23 February 2007

Of Zombies & Malt Beer

Your mileage may vary, but I have determined that Steel Reserve and D&D do not mix. Last night marked the second session of workplace D&D, with all three players present.

Roya and her puppy hosted, providing a plethora of tasty things for us to eat. Rolled tacos, gourmet pizzas, sausage, chips & salsa. I would expect no less of a menu at one of NikChick’s Ars Magica games.

Jeff brought the beer, the aforementioned Steel Reserve. I was polite enough to drink one can, but I made sure to savor it (if "savor" is even a word used to describe what one does when they choke down the stuff). The two things to understand about Steel Reserve are the price (cheap) and the alcohol content (high). This is the sort of stuff that winos drink out of dirty paper bags on dark inner city streets. It is not the sort of thing I would expect to see making the rounds at a game of Dungeons & Dragons.

We needed to bring Ms. Roya up to speed, so we didn’t accomplish as much as I might have liked. The presence of the rotgut, not to mention its effects on the players, contributed somewhat to the languid nature of the game. There were also a number of very bad dice rolls.

Even though I needed to leave on time, the game went on half and hour longer than I’d anticipated. There were two encounters (one with a nasty dart trap which Deana’s rogue disarmed, and the other with a zombie bugbear). The undead bugbear is a tough critter (which I kept looking at and thinking, "Man! This thing is only CR2?"), and the between the bad dice rolls and the fact that nothing they did seemed to slow it down, I think everyone was getting somewhat frustrated.

We ended somewhat abruptly at 8 o’clock. I allowed the PCs to pull back to the relative safety of a nearby chamber to regroup, with the bugbear in as hot a pursuit as a zombie can be in. Next time (if there is a next time), we’ll see if they can manage to lay the beast low.

Any veteran D&D player would know how to fight a zombie, even one this tough, effectively: what weapons to use, how to move tactically so as to use the zombie’s plodding pace to their advantage. These guys are rookies, so it’s going to be trial and error for them. I suppose I can give them some hints, and I probably will.

The next game is not scheduled yet. I’m thinking two weeks from now may be a little bit optimistic, considering I’ve got a new baby arriving this coming Monday. We shall see.

On the writing front, it’s starting to heat up a little bit. My current project is near to wrapping up, but it’s followed by at least two others (one of which I’m very excited about; mum being the word, you’ll have to guess).

As to Saam’s Tale, for those of you who are curious, that’s about as far as I’d gotten on it. I have one more section which is about half done, but I’m not sure when I’ll get around to finishing it off.

Until next time.

18 February 2007

The First Game

Logistically, I wasn't sure if the game would take off or not. Given the limited time I've had for fun lately, I'm taking all the short cuts that I can find in order to make sure the game goes on with a minimum of work on my behalf. For one, I'm using free adventures. For two, I'm running in the "default" D&D setting of Greyhawk, using only the three core books for reference.

The free mini-adventures available on the Wizards web site are a godsend. The quality of the ones I've read so far is good, and they're not so complicated (plot-wise) that new players will be put-off or overwhelmed.

By restricting the rules and options to those offered in the three core books, I avoid the risk of my players experiencing information overload. Face it, a lot of books have been released for D&D in the past several years, and put together they represent a lot of information and optional rules. I'd just as soon keep things simple. I can always introduce things piecemeal at a later time (if the game lasts that long).

So what is everyone playing? Party composition is nearly "iconic," but we've only got three players on the field. They're lacking a front-line fighter, which means that Jeff's character (a cleric) is the closest thing they have to a bruiser. Poor Jeff. The party break down is as follows:

As mentioned, Jeff is playing a human cleric named Tobias Goodfaith. He chose Kord as his god, feeling that the option gave him a little bit of flexibility. He's got good stats, and he spread his skills out somewhat to have a broader range of abilities. I figure that as he advances Tobias in level, he'll have a better idea where he wants his skill points to go.

Deana's character is an elf rogue named Ailean (pronounced "Ay-leen," not "Ay-lee-an"). She's young for an elf, but still almost six times as old as Tobias is. This doesn't stop Toby (as she calls him) from adopting her in a somewhat paternal/fraternal role. I get the impression that she accepts the protection and support, taking advantage of it a little bit (although she does return the favor). She's very proud of her masterwork theives' tools.

Roya is the arcane magic user: a female human sorcerer named Raven. We don't know much about Raven yet, given that she has yet to make an appearance. I suppose I'll update her profile here when I know more.

17 February 2007

Workplace D&D, Redux

So, about the workplace gaming group.

The players in the group (thus far) include Deana, one of my Purchasing Dept. co-workers; Jeff, who earns his money as a materials analyst when he isn't writing screenplays; and Roya, our Marketing Dept.'s product manager. We've been trying to recruit others (as discussed previously) with little luck. There have been a couple of folks (one of our QA inspectors, as well as a product engineer) who have gaming backgrounds, but their current obligations to family prevent them from becoming involved.

