Session 10 (Jon’s DCC Game)

Session 10  10.17.12

 (P)tarth: wizard and portal master(Kevin), accompanied by his french Familiar (Imp named Ganbon)
Abattoir: hobbit and luck-providing bobble head(mike C.) (Ok, abattoir is not really his name – It’s ‘Abathon’ or something like that).
Kreglar: Priest of Cthulhu (or something like that) (Dave M.)
Soltar the Evangelist: Priest of Arestimus (Dave P.)
Marlowe: Elf (stef)
Almuric: thief and masked avenger (Reuben)

We had gathered in Kevin’s cellar for the usual dice and bullshitting. Beers were opened and Reuben ate what looked like a pot pie of some kind. Mike D. was absent so there were no peanut M&Ms or Twizzlers. Dave P., however, had returned, no longer a bachelor.  Unfortunately, Jon. C. left half his notes at home (including Dave P.’s “Zordinar” character sheet, so Dave P. rolled up a new guy). Jon C. left to return home and retrieve his missing items, but the traffic was unrelenting and the weather was bad so he soon came back.
At the end of last session we had managed to open the portcullis, chased away a beastial figure of some sort, dropped another into the moat with a sleep spell and Kreglar had obtained a black banner with a skull. Pablo Von Ott (Mike D.s PC) felt ill and returned to the village for some Immodium while Sotar (Dave P.’s new PC) wandered in through the gate and announced that he was here to help.  “You look like a trustworthy fellow,” we replied.  “Take your place in the ranks!”

We reviewed our rumors as (P)tarth climbed up onto the roof of the gatehouse via a ladder to inspect the portcullis. We recalled that there were rumors telling us that a fantastic treasure could be found under the tower, stay away from the well, the keep was originally built by a pair of brothers who were chaos lords, etc.  As we did this, (P)tarth lowered the portcullis and cast ‘ward portal’ on it.  He was upset with us for having retreated ‘too early’ last time when we were sprayed with pumpkin seeds and plant zombie spoo.

Having had our egress cut off, we advanced a bit into the soggy courtyard.  The west wall of the castle had collapsed and the gatehouse was somewhat ruined.  There appeared to be some ruined buildings on the north side of the castle and a large building to the east that was decorated with toad-like gargoyles.  There was a pit in the northeast corner that appeared to be filled with mist, a well in the center of the courtyard and a tower in the southeast corner. Last session one of the monstrous sentries had run into the tower in the southeast corner via a small door that gave access to the parapet on the walls.

Almuric and Kreglar decided to look at the well even though they had specifically been warned to stay away from it.  As they walked towards it, it appeared to be further and further away — WTF? Crediting this problem to someone having fucked with evil bad chaos magic at some point in the past, we decided not to mess with it for now.

We decided to start with the southeast tower, instead.  Kreglar and Marlowe approached the door, as the rest hung back and (P)tarth remained on the roof of the gatehouse. Marlowe tried the door, couldn’t open it so he and Kreglar decided to return to the gatehouse, climb the ladder and attempt to open the door that led from the parapet on the wall into the upper story of the tower. As we were walking back to the gatehouse, the hobbit tried the door again and this time it opened!  Putting it down to his luck, the hobbit and Sotar the cleric fired up a couple of torches and began to enter… Sotar reported hearing a moaning, whimpering sound.

Suddenly, an axe hacked down from above and clanged off Sotar’s shield which he raised just in the nick of time — clang!  Some of the hobbit’s luck must be rubbing off.  There were several bestial creatures with bloody spears and bits of ragged armor marked with chaos runes gamboling around inside the tower’s darkness.  The hobbit and the cleric tried to form up a shield wall to keep the monsters in the tower where they could not use their greater number to advantage as Almuric hunkered down by the keep, loading his crossbow, Marlowe and Kreglar raced back to support their companions and (P)tarth strolled casually along the battlements, chatting to his French imp. “Zere zeems to be a battle over zere, no?” said the imp, adjusting his beret and twirling his wee mostache while puffing away on a cigarette.

The beast men appeared to be a mix of birds, beasts, etc., and were all disgusting and stinky.  Each had one big bloodshot eye and bad hygiene. The door on the battlements flew open and a cow headed man stomped out, followed by an owl headed man.  Down below, vulture and salamander headed-men were forcing their way past the cleric and the Halfling.  Almuric fired his crossbow, critically wounding one, then fumbled in a comical manner (that’s what the table said).  Kreglar cast a ‘bless spell’ and power oozed through his body — suddenly even Marlowe (who was standing next to him) got a +5 on all of his rolls.  Surging with confidence, Marlowe tried to blast the bull-headed beast man on the parapet with ‘Color Spray,’ but rolled so badly that only a few colorful sparks dribbled out of his fingers and bounced off the beastman without effect.

Over at the door we began to fight in earnest, killing and maiming beastmen and getting only a few wounds in turn.  Although scary looking, they were not very good at combat.  (P)tarth cast the ultimate color spray where surging rainbows of power whooshed out of his hands and enveloped the two beastmen who were advancing upon him on the parapet.  Meanwhile, down in the courtyard, despite some comical fumbles and underwhelming criticals, we managed to kill the rest of these stink beast-creatures.

The inside of the tower was a foul charnel house — blood, guts and skins scattered everywhere.  The floor of the place was covered in rotting flesh, guts and bones.  A stairway led down underground, a spiral staircase would up to the battlements and there were three peasants suspended by chains, beaten, bloodied and barely alive.

Up on the battlements, Almuric and (P)tarth slit the throats of the incapacitated beastmen. (P)tarth found a fancy torc decorated with skull medallions and chaos runes; after a whispered conference with Almuric, (P)tarth allowed Almuric to try it on despite the objections of his French Imp.  “But mon Frere, ze Torc she is obviously magical, no?  Must keep it for yourself, eh?” Meanwhile, Padre Sotar was tending to the peasants, who were mostly unconscious, trying to heal them, as Marlowe searched the bodies of the beast men, looking for a key to the manacles. Kreglar was digging through the offal on the floor.  A squealing, disgusting leech-like worm tried to attach itself to his skin and Kreglar batted it across the room with his spear.  It hit the wall and the hobbit burned it with a torch, killing it.

