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First Level Dungeons, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 12/02/2020 - 12:26
By Dan Smith, Steven Kenson, Dave Woodrum, Dante Parti-Smith, Adam Steele, Anthony Constantino Smif Ink Games OSR Level 1?

A compendium of OTR compatable adventures that can be used as a connected campaign or dropped into your existing campaign as one off adventures.

This 41 digest page compilation contains twelve dungeons by a mix of designers. They are roughly interconnected through some pretexts but are different enough, in theme and style, that they can also easily be standalone entries. With a mixed group of designers and, it seems, no storing editor, it is no surprise that the quality ranges from “bad” to “Shows some promise …”

I suspect these compilation products sell well but get played minimally. They seem to offer value but my own experiences with them is that their quality is all over the place, based on the designer for the particular section you’re on. Even with a very strong guiding hand (Fullteron on Hyquatious Vaults comes to mind… ) it can be jarring to see writing styles and/or quality change. And the editing hand on this one is not very strong, exacerbating the problem.

First a few general comments. The stronger entries here are from Dan Smith and Dave Woodrum, both of whom I gather from the intro are more established designers. It shows. Their entries, while flawed, show some clear indication of understanding certain design principles. I’m going to cover some of their entries in this volume, and make some generalized comments about the rest. 

The font, layout and such reminds me of a GURPS supplement and, I think, Dan Smith may be the one responsible, as the project guide. His name sounds familiar and it may be that he did a portrait of me for one of the GURPS books back in the 90’s. The fontis a chunky one with, essentially, BOLD always on. This is not the best for legibility purposes. I find it tiring on the eyes and not a quick read. It’s not exactly unreadable, but its getting awfully close to the line of “too much effort to bother.” There seems to be this desire to apply a house style to products when, in fact, just picking a very legible font is almost always the right way to go; house style can be implemented in other ways. 

The levels are VERY loosely interconnected. Essentially you get a in and an out for each other and maybe a note that this level level can be connected to the one above it. Thematically they tend to be worlds apart. We get a tavern and some jail cells, a cult HQ, a pill bug/harpy cave level, a mushroom forest, a strange cult city/lair, and so on. Even then, the first six or so dungeons are more closely connected than the last few, which explicitly say things like “a set of caves off of a trade route” or some such. The product has no table of contents or summary to orient a DM to the dungeons within; you just get to wade in and see if the theming matches what you want. They tend to all have a full page map and then between one to three pages to describe fifteen-ish rooms in the dungeon, plus or minus a few rooms, depending on the level. For a product claiming to be OSR, treasure, meaning Gold=XP, is EXTREMELY light. Enough so that they might as well have put none in. Each dungeon gets a little summary paragraph, describing whats going on, right after its map, and maybe some environment notes about light, smells, etc. These are great, and do exactly what they should: provide some overall atmosphere and give the DM a summary as to what is going on. I still think atmosphere should be on an “always on” page, like the map, but, whatever. They tried.

Dans first entry, The High Priestess Tavern, is one of the stronger examples. It doesn’t really start strong though, with a minimal pretext. Basically someones son has gone missing and you’re sent to the tavern to find them. In there you get in a bar fight and are captured, or find your way, to the basement jail cells. That’s about as much pretext as you get, a sentence or two, and then it’s GO TIME! Things improve in usability and style after this. We get a note that the tavern environment is “heavy mead/body odor, dusty floor, 60% light” which is enough to start placing an image in the DMs mind that can be expanded upon Other rooms gives us notes, at the very beginning of “(lit)”, letting us know an important environment condition. There are a good detail or two being present, like certain people in the bar having a right hand that is stained red. Descriptions are short, with the fifteen or so rooms all being described on two pages. Loud and boisterous guards, a drunk dwarf, a barkeep who wont leave the bar. A few personalities for the prisoners would have been nice, and kicking up the descriptive text another notch to be more evocative would also be in order (with adding substantially more words, of course.)

Woodrums first entry, as an example of his work, differs quite a bit. We get about another sentence of description per room and the evocative nature of the text is quite a bit weaker. But the interactivity does get quite a bit more. There are frescoes to look at and get clues from, magic pools, and the monsters tend to be engaged in something, like alchemical researchers shoving a boulder aside. The “scene” setups are quite good, even if the descriptions could use some work.

