Sunday, 30 December 2012

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Session 5 Recap

When we last left off, the party had just finished bringing down the Flesh Golem and two of the four Splinter Brothers. They decide to search the place for any clues, splitting up to save time. While this works in theory, in practice it actually takes just as long, if not even longer, because as DM I can only describe one thing going on at a time, so I end up either going back and forth or ignoring one group in favor of the other. Freyja and Pilgrim elect to check out the meat lockers and storage rooms (which the party is aware is zombie-infested thanks to Cleo's reconnaissance) while Azryn, Oizo, and Cleo inspect the offices and cattle holding pens.

The cattle holding pens are guarded by a small group of goblins, ostensibly hired by the Splinter Brothers to protect the cattle from thieves. Cleo comes up with the idea of walking into the room in the form of a cow, causing a distraction, and allowing the rest of the party to take them by surprise. I make her roll a Bluff check as she enters the room. What I don't tell her is that this is almost guaranteed to fail because A) she's entering all by herself and B) she's entering through the hallway door instead of the exterior door, both of which are very unusual. These goblins aren't geniuses, but they're not that dense. So she walks into the room in cow-form, the Goblins see through her ruse, and attack. She drops several area burst attacks while Azryn and Oizo rush in to aid her, but she still takes several solid hits from the surrounding goblins. The fight is still very one sided, and the goblins go down within just a couple rounds.

The fight occurring on the other side of the complex is more of challenge. Freyja and Pilgrim adopt a sensible strategy to take on the zombies in the meat locker. Pilgrim will stand just in front of the doorway and hold back the zombies in the bottleneck so that he only has to fight one at a time, while Freyja fires into the room at range with Magic Missiles. The plan works for a short time, but after dropping one or two zombies, Pilgrim finds himself grabbed and pulled into the freezer, where he is completely surrounded and beaten down. He fights to get out, but with eight zombies attacking at once, all of whom have Combat Advantage by flanking him, it doesn't take long for him to be bashed into unconsciousness.

Freyja, now alone, is staring down just over half a dozen zombies who are coming through the door at her. The rest of the players argue that they should be allowed to come to Freyja's aid, but I make the point that both encounters are occurring simultaneously, so they have to wait for the same number of turns to elapse (three) and then they have to actually travel the distance from their current position to Freyja and Pilgrim, which takes at least one turn at a full run. This is all assuming that the rest of the party has a good reason to rush over, such as Freyja screaming for help as a free action...

*nudge Freyja's player*

Freyja screams for help as a free action and throws down an Icy Terrain spell to slow down the zombies. They resist it successfully and begin to surround her. Ironically, earlier in the campaign when the party was at the Blacksmith shop, Freyja had purchased a longsword. Her player felt that she might be able to make use of it in such a situation, since her Eladrin background gives her a weapon proficiency. The rest of the group talked her out of it, calling it a waste of money and arguing that she would likely never be in such a situation as a ranged spell caster, so she sold it back later (at full price, since the weapon had never even been used). Thus, Freyja was smacked around for a turn until the rest of the party showed up to help. Pilgrim, rolling a 20 on his next Death Saving Throw, actually spends a healing surge and gets back to his feet to help out. The zombies don't put up much of a fight against the united party and soon fall.

There's still the entire lower level to search, so the party takes a moment to rest and spend healing surges. There are three possible routes to the basement: Stairs, cargo elevator, and the exterior cattle ramp. The group chooses the stairs, proceeding stealthily. I ask everyone to make Stealth and Perception rolls, while I do the same with my next encounter. The party rolls low on Stealth and high on Perception, as do I. Thus, as the party is sneaking down the hall, they hear the hushed speech and muffled footsteps of an ambush in waiting. However, they are similarly overheard by the ambushers, so as the fight begins there is no advantage to either side. Don Splinter attacks along with a group of goblins on the killing floor, where cattle are brought to be killed, bled, and skinned for processing. Don is a mage, and as the goblins engage the party in melee combat he hangs back and throws down burst attacks to weaken the party. Pilgrim, as he often does, rushes the most threatening opponent in the room and attempts to take him out quick. Don falls back around the corner and attempts to maintain distance attacks, but is soon felled while the rest of the party mops up the goblins.

The killing floor leads into a wide open space, containing a refuse furnace and a pair of green slime pits, used to dissolve any remaining animal waste product that can't be put to use. As the party enters, they are attacked by the final Splinter Brother, Ralph, who is overseeing a small group of goblins. Ralph is the muscle of the family business, and comes to bear with armor and a heavy flail. While the rest of the party engages the goblins (who are wielding spears at melee and javelins for range), Pilgrim rushes at Ralph...and is immediately hit with a Smashing Strike attack that slides him one square. As luck would have it, Pilgrim happened to be standing at the edge of the slime pit, so he is knocked right in. The slime is corrosive and does 1d6 damage for every round he remains in it. Any of the goblins not currently engaged in melee combat take the cue from their leader and start throwing javelins into the pit. When the party gets their turn, Oizo uses his Githyanki racial ability to telekinetically pull Pilgrim out of the pit onto solid ground. He still has to spend a move action to wipe the slime off himself, but he's out of immediate danger. Azryn steps up the plate and takes on Ralph, managing to beat him back with several encounter attacks that hit for massive damage. Soon he and the goblins go down and the party is victorious.

There's still another series of hallways and rooms to search, so the party splits up and takes one of two possible paths. This time it goes fairly simply, no encounters to be found. Azryn and Oizo head one way and find a kitchen, a trophy room filled with mounted heads from various species, and a storage room filled with corpses. I ask them both for Perception checks, they fail, so they don't discover anything else. A large trunk in the corner contains personal effects from the victims, including a Heavy War Pick of Oaths Fulfilled that would suit Pilgrim nicely. Meanwhile Cleo, Freyja, and Pilgrim find a room containing a large-scale map of the city detailing some sort of battle plan, as well as coded notes for a powerful Necromancy spell. In the next room they find a holding cell full of starved, weakened prisoners. The party elects not to free them for now, because they haven't finished clearing the area. The final room in the corner remains to be searched, and a Perception check alerts the party to the sounds of deep, rhythmic chanting.

The party sets up at both of the entry doors for a surprise attack, bursting in to find a Kobold Necromancer at work, accompanied by a small pack of zombies and gravehounds. Nearby is a collapsed hole in the floor and a large empty chest, similar to the one found in Ulric's basement. The necromancer immediately sends his minions at the party while Pilgrim does the usual boss rush. In this particular case, he runs in, lands his encounter power, then spends his Action Point to use another encounter power, doing massive damage. The rest of the party chooses to ignore their immediate opponents in favor of focusing all their attacks on the Necromancer, and actually manages to kill it before it even gets a turn to fight. This pisses me off IMMENSELY, because it had the ability to summon Skeleton bodyguards and heal itself, and would have actually made this an interesting fight. I really need to think of a way to make it so that the party can't just rush the strongest enemy in the room and take it out instantly. Maybe my monsters are too weak? I'll have to workshop it later.

With the necromancer down, the zombies pose little threat. The gravehounds do a fair amount of damage, working as a pair to flank Pilgrim and bite him relentlessly. The remaining zombies mob Azryn and Oizo as they stand back to back, while Cleo and Freyja provide support at range. The encounter is wrapped up and the party has earned enough XP to gain another level. With the area cleared out, the party frees the captive villagers and searches the storage room. A closer examination reveals that one of the corpses is recognizable, despite being in the midst of decay from being dead for at least a week. It's Ulric, the wizard responsible for Jamie's murder and the same man currently imprisoned at the Guard Garrison.

With that, the session comes to an end. Next time the party gets to level up and investigate the mystery of the two Ulrics.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Session 4 Recap

A friend of mine is a fairly experienced DM. The lesson I learned at the start of this session is apparently one that every DM learns early in their careers: The players will do everything they can to screw up your plans, intentionally or not. Case in point: When we last left our adventurers, they were about to get into a brawl with a pack of angry demons over some stolen gold. Naturally I went into this expecting a fight. Instead, the party elected to negotiate with the demons. Seriously? Come on, guys...

Pilgrim opens with his Bluff attempt to convince the demons he's Ulric. Surprisingly, he succeeds. For an added layer of humor, I have the Imps discuss the matter among themselves and decide that nobody would be crazy/stupid enough to disguise themselves as the guy whose house they're breaking into. The Imps express surprise that Ulric, of all people, would be working with a bunch of non-humans. Pilgrim-Ulric explains that these freaks are working for him, and there's no need to be concerned. Next, the Imps ask why Ulric was taking away their agreed-upon payment. Pilgrim-Ulric asks for clarification on what the payment was for. Another Bluff check, he passes, and the Imps explain. Ulric needed an extra boost of magical energy to pull off a big spell, so the Imps have arranged for a small cosmic re-alignment on the next full moon to give him access to additional power. Ulric tries to find out what that spell is, but the Imps aren't aware. Imps are lesser devils, acting as emissaries for more powerful devils and demons. They make deals with mortals in an attempt to corrupt them, with the general goal of causing chaos and pain. The Evistro is just the muscle, the enforcer who protects them while they make deals and exacts punishment if the deals are broken.