Even after going to the trouble of getting approval from Human Resources, the group decided that it would be better if we met somewhere that provided the freedom to imbibe reasonable quantities of fermented beverages, not to mention snack foods. Locations such as local bars and restaurants were discussed, but I ultimately discarded these ideas. Trying to keep a game focused in a public swillhouse or bar & grill, given the noise and nosy passersby, isn't my idea of a good time.

In the end, we settled on Deana's house for the first game. We can still use the meeting rooms at work, should we so choose to (and we may yet do that if all else fails for a particular session). It makes our choices a little broader, I think, having that option open to us.

Jeff's experience with D&D goes back to the Basic Set, which he and his friends played in junior high school. He even has his old books and dice (which require the numbers be colored in crayon). He hadn't done any gaming after that, so he's practically a fresh fish when it comes to "modern" RPGs.

Deana, on the other hand, attempted to play AD&D once, several years back. A friend of hers (referred to as "Flounder") convinced her to spend hours rolling up a character, only to kill her off with a malicious bit of PvP after five minutes of actual game play. The experience soured her on role-playing, but I somehow managed to convince her to give it a shot. I promised her that her character wouldn't die in the first five minutes.

Unlike Jeff and Deana, who have some point of reference to fall back on insofar as what RPGs are about, Roya had no experience whatsoever. She seems like the type of player who will want to lay waste to bad guys in an attempt to vent her day-to-day frustrations. This is fine with me; we all game for different reasons, be it fun, catharsis, or escapism. With me, I guess it's a little of everything.

As for the first game, it started off somewhat roughly. Due to unforseen circumstances, Roya had to bow out. There were some customers in town, and she had to babysit them and do some other related work that kept her in the office well past six o'clock. Deana and Jeff and I decided to go ahead with the game, and we told Roya that if she could get out of work by 5:30 that evening, that she should drop by and jump in.

More later.

16 February 2007

Workplace D&D

If I worked for a company that produces games and gaming material, I suppose that gaming in the workplace would be a common event. After all, I'd be surrounded by like-minded folks who wouldn't automatically assume that Dungeons & Dragons involves black magic, sacrificing small mammals, and wearing black hooded cloaks that are liberally decorated with fiendish crimson pentacles.

Thanks, Jack Chick, for your inaccurate (albeit comical) depictions of my favorite hobby. Likewise, I'd like to send kudos to Focus on the Family and the 700 Club for propagating similar stories in the past. Granted, I haven't heard anything overtly negative about RPGs lately, but the damage was done and the modern myth of Satanists crawling around in sewer pipes is unlikely to die out anytime soon.

I'd also like to send a big "atta boy" to the people who have made sure that gamers are considered to be antisocial nerds and geeks. I'm talking about folks who have never gamed, yet insist on ridiculing the hobby based on some sort of schoolyard estimation of what is and isn't cool. I'm also talking about those gamers who, for whatever reason, fit the stereotype and/or play it to the hilt. Yes, there are nerdy/geeky gamers; but there are nerdy/geeky types in every portion of society, from politics and manufacturing to dirt biking and coin collecting.

Okay, so I'm ranting again. Let me explain why.

Talking to a co-worker a couple of weeks ago, gaming came up. I made an off-hand comment about starting a gaming group at work, and before I knew it I had three non-gamer co-workers who were interested in giving it a shot. I contacted Human Resources, and was given the go-ahead to proceed. Mostly, this included permission to use free company resources (meeting rooms) to host games during non-work hours. There are some restrictions, but they are (more or less) common sense rules that are applicabl1 100% of the time, anyway.

Long story short, we met up to generate D&D characters last week. The next day, each of the three players expressed interest in buying the 3.5 core rules. I helped them to get their hands on copies of the D&D Player's Kit (an awesome value), and last night we played our first game (which went well).

A three-player group is fine as wine, but when you get right down to it, a cleric, a rogue, and a sorcerer are only 3/4ths of the pie. I can run a game for such a group, but they really are missing someone in the role of a front-line fighter. Last night's game was doubly troubling, since the sorcerer couldn't make it due to work obligations.

As such, I've been attempting to recruit at least one more player, with little success. Mentioning D&D to people here gets one of three responses: either they've never heard of it, they think it's wierd, or they didn't realize that people "still play the game." Either way, the general concensus is, "It's not my cup of tea," or "I'm too busy." At least they've all been polite about it.

Friends of the rogue player, upon learning of her involvement in a Dungeons and Dragons group, have ridiculed her mercilessly. All manner of comical (not to mention insulting) stereotypes have been invoked. One of her friends wants to play, seemingly for the sole purpose of mocking us by sporting a wizard's hat and not brushing their teeth. Uhhh...no. Keep them away, I say.

