Monday, August 27, 2012

Gamex 2012: Better Late Than Never

Our hero.
Hey, so Gateway is this weekend and I never even did a proper recap of Gamex. What can I say? I've been busy. In lieu of recapping -- and also because I'd like to recap GenCon sometime before November -- I'm just going to post some pictures of the Big Board and some props.

A brief recap of the storyline, though:

The Modron Hierarchy has decided that the Prime Material Plane, and specifically the plane-hopping adventurers therefrom, is a serious threat to Mechanus and the Hierarchy. They believe there's a correlation between extra-planar incursions from the Prime Material and the rising numbers of rogue modrons over the millennia. The obvious solution is to destroy the Prime Material, and thus preserve Order.

But you can't just destroy a plane of existence like that, not if you're a modron. There are procedures and protocols to follow. Forms to fill out, presumably. The wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly. Plus, you have to be sure about these things, or the consequences could be dire. So Primus, the One, has decreed that representatives from the Prime Material [read: the PCs] will be subjected to a series of trials to determine whether the plane is worthy of continued existence.

The modrons have spent thousands of years getting this all in motion. A big part of it has been the creation of what I guess we can call "habitats" -- geographical areas designed to support, and then seeded with, certain lifeforms, or combinations thereof. In most cases, the lifeforms in question aren't even aware they're living in and perpetuating this weird experiment for the Hierarchy. [Read: A lot of wacky dungeons and stuff are actually artificial constructs built by the modrons as part of the trials. F'rinstance, one of the trials was White Plume Mountain.]

To make the Primes feel at home, the modrons have constructed a little town in Mechanus meant to emulate what they see as the adventurer's natural habitat. But the base modrons who created it are somewhat lacking creativity, so the illusion is... incomplete. It's called Town. There's an inn called Inn, a tavern called Tavern, a "general store" called Store, a temple labeled Temple, and so on. It's like putting a frog in a jar with a leaf and a stick and expecting him to feel like he's back in the forest. The Primes they've abducted and brought here form the pool of PCs (and most hirelings) for the weekend's five game sessions.

What with one thing and another, the finale Sunday night involves a massive war between the armies of the Hierarchy and those of the rogues (La Resistance), the latter of which are led by a PC (Ajax, the Halfling Fighter) and Rinaldo Two-Eyes, the charismatic tridrone leader of the rogues. Simultaneously, the other PCs, in an attempt to disable Primus' pool of positive energy from which new modrons are generated as quickly as they die, end up attracting the attention of a giant demonic owlbear named Isgoth, the Apocalypse Dragon, the sea-god Procan, and a formless elven life-force. All of these converge in the body of Hawthorn the Inconstant, a cleric of mercurial faiths and loyalties (who, during the course of the weekend, has served both Isgoth and Procan), as he drowns in the massive pool of positive energy.

The result is the creation of the Prime Material Plane. Or a Prime Material Plane, anyway.

Retroactively, we called the weekend's chronicle Deux Ex Mechanus.

Anyway, here are some pictures. (Looks like some of these need rotating -- sorry!)









The Big Board, recopied.

The size of OH MY GOD!

Sharp-eyed readers may recognize Pelanor and his order of paladins from
the first Living Dungeon World, back at OrcCon.

Bet you didn't know the Prime Material Plane experiences a constant, global Aurora Borealis.
You've lived with it so long you don't even notice it anymore!

Non-elven rangers don't speak with any particular conviction, I guess.


ALL OF THEM!

A bunch of props: magic items, hirelings, modron allies, and XP cards.
XP cards, doubling as postcards. Every player got one.



Three-Fingered Pete!
Wave, whose powers convinced Hawthorn to give Procan a try.


That's it! See you at Gateway!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Gamex 2012: Some Pics of the Big Board

Finally got around to taking a few pictures of our Living Dungeon World Big Board o' Facts. Right now, those facts are still in sticky-note form. I'll recopy them on the board for improved legibility and post a recap of the weekend soon, but I thought I'd post some pictures just to give you an idea of what went on. (Disclaimer: They will give you no idea of what went on.)

An overview of the chaos.
Multiple Prime Material Planes, and my shameless AD&D cribbing.
Isgoth, an owlbear the size of "OH MY GOD!"
Halflings are boring homebodies who do parkour. "Boring" is a relative term here.
Bards : Narcotics :: Kobolds : Hot Oil.
Halflings are complicated. (Also, more S2 nonsense.)
Rinaldo, daring two-eyed leader of the Modron  Rebellion!
Shh! Don't tell the Protectors of Dragonmount their lives have lost all meaning.
 Confused yet? That makes three of us.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Gamex 2012: LDW Change-Up

Little change of plans for Living Dungeon World at Gamex. It's still on. We're just trying something new.
I'd previously alluded to us doing something very much like what we did at OrcCon, but we've since decided to scale things back a bit. In part this is because two of our GMs from OrcCon won't be around for Gamex (Hamish has returned to his ancestral homeland of New Zealand for the summer, and Andrew recently relocated to the Bay Area), and while Colin will be around he'll be running the Houses LARP on Saturday night, so he'll have his hands full with that. So with our numbers thusly reduced, it seemed, shall we say, foolhardy to try to replicate what we did last time. New plan!