With this knowledge in mind, Pilgrim asks if it might be possible to cancel his (Ulric's) earlier request and put his (Ulric's) plans on hold for the time being. The Imps inform him that considerable work has been done already, and they're not backing out without getting something out of the deal. Pilgrim offers to provide them with payment for the work they've done, but they won't settle for anything less than the full agreed amount. He concedes, and they depart through the hole they came through, taking the chest with them. The tunnel collapses after they leave, and the party receives some XP for passing the skill challenges.

With that behind them, the party inspects the room. The runes on the pedestal are old, in a language none of the party recognizes (Primordial). The altar is covered with books, papers and notes. Closer inspection with an active Perception check tells the group that some of the books deal in Necromancy magic, and others are notes on the god Zarus, the patron deity of Humanity. Sharp eyed readers might remember previous reference to Zarus from the initial murder, but how that relates to this is still unknown. Among the notes, they also find a memo from the Splinter Brothers Slaughterhouse, which supplies all the major taverns and most of the city's population with meat and leather, detailing shipments of meat and an ominous list of names, many of which have been crossed out. Ulric's name is on the list.

Sudden noise from upstairs alerts the party to some violence. They hear a screaming Imp, then a deep roar and a loud smash, as a section of the wood ceiling crashes down into the room, along with the corpse of an Imp, killed with a heavy blunt weapon. Through the ceiling hole the second Imp, apparently free of its restraints, jumps down into the basement and regards the party with surprise and fear. Before anyone can react, Bo Do the Dwarven Blacksmith drops through the ceiling and brings his Warhammer down on the Imp with enough force to paint the adjacent walls with skull jelly.

Bo Do, still in mid-rampage, eyes the party and settles on Pilgrim, who is still in Ulric disguise. Do hefts the Warhammer and advances on Pilgrim with murder in his eyes, but Pilgrim quickly removes his mask and reveals himself to calm the furious Dwarf. Apparently Do came with the intent to avenge the death of his friend, Jamie the owner of the Green Dragon Inn. Before they can discuss the situation further, a dozen guards storm the house, alerted by the big Dwarf-sized hole in the front door. The party still has their letter from Captain Warrik to back them up, but Bo Do is still arrested for breaking and entering, and the guards round everyone up to bring them back for questioning.

Back to the Garrison, where Warrik and his second in command Radak want a progress update on the investigation. The party reveals what they know, which isn't much. Warrik isn't all that thrilled with the party, who haven't managed to do much more than rack up a body count and steal from shopkeepers. At mention of this, Cleo's player is visibly annoyed that I'm making such a big deal out of her character's theft. I explain to her that I'm actually really happy that she's making the effort to accurately roleplay her character and act in a believable manner for that character. As the DM, I'm not making any judgements on the actions of the party, my only job is to ensure that actions have appropriate consequences, good or bad. Warrik considers firing the party, but Radak insists that things are getting worse in the city and there's no harm in letting the party continue their work for the time being.

The Slaughterhouse memo provides the most promising lead, so the party goes there next. It's daytime, so the place is open and active. Out front there are cattle pens packed with grazing cows, some of whom are lead down a ramp into the basement of the facility. The party discusses their plan of attack. Cleo is actually a specialist in this field and has a brilliant plan. First, she casts her Animal Messenger ritual on a small spider, which enables her to pass a message onto that spider and compel that spider to seek out another person to deliver it. Then she uses her Skittering Sneak power to transform into a spider, scout the place room by room, and use the spider messenger to send back the report on what each room contains. Using this tactic, Cleo is able to scout the entire first floor and as she goes, she discovers various enemies, chests, and other interesting items, noting them on the map. This has the side effect of totally removing any surprise from the encounters, so I really need to think up a countermeasure for this plan at some point.

Anyway, the party regroups and decides to sneak into an unoccupied office to search it for clues. Unfortunately they fail a Stealth check and make enough noise to attract the attention of the man in the next office over. This man is Leo Splinter, one of the Splinter brothers who run the Slaughterhouse. He is immediately in combat mode, and calls for help. He manages to keep the party contained in that small office by standing in the doorway, forcing the party to deal with him one at a time. In response, Pilgrim forces him back a square to clear the way for everyone else. Meanwhile, Mike Splinter comes running with backup in the form of a small pack of attack dogs. My players take a short moment to inform me that I need to think of better character names that aren't adapted from pop-culture references. They might have a point.

The battle goes fairly well, with the dogs going down fairly quickly and Leo forced into a flanked position and dispatched without much of a struggle. Mike sees things going awry and attempts to flee, sprinting down the hall towards the main processing room. Despite provoking several opportunity attacks, Mike manages to reach the room with just 2 hit points remaining. Inside the room stands a Flesh Golem, a huge creature composed of the body parts of multiple corpses, like a giant Frankenstein creation.

He borrowed those green pants from another hulking monster.
The Flesh Golem is, hands down, my favorite monster used thus far. He can make two basic attacks per turn, is a freakin' tank for soaking up damage, comes with an Action Point (rare for enemies), and has a special renewable ability that allows him to run straight through enemy squares and do damage as he goes. The catch is that he's a Level 12 monster, which would be way too much to spend up against my Level 2 party under normal circumstances. I had to de-level it before making it a suitable match, and as a first time DM, I had no clue how to do that. It's not as simple as taking every number and dividing by two, there's a percentage involved. A quick Google search gave me a handy guide, and a few minutes of calculations gave me a decent adjustment. I also turned it from a Large creature (2x2) into a standard Medium because A) it's not as strong as it should be and B) it wouldn't fit through the doors and halls otherwise.

Anyway, back to the game. Mike lasts just long enough to issue a command to the Flesh Golem: Attack. Most of the party engages, taking Mike out almost immediately before focusing on the Golem. Pilgrim gets the brilliant idea to run back to Leo Splinter's body, cut off his face, and attempt to disguise himself as the dead man in an effort to fool the Golem into thinking he is it's master. Take a second to re-read that, please. I can't tell if Pilgrim's player isn't thinking creatively (disguises again?) or is thinking too creatively (did you watch Face Off recently?). So while the fight is going on around the corner, Pilgrim is applying his thieves tools to Leo's face in an effort to surgically remove it.

This is an interesting skill challenge. There's nothing in the sourcebooks to cover this particular situation, so I have to improvise. I give Pilgrim's player the choice of using either his Heal or Thievery skills into this, since this could be looked at as a test of either medical knowledge or dextrous skill. He goes with Thievery, given his lack of medical training. While I am encouraged by the DM guide to encourage unorthodox thinking, this is a very difficult challenge, so I set a DC20 with a complexity 3 (8 successes before 4 failures). He fails completely, and the result is a flimsy torn flesh mask that looks like the one Hannibal Lecter had on during his escape from Silence of the Lambs. Bless his big heart and small brain, he tries it on anyway and attempts to order the Golem to stop. Not only does it fail, he gets knocked flat during one of the Golem's Rampage attacks. At this point, the Pilgrim's combat failures could be a drinking game. Take a shot every time he goes down, and stop when you go down.

The rest of the party performs quite well, busting out their Daily powers to do massive damage. As it becomes bloodied (and takes a free shot as a result, I love this thing!), it elects to focus it's assault on the last enemy that hit it, which happens to be Freya who is standing down the hall. A recharged Rampage attack allows it to run right through every party member in the way, and it begins chasing Freya through the halls. I'm so happy because I get to re-enact that classic horror trope of the monster chasing the frail screaming woman as she runs for her life. It only lasts one round sadly, since the party is able to cut the Golem down before it actually catches Freya, but I was still pleased with myself.

That was as good a place as any to end the session. On the one hand, the party has taken down the heavy hitter of the dungeon and made some major progress. On the other, they've all expended their Daily powers and still have roughly 60% of the place to clear out. While they have picked up an extra Action Point from reaching a milestone (two encounters without an extended rest ((technically it was just one encounter but it was big enough for two))), the next session is going to be a bit of a challenge. Let's find out!

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Session 3 Recap

Wow, this is WAY delayed! Here's a couple things to put out there right away...
  • I don't take good notes on the session
  • I forgot to take pictures
So the recap is going to be a little vague and boring for the next few sessions. Sorry. I do feel compelled to finish anyway, so let's get back to it!

When we last left the party, they had just arrived at the local Mage shop to investigate a lead on the murders. As they stepped through the door they found themselves in the middle of a battle between the shop owners and a small pack of bandits. The end result of that fight was a bunch of dead bandits, save for one which had been non-lethally taken out. The shop owners, a wizard named Vink Sardo and his apprentice Aric Blacktree volunteered the use of their basement for the interrogation.

