You know, before I answer any more questions there's something I wanted to say. Having received all your letters over the years, and I've spoken to many of you, and some of you have traveled... y'know... hundreds of miles to be here, I'd just like to say... GET A LIFE, will you people? I mean, for crying out loud, it's just a TV show! I mean, look at you, look at the way you're dressed! You've turned an enjoyable little job, that I did as a lark for a few years, into a COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME!
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Friday, January 30, 2009
Gauntlets of Ogre Power – the character wearing these gauntlets adds from 2-8 points to damage caused when striking with any weapon – doing 2-8 hit points merely with his fist – because of the additional power these gauntlets bestow. This power also allows him to grasp and crush things with great ease, just as if he were an ogre (18 strength). The wearer is able to carry weight equal to an additional 1,000 gold pieces in his hands without suffering from being overloaded or encumbered. The gauntlets do not add to hit probability.–Dungeons & Dragons as edited by Eric Holmes, page 39.
One funny thing here is that ogres under Holmes Basic do d10 points of damage, not 2d4. That’s the sort of little inconsistency that drives rules lawyers mad if they can neither correct it nor exploit it. Speaking of rules lawyers, when I read this passage I can almost hear some whiny player demanding to know why their 18 Strength fighter doesn’t do d6+2d4 damage in melee combat. “Because you cheated on chargen” seems the most reasonable response to this vile miscreant, but what if we hypothetically indulged him? What if stat modifiers were variable, in the form of extra dice added to various operations, instead of flat adds? Something like this:
For Strength the modifier above obviously applies to melee damage, but I think we could squeeze some other uses out of some chart like this one. The Intelligence modifier could apply to starting languages or spells, for instance. The Wisdom modifier could be added to the roll for number of undead turned. The Dex mod I would apply to missile damage. For Constitution the modifier could replace the standard system for bonuses to hit dice, but since the value is so large the bonus would apply only at chargen. (I.e. an 18 Con character gets +d10 hit points at 1st level, but no further bonuses at higher levels.) Using Charisma with the chart above is a tough nut. Maybe the total henchmen you can bring on an expedition fluctuates? Or their morale randomly flitters up and down from session to session?
I’m not really arguing for the merits of the numbers I use above; that’s meant merely as a sample of this line of thinking. Really, I’m not even arguing that this is a good idea. Plenty of referees will balk at such large bonuses, as they only encourage an over-reliance on buff stats instead of player wits. Rereading the Gauntlets of Ogre Power entry just got me thinking along these lines and I thought I’d share.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Anyhoo, my two players were Dave and Joe. Dave is one of the owners of Armored Gopher Games and a figure of note in the local RPG scene before he sold out and went all commercial on us. Seriously though, you couldn’t ask for a better guy to run your FLGS. He seems to know darn near every gamer in town, he believes in the local hobby scene as a community, and he understands that to run a successful store you can’t just put some crap on the shelves and wait for the money to roll in. I’ve played many games with Dave, most notably a big pile of Savage Worlds, of which he was an early adopter. He’s also been a player in some of my Encounter Critical con games and was in the local Run Club for the year we gave that a try. Good guy.
I met Joe through Dave, when Dave started his Pancake Hut game night, so-called because they were run at a local pancake eatery after it closed. Joe played in my brief Savage Worlds mini-campaign about a 1920’s mafia turf war. In the first couple of sessions of that game Joe and I were not on the same wavelength and I was clearly failing to communicate to him how the game was supposed to work. Then in the middle of one scene he all of the sudden perked up “Oh! We’re on a shadow run!” and from then on he gave that campaign a good sound ass-kicking.
One of the things that I really like about Joe is he’s a fun-loving guy who takes the game seriously. He’ll laugh and joke around and is generally great to hang out with, but he also shows up to frickin’ play, not to talk about the latest episode of whatever crap show all the nerds are supposed to be flipping out over this season. I like chit-chatting about comics books or Doctor Who or whatever as much as the next genre geekboy, but some people just can’t shut up and roll the damn dice. Joe is totally the opposite of those people. Also, when idiots talk like the internet (you know, actually saying “lols” or “pwnage” out loud) you can see the murder in Joe’s eyes. I totally respect that attitude, even though I have been known to occasionally use the word “roxxors” in casual conversation. I wish I could say I was being ironic when I did, but that would be a lie.
Session 1 of the campaign was pretty sparse with the setting material, but last night we were able to build up some neat stuff up during play. We established, for example, that Dave’s magic-user Snurd was one of many apprentices of the wizard Bolothous. The PCs’ base of operations is the small trading town of Delen, which is as per Points of Light is protected by six stone golems created by Bolothous. We decided that Bolothous is an alcoholic old wretch and a terrible teacher of the arcane arts. He’s great with golem-magic but a total arsehole personally. Most of his apprentices either quit in disgust or are thrown out when the master is in a fit of wine-soaked grumpiness. Reginald Featherweight, Carl’s M-U from session one and Hal Durg, the bandit mage in the dungeon module I was using, also happen to be ex-apprentices of Bolothous. Thanks to a blown carousing roll, we also learned one more fact: Snurd is totally in love with Bolothous’s hot young wife Zyra and the two are knocking boots behind his back! At one point Snurd spent 100gp on gifts for Zyra and another hundred gold on wine for his boss, to keep the old man stupefied while cuckolding him. Best use of the NPC reaction chart yet: determining if your mistress still loves her husband or not.
Joe’s character is just as awesome as Dave’s devious casanova/wizard. One of the first things Joe said to me when I arrived at the shop last night was “I’ve been catching up on your blog and I have just one question for you: What the hell is a grognard?” I explained the etymology briefly, starting with Napoleon’s grumbling soldiers. That stuck in Joe’s head. So when he diced up a fighter who happened to start play with a free tin of mustache wax he created this guy:
That's Grognard Whiplash, Frog God-worshipping ex-soldier of the Last Emperor of the West! I decided that the Last Emperor sits in his lonely tower in the wicked city of Hautville. Ostensibly Hautville is the last bastion of his crumbled dominion, but the truth is he's basically exiled there and a prisoner of local authorities. Grognard managed to survive the Emperor’s last war going very badly.