Up on the battlements, Almuric tried to put on the torc and, like trying to force two magnets together, it flew out of his hands and landed in the ditch.  Gondan retrieved it from the ditch, shouting, “Zoot alors!” and gave it back to (P)tarth ,

After being unlocked from their chains, given sips of water, a bite to eat and some healing, the prisoners were basically ambulatory and wanted to leave immediately.  Since the gate was sealed by a portal spell (!), we lowered the peasants from the battlements with ropes and they made their way back to town on their own power.  Sotar went with them when he saw (P)tarth commanding his imp to follow them and caught up just in time to see Gondan swoop down at the heads of the peasants as they cowered, screaming.  Sotar chased the imp off and escorted the poor unfortunates as far as the main road, where a passing trader promised to help them get back to Hamlet (…or maybe the trader clapped them into irons as soon as the cleric’s back was turned and sold them as slaves; we shall probably never know). Having balmed his conscience with providing for the less fortunate, Sotar returned to the keep to rejoin the group where a nasty surprise awaited him later…

Kreglar had been paying attention when the rumors were being presented in the village of Hamlet and continued to sweep aside the offal and guts that covered the floor because he had heard that there was a ‘great treasure’ hidden under the tower.  Under the rotting mess, he found a wooden trap door which he pried up with his spear, revealing a small hole filled with treasure.  There was a quantity of coins, a fine elven cloak (probably ‘elven’ with a small ‘e’ since Kreglar did not disappear when he put it on) and a jeweled shortsword.  “Mine!” screamed the hobbit and he grabbed the sword. Since he had been fighting with a dagger up until this point, we were glad to see him better armed. (P)tarththen gave the skull torc to Kreglar in exchange for the fine elven cloak.  Rather than wearing it, Kreglar stowed it in his pouch.

We then argued over whether or not we were going to press on or wait for Sotar the cleric. The vote was 6 to 1 against waiting (Marlowe wanted to wait because Sotar appeared to actually be able to heal people, a feat that the other cleric, Kreglar, had only accomplished once). We then proceeded down the steps to the north that led to deep under the castle, Marlowe the elf and the hobbit going ahead (with infravision) and the rest a distance behind with torches. (P)tarth declared that if anyone surprised him, he would, without hesitation, blast them with a color spray.
“Did you miss me?” shouted Sator the cleric, as he came clumping down the steps.

“TRIGGER EVENT!” shouted (P)Tarth, as he blasted the helpless cleric of law with color spray.  The cleric rolled down the steps, blind, paralyzed and regretful.

“Shhhhhh!” said the hobbit. He and the elf had seen some gold coins on the steps below and suspected a trap.  Who leaves gold coins on the stairs?  Almuric used his thiefly skills to investigate.  The coins were real and normal, but there was a rough passage to the left and a secret door to the right.  The steps continued down into darkness.  Almuric opened the door and found a small chamber with three obviously looted chests in it and a sprinkling of coins on the floor among some beast-man like tracks.  One of the chests had a false bottom that contained a silk tabard adorned with a symbol of chaos (which Almuric put on), a steel vial of some sort of liquid …”and two, no, excuse me, one silver ring…” said the wily thief. We split up the coin on the spot.  Overcome by curiosity, Marlowe tried the potion and felt stronger and more powerful (a potion of cocaine!).

When Sotar was sufficiently recovered, he told Almuric, “Take that thing off,” pointing at the chaos tabard.  The thief refused.  We then followed the winding passage, which led upwards and was obviously natural.  Suddenly it led to a small room with a sarcophagus in the center and an exit at the far end.

Session ended here.

More Megadungeons

Put a few bones or a torch stub in it if that will make you feel like it’s more exciting.

Megadungeons:  I can no longer keep track of who said what or when or why, so I won’t pretend that I even know anymore… but I think there is still some juice in this topic, so I’m going to keep at it. 

As anecdotal evidence, reading Evereaux’s campaign journals, it certainly sounds to me as though they had fun… so I guess I’m a bit skeptical that some declare the megadungeon to be an automatic recipe for a snore fest. On the other hand, I think successful social events are successful because there is a willingness on the part of the participants to participate. As an example of an unsuccessful social event, I would offer up the story of ‘Jack and the koosh ball.’

‘Jack’ was a former boss of mine. He was the kind of guy who would walk up behind you and give you a back rub without asking if you want a back rub; a trait I’ve always found annoying and creepy unless the backrubber is a spouse or girlfriend or professional masseuse whom you have asked to massage you.  I suspect that he read a lot of breezy and simplistic books on ‘how to be a better manager’ and thus loved ‘get to know you’ games and ‘think outside the box’ exercises which he substituted for actually managing.  In short, if you have ever seen the US version of ‘The Office’ with that flakey guy from ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin’ movie, you know Jack (except he was probably even more of a self serving douche than the Office guy). One day, Jack called us all into the ‘big room’ and made us sit on the floor and told us that he thought we needed to ‘get to know each other better’ or some similar condescending bullshit. He took out a ‘koosh’ ball (which is some sort of a soft, rubber thing made for throwing around) and told us we had to throw it around at random and who ever caught it had to tell the first story from their childhood that popped into their head.  We spent about half an hour throwing the koosh ball around and then pointing to the person next to us and saying, “I think that’s yours” whenever it landed near us. The ‘fun and whimsical team building game’ was a failure because none of us wanted to play it, one reason being you can’t force trust and spontaneity on a group of people who a) don’t trust each other, and, b) know that the longer they spend tossing a koosh ball around and hearing stories about other people’s happy childhoods = more time they are going to have to spend catching up on actual work (the thing that they came to ‘work’ to do). I don’t know if such an exercise could or could not work in the right environment, but ‘sharing childhood memories’ was not what this group wanted to do with one another, so the exercise failed. The fact that they guy trying to force us to share our childhood memories was a delusional, self serving wanker did not help. It just remains one of those cringe-worthy memories, like realizing that you have been walking around all day with a big old toilet paper streamer stuck on your shoe. Similarly, if your group isn’t interested in spelunking through the megadungeon, any campaign based on megadungeoneering is bound to fail.


Which is why, after having heard everyone else at my regular bi-monthly game table say, “No thanks” to megadungeons, I decided that my bi-weekly group was not the right crowd for megadungeon spelunking.  My saying that doesn’t mean anything other than exactly what I think I said.


