Saturday, 31 December 2011

Farewell 2011

And what a year jam-packed with events it was. There was so much going on that even now, casting a glance over the reviews of the year on TV, I'm surprised that I've forgotten some things that were quite momentous at the time. On a personal note, whilst 2011 was not as kind to my family as I would have liked, I approach 2012 with a degree of optimism that I hope will be justified.

On the gaming front, the success of Team Adventure continues apace. Things may well develop further since for Christmas, Junior Grognard got the DMG and PHB and in 2012, I intend to set him some practical exercises in stocking dungeons using the excellent maps of the inimitable (and now returned from wherever it is he went) Dyson Logos. I've got 30 years of experience that I hope JG can utilise - he may well have a group of his own by this time next year.

The march (albeit slow) of An Adventure for Every Monster to Z for Zombie will continue and there may be some other series coming up, hook-oriented.

There may also be something Cthulhu-inspired in the pipeline, inspired by the fiction shorts from Dungeonmum earlier this year.

I'll keep reading and reviewing stuff that I think has relevance for the subject matter of the blog.

I'll probably be asleep by the time the new year comes in so may I take this opportunity to thank all of you who follow this blog, all those who regularly read it and anybody who's dropped in to see why so many of my most popular posts are about pigs. If you've found something useful for your games, then I feel my work is worthwhile.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Coventry Carol

I love this song and this rendition is amongst the best I've found. It's so mediaeval in its sound; in the very depths of winter, it fits the mood of the season perfectly. Enjoy, with a glass of mulled wine in one hand and a mince pie in the other. Wassail!

Friday, 23 December 2011

A Christmas Carol - Deja Vu?

I posted about this video last year and it's an annual ritual of mine either to read the book or to watch this classic rendition thereof. If you've not seen it yet, check it out. If you have, watch it again and enjoy!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Favourite Christmas Songs

Mine's this one

Mummy Grognard and I always say it's not Christmas until we've heard this on the radio or in the shops.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Simply Irreplaceable

On waking this morning, I heard on the radio the news that I had been expecting but hoped would not come. The death of Christopher Hitchens is a blow to all those who valued his championing of rationalism, cherished his contrarian and independent outlook and expanded their vocabulary as a result of reading what he had written.

This link is to the archive of articles that he wrote for Vanity Fair, and this links to his articles for Slate.

Whilst you may not agree with everything he wrote, or every view he held (so no ad hominems in the comments, please), what is incontrovertible is that he was a journalist the like of which we shall probably not see again. His writing stands as a memorial to a man who polarised and shaped opinion, in my mind at least for the better.

EDIT: there is now an online petition to have a statue of Hitch erected in London (and one in DC as well). The site is here.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Team Adventure - Christmas Special

Deck the table with our game stuff, tra-la-la-la-la, la-la, la-la...

The team began to hack at the door to the cellar with axes, desperate to escape before the coffin opened. Their blows soon splintered the wood in several places but as they made holes in the door they found more wood beyond it. Hacking at that, they heard the clank of metal and the crash of ceramics.

Suddenly, the new wood began to slide aside and a helmeted head appeared through one of the gaps. The team asked the newcomer to open the door; a couple of slid bolts later, they were out of the cellar.

Profusely grateful to their rescuer, they were keen to find who he was. He was young, armoured and very handsome, with an aura of goodness about him that they had encountered before. He introduced himself as Alagon but before he could get much further, a young woman in armour, beautiful but determined, came striding down the corridor and asked what was going on and who the Team were. Introductions were swiftly made; it turned out that the young woman was a cleric named Ceritha, who was Alagon’s superior at their temple.


Alagon was a paladin, a warrior for truth and justice and they had both been on the trail of the Third, having traced him to the town and to that particular house. A debate began as to what to do with the coffin in the cellar. Olaf suggested carrying it out into the courtyard by the fountain, which was agreed. Once there, they settled on taking the coffin out of the town and burying it somewhere secluded, piling stones on top of it so that it could not open and keeping guard. A somewhat frenzied race to hire a horse and cart, load up the coffin and find an out of the way spot for the interment.

They found a spot with but three quarters of an hour to go and although Olaf was a swift digger, even he could not dig a six-foot hole in that short amount of time. They managed to get it half-dug and then Olaf came up with the brilliant idea of turning the coffin upside-down so that the lid could not be opened anyway. They then piled earth and rocks up on top of it and settled down to stand guard.

