Monday, February 28, 2011

Arduin Grimoire, final installment

So we've made it to the end of the first volume of the Arduin Grimoire.  Page 94 comes with a little note "THE OVERLAND AND DUNGEON MAPS ON THE NEXT TWO PAGES ARE PROVIDED FOR YOUR INTEREST AND ENJOYMENT" followed by Mr. Hargrave's signature.  His middle initial is A and the way Dave forms it makes the letter look like a 5-pointed start, as if the dude is so metal he has a pentagram right in his name.

The wilderness map on page 93 is a nicely drawn little realm, centered on a lake surrounded by mountains and forests.  Eight little villages and five cities or castles dot the map.  One of the mountains is an erupting volcano.  You know I approve of that.  Overall I like this map but I've got two beefs.  First is a lack of scale.  That's not a dealbreaker but it would be nice to know what Michio (the artist) had in mind when it was drawn.  The second problem is that the southern edge of the lake hold quite a few islands and then south of the shore are what appears to be four smaller lakes.  Without coloring the map it's hard to tell at a glance which little outlined blob is land and which is water.

Here's the dungeon map on the following page:

Like most of Hargrave's maps, the sheer quantity of secret doors and oddly-shaped rooms makes my butt hurt.  I could use this map, but I wouldn't enjoy it as much as less crazy-go-nuts layout.

The inside back cover features a table of contents.  You know, that thing that normal people expect in the front of the book.  Underneath the TOC is a listing of products that Grimoire Games of San Diego, CA will be happy to sell you.  You can buy the three volumes of the Arduin Grimoires separately or save a couple bucks by getting all three at once.  Grimoire Games also sells 24 Arduin character sheets, a high level overland & dungeon adventure called DEATHEART and The HOWLINGTOWER, which is described as "Dungeon #2, levels 1-4".  These products'll cost you $6.50 apiece.   I've run the Howling Tower for a few sessions.  Sending in 1st level D&D types seems like a massacre waiting to happen.  Also advertised is the Arduin Adventure, which you can buy as boxed game or rulebook only.  No explanation is given about the Arduin Adventure's relationship to the Grimoires.

Finally, we get to the back cover.  You remember the front cover, with an amazon, a bug guy and Clint Eastwood fighting lizardmen in front of a mysterious door?  The back cover shows that same trio, from the same perspective, after the fight:

It's a nice effect.  I like the malevolent glimmer in the eyes of the face carved above the doorway.  I'm left wondering if in the original version of this art maybe the adventuress was topless.  There's at least one topless lass inside one of the Grimoires.  More to the point, the way the collarbone can be seen through the fabric of the top can be a tell, indicating what some comics fans refer to as "editorial swimwear".

So that's Dave Hargrave's The Arduin Grimoire: Volume 1.  There's lots of stuff in this book that can be cherry-picked to add a little high octane gas to your campaign.  That's how I've been using the first three Grimoires for years.  Another perfectly valid use of this material is as a particularly elaborate example of how one enthusiastic, energetic referee took OD&D and made it distinctly his.   In this way I like to read the Arduin Grimoire much the same way I do Empire of the Petal Throne and Holmes Basic or even Tunnels & Trolls or Runequest: as a demonstration of the process of bending the rules to your own campaign.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

random harddrive pic roundup

siege mechanics?

Castle sieges are a pretty big deal for the period I'm trying to evoke in my current campaign.  I've done mass battles in some games, but never sieges.  Anybody have any experience in this field?  Off the top of my head there are two systems you can go to for support in this matter:  Either Chainmail plus the OD&D/AD&D castle & catapult sections or the Siege Machine rules from BECMI D&D (I think those were in the Master rulebook).  Has anyone used any other rules for siege warfare in a FRPG?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Springfield, IL earlier today

Today the whole family and my good buddy Pat participated in the nationwide demonstration of solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin.  I'd guess there were about 150 to 200 people at the event with maybe a dozen counter-demonstrators across the street.

Arduin Grimoire cover to cover: by the 21 Hells!

Pages 85 to 92 of the Arduin Grimoire covers Dave Hargrave's vision for hell and its occupants.  As you can tell by the title of this post, Dante's nine circles are insufficient for Uncle Dave's imagination.

