Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Love and Memory

This past Saturday, the 25th of June, a friend of mine...no...two friends of mine got married.

To each other that is.






I've known the bride for almost 25 years. I've seen her through two boyfriends, passing relatives, a girlfriend, or two of mine, my engagement, marriage, and divorce, and all manner of good times, and some less so.

She is a warm, funny, creative person, an amazing artist, and one of the best RPG players I've ever had the pleasure of GMing for. She was a member of the oft-mentioned, and much vaunted 'New Jersey Group' that I ran some of my best games with over the years.

It made me so happy to see her so happy. Her head was together, her sassy attitude in full gear, and her demeanor that of genuine bliss.

The groom, and I have know of each other for close to 20 years. We were never friends per se, but rather distant acquaintances.

I always remember him as a friend of my friends, yet always on the periphery. He never seemed close to those I was closest to in this particular group. Like a moon in an extraordinarily wide orbit.

I was very pleased to have had the chance to talk to him, get to know him, help him with some of the logistics of the day, and impart the tiniest bit of advice from my own experiences. Clearly I am no expert on marriage, but I like to think I let him know he had a friend in his corner whom he didn't know he had. If anything, I hope that took a little of the edge off his nerves.

It was a beautiful ceremony performed by another friend of theirs (and mine), and yeah, it was pretty awesome.






***


On a unrelated, related note...


Among the guests I encountered at the wedding were people I hadn't seen for the better part of a decade, or more. A few I have communicated with via Facebook, or email once in a blue moon, but for the most part it took a close look, followed by a literal double take in one instance for them to recognize me, and vice-versa.

Before the wedding, and at the party after, we caught up and waxed nostalgic about old times. As gamers are want to do, we reminisced about games of yore.

My pal Phil mentioned our old Star Wars game, and how it was the best game he'd been in. I thanked him. He told me about a new Star Wars RPG campaign one of the guys had started, and honestly it sounded pretty damn cool.

A little while later I got to talk to the fellow running it, and we shared notes.

Some time passed, the subject of the new Star Wars game came up again, and someone mentioned how I had run this amazing campaign that they all still talk about. I turned to see it was a fellow named Robert who...it's very hard to explain the gravitas this fellow has. He is a true scholar. A brilliant, wise, thoughtful man. His health has suffered somewhat in recent years, but he still looks surprisingly youthful. When he speaks, everyone falls silent. He has the gift of great knowledge, but the know how to avoid being long winded. Astounding guy.

Anyway, I felt a bit embarrassed as he wasn't even in my old Star Wars: Ever The Brave campaign. As I started to thank him, but try to diffuse some of the praise, he went on to say that having seen it, and those who played in it, he had "never seen a game so evocative of its source material, that engrossed its players to the same degree. It was truly a work of art."

Again, Robert wasn't in the game. He had observed it many times, and knew many of the players in it quite well. As you can imagine, high praise from a fellow I respect a lot had me wanting to run a victory lap, and hide under a table in equal measure.

Finally, no more than a ten minutes before I had to leave I was in a conversation with the guy I mentioned who was running the new Star Wars game. He says to me, "You know what? We've been talking shop on and off all day, and I don't think I actually got your name"

I was embarrassed, and said, "My apologies. I'm Adam Di..."

"OH! YOU'RE ADAM! THE ADAM! You're the guy they're always talking about. You ran that Star Wars game they keep mentioning! You ran other stuff too. They're always saying you're the best."

Heheh. I've never been so happy to travel home by train. I don't think my ego would've fit in a car by the end of that day.

I miss my NJ Group. They are really, good people, and great gamers.

Hopefully, we can reconnect, and not wait so long between visits.


***


Congratulations to Lynn and Matt,

I wish you Wisdom, Harmony, Peace, and Love






Lynn and Matt
Art by Matt, Colors by Lynn



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Barking Alien









Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Getting My Bearings

A little status update before I talk about something more substantial.