Like Squirrel’s halfling in the previous session, Grognard could not stay away from the Slot Dice. Unlike Squirrel, Joe lost and lost and lost again. In fact, between starting play dirt poor (Snurd had to finance his studded leather), excessive carousing, losing money to a con man, and a gambling addiction, Grognard quickly became pegged as Snurd’s no good broke-ass friend, who was always bumming coin off of the more thrifty M-U. It was a great roleplaying dynamic and very funny. Snurd keeps the gold a-flowin’ on condition that the fighter would take the blame should word get out that Zyra was having an affair. Grognard agreed, but who can trust a dude that prays to amphibious demons?
The actual adventure involved a couple forays into the lair of the evil knight Krepache. Since Carl’s character Reginald had caroused during the previous session, I decided that he boozed it up with his ol’ buddy Snurd and totally spilled the beans about the source of his new-found gold. That was heavy handed, but I feel confident that Carl would go along with it. He’s a pretty easy-going guy. So Reginald Featherweight and his cleric buddy Deric Holyborn were off doing whatever PCs do when they aren’t on adventures while the two new guys took a crack at the same dungeon. Through a combination of judicious sleep spells, excellent dice-free dungeoneering and simple luck both characters made second level and scored some decent loot. A couple encounters were touch-and-go. Picking a fight with a troll is not a recommended activity for first level adventurers, but they did it anyway for fear that it might cut off their escape route. Even though they had no idea what the shaggy pumpkinheads were, they took on four of them and had a helluva fight.
Next session should be interesting. Joe indicated that he would be back and I expect Squirrel to play as well, as Wednesday is normally his night to mind the store. Joe’s Grognard Whiplash is a shady character and a follower of the Frog Gods of Chaos, while Squirrel’s Deric Holyborn is a zealous cleric of the lawful Great Gold Dragon. I don’t know if either player is willing to push the situation to the point of PC-on-PC violence or whether it will just be a source of good-natured jocularity. Personally, I’m willing to let it play out either way and I think both guys are grownup enough to not take a little in-game skullduggery too seriously. But only time will tell.
In the meantime, Dave has kindly offered to help me drum up some more players. I don’t mind running for one or two at a time, especially when the players I’m getting are so high quality, but I wouldn’t mind a few more as well. So if you live in my neck o’ the woods or are just passing through, shoot me an email (jrients to the gmail at the dot to the com) and we’ll set something up.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The adventures are all for 3.5 but that is an exceedingly good price.
EDIT: sold out!
Monday, January 26, 2009
Not using that photoshopped steampunk Lincoln was a tough call for me to make. Maybe I'll do up cyaborg Abe next year.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Both pictures speak to me in very personal ways. The Willingham illo (used as the cover art of the combined volumes 1 to 3 of TSR's Dungeon Geomorphs) pretty much depicts me as a D&D novice: a red-headed, freckle-faced kid gleefully stocking dungeons full of monsters. On the other hand, the Otus cover of D&D Basic is my personal starting point for me in this hobby. Not only did that illo grace the cover of my first set of rules, but the picture is the whole reason I noticed that weird pink box on the toystore shelf. I totally understand what Maliszewski is talking about when he waxes poetic about the black-and-white Sutherland pieces, but my heart always goes back to the gaudy colors of Otus, Willingham, and Roslof.
100 X.P. per hit die is fine, until you consider that there are a lot of special attacks and defenses, differing levels of damage and so on that make that system unworkable. You’ve got to balance your X.P. by the use of breath weapons and magic resistance—and this has always created a problem for me.That '100xp per HD' thing is a reference to the original for OD&D, taken from page 18 of Men & Magic. No doubt more people are familiar with the replacement system introduced in Supplement I: Greyhawk and later adapted for both the Basic and Advanced lines. This later system gives a each monster a base flat amount for the creature's Hit Dice, bonuses for special abilities, and an additional amount per each hit point. A goblin is worth 5xp plus 1 point per each hp it has, for example.
One big advantages of the later system that a troll with the minimum 9 hit points is worth less Xp than one with the max 51hp. The other is that it addresses all of Alexis's concerns about creatures with many special powers end up being rated more than a monster of the same level who is nothing more than a pile of hit dice with a target painted on it. Personally, I reject both concerns and the entire Greyhawk system in favor of the 100xp per hit die rule, for three reasons.
First, and most importantly, 100xp per hit die is brain dead easy. I can do all the math in my head for parties of 6 characters or less and with a jot or two on some paper I can handle more. Also I can hand out monster XP as the session progresses without delaying the game with chart look-ups and such. And by the end of many runs I'm tired and my ability to do harder math becomes somewhat impaired. I hate doing a bunch of calculations at the end of the session, when my cognitive skills have waned.
Secondly, I like the additional monster XPs at low level. Most PCs are less than 25 dead orcs away from level two. Under the Greyhawk system those same PCs each need to kill 166 one hit die menaces. This change allows me to be a stingy bastard with the initial treasure if I want to. Or more importantly, it allows me to distribute the loot unevenly. If the bugbear twins have most of the treasure on dungeon level one but the PCs never get around to their lair, they still have a reasonable shot at making level 2. Or if the big gem is hidden someplace they never look, their hopes for a relatively quick trip to second level aren't completely dashed.
Finally, I would argue that the inherent unfairness of this method rewards smart players. This is where I think Alexis and I most obviously part ways. His method seems to be attempting to achieve one of those "realistic simulation" thingies. I'm running a game about beating up monsters and stealing their treasure. I know lots of players out there absolutely abhor metagaming like this:
Player 1: Let me get this straight. Plusses to hit dice always round up to the next level, so a gnoll and a hobgoblin are both worth 200 xp apiece, right?
Player 2 (flipping through pages): It says here both have the same treasure type.
Player 1: So we earn the same XP for kills and they got the same treasure, but the gnolls on average have 3.5 more hit points each. Forget the gnolls, let's go fight the hobgoblins!
But by my lights that's an example of smart player thinking and I want to reward that sort of thing. Of course this specific example may not work out the way the PCs hope, as in my campaign hobgoblins are much more likely to post guards, set traps outside their lair, fall back to defensive positions and such. But that's one of the hazards of making decisions based only on theoretical precepts and not actual on-the-ground intelligence.
