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.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Contest: The Game Crafter RPG Challenge

Man, this is exactly the kind of awesome design contest for which I absolutely do not have the time.
The Game Crafter is pleased to announce the RPG Challenge! We want you to design a role-playing game in the form of a board or card game. It doesn’t matter whether you build a dungeon crawler like Descent, or more of a story telling game like Betrayal at House on the Hill, or a funny little card game like Munchkin; all that matters is that it takes the form of a role-playing game. It also doesn’t matter whether your game requires a game master, or if the adventure is random, or if there are predefined adventures. 
I've used The Game Crafter in the past for Honeymoon: The Game, a little something I made for my wife to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. (It turns our New Zealand honeymoon into a game, using our honeymoon photos as cards.) But I've always wanted to take advantage of what the site has to offer on a grander scale -- a full-on boardgame or card game or something.

So this would seem to be a good opportunity, except for this, and also this. Sure, the contest deadline isn't until April 15th, and yes, I have half-formed ideas that would be viable candidates, but seriously -- I do not have the time.

But maybe you do! So go check it out and design something. A potential grand prize is taking over the site's GenCon booth for half a day! That's pretty sweet.