The interrogation was handled as a skill challenge, similar to the earlier interrogation of Ulric. Party members were allowed to employ their various trained skills (Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate) and depending on their d20 roll, they either succeed and gain some info, or fail and the prisoner resists. Good rolls result in success, which gets the bandit to spill his guts. He accuses Sardo of being behind the murders.

Insight checks from the party detect nothing but surprise from both Sargo and Blacktree, indicating no deception from either. The bandit is encouraged to elaborate. He and several of his friends, horrified by the string of murders and disappearances in their city and frustrated by the lack of progress of the City Guard, decided to investigate on their own. Witnesses at the scene of some of the crimes told of a bunch of robed figures seen in the area, and the type of robes were consistent with those of magic practitioners.

With nothing left to gain, the party elects to bring the bandit back to the Guard Garrison for further questioning. Before they leave, Sardo takes Cleo and Freya aside and thanks them for their efforts in bringing peace back to their city. He enchants Freya's staff into a Staff of Missile Mastery +1 and gives Cleo a Bloodhunter Totem +1 to aid them in their quest. With that, the party leaves. However, as Cleo is stepping across the threshold, a ghostly siren wails loudly and a flash of light attracts everyone's attention to her. Apparently, the items she stole from the shelf were enchanted with an effect that creates light and noise if they are taken from the store without being disarmed. It's basically an anti-theft enchantment to catch shoplifters. Cleo immediately takes off running, and is not pursued. Later investigation reveals that the potion she took was a Potion of Mimicry which would allow her to assume the form of another humanoid for a short time. The book was an empty spell book, itself not worth much but with 50 pages that can be later filled with rituals.

Night falls on the way back to the Garrison, and the party's path takes them through the City Square. As they enter the square, they are confronted with a gang of Hobgoblins, armed to the teeth and looking fierce. The Hobgoblin Commander informs the party that he's taking revenge for the deaths of his subordinates earlier in the day. A fight commences, and the party wins initiative to attack first. Since the Hobgoblins are packed so closely together at the start of the fight, a couple quick area blast attacks from the ranged spellcasters Cleo and Freya weaken the entire gang almost immediately. As the melee fighters (Azryn, Pilgrim, Oizo) spread out to engage the remaining enemies, Oizo steps up to the Commander. The Commander is an honorable fighter (honor among thieves, imagine that...) and challenges Oizo to single combat while the rest of their respective sides fight. Oizo agrees and the fight commences. Freya activates her new staff's Daily power, which allows her to hit two targets with one Magic Missile, and starts shooting like crazy. Cleo transforms into a bear (as she loves to do) and starts mauling Hobgoblin Soldiers while Azryn and Pilgrim rush the Hobgoblin Archers to cut them down. The rest of the enemies go down quite easily, so with no other targets, the rest of the party has no moral compunction with attacking the Commander and breaking the duel. Despite fighting five-on-one, the Commander is quite the challenge, and actually manages to do enough damage to the Pilgrim to put him down for the count, bleeding into the stone pavement. Eventually he goes down, and the Pilgrim is saved with some First Aid. However, he's only stabilized, not healed. He needs advanced medical care, so he's brought back to the Garrison along with the prisoner.

The City Guard employs an on-site doctor/healer, who takes in Pilgrim while the rest of the party rests up and discusses their progress. While they do, Cleo sneaks into the infirmary to check up on Pilgrim's progress, and as the doctor is treating his wounds she discovers his disguise and true identity as a Drow. Cleo leaves, keeping the revelation to herself. When The Pilgrim regains consciousness in the morning, he is assured by the doctor that his secret will remain safe.

In the morning the party discusses their next move. The only leads they have available are Ulric's home address and the local whorehouse. Despite my best efforts to get my party to go to a whorehouse, they're not into it, and elect to investigate Ulric's home. It's in the upper-class part of town, a two-story mini-mansion. It's obviously locked, so Pilgrim whips out his newly purchased thieves tools. However, it turns out that the tools he purchased are extremely substandard, made of soft tin rather than quality steel. He still has the option of picking locks, but gains no +2 Thievery bonus to disarming traps/locks. I decide that he gets three attempts to pass the DC15 check before neighbors start to get suspicious. Thankfully he still succeeds and they gain entry.

It's always great when you can use an existing map...
A cursory glance reveals nothing more than a normal family home, and the party splits up to search the rooms. Pilgrim, being a disguise specialist, elects to craft a disguise that would allow him to pass as Ulric, in the event that the party is discovered. Freya heads upstairs to search the bedrooms, and accidentally discovers a pair of Imps at play. The Imps attack on sight, leading to a battle which brings the attention of the rest of the party. The party is at a disadvantage for two reasons. One, the narrow confines prevent the entire party from attacking at once, and the Imps have the ability to turn invisible at will to attack unseen. The melee fighters elect to start swinging at random squares, but no attacks hit. The ranged spellcasters opt to employ their burst attacks, which hit the Imps and bring them out of their invisible state. Rather than go for the kill, the party employs non-lethal attacks to subdue the Imps.

Another interrogation ensues. The Pilgrim, still in his Ulric disguise, attempts to convince the Imps to give up the info. His Bluff check is awful, so they don't buy it. The party's Intimidate checks work, so the Imps reveal that they serve Ulric and are instructed to guard his home while he's away, especially the basement. What's in the basement? The Imps invite them to see for themselves. The party heads downstairs, but not before tying up the Imps and sticking them in a closet. As you can see on the map, the basement is a stone chamber with an altar and circular pedestal, covered with ornate runes. The alter is covered with spell books and papers, notes and memos. On top of the pedestal, there is a large wooden chest. Pilgrim quickly performs a Thievery check to unlock the chest, and I give him a Perception check to see if he discovers the tripwire trap that would have riddled the room with poison darts. Sadly, he passes both and opens the chest, revealing 1000 gold coins.

If I didn't have any junk, I'd be angry too.
Naturally, the party takes the coins. Just as naturally, there is a consequence, as a section of stone floor erupts in an explosion, and out crawls a pack of six Imps and an Evistro demon. Apparently that gold belongs to them, so now it's on. To be continued...

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

West Coast Geeks vs Nerds - Indiana Jones vs Tintin Debate

You've seen these arguments before. I know this because you're on the internet, which is filled with them. Who would win in a fight between super spies James Bond and Jason Bourne? Or how about a wizard duel between Harry Potter and Harry Dresden? Maybe a medical match-up between Dr. Mario and Dr. Doom? Popular culture is filled with such debates, and there's no right answer. Typically, these arguments tend to devolve pretty fast when they take place in online message boards and chat rooms. It's pretty much the exact opposite of your high school's debate team. Unrestricted by any kind of moderating influence and protected by anonymity, fans will fight hard for their icons, citing obscure sources and taking every cheap shot they can in pursuit of victory. (Psst. The correct answers are Bourne, Dresden, and Doom.)

If you read all of that and thought to yourself: "Wow, that sounds like the kind of thing I'd want to see performed live on stage..." ...really? You're a huge nerd and/or geek. Which is why you'll thoroughly enjoy West Coast Geeks vs Nerds! This live event pits two teams of master debaters pop culture scholars against each other to determine which of two given icons is considered to be the objective winner.

The debate itself is structured and moderated to ensure a fair fight, with each side getting two minutes to present their case in different categories, followed by a five minute free-for-all round before the audience gets to cheer for their favorites and the moderator declares final judgement. I went down to last night's show to get a taste of the madness for myself, and I'd like to share my experience with you. Come along, shall we?
I fought the urge to ask Tyler if he knows who lives in a pineapple under the sea.
The first debate of the night was a contest between two globe-trotting adventurers: Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr. versus Tintin. Two teams of three, designated "Geeks" and "Nerds" took up their respective sides and instead of a coin toss, debate order was determined by both sides rolling a 20-sided die. Amazingly, Team Geek managed to roll a 20 (though the die apparently read 0, which I found even funnier), so they elected to allow Team Nerd to proceed first. The Nerds describe Tintin for the benefit of the audience, which I appreciated because I had no idea who the hell Tintin was. To sum it up, Tintin is a character from a French children's comic series. He is a world renowned reporter and adventurer who often finds himself in dangerous situations along with his faithful dog Snowy. He's traveled to pretty much every country (including a few fictional ones), and has even been to the freaking Moon. Next, Team Geek painted us all a picture of the heroic adventures of Indiana Jones, world renowned archaeologist, treasure hunter, and Nazi Exterminator.

In the second portion of the debate, both sides took an offensive stance and attacked the efficacy of the opposition's character. We were treated to a brutal takedown by the Nerds, featuring Indy's encounter with Hitler, his questionable use of Short Round as child labor, and a deconstruction speech so thoughtful and efficient that it left the moderator and audience alike gasping for relief. The Geeks countered with something just as vicious and direct: Photographic evidence of Tintin's own dark history, including the abuse and subjugation of native Africans in the Congo. Both sides definitely came prepared for this one, ladies and gentlemen.