Alexis has another concern about the Greyhawk XP system: big gronks are overrated. A giant with 8 hit dice and two ogres with 4 hit dice are not equivalent encounters. In many circumstances the ogres are more dangerous because they can make more attacks, are harder to backstab and the party can completely gang up on the giant. Alexis's proposed solution is to give gigantic monsters a lot more hit points. I'm not so sure about that. My gut tells me more attacks or higher damage or both would work better. Or leaving the system as is and letting the players 'metagame', picking on lone giants or dinosaurs because it's smart play.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
Issue #51 of Iridia contains 20 digest-sized pages of unpretentious gaming goodness divided amongst three articles. The first article is part of an ongoing series called Iron Rations, all about stuff drawn from an old Basic D&D campaign of Mr. Walker’s. This particular installment is a mini-dungeon, a long-abandoned dwarven waystation now serving as the lair of some minions of Chaos. The map is clean and all the room descriptions are straightforward. There’s a little more italicized fluff narrative than warrants an adventure this size and in a couple of places I can’t tell if the sconces on the walls are supposed to have lit torches in them or not. I don’t consider either issues a dealbreaker; the former is ignorable and the latter is easily handled by on the fly by any self-respecting referee. I like this little adventure site enough that I plan on dropping it pretty much as-is onto my sandbox hexmap.
The second article is a well-detailed write-up of an alchemist shop done for D&D 3.5. The neat thing is that I could probably get a lot of use out of this article as well. I’m amused by the slightly perverse idea of putting an alchemist capable of making tindertwigs and thunderstones into a Labyrinth Lord game. Sure, the two lurching statblocks are mostly wasted space for my purposes, but the adventure hooks, good descriptions and detailed floorplan more than make up for the mechanical rubbish. One excellent bit is that Christian tells us where the alchemist goes to empty the ol’ chamberpot. For all the ancient sewer dungeons appearing in fantasy gaming, you rarely get details like that. I’ve long argued that D&D needs more poop in it. Finally, someone who agrees!
The last section of the zine is an introductory adventure for Twilight: 2000. How many of those do you see nowadays? It’s probably been 20 years since I played T2000 and odds are pretty good I’ll never play it again, but I still like what I see here. There’s a couple quick firefights with Soviets, at least one solid role-playing opportunity, stats for a commie armored car, and a couple sound ideas for future adventures. It would probably take me all of ten minutes to change this thing into an Encounter Critical scenario involving a land war between the Ape Sultans and the Steel Warlords or something like that. The AK’s become tommy guns, the armored car turns into a Damnation Van with a protonic spearlaunch turret, the PCs’ humvee transforms into a diabolic ’57 Chevy powered by the crooning spirits of damned lounge singers, etc.
Finally I’m really impressed with the production values. Sure, this is a little saddle-stapled black-and-white amateur affair, but the layout is sound and the artwork better than I’ve seen in some commercial outings. And no typos or grammatical errors leapt out at me as I read. The closest thing to a miscommunication that I found was an NPC in the Twilight 2000 scenario that’s labeled Dr. So-and-so in one sentence, then Lt. So-and-so in the next. The character in question is a both a lieutenant in the army and a medical doctor, but I still had to flip back to previous page to make sure I was following the plot correctly. The only major problem with the physical book itself was that the covers got scruffed up in transit, rubbing a far amount of ink off the cover art.
Even with a scratchy cover, Iridia #51 is well worth the two buck cover price. (And it sure as heck is worth the zero dollars I paid for it!) But there’s not really any need to take my word for it. The official Iridia website has a bunch of stuff you can check out for free, with a PayPal donation button if you like what you see. If issue #51 is representative of the whole, then there ought to be lots of useful stuff over there with very little in the way of padding.
Thanks again for this great little zine, Christian!
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
1. foil packet of dried Cephalopod Crunchies
2. sonic toothbrush
3. three pack of glow-in-the-dark condoms
4. Mickey Mouse t-shirt
5. admantium golf club (driver)
6. large neon green purse
7. spool of 100 feet of coaxial cable
8. large can of Spam soup
9. spring assisted Yo-Yo
10. ukulele, out of tune
11. 4 feet of rusty iron chain
12. atomic Zippo
13. battered top hat
14. portable fruit/vegetable juicer
16. spork, metal
17. Members Only jacket
18. wind-up Barky Dog toy
19. really cool sunglasses, but one lens busted
20. battery powered socks
21. bottle of vegetarian steak sauce
22. dashboard hula girl
23. hand-held video game system plus d6-1 cartridges
24. fondue fork
25. d6 Chick tracts
26. toilet plunger
27. baseball signed by the World Series winning Chicago Cubs
28. 2d6, Vegas style
29. snorkel and mask
30. bath towel
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
As with any group that features beardy old men, a few naysayers were probably inevitable. The folks demanding that OSR protect the children/society at large/your mom from Carcosa I can write off as a tempest in a teapot. We don't need some anonymous internet wussboy screaming hysterics to protect us from the evils of a book. I can respect that a lot of people on the internet wish to operate under a pseudonym for various reasons, but when that reason is to call for the censorship of a book I smell the whiff of moral cowardice. And as always, I believe that the way to counter bad speech is with good speech. You think Carcosa is bad and want to be rid of it? Write something better.
Again, I think too many words have already been written denouncing and defending what is ultimately an edge case not requiring anyone to alter policies over. The idea that Carcosa will open a floodgate of questionable material is laughable. What I find much more sinister is the suggestion being floated by a few that OSR needs a steering committee to separate the true old school wheat from the chaff. To be blunt, there's no fucking way I'm on board with that.
Part of my participation in this crazy old school thing involves going back and rereading what authorities like Gygax, Arneson, Moldvay and many others have to say about our hobby. The overwhelming lesson I learn again and again "this is how I do it, but do what you think is best for your game". A committee to inform us what is and isn't old school undermines the very referee autonomy that makes running these games so damn interesting.
