Monday, April 23, 2012

Monty Haul Adventures: Part 3

The continuing report on items deemed "ridiculously powerful" by normal players and DMs everywhere...

6. The Ring of Super Powers

Origins: A fighter named Falbern stole the ring from the land of An-Kar (a dangerous realm populated by giant size monsters, 25 feet or taller) and threw it into the Dark Endless Pit (a 15 levels deep underworld type realm, which was not endless). Unbelievably, Paul gave it to our party of 6th level fighters (bestowed upon you by "Durin the warrior, to aid you on your quest").

Powers: The ring (3 times a day) could detect: magic, illusions, traps, secret doors, approaching characters, animals, invisibility, and ESP. It gave the wearer 50% magic resistance, and reduced your saving throw scores by 2. It was made of light iron and had a bird's head engraved on it (allowing you to fly and climb at a movement rate of 40'/25" per round). Any class could us it, so we passed it around among ourselves during our adventures. Our treasure trove increased almost 4 times than usual, the ring of super powers considerably swaying our chances to discover hidden stashes of gold and gems.

DM versus PCs: Okay, bear with me here for a minute. Technically, it couldn't detect alignment. Or detect poisons. It was worst than it sounds. Paul threw in the evil double of the ring (which was exactly the same as the good version of the ring of super powers in every way, but it was evil and poisonous). We passed it around, and, apparently, didn't notice the switch- a neutral half elf ally "borrowed" the ring, and 'unknowingly' mixed up the rings (and turned the good ring over to an evil wizard, disguised as the half-elf's best friend). It hurts just thinking about it. Half of us got sick. The other half died. I was in the half that died. The evil wizard,"Mal-Vred, the Wicked Wizard of the West ", still has it, as far as I know. 

7. The Ring of Legends (for magic casters only)

Origin: This ring was created by dwarves and wizards to help increase one's innate magical abilities, (and obviously allowed the wearer to gain all of the bard’s abilities). It was discovered in a troll's treasure trove, inside of Ice Peak Mountain.

Powers: Nobody played bards in my early gaming career. I'd heard of it being done, but I never sat at the table with a bard PC until much, much later. But the bard's powers were pretty impressive. The ring of legends was a way to get around all of the multi class headaches, and gain all the bard's battle/magic enhancements (allowing the spell caster to know two additional spells per level when worn). It also increased the number of spells per day you may cast (3 extra spells + 1 spell per level of the caster). How? Well, the ring of legends was home to a genie type creature named Wordsworth, who was styled after British rock stars (mostly, it was a way for us to "out top" each other with our Beatles imitation). We lived by kids who took piano and guitar lessons, (my family included) and the music of The Beatles was very popular around our parts, because we eventually learned how to play their songs. And while nobody actually sang at the table, we did do our, " Beatlesques" routine ("This is bloody insane, mates. We're getting gongs. Then the blooming stage caved in..."). Then we saw Spinal Tap. It was impossible not to say “Even up to eleven” sometime during the game. But I digress.

The ring's main purpose was to allow a magic user to gain more spells earlier (since the spell listing had so many spells to pick from, it was easier to try and get them all, instead of trying to choose the spells you'd may or may not need) and it gave the magic caster a better chance at surviving more than 4 combat rounds (and maybe to fifth level). Plus the whole legend/lore business sped up the game ("Just ask Wordsworth what that insignia, symbol, or ancient rune means").

DM versus PCs: The ring of legends fell out of use, when the group started to splinter off-the kids moved away, John Lennon was murdered, and D+D was slowly replaced by TOP SECRET and computer games : Video games from the arcades could be played in the comfort of your living room, and Adventure (and later, Ultima) was slowly cutting into time we'd spend playing D+D. Everybody I originally played D+D with was gone by the time D+D's second edition came out. Those books never appealed to me. It would take the D+D Rules Cyclopedia book (and Jason's DMing) to revive my D+D playing career. In the meantime, I had other interests. I wasn't playing anymore, but I kept writing stuff up anyways. "Phantom Gaming".

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Monty Haul Adventures Part 2

We all tried to play magic users, but we never made it past fourth level, unless there was blatant “fudging” of the die. So we came up with…

3. The Box of Magic Missiles - The power to wield a special wand of magic missiles, like an 8th level magic user, without the class restrictions, and in "cigar box form".