The other designers are far weaker. The dungeons tend to be just hacks, with things to kill (and the trap quivelant) and little else except, maybe, an environment thing like a river or something. “As you enter this room, it appears to be nothing more than an empty dirt filled room.” The “as you enter” implies a kind of hybrid read-aloud format, but the “As you enter” shows the weakness in writing, as does the “appears” stuff. Another designer has room after room of descriptions like “This area contains fungus nutritious to the monsters.” … a dazzling example of how abstracted descriptions ruin a dungeon. Still another likes to tell us what a room USED to be used for, or using meandering writing styles to get to the point. 

Of special note here is Adam Steele. This appears to be his first and only entry in to designing something. He’s written a trog-cavern level which could appear as a short dungeon In Fight On! And not be too out of place. “A cascade of ledgers, papers and scrolls is strewn about, along with body parts and blood.” Nice! And he’s got the style of the little scene/vignette thing that WOodburn does in place also, with a trog impaled on a spear in the wall, or another having a tasty snack with some slaves. Still a little loose on the writing, especially the longer and more complex rooms (which I suspect suffer also from the Dan Smith bold/font style which obfuscates monsters stats and makes everything run together instead of the stats being a kind of aside.)

These are all, essentially two to three page dungeons, with one page being the map. They suffer from that. One pagers don’t have enough room to breathe. It would have been better to include fewer dungeons but give the ones that are included more room. I’m no stranger to stunt writing a dungeon, and little good comes from the final product, except, perhaps, in the mind of the designer, as a tool to learn focus. 

I’m not a big fan of compilations. As I said, the quality tends to be all over the place. And, I never feel like I do the review justice. Should I write fifteen separate reviews for what are, essentially, fifteen one page dungeons? (Ok, one page of description and one page of map.) QUality tends to be all over the place, as it is in this one. This needed some more conceptual work, a better layout, an summary/table of contents, and stronger editor control over the content. “No! Do it again!”

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and shows you the first dungeon, the Tavern and jail cells underneath. It is one of the better ones in the compilation … so judge the book accordingly.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The 4 Unwritten Rules No Dungeon Master Should Break

DM David - Tue, 12/01/2020 - 12:28

In Dungeons & Dragons the dungeon master gets to break the rules, but only so much. The amount of breakage varies from group to group. Some DMs stick to the rules as written, only overriding them when they defy the logic of the game world. Other DMs never track hit points and just declare monsters defeated when it suits the drama of a battle.

Despite a DM’s dominion over the rules, D&D includes some rules DMs must never break—at least if they want their players to stick with the game. Oddly, these rules never appeared in print, so successful DMs learned them by observation and insight. D&D co-creator Gary Gygax made these lessons difficult for many early DMs to learn. He set an example that seemed to encourage dungeon masters to beat players. As soon as players gained an edge, Gary created something to foil them. He and his players enjoyed the battle of wits brought by this style of play. Still, Gary just aimed to challenge players and he mostly stuck to these rules that he never wrote down.

Meanwhile, struggling DMs never deduced the unwritten rules, and often unknowingly broke them to defeat the players and to “win” D&D. Eventually, these DMs either lost all their players or they learned.

What are the dungeon master’s laws of fair play?

1. Never confront characters with threats they cannot either defeat or avoid.

The avoid part of this rule is important.

In D&D’s early days, players controlled the game’s difficulty by choosing how deep to delve into the dungeon. Certainly Gary introduced tricks aimed at luring characters deeper than they intended, but he saw such traps as avoidable tests of mapping skill. The early rules made fleeing easier and clever players knew when to run. See The Story of the Impossible Luck that Leads D&D Parties to Keep Facing Threats They Can Beat.

In today’s game, DMs more often contrive threats that the party can beat. DMs can still throw deadly, even lethal challenges, but not without giving players a warning or a way to avoid the peril. See How to Scare D&D Players—Even When They Play Mighty Heroes.

An outrageous violation of this rule appears as a living hill monster described in Booty and the Beasts, the 1979 collection of monsters and treasures co-authored by legendary D&D artist Erol Otus. Living hills look like normal, grassy hills. “They feed upon unwary travelers who camp upon their seemingly benign summits.” Campers only have a 1 in 6 chance of noticing a lost—and digested—party member. Blogger Mr. Lizard writes, “This is a perfect example of the classic ‘gotcha!’ monster. Basically, unless you actually go out of your way to check to see if you’re on a living hill, your character is dead.”