Baedeker’s Guide To The Northlands: Eord

Note: Travellers in Aldeboran are advised that while the authors have made every effort to provide the most accurate and up to date information within this guide, the Northlands region of the continent is subject to periodic political, cultural and genocidal upheavals. Although this constant state of flux makes Aldeboran in general and The Northlands in particular a very diverting place to visit, risk to life and limb on the part of travellers to this fascinating region should be assumed as a given, not just a possibility. Protection in the form of magical wards, armed guards and escape spells are not to be considered ‘optional’ by the traveller who wishes to survive the trip.

EORD (variant spellings: ORD, ORRD), City of: Called ‘The Jewel of the North’ by her admirers, this ancient city is currently ruled by Lord Mandras Delayn. Lord Mandras assumed the throne under a bit of a cloud following the mysterious disappearance of his predecessor, Lord Glarion.  The majority of Glarion’s heirs and relatives (with the exception of his cousin, Mandras) either found reason to be elsewhere when the succession was announced or vanished to such a great degree that neither well trained bloodhounds nor divination magics could locate them. Perhaps it goes without saying that the writers of this guide think that Mandras is a wonderful, magnificent monarch and Eord is lucky to have him… and our writing that has nothing to do with the relative talent of the king’s inquisitors nor the dampness of his dungeons.

The history of this ancient city predate the Lenaran conquest and subsequent dissolution of the famed and feared Dragon Empire. During the years of Lenaran rule, a city and garrison was established by the Imperials. Following the great Lenaran Catastrophe and the Hinterlandian revolt, the city and garrison became the seat of Alberc, now called ‘the First King’ (even though he really wasn’t — like many of the ‘young race’ residents of the Hinterlands, the Eordians consider history as having “started” when the Lenaran Catastrophe occured). Before the arrival of the Lenarans, a trading center is known to have stood on the site and, based on archaeological evidence, seems to have traded hands (or paws or claws) several times over the eons. Portions of previous fortifications which have been incorporated into the city’s current defenses and might be described by the architectural enthusiast as ‘cyclopean’ are probably a “must see” for the serious tourist who wants to understand the city’s origins.

The City of Eord is also the focal point of the defense of the Eordian kingdom against swampy Mystik and The Sinking Lands, their near neighbors to the north-west, and is strategically situated to offer a ready port to the Strait of Belaring, the Inner Sea and the Dunsany Sea. As a result, the ports and docks of Eord will be filled with the vessels of many nations, giving the city an appealingly multicultural aspect.

The City Proper: Avoid the slums and slaughter yards to the south. Although beds, beer and board might be cheaper than within the city proper, the ‘inns’ you are likely to find here will usually consist of places where watered beer and stale bread is served and the beds (if availible) will be flea-infested mattresses with soiled sheets.  Historically, the periodic attacks upon the city usually result in the destruction of the dwellings outside the walls, so structures in this area will be of wood or wattle and bear no historical or aesthetic interest.

Eord City proper consists of a series of ringed walls, and the general rule seems to be the further you penetrate the encircling walls, the more magnificent the structures.  The innermost ring contains the palace, also known as Castle Eord. Outside of that, one finds the noble quarter.  The noble quarter, in turn, is surrounded by ‘The Merchant’s Quarter (also known as “The Old City”).  The outermost ring is known as ‘The Commons’ and is generally considered to include the seafronts and docks.

Castle Eord: The palace (well, a ‘palace’ by Eordian standards; proper Lenaran nobility would turn up their finely chiseled noses at the idea of this structure being termed a palace) which currently stands upon a promontory known as ‘King’s Hill’ in the center of the city is much expanded from the structure that King Alberc re purposed from the previous Lenaran governor. Frequent mention is made of layers and tunnels beneath the palace which predate even the Lenaran occupation and, perhaps may even predate the arrival of humans in the Hinterlands but the veracity of these claims cannot be verified, especially since the palace in general (and the dungeons in particular) are not open to visitors.  Most ‘tours’ of the dungeons tend to be a last stop for the unwilling ‘tourists,’ and, despite the fascinating history to be found there, investigation of the palace or dungeons is strongly discouraged. Although portions of the palace might catch the interest as particularly well preserved examples of pre-catastrophe Lenaran territorial architecture, they are best admired from a distance. The structures are picturesque, but artists who have attempted to capture their glory on canvas or in a sketchbook have also brought unwelcome attention upon themselves from the inquisitors; the artistically inclined are strongly encouraged to choose other views.

Temple Quarter: Any visitor to Eord should plan on devoting at least a day or two to exploration of ‘The Temple Quarter.’ Found in the eastern part of ‘The Old City,’ this quarter is dominated by ‘The Street of The Gods’ which stretches from Old City’s East Gate to the Noble’s quarter.  Many of the structures are among the oldest in the city and may even predate the Lenaran occupation, although temples tend to change hands fairly often so establishing the exact provenance of one structure or another may be difficult. A description of a few of the more popular temples and their worshippers follow:

  • Temple of The Rat: Tourists are advised to tour this temple in the day; at night, the increased presence of vermin can be somewhat off-putting.  Located on the north side of the street near the Eastern Gates, the Temple of the Rat has a long history. It can easily be spotted since the structure itself is adorned with thousands of carved representations of rats. Crowds assemble almost daily for sanctioned sacrifices which usually involve the tossing a live goat into the rat-filled sacrificial pit; persistent rumors tell of invitation only events where less prosaic sacrifices are offered, but one shouldn’t credit everything you hear. Sources disagree as to weather the large rubies used as eyes in the statue of the Rat God are real or fake.
  • Temple of Yth: Now closed due to the execution of the priests by Lord Glarion more than twelve years ago, the Temple of Yth still presents an imposing edifice. The front of the temple is of pale green stone rumored to have been imported at fabulous cost from old Lenara and the cast bronze doors are a work of art (although the subject matter, which involves the Serpent God devouring sacrifices, may be considered a ‘bit strong’ for some audiences). Note the gilding (now, sadly peeling) on the domes. Rumors persist of fantastic mosaics within the temple, but, given that the practice of Ythianism has been outlawed locally, no arrangement to tour the interior is currently available. Despite being located on a prime bit of real estate, the temple still stands empty.
  • The Followers of The Bleeding Head: The followers of The Bleeding Head can be easily recognized within the temple quarter since many of them practice frequent devotional blows to the forehead with a mallet and/or the wearing of thorns as a crown. The cognoscenti consider this ‘cult’ an annoyance, but one cannot deny that their followers are the model of dedication. Their temple is a fairly modest structure of little interest to the student of architecture, but the followers of the Bleeding head do most of their worshipping/proselytizing and forehead malleting in the street itself.
  • Temple of the Allfather: One of the most powerful new religions in Eord and surrounding countries, the Allfatherians are also noted for their lack of tolerance towards elves, dwarves and other ‘demi-humans.’  Although Eordian law does not permit persecution of demi-humans, the Allfatherians are not shy about making their displeasure with ‘unclean’ races known. Elven, dwarven, gnomish and even halfling visitors are advised to avoid the main temple (decorated with a red cross on a white banner) or any large gathering of Allfatherinas (usually bearing banners with the red cross on white or wearing tabards of a similar pattern).
  • Temple of Umma: Although Umma (the She-He or Sister-Brother) has slipped in popularity in recent decades, Her/His followers still maintain a respectable temple in the district and Her/His hermaphroditic preists are still a common sight in the Temple District.  Worshippers of Umma are not to be confused with worshippers of Ammu (the He-She or Brother-Sister), which was outlawed by official decree following the Lenaran Catastrophe. The red stone temple of Umma is a good source for love potions, aphrodisiacs and relationship advice.