Origin: This item was found in an expanded network from the Caves of Chaos. We didn’t really “play” the caves, as much as we built off of them. You'd have to drop down into a large chasm filled with cold black water. And if you swam through a tunnel, you'd surface in the middle of the underground island named Aurora (We were all big fans of early Aurora model kits). We discovered the box in an abandoned old ruins belonging to a long dead mad wizard pirate, Captain Zander Black. He was kind of the overlord of that part of the world. His offspring went on to be one of our biggest nemeses, (Zander Black the 12th). He was a villain's villain, but I digress...

Powers: The box would unleash magic missiles that hit anything for 1d4 +1 points of damage. Specifically, it will fire 3 separate magic missiles per charge and could fire 2 charges in one round (a total of six magic missiles or 6-24 points of damage). And don't forget, it's an automatic hit (a non magic user does not require a "to hit" roll). After we wiped out dozens of opponents, Jeff decided to put some restrictions on the box.

DM versus PCs: After "three weeks" of zapping and blasting our enemies, it had to be recharged (with magic missile spells from a magic user of 8th level or higher). But that was a ploy. In reality, the box was subject to an enlarge and wizard lock spells (making it physically and magically impossible to open- you'd need a strength of 25 to move the box, or an 18th level magic user's knock spell to lift the lid). He said after using the box so many times, week in and week out, we had triggered it's secondary effect. Needless to say, we didn't use it much after that. Nobody wanted to find out it's other effects. Luckily wands of magic missiles started showing up after that.  

4. The Libram of Magic Speed Reading ( or Spencer's Speed Reading Hand Book for Wizards, M.M.E.O. Member of The Most Excellent Order of Wizards from the Serge Alyn (pronounced “Surge - Ah - Lynn” like “Adrenaline” ) Empire. The Serge Alyn, (outlined by my younger brother and myself), was a race from our Twilight Gods campaign, a Deities and Demigods inspired game world.

Origin: Found in the Land of the Sleeping Dragon. Early on, we killed many young (and adult), dragons in our games. It was customary to end with a dragon battle, having been huge fans of The Hobbit (the book, and parts of the Rafkin Bass cartoon) and Godzilla movies. It was a hard habit to break. Besides, it was called Dungeons and Dragons.

Powers: You spend six hours reading how to become a special speed reader (this book was available to all classes) and then you could read all those books and manuals listed in the DMG (which take a week to a month to read, and then disappear to ‘who knows where’) and it reduced your reading time. After reading the hand book, the player was imbued with the power to read magic, any languages, or any spell book, libram, or grimore (and what would take a week to read only took an hour, a month to read only took a day). Basically, the PC could read anything up to 10-20 times faster than normal.

It was designed to speed up our adventures and "over haul" the rules pertaining to magic books. In one adventure, I allowed a thief to read a book on magic traps in less than 3 minutes, so he could build a fire trap to stop an attacking mummy in the nick of time (thank you Star Trek’s Arena). The handbook also had the power to 'locate object': it'd point the possessor into the direction of any desired magical tome (and was a great way to start a new game).

DM versus the PCs: The handbook was accepted and regularly used in our games, but others were outright banned from being allowed into the campaign (The Book of Endless Wishes, The Libram of Power Words, The Symbols of Dragon Control, The Guide to the Universe, with built-in teleporter / dimension door and the Book of Super Improved Back Stabbing, to name a few). Other DMs didn’t allow it, spotting it for the power shifting tactics it granted.

But that was nothing compared to…

5. The Cloak of the Grand Master

Origin: This cloak was found in a lower sub chamber in the Lost City, located in the Swamp of the Nagas.

Powers: This black cloak gave the player the powers of a 10th level assassin or a 10th level monk (in was interchangeable because everybody wanted to be either a ninja or Caine from the TV show Kung Fu). It was also our way to get the thief's abilities, and the fighter's riding ability and the clerics saving throws scores. The wearer could also employ the following illusionist spells (at their character's true level) three times a day: change self (altering the body, clothing and equipment for 3d6 rounds + 2 rounds per level of experience), fog cloud (it looked like a green cloudkill, but functioned like an obscuring wall of fog: a cube of smoke measuring 6 feet per side/ per level of experience), and magic mirror. Best of all, it had a secret pocket that acted like a bag of holding.