Furthermore, and please understand that I mean this in the nicest way possible, I don't trust any of you bastards to tell me what 'old school' means! Nor should anyone trust my personal definition. As far as new products are concerned, I think everyone who wants to come to the table should be welcome. For example, I don't normally think of second edition AD&D as an old school system. But if someone wants to write an adventure for 2nd ed I want them to get just as much encouragement and support as I got when I threw together my OD&D module. I might not find that 2nd ed scenario suitable to my tastes, but who cares what I think?
We don't need an inner cabal of grognards granting or withholding their blood-soaked insignia from various products. All we really need is more and better reviews. That's an obvious addition to a future iteration of Old School Renaissance, a decent review system.
Finally, I'll close with this cool little graphic:
I scanned this pic from the inside front cover of The Tomb Complex of Nereshanbo, a really neat-o dungeon for Empire of the Petal Throne. I like EPT and that picture of Professor Barker is awesome, especially the smoking cigar. But you know what this seal of approval means to me? Absolutely nothing. Why the hell should I care whether this adventure meets with the M.A.R. Barker's approval? All that matters is whether I can use it in my campaign or not.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Anyway, here are the four contenders for use as a cycloptic mutant in my post-apocalyptic Encounter Critical game for Winter War.
Centaur Leela would be a lock if she were holding a zap gun. Space Princess Leela definitely fits the "when in doubt sex it up" ethos of Encounter Critical. Fanart Leela is probably what I'll go with here. You get a zap gun and her wrist gizmo but a totally different art sensibility without losing the sense of the character. And the background is neat.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I've braved thicker snow and colder temperatures to get to a game. One year I got frostbite on an ear walking through the parking lot of a particularly chilly Winter War. But not everybody is stupid enough to risk bodily harm to sling dice. That's why I was very gratified that Carl came to my Cinder campaign kick-off last night. Here's Carl rolling up the first of the three PCs he played last night. The first two were killed by ogres and served up as dwarf stew.
I've known Carl for years. We've played more board games together than I can remember at a local grognard's house. (I know I hang out with the Old School set online, but here in Champaign-Urbana I've just barely risen above 'punk kid' level in the local scene. There are dudes here who remember when Gen Con was this little gig you did to play some Diplomacy.) Anyway, I've always admired Carl's ability to keep up on multiple sub-sections of the hobby. He seems equally at home with hex-and-chit wargames, abstract Euro things, collectible cards (I think he still plays L5R) , and RPGs. As best as I can recall last night was the first time I actually got to do some role-playing with Carl, so that's cool.
My other player for the evening was the Squirrel, one of the store owners. He played in two of my old school demo games last year and we had a grand ol' time. Squirrel also went through two characters before getting some success. His contributions to the ogre's stewpot were a halfling and a cleric. The cleric's brother, another cleric, made it to second level last night.
Squirrel spotted my homemade Slot Dice and tried them out. His original halfling, Sly Mischivan, made 40 gold pieces on his first throw but managed to lose 30 of it in the following two wagers.
This gambling game is from Appendix F of the Dungeon Masters Guide, by the way. I need to get some blank d8's so I can use the eight slot version as well.
The adventure proposed for the night was "The Lair of Krepache", from Dungeoneer #16 (March/April 1980). I placed Krepache lair in hex 0915 of Wildland, the first setting in Points of Light. From there I figured the baddies could threaten the communities of Delen and Naspers. The party is based out of golem-haunted Delen, though that didn't really come up this first session.
The evil knight Krepache and his minions were designed to be an even match for a mid-level party, so I had gone through ahead of time and cut back quite a bit of the opposition. It was still a tough go for a couple of first level adventurers, as the two total party kills attest. Fortunately both players understood that significant casualties were part and parcel of the D&D experience, so upon dying they just got cracking on their next dudes with nary a complaint. They would have died even more had it not been for my "you always get a save vs. death" rule. But then that rule and some of my other player-friendly houserules is why I felt comfortable throwing an adventure with ogres and trolls at first level PCs.
We ended with Krepache's forces having been dealt a bloody nose, but they are definitely not defeated. Carl might not make the next session, but I have reason to expect Squirrel to continue to lead the heroes of Law and Greed against the evil knight's troops. His zealously Lawful cleric knows of at least one Anti-Friar of Chaos lurking in the dungeon. Other options available to the players include following up on a partial map to a temple in the ruined city of Novus Tydaris and trying to follow the directions in the journal of a dead adventurer to the distant tomb of a sorcerer named Nereshanbo. Or you know, whatever the PCs come up with.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Top Ten Things to Know About The World of Cinder
Lava, Lava Everywhere
Cinder is much less geologically stable and more volcanic than most campaign worlds. Earthquakes are relatively common and pretty much all mountain ranges have at least one active cauldron of lava. Open seas and rivers of magmas are more common than liquid water. The campaign begins near the Boiling Sea, the largest open body of water on the planet. The lands immediately adjacent to the Boiling Sea are much more green and pleasant than most of the rest of the world. But even so, don’t act surprised if your character falls into a pit of lava.
Life, Jim, But Not As We Know It
Dwarves, elves, halflings, goblins, orcs, trolls, and all those other standard D&D monsters can be found on Cinder. But they don’t always look or act exactly like their baseline D&D counterparts. For example, elves always wear hats and many goblins know strange magics. It is up to the players to find out more about the difference between Cinder monsters and run-of-the-mill monsters.
All Politics Are Local
At the present there are no world-spanning empires and few decent-sized kingdoms on the world of Cinder. Certain city-states are able to rule over nearby towns and villages. But for the most part urban areas have a great deal of independence for outside authority and the feudal ties between the various rural Lords are often quite tenuous.
God is a Dragon and Satan is a Frog
The Lawful faith is basically a faux catholic medieval affair called the Church of the Great Gold Dragon. Chaotic types tend to worship various loathsome toadlike demons.
A World Haunted By Dead Gods
The Neutrals have a pantheon called the Twelve. Many different gods have belonged to the Twelve over the ages, as its members are not immortal and sometimes they’re killed by rival gods or high-level adventurers. The upside of this is that one may occasionally find things like Thor’s hammer deep in a dungeon, since Thor is dead and no longer using it. The downside is that when you find Thor’s hammer it may be in the hands of an angry balrog.
A Hero Ain’t Just a Sandwich
Levels are a precious commodity in the world of Cinder. Most folks you encounter will not have any levels in any class. That’s why they call on you to kill the monsters.
