric (Medic)
Gunslinger (Bounty Hunter)
Fighter (Marine/Mercenary)
Rogue (Engineer/Spy)
Sorcerer (Tech Specialist)

Players should start thinking about their classes and what sort of general sci-fi spin they might want their character to have. But don't get too far down the background rabbit hole, races and the planned adventure will factor into those details considerably.

As for races, I'm still not ready to reveal what universe we're playing in. But, starting a bit later today and every day this week I'll be revealing a race from the adventure's universe with the serial numbers filed off. Each of these races was created using the new race builder debuting in the Advance Race Guide. The details on these abilities largely appear in that book and in the Advance Race Guide Playtest available for free at (though, I suspect all of my players might manage to access these rules through their own sinister channels). I've taken a bit of leeway with the system here and there and you'll even see an additional ability or two down the line, but none of that should matter much for the purposes of this one adventure.

Also, don't worry about equipment. I've got something in mind for that too.

But that's all for later. For now, start thinking about what sort of character you'd like to play and what weekday nights you're available for this two-part Pathfinder adventure... IN SPAAAAAAACE!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Episode 2: Registration Closes Soon

Just a reminder that the window for putting your name in for Episode 2: [Still Classified Sci-Fi Adventure] wraps up at the end of the day today. I still haven't revealed much about this, but I've got a neat rules system to handle most of the tech and plan to reveal the races over the course of the next week. Their stats that is, not their names. Players won't know what universe they're playing in until the first session--or unless it gets puzzled out on here first. So if you're up for some interplanetary heroics, and more than a little bit of mystery, sign up in the comments section here, drop me a line on Facebook, or snag me on the street and tell me you want in. I'll be putting together my list of interested parties and making final selection this weekend, so I can post it early next week along with character generation rules and the first race. Good luck to everyone who has already put their names in the hat and thanks to everyone for their interest and for reading!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Episode 2: [Classified Sci-Fi Adventure]

With Episode 1 complete and as successful as it was, I don't want to waste any time before getting Episode 2 off the ground. And Episode 2 is something with lasers.

I'm not going to say much more than that for now, or really until the first session. Once I have my players for this session I'll post stats for four unnamed new races built using the new race builder rules from the Pathfinder Advance Race Guide playtest. Players can create their characters using those races and basic Pathfinder classes (with a few caveats I'll explain down the line - like how to handle equipment). Once all of that is handled, I'll announce the names of each of the races and their context at the start of the session and we'll be off and running.

I've already got a great prop for this adventure... I'm just not quite sure yet how to get it running inside the Paizo conference room. We'll see.

So here's the run down:

Episode #2: [Classified Sci-Fi Adventure]
Game System: Pathfinder
Campaign Setting: [Classified]
Adventure Description: The most important battles don't always happen on the front lines. While war might be brewing elsewhere in the Galaxy, the darkness of space disguises all manner of shadows. It's up to a single team of fixers to retake control of a doomsday weapon capable of changing the face of battle forever. 

Players Wanted: 4
Characters: 3rd-level Pathfinder characters created partially in advance of the first session. Race options will not be revealed until registration is closed.
Sources Available: Pathfinder Core Rulebook, Advance Player's Guide, Advance Race Guide, Ultimate Combat
Miniatures: Not Required 

Deadline for Registration: 2/24/12
Proposed First Session: Friday March 2nd

So what's it going to be? Jetbike jousts with jawa jedis? Battles between bolian battlecrusiers and the borg? Sandworm surfing on the spice seas? Sign up now by posting your interest on the comments page, by sending me a message via Facebook, or by tracking me down and telling me you want in. Registration is open to all cool folks--be they Paizo staffers, friends, local Seattle gamers, whoever. Sign up and you could be the first to know just which galaxy needs heroes most!

(Hint: The picture above is not a hint.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Episode 1: Shattered Mirror Prop

Naked cardboard "mirror shards"
Sure, roleplaying games are ultimately all about using your imagination, but who doesn't like toys? I always try to have some sort of elaborate handout, prop, or mini-game included in my session, be it a tangible puzzle, a dossier on the case, the meal set out at the dinner party, or--in this case--an accursed mirror with thirteen shards of glass.

There was a moment when I was planning this where I was wondering if I could reliably cut or shatter glass into the number of pieces I needed. My persistent desire to stay out of the emergency room soundly squelched that plan. (Not to mention the fact that, as I'd like to run more adventures in this Erratic Episodes series, the stories out of my first players' mouths probably shouldn't involve phrases like: "blood all over my character sheet" or "had to stop early to get twenty stitches.") So I opted for a handout not made entirely out of sharp. Rather...