Session 09

Session 09 (10.3.2012)
Kreglar (priest): Dave M.

Marlowe (elf): Stef
Abothon(sp?)(hobbit): Mike C.
(P)tarth (wizard): Kevin
Zordinaire (wizard): Dave P. (absent)
Almuric (thief): Reuben (absent)
Pablo Van Ott (Wizard): Mike D. (absent)

To start with, we had to name our group, so, given the dysfunctional nature of our group and our decided lack of heroism, calling ourselves “The Stormblades” or “The Heroes of Hirot” or a similar high falutin’ name seemed a stretch. We finally settled on the name, “Kharma’s Bitch” for all of the wrong reasons, but we are a company of men (and elves and a hobbit) who seem to live in the moment and all the shit we pull is bound to catch up to us eventually, so…

Having settled that matter, Ptarth (the P is silent!) began to bitch bitch bitch about the lack of treasure. Kreglar snuck off to the city to ‘see a friend’ with a mysterious bundle and came back with his pockets jingling with coin… certain treasures once seen in the Jarl’s hall and promised to the group as a reward are missing… finally, Marlowe suggested we load all of the wagon wheels, clay pots, sheepskins, jars of gooseberry jelly and other miscellaneous items we had been given by the inbred villagers for saving their miserable hides and we hauled it all off to the city in one of the former Jarl’s oxcarts and sold it.  After paying the teamster rates for hauling all this shit, we realized the princely sum of 5 gps each. Yeah, our group name fits.

We were also all interviewed by the adventurer’s guild.  I don’t know what others said, but Marlowe gave his guild representative a pointed earful on the woeful margins that adventurers were expected to work on these days.  Lives lost, wear and tear on equipment, stamina points permanently removed from injury, risk of corruption from spell casting, fumbling and being subjected to critical hits and zombification… all for 5 gold? That’s not like adventuring in my grandfather’s day, when one could expect fistfuls of gold for killing kobolds and giant rats.  And five gold doesn’t even begin to cover our expendables (rope, spikes, torches and arrows).  And now our hobbit has only one ear!?! It is outrageous I tell you — I’m ready to chuck it all and go into the chicken and egg business…” The guild representative yawned and shuffled his papers and thanked Marlowe for coming in.

Ptarth cast ‘Find Familiar’ and proudly shows off his new friend, an imp named Ganebon. In exchange for serving, Ganebon gets to keep Ptarth’s soul when Ptarth dies. I’m not sure Ptarth has a soul, so Ganebon is probably getting the worst of that deal.

Kreglar moved into the now vacant chapel of Justicia and hung a large “UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT” banner above the door but hasn’t quite decided to best approach for PR in selling an ancient uncaring tentacled god who drives his followers insane to a bunch of dirt farmers. Seeing how shitty their lives were when they worshipped the ‘Goddess of Justice,’ I’m thinking that a temple of Cthulhu in Hirot is so crazy it just might work. In addition to meditating and counting his gold like Scrooge McDuck, Kreglar spends time considering recruitment arguments like, “Justicia claimed to care and did nothing when the hound attacked your village. Cthulhu won’t care what happens to you, so he is the more honest alternative…”

Marlowe (me) cast ‘Patron Bond’ and came up with the result, “Useful Pawn.” If I understand correctly, this is the most mediocre result I could have gotten — better than corruption, I guess. My patron, Elrond Hubbard, Elven God of Self Actualization, considers me a tool, nothing more.  At least I can cast Invoke Patron now, although, given my mediocre result, my patron is likely to resent me bothering him.  Also, since I gained a level, I gained a new spell.  Rolling randomly gave me “chill touch.”

Wedding bells were also in the air. Dressing in his hobbit best and putting his hat at a rakish tilt to disguise the fact that he was missing an ear, Abothon went to the old hag Emay’s house to fulfill his promise to marry her. She appeared at the door, looking sixty years younger and fresh as a daisy, her arms around a vaguely man-shaped cloud of dark energy with flashes of fire where its eyes should have been.  She kissed Abathon on the forehead and then she and her ‘thunder-man’ vanished into the ether, leaving the hobbit’s heart broken and his cherry unplucked. Under his shirt, however, Abothon found a magnificent coat of lightweight magical chainmail — a parting gift from his two-timing fiancé. Inconsolable, he retreated to the inn where he blubbered into his beer on the stool next to the Lore the bard.

Kreglar has a shield that will allow him to intimidate enemies. Marlowe has a helmet that will allow him to intimidate enemies.  They agree to have an intimidation contest which Marlowe wins.

Finally it’s time for us to go on our next adventure.  I don’t remember what it is or why, but we travel to another shitty little one-horse town named ‘Hamlet’ where they apparently have rumors of trouble with ‘beast men.’  And it’s no wonder, because they always build their shitty little towns right next to a long abandoned castle where evil people once plotted and planned.  Of all the places in the world to build a town, why do they always pick ‘right next to the ancient haunted ruins’?  Darwinism means these villagers should have been wiped out eons ago; perhaps by saving them, we are just enabling them.  Is that what we are?  Enablers? While grilling the villagers, we discover:

·         Look for treasure in the keep’s remaining tower.

·         The keep was once ruled by a pair of Chaos Lords who were brothers.