Dungeons Aren’t Just Big Lairs
When you go down into a dungeon you are leaving the normal world behind you. Different laws of nature can apply, almost as if the entire dungeon is located inside a nightmare. Staying too long in a dungeon drives men insane or transforms them into horrible monsters. Only the brave or foolhardy would dare venture into these hell-holes. Still, that’s where all the best treasure is to be found.
Destiny Is For Suckers
The GM is not going to hit you with some world-spanning epic plotline that he expects you to follow. Adventures will be proposed, but if you choose to not take the bait that’s entirely okay. The GM is entirely prepared to just make stuff up on the fly if you opt to go off-script, though he may call for a brief recess to whip something into shape. Either way, you are free to seek out the adventures you want.
Hey! You’ve Got Your Sci-Fi In My Fantasy!
Cinder is part of a larger science fantasy universe, though the only spaceport on the planet is in the Obsidian City, one of the domains of the inhuman Lava Lords. Still, even in the realms around the Boiling Sea one can occasionally encounter sci-fi junk like robots or laser pistols.
The Games Rules Are Not a Physics Engine
Labyrinth Lord is a great refinement of the awesome Basic/Expert D&D of yore. The GM is in love with many of his house rules. But neither the rules as written nor the house rules are as important as having a fun, exciting, imaginative adventure. Sometimes things will happen that aren’t described in the rules. For example, let’s say your PC falls into a 20’ pit. The rules say you take a couple d6 of damage and get on with the game. But the GM might say “You don’t lose any HP, but you landed awkwardly and you’re pretty sure from the pain that you broke something in your left arm.” On the plus side, if you want to attempt something not handled in the rulebook the GM will generally give a lot of latitude. In fact, the more you do stuff that isn’t strictly in the rulebook, the better your chances are of making it to second level.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Many off-the-rack fantasy milieus feature vast previous eras, largely aping Tolkien’s Five Ages and Howard’s Hyborian Age. I do this myself, though in the past I also tended to rip off Greek and Norse myth, with their ages of titans and giants and overthrown gods. Thus I would sometimes cite previous epochs of the campaign world as “The Time of the Titans” or “When Dragons Ruled the Earth” or crap like that. Without even tapping into the larger tableau of cosmic history, The Five Ages of the Universe offers a grandiose and scientifically plausible way of establishing sweeping periods of planetary history when Things Where Different Than They Are Now. Dig it:
This computer simulation shows the outcome of a close encounter between a red dwarf binary pair and our solar system. As the red dwarf pair drops toward the Sun, Earth is almost immediately handed off to the smaller star and stays with that star for three long, looping excursions. After slightly more than 1000 years, Earth is palmed back off onto the Sun, where it remains for the next 6500 years and suffers many complicated close encounters with the other stars. After 7500 years Earth is captured into an orbit around the larger dwarf, and soon thereafter, this star escapes. Earth is pulled along an elliptical orbit that might possibly be habitable. A capture of this sort has about one chance in three million of occurring before the Sun turns into a red giant.That last line is the point of the exercise, as the authors are looking at scenarios whereby human life on Earth might have a chance of surviving the Sun’s death-throes. Without such interstellar intervention the Earth will be toast (literally) when ol’ Sol enters its red giant phase in a few billion years.
But let’s take this one in 3 million longshot and use it to power the pre-history of a campaign world. We’re going to assume that the world remains habitable during all these gyrations, but that the pass-off from one star to another is sufficiently tumultuous to induce natural disasters like tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanoes, dogs & cats living together, etc. So here’s the history of the campaign world in a nutshell:
Pre-history – The Age of the Golden Sun
1 to 1,000 – The First Age of the Red Sun
1,101 to 7,500 – The Time of Great Troubles
7,501 to present – The Second Age of the Red Sun
(The Time of Great Troubles easily breaks down into many sub-eras of centuries in length, each punctuated by a Time of Two (or Three) Suns that lasts a few days or years.) The end of each of the previous three epochs would feature the natural disasters described above, an overthrow of existing civilizations, and the rise of new powers in the world. Shifting from vaguely plausible science into outright pseudo-science, let’s throw in some Velikovskian-style mutations, whereby during planetary disasters animal populations can undergo phase shifts from one species to another, a sort of crazy quantum leap approach to evolution. This allows the dinosaurs of the Age of the Golden Sun to instantaneously evolve into the dragons of the First Age of the Red Sun, or whatever.
So now you can go back to your list of epochs (and sub-epochs) and list who came to power in the new era, who lost power (maybe with diaspora populaces), what creatures/races went extinct and what new lifeforms came into existence. Keep a complete copy for yourself and supply any players who enjoy reading fluff with an edited and incomplete version of your history. This allows you to set-up situations like this:
DM: This rooms is covered with ancient murals depicting cobra-headed men with crowns slaying hoards of pointy-eared dudes.
Player 1: -Gasp!-
Player 2: What? What’s going on?
Player 1: The Cobra Kings conquered the Elven Empire during the First Age of the Red Sun; this section of the dungeon may be over seven thousand years old!
Player 2: That old elf we talked to last session told us that the True Crown of the Fay had not been seen in millennia. We must be on the right track!
Player 3 (to Player 4): Do you have any idea what they’re talking about?
Player 4: Naw. I’m just here to kill things and take their stuff.
DM: And that’s the cue for the Cobra Wraiths to attack. Roll for initiative, suckers.
All Players: Aieeee!
[Let us close the curtain on this sorry scene.]
Monday, January 12, 2009
Transcript from the World RPG Congress - HUZZAH!!!
Uncle Bear's Encounter Savage - Even if you are an unrepentant cretin who has zero interest in either Encounter Critical or Savage Worlds, do yourself a favor and at least look at the awesome pictures.
A gallery of painted Dr. Who miniatures - It's amazing how incredibly nifty some of those crappy rubber aliens look as 28mm metal.
Scratch that project off the list! - Amityville Mike makes a PDF freebie for Labyrinth Lord/'81 Basic/Expert D&D that is astonishingly similar to something I was working on myself. Am I required to besmirch his reputation with baseless accusations now? Or do I go straight to challenging him to pistols at twenty paces? What's the protocol?
