Sunday, November 12, 2017

Game log 5 November 2017: Inside the tomb of deadly deathful death

Dramatis personae

Ash, squire
Kim, thief
Xórin, fox-man scout
Caleb, wizard
Mayhem, short barbarian
Kôštē, cleric
Villûdē, guide who held the horses

Quid occurrit

They quickly got the horses inside and shut the door, lest the evil turkeys kill the horses. From there, they started down the stairs. Kim went first, and when she stepped on a flagstone at the bottom, a strange music played. Loudly.

Kim was also blind, so Caleb told everyone else to jump off the stairs lest they step on it and go blind too. They took stock of the room, and found they were in the middle of a good-sized room. Instead of normal corners, the walls went slantwise, making an irregular octagon. There were four ways out: one to their west, one to their south, and two to their east. Kim’s sight came back after a few minutes, so they started west.

After a short flight of stairs down, they found themselves in a room with scorch marks. There had been a four-poster bed, but only some of the posts were left, the rest gone, likely having gone up in flames. On the south wall were scorched bookshelves, with no hint of the books that had been on them.

They heard a rustling in the wreck of the bed. Ash went to check it out, and a carpet viper struck at him. It missed his legs, and Ash cut off its head. Caleb tried to get some poison out of its fangs but couldn’t, while Mayhem took its body for later eating.

On the south end of the room, Kim saw that there was a door in the southwest corner. Caleb came near and felt its magic aura, but nobody could find a keyhole or other way of triggering it. Caleb thought it had a command word, but, being Caleb, blasted it with an Acid Jet. Nothing. Kim yelled out, “Open sezme!” but nothing happened other than Kim sounding dumb.

They walked back to first room, and found there was a squad of six skeletons. It was a short fight, with Xórin falling down and trying to kick a skeleton while on the ground but missing, Kim dropping her sword, and Caleb, after lobbing a Fireball, trying a new idea: Flaming Weapon on Kim’s dagger. Kim didn’t hit, however, and wound up picking up her sword. While she did so, she saw the words “Undying fame” on one of the skeletons’ blades. As she did so, five big centipedes came, but after Xórin killed two with his two strikes, the others fled.

They sat down for a rest. However, after only a few minutes, four skeletons came from the northern-most of the two eastern hallways. Caleb mostly held his torch with Continual Light, not wanting to waste his energy, while the gang quickly took care of the skeletons, with only Kim getting hurt. From there, they rested to let Caleb be at full strength, and then went down the south hallway. It did nothing but curl around and come back to the room with the stairs as the hallway in the southern of the two east wall hallways.

Though they thought that “undying fame” might open the door in the scorched room, they chose to go down the one hallway they hadn’t checked out—the northern one on the east wall. After a few turns, they came to a room, with eleven shady beings—skeletons, with one in bandages.

They held the breech as the hallway became room lest the skeletons put them in the middle, and two skeletons, one with a broadsword (the others had shortswords), came up to strike Kim and Xórin. After some misses, Ash and Mayhem moved to the sides, and Caleb, seeing the bandages on the one, started casting Flaming Weapon on Ash’s sword. It was a good move, as more skeletons came up to fight, the one with the bandages came into full sight—a mummy. This frightened Kim into doing nothing.

The gang held its ground, and the mummy moved up to strike Xórin after he felled a skeleton. Caleb cast Flaming Weapon on Xórin’s swords, and Ash tried to hit the mummy. Instead, he dropped his sword. A skeleton hit Mayhem, but he held his cool, and the mummy, trying to end Xórin’s life, dropped his sword. Xórin, for his blow, hit the mummy, but couldn’t get through the mummy’s armor, Caleb started casting Flaming Weapon on Xórin’s other sword. Kôštē, the cleric, moved up to Kim. Mayhem took out a skeleton, while Ash reached to grab his sword.

