Z: So Mandy, you ran your first game over the holiday, how'd you like it?
M: It was lots of fun. It was very refreshing after playing that cleric for so long.
M: Well, when I started that cleric I was just learning to play D&D, but after 2 years now, some of that excitement of learning that you have new powers and abilities and--on a personal level, learning there were things I could do and things I could say and it gave me a certain amount of confidence...it changes--but then you DM and you're again learning new things, it gave me a different kind of confidence.
Z: I liked the adventure. Ever since you told me the idea you had--a year ago or whatever--I've been trying to resist writing my own Creepy Magic Forest Fairy Tale Adventure so that you could eventually run it.
M: Well good. We had talked about sort of the "Catholic" version of D&D vs. the more cleaned up "Protestant"/"Disney" kind--sort of the physical kind of fantasy with snakes and eye of newt and stuff vs. the sort of "spiritual" hands-off simple-good vs simple-evil stuff. We were on the same page about that.
Z: The creepiest thing was the bushbabies, I'd never heard of that.
M: My grandfather used to say that if we walked around at night then "the bushbabies" would get you, and in the suburb we grew up in there were all these hedges. The mental image that me and my sister came up with was nothing like the cute furry little animal that you get if you Google it.
Z: Yeah, they were sort of spiny babies that paralyzed you if you touched them, but also you kept saying they were crying, like every time we did anything "Oh, that makes the bushbabies cry." And then when you killed them they turned back into regular babies.
I remember this article from the official D&D site where they were working on concepts for new monsters and one person had come up with a demon that looked like a little kid and they were like "Ok, we can't have that, this is a family game." They used to have, in the official game, Lava Children, but they got rid of those too. They don't want us killing children I guess.
M: The thing I like about fairy tales is that in most of the original stories children are being abducted and butchered or transformed or in some way fucked with* and so I wanted to have an adventure that was kind of arcane and occult in that way, with witches using children for their own purposes. Like a really traditional witch--what she wants is to eat babies. That's why they were frightening to begin with--they were like "abnormal females"--it gets into gender stuff too...but this is just a game.
*Z: So you liked reading about children being butchered?
M: I liked that it was honest. Like the moral of those fairy tales, the point of a lot of them was to make scary realities of the world understandable to children. It wasn't condescending like so much stuff produced for children nowadays is.
Z: How did you feel about having stats and a map and stuff?
M: Well the map was easy 'cause I printed one out from some random video game and just put stuff on it. The stats, however, were a little confusing because when we made up some of these in 3.5 and we were running an AD&D game. Also I'm used to only having to keep track of one character to hit and saves and stuff and I had to keep track of...4 witches, plus however many bushbabies I threw at you at once plus the other monsters, plus the items, and...remember all the players stuff...and the dogs. And I have, y'know math anxiety.
Z: Yeah, the dogs are a bitch, aren't they? It's cute when you're a player, but when you're the DM and the player's like "Hey does my dog get a turn?" you're like "'Jeezus, seriously?"
M: It wasn't just whether it got a turn but it was which dog and which one was paralyzed or asleep or whatever. Oh and then I completely screwed up which spells the dog got--which really helped you guys out.
Z: For the people at home I have to explain that Mandy's brother traded a magic mushroom to some of the witches in exchange for them imbuing the dogs with some spell powers which we used against the boss witch.
M: Baba Yaga, with her chicken house.
Z: I can't help but think it's a little unfair for us 2 2nd level PCs to fight Baba Yaga and we could still take her out--isn't she supposed to be tougher than that?
M: I wasn't sure at all about the power balances...
Z: Well, the adventure itself was perfectly balanced--I mean, if everyone's like "Man I'm tired but I want to see what happens" and then it goes on for a few more minutes and then the players are like "holy fuck, we're going to die," but then they don't and team up to kill the last monster by the skin of their teeth, that's exactly how hard an adventure should be. You couldn't have planned it better. What I'm saying is just that the head witch was BABA YAGA--which seems like maybe it should've just been some assistant to Baba Yaga or something if she was able to be taken out by us.
M:But in the fairy tales it always is some famous witch and they manage to take her out by the skin of their teeth by a clever trick.