Jesse and I have recruited one Vernon Lingley into our ranks -- whom, if you are lucky, you already know -- and the three of us will be running a total of five Dungeon World sessions over the course of the weekend. Yes, that's cut down from the 10 previously scheduled, but we have an idea that turns the smaller scale to our advantage, story-wise. Please join me in hoping we're right.

The new schedule is as follows:
Saturday, 9:00 am
Saturday, 2:00 pm
Saturday, 8:00 pm
Sunday, 2:00 pm
Sunday, 8:00 pm

So nothing Friday night, and one game in each standard Saturday and Sunday slot except Sunday morning, because seriously. If the schedule doesn't currently reflect these changes, it will soon enough.

Did you know that pre-reg for Gamex starts tomorrow, Saturday the 5th, at about noon? I did not know that until last night! It's a good thing I didn't have to do any last-minute scrambling or anything to make sure I had enough hours to get a GM badge! HAHAHA.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Games Chef and Fu: Design Contest Updates

So hey, this happened: My Game Chef entry, The Eleventh Hour, is a Finalist. Pretty cool! I was more than a little surprised to discover that, to be honest -- not because I'm not proud of my work, but because seriously, there were 96 other entries this time around. And 15 of them were in Italian! How'm I gonna compete with that? Apparently, the answer is "Somehow."
The bell pepper symbolizes games.
Anyway, I'm pretty psyched about this turn of events, because it means I've made the Finals three years in a row now, which certainly feels like a feat. I kinda don't really count 2010's Action City, which may be unfair, but the Finals for that year didn't even involve any peer review or any real critical process. Still, I did get positive feedback about it, so I'm not dismissing it altogether.

I do not expect to win, nor do I care one way or the other about winning (honestly!). There were a ton of really interesting, innovative entries this year -- there always are, but the sheer volume of entries means that there were just more -- and I'm honored to be counted among them, competition or no. So... thanks, peers!

(And, obviously, "winning" Game Chef is... well, it's a thing that happens, sure, but simply entering -- sticking to the constraints and finishing a game by the deadline -- is where it's at. It's about learning and refining your skills, not scoring accolades.)

Right on the heels of Game Chef's conclusion comes another Game Fu competition! There hasn't been one of these in over two years, so it's cool that it's starting up again. The ingredients are interesting without being too limiting (which is good or bad, depending on your point of view), and from the time I saw it'd been announced I just assumed that I'd submit something.

But y'know... Game Chef just ended, and I have, like, paid game-design work to do*, not to mention music to write and games to plan, so I really do think I'll do the responsible thing and sit this one out. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't enter, if you're so inclined. Check out the ingredients and get something together by next Wednesday. It'll be fun, and you'll be glad you did it. I speak from experience!


*#humblebrag

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gamex 2012: Living Dungeon World

Hey! We're bringing Living Dungeon World back for Gamex, this Memorial Day Weekend. What's Living Dungeon World? Glad you asked!


This is DUNGEON WORLD.

It is a world of monsters and heroes,
gods and demons,
swords and sorcery,
Good...
and Evil.

This is your world.

And it's alive.
Living Dungeon World is a weekend-long series of connected heroic-fantasy games. Play in as many or as few games as you like. Start as a lowly villager Friday afternoon and forge your legend over the course of the weekend, or drop in on one of the nine sessions just to see what this whole awesome thing's all about. 

Change the world, or just visit it. It's up to you.

New to Dungeon World? No problem! Dungeon World is a simple system based on Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World, but focused on action and adventure rather than interpersonal drama. No previous experience is required, and all GMs will be happy to have first-time players at the table.

Ten sessions. Many GMs. One world.

Unlimited adventure!

Two separate games in each of these time slots:
Friday 2:00 pm
Friday 8:00 pm
Saturday 2:00 pm
Sunday 2:00 pm
Sunday 8:00 pm

Excitement!

For those of you who participated in Living Dungeon World at OrcCon and are wondering what it's all going to be about this time (now that Orcus has been killed)... well, you'll find out at Gamex. But I will say that we're moving the timeline along a few decades. This lets us use the best of the Big Board for inspiration without making anyone feel like they're tied down to a bunch of setting information. And yes, we'll be bringing back the Big Board again (and every time, I imagine, because it's a lot of fun). 

Also, if you've been following the development of Dungeon World, you probably know it's gone through some significant changes since February, and may go through a bit more before Gamex is upon us. What does that mean for us? We'll likely put our own touches on it, like we did last time -- apparently, DW SoCal Style is kind of its own beast -- but it'll still cleave close to the current revision (which, as of this post, is Beta 2.2). 

Monday, April 16, 2012

[Game Chef] The Eleventh Hour

A number of readers wrote in about Game Chef, and both of them asked, "Hey, when does the next Game Chef start?"

The answer: Last week!

Next question: When's the submission deadline?

Answer: About 90 minutes ago!

Yeah, sorry I didn't mention anything about it until now. Honestly, I've just been busy with stuff, including my own Game Chef entry, and ended up not getting around to posting about it in time. So... I hope you found out about it on your own and submitted something, because I was useless in that regard.

Anyway, the theme was "Last Chance," in honor of the imminent demise of The Forge. I'm sure it'll produce a lot of lighthearted, fun little games. Like my game.