·         A great treasure vault can be found beneath the keep!

·         Beware of the well!

·         Nothing good can come of disturbing the ruins; you will release the horror under the hill!

·         One of the villagers was doing the dishes late one night after her husband had said he was getting ready to go to bed.  She heard a noise and went to the bedroom to check on him.  He was missing and the curtains were open, so she ran to the window.  She saw someone who looked like he was dressed in her husband’s clothes running away, but when she called out to him, he turned and she saw what looked like the face of a tiger instead of her husband’s face.

Finally, after gathering our supplies (Lamp oil? Lamp oil! Ten foot pole? Ten foot pole! A dozen spikes? A dozen spikes!), we are ready. We march up the hill towards the stinking, decrepit keep and can see the broken stone walls covered in vines, brambles and rubble, a dry moat with a broken bridge, a half raised portcullis, etc.  A black flag marked with a red skull flaps from the battlements. The whole place smells like mildew.

Nearing the ruin, we see three human bodies bound to stakes by vines. As we draw closer, they start to thrash around and we can see that the vines are growing into and out of their eyes, ears and other orifices… this looks distinctly unhealthy and uncomfortable and Marlowe declares that if vines were growing into and out of MY body, I would want someone to put me out of my misery. After the zombie-ghouls with the snake surprise inside, we decide to take care of this problem from a distance. Fwip fwap fwap go some arrows and one of the plant-people is mostly skewered.  We shoot him once more and he explodes, spraying seeds and a mucus like slime all over the place.  Yuck.

There are two of the vine-zombies coming at us, moaning and shuddering.  A sleep spell has no effect, so Zordinar attepts to enlarge Marlowe, but blows the spell and, as a side effect, rats scurry out of his sleeve. Marlowe manages to spear one, but she rips her way free  and slaps him to zero hit points with her vine encrusted hands. Kreglar uses some sort of spell to hold the zombies in place for a moment and the rest of the party manages to hack them down and save Marlowe’s life, but half the party are covered in ‘pumpkin guts,’ some of us are all hacked up and some of us are out of spells, so, over the objections of Ptarth, we returned to town for a night’s rest, baths, a wash-up and some healing.

The next morning we were back at the ancient keep. The drawbridge has just a few rotted planks remaining.  Looking at the battlements, the hobbit claims that he sees something peeking at us from behind a merlon up there.  Zordinaire tossed a sleep spell up onto the battlements and suddenly this creature, snoring, tumbles over the battlements and falls through the bridge, taking ½ of the planks away, and then lands snoring in the ditch.  It is asleep under some vines and broken boards so we can’t get a very good look at it, but our general impression is that it looks like a mongrel-person of some sort.  Almost immediately we hear a yelp and a snarl from upon the battlements, a ringing bell and there is a mechanical noise and the portcullis slams down.  Then a creature lopes along the parapet towards the tower.  With the expending of some luck and by some face-planting into the site of the ditch by Zordinar later, we are across what remains of the drawbridge.  Kreglar strains to lift the portcullis but cannot, so Ptarth sends his familiar, Ganebon, flapping up to the battlements with instructions to raise the portcullis if he can do so without risk to himself.  Ganeborn returns and says that there is a crank wheel of some sort up there, but he is too small to turn it.

Having cast spider climb upon himself to cross the bridge, Pablo Von Ott scuttles up onto the battlements, cranks the wheel to raise the grate and then tears down the black flag with a skull and tosses it to Kreglar.

We are past the gate and we have taken the flag — what next?

The ‘Dominion’ Level Game

I’ve always had this fantasy of running a D&D campaign (or Labyrinth Lord or whatever) with player characters having their own little dramas AND a continental level wargame with country A, B and C going to war with each other, being invaded, plagues wiping out half the population and other mishaps. To the players on the player level game, these incidents might or might not have an effect on the player’s lives (much like news and current events in the real world), but, unlike the relatively static fantasy world that most RPGs take place in (or the world where all world events are orchestrated by the DM), there would always be something going on in the wider world… and even the DM (or referee) might not necessarily know what the map would like like later in the campaign. When/if player characters manage to take control of armies or perform deeds of derring do that grab national or international attention, the players may become ‘active forces’ in the world game rather than just players on an individual level. So what happens on a ‘national’ level isn’t just decided by GM fiat — it could be played out as a wargame.

Part of the inspiration for this idea comes from the original ‘Chainmail’ by Gary Gygax and Tom Keogh.  (NOTE: If you are reading this blog, it is 90% likely you can skip the rest of this paragraph…) ‘Chainmail’ is probably pretty familiar to blog readers; it’s a book of rules for ‘miniature war games’ published by Gary Gygax back in the 1970s.  Gygax and Tom Keogh were original ‘sand table’ gamers who would set up miniature armies of Crusaders & Saracens or refighting the battle of Agincourt or similar medieval period conflicts and ‘Chainmail’ was their rule set for deciding who won the battle. Later editions of ‘Chainmail’ included a ‘Fantasy Supplement’ that included rules for goblins, dragons, etc. According to grognard lore, Arneson was inspired by ‘Chainmail’ and some other games being run and talked about in the wargamer circles at the time (check out “Braunstein“) to run some games where each player controlled a single guy instead of an army. From these ideas, so the story goes, Dungeons & Dragons was born.

(NOTE: If you are a ‘grognard’ who is not an actual veteran of the wars of Napoleon, it is 75% likely that you can skip this next paragraph)The First Fantasy Campaign” was published in the 1970s by Judge’s Guild. It’s a collection of Dave Arneson’s notes and some maps, incomplete in many areas and full of typos. The rough presentation, however, does not stop me from considering it a very interesting booklet.  In it, Arneson describes the ‘Blackmoor’ campaign that he ran for years when he was living in Minnesota and it was this book that made me want to consider the idea of a micro/macro campaign where play might switch back and forth between ‘campaign level’ play (where armies clash on the battlefield and borders get re-drawn) and ‘player level play’ (where each player might control just one character). Back in Armeson’s day, if I am understanding the book correctly, the players often took control of the different forces and battled it out. Blackmoor Castle itself apparently changed hands sveral times. The First Fantasy Campaign also had very vaguely stated rules for allowing players to build roads in their kingdoms, build inns and canals, etc. Plus it has one of the most kick-ass maps of a fantasy campaign that I think has ever been published.

