Archive for April, 2012

Rivers in the Barbarian Prince

Is anyone else out there playing Barbarian Prince?  I’m still pretty obsessed with the game, and recently have really been scratching my head over what the flow is supposed to be regarding checking for getting lost and random events when crossing a river.

Here’s the deal, basically as you move around the hex map there’s two checks to be made: do you get lost, and does a random event occur?  This basic mechanic is described in the rules thus:

Getting Lost (see r205): each time you try to leave a hex, you may get lost. See r205 for details. If you get lost, you are unable to get out of the hex by the chosen route, and are stuck for the rest of the day in the hex where you started. You cannot select an alternate action.

Travel Events (r204b): each time you attempt to enter a new hex, an event may occur. Find the terrain type you attempted to enter on the Travel Table (r207) and read to the “Event” column. Roll two dice. If the total equals or exceeds the number listed, an event occurs. Roll one die and read across to the proper “Event Reference” number listed for that die roll. Then go that event section.

OK, seems pretty straight forward.  I assume for events the language around “you attempt to enter a new hex” that it means events happen regardless of whether you get lost or not.  OK, now add in rivers.  There are two sections in the rules on rivers, one under “Travel” and one under “Lost”.  Here they both are:

River Crossing (r204e): if your travel takes you over a river, you must first consult the Travel Table (r207) for getting over the river without getting lost (r205), and then for a possible event crossing the river, by using the “River” line of the table. If this doesn’t prevent you from crossing, you then enter the hex on the other side, check for getting lost moving into that hex, and any travel events for the terrain entered there. If you are flying, you can fly over a river and ignore all crossing problems (do not check for getting lost crossing the river, and do not check for river crossing events).

River Crossing (r205d): if your party is trying to cross a river, first check to see if you get lost in the crossing. If you do, this represents an inability to find a proper crossing place (ford, place to swim, materials for a raft, etc.).  There is no travel event afterwards. If you are following a road or airborne; you can cross a river automatically.  Crossing by road implies that a permanent bridge exists there (such as one between hexes 1318 and 1319).  Once you cross the river, you must still check for getting lost in the terrain of the new hex you are trying to enter. If you get lost after you cross the river, you count as across the river, but are still in the hex where you started the move. Tomorrow you can try again to enter a hex on the opposite side of the river. For example, if you start in 1017, try to cross to 1118, and cross the river but get lost going into 1118, you end your move back in 1017. However, you are now over the river, so tomorrow you can try to enter either 1016, 1117 or 1118, which are all over the river, and next to the place where you start.

OK, this is pretty convoluted.  The things I wasn’t entirely sure on are:

  1. If you get lost trying to cross a river, are there no events whatsoever, neither based on the hex you are trying to enter nor the river itself?  I think that’s what they’re getting at here, but it’s not clear and does kind of contradict the normal lost/event rule, where events are checked for regardless of getting lost.
  2. If you find a crossing and then the river event prevents you from crossing, do you check for a regular event?  I think not, but it’s not totally clear.

I made a flow chart of how I think it’s supposed to work.  If anyone out there is also playing, or wants to put in the effort of reading the above rules chunks and looking at my diagram to check for errors, I’d really appreciate it.  Here’s the diagram:

HelgaCon Saturday

Before I let it slip too far into distant memory, I want to follow up with a quick report on the games I played on Saturday at HelgaCon.  I’ve already covered my Friday night and Sunday morning earlier, so this should cover everything.


After getting up too early in the morning and eating a spectacular breakfast (thanks Brian and Paul!), I sat myself down to play in BigFella’s Thousand Year Sandglass game.  It’s basically a sand-box world with an Arabian twist, using Labyrinth Lord at it’s core but all the demi-humans have been replaced with very cool and thematic custom classes.  That said, Delta and I created a pair of ne’er-do-well human fighters that we’ve played for three years running now and I really look forward to playing every year.  The Jarib brothers were back for another go at riches beyond comprehension, and with some success this year.

BigFella always goes above and beyond with the minis for this one, as you can see here where we’re fighting a huge lizard chained under the sand of a corridor in a musty old tomb.  As you can tell from the description, BigFella is also very good and pushing interesting settings for the fights that are chock full of that Arabian Nights vibe.

OK, I’ve realized I have nothing really informative to say here about this game other than how freaking fun it was.  This year Delta was a bit of a stickler at the end in claiming some of the nicer treasures for himself and me, which made a lot of sense given that we’re the ones coming back every year while many other characters don’t make the repeat visit.  Still, I always feel a slight remorse that perhaps he and I stomp all over other players in this game.  Well, maybe we do, but screw it, with all the DMing we do at this event we deserve a romp through the desert!


In the afternoon I ran a session of Stonesky Delve, an Expeditious Retreat module run as a tournament back at GenCon 2010, which I happened to play in.  It’s a really great module, though a bit nasty on anyone volunteering to be the mapper.  The premise, of the first part at least, is to be more realistic in terms of spelunking, including a lot of 3D terrain.