DM versus PCs: It was everything but fireproof, cold resistant, or able to reflect lightning bolts. And no matter how often my group tried to have Jeff send us on a quest for more fabric to mend, replace or save the cloak, he'd never allow it. He realized later what a mistake it was to have one player running around with gloves laced with poisons, able to dole out numerous (and devastating) 'open hand' attacks, climb out of any deep pit, and get paid extra for “neutralizing the threat”. And that was just for starters. I think the cloak lasted three of four sessions before it dissolved into dust. Maybe less.   

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Monty Haul Adventures Part 1

The following magic items were some of the more famous examples of "Monty Haulisms" (and represent only a small portion of the early treasures). They live on because they were eventually turned against us (one way or the other), by the cruel streak that takes over every DM (myself included), in the stages of playing the game. So without further delay, here are a few of the most ridiculous artifacts to pop out of our AD+D adventures. Enjoy!


1. The Armor of the Cosmos

Origin: A magical suit of armor made from a magic slab of adamantium, dating back to the Era of the Volcano Kings. And before the Jackie Chan movie!

Powers: Of course it was weightless and gave the wearer automatic '18's in every ability score, was fire resistant (to both normal and magical fires), and gave you an AC score of 2, but it didn't stop there. Every third round of combat, it'd improve you Armor Class by 2 (so, after 9 rounds of combat, you'd be impossible to hit with an AC Score of -4). And it’d stay that score for the next 12 hours. Plus, if your opponents landed a hit, the armor absorbed half of the total damage, and the other half was automatically re-directed back to the opponents on your next successful 'to hit' roll. It was our answer to a force field-type device (without fussing over magic resistance issues). And 3 times a day, it was able to cast the following spells, like a 7th level magic user: burning hands, cure serious wounds, fly, invisibility (15’), mirror image, and protection from evil, 10'. It was the armor that could turn any 3rd level fighter into an indestructible demi-god.  

The DM versus the PC(s): There was only one way to stop it: A failed saving throw vs. a thrown vial/potion of gaseous form. Poof, the armor dissolved into a harmless gas, leaving the PC behind, standing around in his cheesy padded undergarments (AC 9 or 10). Then the DM used it against us, explaining that, due to our over reliance, and poor maintenance, the armor had become cursed, and was imbued with all fire spells (cast by a 9th level magic user). The last time we saw it, (after shooting 90' long jet flames at us), it was flying off into another adventure, beyond the Sea of Mists. 

2. The Mask of the Banshees

Origin: A silver helm/mask from beyond the Phantom Gateway in the Land of Skulls.

Powers: It's better to run away and fight another day, unless you are wearing the Helm of the Banshees. Aside from enabling the wearer to, at will, 3 times a day, (we thought that Black Bolt from “The Inhumans” was cool), unleash a banshee's death wail (opponents, in range, must make their saves or die, or if 10+ levels, suffer 10d8+10 points of damage), it also forced a saving throw (vs. a geas spell), to those outside the wail's range of effect(up to 20’). The geas spell could command subjects of 10 HD or less ("to drop your weapon, and stand still"). Plus, twice a day, the crown enabled the wearer to steal 15% magic resistance from magical creatures. And once a day, you may chose one opponent in combat as your "rival monster", granting you an extra +5 for 'to hit' and damage rolls, as well as a +3 penalty to their saving throws.

The DM versus the PC(s): Eventually, the DM decided enough charges had been used without any side effects. So, one was created. Using any of the mask's powers opened the wearer to a Constitution Check with a +4 penalty to the roll. Failed rolls meant the wearer passed out for 1d6 hours, days, or months (DM's choice), and the helm was inoperable until the wearer regained consciousness. Frankly, it was got to be too risky to use after that. And besides, the other players got tired of dragging the unconscious adventurer around for most of the game.

As a side note: The mask was in a treasure chamber blocked by a series of traps designed around the early British import modules/magazines, to challenge the PC's balance ( Dexterity + Strength/2 = the number you had to roll under to successfully climb, swing, or navigate over two 20' deep pit traps), the PCs toughness ( Willpower + Constitution/2 = the number you had to roll under to successfully walk through a hallway of never dying walls of fire) and then there was some strange writing you had to decode carved over the entrance way ( a straight Intelligence Score check meant you got it, even if you, as the player, couldn't figure it out at the "get go"). But even after by-passing all of these traps; didn't mean you were 'home free'. There was also the monster guarding the treasure trove. Of course, it was a dragon, not a banshee.