My Campaign Map, circa 1980 something

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, I’ve never gotten the critical mass of interested players involved… and the huge time issue to carry out such a campaign probably makes it a pipe-dream in any case. I’ve played a few ‘skirmishes’ on the tabletop, but not every player enjoys the miniature-war-game-combat aspect and then there is the fact that my regualr gaming group suffers from what I think could politely be called ‘Attention Deficit Disorder.’ Everyone is always thinking the grass would be greener if only we were playing a slightly different (or much different) game — getting them to commit to such an endeavor would be like trying to herd 100 cats through a thunderstorm. Never gonna happen.

Barrowmaze Two now on sale

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) probably already know that I have been working on illustrations for Barrowmaze Two, the followup to Barrowmaze One by Greg Gillespie (aka Kilted Yaksman). After a successful Indieagogo campaign to fund production and printing, Greg has published the book; PDF copies are available through RPG Now, and I think the word is that books should ship to backers in early late October (just in time for Halloween spelunking!).

I just downloaded my PDF; skimming through, it looks like a lot of fun with cool magic items unique to the Barrowmaze and lots of kick ass illustrations by Zhu Bajie, Alexander Cook, Ndege Diamond, Cory Hamel, Trevor Hammond, Jim Holloway, John Larrey, Scott LeMien, Jason Sholtis, Stephen Thompson and me!  Plus there is a really cool character sheet for Labyrinth Lord in the back created by Zhu Bajie.

I haven’t read it yet… just flipped through the pdf… but what I have seen looks really cool. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are a lot of random tables and suggestions for how to handle repeated forays into Barrowmaze by player characters that many fans of the ‘Megadungeon’ will enjoy, plus maps, unique creatures, etc.

Here are some of my contributions:

Cover Art: Acid breath from undead dragon! The cleric is done for!

A witch cooking what looks like “Player Character Stew!”

For some reason the mope on the left cracks me up every time I look at him.

“Which way do we go next?” The fighter-guy in the middle is kind of a self portrait.

Keep on the Borderlands

If you started playing D&D in 1982 or so, you were here at some point.

I think might be just a year or two older than the average forum lurking, blogging OD&D enthusiast because I didn’t know anything about one of the old game’s quintessential adventures, “Keep on the Borderlands” until years after it had been released.  My first D&D set had a book of rules, some dice, a ‘Monster & Treasure” booklet  and some maps that looked like Gary Gygax got stoned and covered a couple of sheets of graph paper in rooms and hallways that went nowhere. But for so many of my fellow enthusiasts, Keep on the Borderlands is still the true shizzle, the distillation of the D&D experience, the original article, what the game is all about, the ultimate adventure, the yardstick by which all other adventures are judged, etc. And yet I never played in it.  What did I miss?

According to Weakypeedia, Keep on the Borderlands was first printed / published in 1979/1980… and I think I first started playing in 1978 or so. After I got my start playing in someone else’s D&D campaign, it was love at first sight.  We sat down and rolled up ability scores, then Bob,  the guy who was running the game, looked at our scores and said things like, “You have a high strength; you should be a fighter… but if you become a dwarf instead, you will also get infravision… whereas, if you have high intelligence, you can be an elf… etc., etc…”
“What’s infravision?” we would ask… but we were already hooked.  My first character was an elf who had armor and weapons, a bow and arrows, spells (including ‘magic missile’; I was probably dissapointed to discover that my ‘magic missile’ was more like an arrow and less like an ICBM) and infravision as well as an assortment of ‘dungeoneering’ gear like flasks of oil, spikes, holy water, etc.
Having rolled up our characters, we would then go off to the dungeon.  And these early games had a ludicrously simple premise.  We were adventurers.  We gathered in the ‘town’ (I don’t think Bob’s town even had a name) and supply ourselves with swords, pointy-hats, torches, iron rations, coils of rope, etc.  And then we would tell our DM, Bob, that we were going ‘to the dungeon’ (which was apparently a short walk from town).  Bob described the dungeon entrance as a pair of rusted iron doors in the side of a rocky hill that led to a flight of stairs going down.  With graph paper and torches in hand, we would enter.

There was little rhyme or reason to those early dungeons. There would be hallways with doors sprinkled around at random and rooms filled with monsters. One room might have a group of zombies guarding a chest of silver coins, the next room might have goblins or giants spiders, etc. I don’t think any of us wondered who put the coins there or why the zombies were guarding them. We didn’t question the existence of the dungeon or why the goblins in room 2 were still alive when there was a hungry owlbear in room 3. Perhaps we were young and unsophisticated in our entertainment (the original ‘Battlestar Galatica’ was still on TV and video games were in their infancy — PONG, Centipede, PAC-MAN, etc., were considered ‘cutting edge.’). But I also think there was something else going on. We were snot-nosed punks who didn’t know shit from shinola and this game was challenging us in ways we hadn’t encountered before. We got to choose between actions and consequences. If Jim’s character was down to his last few hit points, did you announce that your character was going to jump into the fray and try to save Jim or did you slam the door and run, leaving him to his fate? We also learned of social consequences: stabbing your buddy in the back meant that his NEXT character was quite likely to stab YOUR character in turn. Maybe the consequences were not real, but the social consequences of behaving like a dick in the game taught some of the less socially gifted of our circle some good lessons in social behavior.  Sometimes I wonder if this crazy game didn’t help some of us develop into actual people instead of the mouth-breathing cretins that we might have otherwise become. Or, maybe I’m just trying to justify all the time I wasted fighting orcs and ghouls while the dean of students told us we were ‘never going to amount to anything’ if we continued to play ‘that stupid game.’

So, how do we compare an adventure like ‘Keep of the Borderlands” to (for lack of a better name), “Bob’s Town and Dungeon”?  (which was followed by “Stefan’s Town and Dungeon” after Bob gave up DMing duties, but I digress…)  As far as a document to read, ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ is/was doubtlessly better — it features Gygaxian prose (Gygax loved his thesaurus).  My home made dungeons were usually nothing more than maps with creatures and treasures tossed randomly together scrawled out in pencil; Borderlands has a fully detailed town with shops, an inn, guards, etc, with maps, illustrations, etc.  The ‘Caves of Chaos’ consists of a valley filled with numerous caves (some of which interconnect) filled with different tribes (orcs, gnolls, goblins, etc.).  The fans of the ‘strictly realistic’ might not find the ‘Caves of Chaos’ to their taste; it’s a bit like a “Holiday Inn” where gangs of different humanoids have checked into each suite and there are occasional rumbles down by the ice machine, but, compared to my home-made dungeons, it reads like it was written by a team of sociologists attempting to describe a dungeon eco-system with a roughly defined sort of a circle-of-life where the orcs ate goblins, goblins ate kobolds, kobolds ate rats, etc.