They got a LOT of mileage out of these cards. :P
Next came the obvious question: Who would win in a fight? Team Nerd painted us a lovely mental image of Indy and Tinty (no? I'll try harder, I promise) doing battle in a Gladiator Arena, wherein Tintin uses his wit and skill to escape captivity while Indy is seduced by Nazi prostitutes and dies from contracting various STIs. It certainly is a vivid mental picture, but the Geeks fire back with one simple statement of fact: Indiana Jones is a grown man (and war veteran) fighting a teenager and his dog. Hard to argue with that one.

The final round consisted of a five minute free-for-all where both sides were free to speak openly and challenge each other directly. All participants made their voices heard, and strong points were made on both sides. I'll admit that I went into the debate entirely on the Indiana Jones side of the debate (because I basically had no idea who the hell Tintin was), so the fact that I was even considering the possibility of a Tintin victory is a credit to Team Nerd. Ultimately the moderator turned his attention to the assembled audience, with cheers going up for Indiana or Tintin respectively. Tintin was declared the final victor, though it's probably because Team Geek elected to hum the triumphant Indiana Jones theme music, while Team Nerd was forced to simply cheer because nobody in the room remembered that Tintin even has theme music. Seriously, I was having flashbacks to Madeline and freaking Babar.


The main event that night was a match-up between Superman and Goku, two impossibly powerful beings who destroy planets by blinking. I would love to have stuck around for that one, but sadly I am NOT an impossibly powerful being and I work for a living, so I had to head home so I could be in decent shape to get up for work at an ungodly hour of the morning.

West Coast Geeks vs Nerds was a lot of fun. The debate was engaging and spirited, the crowd was having a blast, the friendly staff of Yuk Yuks Comedy Club were always nearby to provide drinks (and they take debit!), and geek-themed cookies and treats were available in the lobby courtesy of Jenny and Geek Sweets. The next event will be taking place on December 11th, pitting Gotham City's own Mr. Freeze against Mortal Kombat veteran Sub Zero, as well as a pair of Creepy Christmas Cranks (I just love alliteration, don't you?) as Jack Skellington takes on The Grinch. It was plenty crowded in there already, so pick up your tickets fast before they start selling out shows!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution - Movie Review

Screw it.

I was originally going to write this review immediately after seeing the movie, but I ultimately chose to wait a day to gather my thoughts. The main reason was that my thoughts at the time mainly consisted of angry, venomous expletives. This is a bad movie, in so many ways. And you all knew it was going to be bad before it was even released, because that's how it goes with this series. Each movie gets more and more outlandish and offensive, but you go see it anyway because it gives you a shameless thrill and what more did you expect from a movie based on a video game?

But it didn't have to be like this. Did you know that the first Resident Evil movie script was penned by George "of the Living Dead" Romero himself? Way back in 1999, Capcom commissioned him for a script, and he actually did his research and turned in a script that was faithful to the source material. It wasn't great, but the only version available online is of an early draft, so I'm sure they could've ironed out the bugs before shooting. Capcom apparently fired him because his version was too moody and lacked action (I can only assume the people in charge never actually PLAYED the game). Thus, they hired Paul Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Soldier, Event Horizon), who turned in a script that was a radical departure from the source material, featuring none of the characters or events from the games.

The film series focuses on the adventures of Alice (Milla Jovovich), a former Umbrella operative. In the games and films, Umbrella is a multinational corporation specializing in medical research. However, they also make a tidy sum experimenting with biological weapons. One such weapon, the T-Virus, turns infected humans into zombies. As you might expect, the virus is released and eventually sweeps the globe, killing nearly all life on the planet. Alice herself becomes infected, but rather than going zombie, she gets superpowers. No, really. For no sensible reason, the virus gives her enhanced strength, agility, reflexes, healing, and psychic powers. Have I lost you yet?

Every movie plays out pretty much the same. Alice shows up on the scene of some major catastrophe, tells everyone what to do, and gets to be the only one who gets anything done while everyone else either compliments her indisputable awesomeness or dies horribly. If you're a fan of the original game series, you'll actually see several sequences copied shot-for-shot from classic moments in the games. The only difference is that instead of the classic characters performing these stunts, it's Alice in ALL OF THEM. On an related note, Milla Jovovich and Paul Anderson met while making the first movie, and married in 2009. Essentially, each one of these movies are nothing more than an excuse for Anderson to pimp out his wife as an invincible superwoman while stealing plot points from the game series under the guise of "adaptation".

Each movie has sucked in its own special ways, but this one irked me on so many levels I felt it was worth sharing. So let's dive right into this one head first. The film opens with a plot dump from Alice, as they have since Apocalypse. The last film ended with Alice and friends under siege from Umbrella forces. Alice manages to shoot down a gunship at long range with her short-range shotgun, but the gunship's inevitable crash knocks her unconscious. When she wakes up she is unharmed, in a cozy bed, with her husband who looks an awful lot like Carlos (Oded Fehr), who died in Extinction. They have a deaf daughter and live a normal life in the suburbs. Then zombies walk onto the set and eat Carlos while Alice and daughter run away. They fight off the zombies in the house and run out into the yard, in a scene that is almost a total shot-for-shot copy of the initial zombie attack from the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake. A car suddenly pulls up with Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) at the wheel, also interesting since she died in the first movie. Notice a pattern.

The car crashes soon after, forcing Alice and daughter to flee into a nearby house. Alice tells her daughter to hide while she fights the zombies, but lacking any sort of combat ability she is killed by a zombified Carlos. We then cut to the REAL Alice, who is naked (another staple of the film series) in an Umbrella holding cell, being tortured by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) who showed up at the end of the last movie brainwashed and evil for some reason after disappearing from the series in Extinction. If you read the movie novelization (and why would you unless you're crazy like me...) then you know Jill became the Queen of Baltimore (yes, really), but whatever.

An indeterminate period of time later, the security system is shut down remotely and Alice escapes, provided with a black latex catsuit for absolutely no reason. She enters a long illuminated hallway and is chased through it by an advancing wall of lasers into Tokyo. Or rather, what appears to be Tokyo, but totally abandoned. She breaks into a nearby cop car and retrieves a very flashy Swiss-made handgun (maybe that only annoys me, but come on!), only to be suddenly surprised when hundreds of Japanese people start walking around her. Where the hell did they come from, you might ask? The writers sure didn't.

One of the random pedestrians, a young woman, instantly and randomly goes zombie and bites a guy, and suddenly there are hundreds of zombies all over the place. Alice flees into a newly revealed corridor and engages in a prolonged martial-arts gunplay battle with over a dozen zombies, performing flips and kicks with the greatest of ease. I'll go ahead and remind the audience that Alice has NO superpowers at this point in the series, having lost them at the start of Afterlife when Wesker injected her with an anti-virus (easily my favorite moment of the series and richly deserved).

Anyway, Alice continues fleeing and enters a control room full of dead Umbrella personnel. While loading up on guns from a nearby rack, she is ambushed by Ada Wong (Li Bingbing), wearing her trademark red dress for no reason. In a scene lifted straight from the games, Alice disarms Ada and draws a blade against her throat to bark questions at her. Ada tells Alice that she was sent into this facility to rescue her. If that's the case, why the hell did Ada pull her gun on Alice at all? A simple greeting would have been easier.

Turns out Ada is working for Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), former bad guy and coolest man alive, who appears on a nearby monitor to speak to Alice. He was supposedly annihilated by a huge energy bomb at the end of Afterlife, but here we see him perfectly fine, so screw it. Wesker tells Alice that she's in a massive underwater Umbrella facility in northern Russia that contains several large-scale recreations of major cities from around the world (New York, Moscow, some random suburb), used to test outbreak scenarios, and populated with thousands of human clones made from hundreds of genetic profiles which include Alice, Carlos, and Rain. The facility is under the control of the Red Queen, an artificial-intelligence that was responsible for managing the facility from the first movie (and was subsequently destroyed, but screw it). Ada was the one who disabled the control room, allowing another strike team to enter the base. The team consists of Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) and Barry Burton (Kevin Durand), two game characters with absolutely no reason to be here, along with a couple of unnamed goons and Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), a random nobody who somehow managed to survive the events of Afterlife and join this team of total strangers. Again, screw it. Wesker has organized this rescue because Alice is apparently the only hope for the survival of the human race. We get it, Anderson, your wife's awesome. Please stop beating us over the head with it.

We are then told that the strike team has placed explosives near the elevator entrance that will destroy the facility in two hours (a callback to the original film for those who remember). Alice and Ada escape into the New York simulation while the strike team enters the Moscow simulation. However, we are shown this using a digital wire-frame map of the entire complex, where we can see that the Moscow simulation area is a DEAD END, so there's no damned reason to go there. Screw it. The Red Queen retakes control of the facility and sends monsters after everyone. Alice and Ada encounter a pair of Executioners (12ft tall axe-wielding monsters from the games who show up entirely at random), forcing the pair to fight for their lives. As is usual for the series, Ada runs and hides while Alice kills both monsters single-handedly. Meanwhile, the strike team encounters hundreds of machine-gun wielding clones in the Moscow simulation and engages in a massive firefight.