This is a game about four cultists working in the shadows to bring about the end of the world. The Grand Convergence – an alignment of heavenly bodies that only occurs once a millennium – approaches, and with it a rare opportunity to call forth an otherworldly entity of unimaginable power into the Earthly plane. Extradimensional portals don't just open themselves, though. It's going to take a lot of effort on the cultists' part to drown the world in blood and darkness. 
However, all is not what it seems. At the eleventh hour, one of the cultists is revealed to be an investigator in disguise, working from within to foil the cult's plans. But will it be enough to save the world? Or will the cultists make good on this last chance to summon their dark god?
The rules are here. The character sheets are here. The cult sheet is here.

Happy end-of-the-world!

Friday, March 16, 2012

OrcCon 2012: Living Dungeon World Pictures

So! I finally got around to taking some pictures of the Big Board at Living Dungeon World last month.

The Big Board was... well, it was the big board on which we tracked all of the emergent world-building stuff that came up during play. Whenever a player or GM came up with a detail about the world, like the name of a god or an important past event, or when something significant happened in play, like and outstanding warrant or a character death, we'd write it down on a Post-It and stick it on the board. At some point, I transcribed most of those notes onto the board itself.

Since we all had such a good time with Living Dungeon World at OrcCon, we're pretty set on doing it again for Gamex in May. The idea is that we'll have another Big Board, but the setting we collectively created at OrcCon will serve as a foundation on which to build. It should also be noted that none of us really knows what we're doing, and we're pretty much making it all up as we go.

Anyway. Here are a bunch of pictures!

The big picture of the Big Board.

They killed Orcus. Spoiler alert!

Elves have animal eyes. Goblins don't have toes. Advantage: elves.

It all started in the Hollows (and half-ended in Dusk's Harbor).

Chopps wins the prize for awesomest death.

Emory made... quite an impression.

What's worse: the rampaging colossal, corrupted water elemental or a place called the City of Skulls?

Steel cage match, Pelanor vs. Osgood! Two gods of mercy enter, two gods of mercy leave!

Yes, that does say "street wizards."

These are a little hard to read, but they're records of Boots' shrines to the Banshee Queen. That guy was crazy for shrines.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

OrcCon 2012 Post-Mortem

This year's OrcCon proved a notable convention for a few reasons. One, it was practically bursting at the seams, with record attendance and so many RPGs submitted that around 30 had to be turned away for lack of space. (Crazy, right?) Two, I managed to cajole pop-culture writer and RPG virgin Todd VanDerWerff into attending the full con to finally experience for himself what this whole RPG thing is about. Three, LIVING DUNGEON WORLD.

(And four: A game of Descent that finished in under five hours. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Note: This is super-long. You've been warned.

Friday afternoon, I ran Dungeoncrew, my D&D-ish hack of the excellent Supercrew. This is how bad this whole hacking thing has gotten for me: I'd never run or even played Supercrew before, but as soon as I read it, I started wondering how easily it could make the leap to the dungeon. The answer, of course, is "So easily it's almost there already." If you haven't gotten it, get it. Fourteen bucks on Lulu.

Now, I already posted my hack, which consisted of replacing some Abilities and replacing them with others to enforce the genre. By the time the con rolled around, though, I'd added a few more. I'll go through them here real quick, for those who are curious.

  • Hero Points = XP. This is just a renaming, but flavor counts.
  • Levels. Everyone starts at Level 1. When you've spent 2 XP within a Level, you Level Up.
  • Anecdote Bonus = Tales of Past Glories. Every odd-numbered Level, you get the anecdote bonus (+1d6 on a roll) once.
  • Tricks of the Trade. Every even-numbered Level, you can regain the use of a Trick you've used by replacing it with something else. I like those Tricks, and it bugs me that in a one-shot you might only get to use each of them once. Plus it forces players to constantly push forward with what their characters can do. And it's highly flexible. Did you pick up a nice pair of gloves in that wight's lair? Maybe they're gloves of dexterity. Boom, there's your new Trick.
That's it, really. It was a total success and a lot of fun to boot. Rolling up characters was quick and fairly intuitive for the players, but the full extent of what it means to see everything you do in the game through the lens of their three Abilities didn't really hit them until about halfway through. When it did, though, it hit pretty hard. The example in the book of the Bullfinch fighting a fire using Martial Arts (by punching into a wall and pulling out a water pipe) kinda brought it home for them, I think.

Our PCs were a charismatic ogre with a club, a drow cleric of Pelor with a mace +1, a thiefy-type with a dagger and a grappling hook, and a book-smart magic-user. They fight crime! Seriously, they do. The adventure was the classic AD&D module Slave Pits of the Undercity, and I was blown away by how easy/fun it was to convert stuff from AD&D to Supercrew. Most monsters could be boiled down to one or two Abilities and a Trick -- likewise with traps and other hazards. It probably took me 40 minutes to convert the whole thing, or at least the portion of it that I chose to use, and that was with me overthinking it.

My little tweaks worked pretty damn well, and there were a lot of funny and/or cool moments. One of my favorites was when the drow cleric went toe-to-toe with a wight. I'd made a note on the wight that he always defended with 3 dice against anything but magic or holy weapons. Suddenly that tongue-in-cheek mace +1 of hers become a big frickin' deal, as she was the only one who stood much of a chance against it. The ogre's irresistible charisma came in handy more than once, made all the more hilarious by his "trick" of incomprehensible screaming. The thief got something like 6 Effect (which is nuts) while stealing some half-orcs' swords, and the wizard used his telekinesis to toss a few slavers and aspis guards around like rag dolls. Best of all, in the end the drow cleric was the only one still standing. All in all, a very good time.

