Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I had a few goals of my own going into my bachelor party gaming session. One of them was:

I have Gygax' Role-Playing Mastery and though I don't think I'd recommend it-- it seems to spend a lot of time talking about the obvious, one thing did catch my eye. On page 83 Gary talks about adding flavor to games and gives a list of 7 things to shoot for:
  1. wonder & fear
  2. adventure & heroism
  3. problem solving
  4. role-playing
  5. combat, conflict & battle
  6. group operation
  7. enlightenment & education
Well, actually you can see it's more than seven things. Three, four and five seem pretty straightforward to me but the others are interesting. I really felt my session in the abandoned nunnery was a success because it elicited fear-- was it Jeff Rients touching on the similarities between gaming and horror movies? Anyway, I feel I can design scenarios to evoke fear. And it works. And it is a cool goal to have. But wonder?

How would you evoke that? I would like to try. Just describing things with words, can it ever be the same as seeing the Grand Canyon, or Bridalveil Falls? So, as I was brainstorming for the bachelor party session I always had that in the back of my mind, what would be marvelous, what would make the players pause, surprise them. I'm not sure if I pulled it off.

Part of the problem may be cliche, the players all pretty much expected something big and bad down that hole. And my connubial temple visit sort of turned into a Pirates of the Caribbean ride (at least in my head). But I'm not convinced you can evoke wonder with verbal description. Have you managed it?

Epithalamium - Post-mortem

Sorry to drag this out, it gives me a reason to come back and post. It also gave me a chance to reflect a little more coolly on the session (I'm pretty self-critical). I'll write about the session in general and then zoom in on certain themes.

Overall, the groom seemed to have a blast, laughing quite a bit. Kaiser's player who hasn't played since high school was enthused enough to suggest we meet monthly to game. Garrett's player is what my grandma would have called a card, he is quite funny and throws himself into roleplaying, and while he can be a little much at times I think he definitely added to the fun factor of play. I've been gaming with him in a 4e campaign as a fellow player but I think I'll invite him whenever we get together for S&W in the future.

As for the adventure, the start seemed to drag a little: they saw the opening ceremony, and had to decide how to enter the temple, then follow couples in. It took a while for any kind of conflict or tension to occur. Pretty much when Ehud cast charm person it shifted from an observation of a living temple to an adventure.

Even in the bowels of the temple there wasn't much going on until they encountered the room of birds. That combat lasted forever for old school play! I had all combat in the swirling screeching birds give -4 to hit, so the players survived but they couldn't hit their foes either. And they weren't just standing in the room wacking at each other, they were running from door to door as the guards tried to flank them and catch them outside the room. So, it lasted almost too long, but at least they had some tactical decisions to make.

They didn't really want to explore the temple much, that damn hole was too much a draw. Serves me right I guess. I suppose I could have had the priests put a stone cap on it or placed guards around it. So several of my interesting rooms were never seen.

Now that I think of it ol' Mah-Kuss was kind of a cliche-- the god which is really some foul creature being fed sacrifices? If I ran it again I think I would try for something more unexpected, maybe Mah-Kuss is a god, but his avatar require 665 bodies to contain his powerful essence. Down the hole, and the players are suddenly ringed by hundreds and hundreds of young women speaking with one voice.

I think I'll write more about how the goals worked in another post, but I was surprised that two of the players didn't seem to even try to pursue their primary goals. Maybe they were waiting for some sign from me or didn't know what they were supposed to do but . . . ?

We always joke about people wearing beards or capes when they game so this time, mid-game, I left to use the restroom and came back with an ornately embroidered robe on, representing the high priest of Mah-Kuss. They seemed to be surprised and amused by that. After 5+ hours of play by that point I was losing my spontaneous humor, so I invited them to put on the robe and give some words to the assembled couples-- I think some of that ended up as video on somebody's Facebook.

In the end, it was fun. I have some things to brush up on-- movement in combat, dungeon layout-- but that's how you learn and get better.

I think I'll make another post soon on some more abstract ideas from the session.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Epithalamium - The Recap part 2

The party not being satisfied with what it had accomplished and not being daunted by losing most of their hirelings plotted to investigate the offeratorial hole in the ziggurat. Using the proceeds from selling the gear off of the slain temple guards they found more hirelings, bought rope, and down the hole they went.