Alice and Ada enter the suburban simulation area and accidentally rescue the deaf daughter of Alice's clone. Ada makes the argument that the clone is just one of thousands and there's no reason to take her along. Alice counters with nothing, but she takes the child along anyway because she now has maternal instincts or something. However, as they go to leave they are cornered by Umbrella soldiers, led by brainwashed Jill and clones of Carlos, Rain, and One--

Wait, ONE? The guy who led the original commando team from the first movie? I'm conflicted now. On the one hand, that was a fantastic character, played amazingly by Colin Salmon. He was cold but not entirely uncaring, and while we didn't get to see him do much other than bark orders and get sliced into chunks, you still could see shades of an interesting character that could have become something amazing if given the chance to develop. He didn't even get a real name, just his designation as team leader. In this movie, he's just another goon. I'm sad now.

So, a firefight breaks out between the soldiers and A&A (as I will now refer to them). Ada draws her grappling hook gun (another of her signature gadgets from the games) and shoots a random soldier with it, then gives it to Alice before drawing her pistol again. Why does she do this? I have no goddamn idea. She says it's because she wants to travel light, but why did she bother shooting someone with the grappling hook if she has a gun already? Screw it, A&A split up and Alice takes her daughter into a nearby subway tunnel (nearby to the suburbs?) where she runs into the neighbor-clone of Rain from earlier in the movie, who survived the car crash. Alice leaves her new daughter in the protection of a woman who outright refuses to handle a gun so she can run off for no reason.

Meanwhile, the strike team led by Leon and Barry is still shooting it out with the Russian clone soldiers. One of the random no-names is carved up by an armored soldier swinging a chainsaw (another stolen artifact from the games), who despite taking dozens of bullets to the chest and face, is only killed with Luther shoots it in the back of the head. Apparently, bullets only kill people if they are fired by named characters. Just as they are about to escape, the second nameless mook is mauled by a Licker, another game monster. Except while the game version of the Licker was roughly human-sized, this one is the size of an SUV. The Licker is knocked aside by Alice, who shows up in a car. How did she know they needed help? Again, screw it.

A car chase ensues, as Alice drives while Leon and Barry shoot at the pursuing soldiers and Licker, who can now move at breakneck speed. Alice drives into a subway tunnel to lose the pursuit and meets up with Good Rain and her new daughter. Leon asks if Ada is alright, and Alice remarks that she lost track of her. Leon states that as long as nobody saw her die, she's probably alive and up to something. Granted, that's good logic for a movie, but for a real person to say something like that it makes them sound crazy and/or stupid. Ada can die whether or not you're looking at her, dumbass. It's not like she needs an audience.

They all make it back to the entrance elevator and attempt to leave, but the Red Queen shuts it down. The Licker shows up again, injuring Barry and killing Good Rain before kidnapping Alice's new daughter and running away. I'd ask why, but you know the answer. Alice wants to rescue the child, but Leon points out that Alice's survival is more important. Alice denies the claim, but Leon also points out that several men gave their lives on this mission, and we are supposed to believe that Alice is the savior of humanity. So in fact, YES, she is more important. Alice has no response other than a threat, and because she's a Mary Sue of the highest order, she gets everything she wants. Screw it.

While Alice hunts down the Licker, the rest of the team engages in another firefight with the Umbrella soldiers. Luther and Leon fall back to the elevator while Barry holds the soldiers back. After all of the faceless mooks go down, Jill orders a ceasefire to bring out a hostage... Ada. How's that logic working out for you now, Leon? Dumbass... Jill demands that Barry throw down his gun and step out into the open, which he does. He is then promptly shot by One and his gun flies up into the air. However, as his gun falls back to the ground, he sits up, catches the gun, blows away One, and is shot dead by Carlos. This is just all kinds of stupid, for so many reasons, but the movie's almost over, so let's just say Screw It again and move on.

Alice finds her daughter encased in some sort of cocoon by the Licker (for what purpose, I could not tell you), and manages to retrieve her using Ada's grappling hook in a scene that pretty much makes Milla Jovovich look like Superman without the cape. Subtle, no? Along with her daughter, she also finds a very convenient bandolier of grenades in another cocoon and brings them along. Stumbling upon a warehouse full of blank clone bodies, Alice's new daughter finally realizes that this strange woman in a catsuit shooting everything in sight isn't actually her mother. I guess the change in hair, clothes, speech and behavior wasn't enough of an indicator. As the Licker bears down on them, Alice fiercely tells her new daughter "I am now!" as she sets off the grenades and zips away on the grappling hook, leaving the Licker to go boom.

As the two hour mark passes...Wait, I have to stop for a second to point out another problem with this movie. Would you believe all of what I've described has taken place over the course of about an hour? In actual fact, this movie has a total runtime of 95 minutes. The end credits are ten minutes, and the intro replays the same action sequence twice, running forwards and backwards (in slow motion). Not counting credits, this movie clocks in at just under 85 minutes. And this movie uses so much slow motion that I bet we would lose another 10-15 minutes if every slow-mo sequence was played in real time. For a movie that is supposedly operating under a two hour time limit, it is rather hilarious that the movie itself couldn't even make it that far. Of course, neither did the first one. And I can understand the need to cut extraneous bits in editing to keep the pace of the movie going. It would take a really good screenplay and a really good director to keep up the tension and atmosphere through a two hour movie, and maintain audience attention. Then again, THAT IS YOUR JOB.

Anyway, the timer hits zero and the bombs go off, flooding the facility. I'm not exactly sure how a bomb placed at the entrance manages to destroy everything and somehow doesn't harm the people standing right next to it, but you know the motto of this movie by now. Alice, daughter (she has a name, but it's almost never used and you don't even care, do you?), Leon, and Luther all make it back to the surface and escape in a snowcrawler, but are intercepted by an Umbrella submarine. Out comes Jill and Rain, dragging a handcuffed Ada. The Red Queen (how is she still online, anyway?) orders them to kill the survivors, which they elect to do with hand-to-hand combat instead of using something as simple as a gun. Jill has enhanced powers because of a spider-looking device implanted on her chest between her boobs (another stolen game device with no explanation in the movie), and Rain injects herself with a Las Plagas parasite (ANOTHER stolen game device with no explanation in the movie) which makes her superhuman.

Jill takes on Alice while Leon and Luther fight Rain, who has knocked Ada unconscious instead of just killing her, which she is clearly capable of doing because she soon kills Luther in one punch by shattering his ribcage and stopping his heart (illustrated to us with an x-ray camera shot lifted from either Mortal Kombat or Romeo Must Die, take your pick). In a rare display of common sense, Alice is actually losing her fight against Jill, unable to match speed or strength against her enhanced opponent. Jill lifts Alice by the throat and attempts to push her head into the moving tracks of the overturned snowcrawler vehicle (which she somehow activated WITH HER GODDAMNED MIND), but Alice finally clues in and yanks the spider device off of Jill's chest, breaking her mind control. Alice throws it away, but the spider device actually gets up and starts running towards Alice under its own power, which is six kinds of crazy, but SCREW IT. Alice picks up a gun and shoots it.

Leon's getting his ass kicked, so Alice has to save him too. Rain hits her with the same chest-breaking punch that killed Luther (complete with another x-ray camera shot), but Alice survives because Paul Anderson is a terrible writer. She shoots Rain a bunch, but her Las Plagas infection renders her immune to bullets, pain, and happiness. Alice then shoots out the ice under Rain's feet, sending her into the water where dozens of zombies await to drag her to a watery grave. Even as she is pulled down, Rain vows to come back. So you just know she's coming back for the sequel.

A helicopter arrives to rescue the surviving team. Wait, so why did the strike team arrive by snowcrawler if they had a helicopter waiting to bring them back? Movie's nearly over, skip it. Alice, daughter, Leon, and Ada are all flown to the White House in Washington DC, where Wesker is waiting in the Oval Office. Nice promotion, dude! He greets Alice, then uses his super speed to inject her with T-Virus again to give her back her superpowers. Apparently the Red Queen now plans to kill all life on the planet, so they must work together to ensure the survival of humanity. The camera then pans out to see the White House and the last remnants of the US Military defending itself against an onslaught of millions of zombies and monsters. Every movie has ended with a pan-out shot, but this one is the largest yet, and surprisingly effective. Doesn't save the movie by any means, but I'll give credit where it's due.

So, that's the movie. Screw it, you know you're going to pay to see it anyway. I did the same thing when the Saw movies were still coming out. Each one was getting worse and worse, but I had to know how the story ends. Apparently Paul Anderson is going to make the next movie the final chapter in his series, and I can tell you exactly why: He has nothing left to steal. When he started making these movies he had a half dozen games to lift concepts and creature designs from, but now that he's five movies deep, he's actually managed to catch up to the main series by the numbers. He's been writing himself deeper and deeper by raising the stakes, and now there's nowhere to go. The threat can't be any bigger, Alice can't be any more powerful, and there can't be any more people to tell her how awesome she is (because she's gotten almost all of them killed already).