(I've already started to hack Supercrew for sci-fi. Oh, look! I'm done. That took two minutes. Seriously, get this game.)

Friday night, my Living Dungeon World weekend began, with me as GM. The set-up: The area around the town of Three Crossings has been the target of increased goblin raids lately, and the call has gone out from the Lord Mayor for help from some adventurer-types. Enter the PCs.

This was a throwback to low-level, old-school D&D, with no direct connection to the meta-plot in the living campaign. By design. My feeling was that if everything everyone did the whole time was directly in service of The Big Story, it wouldn't feel nearly as "alive." Early on, there had to be room to explore other stuff, before larger concerns consumed everyone. So that was the idea.

It, uh, didn't work all that great, to be honest, but I don't think it had anything to do with what I was trying to accomplish. Rather, I made things a little too exploratory and investigation-focused, with relatively little in the way of combat. A surprising development, really -- how hard is it to throw in more combat? -- but hindsight's 20/20, and all that. Add to that the fact that I managed to kill off a PC in a spectacularly non-heroic manner, and all in all I came away from it more than a little dissatisfied with my performance.

Anyway, back to the set-up. After arriving in town and meeting with Lord Mayor Belin, who they discover has been hoarding most of the town's guardsmen for his own manor house rather than using them to protect the citizens, the PCs -- Augustine the paladin, Emory the ranger, Hob the fighter, and Darrus the bard -- head up into the hills, to the abandoned mine shaft in which the goblins have apparently made their home. When they get there, they discover that the mine is clearly not only several hundred years old, but also of dwarven design -- odd for the area.

In the mine shaft, the party triggers a trap that send them sliding, but manage to find safety in a branching side-passage. This passage is clearly no mine, though. It's of finely worked stone, expertly designed and constructed, and stretches far beyond the light of their torch. As the party cautiously makes it way forward, jets of fire from the ceiling and walls threaten to roast Emory alive -- but Augustine the paladin, who just happens to be immune to fire, shoves him to safety. Guessing that goblins are manning this trap, he calls out in an authoritative voice for their assailants to show themselves. If I recall correctly, something -- maybe this, maybe something else -- caused the goblins to flee the scene, and the party, badly beaten and singed, carried on.

(See, this was part of the issue. So far there's been danger and damage, but no actual enemy to face. Not sure why I went that way with it. Anyway.)

The corridor ends in a huge subterranean thoroughfare, and it's clear that this "mine" is actually a sprawling dwarven city, lost to time and unknown to the townsfolk in the valley below. Here they meet Mortak, a dwarven ghost who promises to help them rid the place of goblins if they can help his spirit move on to the afterlife by ridding him of a bunch of gold. They readily agree, because gold, and as he leads them through the city of Mountainhold he fills them in on the goings-on.

Goblins, of course, have no toes. We all know that, yes? Okay, good. When goblins die, they have to face Worxag, their god. If they win his approval, he stabs their feet with a five-bladed sword, thus giving them toes. Some goblins believe that halflings are reincarnated, semi-divine goblins who have been sent back into the world by Worxag. 

As it happens, a halfling by the name of Kiki Tangletoes has discovered this tribe of goblins, and they in turn have mistaken him for something of a demi-god. He's had no objection to this, because it means he has his own tribe of goblins to go out and raid merchants and get things for him. It's a good arrangement. But the tribe's shaman, Gorgozamoth, has used Kiki as leverage to whip the tribe into a religious fervor. He's replaced the chieftain (with extreme prejudice), and word of the tribe's demi-god has spread far and wide. Every day more goblins arrive to join Gorgozamoth's (and Kiki's) crusade against the humans in the valley. They're readying an army of some two thousand goblins, far more than Three Crossings can repel, and if left unchecked every human in the valley will be slaughtered.

So. Fine and good. Information learned, stakes raised.

This is where I did a lame thing. I had the ghost dwarf turn out to be a dick who purposely leads the party into a tight corridor where they're exposed to green slime, then disappears with whatever the dwarven equivalent to a middle finger would be. I wanted to shoehorn green slime in there somewhere, but this was a bad way to go about it. First, why did Mortak have to be lying about his curse and where they were going? It could've been a legitimate accident. As a ghost, the slime would never take notice of him, so how's he supposed to know it's there? Because then he vanishes, and the only purpose he served was to deliver exposition and make the party Defy Danger once. Whatever. I wasn't happy with it.

Also, notice there's been no combat yet. WTF?

What with one thing and another, the party manages to navigate through the city and find where the goblins are camping out. Or some of them, anyway. A couple hundred have made their home outside the doors of what's clearly a throne room or something, because it looks quite fancy. As they look down on the goblins from some sort of viewing balcony above, a goblin enters the scene, barks some orders, and all but a dozen or so of the critters take up arms and march away to do who-knows-what. (Not something good, one imagines.) The players figure they can handle a dozen goblins, so they spring into action.