Alagon had been slated to appear as an NPC, along with Ceritha, on the vampire's trail but I had been informed that we had a potential new player and so decided to bring him in as the young paladin. It seemed to work very well.

The night passed without incident for once. The next morning, leaving Ferros and Olaf on guard duty, the party returned to the tavern to see what was what (and get a beer!). Whilst they were there, a messenger arrived from the auctioneer, who had managed to re-arrange the sale for that day. With no further ado, Cafaror headed off to the hotel, hotly followed by the rest of the party who were not Olaf and Ferros.

Security was tight, considering what had happened last time. The Prince was there as was Thorgrim’s employer and two men with snakes around their necks, who were sitting at a table some way back. The bidding started and at 3,000gp, the snake wearers dropped out, leaving soon afterwards. Alurax decided to follow them, with Zanurax in his pocket.

Now, the bidding was between Thorgrim’s employer and the Prince. At 8,000gp, the former dropped out and the Prince was the proud owner of an intact giant lizard skin. Thorgrim and his employer did not seem at all happy and began a muttered conversation. the extremely rich NPC

Whilst all this was going on, Olaf had appeared, having arranged to swap sentry duty with Ceritha, who seemed more interested in keeping an eye on the coffin. Creeping close to Thorgrim, he overheard him discussing, in dwarvish with his employer their disgruntlement at losing the auction and suggesting that they hire the Team to journey into the wilderness and hunt large specimens of wildlife which would make good trophies. Olaf ‘appeared’ in time to discuss this with Thorgrim and agreed to take him up on the offer; the dwarf and his employer still had 8,000gp which they had not had to spend after all.

Once the auction was out of the way, the party decided to start looking for the fourth key for the coffin. Alurax had arrived back now, reporting that had had lost track of the snake wearers in a network of alleyways. Figuring that the fourth key must be back at the house where they had met the Third, they headed back there but when they arrived, the place was sealed off; the town guard were all over the place, investigating three vicious murders and the theft of a rare artefact.

Unbelievably, the party actually did what it said on the tape

The party concluded that this must refer to the three servants of the Third that they had killed when they raided the house and the coffin itself. Engaging the guards in conversation (with some very odd questions from Cafaror about their working conditions and rates of pay) they found out that the guards were also investigating reports of a missing girl; a serving wench in a tavern had vanished after her shift ended.

The party were convinced that this had something to do with the Third but yet how could this be with the vampire secured inside his own coffin?

Zanurax had gone up to the skylight on Relic again, but had managed to find nothing of any interest in the house. Frustrated and seemingly dead-ended, the party returned to the tavern where Thorgrim had sent a message saying he and his employer would meet them after breakfast the next day.

At this point, I feel it only appropriate to reveal (hope none of my players is reading this) that Alurax had encountered slightly more than he let on when he rejoined the party. He had in fact managed to trail the snake wearers to a house down an alleyway and had sneaked in, only to overhear a strange conversation in a foreign language and some sinister hissing coming from an upstairs room. Sneaking back out, he then knocked on the door, posing as a legitimate visitor and was welcomed in by one of the snake wearers, affable and friendly. He was taken upstairs and shown into the room where he was confronted by a snake with the head of a woman. She greeted him in friendly fashion, all the time attempting to meet his gaze which she eventually did. Junior Grognard failed his save vs. Paralysation and fell under the Charm ability of the Spirit naga. She bade him return to his party and wait for further instructions on how he could serve her Snake Cult.

With much of the day to use up, the party visited the burial site again, this time digging the hole deeper so that the coffin could be properly buried, just to make sure that nothing bad happened. Ferros swapped duties with Galzor.

When they woke the next morning, they were fired up with the prospect of getting back out into the wilds and wetting their blades again. Their two new comrades arrived and they were soon heading for the town gate, ignoring the gossip from the tavern delivery men about a gruesome murder that had happened the previous night. Time will tell whether they were wise to do so.

You will recall that Cafaror had been told not to leave town, still being a suspect in a murder enquiry but he was (just about) disguised as a comely elf maiden (!) and the guards, still being in that early-morning mood, waved them through with a few quizzical looks but no suspicions.

I am an elf, really. My name is Galadriel. Do you not find me beautiful?