You don't even need to go see the next movie. I can give you a checklist of what you can expect when it comes out in a couple years. I guarantee the movie will feature all of the following:
  • Intro summary by "My name is Alice" where she recounts the plot of the last five movies, in case you somehow decided to start watching the series at movie six.
  • Alice is naked at some point, with the potential for side boob because Paul Anderson has no self control.
  • Alice engages in no less than two sequences lifted straight from the games where she takes the place of another protagonist.
  • A new monster will appear, also taken from the games. Possibly RE6, if Anderson sees fit to play the game (or more likely read the Wikipedia entry).
  • Characters native to the games will follow Alice along on her adventure, follow her order unquestioningly and compliment her once or twice.
  • At least one character from previous movies will disappear with no explanation (ala Jill, Angela, Claire, Chris, K-Mart)
  • Alice will enter an underground Umbrella base, because Umbrella loves building things underground.
  • 10% of the film's running time will occur in slow-motion.
  • The film's primary antagonists will be the Red Queen and Rain, who everyone will act surprised to see for about five seconds.
  • Alice will be the one to defeat Rain, single-handedly, after someone else is killed in the attempt.
  • The Red Queen, despite being an AI without a body, will be destroyed because the base houses her primary brain, even though logically she would have several backups all over the world.
  • Wesker will go evil again, and Alice will kill him too.
  • Humanity will effortlessly repopulate the planet under Alice's leadership...
  • the camera pans out to a wide shot.
That's 14 different points. You would think the odds of me getting all of them right are very low, right? WE'LL SEE.

Final "Screw It" Count: 10+

Friday, 28 September 2012

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Session 2 Recap

When we last left our adventuring party, they were being released from jail under contract from the Sutulak City Guard to solve a string of murders and disappearances committed in recent weeks. Captain Warrik gives the party 100 gold each as a stipend for the work they will be doing, as well as a basket of Everlasting Provisions and a Bag of Holding for the group's use. In addition, the party (using The Pilgrim's Diplomacy skill) asks for some sort of written declaration that while they are investigating, they are acting on behalf of the City Guard and are authorized to do whatever they want, so long as they're not killing people randomly. They also ask for the silvered dagger Ulric used to kill Jamie, arguing that it might be useful to know where he purchased it, or if he used it elsewhere.

Warrik gives the party some leads to start with. The local Brothel is a hotspot of underworld activity, so somebody there might know more about local events. They could also examine Jamie's body at the nearby morgue, or the Green Dragon Inn crime scene. The Marketplace district would be the place to go to find a Blacksmith, and the local Mage's Guild would have info on Ulric if he is a member. The group also asks if they can still use the Inn as a place to rest, and Warrik admits that the crime scene is technically just the downstairs area, thus the upstairs rooms are still clear.

With that, the group leaves the Jail and decides to start in the Marketplace, since they have a pocketful of gold to spend. The Marketplace is a big district, since Sutulak still functions as a major trade city. Within the district, the shops and vendor shacks are grouped by class. The party moves through the fine goods areas and goes looking for the shadier areas. Specifically, The Pilgrim is looking to acquire some thieving tools. After a couple shadowy alleyways, the party finds a small stand off a dirty road operated by a couple men garbed in tattered cloth and torn hide. Pilgrim asks if they have any "unconventional" wares, and after some negotiation he produces a shopping list. Lockpicks, footpads, a glass cutter, grappling hook, the usual tools of the trade. The traders put several items into a small burlap bag and hand it over in exchange for 80gold. This makes Pilgrim suspicious because the total value of all those items is more than what he's paying. However, he doesn't pass a Perception or Insight check to notice anything is amiss, so the sale is made and the traders find an excuse to leave.

The party decides to go to the Blacksmith next. However, on the way, a Passive Perception check is passed by Freyja, Azryn, and Clastoptera, who notice they are being followed by a couple of unrecognizable figures in the crowd. They inform the rest of the group, and Pilgrim chooses this moment to duck into a nearby alleyway to pee. The party continues down the street, and the figures follow Pilgrim into the alley. Pilgrim is standing against the wall in the middle of the alley as the figures approach him from behind...and from up ahead, boxing him in. Upon closer inspection they turn out to be a pack of goblins. Several lackeys, some thugs, a Bugbear for muscle, two lieutenants, and a gang leader. The gang had observed Pilgrim dropping gold in the Marketplace and they're looking to take what's left. Pilgrim (truthfully) informs the gang that he doesn't have much left, so the gang leader notes that his armor must be worth something, and orders him to strip. Now.
I love easy maps.
Pilgrim obviously declines, if only because his human disguise doesn't extend over his entire body. The gang begins to advance on him, but the rest of the party doubles back just in time and engages the rear pack of goblins. Pilgrim rushes to join his friends, providing flanking bonuses to several attacks. This pisses off the Bugbear, who takes one heavy war pick to the back too many and turns on him. Bugbear fixes Pilgrim with a Predatory Eye, then nails him with his Skullthumper Encounter power, which lays him flat out and dazes him. He's severely wounded, and the goblin lackeys around him are taking easy pokes at him to finish him off. Oizo makes use of his racial ability to telekinetically drag Pilgrim out of harm's way. Azryn starts cutting down lackeys left and right, Freyja casts Icy Terrain to trip up some enemies and Clastoptera changes into various beast forms to rip into the goblins. The goblin leader sends his lieutenants into the fight, who manage to do some damage to Oizo and Azryn before they ultimately go down, along with the rest. The leader, upon seeing the rest of his people cut down, flies into a rage and rushes the party alone. He's four levels above the group, but alone, so there's no guarantee of success. Pilgrim takes a Second Wind to recover some health and take a shot at the leader, but a quick sword slash strikes him down and leaves him unconscious and bleeding to death. Azryn and Oizo attempt to flank, but the goblin leader shifts each turn to focus on one opponent at a time. Clastoptera takes long range shots while Freyja tends to the dying Pilgrim to stabilize him. She feeds him a Health Potion to heal him back to fighting condition, and he rejoins the fight. The goblin leader continues his rampage, attacking anyone who approaches and slowly backs away to keep the fight on one side. He makes it to an alcove to keep himself from being surrounded, but Oizo uses a Lightning Lure to pull him out and he finally goes down under a combined assault.

The party strips the goblins of weapons, gear, and gold, then flags down a nearby guard to explain the situation. The notoriety of the gang coupled with Warrick's letter makes it easy for them to handle the situation, so they're free to continue onward. The Blacksmith's shop is simple, a one-level building with a basement forge. The shop walls are lined with racks of weapons and armor, sorted by type and material, so that customers of different classes and styles can easily find what they're looking for. The shop owner is a stout old dwarf with dark hair and a trimmed beard, who eyes up the party as they enter from behind a long wooden countertop. First things first, the party lays down the collected weapons and gear from the goblin gang and gets it all appraised to sell it for gold. Among the weapons on the wall lays a large shining hammer behind the counter. Arcana checks by Freyja and Oizo notice that the hammer is enchanted, and bears an Arcane Mark with the name Bo Do. After a History check, they remember that there were legends of a small Dwarven village where a family of masterful weapon smiths lived. They had ancient knowledge of metallurgy and enchantments, and crafted weapons that tore through armies like a stone through wet paper. The process took months to turn out a single weapon, thus the demand far exceeded the supply. Fights broke out over the prized weaponry, leading to a riot that eventually destroyed the town. Many members of the Do clan were killed, and the rest went off to parts unknown. There's no way to know if the hammer was made by this particular Blacksmith, or simply acquired by him. Upon inquiry, the Blacksmith simply remarks that the weapon is not for sale. It hasn't been used in a long time, and he hopes never to use it again...

Changing the subject, the party produces Ulric's silvered dagger and asks the Blacksmith if he knows about it. As it turned out, the Blacksmith admits to having silvered this dagger for Ulric earlier in the month. Apparently Ulric needed it for some ceremonial purpose, but beyond that he doesn't know. Clastoptera lets slip that the knife was used to kill Jamie, and the Blacksmith is stunned silent. For a long moment, he has no words, lost in thought. Eventually he snaps out of it and informs the party that city law requires all weapon smiths to take customer information when deadly weapons are purchased, in the event they are used to commit crimes. Given that the party has Warrik's letter, the Blacksmith provides the party with Ulric's home address. As the group goes to leave, the Blacksmith adds two pieces of additional information. One, Ulric wasn't alone when he came for the weapon, and two, he smelled of meat.