The vast chamber was only dimly lit. directly under the hole was a pile of treasure and bones. Before the party had much chance of sifting through the jumble a huge shape moved toward them from out of the darkness.

What emerged looked like a 40' long pale caterpillar with tentacles waving around a gaping maw and a large eye ominously moving around on a tail. This eye quickly turned the hirelings Puru, and Rajeesh to stone. Kaiser and one of his hirelings lobbed pints of oil at the maw and successfully lit the great worms head on fire, before it managed to bite Kaiser in two. Gorlac, also bravely chopping at the creature's head, was bit in two in turn.

On the creatures flank hireling attempted to blind the foul eye by throwing handfuls of treasure at it. Several more were turned to stone until Garret Osmond managed to land a massive blow with his mace on it, forcing the creature to retract it in pain. Kaiser's hireling, the 60 year old with wodden stumps for both feet somehow managed to pick up his dead master's bastard sword and swing the killing blow.

The glistening hulk trembled and lay still. Only two of the original party remained, but their quick filling of backpack netted them treasure worth 5,100 gold pieces.

Poor Gorlac will never know the fate of his mother, although it may be safe to assume they share the same grave now. Poor Kaiser seems to have succeeded posthumously in desecrating the temple of the fould Mah-Kuss that he considered a demon. Garret Smallwood never even inquired about his long lost sister but seemed pleased with his new wealth. Ehud the club footed managed to find a bride and become rich, but seems to have failed miserably at honoring the temple of Mah-Kuss, if only for all the chaos and bloodshed he helped instigate.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Epithalamium - The Recap part 1

Once every ten years the Ziggurat of Mah-Kuss the Eternal Bridegroom is opened to the public. At all other times it is the domain solely of Mah-Kuss and his priests, but during the festival couples come from miles around to ask the blessing of Mah-Kuss and to be wed under his auspices.

This festival brings sellers and merchants, gawkers and tourists as well as people with more private goals. Among the crowd this decade were the fighters Gorlac and Kaiser; Ehud the clubfooted mage; and Garrett Osmond the cleric.

A procession of voluptious young women, clad only in white robes, rode five pure white pregnant mules up the ziggurat's steps and to the a circular hole in its crown. Each women carried a precious gift which they dropped into the hole as an offering to Mah-Kuss. They then jumped in themselves, disappearing in the darkness below into what seemed to be a vast space.

Our staunch adventurers were incredibly tempted by that hole. And only after much discussion did they and their mostly female hirelings decide to follow the teeming crowd of couples into the ziggurat itself. Garret began questioning his local hireling Anand while in line about the customs involved with the event. He also attempted to woo a women in line, with little success; she expected him to have something of value to offer Mah-Kuss before even considering wedding him.

Inside, after some stalling with the traditional kiss of the giant stone phallus, the group passed through heavy velevet drapes into a large space, dimly lit and smelling of moisture. Before them was a lagoon of milk and couples were getting into wooden boats carved in the shape of lotus flowers. Each boat had a priest acting as a gondolier.

The party noticed that the priests embarking on the boats had different color robes of silk: blue and green. They also noticed there seemed to be some friction between these two sects. As the boats floated past islands of baboons and a giant peacock, Ehud cast a charm spell on his priest-gondolier.

Caru the priest in blue, told Ehud, his new fast friend, of a quick way down to the next level of the ziggurat. As he rowed off course the surrounding boats jostled after him with shouts and arguing. As the priests argued on shore the party and its hirelings headed down a ladder into a large room. The room was featureless but for a giant stone egg. After finding that the egg rested on the floor and not on a pedestal, Garret Osmond rallied the hirelings to heave on the egg. They egg began to roll after which it smashed into a doorway with a crash, blocking it.

The square room had doors on all sides. The party went west. The wide corridors were lined with life-sized stone statues of women, presumably some of the 665 brides of Mah-Kuss. They explored several empty rooms, heard what sounded like a baboon through a wall, and saw a nude couple frolicking happily past. They also encountered two green-clad priests while Ehud quoted from the Codex of Mah-Kuss that "marriage is a yoke" The priests asked "A yolk? As in an egg?" with furrowed brows upon which Garret and Gorlac proceeded to quickly brain them.