I plan to post a blow-by-blow of last night's game at some point, along with my own observations of how first-time D&D players become acclimated to the game, the rules, and the social aspect of the hobby. After last night, I have at least two of them hooked. Time will tell how long this will last, but I'm hopeful that I've been successful in drawing some new blood into a pastime that has been nigh-obsessive for me since junior high school.

More later...

07 February 2007

Sahm's Tale, Part 7

He followed Kliner's advice and took some water with a piece of salty shortbread for his breakfast. He had no appetite at first, but forced a few small bites of the bread along with a sip or two of water before his rebellious stomach began to rumble hungrily. There were few places to sit that weren't in the way of the crew, so he retreated to the stairs leading down into his room. He sat with his back to the open hatchway, listening absently to the sounds of the men as they worked.

Graven didn't make a sound as he approached from behind, and Sahm had no idea how long the Halfling had been there before he spoke. "They say there's a sea of sand in the far south. That true?"

Sahm sat up, suddenly and embarrassingly aware that he was no longer alone. He turned and glanced at Graven, who was perched nimbly at the top of the stairway. "The desert, yes," he answered.

"Does it shine like diamonds in the sunlight?" Graven asked. His voice betrayed his youth, but his question was painfully sincere.

"I suppose that is one way of saying it," Sahm answered. "It depends on the color of the sands. There are parts of the desert that are red, like the blood of some great giant."

Graven was obviously in awe of this description. "A giant died in the desert?"

"I have heard legends that say such things," Sahm replied, nodding slowly. "Other tales say that it was a great dragon's blood that was spilled upon the sands. None but the gods can say for certain."

"I would like to see these deserts," Graven declared.

"Perhaps you shall, someday," Sahm said. He wasn't quite sure what to think of Graven. He certainly wasn't like the hawk-eyed Halflings of his homeland, that was for certain. He seemed somewhat simple of mind, naïve at the least, though that could be a clever act. But to what end would such a deception be attempted? Sahm wasn't sure.

Graven's eyes, distant with the thought of crimson deserts, cleared suddenly. He looked at Sahm and asked, "Why are you leaving your home?"

Sahm was taken aback by the question. Such a direct inquiry would be considered impolite in Uman, or anywhere else in the Southern Empire, for that matter. But he was no longer dealing with the more polite folk of his own lands, nor did he expect to for years to come. He had best get used to the rude ways of the northern folk, starting with Graven.

"I am seeking my fortune," Sahm replied guardedly. If the ship's crew learned that he was wanted in Uman, they may decide to turn the boat around and take him back. He doubted that the reward that was offered for him in the south was particularly large, but that would be little consolation if Kliner decided that it would make a nice addition to a profitable south-bound cargo.

The untruth went ignored by Graven, who leaned forward, his elbows propped up on his knees. "You have a fortune?"

Sahm chuckled. "Not yet, no. That is why I am seeking it."

A deep voice boomed across the deck. "Graven!" it called. "Where ya at, ya louse?"

Graven's eyes widened in horror. "Fallon!" he exclaimed. "He'll have my gizzards if he catches me loafin'!" The Halfling stood suddenly and scampered off, leaving Sahm to finish his paltry meal. The conversation had been a welcome distraction from his physical discomfort and the dismal thoughts that had haunted him since his conversation with Kliner.

(Special thanks to Stan! for the art. Thanks, Stan!!)

05 February 2007

Sahm's Tale, Part 6

The small size of the attackers had not been due to mere distance; the bandits were of a tribe of Halfling nomads that roamed the deserts, and who rarely entered the cities of men. Tales had been told of these savages in many of the caravans that Sahm had escorted, but until that day he had not seen them in the flesh. They road their desert ponies with a deftness and skill that made Sahm's trained horsemanship seem clumsy by comparison, and the taught strings of their bows sang like crickets in the dawn as they loosed shaft after shaft at the fleeing caravan. Their nut brown skins were covered by sand-colored desert robes, cinched at the waist by black silk sashes.

"They file their teeth to points," Sahm had been told by a merchant who had purportedly been the only survivor of a Halfling raid. "They take anyone that they don't kill into the deep desert and feast upon the marrow in their bones. They feed whatever remains to their blood-hungry ponies, and use the sinew from their victims to string their bows. If ever you should face them, run and hide! Or, best yet, play dead! There is no hope for you otherwise."

Sahm had considered what the man had said, and had ultimately rejected it as a fanciful tale. Now, riding low with his bow in one hand and Asianne's reins in the other, he wasn't so sure. Qadil was two lengths ahead of him, his sword drawn and his robes fluttering behind him. The old man could fight, Sahm knew, but would this foe be too much for him?