The party's next stop is a Magic Shop. By which I mean potions and spells and wands, not handkerchiefs and trick cards. As the party approaches the shop, an easy Passive Perception check lets them catch some noises from within the shop. Specifically, angry shouting. "Put it down!" "You put it down!" "Drop 'em!" "I'll drop you first!" And so on. The party busts through the door, weapons drawn, to find a mexican standoff taking place between two wizards and a band of thieves.
Did I mention I love easy maps?
The shop features multiple shelves of books and potions, as well as various magical and ceremonial materials. Tall shelves are spaced throughout the shop, with a long wooden counter at the far end. Behind the counter are two wizards, one old and short with a long white beard, hefting a long staff. The other is taller, younger, with slicked back blonde hair and a wand raised at the nearest bandit. The thieves themselves are a mix of human bandits wielding maces and a pair of elven archers. A quick discussion between the party has them deciding to side with the wizards in this fight, so they get a surprise round against the thieves. Oizo, Azryn, and Pilgrim rushed forward to engage the bandits in melee while Freyja fires Magic Missiles at range and Clastoptera mounts a nearby bookshelf to lay down spells from on high.

Pilgrim unleashes his Cloud of Darkness to conceal his attacks, preventing the bandits from coordinating their attacks and keeping the fights 1-on-1. Clastoptera takes an arrow in the arm from an elf archer, who catches a face full of hornets in response and is stung to death. Another bandit manages to get around the shelves and engage Freyja directly, who backs off from melee combat to blast him with her staff. Azryn chops his foe in half with his great axe and Oizo buries his blade halfway through a bandit's head. Pilgrim uses a non-lethal attack to take one of the bandits alive, knocking him unconscious. Editor's Note: As I later found out, you can't just call your attack non-lethal and do the same amount of damage whenever you like. You have to declare it before you roll, and you get a -4 to your attack roll. Also, during the fight Clastoptera makes Stealth rolls to steal random items off the shelf, grabbing an unidentified potion and book without being detected.

The fighting done with, the party announces themselves to the wizards, who are thankful for the assistance. The old wizard is Vink Sardo (bonus points if you get the reference), and the young apprentice is Aric Blacktree. The party wishes to question the survivor, and Sardo offers the party use of his basement lab.

At the end of the session, the party gained enough XP to reach Level 2. They'll be gaining a Utility power, extra HP, and they may choose to retrain one feat, power, or skill training if they wish. Here's hoping things keep going smoothly!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Session 1 Recap

As the story proper begins, we find ourselves at the Green Dragon Inn. The main floor is a bar with rooms upstairs for guests. It features a full bar, a raised area for VIPs, a small stage for entertainment, full kitchen, and room for 30+ patrons. Once a high-class establishment, it has since fallen into disrepair as its original owner employed slave labor to keep the place running and abandoned it when that was no longer an option. It's current owner is Jamie, a friendly and chatty effeminate elf of undetermined gender. He/she's happy as can be with his/her little operation, which consists of him/herself and his/her waitress Harriet, a young Dwarven woman who also sings on the tavern stage on slow nights. On this particular night, there are roughly a dozen patrons in the bar, either seated at the bar or in groups at a table, taking in the show or chatting amongst themselves. A group of young nobles are seated at the Lord's table, basically slumming it for an evening like teenagers in Tijuana.

In through the front doors comes our heroes, in order of their seating at my table, left to right: First is Clastoptera, an Elven Druid, who enters and takes a seat near the stage, taking in the show and waiting on a drink. Clastoptera's player has played some D&D but was a little soured on the experience because her previous party contained a couple of prima-donna players who loved to steal the show and take all of the focus. Hopefully I can give her some opportunities to shine in this campaign and make her feel like a vital member of the group.
Thanks, DeviantArt!
Next comes a figure who appears to be a human in simple clothes, but is actually a disguised Drow Avenger who we will refer to as The Pilgrim at his player's request. He approaches the bartender and asks if there is any work in the area. Jamie responds that there is always work available in Sutulak, and in fact he/she is having a slight *whisper* rat problem *end whisper* that he/she would love some assistance with. Jamie asks The Pilgrim to take a seat with a drink on the house and he/she'll get back to him later in the evening. The Pilgrim's player is an experienced DM in his own right, so I found myself relying on his knowledge a lot in the first encounters. Thankfully he's quite helpful and doesn't constantly challenge me by quoting the rulebook. When I don't know something I'll typically just improvise and look it up later, rather than slow the game down by flipping through the book.
Without the disguise.
As The Pilgrim takes his seat, an Eladrin Wizard enters and also approaches the bartender. She introduces herself as Freyja, and she has come to Sutulak in search of her missing parents. Freyja's player is easily the most eager of my group, and this is also her first game of D&D. She came prepared with a simple back story and goal for her character, and I will do my best to accommodate her without derailing the main quest or turning her into the focus of the party. Improvising my response, I have Jamie tell Freyja that Eladrin are still pretty rare in Sutulak, but there is an older couple who recently moved into the Upper Class residential district. He/she invited Freyja to sit and have a drink while he deals with his other customers and later he/she'll be free to sit and chat with her all about them.

Never let me choose your portrait.
Through the doors of the tavern steps a robot. No, really. 6'6", 200lbs and change, a Warforged Barbarian named Azryn. Recently freed from servitude and not sure what to do with his newfound independence, he apparently came into the tavern just to hang out. However, when he attempts to take a seat at a nearby table, I ask Azryn's player to make a Strength check. Here's the quick summary on Skill Checks: Every character has skills in different areas, and sometimes in order to accomplish a task you need to succeed in a skill check. In this case, I was concerned that the flimsy wooden chair wouldn't be able to hold all 200lbs of Azryn's Warforged ass. So I asked Azryn's player to roll a Strength check, and he failed. The result was that the chair cracked under his weight and he crashed to the floor. This had no impact on the overall story, but I thought it was a fun little distraction that gave some depth to the world around the players and introduced a key mechanic to the newbies (of which I happen to be one myself). Jamie came running over to make sure Azryn was alright, surprised to find a Warforged being in his tavern. Azryn apologizes for breaking the chair and asks if there is any work to be found in the area. As with The Pilgrim, Jamie quietly speaks of his/her own little rat problem and asks Azryn to wait a while. He/she offers Azryn a drink, but since Azryn doesn't drink or eat, Azryn simply observes the singing waitress.

It's a boy! All six fingers and four toes!
Finally we have Oizo, a Githyanki Swordmage. Oizo's player isn't much for roleplaying and prefers combat to any sort of acting. In-character, Oizo enters the bar and just takes up a spot near the door, leaning against the wall and observing the area. I'll try not to force Oizo into any major roleplaying situations, but I do have to establish his personality for the benefit of the group, so he'll have to get into it just a little bit until the action picks up.

He's basically a Jedi. No, really.
After the introductions are made, there is a loud crash from the Lord's Table as a wooden wall bursts apart and a horde of giant rats emerges. The bar's patrons immediately flee the area, dropping their drinks and sprinting for the door. The rats spread out and start attacking the closest things they can find, which consists of the party, the waitress on stage, and the bartender at the bar. Azryn and Clastoptera are seated near the stage, so they intercept a pack of rats before they can get to the waitress, who has fainted with fright. The Pilgrim and Freyja take on the rats who come into the main dining area, Freyja letting loose with bursts of magic while Pilgrim hacks away with his heavy war pick. Oizo is too far away, so he charges forward and telekinetically leaps into the fight (as his racial ability allows him to). Clastoptera shapeshifts into a swarm of bugs and starts swarming the rats in her area while Azryn chops one in half with his heavy axe. Freyja is overcome with a swarm of rats, but teleports herself away to escape further attacks. As the battle starts to shift in favor of the party, one surviving rat flees back for the hole it came through, but Clastoptera uses an ability to create a terrifying sound from within the hole. This scares the rat into running in a different direction, and Oizo puts it down by throwing his sword at the rat in a spinning arc that chops it in two. Lengthwise. He then recalls the sword to his hand Jedi-style.

With the battle concluded, Harriet the waitress is still unconscious and Jamie has regained his composure, having spent that entire fight standing on top of the bar screaming in terror. He offers the party free room and board for exterminating the rats, though Pilgrim employs his Diplomacy skill to earn a permanent room at the inn for the party (which is actually the Honeymoon Suite). With that, the party retires to bed while Jamie sets to work disposing of the rat corpses and repairing the hole in the wall. However, several hours later in the dead of night, a scream is heard from downstairs followed by a dull thud. The party awakens and comes back downstairs to find a band of robed thugs standing at the bar. Two bandits wielding maces, a fat guy with a club, and a mage who is just emerging from the kitchen. The bandits insult the party and attempt to intimidate them into returning upstairs, but the party makes their Will checks and stands their ground. With that, the bandits attack. Freyja moves first, casting her Magic Missiles and moving off to the side for a better vantage point. Oizo rushes into combat and throws his sword at the fat guy, who is a simple minion and drops in one hit. He is then flanked by the two bandits who swing away at him with their clubs, landing glancing hits. Pilgrim joins in to distract the second bandit, as does Azryn. Clastoptera is off to the side as well, throwing fireballs. The bandit mage leaps onto a nearby table and casts Dancing Lightning, striking Oizo, Pilgrim, and Freyja with bolts of lightning. Freyja responds by casting Icy Terrain, making it difficult for the mage to move around, and Pilgrim rushes over to engage him. Oizo, Azryn, and Clastoptera continue their assault on the two bandits while Freyja and Pilgrim deal with the mage. As the first bandit falls, the two surviving enemies decide it's time to run, and start heading for the door. The mage manages to stun Freyja and Pilgrim with a Thunder Burst and makes it to the door, but is knocked out by Azryn who charged to catch him at the last second. The second bandit sprints past and escapes into the night.