2. Assume players have taken reasonable actions.

Imagine this rule worded in a more amusing way: DMs should always assume the characters are wearing pants, even if no players said that they put them on. Obviously, this guideline exempts the anthropomorphic ducks in RuneQuest.

In the more adversarial days of D&D, some DMs insisted that players announce their intent to draw a weapon before attacking. If the battle started without weapons drawn, characters wasted a turn pulling out blades. Frustrated players took to readying weapons at every sign of danger, as if just entering a monster-infested underground death trap fell short of a sign.

3. Never let players ignorantly take a substantial risk.

We all love when players stake their characters’ lives on some reckless, nearly impossible stunt. Whether they succeed or fail, such moments make unforgettable gaming. But before any foolhardy undertaking, make sure the players know (1) the odds and (2) the result of failure. I typically share difficulty classes before players roll. These DC numbers help span the gulf between a character’s vivid sense of the game world and what a player learns from a DM’s description. DCs prevent misunderstandings.

As for risks, make sure players know that, say, falling from the Earth mote means plunging into a sea of lava. That works better than rewinding the action for a player who heard “sea” and not “lava.”

4. Never plan to take the players’ freedom or stuff to support your plot.

In the early days of D&D, some gamers coached DMs to deal with excess treasure by having thieves steal it as the characters slept. Often the caper succeeded because the players never listed the reasonable precautions they would take to protect their treasures. (See rule 2.)

Early spells like Leomund’s Secret Chest seem designed to thwart thievery, so perhaps Gary indulged in such thefts. Gary had an excuse: He invented most of the game’s magic items and wanted to test them in play. His players grew accustomed to seeing gear won, lost, and melted by fireballs. Also Gary’s players probably stole from each other—they played to win back then. See Did Dave and Gary’s Gift for Finding Fun in Dungeons & Dragons Lead Them Wrong?

None of this applies to today’s game. Never take the character’s hard-won gear. They will resent the loss.

Often DMs who steal gear aim to create a powerful hook, which leads players to chase their treasure through a campaign arc. Those good intentions may make the theft seem permissible, but those schemes only make the situation worse. Such rough hooks make players feel railroaded.

The same rules for gear also apply to the loved ones players invent for their backgrounds. Those casts count as the player’s stuff. Never kill such characters to create a cheap motivation.

The most common and egregious violation of this rule comes when a DM wants players taken captive. In adventure fiction, heroes get captured regularly. So DMs dream up similar stories, and then try to force a capture despite the players’ determination to never get taken alive.

Sometimes DMs opt for capture as alternative to a total party kill. While a fair exception to this rule, don’t violate rule 1 in the process by confronting characters with a threat they cannot defeat or avoid. Save your escape-from-the-dungeon scenario for a time when players ignore warning signs, make bad choices, suffer setbacks, and ignore any chance to run. Those times happen—trust me. Then, instead of rolling new characters, have the old characters wake in chains. The players will feel grateful for a second chance.

What unwritten rules have you spotted in D&D?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

First Season in the Marchlands, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 11/30/2020 - 12:40
By Tyler A Thompson, Joshua Mahn Sad Fische Games OSE Mid-Levels?

An adventure compilation set in the Marchlands- a clannic, pastoral region beset by monstrosities, corruption, and banditry. 

This 123 digest page adventure describes a region and includes four adventures with extensive page counts. The adventures, while seemingly short, are verbose and use a meandering text style that must be fought through to run. More ideas than adventure, in spite of the keyed locations.

25 pages to describe the region and then, roughly 25 pages each for the four adventures. Ignoring the region, I focus on the adventures. There is a great ide used in one of the adventures. The party is exploring/raiding/clearing an old ruined fort. Inside are a very small number of bandits. There are some short snippets of conversation, in voice, tha the party can overhear as the bandits talk amongst themselves. This is wonderful. It gives hints to other things going on, like a minotaur in the area and the snippet being something about “it just picked him up and snapped his neck!” In voice adds character and gives the DM something to work with when roleplaying out the scene and this sort of “in the moment” element can add great depth to adventures.

Otherwise … oof! This one is rough!