Just kidding about that 'unrepentant cretin' line.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Take away the sweet beard on that dude and you end up with someone who looks a heckuva lot like the Sutherland illo of the iron golem from the 1st edition Monster Manual.
Note the radical difference in size between Talos and the canonical iron golem. I think Gygax's version of Talos made an uncredited appearance in the old D&D cartoon, as in one episode the kids tackle a MUCH bigger animated iron statue that otherwise resembles the Sutherland illo. Hank the Ranger fires energy bolts from his magical bow that wrap around the statue's ankles. It trips and when it hits the ground the dude falls apart into a bunch of hallow pieces. I'm pretty sure Hank's bow shoots the same shiny yellow plot-energy that Black Vulcan of the Superfriends uses.
Incidentally, according to my Googling the mythological version of Talos also made an appearance in the Gargoyles cartoon series. I wish I had caught more of that when it was on the air regularly. That show frequently used mythological characters from lots of cultures. Here's the Gargoyles version of Talos:
Gameblog reader jamused brought up the possiblility of "triple iron" being an heretofore unknown metal with treble the qualities of ordinary iron. I like that a lot. In the future I may have to describe some magic weapons or armor as being composed of triple iron. And Ian Sokoliwski suggested the perfect model for my idea of what a triple iron golem might look like: the Tri-Sentinel, an old once-off Marvel Comics menace created by an irate Loki and destroyed by Spider-Man while he was serving a stint as Captain Universe. Dig it:
BAsed upon the MM entry for iron golems, here's Labyrinth Lord stats for a triple-faced, triple-armed, triple iron Talos:
# Encountered: 1 (unique)
Movement: 60’ (20’)
Armor Class: 1
Hit Dice: 54 (240 hit points)
Attacks: 3 or 1
Damage: 5d12 (punch) or 10d10 (stomp)
Save: Fighter 20
Hoard Class: none
In combat this unique construct normally strikes with three fists, but it can instead opt to stomp any single creature orge-sized or smaller. In addition to striking with three of its six arms, Talos may breather a cloud of poisonous gas 30' in diameter every other round. Anyone caught in the cloud of gas muct save versus poison or die. Only magic weapons of +3 or greater enchantment may harm Talos. The only magic effects that work on Talos are electrical. A lightning bolt has the effect of a slow spell for 1-3 rounds. Magical fire actually heals Talos. Being constructed of Triple Iron rather than ordinary iron Talos is immune to rusting effects.
Hephaestus constructed the orginal Talos. Loki magically merged three Sentinels to create his triple monstrosity. I think my Talos will be the product of those guys from the first Star Trek pilot, the Talosians.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Friday, January 09, 2009
POSSIBLE DESTRUCTION MEANS FOR ARTIFACTS/RELICSAll that’s taken from page 164 of the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide. I love this list. Here are some of my random thoughts, by entry.
Artifacts and relics are virtually impervious to magical and physical harm and each may only be “destroyed” by a single legendary means. Frequently, the supposed “destruction” is actually a form of nullification or containment of the artifact/relic, but results in the neutralization of its powers for vast periods of time. The following table suggests various means that might apply to the destruction of an artifact/relic and is open to additions and alterations by the DM. No artifact/relic should have the same nemesis as another; though the means may be the same, the specifics should vary. It should be kept in mind that the means of destruction are as a rare and unattainable as are the artifacts/relics themselves. Actively seeking the destruction of an artifact/relic is tedious, demanding, and fraught with great perils to body and soul, and the chances of surviving the destruction of the artifact/relic are minute without the grace of the gods.
The way to destroy a particular artifact/relic is to:
1. Melt it down in the fiery furnace, pit, mountain, forge, crucible or kiln in which it was created.
2. Drop it into or bury it beneath (1) the Well of Time, (2) the Abyss, (3) the Earth Wound, (4) Adonais’ Deep, (5) the Spring of Eternity, (6) Marion’s Trench, (7) the Living Stone, (8) Mountain of Thunder, (9) 100 adult red dragon skulls, (10) the Tree of the Universe.
3. Cause it to be devoured by (1) Cerebus, (2) a Lernaean Hydra, (3) a Titan, (4) an ancient Dragon Turtle.
4. Cause it to be broken against/by or crushed by (1) Talos, a triple iron golem, (2) the Gates of Hell, (3) the Cornerstone of the World, (4) Artur’s Dolmen, (5) the Juggernaut of the Endless Labyrinth, (6) the heel of a god, (7) the Crashing Rocks, (8) the foot of a humble ant.
5. Expose it to the penetrating light and flame of (1) the Ray of Eternal Shrinking, (2) the Sun, (3) Truth: that which is pure will become Light, that which is unpure will surely wither.
6. Cause it to be steeped in either the encephalic fluids of the brain of Bahamut (the platinum dragon), or in the black and foul blood from the heart of Tiamat, the chromatic dragon.
7. Cause it to be seared by the odious flames of Geryon’s destroyed soul or disintegrated in the putrid ichor of Juiblex’s deliquescing flesh.
8. Sprinkle it with/baptize it in the (1) Well of Life, (2) River Styx, (3) River of Flame, (4) River Lethe (the river of forgetfulness).
Legended items and regions should be placed by the DM in his or her own milieu in isolated locales – preferably warded by mighty mythical and magical guardians (e.g., the serpent which guarded the golden fleece).
1. What treachery is this? Could this be Gygax making a Lord of the Rings reference? Impossible! Everyone knows that Tolkien was but a minor influence on D&D! But more seriously, I like this option because it makes the DM think about where the artifact was created. And I get a kick out of pondering what sort of unholy kiln could create magical hands and eyeballs.
2. Dropping an artifact into the Abyss really speaks to me. It suggests that the Abyss isn’t just a place where demons live, rather it’s literally a hole in creation. Like a black hole but on a more cosmic scale. And what’s at the bottom of the hole? Is there a bottom? Only the bodaks know and they can’t or won’t tell you. 100 adult red dragon skulls seems like an easy one to me. Couldn’t you just use repeated polymorph spells to farm red dragons? Are the rest of the place entries references or did Gary just pull them out of his ass? I need to get googling.
