Monday, August 14, 2017

even more player-created content for Vaults of Vyzor

Unfortunately, August Aronsson, who played as Belisarius Grouse, has had a schedule change that precludes his participation in future delves into the Vaults.  So he is kindly donating his notes on the first level of the Citrine Vault.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Check this out!

Cool guy Perttu Vedenoja made this awesome Vaults of Vyzor infographic!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Magic Meryl's Map

Courtesy of Nick Kuntz, here's Magic Meryl's map of the Azure Vault.

Vaults of Vyzor, session #12


I love how Meryl's
tights and hat match.
Persimion of the Second Smile, fighter (Galen Fogarty)
Magic Meryl, magic-user (Nick Kuntz)
Arthur, dungeon terrier (NPC doggie)
Poor Brother Rupert, cleric (NPC hireling)
Merrill Meadows, fighter (Michael Julius)
Willy Whats-His-Name, 0-level Loser (NPC hireling)
Chef, chef (Richie Cyngler)

'Tis a sad day at Castle Vyzor for two reasons.  First, neither Poor Brother Rupert nor Willy Whats-His-Name made it out of the Vaults alive.  Second, no one scored any treasure, and no one had the spare cash to carouse.  All anyone knows right now is that the party went in via the Verdant Vault, and the survivors exited via the Azure Tower, covered in blood and gore and apparently psychologically scarred for life.



Willy Whats-His-Name (0-level Loser)
Rose Royce (Kiel Chenier)
Poor Brother Rupert (cleric hireling)
Sneakerly Trull (Zak S.)
unnamed serving boy (0-level hireling)
Ilse Raagenkampf (Perttu Vedenoja)
Gwalin Rustbritches (dwarf hireling)
Persimion Finch (Galen Fogarty)
Jarrod the Magic-User (Ian Reilly)
Magic Meryl (Nick Kuntz)
Jonesy (0-level NPC)
Merrill Meadows (Michael Julius)
Little Liam Linkboy (0-level NPC)
Chef (Richie Cyngler)
Limpy the Naileteer (Jeff Call)

Engsal the Enchanter (Alex Joneth)

Elfbraham Lincoln (Jeff Call)

Littlens (0-level NPC)

Biggens (0-level NPC)

Stimpy (0-level NPC)

Ren (0-level NPC)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Join the Red Dragon Fighting Society today!

So this is an experiment in extending the random character generation concept to include prestige classes.

Red Dragon Fighting Society training

If you can find one of Archduke Jackal's rogue dojos and have a thousand gold pieces burning a hole in your pocket, then you too can learn the exquisite art of kicking butts and taking names.  After completing the initial training, you get one roll on the table below.  And you get a cool embroidered patch like the one pictured in the ad, suitable for sewing onto your denim jacket or wizard hat.  Displaying the patch gets you +1 reaction rolls from fellow Society members, but -1 reactions from other monks and martial artists, who tend to view the Archduke as a huckster ruining the reputation of the fighting arts by half training a bunch of dangerous amateurs.

After the initial training, you may also use this table any time you level up in lieu of one (just one) of your normal advancement rolls.

01  You get nothing.  Maybe this Kung Fu stuff is bullshit after all.
02-15  You get better at fighting: +1 to hit in melee only.
16-19  You toughen up: +1 on all saves.
20-24  You learn the art of being punched and not flinching: +1d6 hit points.
25-28  You get some basic weapon training.  Roll d6 for the particular weapon.
    1. dagger
    2. hand axe
    3. polearm (choice of polearm if that matters in your game)
    4. spear
    5. staff
    6. club
You get a damage bonus with the weapon rolled equal to your level.  If you don't have basic proficiency with the weapon, then you gain that but only get half your level (round up) as a damage bonus.  Should you roll this again and the d6 turns up with the same weapon, your damage bonus advances to your new level.
29  Anime Leap.  If at the start of combat the distance to your nearest foe is 10 to 30 feet away and the
ceiling is at least 10 foot high, you can leap/charge at your foe.  If you hit, they take triple damage.  If that kills them, any friends of theirs must make an immediate morale check.  Reroll if you get this result again.
30  You get stronger. +1 Strength, up to your racial max or the max in your system.  Reroll if you are already at maxxed out Str.
31-38  Your unarmed attacks become deadlier, following this progression d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 damage.  Reroll after you get to d12.  If you want to be any deadlier than that with your fists, then you should have became a proper Monk.   
39  You get some exotic weapon training and a set of weapons to go with.

    1. Pair of Sais: attack twice per round (no penalty), damage as per daggers, +1 Ac for each sai (i.e. +2 ac when using the pair.) 
    2. Pair of Nunchuks: attack twice per round (no penalty), damage d6 each, but if you roll a natural 1 to-hit you whack yourself
    3. Advanced Quarterstaff Technique: You get d4-1 staff attacks per round, if you roll a zero you spend the round parrying instead, +3AC when that happens 
    4. Katana, motherfucker!  If you wear no armor and use no shield it does d20 damage!  Holy shit!  Under any other circumstances it is just a sword.
    5. Shuriken.  Each one has the range of a thrown dagger and does d3 damage, but you can throw as many in a round as your level plus Dex bonus (min 1).  You get the family pack of 20 throwing stars.
    6. Chainwhip thingy: d6 damage, melee with foes up to 15' away, pull Indiana Jones style whip tricks 
If you roll this result more than once, reroll the d6 until you collect all six skills.  After that, reroll the percentage dice if you get this result again.