Z: Well here was my clever trick: I cast sleep while she was on her broom and she fell 60 feet then your brother shot her. However, I feel as though if she had been statted up the way I'd do Baba Yaga I would've made her strong enough to resist a 1st level spell cast by a 2nd level guy.
M: Gretel pushes the witch in the oven--you would've thought the witch would've been able to avoid being pushed in an oven by an 8-year-old girl.
Z: Fair enough, I just wouldn't like to think my awesome wizard got to level 3 by taking shortcuts.
M: Well that's your problem, not mine. Your wizard has a sensitive ego.
Z: He is the WIZARD!!!!!! He can surmount any challenge! He fears no man!
M: He certainly fears women.
Z: Well so far no men have tried to kill him, only women, gnolls, a pseudodragon, some babies, ummm....a hippo...uhhhh...birds? Did the birds try to kill him?
M: No they were more pecking to hinder and obstruct.
Z: Oh my god the fucking birds. Like, mechanically: a witch turns into a bird hidden in a swarm of birds of, like, hundreds and we're stuck in the forest so we can't buy a net and...
M: That witch wasn't trying to kill you and so you didn't have to kill her, she was just there to annoy you and then you talk to her and the plot advances. But you were afraid to kill her...
Z: I wasn't afraid.
M: You were like "let's go the other way."
Z: I was acting in character. Like "You wake up in a creepy forest, to the north you hear evil cackling, to the south you hear nothing" I know which way I'd go.
M: You and my brother, when you finally saw her up there were like "Oh shit, a witch!" and making big eye faces and talking all fast.
Z: Satisfying, isn't it?
M: (laughs) Yes.
Z: See, you didn't expect that, did you? You thought we'd be like "Oh this is a monster, this is D&D, this is what we do" right?
M: Yeah, I guess. I mean, that's what I meant, it's fun to learn that you have new kinds of power.
Z: Witches are scary, man.
M: My grampa used to call my sister and I the wicked witch of the East and West. I was the East one.
Z: You didn't have any traps. Unless you count that fungus.
M: Yeah, the fungus was kind of a trap, it wasn't gonna kill you but...
Z: It could've if you had just sent something in after it, like the bushbabies. Ok--people at home--we see a glowing fungus in the path. My 16 dex wizard climbs up a tree to go around it. Mandy's brother walks right into it anyway. I spend the next 10 minutes dropping branches out of the tree onto the fungus (hitting him and the dogs) hoping to slowwwly kill this fungus.
M: Yeah, that was funny. And you did eventually get the attention of the bushbabies. And my brother got to have a dream.
Z: Did the bushbabies just show up whenever you wanted or were they randomized on a die roll?
M: They were marked on the map.
Z: Ok, but when they showed up after the fungus?
M: That was just because you were making noise. You have to be very quiet around the bushbabies because, y'know, they're babies.
Z: Your brother was much more cooperative than usual.
M: Well he's matured a lot in the last year. And this time he was just up against feminine wiles instead of having to work with them.
Z: So you think if your sister had been playing with us he would've been all goofy again and tried to marry the witch?
M: Maybe he has more experience dating now, too. Well he definitely does.
Z: Women are such a civilizing force.
M: Hell hath no fury.
Z: You seemed really frustrated that we didn't see the whole forest.
M: Well there was fun stuff around. And you were responding so well I was excited to see your reactions to the rest of it.
Z: Yeah, but that's how it goes, tell your players there's someone fucking with them and your players will just want to find them and kill them as soon as possible. Screw tourism, I want that witch dead.
M: Yeah but you were the same way when you were DMing us at first, you really wanted us to see.
Z: Yeah but I realize that sooner or later you'll see it. Maybe somewhere else, but it'll be there. It's nice to have something left for the next adventure.
M: Well the other thing was a lot of it was improv and I wanted you to see it as soon as I thought of it. And I'm not a good liar, I'm very candid.
Z: Yeah, you sucked at that--really the only thing you did wrong is you kept telling us stuff.
M: Stuff that helped you.
Z: So what? We don't wanna know.
M: I know, I learned. I was better the next time.
Z: Yes, you were, my point is just if I had to pick a thing about DMing you didn't immediately do right it was you kept trying to tell us stuff "She has 24 hit...""SHUT UP!!!" But, yeah, you got it. Ok, so let's talk about the second adventure, the one with your sister...
M: That one was really different. And I had absolutely nothing prepared beforehand.