Personally I think the second half of this module falls a little flat, but that first half is really fun.  I definitely recommend it, especially if you want to put your mapper through the wringer.



By evening it was time for the third installment of Delta’s run of the original G series modules.  For some odd reason, this year we only had 6 players.  In the past I’m pretty sure he’s gotten a full 8.  I picked the same character as I always have as did my brother Max.  That dope, his character’s biggest asset last year was his wand of fireballs — what use is that against Fire Giants?

We got it pretty rough in this one.  We tried our hardest to be sneaky coming in, but missed the hiding guard, and it was straight into the meat grinder from there.  At some point we managed to retreat (having lost one player), collect ourselves, and then come back the next day.  It was even worse on the second day, and ended with a TPK.

To be honest, I enjoyed G2 much more than G3.  Perhaps that was our fault for missing the hiding guard.  Perhaps we were at a disadvantage with only six players.  Had I realized at the start how good fire giant saves were, I might have lobbied at the start for an all fighter party (something I brought up at the end).  It was fun, sure, but I think it probably plays better in a campaign where a party can take more down-time to contemplate the problem and think of better ways to crack it.  As a convention game where players are inclined to be a bit more headstrong, I think it’s not at its best.

Now that we’ve completed the trilogy, it’s my hope to pick up some copies of these modules at next GenCon.  If I can’t find them at the GenCon auction, I may very well resort to ebay.  Either way, I expect to be reading these in the future, and may have more to say at that point.

So there you have it, HelgaCon as I remember it, which may be somewhat blurred or distorted given how sleep deprived I was the entire time.  Can’t wait for next year.

Hex Crawl Follow-Up

It struck me just now that Delta’s game was not the first OD&D based fully random hex-crawl convention game I’ve played.  In fact, if you look back to last August, I posted about a game I played at GenCon billed as OD&D which made heavy use of the old Judge’s Guild Wilderlands hex maps.

Here’s the post.

The funny thing is, everything in the paragraph above hints at a game that had all the makings of some serious fun.  And yet, if you read the post, you’ll see I was pretty critical of it.  In fact, it was one of the few convention games I actually contemplated leaving early.

I guess it comes down to this: you can’t just expect magic from random content generation.  You’ve got to bring something to the table.  You’ve got to riff off those random elements, find interesting ways to tie them together, and then be ready down the line to reject new randomness that doesn’t gel with what you’ve built so far.  It’s not an easy thing to do, and honestly I can’t even think of how you might approach teaching someone to do it.  Which is unfortunate, really, as it leaves us with this simple fact: some DM’s got it, and some don’t.

Which I guess is exactly the problem that’s sent WotC into such a tail-spin in recent years.

Hex Crawlin’

My HelgaCon was book-ended by hex crawls.  I started out Friday night running a game of Warhammer FRPG (2nd edition) with a nautical theme that involved the group plotting the coarse of their boat on a hex-map of the Empire’s coast, and ended with a game run by Delta using the OD&D suggested Outdoor Survival board (pictured to the right).  I find myself very intrigued by the practice, and have now introduced it to my home campaign.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me start with Friday night.

The Warhammer game essentially started with a vague idea that a nautical themed game might be fun, as there are lots of careers to support it.  I ended up with six characters: a Navigator, Mate, Engineer, Physician, Marine Sargent, and Journeyman Wizard.  The plot was simple: travel from point A to point B on a large map, at the end of which would be a large battle.  I wanted to introduce a couple elements: I wanted some stuff on board ship that I generally thought of as “Trouble Within”, like a skaven infestation, sabotage, mutiny, etc.  I also wanted some ship to ship combat.  And I wanted some top level thing to wrap these up together.

What I came up with was the macro-level map hex-crawl.  The players had a marker on the map that they could move a certain number of hexes each week, with bonuses for good navigation or crew command rolls.  Then I had a whole bunch of charts for random encounter generation, with different stuff and different chances based on whether they traveled along the coast or cut across large bays by going “into the deep”.  The charts included entries for the trouble within stuff, which I ran as just straight-up Warhammer with more detailed maps of the ship’s decks.  It also had entries for enemy ships for which we used a stripped down version of Dreadfleet to adjudicate.  And one entry that bridged the gap: a sea monster (could be fought at from range with cannons, when it comes in close it’s time for regular Warhammer combat).

All in all this game went reasonably well, though it was difficult keeping tabs on the pacing.  At first we zipped through the weeks as encounter checks failed and the players made it halfway there with no problems.  Then they hit a snag: a saboteur broke their rudder.  There was some nice roleplay elements there, a quick combat on the decks, and then a trip to port to fix their rudder.  At port they learned a certain area was rife with pirates, which they decided to risk, and then were promptly beset by pirates, which they decided to evade, only to be attacked by the sea monster.  Finally they made it to the end and faced off against two enemy pirate ships blockading the town they were trying to reach.  While it was fun, I can’t help but feel the entire thing felt a little rushed and out of control.  I kind of suspected at the time this format might make for a really cool long term campaign, but was perhaps ill-suited for convention play.