40  You become more nimble.  +1 Dexterity, up to your racial max or the max in your system.  Reroll if you are already at maxxed out Dex.
41-44 You are getting good at spotting opportunities for kicks and punches.  Any round you are in melee, roll a d6.  On a 1 you get an extra unarmed strike.  When you roll this again, increase the range for extra attacks.  E.g. someone who has rolled this 3 times has a 3 in 6 chance of getting an extra unarmed strike each round.  Some cheater who has rolled this 7 times always get an extra strike each round and has a 1 in 6 chance of getting another one.
45-46  You know how to roll with the fall.  You take no damage from falls of 10' or less, including getting knocked down in combat, throws from horses, etc.  You take half damage from falls of up to 30' feet.  Additional rolls of this item add 10' to the no damage range and 15' to the half damage range.
47-48 Ghost Punch Style.  Your unarmed attack can affect creatures that are only vulnerable to silver or cold iron.  If you roll this again, you can punch creatures that need +1 or better magic weapons to harm them.  A third roll allows you to pummel monsters needing +3 or better as well as ethereal and otherwise nonmaterial foes.  Reroll this result after the third roll.
49  You become hardier.  +1 Constitution, up to your racial max or the max in your system.  Reroll if you are already at maxxed out Con.
50-51 Dang, you're fast.  +10'/round to your base movement.
52  Your devotion to kung fu brings you closer to the natural world.  You can speak with animals once per day.  You may have one question-and-answer exchange for each level of experience you possess.  Reroll if you get thus result again.
53-54  Under a situation where you can save for half damage and dodging could be the reason why, you instead take one quarter damage when you save.  If you roll this again, a save now indicates no damage.  Rolled a third time and a failed save does only half damage to you.  Reroll if this item comes up a fourth time.
55  The inner machinations of your mind have been transformed into a beautiful lotus jewel, dazzling to others.  Any time someone tries to read your mind or use any psionic funny stuff on you, there is a flat 50% chance it will fail.  Reroll this result if it comes up again.
56-58  Any time you make a successful unarmed attack against a foe with a functional brain and the to hit roll is 19 or better, they are stunned for d6 rounds.  Every time you roll this, the stun range becomes one wider, going to 18+, then 17+, etc.
59-60  You reflexes become catlike.  When the surprise dice indicate the baddies have the drop on you, you get a Wisdom roll to act anyway.  Reroll this result if it comes up again.
61-62  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Parkour.  One a successful Dex check you may run up to 30' straight up a wall and over obstacles and junk.  Reroll this result if it comes up again.
63 Hadoken! You can now summon and shoot blue balls of kung fu energy.  The range is 60' and they do 2d6 damage to one target.  It takes a full round of spellcaster-like concentration to summon one and you have to roll to-hit.  +1d6 damage for each subsequent reroll of this item.
64-65 You so regulated your metabolism that neither haste nor slow spells affect you any more.
66  The next time you score a critical hit  (or natural 20 to-hit if your DM doesn't use crits) you may opt to rip out your opponent's heart and show it to them before they die.  You may do this only once.  Obviously, this will only work on certain kinds of creatures.
67-68  Mr. Miyagi hands.  You may heal yourself or someone else once per day for d6 hit points, though critical strikes and other special effects are not cured.  Subsequent rolls increase the die size of the healing to d8, d10, d12, d20.  Reroll this result after that.
69-79  Ki shout.  Once per session you may begin a combat by shouting "Hi-YAH!" or some other nonsense.  The enemy must make an immediate morale check.  The roll is at -1 if you have just charged them.  Reroll this result if it comes up again.
80  Elegant Step.  When you opt to exit melee no one gets any sort of back attack as you withdraw.  Reroll this result if it comes up again.
81-82  Now you are the sensei.  You may train all your henchmen in any one other thing you have rolled on this chart.  Reroll if you are rolling on this chart for the first time or otherwise have nothing to pass on.
83-85  Trip and throw specialist.  Any time you roll the exact number you needed to hit a foe in melee, they are also thrown to the ground, provided they are no larger than man-sized.    If there is a ledge or vat of acid or something handy, you can make a Dex roll to drop them into it.  Roll this result again and you can throw anything ogre-sized or smaller.  A third roll allows you to throw any foe smaller than the universe.  Reroll after that.
86  Pick an object, any object that is not normally thought of as a weapon and wouldn't normally do a lot of damage.  A quill, for instance.  Or a spoon.  That kind of object now does d8 damage in your hands.  Pick another object if you roll this again.
87-88  Shattering strike.  Once per session you can punch any single, non-magical wooden object to a gazillion splinters.  Great for that one dungeon door no one can open.  Roll again and you can also do that with non-magical metal or stone.  Rolled a third time and you can affect magical objects as well.  Reroll this result after that.
89  Stooge Fu: Once per combat you can do the ol' double eyepoke.  If you hit the foe takes normal unarmed damage and is incapacitated for d4 rounds.  Doesn't work on anything you can't eyepoke, either due to lack of eyes, too many eyes, or too widely spaced eyes.    Reroll this result if it comes up again.
90-92  You may bat away normal non-magical thrown and missile attacks by saving versus petrification.  If you roll a 20 for the save, you snatch the weapon out of the air and throw it back for an immediate counter-attack.  Cool!  One a second roll of this item, you can also bat away stuff like catapult stones and cannonballs.  Reroll this result if it comes up again after that.
93  Kip Up.  Any time you are prone you may make a Dex check to stand up and still act in that round.    Reroll this result if it comes up again.
94  Inner Peace.  By meditating you can rest and recuperate twice as fast as normal.
95-97  You get better at dodging blows.  Your AC is +1 when unarmored.  Each subsequent roll you can opt for another point of AC or expand it to include leather, then chain, then plate.  By multiple rolls you can eventually end up with +5 unarmored, +3 in leather, +2 in chain, or +1 in platemail.  Past that, reroll if this result comes up again.
98  Omae Wa Mou Shindeiru.  After any successful unarmed strike you may declare the foe "already dead."  They then take your choice of the worse (higher) of two d20 rolls in damage or your pick from two throws on your DM's handy crit chart.  You may do this just once.
99  Crane Strike.  Once per combat you can spend a whole round entering the Crane Stance.  Your next unarmed strike is against Ac9 [10], no matter what sort of armor or Dex the foe possesses.  Only Ac bonuses from cover or concealment apply.
100  You grow more wise.  +1 Wisdom, up to your racial max or the max in your system.  Reroll if you are already at maxxed out Wis.  If you ever reach 18 Wisdom using this method of advancement, you realize this whole amateur chop socky scene is a bit rubbish.  You may never use this chart again.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

random advancement half-elves

So this works a little differently than the other random classes, as it does not involve a die new chart.  I'll add this and the half-orc to the master file after a few days of feedback.


