Monday, March 4, 2013

Creature Of The Black Lagoon Vs. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang!

* = Frighteningly enough this is exactly what I think of when I think of my closest Friends, but then again I'm one bad moment from being an axe weilding misanthrope bent on making sure that the vast majority of people feel as miserable as I do...

I thought winter was done? I guess I can’t complain too much, it could be significantly worse outside, but I really thought I was done shoveling for the season. Guess I was wrong. Maybe we’ll get lucky and that whipping wind will blow all the snow from the driveway somewhere else. I sincerely doubt it, but a man can dream, and right now that’s about the only worthwhile one. In fact I made the comment to my trainee today that I wished I was in witness protection right now so I never had to work again.

I think I’d be completely content right now to be incredibly lazy and do nothing for a long period of time. Just eat, sleep, perhaps exercise, and daydream my life away. This was a Monday that I so desperately did not want to see come to pass. It was for no real reason beyond just not sleeping overly well and wanting more time to just bask in the glory of my beautiful wife.

I could have done that more on Sunday, but instead I felt the strong internal pull to finish Howard Andrew Jones‘Plague Of Shadows’ (**** out of 5).
You know the Pathfinder Tales novels really don’t ever disappoint, and this one is no exception. The premise is fantastic as a local noble is cursed by a former adventuring companion and one of his former allies, and a former lover, must pull together a group to go track down an item to save him. It is remarkably simple, but the details are what made this book so enjoyable. Elyana, an elven woman, is the main character. She’s a season adventurer and lives close to the Lord Stelan, a knight and current baron of an area. The two used to be lovers but he took a human wife and bore an heir. The thing is there is no real cliché tension here. It’s simply the relationship that sometimes happens when two folks ‘outgrow’ one another but remain friends, there is BOUND to be tension between this person and the new spouse. What I also loved about this is Mr. Jones didn’t feel the need to make the wife the bad guy. She’s simply a woman who looks at her husband’s past and wonders if she can compete with it. It is VERY human of her, and it is written in a way that makes all involved sympathetic. In fact Lord Stelan could come off poorly here, but instead he is shown as a honest, good man who has made his decisions in life and honors them. I also dug that Stelan’s son, Renar is under the tutelage of Elyana, but he avoided the pitfall of her and he becoming romantically entangled. The fact is every time I was ready to groan at the potential of a poor, ‘easy’ plot being taken Mr. Jones handled it deftly and in a way that made the tale extremely satisfying. The rest of the adventuring party is rounded out by an affable and kind wizard named Kellius. He and Renar are pretty green, but are determined to save Lord Stellan. The captain of the guard, a half-orc named Drelm who may have been my favorite character of the book and an old ally, a bard, named Vallyn (I think) round out the party. They are in search of the shadow wizard Arcil, a former ally who cursed Stellan in order to get a magic item from him. Here’s the rub, nothing is what it seems. Elyana is far more dangerous, competent, and emotionally complex than you originally think. Stelan is more conflicted, a better man, and greater ally then you originally might think. Renar & Kellius grow up between the very pages and learn just how painful being a ‘hero’ can be. Drelm is just fantastic. He’s a weapon to be pointed in the direction of his enemies and let loose. He’s a man at war with the rage and loathing of his own blood, always apart, always underestimated, and always proving that he is more than he appears. Arcil is no different. By the end this character is perhaps the most interesting of the whole book. See Mr. Jones uses a fantastic trick and shows us the adventures of Stellan & Elyana’s old group through flashbacks. We see them in happier times, we see the problems they had, the loves they shared, and we see through Elyana and Arcil’s eyes just how it came to this. The book is a lot about loyalty, love, and friendship and what these concepts mean over time so it hit home for me. From a gaming perspective I am now in love with the idea of the country of Galt. A strange French Revolution in a fantasy realm setting full of intrigue, constant bloody revolution, and a truly nasty secret police force called the Gray Gardeners. I’d read about them before in the online, and free I might add, tale ‘The Perfumer’s Apprentice’ by Kevin Andrew Murphy, but never from the perspective of outsiders working actively against the powers in Galt. It has made me think that the 2nd D&D Group may run into something similar to this. So if you are looking for a quick, interesting, and ultimately fun read go check this one out!