The mummy lunged for the knight in shining armor and tried to bite Ash. Ash’s armor stopped him, but he lost his grip on his shield. The cleric moved Kim out of the way while Ash tried to do the same to the mummy, but couldn’t. Mayhem’s axe nicked Mayhem’s leg. Caleb got off Flaming Weapon, lighting up Xórin’s second sword.

And the mishaps kept going, with a skeleton, trying to hit Ash, hitting the mummy in the back. The mummy, realizing that it couldn’t get through Ash’s armor, tried to bite Ash’s face, but missed. It was near enough that its spit would have dripped onto Ash’s face if it still were alive and had spit. Xórin, seeing the opening, stepped behind the mummy and put both hit swords into its back. The mummy dropped, and a voice came into Xórin’s head, saying, “Thank you. Your reward is behind the painting of the blonde woman in the hall.” Xórin, of course, had no idea what that meant.

Kim, after the cleric’s jostling, snapped back to the world. Ash got his sword and shield ready, and Kôštē, seeing him hurt, moved up to Xórin. The skeletons let out a flurry of blows, but only hurt Mayhem, who dropped his axe trying to ward off the blow. Mayhem gritted his teeth and punched the skeleton, doing nothing to it. Kim got back into the fight, Ash smacked a skeleton, and Xórin tried to take out a skeleton, not bothering to defend. He missed, and Kôštē got up to Xórin cast Major Healing on him. This was good, as a skeleton hit Xórin right after that.

Xórin again went all out, ignoring the pain, and tried to take out a skeleton, but dropped his sword. Mayhem grabbed his axe, while Kôštē cast Minor Healing on Xórin. Xórin came back and took out a skeleton, while Kim’s sword broke. Mayhem and Ash both hit but couldn’t take down skeletons. A skeleton stepped up and smacked Xórin, while another hurt Kim to where she was dizzy and seeing stars. She staggered, but stayed up.

Mayhem took down a skeleton, while Caleb and Kôštē handled healing—Caleb gave Xórin a Minor Healing potion while Kôštē cast Major Healing on Kim. Mayhem and Ash took down the last two.

Res aliae

Roman’s nephew Joseph was supposed to join us with a new character (a holy warrior), but slept in. Roman, who was supposed to bring a new character (a war cleric), instead ran Caleb, while I handled Mayhem. With the NPCs, I often let the players direct what they do in a fight as much as reasonable. I don’t want to be handling NPCs and leaving the players on the sidelines.

So, how do you handle gaming after your gaming buddy of 15 years died? Surprisingly quickly. As a result of being in the nursing home, our games went truly slowly. We had to deal with Chris’s meal times and sometimes wound dressings, so it took awhile to even start games. One of the front desk staff was a busybody and at one point made us move for no good reason (an administrator who saw it told us as much), there were the aging zombies who had never seen a roleplaying game, and the usual friendly chatter on top of all that. I wouldn’t have traded those last months of Chris gaming for a fast game, but I did like things flowing fast again.

For some reason, I had critical successes on parries become automatic hits against the original attacker. While this wasn’t according to Hoyle (and I had to explain that phrase to Roman for some reason during the game, incidentally; obviously, Roman’s father didn’t have Hoyle’s book of card games in his house!), it did speed things up a bit since the parry often took down a skeleton. No, I shan’t do it again, as it’s a bit much; I wasn’t thinking.

Two other matters for the players here, that happened at the end but I didn’t resolve as we were leaving:

  • Everyone will lose FP according to their encumbrance level. Yes, this means the cleric and Caleb will lose 2 FP, which will make everyone rest even more.
  • Caleb can see that both the mummy’s and the skeleton’s broadsword are magical. No, he doesn’t have Analyze Magic so he can’t be more specific.

A last note on Mayhem: running him made me realize just how well optimized Chris made him. Chris originally made him many years ago, for GURPS Third Edition. We updated him to GURPS Fourth Edition and tweaked things to fit the point level, which at first weakened him. But, now, the guy swings his SM -1 greataxe and parries as, for him, it isn’t unbalanced, and he’s at no encumbrance (ST 15, and armor sized for SM -1). He doesn’t have the reach a bigger barbarian would have, but he’s a tough little bugger.