The Shattered Mirror was made of and using:
* 1 3'-by-3' piece of cardboard
* 13 strong magnets (preferably flat strips; available from the grocery or hobby store)
* 1 roll of tin foil
* 1 roll of clear tape
* 1 pencil
* 1 ruler
* 1 large circular object or pot
* 1 tube of super glue
* 1 box cutter
* 1 white board (magnetic)
* 1 collapsible easel (available from office supply store)
* 1 dry erase marker

Let me manage some expectations right off the bat. This is a simple project and the end result (as you can see from the pictures) is hardly a convincing replica of the magic-scarred standing mirror detailed in A Light in the Belfry. Rather, this is a shiny puzzle. In the adventure, the PCs are tasked with finding thirteen magic glass shards and restoring this broken mirror. As they go around the haunted house, they find the shards and restore them to the mirror frame. This prop gives the players a tangible reward every time they achieve one of the adventure's objectives, and makes putting the mirror shards into the frame its own little game.

To start with, I decided on the shape and measurements of my mirror. These measurements depended on the size of the white board I was using, which would essentially serve as the frame for the shards to go into. Once deciding on an ovular shape, I traced that on my cardboard. Tracing my biggest cooking pot on the cardboard with a pencil gave me the curve I wanted for the top of the mirror, then tracing the pot again below and connecting the sides at their broadest points resulted in a outline for the completed mirror. Using the box cutter, I cut out the shape. Before going any farther, trace this shape onto your whiteboard using a dry erase marker.

Next, I used the ruler to trace the outlines of the shards themselves. Remember, you want to create the look of broken glass, so you want angular pieces, but not necessarily even, symmetrical, or regular looking shards (do an image search for "broken mirror" or "broken glass" for ideas). I'd suggest not making these too elaborate, as you'll have to wrap aluminum foil around each of these and the more curves and corners you make will make applying the foil convincingly more difficult. Eventually, with my shapes traced out, I used the box cutter to cut out my thirteen shards.

Covered in foil
Now that I had thirteen cardboard shards, it was time to turn them into glass shards. Painting might have been an option, but I doubted I could get the sheen and glossy texture I wanted, so I went with aluminum foil. Although I didn't do this, I would HIGHLY suggest marking on the cardboard which side is the up side and which is the down side. This will be important later when you're trying to piece the mirror back together. Additionally, you'll want to have the up side smooth, creating a nearly mirror like effect, while the down side can have all the wrinkles and cinches of the foil. Tear off a piece of foil about double the size of the shard you're trying to cover and lay the shard, with the up side facing down on the foil. Carefully fold the sides of the foil around the shard. You can pinch and wrinkle the foil on the back of the shard as much as you want (the players won't see this once its in the mirror), but try to keep the foil on the front smooth like a mirror's surface. Folding the foil around the cardboard can be tricky, as the foil tears if you try to bend it around too many corners--or sometimes for no good reason. Additionally, you might just have to accept that you'll lose some of the sharpness of your shards' angles by covering them in foil, sometimes curving the foil along corners is the only way to cover a piece without tearing the foil. Don't worry too much about this, though, as the shards will still piece together nicely. Once you've got a shard wrapped in a way you're pleased, tape down the foil on the back to keep it from sliding or falling off. Do this with all of the shards.

Finally, glue magnets to the back of each shard (making sure you're leaving the side that will magnetically stick to the whiteboard face up). Once the glue on these dry you've got your thirteen magnetic shards. As you don't want to ding the foil surfaces, be relatively delicate with these, and don't worry too much if the magnets cause them to stick together (just separate them with care when you need them). I kept mine in a cloth bag and they held their shape and sheen just fine.

My simple spooky frame
Now that I had my shards, I got back to the mirror frame. I'd already drawn the outline of the shards onto the whiteboard, this would be the board the players would later have to place the puzzle pieces of the shard into. As adding foil to the cardboard--and inevitable gaps--causes the assembled shards to take up more room then they did when they were one piece, you might want to trace the shape you already have on your board again, about a 1/4 inch larger all the way around. After that, your adding decoration with your dry erase marker, making the mirror's stand as ornate and macabre as you can manage. Since you're working with a dry erase marker, prone to smearing, I'd suggest working on the left side first and working to the right (or vice versa if you're left handed). When you're done drawing, prop your white board up on the easel and you're ready to start piecing back in the missing shards

So that's how I did it, but there's totally room for improvements and customizations.

Pre-Solved Puzzle: If you don't want your players spending lots of time trying to arrange and reorganize the puzzle pieces to fit into the frame, you might want to trace out the shards directly onto the frame--that way they know right where each piece belongs.

Ghost Glass: I wasn't bold enough to try this with mine, but I'd be interested in seeing the effects of silver paint on aluminum foil. If the foil holds the paint and you can see the paint clearly, you might be able to add eerie swirls and ghostly faces to the shards. Again, I haven't tried this, but there might be something there.