At the burial site, everything seemed perfectly normal. Ceritha and Galzor were happy to keep watch in case something suspicious happened, so the rest of the Team, plus Thorgrim and his boss set off up river, planning to make the Moat House their first port of call. Not long afterwards, they ran into a couple of merchants and their man at arms, who reported that the wilds were no longer safe after a gang of bandits had take up residence in an old ruined house further up river. Realising that their hard won property had been invaded by squatters (and why not, since it had been left vacant for quite a while since its liberation), the Team spurred their horses on and thus rode straight into an ambush by archers hidden in the trees. Fortunately, the bowmen were either bad shots or the Team were too hard to hit and in the firefight that followed, seven attackers were killed with no casualties for our heroes. It was noted that the bandits (for such were they) were not quite human, having pointed ears and ugly faces with large noses and sharp teeth.

They were in fact half-orcs, but as the party had never encountered this race before, I decided to keep things vague for now; that they were aware their adversaries were not human was enough to be going on with.

Having brushed this feeble opposition aside, our doughty band rode on upriver, arriving at the confluence of the stream and river where they had been attacked by wolves all those weeks ago. There was nothing to bother them now, although a giant eagle soaring over the camp site made Alurax reach for his bow; he soon lowered it again after a stern word from Elysia.

The next morning, as the sun was rising, there was movement on the far side of the river as a herd of wild horses emerged from the trees to drink at the water’s edge. Ferros, using his spell ability to Speak With Animals, chatted to them for a while, determining that they had encountered bandits and that one of the horses had been killed by them. Apart from that, the herd kept its distance from humans.

Yes, we do know where the next dungeon is...

The Team pressed on to the Moat House, arriving a little before midday. They could see a ribbon of smoke rising from somewhere inside and concluded that this meant the bandits were in residence. With Alurax in the lead, they charged across the flat ground towards the drawbridge, meeting a hail of arrows from the watchtower as they did so. A horn blast of alarm went up; Alurax and Alagon dismounted and burst into the watchtower whilst Ferros and Cafaror raced across the courtyard, past the ettin statue and quickly overwhelmed three bandits who had emerged at the top of the steps and were firing at them.

Alurax and his trident made short work of the four bandits in the tower – three were killed and a fourth leapt through a hole in the wall and slid down into the moat. As he swam for safety, one of the giant frogs saw an opportunity for a meal and headed towards him. The bandit tried to climb out and up the side of the moat but the frog hopped out of the water and dragged him back in again.

Six more bandits were waiting for the Team as they joined forces and burst into the Great Hall. Although several of the team took wounds, they were able to wipe out the bandits, as well as another four who were in a room beyond the hall. Three others managed to escape both the Team and the frogs and make good their escape into the forest. In the inner room, the party uncovered the bandits’ stash, a sizeable haul which brought a satisfied smile to their faces. Having won back their Moat House, they could begin to plan the next stage of their hunting expedition.

This session was the first time we had tried out our new, larger dining table and as can be seen from the picture at the start of this post, it seats the Team comfortably with plenty of space for character sheets, figures, floor plans etc. We also had a salad and pizza lunch for the lads today as it was the last session of the year. I'm very happy with the way that things have gone this year - we've retained the core team with one or two dropping out and another attending intermittently (through no fault of their own, I hasten to add) and have now recruited another player, who went away from the session very fired up for more. We've got a good thing going here, playing it Old School and keeping the torch burning. Long may it continue.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Fantasy as it used to be - Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper

Tired of gritty fantasy with a cast list of scum and villainy that makes Mos Eisley look like Paradise Beach? Tired of books that turn the air blue just by reading them? Tired of tales that lack a moral compass?

Well, this one is for you. Songs of the Earth isn’t mould-breaking or innovative – it clings fast to numerous tropes of fantasy literature and will seem very familiar to well-read fans of the genre. It was likened in the publicity to Patrick Rothfuss but I tried not to let that put me off.

The story begins in media res, with Gair, the protagonist imprisoned and awaiting sentence for witchcraft. The setting is a fairly standard vanilla fantasy, mediaeval with a resprayed Catholic Church as one of the main power brokers in the world. It might have been interesting had Cooper developed an original theology since everything we discover about the church in this book sounds very familiar. Still, since many D&D worlds run along a mediaeval format, there is plenty in here to loot if you are looking for ideas for your cleric’s backstory.