Campaigns I Have Known remains one of my more popular series of posts, and I couldn't be happier. It gets a large number of views each time, and while it doesn't get a ton of comments, the ones I receive are complimentary, and really make me feel good about the endeavor.

If anyone has a game they'd like me to cover I'm open to suggestions. For the rest of this month I'm going to try to cover games that are atypical to what I usually address (Sci-Fi and Supers), but in the months to come I will be returning to my faves.

I know what you're thinking (my species is telepathic), "How can we suggest games for Campaigns YOU Have Known? We don't know what you've played." This is true of course, but I've played a lot of games. No, no. A LOT of games. If you suggest a game, and I haven't run it I won't choose your suggestion. Easy peasy.

Thing is though, I've played so many games, over so much time, that sometimes it's hard to think of one in particular that others might find interesting. A suggestion might jar my memory, while simultaneously letting me know what my readership wants to read about.

My planned Player Profiles series has been delayed, but I do intend to follow through with it as it's something I've been wanting to do for some time. Celebrating the players who've made my time in the hobby so awesome is the least I can do for all the hours of fun they've given me.

I've only been able to post a one Thorough Thursday this month, which as the posts themselves are noted for saying, "That's just wrong". I hope to get to at least the next two before month's end. If not, there is always next month, and onward.

What Other GMs Do Wrong went over well this month, but again, I really only posted one entry on it. I've been GMing for the most part, and haven't really encountered a situation where another GMs approach triggered my need to critique a particular gaming pet peeve. This is a good thing. It means I'm playing with really good GMs (or that I'm getting soft in my old age. Frell that noise! I'll find something to get agitated about if it kills me. Heheh).

That's about the size of it right now.

In the upcoming Summer months of July and August, I intend to get back to some older projects, expand on the series above, and discuss some of the new projects I've started. Plus August 25th, 2016 is 39 years that I've been gaming!

Holy Hortas in Hard Vacuum! Do you realize what that means? Next year will be...40 years.


Good grief.

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Barking Alien







Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thorough Thursdays: STALKING THE NIGHT FANTASTIC

I'm a few Thursdays behind in my plan to bring back Thorough Thursdays, but I'm glad to finally get back to the series.

This month I want to make a concentrated effort to not talk about Science Fiction, and Superheroes.

In addition to getting back to certain reoccurring theme posts, I was looking to address the fact that although I (like anyone else) have my favorite genres, subjects, and games, I've enjoyed and played a lot of different kinds of RPGs.

One genre that I rarely favor, but which has occasionally resulted in some really fantastic games, is Horror. However, we are looking at a very specific type of Horror - one with a dollop of Funny.

Follow me as I take a long look at a very specific game...


***


Prior to this post, I've only tagged Stalking The Night Fantastic, the supernatural Horror-Comedy RPG created by Richard Tucholka, Chris Beiting, and Robert Sadler for Tric Tac Games in 1983, four times before.

I've probably mentioned or alluded to it a few other times.

That's just wrong.





Original 1983 Cover and Third Edition 1990 Cover.
 


This game, and this entry, is a bit of an oddity.

Most of the time, Thorough Thursdays posts focus on a subject very near, and dear to me that for some reason I've never addressed in detail. This was the original idea of the series at least. Take a game, a TV show, a famous person or what-have-you that means a lot to me, realize I haven't ever really talked about that person, or thing, and rectify that situation pronto!

Then there are subjects that I want to discuss because they interest me, but the opportunity to do so just hasn't come up for one reason, or another Sometimes these are even favorite subjects, but they are ones I think about and would love to look at a little more.

Perhaps examine them more...thoroughly? Heheh. Ahem.

Stalking definitely falls into that later category.

STNF is part of a certain breed of game that was very popular in the early to mid-eighties, even if each individual game wasn't hugely popular among the masses. These games all shared the common traits of being cool ideas for RPGs that were then buried under incredibly crunchy, and complex mechanics.

Stalking The Night Fantastic has a number of interesting elements going for it. Not the rules of course, but interesting elements nonetheless.