To play a half-elf you must roll at least a 9 Charisma.  You must then make... the Choice of Elrond and Elros [insert dramatic musical sting here].

Option 1: a humanish elf

If you have at least an Intelligence of 9, you may opt to play using the Elf class as your basis.  Build a normal first level Elf.  Every time that you level up you will make one random advancement roll for every spell slot you would gain under the standard BX-type rules.  Here's the deal though: the first advancement roll you make for each new level must come from the random chart for any human class of your choice.

If you add a spell slot from the Cleric chart (or any other non-MU spellcaster chart), then you gain spell slots for that class.  By rolling on the cleric chart, you're signalling that your PC has found religion in much the same way that choosing the Anti-Paladin chart would say something important about your character.

If your new level entitles you to more than one spell slot, make all additional advancement rolls past the first one on the Elf charts.

Option 2: an elfish human

Pick any human class as your base.  Your are that class for all intents and purposes, save when you are entitled to a random advancement roll.  Your first roll each new level must come from the Elf advancement chart.  Subsequent rolls use your normal class chart.  If the Elf chart grants you a spell slot and your base class doesn't use spells, follow the progression for the Elf class.  I.e. your first such roll gets you a first level Elf spell.  Your third grants you a second level spell.  The first time that happens, you get whatever sort of starting spellbook your are entitled to under your ruleset and add spells as normal.

Note that Half-elves made under this option do not speak Elvish unless they take it as a bonus language due to Int, are vulnerable to ghoul paralysis, can be slept/charmed, and must follow the armor & spell rules of their base class.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

how to be a half-orc

So this is an attempt to use the Random Advancement system as a method for implementing new races.

The Half-Orc

In order to play a half-orc roll up stats and pick one of the human classes: Warrior (fighter), Wizard (M-U), Thief, or Cleric.  If you have at least a 9 in the Prime Requisite for the class and a Charisma score of 12 or less, you can opt to play a Half-Orc of that class.  You can do the same for Zak's Barbarian class, but you need a Str and Con both of 9 or better.

Every time you are entitled to two or more rolls on the advancement charts, exchange one of those rolls instead for a roll on this chart.  Initially, you won't be much different from a human of your selected class, because you get no starting half-orc abilities.  But you will eventually grow into your half-orciness.

01  You get nothing.  Being a half-orc really sucks sometimes.

02-25  You get better at fighting.  +1 to-hit.

26-47  You get better at not dying.  +1 to all saves.

48-52  You get better at taking a beating.  +1d6 hit points.

53-66  If you belong to a spell casting class then you gain a spell slot as normal.  If not, you gain the ability to tell enemy spellcasters to get bent:  You can shrug off any one incoming magical attack or effect.  If it is an area effect it can still affect others around you.  This ability works just once.

67  Thick skull.  Any time you would be knocked out by a blow to the head, killed by a head critical, etc., you get a saving throw versus Death Ray to avoid it.  Reroll if you get this result again.

68-69  You lose one point of Charisma vis-a-vis humans, demihumans, faeries, angels, and other such good guys, but gain +2 points of Charisma when dealing with monsters and bad guys.  E.g. if you had a 9 Cha and rolled this, your Charisma is now 8/11.  If you drop below 3 Charisma you can no longer find any place in polite society.  If you gain 18 Charisma with respect to monsters, you find yourself propositioned regularly by all sorts of horrible creatures.  Reroll if this result would lower you to zero or raise you above 18.

70-71  Master of ambushes.  Any time you have the advantage of surprise a natural to-hit roll of 20 will outright slay any foe that possesses internal organs/that is subject to critical hits.  If you roll this again your 'ambush range' becomes 19-20, etc.

72  You can declare one magic weapon, shield, suit of armor, or helmet to be made by the Orc Wizard-Smiths of Old, providing the provenance of the item has not already been established.  This item can now be used by orcs and half-orcs of any class and the DM must roll on the Miscellaneous Magic charts to give it additional powers that are only usable by such characters.  You may make such a declaration only once.  Reroll if you get this result again and have not used it yet.

73-74  The next time you fight a bunch of humanoids of bugbear size or less, you can recruit the sole survivor of the encounter .  You know, that one remaining baddie that always causes arguments about whether to kill them or tie them up or whatever?  That dude is now your loyal henchweenie.  Use the figher charts to track XP for them (assuming a 2 hit die gnoll is a 2nd level fighter, for instance), except for kobolds, xvarts, and goblins.  Treat them as 1st level thieves.  You can reuse this as many times as you reroll this result, up to your Cha limit for henchmen.  Reroll this result after that.

75-76  Orcs are fierce.  Orcs are violent.  Orcs are mean.  Orcs are also incredibly lazy.  Any time you have to do a non-combat task more complicated than digging a ditch, make an Intelligence check to find a way to get it done for less effort.  Reduce the time on task or the materials needed by 50%.  Reroll if you get this result again.

77  You have found and mastered a legendary Orcish Double Axe.  You may attack twice per round for
normal battle axe damage each time, but at -2 to-hit for each attack.  If rolled again, you lose the penalty.  Reroll if you get this result a third time.

78-79  Where there's a whip, there's a way.  Any time someone beats you with a whip, you take no damage.  Instead, you become invigorated as if you had an 18 Constitution for purposes of initiating or staying on some arduous task.  Reroll if you get this result again or if you already have an 18 Con.

80  Given an armful of old leather, scrap metal, and bits of wood, you can put together a suit of improvised armor.  You need one turn to make the equivalent of standard leather armor, 6 turns to make the equivalent of chain, and 3 days to make plate.  Any sort of critical hit, a blow by something of giant strength, or a fall of greater than 10' shatters the armor.  Reroll if you get this result again.

81-82  Half-orcs tend to make their way through the world by walking on the corpses of their friends.  You may save your bacon from death, level drain, or any other imminent doom by allowing another PC to take the fall.  This can be used in any situation where cleverness and treachery can be brought to bear.  You can do this only once, but once is enough.