I constructed these encounters according to an XP budget system recommended by the DM guide. Basically, take the number of party members you have, multiplied by the relative XP value of a standard enemy at their level. In this case, 5 x 100 = 500. For these first two encounters, that was the measurement I went with, and it seems to be working pretty well. I just had to make sure to have some variety among the monsters so that the fight isn't too easy or difficult and there are no obvious weaknesses to exploit. For harder encounters I'll increase the budget, which will mean more difficult fights but also greater rewards.

Anyway, with the fighting over the party decides to take the unconscious mage to a table, tie him up, and demand answers. Meanwhile, Oizo is elected to bring the two dead bandits to the manager's office to strip them for gear and look for clues. He drags the bodies into the room, only to find Harriet sleeping on a bedroll, still unconscious from the excitement earlier in the evening. He succeeds on a Stealth check not to awaken her while he is searching the bodies. The mage is awakened and refuses to talk, spitting at them for being unclean non-humans. Freyja decides to use her Prestidigitation power to change Azryn's appearance to make him appear bigger and more demonic. While this is a little more elaborate than the Prestidigitation power is capable of, I allow it because it's an interesting idea. As a result, Azryn gets a bonus to his Intimidate check, and gets the mage to talk. The mage, Ulric, was hired through an intermediary to kill the bartender. Freyja goes to the kitchen to search for Jamie, finding an enchanted silver dagger laying in a pool of blood, with bloody drag marks leading to an icebox. Opening the box, she finds Jamie inside with his throat slit and sigils carved into his face, arms, and chest. Freyja attempts skill challenges on the dagger and body, using Arcana and Religion respectively. She fails to identify the dagger but succeeds in determining that one of the symbols on the body relates to an ancient god called Zarus, who favors humanity over all other races and promotes domination and subjugation of all inferior species.

In response to finding the body, Freyja calls out for help. This was actually a problem between me and my group when I had to explain what meta-gaming is. Basically, characters within the story must act in a manner that is consistent with their characters and the situation. When I asked Freyja to pass an Arcana check, I was checking to see if Freyja noticed that the dagger was enchanted. She failed to notice this, so she wanted to call Oizo over to attempt his own Arcana check. However, this is not an appropriate reaction because even though Freyja's player is aware that there is something hidden in the room, her character does not. Thus, her character cannot act on information she doesn't have, even though the player does. Similarly, Oizo needs a reason to stop what he's doing and go into the kitchen to have an opportunity to examine the knife. Freyja can't just say: "Hey Oizo, come here and look for magical enchantments! I didn't find any, but I know they're here!" That's meta-gaming, and it just sucks the fun out of the adventure.

However, finding a body is reason enough to call for help, so Freyja yells out. This gets Oizo's attention, and he goes into the kitchen and succeeds at his Arcana check to identify the blade. It's silvered and bears an Arcane Mark identifying it as belonging to Ulric. However, Freyja's shout first wakes up Harriet, who finds herself in a room where a guy with a sword is stripping two bloody corpses naked. She freaks out and runs out of the room into the main dining area, where she finds the rest of the party interrogating the mage tied up on the table. She runs for the door, but Azryn gets in the way and uses his Intimidation skill on her to get her to stop. He's still demonified from Freyja's Prestidigitation, so he scares her so hard she faints again. At this point, all the screaming has attracted the attention of the city guard, who bust through the front door with a dozen men, ordering everyone to drop their weapons.

The mage on the table is quick on the draw, immediately begging for help and insisting that these monsters came in and slaughtered his friends and the bar owner. The party gives their side of the story, but the guards simply arrest everyone and drag them to jail for further questioning.

On their way in, the party sees the waiting room, a small courtyard for executions, guard barracks, a small courtroom, and a holding area lined with cells. Each member of the party as well as Ulric the mage are locked up in individual cells. The guards immediately peg Clastoptera as a Druid and Freyja as an Eladrin, so they're fitted with Dimensional Shackles so they can't shapeshift or teleport to escape. However, Clastoptera attempts a Diplomacy check to convince the guard not to cuff her because "the shackles are itchy". This was a pretty lame excuse, and the guards have good reason not to comply. However, her player actually rolls a natural 20, which is the highest possible result. Thus, she succeeds in convincing the guard not to restrain her, though she's still in a cell along with everyone else. Their weapons are taken and placed in a wooden lockbox at the far end of the holding area, though Clastoptera again convinces the guards to leave her totem, a small bundle of bones and sticks.

The captain of the guard, Captain Warrik, interrogates the prisoners. He starts with Ulric, who gives his story: He and his friends were in the tavern for a drink when these monstrous freaks showed up and just started killing everyone they could find. All his friends were killed along with the bartender, and they were in the process of torturing him when the guards showed up. Warrick notes that some parts of his story are corroborated by the testimony of the waitress (who saw the corpses and the demon robot), but he wouldn't have seen the murder of the bar owner in the kitchen from the dining area, and the blade used in the murder actually has his name on it. Ulric fumbles through another excuse, but Warrik isn't having it. He turns to the party and asks who else wants to tell him what happened. Freyja is the only member of the party with Charisma benefits, so she's elected to explain the events: The party was staying upstairs for free as payment for exterminating the rats when they heard Jamie's scream and came downstairs. They found four men in robes who attacked them, and they defended themselves, leaving one alive to question him. Warrick notes some consistency in their story, but also points out a flaw: She mentioned four bandits but there were only three found at the scene. This in addition to their interrogation of Ulric, stripping the other bodies, and their presence in the kitchen casts some doubt on their innocence.

Unable to decide either way, Warrik decides to take the night to think it over and come back to them in the morning. The party takes a short rest in the cells, while Ulric spits at them and promises that the worst is yet to come. After a while, one of the guards comes in along with a group of thugs and looks everyone over. He sneers at them and remarks that there have been a lot of these murders in the city lately, and a lot of people would love to see them put to an end. Maybe if they make an example of some prisoners they can put fear back in the populace and keep anyone else from starting trouble. The guard unlocks all of the cells using a switch at the entrance. Ulric makes a break for escape, but he's immediately attacked and beaten down by the thugs, who then move in on the rest of the party.

This encounter was a major challenge for the group for two reasons. One, I went over the XP budget for this one. Two, the party is almost totally unarmed. Even so, they manage to put up a damn good fight. Clastoptera still has her totem, so she can cast her spells as normal. Freyja and Oizo are closest to the weapon locker, so they rush for it and attempt to break it open with a joined Strength check. Their first attempt fails, but together they manage to break it on their second turn and retrieve their weapons. Meanwhile, Pilgrim casts a Cloud of Darkness to blind the thugs closing on him and run past them to escape the holding area. He provokes attacks of opportunity as he runs past enemies who are not blinded, but manages to make it through with only glancing wounds. Azryn just starts punching dudes, as is his way.

The guard in charge draws his crossbow and nails Pilgrim as he's running away. Out of options, Pilgrim takes a risk and runs into the guard quarters to call for help. This was hilarious because the rest of the players were very much against this plan, since it would likely result in even more enemies to fight. Pilgrim busts in and yells for help, which rouses the guards into action. He's unarmed and asking for help, so the guards aren't immediately hostile. They run for the holding cells, and as the guard in charge of the assault notices he's being interrupted, he immediately orders his goons to stand down. Captain Warrik arrives and once again demands to know what the hell is going on. The rogue guard gives his story, that the party had brought these hired thugs in to stage an escape. The story isn't even remotely plausible, given that the party was actively fighting the thugs and went running for help. Warrik arrests his own guard and the hired thugs and calls the party into the courtroom to speak to them.

The session wraps up with Warrik explaining the situation in the city to the party and asking for their help in investigating the murders. After some negotiation, the party is allocated 100gold each, as well as a bag of holding and a basket of everlasting provisions. When we come back next time, they'll begin their search.

When I started writing this campaign, it was basically a murder mystery. I just had to tweak it a bit to make sure it wasn't nothing but a lame CSI ripoff (naming the guard captain Warrik didn't help, though I did get points for King Steve). Everything up to this point has been fairly structured so that the party didn't really have much choice in where they were going. Next time, they'll be free to go wherever they like, and I'll just have to adapt to their decisions. We'll see how that turns out...