First off, the overall tone of the game is a little bit tongue-in-cheek. Depending on how you read into it, the setting either has a hint of humor, or it's a downright comedy (best handled as a dark comedy in my opinion).

I personally ran it a bit more on the serious side (believe it, or not), with humor sneaking in through the use of clever, character banter and the occasional oddball NPCs. My take would fall in line more closely with Hellboy comic books than it would, say Ghostbusters (although my later take on Ghostbusters upped the scary factor as well).

The game itself focuses on a super secret organization known as 'Bureau 13' that investigates unexplained phenomena, and protects America from the strange, and supernatural. A mix of Hellboy's B.P.R.D., Men in Black, and the X-Files, the agents of Bureau 13 are not your polished, James Bond type spies. Rather, its field operatives are a mismatched assembly of former soldiers, police detectives, civilian researchers, and other assorted specialists.

In edition to normal men, and women fighting off the denizens of the dark, paranormal  agents were also possible. I recall a Vampire, a Spectre, a Sorcerer, and a Psychic among the various PCs to appear in our campaigns. A friend's campaign featured a Were-Squirrel PC. No, you did not read that incorrectly.





Agent McNamara was killed in action in the Summer of 2013,
and he STILL reports to work on time every morning.
 
What's your excuse?


The adversaries in Stalking The Night Fantastic are incredibly diverse, as well as over-the-top. It is here that you see comedic angle rear it's head in earnest. From the aforementioned Were-Squirrels to a few pun related beasties, truly anything is possible. The classics are still the best of course, and Zombies, Ghosts, Demons, Cult Members, Ancient Gods, Flying Saucers, and creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monsters are all fair game.

I've always felt this game had a lot of potential, more potential in fact than it's notoriety and popularity would elude to. I've run campaigns of it on a few occasions,  and I'm not even entirely sure I achieved the full potential of the game as I imagine it.

There is this amazing place that lies somewhere between Call of Cthulhu, Chill, Ghostbusters, B.P.R.D., the X-Files, and many other related settings that this game is perfect for depicting. The road to that place is hard to find for some reason.

Maybe one moonlit night, somewhere far away from the eyes and thoughts of the unbelievers, I'll find it.


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Barking Alien






Wednesday, June 15, 2016

BASIC DUNGEONS & DRAGONS - SKULL MOUNTAIN - Part II


Campaigns I Have Known

Proudly Presents...
 
BASIC DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
 - SKULL MOUNTAIN

Part II


Synopsis (Continued...): And now the second half of the campaign, which features the two new players/PCs entering the fray following the departure of Aaron, and his recently deceased Elf.

The story thus far...After being marooned on a mysterious island by a terrible storm at sea, two old friends, a Fighter and a Cleric, join forces with an Elf they met to find shelter. They discover Skull Mountain, the former home of a giant long since dead.

Strange creatures and fantastic treasures are found within the mountain. With each level deeper our intrepid explorers descend, the foes become more dangerous, and the rewards greater!

On the next to last level, the sixth level of Skull Mountain, a terrible creature slew the Elf as he tried to help his allies.

Now, with their Elf friend gone, the Fighter and Cleric swear to find out what is at the very bottom of Skull Mountain if it's the last thing they do! Before they can make good on their plan, another dreadful storm comes through, depositing a damaged boat, and two new castaways into their midst.

Jeff's Fighter, and Josh's Wizard had arrived! David's Fighter and Matt's Cleric brought the newcomers to their campsite, gave them food, and some first aid, and learned about the brothers' need to go home.

The PCs made a deal to aid each other in their respective goals. The newcomers would help the Fighter, and Cleric explore the lowest level of Skull Mountain in exchange for some of the treasure, and their help in repairing the boat. In exchange, the brothers would take the stranded adventurers with them to The Mainland**.