 I mention this because, as far as I know, the Helm of the Banshee is still hidden behind a loose stone in Lord Byrne’s bedroom (all these years later). It’s practically unguarded.



Friday, April 13, 2012

Monty Haul Games: Introduction

These next posts are dedicated to all those great, silly, misinterpreted 'monty haul' adventures we played back in the day. I'm including seven of the more famous magic artifacts. These tossed 'game balance' out the window, and provided something of a wish fulfillment for the players (ex. Like wielding a magic sword that mimics the power of a light-saber).

I suppose there are two types of "Monty Haul" adventures. 1). The PCs get an exorbitant amount of gold pieces and magic items. 2). The PCs get an artifact that possesses 22 powers and abilities (thus, magically 'over-hauling' the rules of the game). We were guilty of both types, but at the time, it was great fun for us (not so much for Jeff, James, and Paul - my rotating DM's at the time).

Embracing Advanced D+D didn't come easy at first. We fell into the typical trap: "Monty Hauling" (i.e. "splurging") on magic weapons and killing ancient dragons with millions in gold pieces for experience points. Over time, we eventually settled into something that resembled a RPG.

When our old DM, Jeff Berkley*, took away Tom’s  Armor of the Cosmos, we knew our Monty Hauling days were numbered, which not only worked up a new love for the game, but also helped us to uncover the game's strange little details (ex. Everything has  limitations). And when we started reading the letter's section, Sage Advice, (thank you Skip Williams), and the "how to" articles by Gary Gygax and the rest, in Dragon magazines, we started to get a good idea of the "game mechanics", which gave us innovated ways to tweak the rules.

For instance, before entering the dark cavern, we'd cast a light spell on an object (a cup or bowl), then throw said object into the center of the room, to see what waited for us, in the darkness. Or we'd send the thief to scout ahead, imbued with clairaudience, and potions of invisibility (to sneak around), spider climb (to remain hidden) and a cure moderate wound and strength (for the trek back). Sure, it’s “dungeon crawl 101” now, but back then, it was the wisdom of game designing masters (at a time when “game theory” was hardly considered “main stream”. In fact, in some circles, it was ‘Un-American’).   

More than anything, though, we'd been tailor-making the game (our character sheets, treasure maps, and scenarios) since Holmes, Moldvay and Metzler. Long before it fell into the quagmire of skill boxes, proficiency charts, and the ever expanding spell listings. In these early days, it was hard to find D+D material, so you were forced to improvise and make up your own rules. As a result, our games were home to some outlandish magic items that would “freak out” the average rule lawyer. It didn't help that one of the rules of the game was "make up your own rules". It gave you permission to play the game the way you wanted, and not always the way it should be played (which was always an issue back then- The letter's section in early Dragon magazine are littered with comments about the drastic differences between one DM to another, and pleaded for some sort of definitive unified rules set).

It was one of the many pitfalls you faced when you told people to use their imagination. So, enjoy this trip with me down the magical laden lands of Monty Haul Adventures.  
(*His name has been changed to protect highly sensitive documents from falling into the wrong hands).

Monday, April 9, 2012

One for the History Books

1980: Spurned on by Saturday afternoon Martial Art movies (ala Kung Fu theater) of the 60's and 70's, movie and TV trading cards, Batman TV shows reruns (from 1966), D+D games, and a once vast collection of comic books, our basement was transformed into a "mysterious jungles of South America"- the walls were covered with large green garbage bags (filled and molded with newspapers, towels and crumbled cardboard, that were taped and strung together) and lit to appear as a "series of craggy, rocky tunnels leading into a large chamber of evil" and we began filming my adventure flick, "The Caverns of Mystery".

We filmed it with a bulky VCR recorder my mom borrowed from a co-worker, and we shot a series of scenes, emulating the beginning (and ending) of Raiders of the Lost Ark (some of the guys stayed for back to back showings the first weekend it arrived). We had rigged up this elaborate light and sound show, which would signify a malevolent creature held inside the chamber of evil. I was the dashing archaeologist, about to uncover a great secret power. I'd then get hypnotized by the "creature", and go mad, and then disappear in a green cloud (we tried to melt my face off, but we couldn't get any of the four paper machie heads to "melt right"). A green smoke bomb fit the bill, but stank up the basement for weeks.