However, part of the problem with ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ is that it is a pre-fabricated fantasy mini-setting that has (for better or worse) defined much of what came after it. I’ve always thought that part of the fun of ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ was the dungeon building part of the game. As a youngster, I liked sitting down with my graph paper and notebooks and drawing hallways, caves, rooms, etc., and then trying to decide what went where, all in preparation for the point when a group of players was going to come in, knock down the doors, kill the monsters (or die trying) and loot what they could. Using a pre-made adventure felt like cheating. And, to be fair, Bob (my first DM), did try to roll with the punches and expand his setting as we returned, again and again, to play. We once found a cache of potions and the first player character to sample one died from poison. As players, we were then paralyzed with fear. None of us wanted to try a potion because we were certain it would be poisonous. Bob got past this roadblock by suggesting we take the potions to the town alchemist who would identify them for a small fee. I also remember Bob introducing wandering ‘adventurers’ who would give us hints or a little help from time to time. One of the advantages of having an ‘ill defined’ campaign is that one can always shoehorn in an alchemist, armorer or wandering cleric where one is needed. Similarly, I remember Bob later giving us hints that the ‘dungeon’ we were exploring was actually part of a massive underground fallout shelter and many of the creatures within it were the result of mutations gone wild by exposure to radiation — hardly ‘novel’ now, but it seemed pretty cool when he introduced the idea back in the day (Bob was also a WW2 buff; I think part of his goal was to eventually have us find Garand rifles and hand grenades in the deep recesses of the dungeon but I’m just guessing). On another occassion we stumbled into an evil gnome courtroom where another group of adventurers were on trial for ‘crimes against gnomes’ and we had to fight the whole court — judges, jury, etc. I don’t know if he thought these things up on the spur of the moment or if he had planned them before hand; all I know is that we had a lot of fun. One of the problems with playing someone else’s pre-written adventure is that you can always feel like if you make changes, you might be ‘doing it wrong.’ And, during the 1980s, one of the reasons I quit playing D&D for years was that the ‘You are doing it wrong!’ editorials in the Dragon got a bit much (or maybe I was ready for a break). As time went on, and the more I read  prefabricated adventures written by ‘professionals,’ the less time I spent designing my own (and the less I valued my own creations).  That’s kind of fucked up. “Paint by Numbers” might be a shorter, quicker path to a painting that the vast majority of people will recognize as a good representation of a horse or a clown or whatever it is that you are painting, but maybe ‘paint by numbers’ sometimes misses the point of personal expression that can come about when you sit down with a piece of canvas or paper and some paint and try to make a painting. Maybe ‘professionally designed’ adventures can be a crutch… I don’t know; I’m just musing here.

Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, one of the advantages of the pre-made adventure is that you can discuss it afterwards with other enthusiasts.  The forums are filled with excited discussions of, “This is what happened when we played through ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ back in the day…” Maybe adventures like ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ are a part of the shared experience of the hobby. Perhaps rejecting ‘Keep’ is a form of throwing the baby out withthe bathwater. But, fuck it, part of the point of having a blog is putting whatever crazy thoughts are rolling through my head out there so anyone who cares to can read them.

Maybe I’m reaching when I compare my 13 year old self sitting down to ‘draw a dungeon’ to an artist  painting a canvas… but if there is a creative component to it, I’m reluctant to disavow that by saying, “Well, Gygax is the professional, so we should stick with, ‘Keep on the Borderlands.’” Part of me feels like when people who gather to play D&D end up running nothing but pre-made adventures, they will be missing a big part of the fun (making shit up).  Back in the day, one of the slogans of TSR (original publisher of Dungeons & Dragons) was, “Products of your Imagination.” If I remember right, it was printed right there on the front of “Keep on The Borderlands.” Indeed.

What is ‘good RPG writing’?

As a part of my day job, I have been doing some very tedious but necessary technical writing.  Basically, I’m writing manuals with step by step instructions on such fascinating things as to how to fill out a purchase requisition based on a vendor quote.  In order to be useful, the ‘process documents’ I am writing need to be correct in the details and their order, clear and not subject to multiple interpretations, and as short as possible since the longer the boring document or memo, the less likely it will be read. The document that results could most kindly be described as ‘utilitarian.’

At the same time, I enjoy reading fiction that is filled with possible multiple interpretations and ambiguity (current favorite: Thomas Ligotti; my all-time favorite book is hard to choose, but might be either “Heart of Darkness” by Conrad or “The Crying of Lot 49” by Pynchon), which seems funny since I have to write stuff that (hopefully) can be understood only one way by the reader for my day job yet my favorite books are ones that seem to delight in leaving the reader more confused than when they started.  Providence is always giving us the finger — the guy who likes ambiguity and multiple meanings in writing has to write as precisely as he can to earn a buck.*

All of this is a long winded introduction to me wanting to think about ‘what makes good writing for an RPG product?’ And I am interested in how my opinion of ‘good’ will differ from the opinions of others. Here are a few things I like to see in an RPG adventure:

·         I prefer the author keep plot, motivation, etc., to a minimum. I’d rather have a location with some maps, encounters and a few ‘possibilities’ described rather than a clusterfuck of quests and subquests and whatnot.  I’d consider it perfectly acceptable to develop a great deal of this ‘plot’ stuff on the fly… i.e.: if random encounters in the wilderness keep giving you orcs, why not cook up an orc invasion?

·         Adventures that concentrate on being locations rather than ‘story driven series of encounters.’  To give concrete examples, I have much fonder memories of playing adventures like “Against the Giants” than “Egg of the Phoenix.”  In “Against the Giants,” I felt the players set their own agenda after being initially hamfisted into an adventure (“Find out who is sending the giants against us or else!”) versus the more story-based “Start at point A, get told to go to point B, etc.”  The “Egg of the Phoenix” is probably more involved, detailed and impressive, but there is less player agency in getting from point A to point B.