Speaking of D&D, the 1st Group met on Saturday night. This was the beginning of the Paragon Tier and a continuation of the group’s attempt to end the threat of Sid and ‘The Stairway To The Stars’. I talked a bit about my plans on the Podcast last week with David who is always a good sounding board for ideas and feedback. I went forward thinking I had crafted a decent little jaunt into something new and fun. I’m not sure I actually pulled it off in execution though. On a quick side note the Players all got me their ‘1 Year Later’ write ups and I was blown away. I expected Zack Attack to DESTROY this exercise and really get after it with gusto and was not disappointed. I knew Bobert would likewise give me some extremely juicy bits to work with. I figured I’d get good stuff from Cordell as well. What I didn’t entirely expect was getting my doors blown off by Joe & Cassandra. The time, effort, and execution were excellent. I really think that this will help them solidify who their characters are, what they believe in, and what they do going forward. At least that’s the hope. I’d use this exercise again, but with much smaller requirements.

In addition we had a new player, Mick. She spent a great deal of time crafting a character that fit her sensibilities, worked seamlessly into the meta-story, and was going to hold her interest. There were a lot of things to juggle as this group tends to be tenuous allies at best, at worst they are a roll away from out and out interparty bloodshed. I was able to get some plot points completed before the game took off, killing of the Druegar jarl, Ivar, with Max’s (Bob’s Psion) betrothed The Seer, a Deva, as reparations towards Uwain (Zack’s Revenant Paladin of the Raven Queen), while also laying the groundwork for later events.
Drakel (Cordell’s Tiefling Hexblade) had built in a LOT of tasty character morsels in his Year write up which made it easy to put him in a position to later want to come back to the Monastery of Erathis. Fie (Cassandra’s Changeling Brutal Scoundrel) & Adler (Joe’s Genasi Swordmage) were a bit more in the background at the beginning, but that wouldn’t last too long.  Saveria (Mick’s Chaos Sorcereress) and the NPC scholar Alden were there for this portion, but weren’t all that involved.

So after the killing of Ivar and The Seer’s coup attempt while sending the PC’s into the ‘Stairway To The Stars’ the PC’s arrived at their destination. I’m not sure what they expected, and I really hope that I surprised them a little bit. They found themselves in a metal hallway which they explored, eventually they came to a room that shut them off from where they had come and were ‘attacked’ by four swarms of small insect like creatures who did no ‘real’ damage to them, but upon successfully hitting a PC/NPC fled the scene. Eventually the PC’s stomped these beasts into the ground and discovered that they were automatons of some type powered by pieces of Far Realm tainted meteorite. This of course led Uwain to cut off the ‘infected’ part of his arm in an attempt to remain ‘untainted’. Drakel burned his away.  Saveria allowed Uwain to cut hers off. While doing so Uwain noticed that beneath her billowing dress she was covered in tattoos of an old off-shoot of the Primordial language. Seeing as the PC’s react to ALL unknown folks with fear and suspicion I was surprised when Uwain was reasonable with her rather than intimidating. I try to sow that seed of doubt with all the NPC’s that a group meets, because I want them to be ‘real’ and have their own motivations. I try very hard for them not to be plot devices, but beings that the PC’s can interact with. Unfortunately, this leads to a group being insanely suspicious even of other PC’s, which might be due to Sid betraying them, thank you Zack! Let’s face it though; this group is full of anti-heroes and characters on the verge of out and out villainy. If you lie down with dogs you will most likely end up with fleas as the saying goes. Saveria and Uwain had an odd ‘moment’ at this point after she touched his sword, insert sexual innuendo here. This will be extremely important not just as this session played out, but I have a feeling it will be VERY important for sessions to come.

Eventually the PC’s found an opening into a larger cavern. Uwain, being undead and giving 0 shits, just marched on through. He was immediately suffering from cold damage, but noticed nothing right away. Drakel followed and immediately began suffocating and freezing to death. It was the ‘airlock trap’ I talked about on the Podcast.
I was infatuated with the idea of this as I liked the mental visual of a PC bulldozing his/her way into the cavern only to realize that they had made a DRASTIC error and we floating off into the ether of space to die. I however didn’t want anyone to die, not really anyways, so toned it down a bit. I could have ‘Tomb Of Horror’ed it up, but it seemed to defeat the purpose of a night of exploration and seeking. After getting Drakel back in the airlock and Uwain deciding that he probably couldn’t make it across the 150 yard expanse between airlock membranes he also came back in. Having Uwain in the party was a boon here to the group since he doesn’t need to breath and has resistance to cold, however he could have just kept going without them, which wouldn’t have surprised me, and they would have been far worse for wear. Now that Zack knows he can use this and most likely emerge only somewhat damaged I’m wondering how long it is before this becomes an issue within the party, especially if it prevents him from following an enemy.

The group made their way to a room, figured out, and activated a portal/transporter to another hallway. At this point they were getting the Sci-Fi vibe I was going for, but didn’t fall into the trap of meta-gaming the hell out of it. I have to say that they are a great group to run for in that context. This lack of meta gaming allowed Uwain to fall into a lightening trap in the hallway. I have to give Zack credit, Uwain is Uwain. He never falters in mission, he never changes direction, and he certainly never slows in pace. I rarely use traps, and this one was designed to give the group pause, and hopefully slow Uwain. It did not, and that’s cool with me. I might use more of them in the future now. Fie disarmed the trap easily and the NPC Alden, who is a coward of the HIGHEST degree took a great deal of time to examine its remains.

They explored the next set of hallways and rooms finding rundown living quarters of a few humans and a great deal of Drow, but this wasn’t the most interesting room they discovered. In the largest room on that level they discovered a vast area filled with large canisters holding a brackish, green fluid. In that fluid were bodies in varies stages of growth. The first they closely examined held what looked to be Sid. See this is the thing, in a way Sid has become a bit of the boogey man. He knows Max, Fie, & Adler EXTREMELY well, he’s been in their heads, he knows their secrets, and in his own way he ‘loves’ them. Uwain has seen his madness up close and wishes nothing more than his absolute and total destruction. It is a massive compliment to Zack that he crafted Sid in a way that he went from extremely interesting PC, to capable NPC, to major threat all organically.
I did very little work here as Zack had set the table for this from moment one. So Uwain of course went ape shit on the canister and destroyed it as well as this reproduction of Sid. The rest of the group explored the room while Uwain and Saveria destroyed the canisters and their contents. Two interesting things happened here. First off there was a reproduction of Alden in one of the canisters causing him to go into full blown freak out and run away. Drakel and his imp had to track him down, this is/was important but more so later in the session. Secondly the most fully formed of these clones was of Isobella. Now Isobella is the sister of Sid & Max, and also the long lost ‘love’ of Adler. Sid sacrificed her physical form to open the ‘Stairway To The Stars’. Max and Adler were hesitant to allow Uwain and Saveria to strike this being down, at first anyway. Eventually Max did his mental check and found it out that his body was a Tabla Rasa and he backed off. It took Adler a bit more and that was one of the better parts of the game in my opinion.

Zack is the best player I have, no offense to anyone else, he just is. He has gone out of his way to make Uwain the ‘moral center’ of the group. The thing is Uwain is a zealot. He’s the classic ‘my way or NO way’ Paladin. He’s relentless, remorseless, and driven by his ideals in a way that doesn’t allow for moral flexibility. Joe’s character, Adler, is trying to find himself after a HORRIFIC emotional turmoil. He wants to protect people, and he wants to do what’s ‘right’. These things come into conflict more often than you’d think. When Adler was sincerely questioning whether or not Uwain had the moral authority to decide what an abomination was and should be exterminated I thought it a powerful moment. The only issue I ended up having with it was Zack just steamrolled him. This isn’t a knock on him, it’s just simply who Uwain is. It is always interesting to be on the other side of the screen during this knowing how I’d react as a player, seeing the group dynamic at work, and seeing people grow into their roles and characters.

Eventually after the moral quandary they found another portal/transporter and made their way to another hallway. This led to the combat encounter of the night. It was a massive one at that.
I had a large cavern that the hallway opened into that was a mine. Inside there was a Mind Flayer, a gaggle of Drow thralls, a massive Umber Hulk, some Iron Defenders, and a few Automatons. I had planned for this to be the first of a few encounters, but once I got rolling I rethought that due to the time, my energy level and how the combat was going. The combat was sort of a mess, some of it my fault; I used a LOT of Daze and Dominate effects. Some of it was the players fault; TERRIBLY rolling, and Uwain charging into a room without back up. I won’t bore you with the blow by blow, but instead give you what I learned.

First off Iron Defenders NEED more damage output to be a viable threat, I rolled crits on Mick four times for 8 damage a pop and that is pathetic. Mind Flayers with thralls are a gigantic pain the ass for the PC’s and a joy to run. That being said the Dominate effect and the Umber Hulk’s maddening gaze basically put Bob and Zack out of the game, and that wasn’t cool. I have rarely felt like a shittier DM than having to watch two players sit on the couch, staring at the ceiling because an effect has rendered them useless. When my players don’t have fun, I don’t have fun, simple as that.

The Automatons ate turns and that was perfect for what they were there for. My biggest error was my atrocious, outside of the use of maddening gaze, use of the Umber Hulk. I needed to take a better hit, rend, and run approach, lesson learned there. I learned that the group FEARS Uwain being turned against them, I always need to find ways to keep Max occupied because at a distance he’s walking death, Saveria is going to be hell on minions, and Adler, Drakel, and Fie struggle with being tied up by mid-level functionaries. I also realized that’s a good thing, because if I put them in a position to work as a group, use synergy of abilities, and give them room they curb stomp the beejezus out of me. The ending of that fight was ROUGH as they took a 200 hit point Mind Flayer apart very quickly with a succession of effects and massive damage. It was beautiful to behold.
We ended the session with the group moving into a cave and finding two men, a Drow woman, and a dog. One of the men was bleeding to death and had obviously killed his Mind Flayer overseer; the Drow woman seemed upset by his demise. The other man was mentally damaged, and the dog spoke to Max. This puts us on the cliffhanger ending as Uwain wants to march on deeper into the mines, the rest of the group is trying to figure out what to make of these new NPC’s, and Alden has disappeared. Reading through this as I typed it I realized just how much Zack dominated the game.  I've got to find ways to involve the other characters more thoroughly and not allow him to run roughshot over them.  Overall it was a ‘B’ approach with only a ‘C‘ execution. The fact that I took two players out of the game so completely that I had to talk trash non-stop to keep them from falling asleep is crappy. It was what it was, and overall it was ok. It just needs to be better next session.

We received another ‘We Be Goblins’ miniature set preview!
This time we got a gander at Vorka, who looks to be a raggedy Goblin witch. Thus far this is the only new sculpt I don’t care much for. I’m confused by the hula girl sculpt. It just looks odd to me. I like the face, and I love the tattered witch hat with the bent down cone. I’m sort of ‘meh’ on the potato sack dress. In the context of a larger Goblin war party I think it’s a solid miniature, however alone I’m sort of nonplussed over it. If I can find it cheap I’ll pick it up, ‘cause I mean c’mon it’s a Goblin Witch, but if not it’s a PASS!

How about we finish this up with some…


- The 2nd D&D Group is two weeks away from starting. I’m formulating my plans, and will be making use of the lessons I learned from Saturday’s sessions. I look forward to using 1st level threats again. Perhaps I’ll even favor them with some “KOBOLD WARRIORS COME OUT AND PLAAAAYYYYAAAA!” I know at the very least Cassandra would love it.
- F’ you snow, I don’t want to shovel.
- On WWE ’13 I’m contemplating forming my own B.D.K. stable with Antonio Cesaro at the forefront of course. However, this would require me to either destroy my Kings Of Wrestling stable, possibly turning Kassius Ohno ‘face’, or having him be the 2nd member of this stable. The more I delve into the B.D.K. angle in CHIKARA’s past the more I love it. Diamond Dave Wheeler pointed out that the game NEEDS a new Dangeous Alliance of ‘Paul Heyman guys’. So I will also be forming a team, possibly in the mold of the 4 Horsemen, with CM Punk and Brock Lesnar as the cornerstones. If only they had put Heyman himself in the game.
- Speaking of wrestling we might go to a MN Indy Show this weekend. I’m excited by the idea of this, as I think it would be cool.
- I might take a beef roast out this week, let it marinate in balsamic vinegar, maybe some wine, a dash of liquid smoke, and some Worcestershire sauce for at least 24 hours. Then rub it thoroughly with some spices, cook it really low (I’m thinking 250) for like 6 hours, and then letting it cool to wrap it in cling wrap. Let it set again for 24 hours, and then deciding whether to finish it in the crock pot OR to slice it ULTRA thin with the meat slicer and use it for some type of hot beef sandwiches. Tis something I’m contemplating.
- I still want that soup Cassandra. See nothing subtle or subliminal there at all.
- Lady Christy has thoroughly drawn me into the idea of a marathon of the terrible television program known as ‘A Haunting’. There would be riffing and drinking involved of course. This must happen, it is APE LAW!
- Bobert makes me want to play Mass Effect.
- Perhaps we will ‘Make Podcast’ this week, perhaps not. David is a busy and mercurial man of late. It is nice to see the Golden Palomino happy and expanding his never ceasing gravitational pull of friendship. I don’t know that means in the context of he and I, what I do know is that it makes the Podcast interesting. ‘ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?’

Well I think this is all I got for now…

“Every word I said is what I mean
Every word I said is what I mean
Everything I gave is what I need
Virgin eyes and dirty looks

On what I have and why I took
Counting all the hands I shook
Now I know why you've been shaking
Now I know why you've been shaking
So bleed your heart out
There's no more rides for free
Bleed your heart out
I said what's in it for me
Everything I've held is what I've freed
Everything I've held is what I've freed
Everything I've shown is what I feel
Burying lies and stealing jokes
And laughing every time I choke
Biding all the time you took
Now I know why you've been taken
Now I know why you've been taken
So bleed your heart out
There's no more rides for free
Bleed your heart out
I said what's in it for me”

* = I'm looking at you here Lady Christy...

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