Fairly quickly, things became complicated. A series of phantoms accosted the newcomers, especially Jeff's Fighter. Luckily, Matt's Cleric had the magic amulet that let him see the ghost-like figures, as well as speak with them. They turned out to be ancestors of Jeff's people and they were trying to warn the brothers to leave the island immediately.

Josh's Wizard, and Matt's Cleric consider this, while the two Fighters refuse. Jeff wants to find treasure and weapons to aid his nation. Dave wants to avenge Aaron's Elf.

Boldly pressing onward, the party uses the pit entrance to reach the sixth level quickly. Slippery ledges, and loose rocks make it slow, and treacherous going. Exploring the area thoroughly once they arrive, they PCs discover it to be the actually den/nest of the creature that killed Aaron's Elf. In addition, they felt that the creature had been placed there on purpose by someone, perhaps as a guardian beast.

Was it the protector of whatever, or whomever was on the bottom level?

Finally, the PCs made it to the seventh, and final level, which turned out to be a cavernous chamber filled with seawater which formed a miniature lake. In the lake was a small island, and on that island was a domed, stone structure about the size of a small keep. Several other structures were found the eventually led to the party calling 'The Domed City'.  

The Domed City is revealed to be the home of a race of Dwarf-like beings who saw Skull Mountain as both their home, and their charge. They felt it was their 'true purpose' to protect the mountain, and the giant's treasure to the point of seeing the PCs as invaders, and criminals. Even after an attempt to explain, the Dwarves felt compelled to attack the party. Luckily, the Wizard and Cleric were able to reason out the why of this.

The small people of the Domed City were the descendants of Mountain Spirits, and Brownie-like Faeries from the giant's house. They simply could not allow the PCs to go unharmed even if they wanted to. However, if the adventurers could take the treasure, and get it out of the mountain, not only were they free to go, the Dwarves were likewise free of having to remain in the mountain to protect it.

With clever thinking, lucky rolls, and the discovery of The Giant's Heart (a magic artifact that may, or may not have actually been the heart of the giant who lived in the mountain), the party was able to defeat enough of the Dwarves, and their minion beasts to get past them, find the treasure, and escape with it to the surface!

The campaign ends with the party at sea on the brothers' repaired carrack (boat) heading for a new chapter back on The Mainland**.

Appendix N: The other players (meaning not me) brought in influences from books, movies, cartoons, and other sources that I was less familiar with. Things like The Hobbit, Lords of The Rings, Warlord and Conan comic books, and more that I couldn't tell you.

I personally sourced (in addition to the stuff I mentioned in the preface of the previous post) a lot of folklore, just as I do today. Specifically, I used British, German, and Russian folktales, as well as some Greek and Norse Mythology.

Bonus Features:

*I came up with the idea of Signature Magic Items so that I could give the PCs cool magic items without having to keep giving them items. They would find one item that would get better, and better as they (the PCs) went up in level.

Signature Magic Items start as something like a +1 Sword, or an amulet that lets you see ghosts. When you go up in level, beat some difficult challenge, or something similar, you discover a Shield that is also +1, but makes both the Sword and Shield +2 each IF they are used together. The amulet lets you speak to ghosts as well as see them. That kind of thing.

This is an idea I still use when playing my D&D-But-Not style games.

**The entire campaign took place on a single island with a skull topped mountain on it.

World building was somewhere between simple, and non-existent.

At the same time, I believe that at some point I did sketch out what we knew of the world. Story elements from both the players, and some of the NPCs gave me just enough information to get an idea of where the campaign took place (if you're very lenient about the meaning of that phrase).

The original map is long since lost. It would look something like this:



 


The entirety of the world besides Skull Mountain Island, was either The Mainland, or the mysterious  'Lands Beyond The Sea', where Dave's Fighter, Matt's Cleric, and presumably Aaron's Elf came from. It is also possible the Elf came from The Mainland and was simply exploring the Lands Beyond The Sea, just as Jeff and Josh's characters were.

The Mainland consisted of several small nations including Jeff and Josh's PCs' homeland, a number of warring neighbors, and The Hidden Forest.