After more wandering the party entered a very large chamber filled with exotic birds. These cockatiels, doves, canaries, and various birds-of-paradise raised a cacaphony and flew back and forth through the air as they entered. As the party entered a party of temple guards also entered through an opposite door. These oddly pale folk were dressed in gold tinted lorica hamata and carried gladii.

What followed next was a confusion of birds, of fleeing, of entering the bird room again, of baboons and guards. At the end of it Kaiser was unconsious, Gorlac had brained several opponents, Garret had tried baboon carcasses as a missile weapon and Ehud was long on his way fleeing back to the ladder.

The party and what was left of the ill-starred hirelings met up with a group of six priests clad in green. They convinced them that they had been set upon by priests clad in blue. The Green priests, outraged, escorted the party up by way of another ladder.

The party found themselves where the boat ride would have ended if they had completed it. Another large phallus to be kissed, velvet drapes to be passed through and they were in a huge room full of couples ready to be wed.

A physical confrontation between green and blue priests was stopped by the high priest who proceeded to marry all the couples. One of those couples was Ehud and his former hireling Indira, the drunk with the remarkable beard.

to be continued . . .

Friday, September 25, 2009

Epithalamium VI

Arrgh, the spatial aspect of a dungeon is the hardest. Brainstorming all the possible oddities, puzzles and interesting sites is fun, but I want players to have actual choices. If they choose a hallway that never leads them to one of my favorite set pieces, so be it. I can't make this a linear run through everything I've come up with.

But how to organize it then? I'm thinking partially by logic-- how does the temple work, what functions does it need to fulfill? I don't think I've ever designed an adventure around a location that was still functioning, it is certainly different.

But my organization can't be solely logic, right? I'd like the players to have some combats semi-early on, then some puzzles, choices, then harder combats etc. So, I suppose this is game designing, not building a simulation.

I like having brainstormed the possibilities first though, I think I could almost improvise the map, based on the rhythm of action and player interest. That's a little scary though, so I'm hoping to wake up early tomorrow and make the hard decisions.

I think the key is to have a an idea of what players might try (of course you can never predict every possibility) and have clues ready to help them guide their decisions, so if for example, they want to tie two 50' ropes together and descend directly to the lair of "Mah-Kuss", good for them, they'll hear the movement of something very large and the screams of one of the women self-sacrifices that survived . . . umm no longer surviving. If they want to start assaulting any priest in sight, well there are those oddly pale guards in lorica hamata . . . and their buddies that will come running. If they want to wait until night and try to sneak in, I have to think about what will be going on in the temple then.

Here are a few more fruitful marriage quotes:
  • And when will there be an end of marrying? I suppose, when there is an end of living! (Tertullian)
  • Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words. (Plautus)
One last thought, what if I made pdfs of possible features, rumors, and player goals and then asked readers to come up with their own map/ziggurat layout? Seeing various different layouts would be cool. Of course you all might not be as interested in the material, but it could be a standard one-off for bachelor party old school gaming :)

Epithalamium V

Coming down to the wire now. I think I'll have 4 players. Three of which have some D&D experience, but no old school play. One guy very familiar with 3.5 was all geared up to generate a character. I told him not to worry about it that we would do it on the spot. He was quite surprised.

Even if these guys were all familiar with Swords & Wizardry I wouldn't want them bringing characters pre-made because I realize how fun and ridiculous the process of rolling the dice in order and rolling up hirelings can be.

I found some short quotes around the internet about marriage. How's this: Imagine three archways passed under with three inscriptions
  • Marriage is the triumph of hope over experience (Samuel Johnson)
  • Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence (Oscar Wilde)
  • Marriage is the triumph of Mah-Kuss over another Bride!
That reminds me, I keep stumbling over whether this Mah-Kuss is the Unwed, having 665 brides for all enternity, but no wives, or whether he is The Great Husband, he of 665 Wives. So I decided that this would be a point of contention between two sects. I'm not sure how the conflict between these priests will come into play, perhaps an actual battle? One school (He is Ever a Groom but Never Wed) in green silk, the other (Each Bride Is Conquered as a Wife) blue silk.

