Thursday, October 19, 2017

Swords & Wizardry Light-Themed Birthday Party

Last month, my wife and I helped our oldest to celebrate his birthday in style. Ever since 2013, we have hosted a themed birthday party for our now-15-year-old son. Four of the last five parties (including this year's party) have featured yours truly refereeing a Role-Playing Game (RPG, for short). Three of those (2013, 2015, & 2016) had featured the classic West End Games' Star Wars: The Role-Playing Game (1987-1999).

          Pregens!                             Party favor bags = d6 + d20

This year, my wife steered our son towards a different genre, because she wanted to decorate with something other than Star Wars props and decorations. Thankfully, Frog God Games released the Swords & Wizardry Light game (SWL) by Erik "Tenkar" Stiene (of Tenkar's Tavern fame), +James Spahn (of Barrel Rider Games), and Zach Glazar (of Frog God Games) in the last year. SWL is a terrific system for a one-shot adventure for kids -- especially kids that are new to role-playing games. This rules-light system is based on the original trilogy of Swords & Wizardry games: White Box, Complete, and Core. The three are themselves retro-clones* of the original 1975 (S&W White Box) and 1976 (S&W Complete and S&W Core) versions of the original Dungeons & Dragons game.

*The term 'retro-clone' means that the game plays and feels like an older RPG but uses the framework of rules as set out by the 2000 Open Gaming License from Wizards of the Coast -- the rules that were the basis for the Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. It also means that the game is in-print, unlike the classic games of the 1970s and 1980s.

 The Dining Room shined up nicely
Keep Out does not mean it's Keeping In       Pole Axe & Trident made by my wife

To prepare for the party, my wife and I generated almost 20 "pregens," pre-generated player characters from which our guests could choose. We also used the Swords & Wizardry Equipment Card Deck and Treasure Card Deck from Frog God Games for the contents of the gifts that would play a part in the adventure. Similarly, we set aside several Swords & Wizardry Hireling Deck Cards, as replacements for the players in case there were any player character deaths during the game.

Awesome Frog God Games Map   Adventurers colored by J & K 
That isn't going to hold much longer    Everyone's favorite stabby fruit

For my own preparation, I asked fellow gamers on Tenkar's Tavern's weekly Wednesday night chat and on Facebook for in-game birthday party ideas which I could use for our game's setting. James Spahn was quite helpful in crafting the day's adventure. What I received in return for my inquiries helped me set up a fun and enjoyable session.

The children numbered seven in all and their ages ranged from 4 to 15. The youngest was our younger son, who has several SWL game sessions under his belt, while the oldest was our older son. He was the "veteran" player at the table with Castles & Crusades, AD&D, OSRIC, Star Frontiers, Swords & Wizardry, and Star Wars: The Role-Playing Game experience to his credit. The birthday boy's character choice was to be a human jester. This is not a by-the-book class in SWL, so I converted one from the Adventures Dark and Deep game by +Joseph Bloch. Our younger son chose a human fighter as his character. The girls played a human witch (courtesy of the one written for SWL by +Timothy Brannan) and a human cleric, while the rest of the boys chose to play a human magic-user, a dwarf barbarian, a human fighter, and an elven ranger. With no thief in the party, I made one minor change to the scenario, which I will note below.

After the pregenerated characters were selected, our son and his birthday guests settled in while I presented the introduction to the adventure...

Famous hobbit burglar, Rustam Riverhopper the (Retired) Adventurer, is being thrown a huge birthday party by his hometown, the Village of Birt! Hundreds of people have been invited. The entire village plus adventurers of all stripes, including the player characters, are here. The characters have endured speeches by friends of Rustam and finally Rustam himself when the town's bakery delivers a gigantic cake, carried by what appears to be 10 hobbits, onto a reserved table near the celebrated hobbit. The candles upon the cake are lit -- and the cake is suddenly shrouded in smoke as the sputtering candles create more smoke than light. Just as suddenly, the cake explodes, pelting nearby guests and poor Rustam with icing and cake. Ten goblins jump out of the smoky cloud, begin attacking guests, and make their way towards the pile of gifts that Rustam's guests had brought, their eyes wide with greed and mischief.

After it was explained that the goblins somehow knew what the players knew -- that the gifts most probably contained quite a lot of magic items which could be harmful in the hands of evil goblins, the players were asked what they were going to do. The birthday boy helped explain what choices there were and soon the party, led by his jester, was scrambling to protect the villagers and the presents. The jester threw daggers to slow down the goblin attack. His brother charged the goblins with the dwarf barbarian and the pair of them began taking goblins down, one by one. The ranger fired arrows after taking up a position near the pile of presents. The magic-user was given any arcane scrolls discovered by himself and his fellows so he could cast them upon the vicious little humanoids whenever an offensive spell was acquired or use helpful scrolls upon his allies, should they be found. The cleric and the witch helped protect the presents. The cleric looked for wounded allies and villagers to heal while maintaining her defensive position, while any healing scrolls were given to her. Soon, though, two nasty little goblins were ripping into the presents and collecting what was within.

The barbarian slew several goblins and the fighter harried them away from the helpless villagers of Birt. Before long, the goblin uprising was put down by the cooperation of the village's seven new heroes. While some townsfolk busied themselves with attending to the wounded and cleaning up Rustam, their Honored Guest, the new adventurers turned their attention to the magic items found in the gifts. Most magic items found by the group were scrolls (given to the magic-user if they were arcane and to the cleric if they were divine in nature) and potions (kept by whomever found them in the chaos of the goblin attack). The heroes also found a set of magic chain armor, which was given to the fighter, a magic helmet which was donned by the barbarian, and a pair of magic boots which the jester quickly slipped on.

Newly outfitted and with some coins in their pockets from the slain goblin attackers, the seven heroes looked at the smoky cake-encrusted table and saw a large hole where the base of the cake should have been. The dwarf looked down the hole with the elf and they espied a tunnel running under Birt's Hill! Soon, the group clambered 15' down a 4' diameter vertical shaft. The ranger noticed goblin footprints going to this point, an otherwise dead end in the passageway, and coming from the distance in the tunnel ahead.

The seven set their marching order and began to make their way north in the tunnel. After about 100', there was an intersection where a side passage met this one from the right. 2 dead goblins laid on the floor just inside the side passage, one of them nearly bitten in half! Crunching and scraping sounds emanated from the passageway. In the small dead-end passage stood a Xorn -- a stony-skinned sentient but alien species that feeds on ores of minerals, metals, and precious gems. Its round pod-shaped body featured a mouth at the top of its head pointing upwards, three eyes around the top just below the mouth, and three legs -- each under an eye. The cleric used a spell from a scroll found at the festival to communicate with the Xorn. It said that the ground here was rich in ores and he was feasting when the goblins struck at him in the main passageway. After two of them were slain, they backed off and let him alone. Figuring that the Xorn was no threat to them, the seven heroes also let him be and returned to the main passageway of the tunnels.

Walking north of the Xorn passage, the party saw an area of the walkway that was covered in leaves for about 20' or more. The group used two of their 10' poles to prod at the ground beneath the leaves. After slowly proceeding north for about 10', one of the 10' poles hit the ground and a hollow pop noise was heard. The ground suddenly opened up a 10' by 10' hole that was 10' deep. Glad to have found this pit trap, the group slowly shuffles around either edge of the pit and made their way north once more, prodding the ground with the poles until they were past the leaves.

Farther down the tunnel, they came upon a second side passage, this one to their left. This dead-end passage only went on for about 40' but was littered with bones. At the rear end of this cul-de-sac were a pair of humanoids, in a struggle with one another. One was a human male, dressed in strange garb: black boots, navy blue woolen pants, light blue shirt under a navy blue woolen jacket, and a woolen hat with a rectangular insignia of alternating red and white stripes, but with the top left corner of it marked by a blue field holding thirty-five white stars. His adversary appeared to be a tall, lanky, green, and six-armed humanoid. Just as the fighter, jester, and barbarian made their way towards the grappling pair, they disappeared in a purplish haze that floated in the air around them then diminished until a small remnant of the haze hung in the air. The group investigated but could find no trace of them.