83-85  Your beady little eyes have adjusted to the gloom of dungeons.  You gain 60' infravision.  If you roll this again you gain +1 to any sort of search check (such as finding secret doors, locating traps) when in the twilight world below the surface.  Reroll if you get this result a third time.

85  You're so resourceful and vicious in combat that nearly any object is a deadly weapon in your hands.  It will do d6 damage with no to-hit penalty and can probably be thrown like a hand axe.  Every time you do damage with it there is a 50% chance the item breaks.  It will take you a whole round to retrieve another object.  Reroll if you get this result again.

86-87  Once per session you can consume the flesh of any slain enemy except undead to regain d6 hit points.  This horrid feast takes 1 turn and freaks out most non-orcish NPCs in the party.  Increase die size to d8, d10, d12, and d20 with subsequent rolls.  Reroll if you get this result again after that.

88  You get some wicked sick tattoos and/or ritual scarring.  Humans, demi-humans, and humanoids of bugbear size or smaller are -1 morale when facing you in melee.  Other than orcs.  They might dig the ink, but they aren't scared of it.  Reroll if you get this result again.

89  You know how to talk to monsters.  If you don't know orcish, you gain that language.  Otherwise pick any monster tongue.

90-91  Your hide grows thicker and maybe a little greener, too.  +1 armor class.

92  You gain the ability to fashion a cup out of the skull of an enemy you have slain.  This requires a
sharp tool, 100gp in materials, and 8 hours of chanting.  If you pour a potion into this cup then drink it, the duration of the potion is doubled.  Instantaneous effects like healing are not altered in any way.  If you pour poison into the cup you save at +2.  The skull can be used a number of times equal to the hit dice of the creature.  Half or partial hit dice don't count.  (Only wimps drink from kobold skulls.)  You may only have one such cup at a time and the powers work for no one else save a blood relative.  Reroll if you get this result again.

93-94  You gain +1 Con.  If you already have max Con, add it to Strength instead.  If you already have maxed out on both stats, then up yours.  You get nothing.

95 Everyone knows that dungeon doors hold some sort of animus against surface dwellers.  That's why monsters seem to be able to open them easily but PCs have to roll.  You confuse doors.  +1 to Open Door rolls.  Reroll if this would take you past a 5 in 6 chance to open.

96-97  Your let your wild side out.  Roll on the Barbarian chart.  If you already are a Barbarian, roll twice and take your pick of the two.

98-99  Those fangs aren't just for show.  Once per combat you may surprise a foe with a bonus bite attack.  You get +2 to hit and do d4 damage (plus Str bonus, if any).  Reroll if you get this result again.

100  The taint of chaos grows inside you.  Roll on a handy random mutation chart.

Monday, August 07, 2017

a spell to remember

Some spells are classics.  The no-save versions of Sleep.  The expands-to-a-volume incarnations of Fireball.  Others are legendary, such as Eliminster's Contingency spell or Tokkrang's Star Bore.  Today I'd like to nominate a spell to add to the list of All Time Greats.  It appears in Pegasus number 12.  Pegasus appears to be Judges Guild's answer to Dragon, but it was never as popular or successful as the latter august publication.  Anyway, page 9 of issue 12 (1983) contains 2 spells written by David Porter.  One of them is called Minor Waldo and is conceptually similar to the later Mage Hand.  The other is a beauty called Disbelieve Reality:

I love, love, love that you can cast this spell on yourself!

Sunday, August 06, 2017

screen shots

So I've got this thing called The World's Greatest Screen from Hammerdog Games.  This is one of those customizable jobbies where the front and back are pockets that you can slide your own inserts into.  I've got one such thing from Pinnacle Games that I've used for years.  The old one is three panels in landscape format, but the new one is four panels in portrait orientation.  So I'm working on a new set of inserts.  Today, I thought I'd share what I've had on my side of the screen for the last 10 years or so.

The left panel has three items.  The big one is my Carousing Mishaps chart.  I don't think I've ever needed it, but the other chart here is my Random Dungeon Motivation chart.  (Both these charts can be found in the back of Broodmother Skyfortress, by the way.)  The bold text in the bottom left corner is my personal motivational quote:
I am the maze controller, the god of this universe I have created. The absolute authority. Only I know the perilous course which you are about to take. Your fate... is in my hands.
That's a line from Mazes & Monsters, the Citizen Kane of Tom Hanks lost in the steam tunnels movies.

The center panel contains the main charts for play.  Upper left is an abbreviated to-hit chart.  The big chart is a saving throw chart that covers the first two level ranges for the seven canonical classes.  The tiny chart is just the rules for the Sleep spell.  Middle left is a Turn Undead chart.  Middle right is monster and retainer reactions.  Bottom left is encounter distances. Many of these are based on the numbers in Labyrinth Lord, rather than D&D proper, as that's what I was running when I first started using it.  Bottom right is my Wessex hirelings chart.

Oh yeah, there's also a skull.  Just for my amusement.

This photo turned out terrible.  Don't bother to click on it.  You'll have to take it on faith the this page is devoted to the Arduin crit chart.  Turned sideways and slid in much later is one version of my personal attempt to revive Chainmail-style 2d6 spellcasting.  I never used this chart for every spell cast in the game.  I kept it handy for when wizards try something foolish and/or outside the scope of the rules.

So now I have to figure out what I what to do with a whole nother panel.  And I can probably replace the Random Motivation chart with something else, since I've never used it.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Friday, August 04, 2017

Vaults of Vyzor, session #11


Rose Royce, trash elf princess (Kiel Chenier)
Porky, giant porcupine pet
Sneakerly Trull, half-orc thief (Zak S.)
Mozzarella, doggie
Ilse Raagenkampf, disreputable chirugeon (Perttu Vedenoja)
unnamed serving boy

The party did something new this week.  They entered the dungeons using the entrance in the Verdant Scriptorium, but came out of the Azure Tower!  Well, everyone except Ilse's unnamed serving boy.  He was murdered by a stirge.  They don't come out with much loot, save for a bullwhip woven with threads of cold iron and silver, allowing it to injure supernatural beings.  But an NPC visiting the Azure Tower buys a copy of their map, so Rose and Ilse paint the town red.  (BTW, this NPC, a fellow named Lord Gort, is a newly arrived adventurer of noble rank.  He and his henchmen totally plan on bogarting all the loot from the PCs.)

This is as good a time as any
to repost the best ghoul art ever.
The party took the most expeditious route from the lair of the Bargain Wolves (who were not home) to the Torture Chamber of the Mariliths.  I think Rose intended to free them, but first they had to slay the new head torturer, a troll in a business suit.  He had the fancy bullwhip, with which he had cut up one of the snake demon ladies pretty badly.  Sneakerly bargained for the freedom of the demons in exchange for Three Services each, but the one who hadn't been badly injured yet balked at the price.  The one with only a handful of hit points left decided to play ball, but the party never released her from her cold iron shackles.  Apparently her name was Nancy.  She's probably pretty pissed off now.

The main feature the party explored was a large zoo or prison or something that had a glass case with an ochre jelly and a black pudding in it, and two big cages.  One cage held a pair of piteously wailing chimerae, the other contained a gargoyle and a pair of ghouls eager to lay claws on the party.  This about the time they started to figure out that this level has a crapload of traps, including a pit with spikes that would impress Vlad the Impaler, monofilament wire, poison gas, and tripwires of unknown function.

I thought I was going to get the whole party with the flock of stirges room, but quick thinking and decisive action carried the day.  It also helps when you've got a giant porcupine on your team.  At one point though Rose Royce had to bite a stirge to death out of sheer desperation.  Turns out they taste like chicken.

A room just off the stirge chamber contained a pair of sphinxes frozen under a few inches of ice.  The party used some torches to thaw out the head of the gynosphinx, who then negotiated her and her husband's release from their icy prison.  So now Sneakerly, Ilse, and Rose are each owed a favor from Melissa the Gynosphinx and Larry the Androsphinx.  The party got some more info from Melissa on the mysterious Elf King said to rule the Azure Vaults.  He is called Elexus, King of the Unseelie Court, and he has some sort of mad science lab a level or two down.  Melissa and Larry thought he was a total dickweed well before he encased them in magical ice.

Then there was the Narrow Door.  Don't open the Narrow Door.  Beyond lies a titanic insect monster who can't fit through the Narrow Door, but his huge mantis-like razor-appendages can.  Imagine if the apocalypse was a bug.  That's what is behind the Narrow Door.

We ran out of time, but fortunately Melissa had showed them the way out of the level, into the Azure Tower.  Now any party including Sneakerly, Ilse, and/or Rose may use that entrance.


unnamed serving boy (O-level hireling)
Gwalin Rustbritches (dwarf hireling)
Jarrod the Magic-User (Ian Reilly)
Jonesy (0-level NPC)
Little Liam Linkboy (0-level NPC)
Limpy the Naileteer (Jeff Call)
Engsal the Enchanter (Alex Joneth)
Elfbraham Lincoln (Jeff Call)
Littlens (0-level NPC)
Biggens (0-level NPC)
Stimpy (0-level NPC)
Ren (0-level NPC)

Thursday, August 03, 2017

lions and tigers and bears

I held off getting a copy of Edward R. G. Mortimer's Heroic Expeditions for years because the cover say it is "A Judges Guild UNIVERSAL fantasy supplement."  I'm pretty sure this label started appearing on Guild products after they lost their license from TSR to put "approved for use with Dungeons & Dragons" on the cover.  More importantly, the UNIVERSAL products I've seen from Judges Guild all use Bob Bledsaw's universal fantasy system, which he never actually released a rulebook for.  Instead, it existed as a stand-in for actual D&D stats.

The upshot of this is that every other UNIVERSAL book basically requires you to translate every statblock into D&D-ese from a language you don't speak.  I have run many adventures for the wrong system over the years and I mostly translate stats on the fly.  But running, say, a Tunnels & Trolls adventure and turning it into D&D right in front of the players feels like a fun challenge.  I enjoy it.  Bledsaw's universal statblocks feel leaden and unwieldy in comparison.  Working with them doesn't feel like playing with a strange toy, but more like doing your taxes.

Heroic Expeditions neatly avoids this peril by having the UNIVERSAL label on the front, but using mostly normal D&D statblocks inside.  Sneaky.  Anyway, the name of the module is Heroic Expeditions, plural, because it has three small adventures inside.  "Spear of Darkness" is designed specifically for a pair of half-orc characters.  I don't think I've seen a just-for-half-orcs adventure anywhere else.  "Quest for the Book of Ancestry" is designed for two halfling characters.  I'm pretty sure I've read a novel that featured a couple of halflings as the protagonists, but I don't think I've encountered any modules written that way.  The final adventure is called "Cave of Despair" and is designed for messing with the head of a lone PC of 12th level or higher.  It's one of those adventures that tries to be deep and get to the emotional heart of roleplaying, which means it is perfect for use at some tables and will ruin friendships at others.

But my favorite thing about Heroic Expeditions is not the adventures.  It's pages 37 to 40, the monster section.  This might be the greatest small bestiary ever published.  Here are the creatures it provides stats for:

Bear, Black
Bear, Brown Grizzly
Bird, Game
Centipede, Giant
Dog, Wild
Dragon, Green
Frog, Giant
Lion, Mountain
Mosquito, Giant
Stag (and Deer)
Spider, Giant
Spiders, Large
Tick, Giant
Tiger, Forest
Weasel, Giant

That is a very silly list of critters and I love it.  Note that most of the animals are perfectly normal.  The rabbit is not a Pythonesque vorpal bunny, just a 1/2 hit die beastie with no effective attack form.  Some of the normal animals can put a hurting on a PC, though.  Here's my favorite example, transcribed so that you can use it in your game:

AC 7 (natural)
HD 1+1
Move 6" (ground), 24" (air)
Damage 0-2 (bite) or 0-1/0-1 (wing/wing)