First up is a 22 point list of DEMON LORE: General Data.   You'll have to get your own copy of the Arduin Grimoire, though, as I'm going to hit the highlights here.

Why you shouldn't mess with demons: they attack and save as twice their hit dice, they get bigger hit dice than normal (d10's for lesser demons, d12 for greater, "Major Gods" get d12+3), they don't actually roll those hit dice instead they get max hit points, they almost always attack (75% chance of attacking their own kind!), controlling conjured demons requires you have hit dice equal to their level for a base 10% chance, they regenerate like trolls only better, killing them only dissipates them like a vampire (you can nuke or phaser lesser demons to death though), low level characters panic at their appearance, etc.

Why you should mess with demons: a greater demon might have 500,000 gp, a million ep, five million silver, and a hundred thousand platinum pieces in its lair, up to "3,00" gems, 500 jewelry, ten or twenty magic items and 1-3 artifacts. So basically if you're in Arduin you should sneak into greater demon lairs to burgle their loot when they run out for groceries.  Anything less is small time.

Lesser demons fall into in eight categories: wind, sea, fire, earth, ice, night, demon locusts and unique.  "Boak is an example" of an untyped unique demon.

Totally off-topic: My brain keeps telling me that some budding occultist out there could to map this list to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  I don't know what would be gained from such an exercise, though.  Al Crowley's Liber 777 ought to be a good place to get started with that.  In general that book could be a great resource for any DM wanting to creep up their campaign without dropping acid. This idea is probably on my mind since the other day I was working on some magic items based upon the gems on the breastplate worn by the high priests in the Old Testament.  You know, like the one that French dillweed puts on just before the Ark of the Covenant blows him to smithereens.

Anyway, the next four pages is a chart detailing the 21 hells in the following four ctageories: primary inhabitants, atmosphere, average temperature in degrees Fahrenheit, and "Terrain, Looks, Notes, etc."  So, for example, the 4th Hell is mostly deserts of black sand with occasional oases of flame, all broken up by mountain ranges of basalt and granite reaching up to 50,000 feet above the plain.  The atmosphere is breathable for short durations but contains enough neon and xenon to affect humans after 4 hours.  How it affects them isn't clear, but a lot of other hell-atmos are specified as being lethal after certain durations.  The locals are wind demons and the average temperature is 55 degrees.  A trio of red moons hang in a purple sky lined with silvery clouds.  Sounds like a pretty interesting place to visit, eh?  There are twenty others.

Then you get two pages of stats for the lesser demon types I mentioned above.  Organization is a problem with pretty much any early gaming product, but having the demons here and the dinosaurs in another place and the general monsters in a third place can be a real pain in the butt.  Still, I won't turn up my nose at stats for seven new demons.  These guys have about 10 hit dice, an AC around 2 or so, and lots of gruesome details and special powers.  My favorite tidbit is that five of the demons have their favorite food specified.  Wind demons go for elf meat, while fire demons like just the heartmeat of elves.  Earth demons like ent hearts, while ice demons enjoy amazon and sea demons prefer mermaid flesh.

A fun item that is mentioned briefly but not explained at all is that demons can be promoted.  At the end of the demon section is a list of names of known lesser demons.  Mithrom, a named Sea Demon, has the note "(now a greater demon?)".  Similarly, the description for Night Demons a few lines above ends with the line "It is rumored that one Night Demon has ascended to "God" status."

So that's the demons and their hells in a nutshell.  I'll end this installment with a great illo from this section:

Friday, February 25, 2011

coins of Wessex

OD&D used three types of coinage: copper, silver and gold pieces.  Later editions add electrum and platinum pieces.  I've taken to using only two main types of coinage.

The Solidus is an ancient gold coin, minted from the 4th century to the end of the Roman empire.  Usually they have the face of some emperor on the front and a cross on the reverse.  A lot of more of these things are in circulation in my campaign as compared to the real world.  That's because back in the day King Arthur scored a lot of them in his adventures abroad and spread the wealth around.

The silver Penny is the only coin that has been minted in the area in any significant number.  Most of them have some dumb dead king on them, with a cross on the back.  Many mints currently producing coins in my campaign have switched to putting something else on the front, just in case Empress Maud unseats King Stephen.  For smaller transactions it's pretty common to cut pennies in halves or quarters (the halfpenny and farthing, respectively) but adventurers don't normally deal with such trifles.