The adventures are relatively short. A small four or five room ruined fort with six or bandits in it, for example. And yet it takes almost 25 digest pages to describe it. There are a few reasons for this. First, on the positive side, there are some ongoing situations. Thus, should the party clear the fort and perhaps take it over then there are some adventure seeds, such as the minotaur r thieving ratmen, that can be used to expand and provide events on an ongoing basis, generally ending with some climatic event, like the storming of a lair … or the party being stormed. This is a good thing. I always enjoy those little paragraphs at the end of an adventure that describe future implications of the parties actions … something to make it seem like the adventure is integrated in to the longer campaign, or, rather, giving the DM some hints as to how to do it, rather than it being a one and done situation. 

But the larger problem is how things are described and laid out. Just about everything in the adventure is described in trems of its history. This used to be a strong wall but now it is crumbling, for example. But, lengthen the history quite a bit more. This is seen in nearly every location and with every person, which is great if you’re reading a history book or doing an ethnographic discussion, but less important in the moment of the adventure. Thus, a significant portion of the text, at least a third? Is devoted to things that don’t really matter in actual play. This has the effect of clogging things up and making it harder to find the information you DO need to run the adventure; what’s happening now? Further, they do tend to arrive at the beginning of the description, meaning you get to skip down several sentences in order to find what you need. If this sort of stuff is the kind you like to put in an adventure then it needs to be out of the way, an  appendix, sidebar, or something, so it can skipped over while running.

And then, the organization, is quite wonky. For the fort, there’s an extensive write up on the bandits and their situation. Then there’s an extensive keyed location write up of the various locations. And then there’s ANOTHER extensive write up of the keyed locations, that includes information from the first write up as well as information about the bandits. All extensive. Thus you’re digging through three different places for information to run a room. I suspect it was meant to be a kind of overview, or summary, but it comes off as something different, something you need to consult during play. The effect is a kind of bizarre hunt for information as you try to figure out what the current situation is in a room.

This happens time and time again in the adventure, so much so that it’s the normal state of affairs. And, I think, makes the adventure unrunnable, at least for someone who doesn’t want to print it out, read it completely several times, take extensive notes and highlight it in order to make sense of it. And that ain’t me. It’s not worth it for a simple fort/bandit thing, even if it does recall that Dungeon adventure where you get to own a fort after you take it over. (That one was good. What was it?)

And then there are other weird choices. Most maps are keyed … except for the one adventure in which the map is not keyed. This is, of course, on a Dyson map. I have no idea what makes people not key his maps, but they resort to things like “The big room beyond has …” instead of just keying the damn thing. It’s weird. And then in another adventure, with a dragon, there is an extensive plot-like thing full of setting up a trap for the dragon with livestock. A LOT of pages. I guess that’s what the party is doing then? It’s out of place when compared to the more free-form of the other adventures.

It claims to be in the Old School Style, because of its looseness. I don’t equate the old school style with that. This feels more like some loose ideas, ala the MERP supplements. I liked the MERP supplements, but they weren’t really adventures. Just descriptions of regions and rough location ideas. And that’s what this feels like. Some ideas over a bar with a buddy about how things might go down in certain situations in a game they are running. Except it also has keys. 

I’m not really sure I can make out the intent on what was trying to be achieved. Verbose, and lacking clarity, or confused because of the verbosity? Or the intended formatting so obfuscated you can’t really figure out how it was meant to be used? As a result, it’s just a bit old book full of ideas and places and things that could happen, more than it is an adventure, even though it is clearly intended to be an adventure.

This is $7 at DriveThru. You get to preview the entire thing. Yeah! Rock on dude! That’s the way it should be. I might try pages 35 through 40 of the book to get a good idea of the writing style in this. Or, maybe, 29 through 32 to see the hook (i think it’s the hook?) and see if you can ferret out the supposed adventure from there.–Adventure-Compilation-Compatible-with-Old-School-Essentials?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Star Trek Ranger: Prime Time

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 11/30/2020 - 12:00

Player Characters: The Crew of the USS Ranger, Federation scout ship:
Aaron as Lt.(jg.) Cayson Randolph
Andrea as Capt. Ada Greer
Dennis, as Lt. Osvaldo Marquez, Medical Officer
Paul as Cmdr. D.K. Mohan, Chief Helmsman
Synposis: Ranger is on a cultural exchange mission to Viden, an advanced world who has given up space travel for television. When the crew intervenes in the apprehension of a sitcom who tries to escape his contract, they find themselves the unwilling subjects of a reality show.
Commentary: This adventure was based on IDW's Star Trek: Year Four #4 written by David Tischman. It's a humorous story in the comic in the manner of the TOS episode "A Piece of the Action," though its plot bears some resemblance to "Bread and Circuses" in it's satire of the television industry. The player's certainly took to it in the way it was intended.