Augustine and Hob find a stairway down to engage in a frontal assault while Emory and Darrus remain above to snipe and sing, respectively. (Bard.) In the fracas, a couple of the goblins make a break for the throne room doors and manage to push them open. Inside are Gorgozamoth, four metal constructs of some kind (Iron Dwarves), and, wearing a heavy crown and sitting uncomfortably on the throne, a halfling. Somewhere in there, the bard's music attracts unwanted attention -- a goblin arrow hits and kills him -- his Last Breath roll is... a 5. Hrm. So long, Darrus. We hardly knew ye.

Combat is joined in earnest. Even Emory jumps down to bring it to these goblins -- specifically, to Gorgozamoth. Hob wrestles Kiki to the ground, thinking if he can kill this halfling the shaman will lose his authority. Kiki looks up at him and pleads, "Help me!" Complication! Augustine manages to kill Gorgozamoth just as the 200 goblins, alerted by the blowing of a horn out in the hall, return, ready to fight. The paladin talks them into letting them go -- Kiki commands it, and Gorgozamoth's dead -- and go they do, back to the surface. 

Then, in town, Emory's carousing results in him burning down a luthier's shop in (suspected) revenge for his dead cat. In other words, there's an Oustanding Warrant for Emory in Three Crossings.

So it was okay, and still fun, but not what I'd wanted, to be honest. My players were great, though, so hat's off to them.

Saturday morning, I played Top Secret. And I was totally psyched about it. I have fond memories of Top Secret from, like, 5th grade, and I've been jonesing to play it again for a couple years, back when I wrote a piece for wind ensemble based on Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle. The was advertised as being, and I quote, "hilarious," so when the premise turned out to involve six world leaders getting a preview visit to Disneyworld the day before it opened (in 1972), I figured we were in for it. I was not wrong.

The two GMs did a fantastic job of prepping for this game. Every player was given a sweet-looking dossier with a character sheet and various other information, along with an authentic full-color brochure on Disneyworld from the '70s and Mickey Mouse ears. Instead of name tags, our Mouse ears were frickin' embroidered with our character's name. (That alone probably ran them about $100, by my estimate.) And naturally, we had to wear them the whole time.

My character, a Belgian State Security agent named Sirte Maginot, was the sharpshooter of the group. With an Offensive Value of 93, he pretty much couldn't miss with his 9mm Baretta at Short range (within 50 feet). It was when he picked up a terrorist's AK-47, though, that he got a little ridiculous. Despite his broken arm -- he had a broken arm by then -- and the AK's autofire penalty, he could still nail three Called Shots (another penalty) to the head with frightening reliability. And when he got behind that 50-cal, forget it.

If I had to come up with a gripe for this game, it'd be that the GMs apparently didn't like the game system, and didn't hesitate to say how awful it is. "We did all this game prep because the mechanics are so shitty!" Well guys, I signed up for a Top Secret game because I want to play Top Secret. Why are you talking smack about this game I want to play? I'm totally cool with referencing three tables to determine the severity of a gunshot wound. I'd even like to reference five tables to do proper Martial Arts combat, as written. That's part of the charm for me. They ran it well and everything. I just wish they were fans, I guess.

Saturday afternoon, I played in Jesse Burneko's Dungeon World game. I'd promised myself that if Kiki Tangletoes survived my game that I'd play him for the weekend -- so I did. Playing a halfling in Dungeon World means being either a Fighter or a Thief. I'd kinda pegged Kiki as a Thief, but when it came down to it  the Fighter playbook was more attractive, so that's what I went with. We also had Omar the Thief (another halfling), Lanethe the Ranger, Lenore the Cleric (played by Todd, incidentally), and Uri the Wizard. 

The story opens with the party nearing the gates of the City of Skulls, home of Morghadam's Library. Uri is there to magically recover two years' worth of lost memories. As fate would have it, the heavy iron crown the goblins had made Kiki wear back in Mountainhold is, in fact, the key to the library itself: Placing it on the head of a statue outside the library opens its doors. 

But before any of that can happen, we have to get into the City of Skulls itself. The city's walls stretch beyond the limits of our vision, and as we get closer we see they're made of what must be millions of skulls. Before the city's gates stands a huge guardian, covered in plate armor and holding an axe befitting his stature. When Lanethe and Omar approach him to talk, it quickly becomes apparent that to get in without a fight we have to donate a skull to the wall. One of ours, presumably. So... it's a fight. Everyone acquits themselves well, although what with one thing and another Lanethe ends up falling from the top of the wall into the (apparently) river of blood on the other side. Classic D&D-ish moment: Uri the Wizard ends up striking the killing blow to the guardian with his quarterstaff.

Within the city, a Charon-type guy ferries us across the river. The creep factor of everything is in keeping with the blood river. The streets are made of still-living flesh that cries out when we walk on it, undead are everywhere, and everything reeks of danger. It's an urban planner's nightmare, unless the urban planner is a lich, in which case... City of Skulls!

We get to the library without incident (except the screaming flesh-streets, which in any other circumstance was probably qualify as "an incident"), and sure enough there's the kneeling statue bereft of headwear. Behind him, flanking the doors, are a pair of iron golems. It's pretty clear to all of us what's going on here, but what're we gonna do, not go in? We put the crown on the statue's head, the doors open, and the golems animate and immediately breathe poison gas on us. After a little danger-defiance and some misguided hacking and slashing, we all make it inside, where we find an old man surrounded by towers of books and compulsively writing in a book. Turns out he was a bard who came to the City of Skulls because he wanted to know all the stories in the world. Morghadam granted him his wish, and he's been compelled to write story after story ever since. That was a thousand years ago. Now he can't stop writing unless someone takes his place. He wants of us to do that, naturally, but we're not dummies, so Uri conjures an unseen servant to take the bard's quill and carry on writing. The bard gets to leave! Yay, bard. (It's not really how the spell's supposed to work, but I'm glad Jesse went with it. I thought it was a clever idea. Plus, who doesn't want to read the stories of an unseen servant?)