It takes about 100 Solidus coins to make a modern pound of weight, while Pennies come in at about 300 to the modern pound.  So for encumbrance purposes a mixture of both kinds of coins counts as 200 to the pound.  Not that I ever remember to bother players with encumbrance.

A lot of smart people have argued that realistic medieval type D&D games should switch from the gold to the silver standard.  I see the argument, but I just can't get behind it.  The game is about adventuring and adventuring is about gold, so the setting focuses on gold.  That's good enough for me.

I've agonized about the proper ratio of values between my gold and silver pieces.  20 silver to 1 gold is probably the right answer, but 10:1 makes my life easier, so I favor the latter.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Surfeit of Lampreys, session #5

So we lost 3 PCs last night and it's pretty much Jamie Mal's fault. Last night I ran his dungeon "The Ruined Monastery"  from issue #1 of Fight On!, the fanzine for degenerate OD&D malcontents.  (Incidentally, if you like fantasy fiction the folks at Fight On! have put out a little anthology called Roll the Bones that you can purchase here.  I'm not a fan of modern fantasy genre literature, so I really can't comment whether any of it is good or not.)  Anyway between the yellow mold in one room and the poisonous [REDACTED] in another room, it was a night for missing saving throws versus poison and keeling over dead. 

That dude on the ground?
The original Wat Tyler.
Even the Thumac the Ram, the first and last dwarf PC of the campaign, couldn't resist a hearty dose of venom.  Ryan, who ran Thumac, has had a pretty rough streak in the dungeons of Wessex.  That dwarf was his third PC killed in only 5 sessions of campaigning.  Next time he'll be running a bagpiping bard using the rules out of Best of Dragon, volume I, which are almost as crazy as those in the 1st edition PHB but not as ridiculously powerful.  In order to help come up with a name for his new dude, I handed Ryan my copy of volume 35 of the Harvard Classics (Froissart, Mallory, Holinshed).  I bring it and an modern English version of Beowulf to sessions for just such situations.  Flipping around a bit he settled on naming his dude Wat Tyler.  Between this and his mention of the Templars earlier in the evening I'm now suspicious that either he reads whackjob books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail or else he is a Freemason or both.  Personally, I'm a both.

Her: Are you sure this is worth XP?
You ever have one of those nights when the players arrive at seeming random intervals?  Right around start time I had three players (include new player Kirk, who seems to fit right in with this bunch) with 5 PCs between them.  I picked up two more as the night progressed, but before that happened the party's meat shield fighter bought the farm.  That left the player's with two thieves, a magic-user and a newly-minted 1st level changeling with only 2 hit points and a squeaky voice.  So they went and dropped a bunch of gold to aquire some spear carriers just in time for the rest of the players to arrive.  That cracked me up a little, as hench-recruitment under Holmes D&D is expensive: d6 x 100 gold apiece!  Between that and some carousing for the two thieves I think we managed to bleed off quite a bit of gold in the party's coffers.

more cool pics here
While I like the delightful Mister Maliszewski's dungeon just fine as-is (and have run it that way), for this particular campaign I decided to spruce it up to better fit my fako-historical* Wessex milieu. So some of the goblins got cute little red caps to wear, like out of a fairy tale.  When a fight broke out between the party and some book-wreckers in the library, they pulled full sized swords out of their tiny hats like Bullwinkle stage magicians.  Boy, were they disappointed when they found out that the magic was inherent to the goblins and not to the hats themselves.  Apparently they really wanted some Hats of Holding, even if they were much too small to wear without looking like maroons.  As an aside, I was really impressed with how viscerally the players reacted to the goblins shredding books with malevolent glee.  Good job on that encounter, J-M.

Another thing I did was try to merge the dungeon background with the campaign background.  So the ex-monastery was looted and destroyed by rowdy Norman knights during the tumultuous period immediately following the conquest.  And the villainous NPC in the dungeon became the grandson of one of those knights, a bastard with no inheritance of his own trying to enrich himself by following up on grandpa's tall tale of a lost treasure still lurking in the cellars below monastery ruins.  I also changed the villain's stats quite a bit, since he's written as a cleric and I don't use that class in this campaign.