Two days after the session, Roman and I went to Chris’s funeral. Roman, who also went to the visitation (I had to get stuff done at work before the funeral, and am not one for open caskets), put one of his minis in the casket with Chris, and I got to be a pallbearer at the cemetery. At the funeral, we may have picked up another player. Life works in strange ways.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Chris Lutgen, 7/2/1956-11/1/2017

I first met Chris at Phoenix Games on West Lake Street in Minneapolis. The shop was the descendant of the fabled Little Tin Soldier that Dave Arneson and so many of the original Blackmoor frequented. It's not there anymore, it being only a storefront now in Minnetonka or some other 'burb to the west, after the owner, a fellow named Neil who owned the original Phoenix Games out in Burnsville and told me that when he first gamed with Arneson, he didn't get what the hell was going on, chose to move rather than pay for the upcoming street repairs in 2008.

Anyways, back to the summer of 2002. My wife worked second shift from Tuesday to Saturday in those days, and we had no kids. I hadn't yet tried to go back to college, though I knew my bachelor's wasn't getting me jobs. I had loads of free time in the evenings, and I kept trying to get into new gaming groups. So one Saturday, I wandered down to Phoenix where, like so many American gaming stores, folks showed up to game. It was in the middle of the D20 boom, so D&D was the name of the game, which I had picked back up again a year before after ditching it for GURPS all the time. Being a purist didn't help get into groups.

That afternoon, I saw there was a game getting ready, and one of the players was a guy named Tommy whom I knew casually. Thus, I asked Dan, the bespectacled GM about my age (I was in my late twenties), if I could get in. Sure, second level, starts in about an hour or so. I told him I had a human monk I had played the year before and was second level back at my apartment, and I'd go get it. (In those days, I lived on West Franklin Avenue, eight blocks north. It was a short bike ride home and back, or maybe I walked. I don't remember and don't care.) And so I did, bringing along Ichanko, my monk.

When I got there, I played D&D. I remember Tommy getting pissed and storming off after failing a saving throw to dodge a spear that came out of the ground, even after it was established that going over the middle of the cavern meant you had to make a DC 15 Reflex save or take a spear to your balls. I remember a guy who was playing the halfling boatman who liked "shinies." I remember Lea, a woman about ten years older than I playing a ranger, and Mike, a mustachioed man about the same age as Lea and was often befuddled about whatever character he was playing. There was a big guy, Travis, and one other fellow whose name I no longer remember who left when Tommy left; the two were friends IIRC. Shawn, I think that's his name. And there was a pudgy middle-aged fellow with glasses, a wispy mustache and thin hair who brought the minis. He played Lars, a fighter/cleric of Kord.

The next week, the pudgy middle-aged fellow with the minis ran a game, and I played a necromancer. He ran one of the Slave Lords adventures. A few weeks later, we ran down a hallway and some hands grabbed at my necromancer's pouches and got his spell component pouch, which brought an in-character tirade that brought the store to the floor laughing. I got 50 XP for roleplaying, and have been gaming with that DM, Chris Lutgen, ever since. I'll keep from all the tales for this post, but there was chatting, gaming, a Roger Waters concert, eating out, all the things friends do.

About mid-February of this year, we had a GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game in Chris's apartment. Chris was playing Caleb and Mayhem; Caleb he took over for a player who decided he didn't like the game, and Mayhem was a long-standing character idea Chris had made for GURPS 3e. The game was bi-weekly on Sundays, but when John, who plays Kim and Ash, called up (John's always first to show up at a game), Chris told him he wasn't feeling well. John relayed this information to me, and I shrugged and went about my day, which was likely laundry or schoolwork. Chris wasn't in the greatest of health, and frankly there were times I was glad that we were now gaming at his apartment rather than at the gaming store since that meant Chris couldn't wuss out because of the cold. (And there were times it was really wussy, too. Thirty degrees and no wind and a half inch of snow? That's nothing to us up here.) So I knew it was best to let him recover.

Two weeks later, however, John got no response when he called up. Which also brought a phone call to me. I reached out to Chris's brother on Facebook, and found that no, his brother had no idea where Chris was either. And so that day his brother Paul, Roman (the other player in our group, and the only one with a car), and I were calling various nursing homes and hospitals and, well, morgues. Chris had diabetes and heart conditions. It was either Monday or Tuesday that Roman (I think; it might have been John) had the good sense to call his apartment complex again and found out from the super (who was now present) that Chris was in Walker Methodist.

Roman and I went to go see Chris one evening that week, and found him on the second floor in a wheelchair. Well, we found most of Chris; we didn't see his right leg below mid-thigh. Apparently, Chris had an infection there for years and it got worse. In one of the few times I'd ever seen Chris near mad, he blamed the doctor, thinking his leg could have been saved. (The man never got mad. I'm serious. This was the third of four times I'd seen or heard him a little flustered at anything. And his voice never went up and he never yelled and after about two sentences it was over.)

The place was pretty bleak, and what made it worse was that Chris was still himself with his wits about him, as opposed to most of the rest of the folks there, who were zombies. At 60, he was younger than most of them. He shouldn't have been there, he should have stopped drinking Mountain Dew once he had found out he was a diabetic, but there he was.

So we started gaming at Walker Methodist, mostly Dungeon Fantasy, but sometimes Roman ran D&D Midnight 3.5 since, now being in grad school, I sometimes had loads of coursework. It's weird playing in such a place, though it did have a good commissary for snacks.

A commissary that let somebody still drink a can of Mountain Dew a week, however.

Our last game there was on the 24th of September. Chris started going in and out of the hospital starting around late August. Roman and I went there once, and saw he looked awful. We could now see the sores on his left leg, which looked worse than his missing right leg. Chris had Betty Grable's legs, which meant he had the legs of a woman who had been dead for 44 years. It wasn't good. I think we last saw him in Walker when we came to visit on October 6th, when he had just come back from the hospital, to which we went first. He was actually pretty together, and Roman thought he could last six months or six years, depending on how much work Chris put into it.

Chris's social worker called me last week, and told me the hospital was trying to reach his brother. She didn't give me any specifics, but said what was obvious, which was that Chris was unlikely to make it. Roman, John, and I went to go see him on the 27th of October, and I knew that was likely to be the last time.

He seemed a little gone for once, tired, not paying attention to whatever Doris Day movie was on the television. (I had tried calling down there on the 24th, and the nurse told me he was too tired. That wasn't a good sign; his activities consisted of eating, sleeping, and watching "Gunsmoke" reruns. Hardly tiring.) He had pneumonia and was on a BIPAP machine, or on oxygen when he wasn't on the BIPAP. If you've ever had a conversation with someone on a BIPAP machine, you'd know it's a conversation with Charlie Brown's teacher, and I told him as much, which amused him. At least he still had his sense of humor. He actually got a little mad when he starting talking about the Medicaid spenddown for making too much money cutting down his living conditions, and he's right that it is silly since the guy was on Social Security. Fourth time getting mad.

There was a fatalism about this visit, however. Chris throughout all his last months kept talking about the future, how his wheelchair was going to fit into his apartment (it would have had a problem turning the corner going in), or to where he was going to move for assisted living when it became clear that he needed more help. He wasn't talking about that now. Also, Roman had to take a phone call wherein he had to tell his brother who called that he was visiting a dying friend. After a few uncomfortable looks away, Roman got off the phone, and explained that if he didn't put it that way, his brother would ramble on and not let him off the phone. Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but we knew Roman wasn't exaggerating to his brother, either.

Chris knew, too, which was a first. I sometimes thought of Professor Binns from the Harry Potter books, who died and rose up as a ghost and went about his day. Chris always seemed to take each event as a one-time event, after which he'd get back to his day-to-day grind of reading comic books and painting minis. I always thought he felt that death wouldn't take him, too, and that he could do whatever he wanted to his body without it mattering.

At 11:45 this morning, his social worker called me, confirming that getting back to the everyday grind was not to happen, and that Chris was on his last hours. John had the day off and made it to the hospital, and he let me know that Chris was unconscious. Then at 2:30, he let me know that Chris had failed his last save.

The things I'll miss … his friendly demeanor most of all. His, "Hey, dude," greeting when he called you up. That he seldom took anything too seriously. Granted, he took this to the point of killing him, but he was good natured and pleasant and always willing to hang out and chat. We sometimes chatted away in the basement of the old Tower Games location when we didn't really have a gaming group besides ourselves. He gently let me know that the big D&D advert for the 4e red box was something I should be able to read across the table; I really did need glasses after 37 years.

All the minis and his need to want just the right mini. I'm sure I'll wind up with many of them, but it's not the same. I'm usually perfectly satisfied with Cardboard Heroes or the Pathfinder Bestiary Box; Chris often had the perfect one painted for the situation. He painted one for Ichanko, my monk. Even the plastic ones were great; my wife's friend Josh played an elven pyromancer in a D&D game I ran. Chris had the plastic mini from Wizards of the Coast. He'd gamed since the woodgrain box in 1974 and had some genuine artistic skill, and his minis were his output, as well as a few character portraits.

And oh, the good times. Basayant the Necromancer's rant against the boggarts. How Lars, his fighter/cleric, always pulled out his bow to make a pathetic shot at the start of combat, which led to a fight in which Ichanko, who had initiative, said that he's going to move to the front and in the middle of some nasty monsters, and if Lars took out the bow, he was going to go back and beat the shit out of Lars. How the dimetrodon on the Isle of Dread snuck up on Basayant, which nobody bought. ("He rolled really well!") Eventually, that game descended into Chris running Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and Josh and Lea, fed up with some questionable GMing (Basayant fought the Monster the GM Made Up Himself at one point, a nondescript mass of hit points and damage dice), made the two most irritating characters they could make to irritate Chris into dropping the game. The two-man Toon game in which we played munchkins from Oz who could turn into Munchkins from Too Many Hit Points Land; Toon was the one game he GMed well, much better than I did. He ran Call of Cthulhu too; my Latin professor fought both elder things and the football team. Professor Torres flunked them with vigor. They all looked funny; they should have stayed back at Innsmouth High. Another memory of the Isle of Dread, when Johnny (not John) played a dragon-loving cleric of Anubis who told a dragon he worshipped him, and said dragon told him, "I'm gonna go over there and eat your horse. And, if you're still here when I get back, I'm gonna eat you!" Then in commune with Anubis, Anubis asked him what he was doing with those dragons. Dan ran True20 for a bit in Hyperborea, and I played the Hyperborean L. Ron Hubbard, with Chris as my bodyguard. I ran a D&D 3e campaign that ended in a total party kill from a vrock, and I sang the Prudential jingle with an extra letter as I wiped out Chris's and Dan's PCs (and my own GMPC). His intelligence officer in the GURPS Interstellar Space Marines A-Team game who took video of their fights and sent them to "Friday Night Fights." Pity D's character saved the video of Chris's intelligence officer getting his ass handed to him by multiple clones of 20th century Earth actress Angelina Jolie. And when the intelligence officer, and Johnny and Tristan's characters broke into that Walker Corp. base and got a good reaction with a Cooking roll ("Mmmm! That is a tasty sandwich!") In that universe, that base is still resupplying the fictitious base Chris made up, and will never catch its error.

In the end, I think that's what it's all about. Friends and imagination and having good times. I hope to have more good times gaming, though now without Chris, they just won't be the same.

Requiesce in pace, amice.