Anyway, also in the room is a tesseracty map of the library (we've been warned by the Charon-guy that it's bigger than it looks), which we take time to copy down. I think we may also have rested for an hour there so Uri could re-prepare spells. Typical! "Let's take a little breather in this evil library in the middle of a city of undead!" Also, classic. Then we start wandering around, and find a free-standing building (it's a big library -- it contains buildings) that's all locked and chained up with seven enruned chains. Gotta be something good in there, right? So Uri conducts a ritual to unlock it, which eventually works. Inside is a pedestal, atop which, under glass, rests a single book. The whole thing's surrounded by corpses. Uri and Lenore go inside, at which point the doors immediately slam shut. The floor's infused with Negative Energy, but they manage to walk on the corpses and retrieve the book. It's the Book of Vile Darkness! Yay?

Meanwhile, outside, Omar and Lanethe are surrounded by a bunch of rats. Kiki, having just re-opened the doors to the Shed of Vile Darkness, jumps in there to protect them while Lanethe manages to clear a path with a hail of arrows. Then we open up another door, and Omar and Kiki are attacked/webbed-up by giant spiders within, and it's all a big mess. Lanethe spies another enwebbed figure in the room and cuts them loose, but they're long dead. Fortunately, a cool-looking mace drops out. Unfortunately, it's followed by hundreds of fist-sized spiders that swarm all over Lanethe. At about this time, Kiki's freed, so he charges over there to defend Lanethe, and soon enough everyone makes it out alive.

It was about here, I believe, that the rats turn into rat-men and take us (we don't have much of a choice unless we want to die fighting a bunch of rat-men) to their queen. Uri tells her he's had a vision of a jeweled skull (which is true) and asks her where it is, ostensibly because he thinks it'll help him regain his memories; in exchange for some rations, she leads us there. The secret entrance is out back by a fountain we passed earlier (of course, the fountain!), which conceals a spiral staircase going down. As she walks, the rat queen's necklace -- a circular golden medallion that contains, it seems, a small beating heart -- points the way, as if it were dragging her along.

And there it is: an ancient skull, eyes and teeth replaced by jewels. A little Lore Spouting tells us that this is the skull of the demi-lich Acererak, so... bad news, there. Moreover, if the skull is joined up with the Rod of Orcus, it forms a powerful artifact called -- wait for it -- the Wand of Orcus. And Orcus' followers are even now trying to get that going. More bad news!

What with one thing and another, both Lenore and Uri end up with their souls trapped inside the skull, but at least we learn that the key to getting them out lies in the demi-lich's phylactery. We're not sure where that is. Ah -- it's the queen's beating-heart necklace.

While we're sorting this out, the demi-lich's spirit emerges and gives us a hard time. He seems especially attached to Omar. Omar attempts to run away, back up to the surface; the demi-lich follows. 

The rest of us leave Uri and Lenore's bodies behind (but take the skull) and race back upstairs. I kinda feel like there was some negotiation with the queen regarding her necklace, but given that I pretty clearly recall Kiki grabbing it and cutting it off her neck, it's likely we ended up taking it by force. It's only a matter of time before the demi-lich's spirit form kills us all, so Kiki, operating on a guesstimate, stuffs the phylactery into the  skull's mouth in an attempt to re-bind the spirit. I don't remember the move I used, but I do remember that I got a 7-9, so I was given a choice: It doesn't work, or it works but kills Kiki in the process. So Kiki died, and I rolled a 5 for my Last Breath (Omar's player, BTW, was the player of the Bard I'd killed the night before -- I could tell he was loving this, the bastard), so... heroic death for Kiki!

I liked this game quite a bit. Creepy, atmospheric, dangerous... Dungeon World at its finest. Plus, Acererak and the Book of Vile Darkness! And that mace was the Mace of Disruption! I'm a sucker for a good AD&D reference.

Saturday night, I played Descent. As Descent games go, this was something of a cake-walk. Not only did we win, we finished in under five hours. Marty, the Overlord, also ran the last game of Descent I played it at Strategicon, and I think he learned his lesson. It seemed like he chose a shorter and somewhat less-demanding scenario, although we each died at least once, so I can't say it was too easy. Anyway. Always a good time, Descent. I don't care if it does last seven hours. I still enjoy it.

Sunday morning, I did nothing! It was awesome. I should do that more often. 

Well, I did do something productive, I guess. For Living Dungeon World, we'd been keeping track of all the player- and GM-generated worldbuilding info using stick notes on a big tri-fold cardboard thing. What town are you from? Write it down and stick it on. Goblins don't have toes? Elves have animal eyes? There's a goddess called the Banshee Queen? There's a dwarven clan called Rockthunder? There's a place called the Steel Desert? You were killed by a goblin arrow in Mountainhold? Your paladin serves Pelanor, the god of mercy and judgment? Your cleric worships Osgood "the True," the real god of mercy? Write it down and stick it on

By Sunday, we had a ton of sticky-notes on that thing, so I categorized them (Gods, Organizations, Geography, Events, Sundry Facts, Outstanding Warrants, and The Fallen), wrote them all down, then re-copied them on the board in Sharpie. Except the locations -- I had this idea that we'd draw a map on there, but that ended up being too big a task to do on the fly. When it was all written down, it looked pretty darn impressive. Pictures were taken, though not by me.