I also changed one of the monsters Jamie Mal uses in more than one encounter, but I can't reveal more because the altered baddies remain unused and some of my players read this blog.  Hi, guys!  I also added a monster my daughter created while in one of her "Must Draw The Crap Out Of A Whole Sketchbook In One Sitting" fugues.  I'd love to post the pic, but she has forbidden me from sharing it.  I don't think she likes the way it turned out, but the concept is totally useable. Again, I can't tell you any more because the party hasn't encountered it yet.

*"Pseudo-historical", "alt-historical" and even "faux historical" just seem way too serious for  a term to describe to what I am trying to do, so today I made up my own.  But then I go and have no problem with straight-facedly deploying the word "milieu" in the same sentence.  Like I told my players at one point last night, I have no problem with shamelessly contradicting myself.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Don't quit your day job."

Question for everyone: Does campaign time pass between your game sessions? 

For my last couple of D&D campaigns I've been using Uncle Gary's suggestion from the DMG that when nothing particular is going on then time passes at one campaign day per real day since you last played. 

I've combined this approach with an assumption that loitering in smelly dungeons is sort of a 'weekend warriors' type of affair.  Everybody is assumed to have some sort of day job: the thieves are petty bandits and poachers, the warriors are knights protecting/oppressing the poor, the magic-users putter around trying to turn lead into gold, etc.  Day-to-day expenses are normally handled by whatever you do during the two weeks between outings to the dungeon, at least to a subsistence level that the PCs find insufficient for the rock and roll lifestyles they truly crave.

Here's an unintended upside of this policy: given the small size of my campaign map, two weeks is sufficient time that I could start any new adventure off in pretty much any hex I please.

follow-up: Voynich, Sion, Tolkien, etc.

1. The Prior of Sion, a centuries-spanning secret mystical order of knights claiming descent from the secret son of Christ, is definitely a hoax.  Wikipedia has a pretty darn good article on it, the jist of which is that there's no evidence of its existence prior to 1956.  I like to think that Pierre Plantard, the guy what did it, would have made a great DM if he had been born a generation or two later.  Anybody who tries to sell you on the Priory as something besides the second greatest hoax of the the twentieth century is either a tool, a salesman, or Dan Brown (i.e. both).  The greatest hoax of the 20th century is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  And by "greatest" I mean "worst".  Published at the beginning of the century, it purports to be the meeting minutes of the international Jewish conspiracy to destroy/enslave all us Gentiles.  You ever meet anyone who gives the Protocols the least bit of credence and you have my permission to punch them in the face.  It's what Indiana Jones and Captain America would do.

2. I never meant to imply yesterday that I suspected Tolkien was the creator of the Voynich Manuscript.  My theory was that he encountered the Manuscript as an academic curiosity and contacted the unnamed military man in the quoted anecdote to see if the text was a cipher of some sort.  Though someone wanting to make a little money could probably knock off a "non"-fiction book arguing that Tolkien faked all the pre-20th century history of the codex.

3. Like James in yesterday's comments, I don't buy the theory that explains the Voynich Manuscript as some charlatan's attempt to gin up a fake grimoire.  That would violate the first principle of faking: make sure your fake resembles the real deal.  When someone shows me an earlier grimoire that resembles Voynich, then we have something to work with.  Until then, it would be like me taking a transcript from the Gong Show and trying to pass it off as a lost work of Shakespeare.  It's just not a good match for serious fakery.

4. Now let me tell you my pet theory.  The mystery of the identity of Jack the Ripper and the mystery of the authorship of the Voynich Manuscript are two of a kind to me.  Until I see better evidence otherwise the answer to both is this is the work of an anonymous crazy man.  I double dog dare the universe to prove me wrong and come up with something awesomer than that, but until I see good solid evidence I feel that Occam's Razor leans towards the side of the most boring explanation.  Though I don't find that answer as boring as most people.  The Whitechapel Murders are horrible tragedy, but under my theory the Voynich Manuscript  is really a triumph of outsider art, like if the HYBRID-RPG was written in its own script and fully illustrated.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