Z: You agreed to do it anyway--that's a lot of confidence.
M: I learn fast. And get bored quick.
Z: Did you have idea one? Like "Ok, they'll meet harpies and then....anything?"
M: No, not even the harpies, they were just the first monster that I knew I liked when I was looking at the monster manual and you sat down to play.
Z: Thank fuck you weren't in the Ds.
M: I wasn't gonna sic a dragon on you, you're second level.
Z: I liked the harpy eggs. I liked how when you picked them up you could hear "hissing" then "fluttering" then "clicking" and I liked how they had disasters inside. And I liked how you handled us trying to figure out what they were. I think that was some Call of Cthulhu experience at work there.
M: Yeah, and my natural cleric tendencies: I want to go to the library, I want books! Which everyone else hates--like what Craig would say "Fuck that Harry Potter shit", but my sister is totally into that.
Z: She was hilarious that thing she said when she was like--she was trying to negotiate the sale of the eggs for the gold and the xp and then, y'know it all went awry and ended in disasters and monsters as these things do and she was like "That always surprises me! I always think 'Oh, I'll just buy this and re-sell it to this person and invest in this and get experience points and it's interrupted by fighting and monsters and I'm like-Damn! I didn't expect that!"
M: She's very excitable.
Z: So am I, I notice. When I DM I'm like I know what's going on, but when I play I just get...I just do everything you guys do. Like OooH OooH what is it? What do I get How many experience points did I get? OOOh is it my turn? Can my owl have a turn? I can't believe I rolled a goddamn owl for a familiar.
M: You really resented that owl. I like how immediately you guys were creeped out by the first semi-possible villain in the city.
Z: You gotta realize that the players only have what you give them to go on. If you say "There's a carrot" the players are going to start going "Ok, what's up with this carrot? Does it house an ancient lich? Is it friendly?" You say there's an NPC, we got nothing better to think about.
M: She wasn't even necessarily bad, you were just immediately suspicious of her.
Z: I generally feel that nice people in games--even if they're actually nice--are wasting my time.
M: I guess I was the same way.
Z: Oh for sure. You hated that sweet old innkeeper telling you about his wavy windows.
M: Well...my character did.
Z: Ok, what happened in that second one...we fought some harpies which came out alright because web and phantasmal force are kick ass spells...
M: And it says in the monster manual that harpies are stupid.
Z: Technical note for the grognards: I always give wizards more spells than the PH does in AD&D when I DM, so my 2nd level wizard actually had a 2nd level spell, bizarre as that may seem.
M: You and my sister were very good at planning your attacks. I suppose you'd have to be being a wizard and an illusionist.
Z: Plus we made our saves, that could've easily gone south, but as-is that bit was ridiculously easy. But that's D&D, it can go either way. So anyway we got their eggs and then figured we sell them and there was a big thing about where to go since the presumed setting is around Vornheim and you hadn't really figured out where this forest was yet...
M: Yup. And I'm really glad you guys didn't go to Vornheim.
Z: Why not?
M: Because Vornheim is like really your city, and I wouldn't want to go in there and be like "this is happening and this is happening".
Z: Ok. but now I know that Osc Lithicum (the city we did go to) is a pretty fucked up place.
M: Because of you.
Z: Oh like there even would have been an adventure if the harpy eggs hadn't gotten opened. Seriously what should we have done?
M: You could have done lots of things. My sister kept wanting to boil them. You could have taken them...
Z: No matter what it would've led to some terrible witch problem.
M: Yes. That's true, but maybe not for a whole innocent city.
Z: Well now at least Osc Lithicum is interesting.
M: That's true. Though I'm not sure I want the responsibility of having a whole city that's like my creation.
Z: Why not? It's not like you have to negotiate with the unions or else the aqueduct won't get built on time.
M: You're right but something's gotta be going on when you guys show up and it has to be consistent with whatever happened the last time.
Z: If only there were the complete manuscript of some sort of publication which provided a guide to running cities for distracted DMs on the hard drive of the very computer that we are typing this on.
M: Shut up. I'm not supposed to be paying that much attention to your secret DM conniving things.
Z: It's a book, I wrote it...
M: I was gonna read it when it was in book form. And it's a Vornheim book.