While I primarily used creatures found in the Basic D&D rules, I felt the need to create a few original beasties to make the setting special. The monster that slew Aaron's Elf was a inspired by the Dobhar-chĂș, an Irish folklore creature whose name means 'Water Dog'. The Dwarves of the Domed City were based on a Domovoi, a type of Slavic Brownie.

Also...

As part of a series entitled, 'Dungeon Mastering As Fine Art', the site Zenopus Archives gives considerable attention to the map of Skull Mountain, and the various incarnations it has had.

James Maliszewski, on the GROGNARDIA blog, likewise gave the locale some thought.


***

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that's all for this tale. It was a lot of fun reminiscing about this campaign, and I hope to do more 'firsts' in the future (my first Mekton campaign, my first Traveller campaign, etc.).

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

See you soon.

AD
Barking Alien








Monday, June 13, 2016

BASIC DUNGEONS & DRAGONS - SKULL MOUNTAIN - Part I

Barking Alien friend, and frequent commenter Miguel de Rojas made mention on my last Campaigns I Have Known post that he loves this series. I'm serious! It's a quote. You can look it up.

I have to thank Miguel as that seriously made my day, and it also helped me to decide what this next entry would cover. I knew I wanted to shake things up, and go with something Medieval Fantasy related (What?! Adam has a Medieval Fantasy campaign he remembers fondly? Yes. They're rare, but they happen.), but I wasn't sure which to talk about.

Then it struck me - I owe you all something special. Something that really celebrates this series.

Welcome to the Summer of 1978, and my very first campaign of anything. Basic (Holmes version) Dungeons & Dragons was the name, and having no clue what I was doing was the game.

Now, this may require a little set up. I recommend reading this, this, and really this.

Where were we? Oh yes, 1978 - Summer Camp.

My friend David Pollack brings over the Basic D&D box set. I have to assume it was the Holmes version, the same one I started with the year before, but I recall there being something different about it. Perhaps one of the D&D aficionados who reads this can shed some light on the subject.

Because I was the only one who seemed to have prior experience playing D&D, I was voted GM by default. It was Dave's suggestion, but everyone seemed happy with the arrangement so it stuck. Besides, once I tasted life on the other side of table, there was no going back. Well, not literally, but I was rarely happy as a player back then. Gamemastering was my jam and remains so to this day.

My very first campaign is, honestly, a very strange memory for me. I actually recall it pretty clearly. I forget the characters' names of course (a common issue for me), but I remember who they were, the players, the stories. I don't remember later games nearly as well.

I guess it's true what they say. You never forget your first time.


***


Campaigns I Have Known
Proudly Presents...
 
BASIC DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
 - SKULL MOUNTAIN

Part I



Picture yourself a lower-middle class 9 year old boy living in Brooklyn, NY.

Not hard right? Ahem.

Well, If you would, imagine for a moment that you don't have access to the internet. It hasn't been invented yet as far as you know. No smartphones, no laptops, or desktops.

You're not yet very familiar with Anime, or Manga. Video games consist of the Atari 2600. It will be months before Space Invaders hits the arcades in North America.

Numerous popular TV shows, and cartoons are airing, some making their debuts in 1978. None of them are Medieval Fantasy related. Battlestar Galactica, Project U.F.O., Mork and Mindy, even Yogi's Space Race - all Science Fiction themed.

As far a movies go, a lot of great films were released that year. Many of them came out that Summer, but a lot more came out between October, and December. Among them Superman, Midnight Express, Dawn of the Dead, Grease, Animal House, and Watership Down. Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings film would come out in November. As I'm starting my campaign in June, that's 6 months away. .

This is what the world was like for me at the time I came up with this campaign. Barely any clue of what Fantasy was, and less of an idea of what makes something 'Medieval'. I'd seen some old Errol Flynn films, a few cartoons with Knights, and Dragons (notably Bugs Bunny), but overall I had to wing it in regard to what life was like in the default milieu of 1978 D&D.