The tunnels looked great, but the light and sound show, representing the monster inside the "chamber of evil" didn't work (flashlights with multi-colored plastic wraps and some spliced together radio speakers with a Mr. Microphone I got for Christmas one year was hardly "movie magic"). But then we cranked up the color and screwed around with the brightness on the TV (as the footage rolled) and it looked world's better. So, we hooked up our neighbor's VCR (and played the footage) to our TV and recorded the trippy 2001 like ending onto our VCR (not only adjusting the color and brightness, but also by pushing the pause button for a second, giving it a 'skipping effect'). The hyper-weird colors and strange garbled sounds of the static and music, blurring in and out... It was kind of spooky. I didn't know it then, but at age 14, I'd peaked as a film maker.

A few years later, I 'accidentally' taped over it when I was in my 'documentary phase' (shots of me and my brother driving around the city’s downtown at one o'clock in the morning).

A stolen notebook (see Dream of the posting) and 27 minutes of lost video footage. Sounds like the set up to a new high octane action thriller; the objects of some long forgotten culture. The reality? Sometimes, I lose things. Sometimes, things are taken. And now, decades later, with the re-release of the DMG, it's de ja vu all over again. Life is like ... The Caverns of Mystery.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Fighters of Middlebury

1979: We stayed away from magic users. Early on, all the guys played fighters. A few were dwarves. Even clerics got more action in our games. Not the cleric of the Middle Ages (although we played them too), but the preferred type was the mystic shaman, who spoke to spirits, wore war paint and a wolf's head for a helmet. "A cleric dressed as a druid". When we learned what 'reversible' meant, those (ahem “wussy”) cleric spells took on a whole other dimension.

Why fighters? Well, back in 1979, we all wanted a light-saber, but there wasn't the extending (and retracting) plastic tube technology we have today. The closest we could get was a hollow whiffle ball bat, cut and duct taped onto a high powered flashlight. We didn't mind providing our own sound effects. We'd record it and "Nerd-Out". It didn't matter if the light-saber was made from an old hula hoop, or a cardboard box, just so long as you had one. Foam swords were around back then, but they'd fall apart after a few fights, and then you were out of the game. Nobody would loan you their sword ("You might break it"). PVC pipes were not as common around our neighborhood. I suspect it was because you could not "light it up".

The impact of Star Wars was pretty severe. A lot of us had read the book, while going to the movie. Sure kids had seen other movies two or three (or more) times before Star Wars (Jaws and Animal House got repeat viewings, sometimes within two weeks or less). But when Star Wars hit the dollar theater near the end of it's run, kids would see it 10 to 15 times (or more). And sure, the battle between Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi is something of a slow dance compared to the light saber battles of later flicks, but, at the time, it was pretty mind blowing. Remember, Kendo sword fighting was not a casual topic of conversation, in 1978 America, unless you happened to be a Bruce Lee fan, or a student of the martial arts (rather, a student of films, magazines, and comic books about the martial arts).     

Dungeons and Dragons was an easy transition from there. Just because the fantasy land (although science fiction related) was rendered in such detail, that it kind of deserved multiple viewings. In your down time, you'd play D+D, but it was an analogue,(a substitute), for Star Wars. It made sense. Later, when George Lucas talked about how Star Wars was a cross between a “Hero’s Quest”, in the mythic tradition, and the pulp serials of the 30’s and 40’s, we knew what he was talking about.

As a result, in game terms, we all had "acquired" a dragon slaying, life stealing, sun searing vorpal blade that could sing any song, speak any language, detect any trap, and levitate eight people at once. Without a firm understanding of the Advanced D+D rules, we'd gravitate towards the magic treasure listings in the DMG. The artifacts and powers tables always tempted my early group of gamers.That would 'jump start' real ingenuity and creative thinking, which we'd develop through imaginative play. And then we'd get carried away. Not an uncommon occurrence for seventh grade boys.

I should say we were not simply "sword obsessed". Really, we were "weapon obsessed". My brothers and I had built sling shots out of coat hangers, a wooden crossbow that fired number two pencils, shoddy bow and arrows, and grew up around kids that had hunting liscense and owned rifles and guns. We collected shurikens and butterfly knives, nunchakus, and European fencing swords etc. It's amazing to think that nobody ever got seriously injured (even playing "paint ball" like games, but instead using BB guns, because "paint ball" guns were not "invented" yet). More kids got injured playing basketball and football than they did "fighting". But don't get me wrong. You'd get hurt.