this is blowing my mind

I have "lurked" on this list for a while and finally have a comment to offer, albeit a very insignificant one.
I wonder if the fact that Prof. JRR Tolkien apparently had an interest in (or at least knowledge of) the Voynich Ms has been discussed or indeed is of any interest at all?
The thing is, a nagging feeling that I had once seen the VMs many years ago - long before my recent interest was sparked by that piece in The New Scientist - is resolved. I now recall it - and though the persons concerned having died long since makes my little anecdote mere hearsay and in no way veridical, I thought I'd forward it. An old friend, a retired military man with an amateur interest in codes and cyphers, once showed me a couple of not entirely distinct b&w copies of pages from a curious coded manuscript, which I now realise were a couple of folios of the VMs. I was not especially interested in them at the time, I think, but the reason that the incident made an impression was that he said that they had been given to him by Prof JRR Tolkien. At that time I had just discovered and was very much 'into' Tolkien so I was most envious of my friend's knowing him and pressed for details of the great man, though in the end I never achieved my longed-for personal introduction. So I now wonder if there might be any reference anywhere in the mass of Tolkien papers to our VMs, and is this of any possible slight significance? After all, JRRT knew a great deal about languages and artificial scripts of course and if he was interested enough to make and pass on copies to a friend, he might have devoted some time to the VMs himself. And the Voynichese script does have a Tolkien-ish look to it or vice versa: could it have influenced him?

In any event it is of some relief to me to have scratched this mental itch at last. I only put two and two together last night when I was browsing and found all those nice images of the VMs at the Beinecke site (I hadn't realised that so many good reproductions could be seen on-line) - folio 86v it was that rang the bell, with those strange pictures of what to me looked like giant jellyfish eating some poor sea-gulls (and a couple of people for good measure.)
I would also like to use this opportunity to thank all the many excellent contributors to this list. Quite apart from the actual VMs itself, the multitude of curious and often obscure by-ways you entice us to wander down are endlessly fascinating and following them is a valuable education in itself. Many thanks to all.


The above is quoted from the Voynich Manuscript mailing list.  If you are not in the loop, the Voynich Manuscript is an untranslated codex from (maybe) the 15th century, in an unknown tongue and a weird script, accompanied by baffling illustrations.  Wikipedia has a pretty reasonable page on it.  Or check out pics of the whole dang thing yourself here.  The ultra cool online comic xkcd provides this nutshell version.

To me, the Voynich Manuscript represents one of the great secrets of history, in the league of Jack the Ripper's identity, combined with the mystique of the grimoires that inspired H.P. Lovecraft's creation of the Necronomicon.  But there's also the hint of the sweet aroma of a possible hoax on the scale of the Priory of Sion.

The suggestion that Professor Tolkien had a piece of that action just makes the universe seven shades more awesome than I had previously expected.  Somebody needs to get cracking on a two-fisted alt-history novel or comic covering this strange conjunction.

EDIT TO ADD:  The more I look at the first panel of that xkcd comic, the more I wonder whether Randall Monroe has a message hidden there!

Mr. wTf?

And then there was this time where Mr. T was in England, sipping champagne and hanging out with these horsehead dudes...

Monday, February 21, 2011

new, improved Wessex map

Click on the thimbnail below to see my latest version of totally fakey southwest England.

I think I'm slowly getting less sucky at Hexographer.  It's definitely the best hex mapping tool I've ever played around with.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

draft super-simple Changeling class

Changeling class
XP per level: 3,000
Hit die: d6 d4 if MU/T (see below), otherwise d8
Saving throws: as Dwarf/Halfling

1 unusual facial feature (e.g. pointed ears, long nose)
2 odd hands or feet (claws, hooves)
3 strange hair or skin (unusual color and/or texture)
4 extra body parts (tail, vestigal wings, third eye)
5 noteworthy stature (tall, broad, skinny and/or short)
6 weird voice (preferably something that does not annoy the DM)

class abilities (roll every level, including first)
1-2 fighter & magic-user
3-4 fighter & thief
5-6 magic-user & thief

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jewels, base 5,000gp value

Black Sapphire

Oriental Emerald

Also called Green Sapphire.

Friday, February 18, 2011

anyone recognize this language?

Saghtgwan tlap ne Salaam Ander bwtati og theni berchi ne Simbwana mbengwe ogandi sukh na moimol opwana Salaam Ander sri moana gwens. Og di limbw, og di bwtat na Salaam Ander kchri pche ogandi pwe ogwandi te ur maswali sukh? Na, ne ur lingo tIslamli kcher oganda Salaam Andrias sahti. Bend optonga kchri Simbwana médh, salaam!