But wait...I have some Oz books, The Sword in The Stone movie, and...I can do this.


***


Title: [BASIC] DUNGEONS & DRAGONS - SKULL MOUNTAIN




'Skull Mountain'
 
Illustration by Tom Wham
 
From the Holmes Edition of
Basic Dungeons & Dragons
 


System: Basic Dungeons & Dragons, Holmes version (1977), TSR.

Circa: Summer 1978. Between June, and August. There were approximately 30-32 sessions, each lasting 4-6 hours. Three, or four of the sessions were run on weekend days, and those were about 8 hours long.

Player Base: There were five players, all male, between the ages of 8-11. We started with three players, lost one during a short break, then two new guys joined. Our missing member returned for a few sessions toward the end of the campaign. (See more in the synopsis).

Characters:

As this campaign took place over 38 years ago I am unable to remember the characters names. I know this has been a thing with me in these older campaign descriptions. I'm sorry about that, really I am. My memory is surprisingly sharp in other areas. Promise.

An additional note: Back in those days characters didn't have elaborate backstories - heck, they rarely and barely had simple backstories - but as our campaigns progressed we added little character bits, and background notes that enabled us to know something about our heroes beyond their class, level, and stats.

I think this write up will show how early on in the hobby my friends and I did things a little differently.


Human Fighter (played by David P.)

Initially serving as the party's de facto leader, David's Fighter was definitely in the vein of a Knight. He was strong, smart, and agile (Not your typical bruiser). He was an honorable fellow with a noble bearing. His personal code of ethics meant he would protect, or rescue his allies as a top priority.

His primary weapon was a sword, and he usually carried a shield as well. His armor was chainmail, and he wore a helmet.

He learn very little of his origins, except that he is from 'beyond the sea'. He was a warrior, but hated war having seen 'too much bloodshed in the name of gold'.

His signature magical items* (discovered one by one throughout the campaign) were a Sword, a Shield, and a suit of Platemail. Each one was +1 to hit, damage, or armor class as appropriate, but gained an additional +1 when used in unison. That means if one person has all three items, he/she has a +3 Sword, a +3 Shield, and a +3 suit of Armor.



Human Cleric (play by Matthew)

Matthew played our Cleric, an old friend of David's Fighter who worshipped never defined 'Spirits'. Matt's Cleric was very much what you'd expect from a classic Cleric - Wise, honest, faithful, and full of hope.

The Cleric's main weapon was a Mace, but honestly he rarely used it unless he had no other option. Matt used his character very much in a defensive, and support role, though we certainly didn't know those terms at the time. The Cleric was grab in chainmail as well.

We learn even less about the Cleric than we do about the Fighter. There are interesting references to the Spirits that give him his powers however. He mentioned things like The Spirit of The Sea, The Spirit of The Wind, The Sun Spirit, The Spirit of Night, etc. We know that he came from the same homeland as David's Fighter.

Matthew's Cleric had a signature magic item* in the form of an amulet. This mystic necklace, known as The Amulet of Lost Souls (I think), gave the Cleric the power to see ghosts, speak with the dead, and perform other strange feats.


Elf (played by Aaron)

Oh Basic D&D, with your non-Humans as classes. Man, how I've missed...no, actually. Always thought that was terribly silly.

While most of you are probably quite familiar with 'Race as Class', for those who aren't, the Elf, Dwarf, and Halflings of Basic D&D were designed as Classes. An Elf was essentially a Fighter/Magic User, a Dwarf was a Fighter, and a Halfling was a Thief. You couldn't play a Dwarf who was by profession a Cleric, or an Elf would as by profession a Thief. Elves were Elves, and Dwarves were Dwarves, and that was that.

Aaron's Elf was someone Matt's Cleric, and David's Fighter had met only recently prior to the events that began the campaign. He had met the two old friends while traveling with them on a ship heading for The Mainland**.

