Friday, November 2, 2012

40k Friday - Old School 40K Part 2

The other half of the guide is all about the marine chapters. Part 1 is here.

These markings were all over the metal marines of this era.

Those wolf badges are a pain to paint but I've seen it done.

I still remember nothing about the Salamanders from this era.

And the guide wraps up with some handy banners which I am sure I have seen in use before, though it's been a very long time. I do remember a time when every marine army had some on the table. Sure it's kind of archaic, but it looks really nice. Ah well.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Final Countdown for City of Heroes

As of today City of Heroes has 30 days of life remaining.

As an adult male I rarely use the word "sad", but this impending doom leaves me with one word that best sums it up and that is "sad".

So many characters ... our family has 224 characters in the game, spread across 14 servers and 6 accounts (because there are 6 of us!). Every one of them has a story. Heck, they've provided a lot of the inspiration for this blog, especially the ICONS posts. For the last few years I kept a spreadsheet of them all - name, level, type, powers, server, player, account - so that we could put together a group in a speedy fashion when we wanted to play. "Do I have a Blaster on Virtue?" - "Yes, Arctic Spark, he's at 15" - "OK who are you bringing?"  - "Aluminum Man, duh, and your brother's got Polar Champion joining in too" - "Cool let's go". Now unless something gives, all of them will be gone in a month.

I know in the back of my mind that any computer/electronic thing can disappear forever with no notice, whether it's a hard drive crash, eventual obsolescence, or because a company decides to turn off the servers. As an old school adult I know that spending money on virtual stuff is a bad idea because of these facts. That's why I don't spend much money on them. But I did pay subscription fees and as an old-school gamer I know that is a stupid decision too because with multiple accounts I spent enough in a month, every month, to go buy a whole new game. I can hear my dad now, "you spent how much on WHAT?" if I was to tell him how this worked. He wouldn't get it, but it was worth it. Even when I was out of work for a while - more "while" than I care to think about - I still kept this one thing going, even at a somewhat reduced level, because it was something that everyone in the family enjoyed - it was worth it. Plus it was cheaper than most things a family of six typically does for entertainment.

So what can we do?
  • There's an online petition here. It has 21,000 signatures - apparently that's not enough as NCSoft has stated that their efforts to sell the game were not successful so they are continuing with the shutdown plans.
  • Countering this, this blog entry notes that sources report two separate game companies have inquired about it and been rebuffed.
  • Given the current state of things there is an effort underway to create a server emulation. Youtube video is here. This may be the ultimate refuge for the die-hard CoH fan.
Aside from all that if you're interested this is probably the best place to stay informed of developments:

There is also a Facebook page here. If it ultimately fails then, well, there's an alumni group on Facebook here.

Even if you don't play the game, if you;re a fan of superheroes in general, or gaming in general, or superhero gaming in particular, this is something you might want to get behind. Help us out and see where it goes, and at the very least you can say you were there when it went down.

As of now the game is set to spend the last week of its life under a full time alien invasion. Maybe it won't come to that - regardless, the Amazing Aluminum Man and no doubt quite a few others will be there when the world ends.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Silver Pyramid: a 4th edition adventure for 6th level characters

To help celebrate the holiday I thought I would share the closest thing to a horror adventure that I have written for D&D. I've found that atmospheric horror is a tricky thing compared to the simple joys of "a blue dragon?! But we're only 4th level!" so I don't do much of this kind of thing but on the chance that someone else can use it, here it is.

Technical details - this was set up to take my pc's from 6th to 7th level and there is enough XP here to do just that for a 5-man party. You could also use it with a 7th level party going from 7th to 8th (the encounters should be enough of a challenge) but you may need to add a 1000 XP bonus for figuring out what's going on and a 1000 XP bonus for ending the threat. Also, it's pretty linear, largely due to the way the interior is laid out. Hopefully this won't be too much of a problem for another group - my guys had a pretty good time and never complained about this aspect of it. Ideally the exploratory nature of the adventure, and the unusual scenery, will keep everyone interested. Plus there was some thought given to having the weirdness build to a crescendo of sorts, and the linear approach helps with that.