Google Translate's auto-detect can't make up it's mind whether this is German or Filipino, but then doesn't provide a translation for either one.  If that's German, I'm the man on the moon.

I first encountered this passage back in the 90s, in Karel Čapek's novel War with the Newts. You might know him as the guy who invented the term 'robot'. Like his other works most of the novel was originally written in Czech. The above passage is supposed to be an untranslated newspaper clipping about the discovery of the Newts, a race of sentient undersea creatures.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Arduin Grimoire, part 10

We're finally to one of the best parts of the Arduin Grimoire: the monsters.  Each monster is given hit dice (often a range of possible hit dice), Speed in inches, Dec score, number appearing, % Liar, attacks/damage and a few lines of description.  I wasn't kidding about % Liar, the "% in Lair" stat was misspelled in OD&D and Hargrave just went with it.  So here are the monsters.

Air Shark - Big ol's sharks that swim through the air.  They float by means of internal hydrogen bladders, so when killed they go up like the Hindenburg.
Blue Bellower - Really loud giant beetles with shiny carapaces that reflect  lightning bolts.
Boogie Man - an undead jerk that turns its victims into shadows, dig the creepy illo:

Deodanth - Described as "tall ebon humanoids with flaming red eyes".  Pretty badass in a fight.  Are these from a book I've never read?
Doomguard - animated suits of black platemail that do normal weapon damage plus d10 Str points per hit
Emerald Ooze - high power attack slime, gets d8 pseudopod attacks per round, each does 4d10 damage and turns survivors into fellow Emerald Oozes.
Ghost Crab - giant ass undead crabs that drain levels when they catch you in their claws
Grey Horror - giant scorpions as big as your house; their stinger venom paralyzes unless you're a hobbit, then you melt
Hell Horse - undead horse, they hate dwarves and always attack them
Hell Maiden - skull-faced valkyries, totally metal
Hell Star - kinda like a giant will-o-wisp, envelopes you then you go blind plus lose 3 levels per round
Ibathene - a giant one-eyed lizard-beast beast up to 120' long and 50 hit dice in size, Hargrave notes their tongue can lift a fully armored man on horse and their claws can snatch up 6 dudes at one go, can fight for d20 rounds after death due to utter stupidity
Knoblins - half goblin/half kobold "and a smidgen of bat"
Kobbits - kobold/hobbit hybrids, they love scones
Maggoth - imagine if purple worms were maggots and the earth was a giant corpse
Morghoul - like a ghoul but more so, their claws paralyze but their bites cause rotting
Phraint - one of Arduins signature humanoid species, these guys are 9' tall mantis/ant warriors
Red Fangs - giant leaping spiders, their poison is deadly except for elves who are paralyzed instead, these guy love the taste of hobbit so they always attack the wee bastards first
Saurig - lizardmen who are "100% unslowable but are highly susceptible to sleep spells"
Skyray - looks like an aerial manta, but is actually a deadly fungoid lifeform
Spiga - intelligent spiders made of metal
Teng - 4" to 7" long beetles with arrow-shaped head, these guys appear in swarms of up to 10,000
The Helltide - a swarm of thousands of 6" to 9" long ants
Thermite - giant termites that are on fire
Thunderbunnies - rabid jackrabbits appearing in hordes of up to 100,000 members

Seriously, without clever play or powerful magic there's nothing preventing the above three horde monsters (Teng, Helltide, Thunderbunnies) from killing the whole party and destroying a repectable chunk of your campaign setting.

Tryvern - a wyvern with three heads and three tails
Vroat - one of my favorites, basically a giant toad with the head of a crocodile, it leaps at you then eats your head
Wyvergon - fat wingless wyvern that breathes petrification gas
Yellow Peril - less racist than it sounds: an amber-hued giant snake that spits acid
and some new golems - Silver, Gold, Mithril, Adamantine, Orichalcum, Shadow and Light.  The Adamantine variety has a disintegration beam.

Next time I'll tackle Hargrave's ideas for hell and the demaniacal inhabitants thereof.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Message for you, sir!"