I guess I'd use d3-1 and d2-1 for the damage rolls, or maybe d4-2, d4-3.  Either way, a goose would be a not insignificant challenge for a first level adventurer.  Maybe not as bad as the housecat stats in the in the Monster Manual II, but still a legit threat.  I've attacked PCs with Dungeon Chickens before, but those were preternaturally large (hobbit-sized) and exceedingly grumpy poultry.  I don't know if I have it in my heart to murder a PC with a perfectly ordinary goose.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

helluva cold open

Events are moving quite fast. Beyator Rangorin has gathered wanderers together, Selisa Rangorin has dropped her blood quest against Omanir Poratir until Pwatok is overthrown.  Great Eldritch Magics are being performed: ballads once gone, long forgot, are now remembered; Fieral, master of the day, the white beacon of light now glows a dingy red; the Spawn of Circe ride; near the ancient evil called Circe the earth spews forth all hell and death; Bessa the Blesses, Lady of the Dawn has disappeared and not even the ancient Mage Myek can discern where she is.  Avinor Elamon has joined forces with the powerful Wizardess Mysim to search for Bessa.  None the less Visha Hakor, Orgo Binon, and Morga Parimor search the world for a suitable replacement for the Council of Glend lest the Blessed Lady be gone forever.
That's the first paragraph of the player's handout for the old Judges Guild module Sword of Hope, by
Dave Emigh.  Mr. Emigh ranks high on my personal list of overlooked, almost-greats of the early days of the hobby.  He did some work for Games Designer Workshop, technical advice for some sort on both Mercenary and the 2nd edition of High Guard.  And his small press monograph The Quest is an forgotten classic of the formative days of the hobby.

That being said, I'm not sure Sword of Hope is very good as a standalone module.  It started life as round 2 of the D&D tournament for Winter War IV in Champaign, Illinois.  Next year is Winter War 45, so that pegs the origins of this module at 1977 or so.  I haven't read Sword of Hope in years, but as I recall not enough was done to change a team-competitive module into an adventure for normal tabletop situations.  If memory serves the problem was further exacerbated by the fact that some of the background didn't make sense without the content in the round 1 module, Tower of Ulission (also by Emigh).

But what I love about Sword of Hope is that amazing prose.  Emigh was clearly one of those weaver-of-worlds kind of DMs, gifted with the ability to suggest vast vistas with a few choice phrases.  I wish I was better at that sort of thing.  Heck, you could build a whole dang campaign by simply unpacking that paragraph above, just by answering simple questions like "Who is Beyator Rangorin?" or "Why did Selisa Rangorin declared a blood quest against Omanir Poratir?" or "What are the Spawn of Circe?" or "What is the function of the Council of Glend?"  A brief document that explains every item mentioned in that paragraph would give you the launching point for a dozen sessions of play or more.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Don't give up. Don't beg for mercy. Bargain!

Over the years almost all the explicit gaming advice I have offered here has been directed to the referees, Dungeon Masters, and Game Masters of the hobby.  After all, these deranged individuals need all the help they can get.  But today I'd like to offer some advice to the players who must put up with these sick, sad weirdos.

And here it is: bargain for your life.

Years of con sessions and tabletop campaigns and Google Plus gaming have shown me lots of players who all too readily give up at the very moment they should be marshaling their every resource.  That is the moment when their PC kicks the bucket.

Here's the thing.  The title of my current campaign handout is Jeff Rients Wants to Kill Your Fucking Character, but that title is, in fact, a lie.  I want to try to kill your character.  And I certainly will kill your character.  But what I really want to happen is for you to survive by the skin of your teeth, exiting the dungeon with the thrill of knowing you very well could have died.  Frankly, the treasure is just icing on the cake of daring to enter the dungeon and getting away with it.

It's kinda like how I teach (actually how I teach is kinda like how I DM).  At the start of the semester I tell the students what I will expect of them in terms of the reading, writing, research, and thinking.  I tell them they will be challenged.  Then I tell them that if they don't do it, they will fail the course.  Now, I don't want any of them to fail.  (In fact, I basically only give out F's for not showing up or not handing things in.)  What I want is for them to be challenged and then congratulate themselves for rising to the challenge and doing great things.  I'm rooting for my students to succeed.  Very few things in the world make me happier than to see my students learn stuff and get good grades.

But at the end of every semester I get at least one student who didn't believe me when I said I would not hesitate to fail them for Not Doing the Things.  They show up to my office and/or email me extensively, desperate to wriggle out of the bad predicament they've gotten themselves into.  They ask for extra credit.  They offer to revise and resubmit.  They outright beg.  They cajole.  Sometimes they cry.  It's an unfortunate scene and thus far it has never worked.  But I don't mind taking these meetings.  These young people are simply trying to avoid the chickens coming home to roost as best they can.  I just wish they had been as quick-thinking and resourceful earlier in the semester.

I think more players should be a little bit like those students.  Doom comes at an unknown time for the PC, not at the end of 16 weeks ill-spent.  Why accept your fate with quiet dignity?  Dig this fairly typical scene:
DM: Hendrik the Beefy rips the door off the hinges!  Unfortunately, the hobgoblins on the other side heard your argument about whether to check it for traps or not.  They have crossbows ready.  Hendrik is hit five times for 19 points total!
Player (crumples charsheet): I only had 6 hit points.  I'm dead.

Protip #1

NEVER DECLARE YOURSELF DEAD.  Let the DM do that.  I want your PC to live, but if you've given up on them, why should I care?  I can't tell you how many times I've seem something like this.  I think it stems from players a) assuming they know the rules in play and b) thinking the rules are in charge of the game.  I love my D&D rulebooks, but they aren't running this show.  I am.  Give you and your PC the breathing room to see if that fact cuts your way or not.