3. The prospect of the PCs trying to figure out how to feed the Machine of Lum the Mad to Cerebus just makes me smile. At least you know where to find the critter, even if you don’t really want to go there. Lernaean Hydras and Titans are interesting choices here, since you can just encounter them on the wandering monster charts. By ‘ancient’ Dragon Turtle I assume the draconic definition of ‘ancient’, i.e. maximum hit points. Maybe you could follow one of Apesh’s maps to destroy your artifact.
4. By ‘triple iron golem’ I assume that Gygax means an iron golem with three times as many hit points and three times as large, but I’d be up for a three-headed golem myself, maybe with three bodies joined shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder. Crushing something with the Gates of Hell would be a neat idea. I kind of imagine that Ol’ Scratch likes to keep them open to welcome all comers, so you’d probably have to fight the bad guys before you could close them. Is Artur’s Dolmen at Stonehedge? Should I start rolling percentile dice every time PCs encounter ants, to see if any of them are humble?
5. Given that my campaign setting includes space travel as an option, dropping an artifact into the Sun wouldn’t necessarily be that hard. Just go to the spaceport and hire a cab. I don’t know which I find more intriguing, the idea of Eternally Shrinking something or the fact that in the middle of this section Gygax suddenly waxes philosophic on the nature of Truth.
6. The typical Lawful character in my campaign would probably balk at this one. You’re basically telling them that to destroy an artifact they need to first kill God, or possibly Satan.
7. This entry is pure poetry. “The Odious Flames of My Destroyed Soul” should be the name of a ridiculous goth band.
8. I like how Uncle Gary goes to the trouble to remind us what the River Lethe does. In case we forgot.
Have any Gameblog readers played in a campaign where someone destroyed an artifact using one of the methods Gygax lists? Have any DM’s out there put Adonais’ Trench or the Cornerstone of the World on their campaign maps? I’m thinking of putting one or two of these strange places onto my hexmap, just ‘cause I can.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
And then there’s the artifacts and relics. Some days I wonder if the game would have been improved by dropping all the bland +1 swords and going with a moreartifactish line-up. Maybe keep one-shot items like potions and scrolls and replace the rest of the magic section of the DMG with guidelines for building your own artifacts. Other days I wonder whether or not Eldritch Wizardry was the Unearthed Arcana of the seventies: full of ridiculously awesome stuff but maybe hurting more games than it helped. In many ways Eldritch Wizardry is the closest TSR ever got to that gonzo Arduin Grimoire vibe. I can’t help but think that today a veteran DM running the Holmes Basic rules plus Supp III would make for a helluva campaign.
But as a kid I only knew of Eldritch Wizardry as an old book occasionally mentioned in passing in Dragon, or as a single line on old product listings. Druids, psionics, demons, and artifacts were integrated parts of AD&D, but not the Basic/Expert rules I started with. I’m pretty sure I for my Basic Set in June of 1981, as a birthday gift from my Mom & Dad. I could be off by a year, but it was definitely the summer of either ’81 or ’82. The year after that I bought my first set of Advanced books at the after-Christmas sale at the K-Mart in Bloomington, Illinois. They must have over-ordered the D&D stuff because I believe I paid only five bucks for each book (PHB, MM and Fiend Folio), except for the DMG, which might have been seven fifty.
This was back when D&D was having its first mainstream success and you could find entire lines of product at toy stores. My first Basic set came from the now-defunct mall-based Kaybee Toys. I bought lots of stuff in toy stores, book stores, and department stores. My buddy Pat used to get a lot of his gaming stuff at a freakin’ hardware store of all places. My first Holmes Basic rulebook was purchased in the late eighties, years after the Menzter Basic set had come out. It was sitting innocently on the book rack in the toy section of a department store, next to things like Strawberry Shortcake coloring books and wooden puzzles for toddlers. At the time I had no idea what Holmes Basic was. All I knew was that it had the two magic words and an ampersand on the cover and based upon the production values it looked like it predated my Basic set. And they only wanted 5 bucks for it.
Anyway, by starting with Basic D&D and later ‘upgrading’ to AD&D as a kid I associated all the cool stuff in Supplement III with Advanced play. If you wanted to play grown-up D&D, you clearly needed stuff like psionics and demons in your game. As a young man this introduced a certain tension in my DMing style, as I clearly wanted to use this stuff to show off how mature I was but I also assumed that I wasn’t experienced enough of a Dungeon Master to pull it off. To this day I tend to shy away from AD&D/Eldritch psionics. I use more demons but I tend to gloss over their psionic abilities. I’ve played some druids but never made much use of them as a DM.
And I think I’ve used exactly two artifacts straight out of the book. Once I managed to bleed my high school group dry of gold pieces by putting the Ring of Gaxx up for auction. They pooled their resources to make sure they won the bidding and then proceeded to squabble over who got to wear it. Sadly, it never reached the point of outright PC-on-PC violence. The most likely instigator of such action was distracted by his paladin being slowly corrupted by the demon lord Pazuzu. I had hoped that he was going to ask his ‘guardian angel’ to get the Ring for him, but he never took the bait. Sadly the campaign ended before that subplot could come to a head. I had in mind this endgame where Jonathan’s paladin would be transformed into a death knight and then totally crush the rest of the party. I think he would have gone along with it, too.
The other time I used an artifact out of the book was for my first post-3e campaign. My Greymoor campaign (so-named because it was set in First Fantasy Campaign version of Blackmoor merged with Greyhawk’s version) crashed and burned mainly because at first I didn’t grasp how different 3e was from its antecedents. Attempting to use templates without understanding Challenge Ratings nearly ended in a TPK when the party threw down with some Fiendish Half-Dragon Gnolls. And when Pat’s sixth level cleric started mass producing magic items I freaked out. Running AD&D after that fiasco helped me get my equilibrium back. I felt so much more at ease with the older system that at one point I literally just handed a player a write-up of the Recorder of Ye’Cind, just to see how it would turn out in play. “Here, your new PC has an artifact.” Dude ended up not using it too much because the more experienced players at the table warned him that artifacts often come with undocumented bugs.