It's been months since I was seriously active on any message boards.  The OSR blogosphere has reached the point where it provides me a more than sufficient dose of rpg nerdery, so I have less motivation I guess.  But once in a while I still lurk around a bit, which brings me to this excellent inquiry made by the RPGpundit asked over on
Players not generally weaned on earlier editions of D&D tend not to hire retainers/henchmen/whatever. I want to try to encourage the use of them in my upcoming FR campaign

And I was trying to think of good ways to encourage this. Short, that is, of throwing them at the players or giving them away for free or whatnot. But rather, how to convince the players, in or out of game, that going adventuring with retainers (at low levels in particular) is a very good idea.

Any suggestions?

I've been giving this a lot of thought lately.  Personally, I haven't ruled out the idea of just outright giving every starting PC one or more retainers.  In my experience if you tell a player their newly minted PC comes with a free piece of stinky cheese they will figure out a way to turn that piece of cheese into a dungeoneering asset.  Especially if you DM the way that I do, insisting on 3d6 in a row for stats and not giving a crap if a '1' is rolled on your initial hit die.

Another way to encourage henchmen is to be a big ol' dickbag about the small stuff that a lot of DMs don't sweat.  Who is carrying the freakin' torches?  How are we getting this rolled up tapestry and two chests full of coins out of here?  What do you mean I get tired from lugging all this equipment around?  Equipment maintenance, tending the horses, keeping an eye on the boss's stuff while he's drunk off his ass, make sure he's not interrupted while researching spells, etc.  Good retainers make an adventurer's life easier.

And then there's this last idea I've been kicking around.  Call it the Emergency Red Shirt Rule: Once per session a PC can automatically save their own sorry hide by sacrificing one of their retainers. A smart player will come up lots of ways for their retainers to stand between his PC and the reaper man, but with this rule even clueless newbies will be able to use retainers to hedge their bets.

Precious Stones, base 500gp value


The bluest aquamarines are called 'maxixe' (don't ask me how that is pronounced). Maxixes fade to white in sunlight or when heated.

Violet Garnet

Black Pearl

Peridot can be found in some meteors.

Blue Spinel


Like many gems, topaz comes in a bewildering variety of colors.  The rainbow-hued center specimen here is 'mystic topaz', which is colorless topaz that has been artifically treated.*
*In my limited research it seems that a lot of modern gem stones are treated or irradiated to bring out a color they wouldn't have had in earlier periods of history.  Unless you believe the Knights Templar knew how to use radiation.  I don't have a reference handy but I've seen such claims in various kook books, usually following the old Ark of the Covenant and/or Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trimegistus as radioactive material/atomic reactor line of craziness.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

let this shark be pitied

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gem Stones, base 1,000gp value

Black Opal

Black Opal isn't very black, but its background hue is much darker compared to other opals (see below).

Fire Opal


Oriental Amethyst

Also called Violet Sapphire, this gem is much harder than the occidental Amethyst.  A near-colorless version is difficult to distinguish from diamonds.

Oriental Topaz

Also called Yellow Sapphire.  When rubbed or heated the Yellow Topaz can generate an electrical charge.

Star Ruby

Star Sapphire

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Arduin Grimoire, part 9

Page 64 of Dave Hargrave's Arduin Grimoire is the WERE-CREATURES COMBAT CHART.  Basically this amounts to a couple dozen regular-type animals statted out with a range of possible hit dice, an Armor Class and some attack/damage info.  Need stats for a jaguar or a condor?  Look here.  For no good reason one of the entries is Dragonet, while everything else here is a normal, real-world animal.  Under the chart proper is a paragraph giving Hargrave's rules for lycanthropes: in wereform you use the animal hitdice, but can advance across the range of possible hit dice as you level up in human form.  Thus a wererat starts out with a measly half hit die when he first joins the lycanthropes, but he'll eventually get bigger and badder.

Next up are two charts full of useful critters: the Dinosaur Chart and the Sea Creatures Chart.  A tyrannosaurus rex can have up to 20 hit dice and bit for 6d12 damage under these rules.  Giant sharks can get slightly bigger than that.  Useful stuff to have all together for lost worlds and nautical fiascos.