A Detect Magic spell was cast by the magic-user, but no magic was detected in the space in front of them. However, they heard a rattling sound as they stood there and the bones they had traveled over and past began to shake, join together, and form full upright skeletal figures. The group faced ten of these undead foes. The cleric retrieved her holy symbol from within her tunic and held it aloft as she called upon her deity to vanquish the unholy undead. Suddenly, bright light washed the dead end in brilliance and the ten skeletons fled towards the main tunnel and turned south.

The seven heroes quickly headed north up the passageway and after several minutes came to a wooden door at the end of the tunnel. (This was to have been locked for a thief to pick, but I scrapped it when it was apparent no one was playing a thief!) A dim light shone from the other side of it. The group listened at the door, saw it was unlocked, and then opened it since they heard no noise. They found themselves in the larder of the village bakery! A muffled voice was heard. Soon, they had untied and released Ollie Biscuitbarrel, the esteemed village baker.

Ollie described how the dreaded Goblin King himself stormed into the bakery just after the baker's helpers left with the cake, his goblin underlings at his side. He cast some sort of dweomer upon the cake which caused its candles to sparkle, but the helpers could not see it. Ollie dared not call for help lest the Goblin King and his bodyguards slay him. They took his keys, tied him up, and shoved him in the basement while they began to open his wares and stuff their faces. Ollie cried that all of his bakery's stores are either gone or opened and emptied.

The players began to ask questions of the baker, to get as much information as they could before they faced the dreaded Goblin King. They learned he wears a crown. The baker said that he has 4 or more bodyguards in the bakery with him. The witch decided to use her dowsing ability to locate where, in the bakery above, the Goblin King was. After locating his crown via dowsing, the baker exclaimed that the filthy king must be in the back room eating his precious baking supplies. The ranger asked, "How much would it cost, in gold, to rebuild the bakery? ...Y'know. ...if we burned it down?" He felt that might root out the Goblin King and his minions. The baker became quite distraught and nearly bawled at this.

At last, the cleric discovered amongst the acquired magic items from Rustam's birthday gifts a scroll containing the spell, "Hold Person." She said she would try to use that on the formidable Goblin King. The jester said he would take the barbarian with himself and together the pair would take out any goblins in the retail area of the bakery. The rest of the group would attack the rear of the bakery. After telling the baker to stay put, the adventurers headed up the steps which led outside to an alley. The front and back of the bakery were equidistant from this point. The jester said to count to four, then kick in the rear door while he and the dwarf struck from the front.

After their four count, boom! boom! Both the front and back doors opened. There were two goblins in the front of the store and four in the rear plus the Goblin King himself. Winning initiative, the players' side allowed the cleric to work her magic first. In seconds, the Goblin King was held magically! With their leader so incapacitated, the remaining goblins did not put up much of a fight and soon they were slain.

The Goblin King was tied up and handed over to the village authorities. The heroes helped Ollie get some supplies together so he could make a new cake. While they waited for the cake replacement, some of the villagers got together and gave the heroes reward money, as a thank you. Once the money was written on the players' character sheets, I concluded the adventure.

The kids were fantastic, quite cooperative, and wily in their use of their senses and imaginations as they tried to overcome each challenge I sent their way. I find it a bit incredible that they survived the scenario with no casualties at all, but I chalk it up to their ingenuity and cooperation.

I am hopeful this will have the result of making Swords & Wizardry fans of the five kids that do not live here, as well as their parents and families -- just like the three kids and parents that live here. Throughout this article are pictures of the group playing, decorations we set up through the house, and the themed food and drink choices. Enjoy!

Not Rustam Riverhopper

Happy gaming,

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