Map Notes - these are my original hand-drawn maps and are effectively notes - they tend to get embellished some when drawn on the battlemet, particularly the big outdoor maps. At the very least it's easier to tell where the water is. Keep this in mind and if someone is going to try and run this with my maps, drop me a line and I'll put up some bigger copies if you need them and try to make them a little more user friendly to others.

Setup - the hook here is that some nasty substance is polluting the river near a city in your campaign, killing fish and giving it an unpleasant taste. Your party is sent to investigate, forewarned with the knowledge that there is  a legendary silver pyramid rumored to be a home to mighty magics located somewhere upriver.

DM Notes - this little trek is intended to be deliberately weird. I see the pyramid as an interdimenstional incursion that does not follow the rules of linear time or space. Legends speak of the pyramid from a century ago yet your party will come across signs that unpleasant things have happened in just the last few minutes. In my campaign vision, sometimes the pyramid is not even there, and other times it's not this pyramid but a completely different pyramid, with a completely different interior. It's meant to be a wild card, a little piece of the countryside that is different every time someone decides to go look at it.

You can see how my group handled it beginning here. There is some additional descriptive and background material in those posts that might help explain what's going on too. At the very least it might be interesting to look at the DM notes here and compare to the session notes as to how it played out.

Final note: The room names are there for the DM only, to help with visualization and description - don't say them out loud! Let the players figure out what's going on.

The Silver Pyramid

The pyramid is located roughly 30 miles up river, about a day’s travel time for most parties. The party will most likely follow the river. Most of this travel will pass uneventfully but about halfway there  the group is attacked by big bugs:

Ankhegs! Level 5 Encounter (1050) - DC15 Nature Check to avoid surprise for the party
  • 3 Ankhegs (900) MM2 111
  • 6 Broodlings (150) MM2 111
Use any convenient outdoor map for this encounter. Remember that these beasties burrow and so may not even be seen until they emerge from a charge and attack. I'd tell everyone that the ground is vibrating and then give the PCs a perception check to figure out where they are coming up. Tunnels in the area lead to a nest where bones and a split bag of 200gp can be found (Parcel #10 for Level 6)

The river gets progressively nastier as the party proceeds north. It is especially noticeable at this point (no skill check) and looks like a black slick in the center of the river.

Finally they see the sun glinting off of something in the distance.

Approaching, the party sees a shining silver pyramid with a flickering purple crystal forming the peak. The pyramid sits in a lake and is surrounded by water on all sides. A viscous purple-black substance contaminates the lake. Everyone is going to want to make checks for this so let them:
  • DC 15 Perception: The pyramid seems to be slightly tilted to the east side
  • DC 15 Perception: the pyramid is smooth and seamless above the water
  • DC20 Perception: There is occasional movement in the water and it is not the wind
  • DC15 Nature: The substance is not natural
  • DC 20 History: The pyramid has been here since before the spellplague and there was talk about it being a source of pollution once before
The water is calm but it’s a DC15 Swim check because of the substance to swim the 100’ or so out to the pyramid, DC12 if attempted from the west side as it’s less nasty over there.

Commotion on the shore or in the water attracts 3 Chuuls:

Pond Beasties! Level 7 Encounter (1500)
  • 3 Chuuls (1500) MM1 43 (note these guys can swim just fine, though they are melee combatants and so may emerge from the water to fight.)

  • The shoreline (the edge directly above this text) is normal ground
  • The first two squares are Challenging (knee to waist deep) and require a DC15 Atheletics check to move normally, otherwise it’s 2 per square
  • The next two squares are Difficult
  • Beyond that it’s an Atheltics check and a swim. Underwater everything is heavily obscured due to the foulness in the lake. The scribbles on the one side of the pyramid represent the oozing side.