Protip #2

When you believe you are dead, think quickly and try to come up with a very brief retcon.  A good DM understands the fluid nature of the shared imaginative space the game inhabits and will allow reasonable and judicious editing of the last few moments of play.  Here's what could have happened:
DM: Hendrik the Beefy rips the door off the hinges!  Unfortunately, the hobgoblins on the other side heard your argument about whether to check it for traps or not.  They have crossbows ready.  Hendrik is hit five times for 19 points total!
Player: Dang, I only have 6 hit points...  Wait a second.  You said I ripped the door off the hinges, right?
DM: Yeah, I guess I did.
Player: So maybe the door gave me cover against the crossbow bolts... eh?
DM:  That makes sense, I guess.  But I've already rolled to hit and damage, so I'm not going to take back all of the hits.  Roll a d4.  That many bolts hit the door instead.
Player (rolls): A three!
DM: Okay, the first two bolts hit you but you pull the door up in time to block the rest.  You take 5 points total.
Player: Whew!  Hendrik's only got 1 hit point left, but I'm still in the game!
Looking for these sorts of environmental factors is something you can do for other players as well.

Protip #3

All your precious things are less important than your life.  That goes double for your PC and their stuff.  Trade that crap away!  Not every DM will take the bait, but some will eat up the opportunity to let you live in exchange for making your life miserable.
Player: So maybe the door gave me cover against the crossbow bolts... eh?
DM: No way, dude.  You suspected there were hostiles on the other side of that door.  We both know Hendrik would discard that thing as soon as possible to get out his axe and shield.
Player: Okay, looks like Hendrik is going down.  But maybe I can linger at negative hit points for at least a round so the cleric can heal me.
DM: Not at negative thirteen hit points.  Minus nine or less, maybe you've got a chance.
Player: Shaving off four hit points might save my bacon?  Okay, imagine that the one bolt that is worth the most damage doesn't hit my body.  Instead...
DM: I'm listening.
Player (snaps fingers): Instead it hits my magic amulet!  You know, the one that allows me to cast
I haven't seen that flick in years.
Strength on myself 3 times a day?  I wear it on a chain around my neck.  Maybe it catches the deadly shot just like the cigarette case in Johnny Dangerously!  Whaddya say?
DM: Okay, I'm sold.  Your amulet is shattered into a dozen fragments and you hit the floor.  You're at negative nine hit points and not dead.  Not this round, at least.
Many of us, myself included, get so excited about magic items that we sometimes forget that their primary purpose is to keep our PCs alive for another day.  Your magic sword might be hella sweet. but it doesn't do you any good if your PC is a lifeless corpse.  (I guess that puts me in Thulsa Doom's camp vis-a-vis the Riddle of Steel.)  Why not trade that enchanted blade for your life by offering to have it block the death blow, breaking it in the process?  Heck, I might let a regular sword do the same job.

This idea is just a less formalized version of Trollsmyth's famous Shields Shall Be Splintered! house rule, which IIRC tied with Dwimmermount's Liquid Courage for Best New House Rule of 2008.  You bet your ass you should be offering to shatter your shield to save your PC's life.  Helmets ought to work well, too.  I might even allow suits of armor to be busted up, say to the tune of d4 points of AC lost.  Sure that means the next attack will be easier to land, but when you life is in peril you worry about the next thing next, not now.

Look for other opportunities to trade mere stuff for a prolonged life.  Maybe that dragon's breath didn't incinerate you.  Maybe it set your cloak of elvenkind alight and you quickly discarded the burning garment.  Instead of falling into the pit of acid, your buddy caught you in the nick of time.  Sure, you dropped your large sack full of loot into the acid, but at least you're alive.  And coldblooded PCs should be putting their henchmen and hirelings between themselves and the grim reaper whenever possible.

Finally, consider the difference between your PC's body and their soul.  Better to lose a limb or an eye than die outright.  Next adventure you could be rocking a peg leg or a eye patch.  How cool is that?

He lost his magic sword and his fighting hand,
but he lived to level up another day.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Vaults of Vyzor, session #10


Brax of the Tallstones, savage human fighter (Brad Black)
Young John, 0-level Likely Lad (NPC hireling)
Yareh Falsong, mutant thief (Sam Mameli)
Gwalin Rustbritches, dwarf   (NPC hireling)
Merrill Meadows, fighter (Michael Julius)

Brax, Yareh, and Merrill emerge from today's expedition to the Verdant Vault dripping in orc blood from head to toe.  Even better, they bring out a treasure chest full of equal parts copper, silver, electrum, gold, and platinum coins!  Young John is only slightly splattered with orc blood, as he spent the entire session carrying the torch, avoiding combat.  Everybody doff their caps for a moment of silence, as Gwalin the Dwarf does not return from his trip below Castle Vyzor.  ("Good riddance!" mumble several dwarves nearby.  Why Gwalin was a pariah among his own kind will remain a mystery forever.)  Loaded with riches, the three heroes carouse mightily, blabbing all bout their adventure.

Using this well-known map of the first level of the Verdant Vault, they plan on making a straight push through to the stairs down near the southwest of the level as it is known.

Aside: I am loving the communal nature of the maps.  In my first Google+ campaign a fair number of people were tight-fisted with maps. There's plenty of treasure (and peril) to go around, so making maps publicly available seems like a great move to me.  It's like the adventurers are members of communal effort to plunder the Vaults.
One big, happy, larcenous family.

Anyway, I should've made a not about this next bit at the time, but I didn't.  One of the players suggested trying to recruit the Bargain Wolves to join their expedition.  Whoever said that should take a bow in the comments, because the reaction roll dice came up boxcars and the wolves helped the party out for a few encounters.

Apart from allying with the Bargain Wolves, the rest of the expedition was orcs, orcs, and more orcs.  The orc guard post was ravaged, after which the party used a secret door to launch a raid on the orc training facility.  Brax took pity on the teen-aged recruits, quaking in their boots at the sight of a flesh and blood opponent.  He ended up knocking out three of the poor kids before the majority of them ran in sheer terror.  The previously-encountered one-eyed orcish drill sergeant was brutally murdered for his trouble.

The routed recruits start pounding on a nearby door, begging for help from whoever was on the other side.  The party and the wolves split ways at this point.  The wolves stay and pick off the surviving recruits only to become embroiled in a fight with a crap-ton of veteran orc soldiers coming out of that door.  The party makes a judicious withdrawal and heads down the stairs to level 2 of the Verdant Vaults.  There they discover another big L-shaped 20' corridor similar to the one that dominated level one, though not quite as long.