The plot from there onwards will tick the boxes of anyone who likes their fantasy served up on a plate of Joseph Campbell. A mysterious old man takes Gair under his wing, acting as a cross between Captain Exposition and the Unreliable Narrator and conducts him to an academy where he can learn to use his powers properly. So far, so Earthsea, Hogwarts – or Star Wars. Or even Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Once he arrives, there is a period of settling in and the obligatory sequence where Gair makes an enemy (for no obvious reason other than I suppose said enemy is a trope of magic schools) of another student (hello Malfoy)

There is also a lurking villain who, needless to say, was once a student at said academy but turned to the Dark Side and now poses a threat to everyone due to something that seems to hark back to the Dungeon Dimensions from Pratchett, always threatening to break through to our world.
The villain is a brooding presence in the background of the narrative for quite some time; Cooper knows when to wheel him out for maximum effect and then slips some unpleasant back story in for him. Let’s hope he develops further in the next book.

The magic is something different – there’s no Vancian stuff here, no Codex of Eldritch Lore, no pointy hats. If you’re looking for something to replace the old D&D system, try this for ideas. The magic is described as The Song, which to me brought back memories of the Metaconcert in Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles and Charter Magic from Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series.

There’s no map – although somehow I felt that I was able to see one in my mind’s eye. There are enough hints of what’s out there to allow the world that Cooper is creating to seem realistic without being over-developed so early in the series. Some fantasy authors have their characters go off on a long world-wide wander just so that the reader can get the full benefit of the world the writer has created. Cooper is refreshingly restrained in this aspect, although there are some hints of locales that seem pregnant with potential for inclusion in the next book.

There is some very mild language, an ‘arse’ here and there but nothing that would make it unsuitable for the young adult reader – in fact, some very mild lurve scenes notwithstanding, I’m surprised that it wasn’t targeted at that specific audience.

My copy was 420 pages (other formats may vary) but in fact I felt it could have been longer with no loss of pace. The finale, which reminded me of the Battle of Hogwarts but so much better done here, could have been made more intense if space had allowed.

All in all, Cooper treads a well-worn path with a book that gives me that nostalgic glow for the days of yore when ‘edgy’ and ‘gritty’ hadn’t become literary buzzwords and you still had good guys to cheer and baddies to hiss.

The next volume is out in the spring of 2012 and the third for September 2013. So quite some time to wait.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

An Adventure for Every Monster - Cattle, Wild

Cattle, Wild

Frequency: Common
No. appearing: 20-200
Armour class: 7
Move: 15”
Hit Dice: 1-4
Percentage in lair: Nil
Treasure type: Nil
No. of attacks: 1
Damage per attack: 1-4
Special attack: Stampede
Special defences: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Semi-
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L
THAC0: 19/16/15
XP value: 35+2/hp
Goes well with: red wine

On a semi-civilised frontier, a local noble who has been given the task of completing the pacification of the area is having problems. Wild cattle that he is in the process of corralling and domesticating have started to disappear, albeit in small numbers. Nevertheless, this is taken as a threat to his authority and, by implication, his position as well. He sent a group of his men out to see what was going on and they have not returned. He therefore needs the party to find out who has been rustling the cattle and to discover the fate of his men as well. If they do well, they may be kept on to provide security whilst the settlement and domestication process is completed.

The rustling is being carried out by a gang of ogres but there is more to the situation than meets the eye. The ogre leader has a document that the grandfather of the noble used to settle a long running dispute with the ogres’ ancestors many years ago and which gives the ogres and their descendants rights to take a certain number of cattle each year for their own use. Although he probably intended it to be a mere glass bead trick, the ogres actually believed him and will take umbrage at anyone trying to renege on the deal.

To make matters even more interesting, many years ago, the ogres were actually converted by a zealous and very persuasive roving paladin and they still adhere to the faith, albeit a rather confused and ogrish interpretation thereof. The paladin went on to higher things, eventually heading up the temple’s Arm Militant, but that’s another story.

Due to this, clerics of the faith maintained contact with the ogres to ensure that there was no backsliding and when the noble’s grandfather and the ogres signed the document, a cleric happened to be there and witnessed the process. The faith therefore has records of the agreement at its temple. Thus any attempt to overrule it by illicit means will attract the attention – and subsequent intervention - of a band of LG paladins and clerics, keen to protect their flock.

I would imagine that the noble's men who were sent out to find out what was going on were either killed by the ogres (and perhaps given a faith-based funeral, complete with badly written gravestones, etc) or spooked the cattle and were killed in a stampede.