Permanent Prop: I drew my mirror frame on a whiteboard entirely because that was a surface I could work on that was magnetic that I had. The down side is that whiteboards and dry erase markers are designed to be erased, and easily. It was a small miracle that in the two months between sessions the image didn't get smeared, and after our second session the picture was pretty dinged up. With the addition of more magnets, you could probably create a more permanent mirror frame out of cardboard, foam core, or similar materials. With powerful enough magnets, you could probably even apply them to the back of a cardboard width material, retaining the unmarred surface you'll want your players to see.

So this method got me a mirror for A Light in the Belfry, but you can use this for nearly any game where the PCs are chasing a multi-part Macguffin. With a few alterations, you could create a mosaic with stones that need to be replaced in particular spots, a puzzle lock with pieces that need to be arranged in some special order (maybe even buidling the pieces to go onto the magnetic board like oversized Tangos); or a more traditional puzzle where the pieces reveal some image, message, or clue. This might even make a neat method to keep track of the titular goal of the upcoming Shattered Star Adventure Path.

There's tons of options here, so go crazy. I had a lot of fun building this, loved seeing the look on my players' faces when I whipped out the mirror, loved it even more when I got to hand them their first shard, and they seemed to really enjoy figuring out exactly how every fragment fit into the greater puzzle. Here's hoping you have a blast if you use a method like this in your own game. Also, artsy GMs should also be sure to post any ideas, suggestions, and successes they might have in the comments field below. Best of luck!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Episode 1: Thirteenish Shards

Heroes ready for danger!
Yup. They lost the shard I gave them.

After the briefest recap manageable and replaying only a few of the adventure's CD room descriptions, the party was back on the hunt for the remaining "twelve" mirror shards lost in Tergeron Manor. I was a softie, though, and gave them a replacement for the one that went missing, not truly expecting them to find the other twelve shards in the span of 5 1/2 short hours. How wrong I was.

Although the first few hours proceeded normally enough (excessive wariness, well-reasoned wariness, mad schemes, high jinxs), as the time neared our 6:00 deadline the adventure turned into the final moments of Clue or some sort of macabre Double Dare physical challenge, with the party running through the halls, kicking open doors, grabbing mirror shards, and tearing back to the parlor to hear the newest audio cut scene. I glossed over quite a few encounters as well and downplayed the haunted house's malign intelligence and damage dealing cold--even though I'm not running a third session of the game I didn't want it end on a dull note. Ultimately, the characters visited every room, heard every description, and--remarkably--managed to placed all thirteen shards back into the shattered magic mirror, restoring it... and inadvertently releasing the maniacal necromancer Morgoroth back into the world. Freed from the mirror, the full-powered necromancer stepped through the mirror and back into the seat of his power, with only four battered adventurers between him and a renewal of his dark deeds.

And that's where I called it. No reason to end the first episode on a total party kill.

A great session with what I think was a pretty satisfying conclusion. As for highlights, a few stand out.

A one point Zola's futzing with the corpse of a paladin set off a horrifying shriek that sent three of the four party members running in fear, our doughty dwarf being the only one to stand his ground. I had each character plot out the course of their flights (largely in secret), leaving Bearnar the task of hunting them back down. Fortunately, none of them got too far or bungled into any active dangers. Though Valeriu might have gulped down a few homunculus eyes while he was hiding in the pantry.

Nine to go
The master bedroom has contains a tub full of ice with one shard in it. As the party melted the ice (in a totally reasonable, effective way) it turned to blood... and eventually a blood elemental. As soon as that happened, the party decided that quietly leaving and closing the door to the room would be the best way to deal with the creature. They didn't expect it to turn into the 9-foot-tall scabhemoth that eventually came stomping down the stairs after them. They beat the thing handily, despite its significant number of hit points. Only after ward did I notice its equally significant damage reduction, but cest la vie.

One bathroom contains a rack of towels inexplicably soaking with blessed water. Fearing weird water in the bathroom, the party left these behind. At least, until Arth decided that the easiest way to get a glass shard inside a glass orb also containing a fireball would be to just break it in the tub. The rest of the party, largely dumbfounded I think, garnered quite a few "Bad Friend Points" for not talking him out of putting the fire orb in the tub, covering it with a pillow and a few blessedly moist hand towels, and then hitting it with a sword. I let the towels give him a bonus to his saving throw against the 10d6 fireball, which he made, but the end explosion still proved mighty. And it ended up breaking the shard inside. After it was revealed that a broken shard wouldn't work in the mirror the next few hours largely became the Quest for the Mending Spell!

There's one room with knights turned to steel, one of which has a mirror shard essentially fused into him. There's no way to free the glass short of a spell that allows the caster to become ethereal or otherwise insubstantial--like the relatively obscure wraithform spell. That's such an unintuitive  solution though, that when the party dragged the mirror into the gallery to touch the whole thing to the stuck shard I just gave it to them. Weird second edition design.

The still beating heart in the laboratory along with the adventure CD's beating heart sound effect totally made bringing my sub woofer along worth while. 

Aside from that insanity, some of the player-by-player highlights follow. You can also click on the picture below to see a close up of the house's map, with some little illustrations of some of the more noteworthy encounters (like the crystal coffin in the belfry, the blood smear where the blood elemental smeared-out, the dining room of the magical menorahs, and the coffee table of the exploding spellbook).

Behold the terror of Tergeon Manor
Bearnar (Jason Bulmahn)
* Downing a troupe of armored skeletons with on turn undead.
* Nearly saving his cowardly companions with a well timed (but ultimately ineffectual) remove fear.
* Chasing back down the entire party when they failed their saves versus a fear spell.
* Dragging his companions out of a library full of cloud kill.
* Sacrificing a dust devil spell to a pack of ghouls.
* Trying to rub Zola's soul back into her.

Sane Arth (Mark Moreland)
* Reproving how deadly a fighter with a longsword can be.
* Not contracting a petrification disease from the tainted coffin dirt.
* Nearly digging into a tempting bowl of delicious smelling creme' de wormfuck.
* Attempting to smother a fireball with a pillow.
* Attempting to smother a fire trap with his face.
* Popping a wall of force.

Valeriu the Grey (Rob McCreary)
* Concocting a way to melt a bathtub full of blood elemental without setting the house (or party) afire.
* Not setting off the devil mist trap in the greenhouse.
* Distance killing a giant mountain gorilla... somewhere.
* Knowing that a wizard would never trap a spellbook once when he could trap it twice.
* Skipping a ball of lightning into a starving vampiric mist.
* Mending the shard Arth broke.

Zola Nordandi (James Jacobs)
* Wisely not breaking the marble full of devil mist.
* Freeing the unseen servant chef.
* Dancing with a chair mimic.
* Throwing a ball of lightning bolt into a chandelier.
* Dancing through a cell block full of ghouls.
* Getting her soul sucked into a mirror of life trapping.

Just imagine that last piece in there
So that's a wrap for the second edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure A Light in the Belfry! The entire game was quite a flashback to my high school and college games, where I ran this adventure on several consecutive Halloweens. But I can't say I have any interest in revisiting second edition rules again any time soon. I must have asked for Wisdom and Intelligence checks a fifty times in those six-ish hours. While I like my games with some free form and interpretational elements to them, sometimes it turns out a little complexity in a rules system is actually a good thing. And trying to find anything in those rulebooks--oooof! I did a lot of adlibbing just to keep things running without a drawn out session of rules hide-and-go-seek. But for all the wonkiness, the story is a fun one and easily the best combination of classic D&D adventure and pure B-horror-movie camp I can think of--or ever want. I think this was my third--maybe fourth--time running A Light in the Belfry, and if I get my way it won't be the last. I am going to have to fix up my mirror for next time, though, the shards didn't fit a well as I would have liked--a fact losing one of them actually disguised quite nicely.

So thanks to James, Jason, Mark, and Rob for playing and being my guinea pigs for the first adventure of Erratic Episodes. Check back tomorrow for a bit on the props I used to bring Morgoroth's accursed mirror right into the game room, and a little later this week for the open call for Episode 2!

Whatever it might be.

Adventure Soundtrack Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Interview with the Vampire for group scenes and combat, tracks from From Hell and Hannibal for investigation.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Episode 1: We're Back On!

So far this endeavor has been more erratic than anticipated—holidays, travels, snow, adventures—but that all changes this weekend! We’re on for Sunday for the conclusion of A Light in the Belfry. Whether it’s to be a dramatic finale or an anticlimactic end, that’s up to the players and how fast they can track down the twelve missing mirror shards. One way or another, it all wraps Sunday night at 6:00.

That means that by next Friday I plan to have a brief written up for the next Erratic Episodes adventure. Anyone who didn’t play a Light in the Belfry is welcome to put their name in the hat (aka, on the comments page for the post, in an e-mail, or in a Facebook message to me)—be you a Paizonian, friend of mine, or other local Seattle gamer, all are welcome. I can’t say what we’re doing, when, or how many players I’m looking for yet, but one way or the other I promise it’ll be a blast!

But for now, hang tight for Bearnar the dwarf, Zola Nordandi, Valeriu the Gray, and Sane Arth’s final adventure in the second edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure A Light in the Belfry.