We learned as we went that there were few Elves left in the world. Most of the Elf's people had 'faded away' over time (we were never clear what that meant, but Elves were supposedly very rarely seen in the world). Elves who didn't want to fade needed to travel to a hidden forest on The Mainland, and speak with a Fae Guardian of some kind. Aaron's character was on his way there.

His main weapon was a Bow, and Arrow, but he also carried a short sword. His armor was leather if I remember correctly.

The Elf's signature magic item* was an Elven Gauntlet/Glove that only an Elf could wield (for most other races it did nothing special, but if a goblin touched it that would receive burning damage). The Gauntlet could touch something, and then bestow that quality on something else for one round. As an archer, he mostly used it to touch things, then touch an arrow as he notched it.

Touch a burning torch, bestow fire on an arrow. Touch running water, bestow an arrow with the ability to put out a small fire. Touch the Cleric's Amulet, bestow an arrow with the ability to cause 'physical damage' to a Ghost, or evil Spirit.


Human Fighter (played by Jeff W.)

About half way through the campaign, the make up of our group changed. Aaron wanted to do more 'camp' related activities, and hang out with some of his older friends following...well...that would be telling (see the Synopsis). It was cool, and we let him know we would always save him a seat at our table.

Two new players joined up - Jeff and Josh Wolf - the Wolf Brothers (as we called them). The Wolf Brothers had been away for the first month of camp, but ended up signing on for August. I didn't know them well at first, but the older brother, Jeff, was a friend of a friend. The two of them had been playing for about a year already (same as me).

Jeff was tough to game with at first. I think he resented that a lot of people thought that I was a really good GM when I was two years younger than he was. Also, he had a better handle on the rule mechanics then I did, and it came up from time to time. He wasn't a rules lawyer per se, but he was a fellow to whom the rules mattered.

I eventually won him over with, well, a really good game I guess.

Jeff's Fighter was very different from Dave's in personality, and style. He was tougher, stronger, and more physical in general. He was more headstrong, less disciplined, and more barbarian than knight, thought not stupid, or completely brutish.

I don't know, or remember enough Fantasy literature to make good comparisons, but if Dave's fighter was Galahad, Jeff's was Fafhrd. A better comparison for me might be Captain America and Wolverine, complete with Wolverine's more layered, and nuanced modern depictions.

Like Aaron's Elf, Jeff's Fighter has a bit of a history, and a goal which he shared with his brother (the players decided their characters were also brothers). They had been on adventures when they received word that there may be war between their nation and a neighboring one. They were returning home, headed for The Mainland** to join their father (a noble, chief, or important warrior of some kind) and defend their country if need be.

Jeff's Fighter wielded axes, often carrying a large one in one hand, and a smaller throwing axe in the other. He wore chainmail, but we always imaged it piece-meal, with animal hides and such over it.

He gains his signature magic item a bit late in the game. It was a two handed battle axe called, 'Sunder' that on a natural '20' would cleave whatever it struck in half, with any loose bits flying off in all directions. This included things an axe can't normally cut through, such as a stone wall, or a much larger than Human sized creature.


Human Wizard (played by Josh)

Jeff's brother Josh played Jeff's character's brother, which was great as it made it easy to introduce them into the already existing campaign very easily.

A fun character, the Wizard was nervous, apprehensive, and pretty much the exact opposite of the brash warrior Jeff portrayed. Fearing that his older brother would show him up, the Wizard put on an air of being wiser, and more powerful than he really was.

He mainly carried a staff, and a dagger, with the staff being his primary weapon. As with all classic D&D Wizards, he wore no armor.

Josh's Wizard found his signature magic item* in his second session. It was wand that could gather magic from around him, and release it as a blast of magical energy, or he could add the power he absorbed to one of his spells. So, if an enemy wizard cast a Magic Missile at him (which normally hits automatically) and he had his wand out, he would make a sort of generic saving throw to see if he could catch the magic. It he made it, the Magic Missile would turn into swirling colored light around the tip of the wand. The Wizard could then blast it back at the enemy or cast a Magic Missile of his own, using a memorized spell, but causing double damage (since he now has the power of the first missile).