A few minutes after the Chuuls are defeated (enough time for a short rest) the inhabitants get the teleporter working and a Beholder Gauth Solo appears at the apex of the pyramid , looks around for a few seconds, then attacks.

Eye Fight! Level 5 Encounter (1000)
  • 1 Beholder Gauth Solo (note he doesn't have to make this easy - he can stay over the deeper water and fight at range) - original beholder gauth is MM2 p24

After defeating the beholder the party can determine that there is an opening in the side of the pyramid underwater. 

Hangar Bay! Level 7 Encounter (1400)
  • 2 Black Puddings (1400) MM2 172 or MV 223

The lined out areas are the slippery (DC 15 Athletics check if running) water and ooze-covered areas, the two lines pointing out to the right represent the open bay doors by which the party would enter. I made them challenging terrain but feel free to throw in other environmental effects.I made the shuttle roughly 10' (2 squares) high to let the acrobatic types get some height if they wanted to do so. I described it as a wagon-sized metal box that had clearly been damaged, twisted, and cracked. None of them went inside it, so I leave that description up to you. Remember that the puddings spawn off smaller puddings when hit by any weapon (triggered action, no action!), so this fight could actually get nastier in the first few rounds, not easier.

A lot of the black goo appears to be leaking from one of the shuttle engine pods, but that's mainly because one of the puddings is living in the damaged pod. Despite appearances, this is not the true source of the contamination - but it sure looks like it!

Turboshaft up! - Rope use is a good idea here for the less athletically-inclined party members as though there are rungs the climb is at a steep angle and the air is bad. I called it a DC 15 for rungs-only (that's a lvl 6 moderate for those of you tracking such things) and a DC 11 (lvl 6 easy) with a rope. Those two squares at the top of the map are the turboshafts - think elevator shaft and you're close enough for this one.

Quarters are full of beds & vanity/desk/console items

Sounds in the main corridor will draw the attention of the “crew”

What’s Left of the Crew Level 7 Encounter (1750)
  • 2 Foulspawn Mockeries (500) MM3 89
  • 10 Foulspawn Wretches (750) MM3 88

M = Mockery, W = Wretch
That area to the left is the sick bay, and the oblong shapes are meant to be the hospital beds. Feel free to add gruesome details - think zombie movie, alien/aliens, etc. Refer to the monster entries for descriptions of these nasty things and play up the twisted awful wrongness of them. A massed rush in a confined space can be somewhat scary for the players, at least.

Turboshaft up!

Transporters - The room is dusty with no marks on the floor and appears to be disused, other than the crystals being placed on the pad by three floating brain-creatures. Each of the 6 pads has a 1’ dimly glowing purple crystal on it in a silver stand or socket of some kind. Fine silver wires run from each of these crystals back and forth across the pad area. Several of them run up the wall to another silver socket that is empty. If the control crystal is recovered from the ready room and placed in the socket, all of the crystals will glow much brighter and a hum will be heard in the room. After 1 round anyone still in the room will be teleported to the Pool area.

Transporter Crew Level 7 Encounter (1800)
  • 3 Grells (1800) MM 144

Just look at a picture of a Star Trek transporter room and you have this one down. It's the top right room.

Ready Room (this one is the top left room on the map above):

The door is closed and locked and shows signs of claw marks and bloody smears on the outside. Behind the desk is a headless body slumped back in a chair. On the desk before him is a glowing purple crystal similar to the ones outside. A small boxlike object lays on the floor near the chair, If molested, the black box will show 1 red light and make a chirping sound. 

The Bridge (bottom half of the map above)

There are 5 chairs around the room placed in front of tables. Sitting in those chairs are what look to be uniformed humans. The top of their heads is open (their heads appear to have exploded), blood streams down their bodies and is splattered over nearby consoles and floor, and what appears to be their brains are crawling away from their bodies. Think "star  trek bridge" - upper deck, railing, lower deck, chairs, dashboards - and you have the picture.

Level 7 Encounter
  • 5 Ustiligators (1500) MM3 118
(These things have a leap attack that is a lot of fun - nothing like having animate brains leaping onto you from across the room. Make it fun!)

The Pool of Twilight

Note: the only defined way of getting here is via the transporter room, but it does not have to be the only way. Most parties will work this out. If yours do not then try to give them another option to help them get to this encounter if you like it, or just leave it alone and let them walk away without ever getting here, but until they close this portal, the black goo will continue to pollute the river.

I just dropped the party in at the upper right corner and had the Mind Flayer and the Mouther start in the lower section near the control panel. 

Four large purple crystals are set up here surrounding an inky black pool. Nearby stand a mind flayer and a mass of flesh that appears to have many faces on and within its flowing substance. Arms and legs emerge at times as do brightly colored bits of cloth. This is what remains of the crew that was not warped individually – some of them were pulled together into a single entity that babbles maddeningly and constantly. Over the pool is a smoky black mass that drives an observer to the edge of madness. Vaporous forms swarm from the pool to this cloud. When the party acts it begins to move.

Level 10 Encounter
  • Mind Flayer Leader (1000) Level 10 Elite Lurker (custom)
  • Gibbering Mouther (1000) Level 10 Controller (MM 126)
  • The Thing from Beyond (1000) Level 10 Brute (custom)

I believe I modified someone else's creation for this one but I can't find the reference - if this looks familiar point me to the originator and I will give credit 
  • Anyone entering the pool finds it is physically about knee deep. The pool is a link to the Far Realm and will cling to the legs of anyone entering, making a +10 attack vs Will and inflicting ongoing 10 Psychic damage
  • The energy barriers linking the crystals make a nearly subsonic throbbing vibration and anyone touching the barrier takes 4d6+5 lightning damage (lv 10 limited medium). The crystals can be attacked – Defense = 24, HP = 100. If a crystal is destroyed then the barrier drops – all of it
  • The various consoles are about 5’ high

The pool can be closed after at least one crystal is destroyed by doing 100 points of radiant damage or by touching it with the Black Spear of Thar*, which was forged specifically to do this. If the spear is used then the silver runes winding up and down the shaft will disappear in a blast of silvery light as the pool screams and the psychic winds of limbo roar around the party. After a massive explosion the party will awaken on the shore of the lake where they can see that the pyramid is gone and the waters now glow purple. There is no other sign or feeling of magic.

*this was a special magic item in our campaign and yours is unlikely to have the same item, but feel free to link it to something unusual in your game.

Anyway that's the end of the adventure. If enough people are interested maybe I'll go through and revise my notes into something more presentable (see above for their current state) and put the whole campaign online for use. If not they can keep on living in my folder until the next time I decide to visit Phlan.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Old School Champions- Adventurers Club #6

We're up to #6 - Winter of 1984!

The big news is that the Champions 3rd Edition boxed set is selling well and, notably, there is a comment that Steve (presumably Petersen) has promised to never change the rules again, so "...this final revision of Champions is the best ever and as promised last issue the rules changes are in this issue along with the Champions III errata." It was very cool of them to include the updates in the magazine, and as far as edition changes go I'm not sure that Champions 1st-2nd-3rd would even be considered a real edition change today, but I think we know how this turned out. It would be 5 more years before we went to 4th Edition, so they did pretty well in the not changing it again department.

Sigh ... remember how awesome that final edition of Champions was?
  • PRIMUS and DEMON, Danger International, Super Agents, and Lands of Mystery all get pushed back to 1985, and they are working on The Blood and Dr. McQuark and the gadgets book.
  • There are mentions of V&V, Marvel, and the upcoming DC game, so it was a handy place to keep up on all things super back then.
  • The letters are still a lot of in-character trash-talking between various super groups, the still-dead Foxbat, and his replacement Lenore. It's a little odd that it went on this long in this form as it doesn't really add much to the magazine other than being a little funny.
First big article: "Flawed Mirrors", an article on parallel earths by Scott Jamison. The author describes 5 different alternate earths where things have gone in a negative direction - Nazi's, communists, Big Brother, and just plain evil. I particularly liked the one based on a Red Dawn style partial conquest of the U.S. Wolverines! The author does use a handy format for these kinds of things: He gives the name, a short history of how things went differently from ours, the present situation, endangered heroes (star-spangled heroes are usually in this list), and help, such as an undergound or rebel movement. It's a solid article and does have some useful ideas even today.