In the one room they explore, past that crazy hall of oblique angles, they find five orcs who have just discovered a treasure chest concealed in a decorative pillar.  The party charges and what follows in one of the best low-level D&D fights I have seen in a long time.  Yes, there was a round or two where no one hit anybody else, but that only served to contrast the big cinematic things that happened the other rounds.  Merrill viciously critted two orcs in back-to-back rounds, spraying orc blood all over the room.  He will henceforth be known as Merill the Orcslayer.  Yareh injudiciously joined the melee at one point and was nearly slain by a mighty blow, but Brax heroically intervened, his shield splintering and his forearm taking the brunt of the blow.  Poor Gwalin fell here to a vicious orc warhammer blow to his face.  This was just one of those beautiful, chaotic fights that nicely demonstrates that you don't need a bunch of levels or feats for an encounter to be epic as shit.

Alas, our time was nearly up for the session.  I threw some rolls for wandering monsters, which came up nil.  The party caroused as mentioned.  Yareh blew her saving throw and awoke with a new tattoo on her back.  Something like this:

But with scrollwork around it labeling the piece "Brax the Bold."

The dotted line is the mysterious elevator shaft.


Gwalin Rustbritches (dwarf hireling)
Jarrod the Magic-User (Ian Reilly)
Jonesy (0-level NPC)
Little Liam Linkboy (0-level NPC)
Limpy the Naileteer (Jeff Call)
Engsal the Enchanter (Alex Joneth)
Elfbraham Lincoln (Jeff Call)
Littlens (0-level NPC)
Biggens (0-level NPC)
Stimpy (0-level NPC)
Ren (0-level NPC)

Rumour: A Lord and his minions intent on looting the Vaults have arrived.  They are now guests in the Azure Tower.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Best Box of Monsters

So here's something cool I dug up a while back and meant to share with all y'all.

Back in 1982 or so tabletop fantasy gaming was so big that Grenadier Miniatures, one of the best manufacturers back in the day, started a division aimed at a more mainstream audience.  I don't think Pinnacle Products was around for long, but they did manage to release a pair of Dark Crystal figure sets and 2 Masters of the Universe boxes.  That's right, back in the day you could get Skeletor and the skeksis in 25mm.  What a time to be alive.  (Skeletor and the Skeksis would be a pretty decent band name.)

Anyway, one of Pinnacle's releases was, in my humble opinion, the single greatest boxed set of monsters in the history of the hobby.  Their humbly named Fantasy Monsters set contained eleven pieces.  One of them is one of the best sculpts of a smallish, wingless dragons I have ever seen:
Called the Vermillion Dragon, according to the box.

But what really makes Pinnacle's Fantasy Monsters stand out for me is that the other ten figures were bat-shit crazy-go-nuts.  Dig 'em:


False Phoenix!

Green Gaunt!

Ram Horn! 
Is it just me or does Ram Horn look a bit like a squished version of the monster from the second Conan flick? The face is also a little reminiscent of the Phantom Stalker in the D&D cartoon, I think.

Sand Ripper!
Of all the figures in the set, this one is the hardest one for me to get excited about.  In the few photos I've been able to find online, it doesn't really look like anything in particular.

Five Eyed Terror!  One Eyed Pit Fiend!  Tri-Ora!  Red Horned Mane!
Trust me, you'll want to click to see these bad boys close up.  Don't miss the One-Eyed Pit Fiend's troubling toes or the fact that those aren't crab claws on the Tri-Ora.  They're mouths.

Six Legged Nightmare!
I saved the Six Legged Nightmare for last because that paint job is by the one and only Erol Otus.  That shading from peachy pink to brownish purple is vintage Otus.

I can't find a scan of the cover of the boxed set online, but here's the front of the painting guide that included with the figs.

Why is this boxed set so great?  Firsta of all, any campaign should have at least one or two custom GM critters that feature prominently in play.   This box set gives you ten new freaks that you could stat up and be assured that no one has ever encountered them before.  Hell, this set is practically a taunt in 25mm lead form, "Here's a dragon kid.  I dare you to figure out what to do with the rest of these weirdos."

Second, if you're the kind of DM who uses miniatures, you should always have at least one figure that you can use as the "What the hell is that?" monster.  Ideally, you don't want to use a figure that evokes any particular hit dice or abilities or behavior.  If you use a troll, for instance, the players will tend to start thinking trollish thoughts about your decidedly non-troll weirdo monster.  A figure that is monstrous but a blank slate as far as past associations is best in these circumstances.

And there's no reason why you can't do both with these figures.  Take your favorites and turn them into regular features in your campaign and take the ones you consider duds and set them aside as fill-in-the-blank figures.

The one thing these critters don't have going for them is size.  I'm pretty sure that the dragon is the tallest figure in the bunch and I don't think it's any bigger than 2" tall.  The five eyed terror is more typical of the set, and it is about 30mm tall.  That's not very big and menacing in today's 28mm world.  Of course, nearly all the monsters in your minis universe (except orcs and skeletons and whatnot) could be much bigger is you started using Caesar 1:72 plastic Adventurers, Copplestone Castings 10mm Heroes and Halflings, or Perfect Six Scenics 6mm Adventurers.  Heck, nowadays you can even buy 10mm dungeon rooms, corridors, and furniture from Pendraken.

By they way, three of the figures in Pinnacle's Fantasy Monsters set were also sold by Grenadier in a blister.  Fantasy Lords number 147 contained the One Eyed Pit Monsters, Ram Horn, and Barracuman.  Grenadier was later bought out by the French company Mirliton, or they purchased the molds or something like that.  You can still get a lot of old Grenadier designs at, including a four pack called Horror Monsters, which contains the Five Eyed Terror, One Eyed Pit Monster, Tri-Ora, and Red Horned Mane.

Anybody have this set back in the day?  What did you do with it?

Almost forgot: much of the info and many of the images in this post come from the thoroughly excellent Lost Minis Wiki.