Z: FIRST LINE OF THE PRESS RELEASE:
The Vornheim City Kit will be a guide to the city that my campaign is based around, but way more than that, it'll be a tool for running open-ended city adventures anywhere.
M: I knew you were going to say that, I guess I have no excuse now.
Z: WHY DON'T YOU LOVE ME??????
M: You really don't like DMing that much?
Z: I love it, I just figured, y'know if even my girlfriend won't use the book why would anyone else?
M: Good point. Well...seeing as how I started DMing, I'm probably gonna end up using your book.
Z: I will put that on the jacket "Well...seeing as how I started DMing, I'm probably gonna end up using your book." -Mandy Morbid.
M: What did you think of my NPCs? The witches and the city people? Those were all totally improvved.
Z: I thought they were really good.
M: How so? Good in what way?
Z: Well, they were ambiguous without being boring. Like you didn't know if you could trust them but not because they were totally blank but because they were as suspicious of us as we were of them. Which makes sense. And you kinda did voices, which isn't something you really do in real life.
M: Everyone always thought I was going to be an actress.
Z: Well...you kind of are. A method actress.
M: Yeah. Maybe.
Z: See when I do NPCs I always either have some very specific thing I want to do with them (usually very quickly) and get it over with or I'm like "Holy fuck, you're doing things which are making me make up an NPC" and so I just play them however it comes out of my head.
M: It was definitely the second one.
Z: Yeah, but we couldn't tell that these were just random speedbumps we were creating by trying to find out about the harpy eggs. And that's good. And not easy. Like, you had that little girl follow us. We're looking around for the next thing that we fight, so everything is loaded with potential scariness.
M: Apparently you were scared of a curious 12 year old girl who knew how to sneak.
Z: You would be too if you'd just almost been killed by 7 spiny babies.
M: Hey, it was your wizard who showed her the spellbook, whatever she becomes now is on you. You're only creating more witches.
Z: Good title for this post.
M: I can think on my feet. That's what I learned.
Z: I learned that it's good to have a web spell if your nemesis is a witch who turns into a bird and hides inside a flock of thousands of other birds.
M: Ok, so let's talk about the disasters that were in the eggs that you unleashed on the city.
Z: Well the first one was a cyclone, and...it was. And then a plague of locusts and then something else which you didn't tell us.
M: Yep. They corresponded to spells from the original 3 witches had that you let out of the forest by defeating Baba Yaga.
Z: Well there was no way out of that adventure without defeating Baba Yaga or dying, so really, the witches were gonna get freed.
M: Or killed.
Z: Mayyybe. Me and your brother had as many hit points between us as one of them.
M: But they were so weak on the ground.
Z: How would you have dealt with the witch hiding in the flock of birds?
M: Start a fire.
Z: She had wind powers
M: She could only send in the birds once.
Z: Well I didn't know that. So she was scary.
M: It's nice to have them out of the forest to use in other adventures.
Z: You need a 'zone' to develop. Geographically. Obviously the forest is all yours.
M: I want to do the Middle East thing. The desert.
Z: Ok, but that's a whole other thing. You'd have to get sick of Europe and witches first
M: I can do both.
Z: We need more stuff on the map so we have more choices about what goes on where.
M: I feel like that won't be problem.
Z: But how do you let the players know how each place is different? Each location needs to have an idea attached to it so the PCs have a reason to go there.
M: But a lot of the places you made we didn't know anything.
Z: No, look: Vornheim is home, Nornrik is north and elves, Bellet Osc is full of lunatics, Osc Lithicum is the city of stone and the Isle of Oth is an island. That's all you need, but there has to be something.
M: Ok, well I have ideas for a desert setting--City of Brass, chapter 2 in Diablo 2, 1001 nights, harems and stuff.
Z: You still want a piece of the northern continent, or is it all Ali Baba?
M: I still want my forest.
Z: Well is it all the same or does it have parts? Does every adventure start with "You're lost in the forest again..."
M: You mean like something to draw people there?
Z: Maybe, or just things to give people an idea of...how it's intriguing beyond just 'there's a monster every mile or two'.
M: I think that still won't be difficult.
M: Not with the girls, no.
Z: I see evil princesses in my future.
M: And she-demons.
Z: To be fair, I get a lot of evil princesses and she-demons at work.
M: Lucky you.
Z: I'm not complaining.