The Crusader for this month is Captain USA:

When I hear that name, this is what I usually think of:

Either way, his stats are:

Mechanically I like him - to steal a football bit of wisdom Defense (and Luck) wins Championships. This guy has excellent, broad defenses, life support, luck, and flight. Plus he has enough offense to get by. 

I also like the idea of the annoying glory-hog good-guy because it does force the players to deal with something that they can't just blast - it's a different kind of challenge than even the plot-device type of unbreakable object - you could beat him, it's just not a real option if you're a hero. This also makes for a pretty good test: Are you hero enough to work alongside Captain USA? Of course I suspect that post-Avengers any annoyingly monologging super, hero or villain, will get Hulk-punched right out of the scene, but hopefully that will die down in a year or so.

Champions Plus this month is the rules updates included in Champions 3E - it's basically Growth and Shrinking, that's it! There is also the errata for Champions III and there is quite a bit of it, including a complete replacement of the Variable Power Pool section. If someone was to go back and run an old school Champions game that included Champs III then this would be good information to have.

The big adventure this month is "Grasp, Inc." and it's not a one-shot - it's more of an arc to be worked in to an existing campaign. I like the idea but it's an oddly indirect conflict. The heroes stumble into an ongoing takeover/corporate war by being present when some mercenaries attack a company. This gives the PC's a chance to uncover the first layer of the organization. 

Part two begins when a talking chimp knocks on their door, shares some information, and dies, which leads the team to a corporate base in Antarctica - I kid you not, and this is a comic-book game after all. I'd go total silver age on this one and make half the staff talking monkeys too, but that's just me. The base has a nice map and there is a chance that the PC's are completely fooled, but more likely bad behavior is uncovered (animal experimentation), a fight breaks out, and another layer of the organization is revealed. 

Part 3 involves a sustained campaign against the heroes - DNPC's are victimized, known enemies are directed towards the heroes, and special weapons are developed and used against them to target known weaknesses. I can see this driving players crazy, so eventually it's time to move on.

Look, it's Bulldozer! I bet that heros is really scared now!
Part 4 is a single big combat encounter against the leadership of Grasp itself which is somewhat anti-climactic - more of the mercs, two low-powered supers, and then a twist at the end that makes the heroes look bad. I would like the last fight of an arc to be memorable or notable in some way and this does not really do that. Considering the prominence of the frozen base I would write up some mutant animal supers and have them show up as the final opponents instead of the mercs. The adventure gives us one mutant tiger for this encounter but I think there should be more. Maybe cyber them up with some of those specialized anti-hero weapons from Part 3. I liked the rest of the adventure, this is the only part that I thought really called for "more".
  • Covert Action is the espionage column and covers what the good guys can do when the justice system fails to deliver justice. It's interesting. There is also some discussion of psych limitations and the Unluck disad. One interesting thought on Unluck: You (the DM) don't use Unluck when the hero is already losing - it only comes into play when things are going well, which is an interesting approach. There are several good ideas here and it's worth a read. Admittedly, I've never had a player character with Unluck - my players over the years have shown zero interest in a general mechanical disadvantage like that. It's just too broad and too easily triggered for them to be comfortable with it.
  • The Empire Club is the new column for Justice Inc. and is probably pretty interesting if you play that game. I don't so it has limited value here.
  • Reviews: Cardboard Heroes set 3 apparently had some printing problems and they liked Chill.

That's it for Issue 6! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Motivational Monday

Baby shower here yesterday so ...