Sunday afternoon, I ran my second Living Dungeon World game. Three of my four players were the Olson clan -- Eric, Brian, and Michelle -- who'd been playing the same characters (Chopps the Fighter, Boots the Cleric, and Cherish the Thief) all weekend, just as the Founders intended. Boots and Cherish had even started out in Colin's Friday-afternoon Prologue game, using the Villager playbook. My fourth player was Rob Sanderson, back with Lanethe the Ranger from Jesse's game the day before.

Lanethe ended up with the Skull of Acererak, and took it to the town of Crownsguard to figure out what to do with it. While there, we can surmise, she ran into Boots, an ambitious priest of the Banshee Queen newly returned from converting nomads in the Steel Desert and overseeing the construction of another shrine to his deity. Boots immediately recognized the significance of the skull and the importance of preventing the Wand of Orcus from coming back into existence, so he, Cherish, and Chopps agreed to accompany Lanethe to the library at Dusk's Harbor (lotta libraries that weekend) in order to learn how to destroy the skull once and for all.

We were a little slow getting off the ground for this game. Everyone but Lanethe had end-of-session and between-sessions moves to take care of, but the practical upshot was that those moves informed where the story was about to go. For example, Cherish gained a promotion within the Thieves' Guild, but it wouldn't have meant much in Crownsguard, since the action was about to leave there forever. So I figured we'd get to Dusk's Harbor and apply the effects there. That was the case with pretty much all of the between-session moves. I know that's not how they were intended to work, but in this case they worked very well that way.

This made for a rather civilization-focused game, at least at first. There was a lot going on in Dusk's Harbor. Let me see if I can bullet-point it.
  • Chopps learned that the mysterious army who'd wiped out his entire village were most likely the Vashar, a degenerate race of humans spawned by the Demon Prince Graz'zt. They're kind the human equivalent of drow.
  • Cherish spotted a pick-pocket in a crowded inn and picked his pocket, but he caught her. However, he was still impressed at her skill. They got to talking (in Thieves' Cant, of course), and he offered to introduce her to the city's Thieves' Guild. What with one thing and another, she was accepted into their ranks and allowed to operate within Dusk's Harbor (her promotion).
  • Cherish was also caught by a city guard while trying to pick the pocket of a wealthy merchant, but Chopps managed to keep her out of the guard's grasp by promising to punish her horribly himself. 
  • Lanethe, lacking the funds to get a room at the inn, slept off their hard journey in the stables. (So... she didn't do much after all, I guess.)
Thanks to Cherish's new connections, the party's able to get into the Great Library after-hours. A thief-librarian (they make good money selling books to scholars in the city, and with so many books in the library, who's going to notice?) bearing a lantern takes them in and shows them around. Boots and Cherish want to research how to destroy the Skull of Acererak, while Chopps drags Lanethe along to find out more about the Vashar and Graz'zt. Collectively, they learn that the remaining Vashar have retreated far to the east, that Graz'zt is a powerful rival of Orcus', and that the skull can be destroyed by causing it to be consumed by one of the five heads of Tiamat, the Chromatic Dragon.

No sooner have they learned these meager facts than each pair of adventurers is beset by dark forms from out of the darkness, their dark hearts full of dark intent! Dark! They're undead revenant-type-things! One of them wields a two-handed sword whose black blade is like unto a piece of the night sky! One of them is Kiki, all trace of goodness gone, now driven by pure evil fury! The other two are, I dunno, some other guys! It's all very disturbing. Chopps and Lanethe fall into combat with their assailants, while Boots manages to command the other two. He asks them some questions, and through gritted teeth they tell him that they've been resurrected by Orcus to recover the Skull of Acererak. Then Boots has them fight one another to the re-death.

Oh, and they get some pretty cool magic items from their attackers. Kiki was wearing the Boots of Striding and Springing, and the big sword is none other than Blackrazor, the legendary soul-eating sword. Crazily, Boots doesn't want it because he has some very outmoded AD&D ideas of what sorts of weapons clerics can wield, and Chopps prefers his ancestral sword, Forefather's Edge. Fair enough, I guess. Boots hangs onto it anyway. And Lanethe quietly claims the boots. Also, the librarian, killed in the attack, had a book with an infinite number of pages called the Book of Infinite Pages, so they take that too.

They discover that Tiamat lairs, with her five dragon consorts, on a remote island far to the west. The next morning they charter passage on the Saucy Mare. Her captain, Tarkus the Hand, is a follower of the Banshee Queen, so Boots is able to throw his weight around a little to make this thing happen.

En route, in the dead of night, the PCs are attacked by half the crew, who also try to steal the Skull from them. It's a hard-fought battle, but eventually the PCs triumph. (As in, "You guys keep missing, this was supposed to be short, and I'm tired of this, so Tarkus and the remaining crew are able to get it under control.") Turns out the "sailors" are actually Vasharan agents of Graz'zt, who want the skull for their own purposes. Chopps is all ready to go to town on them when a huge white dragon shows up and starts breathing frost all over the ship.