Three of the Halfling ponies broke off from the attacking force and headed towards Qadil and Sahm. There was a piercing war cry from the tiny warriors that sounded eerily like an eagle's shriek. At fifty yards distance, two of them rose in their saddles, raised their bows, and fired arrows. Sahm jinked Asianne to the left as one of the arrows sailed by. He rose up in his own saddle, aimed at the oncoming riders, and fired back. Too high, the arrow flew well past the Halflings and shattered against the stone-like ground.

The remaining Halfling was armed not with a bow, but with a lance. It was obvious that he and Qadil were headed for one another, and naught but the gods could alter their course. At the last moment, the Halfling lowered his lance, plunging it into Qadil's horse, as the old man's saber cut through the air above the raider's head. The haft of the lance snapped audibly, and Qadil's horse stumbled and fell, raising a plume of dust high into the air. The old man rolled several yards, limp and apparently dead, leaving Sahm to confront the Halflings on his own.

As the three ponies passed Qadil's limp form at a gallop, Sahm brought his own horse to a sudden stop. With a graceful leap, he dismounted, smacking Asianne upon her rump, and sending her galloping towards the caravan alone. He could hear the Halflings turning about behind him, their bow strings twanging. A small arrow flew through his billowing robes before skittering upon the ground nearby. Sahm ran to the only cover he could see, Qadil's dying horse. The animal's breath came in pained gasps, and its blood fueled the thirsty ground beneath it.

Another small arrow whistled towards him, thunking into the belly of the dying animal. Its agony was such that it didn't seem to notice this new pain. Sahm, crouching behind the horse's bulk raised his bow in the direction of the Halflings and let fly an arrow. This time, his aim was unencumbered by Asianne's motion, and the shaft hit one of the Halfling archers in his chest. The little man cried out in pain and surprise, and he fell from his saddle onto the ground. His pony, now without a master, veered off and slowed to a trot, even as the remaining two increased their pace towards Sahm.

He had time enough for one last shot before they were upon him. Sahm drew another arrow and fired his bow at the remaining archer. The distance was short, perhaps thirty yards, and he could see the raider's eyes widen with shock as the arrow punched through his neck, spraying crimson blood into the air behind him. The Halfling dropped his own bow and brought his horse to a halt before sliding out of his saddle and onto the rocky ground. The Halfling who had killed Qadil's horse (as well as Qadil, or so it seemed, for he remained motionless in the dirt several yards away), rode his pony straight for Sahm. He had discarded his broken lance in favor of a small black scimitar, the edge of which glinted brightly in the rising sunlight. Sahm ducked as the Halfling's pony leapt over the horse's corpse. He heard the sound of the bandit's blade slicing through the air above his head, just before the desert pony hit the ground behind him and continued onward.

Sahm turned to follow the enemy with his gaze, his hands already drawing and loading another arrow into his bow reflexively. He drew the bowstring back, adjusted his aim, and fired. Like the two arrows before it, this one struck home, lodging itself in the Halfling's turned back. The small black scimitar flew from his grasp, even as he slumped in his saddle. The pony continued onward, oblivious to the fact that its rider was dead.

Qadil was bloody and bruised, but otherwise alive. A wide gash had been opened across his forehead, and blood had washed into his eyes. "Sahir?" Sahm ventured, reaching out a hand to roll his friend over.

Coughing, Qadil allowed Sahm to roll him onto his back. He opened his blood-filled eyes, then blinked them rapidly to try and clear his sight. "Did I get him?" he asked, a wry smile on his lips.

"You took his head clean off, sahir," Sahm lied, his hands deftly checking Qadil's limbs for broken bones. "I fear that he took your horse in payment."

"Better my horse than myself." Qadil sat up painfully. "What of the rest?"

"Dead, but for the half-dozen that swarm about the caravan." Sahm looked over Qadil's shoulder at the wagons. They were beset with raiders from all sides, and shouts and war cries echoed across the shallow valley.

Qadil used his hand to wipe the blood from his face, wincing at the pain when he discovered that his palms had been torn by his impact with the rocky ground. "Bring me my blade, Sahm," he instructed, "then go along without me and do what you can to save the wagons. Without that cargo, we aren't liable to be paid."

Sahm stood and fetched Qadil's saber from the dirt nearby, patting the old man on the shoulder. "Will you be well, sahir?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, of course," Qadil said, waving his hand dismissively. "Get moving! I'll join you when I'm able."

Sahm began to run towards the wagons, his breath burning in his lungs. Running wasn't something he often did, seeing as Asianne had always been there for him on these long ventures into the wilderness. His boots weren't made for it, and he stumbled several times on the rough, rocky, uneven ground. Somehow, he managed to avoid sprawling over the stony earth. The screams of the wounded and dying, paired with the sounds of his own panting, were all that he could hear.