This quote seems fruitful:
  • Never strike your wife - even with a flower. (Hindu Proverb)
Aha, my Deadly Distraction the Glass Golem. This could be a warning inscription. I'll just change the shape of the statue to that of a dancing woman.

Also, I can't believe I forgot that old chesnut: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue. I think I'll include that as a puzzle, maybe statues of Mah-Kuss' brides will fit the bill.

I still need to type up & print out some rumor cards and the goals. I want to type up a list of titles for Mah-Kuss so I don't have to completely rely on improvisation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Epithalamium IV

Here's what I've got so far: The Great Ziggurat of Epithalamium dedicated to Mah-Kuss the Ever-Wedded is off limits to all but the priests of He Who Takes All Brides, except, every ten years during the Festival of Fecundity. That festival is occuring now and for several days couples and their families will be streaming through the temples antechamber seeking the Connubial One's blessing.

The players, for various reasons, will be tempted to sneak deeper into the temple than allowed, to investigate, pillage, and desecrate-- depending on their inividual goals.

I had sort of an inkling that giving motivations to each player would be helpful to get a one-off game rolling, but The Rusty Battle Axe's comments were helpful in pushing me further. I start getting a little worried giving players lists of prioritized goals because it seems so different than any D&D I ever played and it seems so boardgamish. And yet, I also have the feeling that this is one of those counterintuitive things that will make the game much more fun (especially in the circumstances of this session). I'm not quite sure why. I think it may be because I am asking for a little story from the players-- not just expecting it to emerge from 4 hours of play-- but I'm putting it into the players hands (no kidnappings or roof collpsings or . . . railroading). So with that in mind here are some more ideas for player goals:
  • find a bride (or groom) -- obvious eh? Didn't occur to me for a while. I think this should be possible even in the framework of a dungeon crawl because there will be captives and priestesses sprinkled throughout the temple, and marriage during this festival is very propitious!
  • Find out what happened to your mother /sister -- again could be any one of the women encountered, maybe I'll just assign a percentage chance that each woman encountered is the one.
  • Desecrate the temple because of a poor marriage -- Mah-Kuss is a sham, you say! Perhaps the characters parents' marriage was ill-starred or the character's own, either way the temple must be dishonored!
  • Honor the temple -- carry some special token of tribute deep into the temple
  • Steal -- you owe money and need some of the ol' eternal groom's trinkets, he won't miss em.
On Adult Content
Americans are generally puritanical. It bugs me that television can show death by beating but a boob flash is considered morally corrosive. So, while I don't want this to devolve into a big bawdy joke, I do want this to include sexuality. I was thinking of the temples in Japan devoted to phalluses and the Blarney stone and thought what if I combine them? I think my players would probably squirm a little to have to kiss a giant stone phallus to obtain deeper access into the temple.

I envision the temple to be one of fertility and fecundity as well as marrige, so maybe there's a big room with newly wedded couples having intercourse. I don't want it to turn into titillation, I'm actually thinking of scenes that will make my players awkward and stand out if they are trying to sneak into the temple: "So, apparently this is the part of the tour everyone gets busy. You all are the only ones left standing, what do you do now?"

Some more ideas in general:
  • An obese women representing a Venus-figure tended by 6 men, a key needed to pass to the next chamber is hidden under one of her massive breasts
  • wicker women-- these effigies attack, weapons include a few bows
  • the groom is a poet in real life-- so I was thinking it would be fun to have a religious text of Mah-Kuss that has 665 metaphors for marriage and that these are callsigns or passwords to move through the temple-- only the priests can't remember all 665 metaphors so anything plausible presented by the players will work
  • A gargantuan egg-- no powers, no threat, just an oddity
  • The groom and I both spent some time in Poland in real life-- so I was thinking of working some in-jokes in Polish into the adventure, maybe have the local village or some of the hirelings be named Polish curse words.
Today is actually super busy for work, but I couldn't sleep with all these ideas rolling around in my head. I'd like to look up quotes/riddles/limericks online about marriage, maybe sprinkle them throughout the temple as inscriptions etc.