·         Simple, short encounter descriptions and not too much flowery language with everything you need in one place.  If I were to run a published adventure, I’d want to review it before play started, then be able to get ‘up to speed’ on what is going on in one location or another by glancing at the text during play.  I wouldn’t want to say, “Hold on!” to the players while I search the paragraphs of verbiage for the one bit of info I need (I’m looking at you, “Temple of Excessive Description,” er, I mean, “Elemental Evil.”).

·         I don’t know of any published adventure that offers this, but how about a small bit of whitespace after every entry where the DM can make notes?  I know a lot of people resent white space in a product they paid for (equating quantity of ink on the page with ‘quality’), but I’ve taken to seeing published adventures  as more utilitarian documents than literature… that is to say, they are there to be used to speed and enable play, not amuse the reader like a novel.

·         Interesting, quirky, suggestive stuff that the DM can use to run off on his own tangents or red herrings that can be expanded upon if the DM wishes or the players choose to pursue them.  Adventures like ‘Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor’ or ‘Rappan Athuk’ are great for this kind of stuff.
I hesitate to say that these things define ‘good,’ I’m just saying that they are what I like to see. Since, when I DM, I’ve decided like to create my own adventures anyway, I’m hoping
* I don’t consider myself a writer of talent.  I like to write things (like this blog) but don’t think my writing has any significance other than some possibly therapeutic value for me. It’s just a fun way for me to explore topics I am thinking about.

Google+ gaming opinions?

Has anyone who reads this silly blog done any D&D type gaming via google+ or similar platform? How did it work?

I’m particularly interested in your opinions on:

  1. Issues of scheduling for more long term games — did the same players always show up, was there a rotating cast of characters with a mix of ‘visitors’ and ‘regulars,’ or was every session a new gang tossed together at random?  And which did you like and why?
  2. How did you schedule games?
  3. How did you share info both during and between games? 
  4. During game did you use IM or something similar to ‘pass notes’ to one player without the other players knowing about it?
  5. How did social interaction via google+ or similar platforms work out?
  6. In terms of ‘the game experience,’ did you have a ‘board’ or diagram of some kind to help players envision the space or did you just use “talking?”

I’m considering something for the distant future when elements of real life settle down a bit, but am only at the ‘info gathering’ stage at this point.

npc class: Doctors

“Now watch me destroy the sun with this stick!”

I’m considering possible NPC classes for campaigns that will include astrologers/fortune tellers, healers/doctors and possibly scholars (although how they would function in the campaign is still something I am thinking about).

Astrologers and scholars could be sources of possible information, but adjudicating how the astrologer ‘predicts the future’ becomes difficult if, as DM, you don’t really know what the players will do next.  Perhaps astrologers could provide answers to certain types of questions, i.e.: if the players ask, “What will happen if we enter Garagur’s cavern?” and the DM knows that Garagur’s Cavern is full of really dangerous monsters that are far beyond the player’s current level of ability, the astrologer, if accurate in his or her prediction, might reply that chances of returning alive are slim.  Questions like, “What will happen to me tomorrow?” however, are unlikely to work simply because the astrologer won’t have anything to work with unless the player character adds a provisional statement like, “… if I do X?”  Nothing of interest might occur if players just hang around their room in the inn… and even charlatans and incompetent fortunetellers could make predictions based on hunches and common knowledge and still be right at least some of the time.

On a side note, in Arneson’s original First Fantasy Campaign, Dave Arneson used random cards for rumors and the pronouncements of fortunetellers and soothsayers.  Some of which described future events (like a surprise invasion of an enemy army he might have had planned), others might have been just mystical sounding gobbledygook… which inevitably leads me to think that if a player character goes to a fortuneteller and the fortune teller says some profound sounding shit like, “A dark shadow hangs over you!” and that character is subsequently eaten by a vampire, the rest of the players are going to say, “By gods, the fortuneteller was right!”

I’m suspecting that I can handle astrologers with a simple chart that cross-references the ability of the astrologer with the difficulty of the question… and the astrologer might have a chance of returning good, bad or no information (although ethically challenged astrologers might make something interesting up even if they failed to determine anything during their “research” simply because, well, who is going to pay an astrologer if he responds, “Hell if I know” to a lot of the player’s questions?) A percentage of astrologers/fortunetellers could be frauds (no useful information is ever returned, although they will gladly relieve player characters of excess gold).

“I can answer that question for 3d10 gold!”

Scholars would probably function a lot like astrologers/fortune tellers, except they would use libraries or conduct research.  Again, there would be a dice roll on a chart that would cross reference the relative skill of the researcher and the facilities available with the difficulty of the question. Scholars might be good ones to consult on questions of history, lore about obscure cults, etc. Like astrologers, some scholars could be frauds or crackpots (again, no useful information is ever returned — or perhaps on rare occasions the crackpot or fraud could be right for the wrong reasons). 

Medieval doctor ready for the plague.

The most difficult NPC for me to envision would be the doctor/healer simply because so much of that role is already performed by the cleric.  Perhaps at lower levels, a doctor could be hired when players are attempting to recoup lost hit points and don’t yet have access to oodles of healing spells. Perhaps while resting under a doctor’s care, a patient would have a chance of healing at a faster rate from his injuries. ‘Cure disease’ spells might be out of the price range of many lower level players; perhaps ‘doctors’ could provide more affordable (but less foolproof) alternative nostrums.  Doctors, apothecaries and alchemists might also be able to analyze and identify magic potions and similar substances — again, a chart cross referencing the difficulty of the cure against the skill of the doctor might get the job done. The biggest problem here is redundancy; who is going to go to a doctor when clerics can cast cure light wounds or resurrection?  Atheists and the poor and desperate, I guess.

My real goal here is to get these different NPC types described on one page, like one of the pages from the Judge’s Guild Ready Ref Sheets, so that I wouldn’t need to describe each doctor, scholar or astrologer in detail before the game.  If the players consult one of these medieval “knowledge workers’ in game, I could just make one roll for the relative skill of the service provider and another for the consultation and then tell the players the result.  If a particular visit rendered bad information or failed to effect a cure, once couldn’t say for absolute certain that the service provider was at fault (although it might be fun to speculate on the competence of NPCs).  This is preferable to me because I’ve often felt like the DM can succumb to the temptation of using NPCs to control the players actions too much… consulting an NPC can often be the part of the game where the DM tells the players what they have to do next. If, on the other hand, the players can gain bits of intelligence of unknown value, they can decide for themselves which leads they wish to follow.