The ESCAPE TABLE on page 68 looks pretty amusing.  This bad boy attempts to answer the question "Can my dude get out of the monster's claw?"  Compare class to monster hit die for a base percentage, adjust by victim level and modify by whether the creep has you by its tentacle, claw, hand or jaw.  So let's say your 4th level thief has been grabbed by a ten hit die giant.  Ten hit dice versus thief is a base chance of only 1%, but plus 10% for hands and +10%/thief level ups that to a 41% chance the thief can wriggle free.  Monks are especially good at these sorts of escapades, while psychics and singers are screwed if they end up in the monster's clutches.  I love that Hargrave gives you a percentage chance to escape from the jaws of a monster.  Note to self: shove more PCs into the gaping maws of the bad guys.

Pages 69 and 70 have frustrated me for years.  These are Hargrave's sample wandering monster charts by dungeon level.  I'd be all over twelve level charts with a d20's worth of creeps on each, but there's one big problem.  A whole crapload of monsters listed here aren't in this book!  Many of them are in volumes II and III of the Grimoire, so my copy now has the volume and page number penciled in by those entries.  That doesn't get the whole job done, though, as other monsters on the chart appear in the even-more-obscure-than-Arduin Chaosium product All the World's Monsters.  You can get PDFs of all three volumes of AtWM at RPGnow for less than 8 bucks apiece, but buying a supplement just to unlock features in another supplement makes me cross-eyed with annoyance.  I'm pretty sure the Wilderness monster charts following the dungeon charts have the same fundamental flaw.

Next it is two pages of random weather tables, broken down by season.  If a 4% chance of snow in summer turns you off, look elsewhere for wandering weather.  Inexplicably, what should be the first line in the chart ("1-50 No change in weather") is down at the bottom after the result for rolling 100.

Pages 75-76 is a RANDOM FOG AND MIST GENERATOR CHART FOR DUNGEON ROOMS.  I dig that "for dungeon rooms" bit in the title.  Imagine some kid getting this book, but without that note.  Every time he rolled fog on the weather charts on the preceding two pages he'd probably roll here and make every fog in his campaign world go crazy nuts.  Anyhoo, roll 5d20 on this chart to make a magical fog.  Let's say you rolled 7, 12, 19, 11, 2.  That means you've got a grey fog that smells of coffee and doesn't actually interrupt line of site.  The sound of "stealthy footsteps" can be heard within the fog.  Anyone in the fog suffers extreme heat, losing d6 from their physical stats for each minute they are in it.  A bit overdone in my opinion, but I've used it a couple of times.

Next up is Hargarve's random trap chart, with d20 options for floor traps and ceiling traps.  On the floor chart you can drop PCs one thousand feet to an underground river, five feet into a pile of dragon crap or into the mouth of an awaiting monster. Ceiling traps include disintegrators, black slime pouring onto your head and... oatmeal.  You know I'm not making up that last one.  I wish I could take credit for a trap that dowses the party in oatmeal, but Hargrave beat me to it.

The last item I'll tackle today is the MOST MALIGNANT & MALEFIC MISERIES KNOWN, a.k.a. crazy uncle Dave's disease chart.  We get 15 maladies sorted by location including swamps, moors, deserts, mountains, forests, cities and one arctic disease.  These are way cooler than the realistic system in the 1st edition DMG, with names like Stumbling Mania and Black Bloat.  Not all of them are fatal, but many of the non-fatal ones will blind you, drive you mad, etc.  I wouldn't just outright infect a PC with one of these, but they could make good effects for creepy disease-themed undead or a way to make the players fear giant rats again.

Next time: Aieeee! Monsters!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I know folks who need one of these.

It's a Who The Crap Goes First die for all those board and card game situations where no one can remember or be bothered to care what the actual rule is.  Throw the die and start the friggin' game, already! Three bucks from the folks who make Battlestations, which I have never played but looks like a ton o' fun.

Fancy Stones, base 100gp value

Occasionally one can find insects entombed in this fossilized tree resin.  What if that fly was a shape-shifted devil?


Only three alexandrites are depicted here.  The top row shows the gems in sunlight, the bottom row in artificial light.

There's a bright green variety of garnet called Uvarovite.

Green is the most common color for jade but it comes in a variety of other colors.

Jet is actually a form of fossilized wood that decayed under great pressure.

Rose-hued spinels are sometimes called Balas Rubies.

Pink tourmalines found in nature have been subjected to radiation at some point in the past.


Yellow zircons are sometimes called Hyacinths.

Previous installments in this series: