Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Actual Play - GLOG Wizard City - Freshmen Year

The Wizard Grad School 1st Year Dungeon Exams

So I've finally gotten around to playing a GLOG campaign. The players are Josh and Peter from my regular online group. I'm GMing, although we agreed before we got started that we'd learn the rules together, play things pretty open, and not require homework from anyone, including me.

To that end, we had a "session zero" where we looked at a few different GLOG rules documents together, rolled up our characters, and had a "haven turn" where our characters hit the town before going into the dungeon the next time out.

We're using Goodberry Monthly's "Wizard City" setting, with the Wizard City Hexcrawl as the basis for in-town sessions, and his Under Gallax Hall kilodungeon as the site for our dungeon delves. The conceit is that we're playing wizard grad students, whose annual "exams" involve going into the dungeon under the university, possibly just because the other wizard professors want to prank the Torture Department which is housed down there.

So the first "night on the town" happens over the holiday break of the characters' first year of grad school, and the first dungeon delve is their first end-of-year exam. I should mention that Josh in particular is loving the gonzo-ness of the setting Martin has built.

Session 0 : First Year Winter Holiday

Peter, Josh, and I looked through A Blasted, Cratered Land's Mimics & Miscreants rules, and Coins and Scrolls' Many Rats on Sticks rules, and ultimately decided to go with MRoS as our GLOG ruleset (although we did borrow some equipment from M&M).

Then we rolled up our characters:
- Josh made Jimbo Chirrup, the grasshopperfolk garden wizard
- Peter rolled up Arivaderchi Zeuchinni, a human orthodox wizard
- I got Lunai Lovegood, a lunai orthodox wizard (from the moon!)

Orthodox wizards have a choice to roll on a short list of good spells or a long list of interesting spells. Peter took one of each and got Knock and Mirror Item. I rolled two interesting spells and got Horsebane and Battering Beam. Since I'm the GM, I played Lunai as rather passive and open to suggestions from her classmates, but for my first time using the GLOG, I wanted to get in on the fun a little bit.

Since our characters were all chartered wizards, they all had crippling student debt from their time as undergrads, and only a handful of pocketchange to spend. Well, except Peter. He sold off his wizard robes for some walking around money, and immediately hired a camp follower. He got a minstrel, who, we all agreed, must be Dandelion from The Witcher. Since he had all the cash, Arivaderchi Zeuchinni took the lead, wanting to visit the Hat Shop and the Krill Shop.

I rolled on Martin's campaign events table and got doubles. The first and most obvious result was that deep in the Student Ghetto, the bar known as The Wandering Monster animated and turned into a literal wandering monster. The three friends - and their minstrel! - went to the Hat Shop, where Arivaderchi could afford the rent on a couple hats, but not the deposit you have to put down beforehand. As they went back outside, muttering about unfair prices, the Wandering Monster strolled up and stole the Hat Shop's sign to wear as a hat before continuing on its reign of terror.

The group went to the Krill Shop next, where Arivaderchi hoped to treat his friends to the local cuisine, but they found it to be inedible for humans, and frankly for anyone who's not a whale, and so left empty-handed again, but again, their night was saved by the Wandering Monster, which ran up and began riding the Krill Shop like a mechanical bull.

Spurred onward by the spirit of adventure, the three grad students found the second random event, the Rooftop Dueling Federation hosting a wizard fighting tournament. Arivaderchi was trained as a war wizard, and he still wanted adventure, so he entered the contest. He got paired up against a wizard gang member - the doggy gangster Damien Knight of the Good Boyz, who is (and this is worth quoting) a "Method actor. Completely assumes the role of 'beloved cute dog that you must painfully put down'. Frequently acts death scenes gratuitously." So when Arivaderchi entered the rooftop field of honor, Damien promptly and quite dramatically played dead. With his opponent apparently defeated, Arivaderchi was declared the winner. A quick search of Damien Knight's pockets turned up ... a severed human tongue. Dandelion grabbed the prize out of his employer's hands and stuck it in his cap like macaroni.

With Dandelion following behind, the three friends linked arms and skipped away, setting out again into the night, the sky lit with red and blue flashing emergency lights and the sound of sirens like backing music for Dandelion's songs, as the Wandering Monster continued its own kaiju pub crawl across town. It was one of those magical nights, where yes, for once, the real magic really was the friends we made along the way.

Three friends enjoying a night on the town over winter holiday

Sessions 1-3 : First Year Final Exams

After another semester of studying, Jimbo Chirrup, Arivaderchi Zeuchinni, Lunai Lovegood, and Dandelion the bard entered the dungeons under Gallax Hall, with an ambiguous assignment whose purpose, instructions, evaluation criteria, pedagogical merits, and role in their overall graduate education all ranged from obscure to opaque. (Typical grad school, ammirite?) They marched downstairs with Arivaderchi bravely leading the way, and Lunai cautiously watching the rear. Their first stop was peeking into the office of Professor Sitch, who was glaring at them through the blinds on his office door. "I'm watching you, Zeuchinni... always watching..." Sitch warned them menacingly.

The group quickly ducked into the next room to get away from Sitch, and found themselves in the Bones Lounge, belonging to the Gallax U chapter of the Skull & Bones Society, and home to their club mascot, the skeleton "Mr Bones." Searching the seat cushions of Mr Bones's club chair turned up a couple coins and a key, and looking behind the donor portrait on the wall revealed a hidden door.

The hall behind the door had more portraits of the same donor, as an old man, as a dead man, as a wizened corpse, and finally as a skeleton. This last portrait had another hidden door to another lounge, this one occupied by several jovial seeming skeletons standing around a crystal decanter. Well, they seemed jovial until anyone looked like they might touch the decanter, when the room suddenly became very still. Jimbo and Arivaderchi had the bright idea to fetch Mr Bones, who came to life, happily quaffed the entire bottle in one long glug, and then seemed content to tag along with his new friends. The other skeletons all sulked, either because Mr Bone drank their good liquor, or because he used up all the bait for their student trap.

After making it through several secret doors in a row, the classmates felt sure there should be another, and tapping along the walls revealed the hollow sound of a neighboring room, but no obvious way to open anything. Arivaderchi cast his Knock spell and a hidden door blew open, devastating the plaster wall of the lounge. A horde of terrible looking animals, rats and dogs, including some that were possibly dead, along with the angry ghosts of the same, poured through the new opening, set upon the lounge skeletons as they scrabbled uselessly for the exit, and then tore down the hall to the Bones Lounge. Distant screams suggested that the plague of lab animals was causing quite a stir at the entrance. Dandelion played some storm music to accompany the mayhem. Mr Bones shrugged theatrically and gestured at the new door.

Inside, they found a ruined laboratory, obviously belonging to the Department of Torture. There were a dozen wrecked animal cages, and the floor was covered in dried blood and animal droppings. Searching through the detritus found a secret staircase going down embedded in a false cage (the only one not destroyed), a small fortune in platinum (perhaps grant money?), and three syringes labeled "zombie potion", which Arivaderchi, carefully tucked into his breast pocket. They also closed the secret door, hoping the janitors would just plaster over it again. "Brave, brave Jim Chirrup, bravely stole the grant" crooned Dandelion.

There was no other way out of the room, but in a few spots, crazed animals had long ago worn weak spots into the walls with their furious scratching, and the group managed to break another hole, winding up in a hall leading into the Academic Probation detention center. The skeleton jailer, Bones Malone, was making the rounds of the imprisoned students. One wept and cried out loudly. "Oh please feed me, I don't know the answer, if I knew any answers I wouldn't be in here, please!" Mr Bones chattered a joke to Bones Malone and the two shared some side-splitting, fall-on-the-floor laughter.

Arivaderchi ventured in among the cells. "Is someone there?" He saw that most of the students had been in detention so long they'd turned to skeletons themselves. "Please help me, they'll never let me out, I don't want to die!" Arivaderchi found a bored and jaded looking undergrad witch. He asked if she needed help, and she rolled her eyes at him. What-ever. "I need help! Oh god please help me!" Feeling a slight pang of guilt, Arivaderchi finally went to the crying student's cell, found an obviously unprepared freshman undergrad, and opened the cell door. "Oh thank you, I didn't mean to plagiarize, I thought I'd never get out of there!" Arivaderchi tried to give the kid the brush off, but the grateful student insisted on tagging along because he was too scared to find his own way back to the entrance. The witch looked scornfully at Arivaderchi and flounced back down onto her prison bed. What-EVER!

Bones Malone gave Mr Bones and Dandelion some hearty handshakes and pats on the back as the group left. They next found the Experimental Torture Lab, its walls painted black, its floor a depthless pool of black water. "Please don't make me go in there, I'm scared of the dark, I'm scared of everything!" pleaded poor Zygot, the pitiable freshman. Jimbo Chirrup decided to go in, and the door snapped shut behind him. He emerged a short time later, pale as a sheet, mumbling and stuttering. He had acquired a couple forms of madness, he developed a wandering mind that would enter a fugue state while traveling between locations, and was wobbled by the need to be drunk to read, cast spells, or sing.

Jimbo was visibly traumatized by his experience

Unfortunately, Arivaderchi and Lunai didn't have long to comfort Jimbo, because The Melted Muse, a glowing hot metal statue whose features had all melted away, rounded the corner and began lumbering toward the group. They were hit by a blast of hot air like opening an oven, and the temperature continued to rise as the statue staggered closer. "Oh god, what now! My nerves can't take this! I should have listened to my mother! Accountants never get burned up by statues!" Arivaderchi almost immediately regretted rescuing the sniveling young student, and tasked Dandelion with keeping Zygot out of the way. The group dashed away from the slow-moving creature and into the first room they could find, the office of Dr Kinsley, a faculty member in the Department of Torture.

Inside the office, a custodian was carefully dusting off Dr Kinsley's wall of awards and diplomas. Temporarily-illiterate Jimbo was as impressed as Zygot, but Arivaderchi and Lunai noticed that most of the papers had someone else's name crossed out and Dr Kinsely's penciled in in another handwriting. The group asked the custodian to deal with the out of control statue, and the worker quickly dashed out into the hall, where a lot of yelling and clanging could be heard. The group quickly started casing the office. Arivaderchi grabbed a couple of expensive looking medical textbooks. "B-b-but... stealing is wrong! They'll throw us all in detention again! The only spell I know is Circle of Gunpowder, I'll never survive in jail again!" Jimbo found a neat box of gold coins in the desk. "Brave, brave Jim Chirrup, stole another grant!"

The next room was Torture Laboratory S, where they found a magical pane of glass that kept shattering loudly and reassembling itself, and another custodian cleaning up some human-sized cages. After taking in the scene for a moment, the group closed the door and hustled further down the hall.

They next entered Dr Baun's office, but everyone but Arivaderchi was almost immediately forced back outside by splitting headaches and tinnitus that seemed to emanate from two brains in jars displayed prominently on the back wall. Arivaderchi helped himself to some textbooks about medicine and psychiatry, and used Mr Bones to carry the growing library of pilfered books.

The next room's door sign read "Quartering Pylons" which put everyone on edge. In each of the four corners of the room, large metal pylons with spherical heads faintly crackled with magical energy. The entire group crept very carefully along the wall, studiously avoiding the middle of the room, and the impetuous Arivaderchi Zeuchinni attempted to sabotage one of the arcane devices.

Once past that seeming peril, the group ducked into a janitor's closet, hoping for a moment to relax. Inside, they discovered a display of cleaning supplies that was set up almost like some sort of shrine or altar. Arivaderchi and Zygot both peered too closely at the swirling water in the central mop-bucket, and were pulled inside. Jimbo and Lunai watched, aghast, as Arivaderchi was seemingly flushed down to a deeper level of the dungeons under Gallax Hall, and Zygot was whipped around and around in the watery vortex until he drowned. With his employer vanished, Dandelion slung his guitar over his shoulder and walked away, singing to himself, "Toss a coin to your camp follower, oh college of plenty, oh college of plenty."

A long moment passed as Jimbo and Lunai stared at each other in horror, until another figure kicked open the door. It was Deeringer, the deerling drowned wizard. "I heard about your friend," he announced brusquely. "What? How? Who are you?" Deeringer introduced himself as a wizard private investigator and a survivor of the drowning of Atlantis. He also immediately convinced them that Arivaderchi had been carried to hell, "The same place that bastard ocean takes everyone who falls into its rotten grasp," since that is one of the drowned wizard's cantrips. Deeringer offered Jimbo his flask, and he managed to drink enough to restore his spellcasting ability before Mr Bones bogarted it and finished off the liquor. The group quickly rallied themselves to seek revenge against the ocean's cruel collaborators - the custodians who built the shrine The Torture Department!

Their next stop was Torture Laboratory F, where they found Dr Klaus sharpening his flensing knives and testing his whips. A failed reaction roll later, and Dr Klaus set upon them with a fois gras funnel, prepared to teach them a lesson in force-feeding torture. Lunai used her Battering Beam spell to try to push the hulking, Frankenstein-looking scientist backward, and tried to convince her friends to use this chance to run away. Dr Klaus was strong enough to push forward through the beam a couple times, alternately throttling Jimbo and Deeringer. He very nearly killed them both, and probably would have, if he hadn't been pushed out of arm's reach for most of the fight. Jimbo had good luck with his Magic Missile spell; the spell spirit returned to his brain to be recast several times before flying away for the night. Finally, the group decisively got the better of Dr Klaus, and cracked his skull against a table. Deeringer put a fois gras funnel into the scientist's mouth, filled it with corn, then kicked out a leg of the table to make it look like an accidental collapse. "A freak fois gras-ing accident. Happens all the time. We were never here. No one will suspect a thing." Deeringer felt certain he'd arranged the scene to disguise their coldblooded murder noble victory over an agent of the ocean.

Unable to take any of the valuable-looking whips from the room, the classmates "borrowed" Klaus's key and snuck into his office. They stole another four textbooks, and continued their habit of checking behind portraits. The oil painting of Dr Klaus's mother had a note tucked into its back: "If you've managed to steal this, then I have need of your services. Ask the bartender at the Wandering monster for a feline on the rocks." They gave the books to Mr Bones, pocketed the note, and hurried to replace the key in Dr Klaus's pocket.

Next they found Torture Laboratory D, but they could hear the sounds of a lecture (or maybe a practicum?) through the door, and decided not to check inside.

Next, the group entered the backstage area of the auditorium. There was no lecture going on at the moment, so the front of the stage and the seating area were dark. Jimbo was curious to investigate an alabaster statue of a rich donor, Mr Alabaster, while Deeringer and Lunai studied some colored levers. Deeringer first raised the house lights, then accidentally turned on a focusing ray meant to induce students to pay attention. Jimbo became fixated on the details of the statue. "Enemy of cats? Hmm. It's clearly blocking a secret door, but what's the mechanism? Hmm." Deeringer and Lunai got very interested in the levers and tried to guess what the last one would do before pulling it. (Lucky thing too - it was a death ray!) Eventually, the wandering monster check turned up a custodian, who turned off the fascinator and escorted them trio back to the entrance.

They were met by a crowd of mourners, none sadder than poor Mr Sitch, who was nearly inconsolable. "I ... I promised him! I told him I was always watching, but I wasn't watching! And now he's gone!" Deeringer, Jimbo, and Lunai made plans to divvy up their coins, fence the textbooks, and visit The Wandering Monster together over the summer. Jimbo was also very interested in using his student heath insurance to visit the university counseling center for help with his two traumatic difficulties.

Three school friends and their skeleton

786 in platinum coins
100 gp in gold coins
textbooks worth 10 gp, 15 gp, 20 gp, 20 gp, 30 gp, 30 gp, 45 gp, 45 gp, 50 gp, 60 gp

Arivaderchi Zeuchinni
Zygot the hapless freshman

1026 for treasure (the textbooks re-sold for half their MSRP)
1026 ÷ 3 = 342 XP each, enough to reach 2nd level!

Director's Commentary
I feel like this campaign is off to a pretty good start. We've been enjoying the weirdness inherent Wizard City premise, and GLOG spellcasting rules are working out so far. The variability of whether you'll get your Magic Dice back after casting a spell produced some interesting results. Now that we're leveling up, there will also be a possibility of doubles-induced spell mishaps going forward. I suspect there might be a kind of mismatch between the expectations about currency in the rules and the setting, but it hasn't really been a problem, so I think I'm just going to ignore the possible discrepancy.

Since the GLOG is pretty rules-light, I've been tending to simply say yes when Peter and Josh propose doing something that seems like it would be part of a grad-student wizard's wheelhouse, and calling for roll-under-attribute checks for things that seem like there should be a chance of failure.

My only complaint about the rules so far is that I find the roll-under system to be non-intuitive for me in combat and other opposed-roll situations. When attacking, for example, you're supposed to roll the dice and hit a target number or lower, where the target is "your attack – (10 + their defense)", and somehow the order of operations there kept throwing me off. It helped me to think of it as "10 + your attack – their defense" and honestly, I almost want to make a table, or switch back to a roll-over system to make the mental math easier.

So far the only difficulty the no-prep approach is introducing to the game is figuring out who the various professors are, and what their personalities are supposed to be. If necessary, I might go so far as to print out the wandering encounter table and the "bestiary" of professors. The other other problem I'm having is that my lack of strict time recordkeeping (sorry not-sorry, Gary) makes it a little more difficult to use Martin's interesting structure where both the room-based encounters and the wandering encounters vary over the course of the day. I might either need to try a little harder at that, or figure out some sort of simplification.


  1. Excellent times!
    I usually phrase attacks as "Roll under your Attack plus 2" or "Roll under your Attack minus 4", and combine any situational bonuses with the target's defense to get the bonus or penalty.

    Leather, Defense 12, becomes "... Attack minus 2".
    Chain, Defense 14, "... Attack minus 4".
    A Goblin, with Defense 8, becomes "... Attack plus 2".
    Does that make sense? Simplifies the calculation a bit and becomes quite intuitive.

    1. That's a helpful tip, thanks for sharing it!

    2. It also keeps things intuitive (a higher minus is a bad thing.). "Attack minus eight!?!" your players will cry. "Aww yeah, Attack plus four", they'll say.

    3. No yeah, that makes a lot of sense, and does sound fairly intuitive. I'm going to try to use that the next time there's a combat.

  2. Really entertaining write-up!

    I find roll-under mechanics in general not as fun as roll-over; fortunately, if you lower Attack by 10 and consider the remainder a bonus to the d20 roll (equal to or higher than Defense meaning a hit), the probabilities work out the same.

    1. Scratch that - you need to subtract 11 from Attack (otherwise you're improving hit chance by 5%).

    2. Though I still use 10 because 10's are easier to work with for most people and 5% doesn't really matter when it applies to everybody.

    3. The first edition of "Engines & Empires" had roll-under attacks. I believe that you added your Fighting Ability (basically an attack bonus) to your enemy's Armor Class (descending) and tried to roll under that.

      So there, a 1st level character (FA 2) against an unarmored opponent (AC 9) would need to roll 11 or lower, which is the same chance as rolling 10 or higher.

      In general, I assume that the appeal of roll-under mechanics is that they don't need a separate Difficulty Class or Target Number or whatever, because that's already supplied.

      Modifying them IS unintuitive though. Your two main choices are either "minus is good!" or "the plus modifies the number you're rolling under rather than modifying the dice roll."

      Roll under also has some recurring challenges with opposed rolls. The newest innovation I think I've seen for that is from Mothership "roll higher than your opponent, but lower than your ability score."

    4. I believe the current edition of E&E works the same way (yep, just checked).

      Good point about the lack of DCs - although I still do prefer having a constant target number (usually 6 in Skills: the Middle Road, 12/18 in Sword & Magic, or 7 if you make LotFP skill rolls 1d6 + pips).

      Yeah, in most roll under systems I do that for opposed rolls - highest successful roll wins. I think 3:16 did something like that, too, for ordering actions (successful rolls were resolved from highest to lowest roll in place of a separate initiative roll).

    5. So there are ways to make it work, and I did run at least one long session of roll-under E&E where it all went smoothly, but on the whole, I think I prefer the technology of bonus-to-attack-roll vs ascending-AC.

  3. Welp, that's 2 for 2 for 'Sessions of Wizard City in which a Freshman has died'.

    1. They're so fragile! The senior who just wanted to stay in her cell probably had the right idea. I feel certain that if Zygot hadn't vanished into the watery abyss, he would have died a different horrible death when they met Dr Klaus.

    2. So fragile, so innocent! They don't even know that they shouldn't give their real names yet, lest other students or professors steal them and parade their nameless bodies 'round campus to carry books or fall in puddles.

  4. The procedures for generating teachers and classes in Monster Hearts are pretty easy and have always given me good results. It's been several years since I've played but I don't think the setup bits are too tied to that particular system so they might be usable as a no-prep school generator?

    1. I think wizard college and prep school are both drawing on a small-class-size, liberal-arts-education model, so it sounds worth checking out?

      I've heard people talking up Monster Hearts, but I've never played it myself.

    2. Monsterhearts is super-fun if you get the right group.

  5. This is pretty majestic. The Wandering Monster is especially delightful.

    I've been looking for ways to streamline the attack rolls, too. Current rule is to just have players write down attack numbers vs specific armor types, but even that's not very satisfying.

    1. Yeah, Martin's creativity blows me away. As I mentioned, the gozo-est person in my group is over the moon about the level of gonzo here.

      The table of numbers vs armor type on each player's character sheet certainly has old school pedigree, but honestly, avoiding that sort of thing is one reason why I like attack bonuses and ascending armor class.

  6. I'm loving the campaign so far. The GLOG rules are really fun, especially the magic system. And indeed, I love the Wizard City setting. Very Discworld-meets-Ooo vibe.