So with my new campaign I’m trying to work out some of these kinks in my DMing style. For starters more magic items will be of an artifact-type nature. I’m considering adding some demon summoning spells to both the magic-user and cleric lists, at lower spell levels than baseline D&D. As I mentioned earlier in the week, I’m also trying to come to grips with how to handle druids. On one hand I like the Supplement I: Greyhawk version, where they are a NPC-only group and druidic powers are expressed as the ability to cast both cleric and MU spells. That spell ability adds a certain mystique to the class, since under OD&D a PC is not allowed to be a cleric/magic-user (also true for my campaign’s system of choice, Labyrinth Lord). A clever and ambitious PC might try to get into the druidic cult to gain some of their mojo. This lines up nicely with my approach to psionics, where a PC might be able to gain access to psi powers providing they can find a guru willing to teach them the mental arts. On the other hand, some players just want to play a druid without messing around a bunch. Simply adapting Frank Mentzer’s version of the class would cater to that demographic. I like players getting to play what they want, but at some point you cross the line from accommodating players to pandering to them. Which side of that line the druid should be on isn’t entirely clear to me right now.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
The Terror on the Moor
# Encountered: 1
Movement: 140’ (35’)
Armor Class: 9
Hit Dice: 6
Save: Fighter 3
Hoard Class: XIV
This freak of nature appears akin to a giant floating rose-bush, some 15 feet or more in diameter. The Terror on the Moor moves via levitation, normally floating only a foot or two off the ground, low enough that the long hair-like growths on its underbelly leave trails on soft soil. It can raise itself up to about 10 off the ground if necessary. The Terror attacks by lashing out with one of four long, thorny tendrils. Should an attack roll succeed by four more than the number needed, the victim is drug underneath the creature and two shorter feeding tendrils automatically cause an additional 2d8 points of damage. As the feeding tendrils drain the blood of the victim the white roses dotting the body of the Terror slowly turn red. The red hue lasts d6 days per victim, after which time the creature will hunger again. When given a choice the Terror on the Moor always picks demihuman and humanoid victims over humans.
The Pale Shamblers
# Encountered: 2d6
Movement: 120’ (40’)
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 3
Damage: d10 (bite)
Save: Fighter 2
Hoard Class: none
These albino ursoids move with an unsteady but relentless gait. The Pale Shamblers feed not only on the flesh of their victims, but also take psychic nourishment from the fear generated by their long, shuffling hunts. Normal metal weapons cannot harm them. They can only be damaged with wooden weapons or enchanted metal. In total cave darkness or under new moons these creatures see as well as a hawk in a sunlit sky. The clanking of metal disturbs these monsters’ ears, leading them to attack anyone in platemail armor.
The Spiny Ones
# Encountered: 2d4
Movement: 120’ (40’)
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 1
Damage: d6+1 (claw or quill)
Save: Normal Man
Hoard Class: none
A species of roughly man-sized reptilian quadrupeds with long porcupine-like quills festooning their backs, the senses of these creatures are so acute that they can never be surprised by normal means. (A thief moving silently or an invisible adventurer may still achieve surprise.) In combat half of the Spiny Ones will engage in melee while the rest will turn around and launch quills at their foes, which have the range of a light crossbow. Anyone pierced by a quill will be implanted with a Spiny One egg about the size of a mustard seed. The egg hatches 2d6 weeks later and a small (1 hp, d4 damage) Spiny One bursts from the victim, who must save versus death. A successful roll indicates only 3d6 damage, failure indicates a messy death. The newly born Spiny One will mature to full size in only d4 months, after which time its quills will be capable of laying eggs in new victims.
It Lurks In the Ruins
# Encountered: 1
Movement: 120’ (40’)
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 8
Damage: d8+1 (2 claws)/poison (spittle)
Save: Fighter 8
Hoard Class: XX
This horrific being might be a mutant born in the strange radiations of the Freaksome Forest or a demon conjured from one of the Unknown Hells. It resembles no less than a man-sized centauroid nightmare-combination of snake and insect. Its head can be likened to that of the hooded cobra, save for its multifaceted insect eyes. From Its sinewy upper body issue two massive, carapaced mantis-arms, while Its snakelike torso eventually gives way to a scuttling millipede body. In combat It spits poison at a single foe, with a range of 30’. If struck the target must save or spending d6 rounds in utter agony ending in a spasmodic, shrieking death. In the same round the creature may attack with both mantis-claws. A natural twenty on the to-hit roll indicates that the powerful claw has snipped off either an arm or leg (50/50 chance). Roll 1d6 to determine the degree of amputation: 1-2 at wrist/ankle, 3-4 at elbow/knee, 5-6 at shoulder/hip. It has never been known to venture from the ruins that serve as Its lair, but you never know.
Monday, January 05, 2009
- The Bright Empire becomes another name for the Kelno Empire, my invading Space Romans adopted from the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.
- The religious strife between the Goddess of Honor and the God of War will be recast as a conflict between the Church of the Great Gold Dragon and the Frog Gods of Chaos.
- The Crandor Moors are marked on the map as being full of 'escarpments'. Forunately those things have a wikipedia entry so I can learn myself up. I come from Illinois. You know how flat Illinois is? Any bump in the road that interrupts line of site is called a hill.
- The NPCs need full write-ups, and generally I'm going to demote them by several levels. In my world a fourth level fighter dude isn't just called a Hero, he's the kind of guy bards write songs about and kings seek out to lead armies.
- All the paladins will be converted to Fighters and/or Clerics.
- I'm not sure yet what to do with the druids. I like druids in principle, especially as NPCs, but I'm not sure how to stat them up. The Supplement I: Greyhawk method of using cleric/magic-users has some appeal, as does adapting the Mentzer version of the class.
- The map needs more lava. There's a lone mountain in hex 1311 that would make a decent volcano. And a couple hexes of the Grey Sea could be set aside as Boil Zones, which would be known as navigational hazards to the local pirates.
- At least a couple nameless horrors diced up from the Random Esoteric Creature Generator need to be added to the map.
- The ruins and lairs need to be mapped out and stocked for adventure. Or maps and keys stolen from elsewhere and dropped onto the board.
- On the 'nice but not required' side of things custom price lists for each community would be cool.