Cherish scrambles to the top of the rigging to attack the dragon as it makes another pass, but is snatched up in its claws. Lanethe uses her new boots to leap straight up and catch on to the dragon's claw, then proceeds to Parley with it. "We have a powerful artifact to give to your queen in tribute -- the legendary sword Blackrazor!"

This particular white dragon, Karic, isn't especially bright, despite being a consort of Tiamat, so he lands to discuss this business further. Pretty soon he's talked into taking the party to see Tiamat, but demands something in tribute first. Ah, Chopps' Scarab of Death -- that'll do. The party climbs on his back, and off they go (leaving the Saucy Mare essentially stranded in a block of ice).

Tiamat's island is dominated by a two mountains: one with a high, ice-covered peak, and the other a dormant volcano, somewhat truncated after having blown its top many years before. Karic flies into the volcano and lands on a ledge leading into a vast cavern in the mountainside. As he calls out for his queen, three other dragons -- blue, black, and green -- land on various ledges in the basin of the volcano, while a giant battle-scarred red dragon peers down in curiosity from his own lair above.

Out from the cavern walks a slender, black-haired woman -- Tiamat in her human form. Karic proudly announces that he's brought her tribute; Tiamat haughtily demands that the PCs explain themselves.

"We brought you the Skull of Acererak," Boots blurts out. Everyone looks at him, stunned; this admission threatens to seriously undermine everything. The MacGuffin was supposed to be Blackrazor, the players remind him. Not relevant. "Hey, I don't want to give away my stuff!"

Boots is an interesting character. He started out in Colin's game as a potential problem, but morphed from "the crazy town drunk" to "the weird kid who hears voices and reads." Since then, he'd become a cleric of the Banshee Queen, an outright evil deity, but nonetheless an evil deity opposed to Orcus, so... "the enemy of my enemy." Despite being evil, Boots never attacks anyone if he can help it. He heals like crazy and generally behaves like a decent person -- because it's way easier to gain new converts that way. He's all about new converts. But now and then, his selfishness shows through, like when he's willing to risk a TPK by almost spilling the beans on the party's plan to destroy the Skull.

Tiamat instantly distrusts them, but Cherish tries to pull it out with a quick lie. "If you eat the skull, it'll make you powerful beyond your wildest dreams!" Side note: Cherish has a magic item called the Eyes of the Dragonheart. It lets you persuade people to your point of view. If you roll high enough, they become passionate supporters of your proposed course of action. Cherish puts the Eyes on and says, "Eat the skull." Everyone else throws a successful Aid her way, bowing and scraping to the Chromatic Dragon. Cherish's player nails her roll -- a boisterous shout goes up from the table! -- and Tiamat is consumed with the idea of consuming the skull. She transforms into her five-headed dragon form, plucks the skull from Lanethe's outstretched hand with her red dragon head, and swallows it. Her five faces trade self-satisfied looks.

However, there's a minor issue no one's really considered, apparently. Acererak's still "alive" inside the skull. Trapped in there, sure, but there's still a demi-lich in there. A sickly greyness spreads across Tiamat's body. She shouts in anger and agony in five-part disharmony. From within her bloated body, a shockwave of Negative Energy blasts the flesh from her bones and knocks the party to the ground. 

"AT LAST! I HAVE RETURNED!" shouts Acererak, now a five-headed demi-dracolich, and vaults into the sky.

The five consorts of Tiamat, bewildered by this turn of events, all have the same thought: "Let's kill those adventurers." They all breathe on the party at once (except the green one, I decide; he'll save the poison for any survivors). Blasted by fire, lightning, acid, and ice, the party Defy Danger by ducking into Tiamat's cavern. All of them make it -- except Chopps.

He rolls his Last Breath. Eight. Okay.

The Kingdom of the Dead, it turns out, is a magnificent, splendorous city, at least for a consistently good guy like Chopps. A tall man appears, dark-haired, two short horns sprouting from his forehead, and offers Chopps a second chance at life if he'll agree to a small bargain. This being needs servants on the Prime Material, and Chopps would make an excellent one. Chopps admits some reluctance to serving a god.

"Oh, I'm not a god," says the man. "More a prince, really." It's Graz'zt.

What happens next is awesome mostly because of how much thought Chopps' player puts into it. Finally, he says, "I can't serve the demon who killed my parents. No deal." 

High-fives all around.

My session ends with the survivors trapped on Tiamat's island, pursued by the five most powerful dragons in the world. 

Sunday night, it all wrapped up with the big Living Dungeon World finale. Finales, really. Colin's game involves four heroes (Emory the Ranger, Boots, Cherish, and a re-animated Chopps wielding Blackrazor) descending into the Abyss to kill Orcus in his palace. Hamish's game -- well, just read about it here. I've written enough, and he has the good sense to keep things mercifully short. (I played Daelwyn the Bard.)

How'd things go in the Abyss? Vernon, Emory's player, got to cross "Orcus" off the list of "The Gods of the World." Mission accomplished, barely.

Living Dungeon World was an unquestionable success, and definitely exceeded our expectations. There's no doubt we'll do it again at Gamex.

Whew. What a weekend. Thanks to everyone who made it so great.