Fast-forward to Sunday, after a Saturday full of more standard dungeon-crawl style games.  Delta ran a game of OD&D on the Outdoor Survival board with a simple goal: collect 100,000 sp.  I think this suited the hex-crawl style a bit better.  We were allowed to explore the area at our leisure and I felt like the players were more responsible for setting the pace, as we had to find or not find the money in the time we were allotted.  We didn’t, by the way, but came reasonably close at around 60,000 sp.  There were several good fights, some perhaps silly moral debating over whether to sack a castle (one one hand, they were Lawful, on the other, their leader tried to extort our most powerful magic item from us), a fight in the woods against a bandit army, and finally an awesome raid on a castle full of thieves.  All in all I really enjoyed the crap out of this game, and when I got home I immediately pulled out my LBBs and my copy of Outdoor Survival to figure out how Delta did it.  Turns out, with very few changes from the text.

All this got me thinking about my own home campaign.  Actually, the way we do travel across the wilderness isn’t too different from how the LBBs tell it.  I have a hex map in my binder, which is not exposed to the players, but does give locations of towns, castles, and dungeons with interposing terrain.  The players describe to me where they want to go, and I plot their course for them, rolling for random encounters all along the way.  The only real difference here is the fact that the players don’t get to see the board.  So I started asking myself, is that a good thing?

Maybe if my players had the map to look at, they’d be encouraged to go explore the further reaches instead of just sticking to the roads.  Maybe they’d try to find clever short-cuts that lead them to discover areas they’ve never heard of before.  And ultimately, maybe having them control the tracking of movement through the world would make it one less thing I had to do myself.  I was starting to like this idea.

So at last night’s game I proposed it to my players, and they generally seemed in favor of the idea.  I printed up a large size version of the map and we were off.  Well, not really, last session the players just reached a dungeon they were trying to get to, so we spent the entire session with the marker on a single hex as they explored the dungeon.  Still, it was actually a really good session, and it may be another one or two before the players decide it’s time to hit the road again.  When they do, I’ll be sure to report how that works out for us.

HelgaCon 5


Been awfully quiet around here recently.  My apologies, work and life have got in the way of gaming and blogging I”m afraid.  That said, this past weekend was HelgaCon, and the only reason I didn’t post about it coming up was the simple fact that I was so busy making it happen.  For those who don’t know, HelgaCon is a mini-convention that I organize.  This year we had 20 people all in a lovely house down near the Cape for a weekend of gaming and, well, mostly just gaming.  Very little of anything else really, including sleeping.

I’ll go into more detail in future posts, but for now, here are some highlights:

  • The house was awesome.  I really wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get a place for so many people.  Houses that big tend to be pretty extravagant, which leads to much higher prices.  I luckily happened upon the Idlewild, a former 19th century hotel now rented as a large vacation home with very reasonable off-season rates.  The owner was extremely helpful and easy to work with, the house was gorgeous, and everyone commented throughout about how happy they were with the location.  I expect we’ll be there again next year.
  • Two new guys joined us that despite the “6 degrees of Paul” game played during introductions at this thing could get to me in just two hops, none of us had never met.  They turned out to be very nice, fun to game with, and as luck would have it, expert breakfast chefs.  I was having trouble getting volunteers for KP and they took up the slack for both breakfasts.  I have to applaud them for their chutzpah in going away for a weekend to game with 18 strangers and make them all breakfast to boot.  My hat is off to you guys.
  • The games, as usual, were awesome.  My games conveniently organized themselves in a vague crescendo of fun.  Not to say I didn’t have fun at my earlier games, they were all great, but I did find that as the weekend progressed I was enjoying myself more and more and it really ended on a high note for me.  The only downside is that now I’m hitting a few withdrawal symptoms — I can’t believe there’s no game today.
  • Delta’s hex-crawl on the Outdoor Survival board, per OD&D text, was really hugely enjoyable for me.  Our goal was simple: gather 100,000 sp.  We only hit 61,000.  I seriously want another try.
  • I shifted the evening games from 7-11 to 8-midnight.  My original thought was that this gave folks an hour to cool down after gaming and still get to bed by midnight.  Who was I kidding, folks were up jawwing well past 2 am every time.  The 8 o’clock start time is far more realistic for Friday as folks struggle to get down after work (location in Plymouth was a real boon in that regard this year though).  On Saturday, having 2 hours for dinner was very nice, and it gave everyone a chance to breathe and actually socialize with their fellow gamers, which I think really does help the general atmosphere.
  • Another bonus of being just an hour away instead of further out on the cape is I felt a little less rushed getting everyone out the door and the house tidied before I left.  I managed to get out by 4, even though we had the house until 5.  In fact, I think in future it might be nice to have some kind of 30 minute or so formal gathering of folks as a deneument to the event.  Like an awards ceremony or something, just to cap off the weekend and make it feel a bit less abrupt going from gaming to packing and leaving.  I’ll have to think about that, as there are no awards to give, so I’m not sure what kind of context to put to such a thing.

OK, that’s everything off the top of my head.  Pictures and specifics about games will follow.