I think he called it 'The Returner's Wand' or 'Wand of the Returner' or something.


Synopsis: Never having run a campaign before, I started with the idea that I needed a good reason for the party to be together, and to go on an adventure. A purpose to it all.

I saw the illustration of 'Stone Mountain' in the Basic D&D book, and I was suddenly inspired. The entire concept for the campaign rushed like a raging river into my head.

The PCs begin waking up on the beach of a fog enshrouded island. The ship they were traveling on, headed for The Mainland** was dashed upon the rocks. They remembered a storm. There were no other survivors beyond the three initial PCs - Dave's Fighter, Matt's Cleric, and Aaron's Elf.

Past the short beach was a sad, desiccated looking forest, and after that a huge mountain. The mountain took up the entire center of the small island. At the top of the mountain was a skull shaped formation. The PCs immediately dubbed it Skull Mountain.

At first they tried to figure out their next course of action - Try to build a boat, and leave? There was another storm brewing in the distance. Explore the island and see if there were any caves to make camp in? Perhaps. A signal fire would be useless in the rain, and wind. Then there was the mountain.

They reasoned that the skull on top was likely man-made, and might be an ancient temple, or carving into the mountain. It could double as shelter if the former. They decided to check it out. At some point, they saw the flickering light of torches in the eyes of the skull, and later the mouth. It was some kind of edifice! Perfect! They made haste for the skull.

What followed was a series of classic dungeon delves, with me planning what was on each level of the dungeon in the most general sense, and then ad libbing the encounters. The overall idea I had was that the skull was actually the remains of a long dead giant. Other creatures had taken up residence in the mountain, the open areas of which were once either the giant's home, or his innards.

Finally, the PCs discovered that the giant had climbed to the top of his home, on top of the mountain's peak, to avoid a flood. The water never went down. He got stuck up there, and eventually died.

"Why didn't the giant just swim away, or try to?" asked the Fighter.
"Could he not build a boat?" asked the Elf.
"This was his home," said the Cleric. "No one wants to give up their home."

The Fighter didn't believe this. This was a giant. He would save himself if he thought he would die, home, or no home. Then he thought, and thought, and finally realized. "If you are a giant, you bury treasure in your home. He couldn't leave his treasure. There is some great wealth, or a magic secret hidden somewhere down beneath this place. Since we can't leave either, let's try to find it."

The others agreed.

Each level down was stranger, and stranger, and when they reach the sixth level, they realized there was another way in. A pit high above could send you plummeting from the top of the mountain to the sixth level straight away.

As the Elf climbed up the pit to see if there was more to it, or if it could be useful in anywhere, a foul creature came up from the seventh level, the 'bottom' as far as they knew, and attacked the Fighter, and Cleric.

It was an epic battle, and the Elf made his way back down to join them. In the end, the mighty beast was slain, but the Elf lay dead as well. *Sob*

Aaron was mad, but only for a bit. He handled it well. He went out a hero, and the others promised to bury him, and bring his gauntlet to the Fae Guardian of the Forest on The Mainland** if they ever got off the island. Aaron decided to take a break from the campaign for a bit, but he returned for a few sessions towards the end, playing an NPC I created. More about that below.

Eventually the adventurers returned to their newly made camp site, which was at the base of the mountain. They buried their friend, swore vengeance against Skull Mountain, and planned to go to the bottom level as soon as they were rested. Unfortunately, another storm rolled it, and battered them with wind, and rain.

They awoke the next morning to the sound of a distance crash! Another ship, much smaller then the one they had arrived on, had run aground on a beach slightly North of the one they awoke on weeks {or was it month?) before. The new boat was much less damaged, and might even be repairable! It deposited two survivors, and a handful of dead crewmembers onto the island.


To Be Continued...

(I can't believe I thought I could write up my first campaign in one post. Ha!)

AD
Barking Alien