Friday I'll have some time to think of how to lay this all out spatially so that the players have choices. Right now my idea of a chaperoned visit of couples into and out of the temple's antechamber seems pretty linear but I'm imagining once they sneak deeper it becomes wide open from there.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Epithalamium III

More brainstorming:
  • 5 sacrificial women riding 5 snow white, pregnant mules, a sixth goes riderless
  • Inside the ziggurat a lagoon of milk
  • In that lagoon, an island with holy baboons (vicious)
  • Wooden boats carved in the shape of tulips to traverse the milk-lake
  • A hallway of censers -- so many that it is nearly impossible to walk down it without sending them clattering, burning oil splashing everywhere
  • Piles of saffron, which reveal pit-traps
  • Great White (vicious) apes chained to captives who are in turn chained to posts - - catching the attention of the savage beasts will cause them to rip the poor victims in two as they pursue
  • Peacocks! (my grandparents actually owned peacocks -- in a wrecking yard no less-- so I'm quite familiar with the lovely devils-- their cry that sounds like "Help!" the buzz of the male's tail as he displays.) Maybe a giant peacock?
  • Voluptuous women crying to be freed from rattan cages -- succubi ( or maybe just one of them)
  • Caryatid columns hidden amongst the many statues of Mah-Kuss' wives

Epithalamium II

I was up around 3:00AM thinking about the possible bachelor party adventure. Many of my original thoughts were things that happened to and around the players, plots basically. But I know the trouble that lies that way. So I've revised my thinking, this needs to be a location.

Grognardia's post the other day about funny names gave me an idea. See, I've long been one of those folks who've cringed at anything that didn't take the game seriously enough. But I'm revising my views as I see that players can take a game very seriously even if it has silly elements. So, I started with my friends name, Marcus and came up with Mah-kuss the Eternal Bridegroom. And immediately I started thinking of things that would amuse my friends: He of the 12 Titles, He of the 665 Brides, Mah-Kuss - the Tumescent Shadow, Mah-Kuss the Turgid, He Who Would Eat His Young if He Had Any, etc.

I'm currently imagining a ziggurat built in the forgotten past to honor this god/demon and his many brides. Inhabited by a albino, round-eyed, tribe of worshippers. (The groom and I were just talking about how 99% of fantasy badies are dark-skinned, so I'll buck the trend here). And at the base of the ziggurat's interior an avatar of Mah-Kuss which is a huge, bloated, albino worm- similar to a purple worm, except the posionous stinger is an eye that petrifies.

I was also thinking about building in references to the players, although that would be easier if it was switched to a female demon with hundreds of statues of her grooms, hmmm . . . Maybe his groomsmen can have statues and I'll give them imperious names and have them look similar to the players.

As far has things happening, I do still envision the start of play is that all these characters are escorting a small party of women to deliver a gift to Mah-Kuss. And these women then jump with their gifts happily to their deaths into the bowels of the ziggurat. If I make the treasures they jump with enticing enough, there should be plenty of reason to search for a way in to try and retrieve the goodies.

Random sidenote. I have an idea for a golden bowl that the players discover somehow which, when its cover is lifted reveals a somewhat gruesome lipless mouth set in flesh. This mouth will make proclomations and answer questions in confusing and problematic ways. Yeah, that interests me.

Monday, September 21, 2009


One of my players and good friends is getting married. This coming weekend there is going to be a bachelor party. Not your traditional bachelor party mind you, drinking beer and playing video games was mentioned. One of the other attendees who has not played with us mentioned D&D. The groom would actually like to game. So I am trying to throw something together in a week, not even sure who will be there and if they all are interested in gaming.

In poetry there is a kind of occasional poem written specifically for a wedding, so I figure why not an adventure? Have you ever written an adventure for a special occasion?

I was thinking about the whole marriage theme and came up with some ideas for an adventure locale:
  • A "bride" offered to something scary and powerful, à la, King Kong
  • A palace or temple devoted to a spouse, à la: The Taj Mahal'
  • A temple of some sort of demon with 666 brides
  • A mating ground of some awesome and dire beasts, perhaps dragons or chimera
  • An alchemical theme, where marriage is metaphorical and various compounds are combined to create something grand à la: philosophers's stone
Maybe my guys can be escorting a bride to her groom, or delivering a gift to an unsavory destination. Thoughts?


I've been doing twice the work for half the pay this season at my job. Next year looks even more dire. All my mental RAM has gone towards trying to do a noticeably good and creative job. I miss posting to this blog. I have a post to follow.