The Three Planeteers

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 11/29/2020 - 15:30

In my short Thanksgiving travels, I managed to complete the audiobook of Edmond Hamilton's The Three Planeteers, originally published in the January 1940 issue of Startling Stories. Other than providing the inspiration for the name, Dumas' novel has little bearing on Hamilton's work.

In a future (Sometime in the 28th Century, I believe. An exact date isn't given.) where humanity has settled all the worlds in the solar system and gradually adapted to them. The fascist dictatorship of Haskell Trask has spread from Saturn and its moons, to all the outer planets, forming the League of Cold Worlds, which now menaces the Alliance of the inner worlds.

The titular trio are the most famous outlaws in the solar system: John Thorne of Earth, Sual Av of Venus, and Gunner Welk of Mercury. It turns out they aren't really outlaws at all, but special agents for the Alliance, pretending to be criminals so the Alliance has plausible deniability regarding their actions against the League. 

With war looming, the only hope of the Alliance to defeat the massive League war fleet is an experimental new weapon which requires the ultra-rare substance radite to work. Good news is there sufficient radite on the trans-Plutonian world of Erebus. Bad news is no one has ever returned from Erebus alive. Well, no one except, it's rumored, a former renegade turned space pirate. Said pirate is now dead, but his daughter reigns as pirate queen in the Asteroid Belt.

Besides the classic space war plotline, Hamilton gives a lot of space opera color: "joy-vibration" addicts, hunters in the fungal forests of Saturn, and the deadly secret of Erebus. It could be easily shorn of some it's old-fashionedness and moved outside of the solar system. Pieces would be easy to drop into Star Wars or any other space opera game.

The Beloved Underbelly, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 11/28/2020 - 12:31
By Philippe Ricard Self Published OSR "Low Levels"

[…] this zine details the tunnels and sewers beneath a dystopian fantasy city, full of beekeepers and taxidermists and pigs and sorcerers.

This 24 page “Adventure” details an underworld/under the city environment with a five factions and eleven locations. It is both trying too hard and not producing enough, although it goes through the motions quite well. It is probably not an adventure. Or even a city supplement. More of an idea, communicated over drinks at a bar.

A repressive city (described in two sentences) houses a seedy underbelly in the underverse underneath. Not really sewers, but interconnected locales frequented by seedy types and their factions to get things done and advance their nefarious plans. In to this we throw the PCs and watch the ensuing hilarity. 

Alas, all is not well though. For while this has the elements of decent supplement, they are not tied together or, I think, useful in a way that the supplement can be meaningful. 

Our underworld of the city has five factions. Taxidermists. Beekeepers. Wild Hogs. Bees. Wizards in to platonic shapes. Just from this you can see where this supplement is going. PoMo, or, as Mo would say: Weird for the sake of being weird.  On top of this you get a kind of vibe coming off of the Matrix#2, with this confluence of weird individuals (like The Architect and Merovingian) represented by The Tax Collector or The Sorcerer Supreme,  and then mash that up with Victorian Noblemen and maybe the seedy underbelly stuff from that recent Sean Bean Frankenstein series. And, I must admit, I find that kind of seedy theming quite interesting and playable. Well, if we warp Taxidermists in to “Body Snatchers” and manage the leap in believability that Bee Keepers are a credible faction.

In spite of having factions, and monster reference sheet, and mind maps for faction relations, and terse and evocative setting locales … the place doesn’t work.

There’s no real adventure, or treasure, for a short game and it’s not big enough/oriented correctly to be a support system for a larger multi-month support location for your parties locale town. You only get eleven locations, plus a few more rando places to stumble upon. And these locations tend to be iconic, like The Courts, The Bridge, The Black Market, and so on. These are roughly described, outlined I might say, to give impressions of a much larger world and their place in it. Not a place you hack, loot, and move on. Iconic locations would then imply, I think, that this is meant to be a supplement to your normal city. A place the party can visit time and again for info, supplies, rumors, etc. And yet, this seems too small to support that. The map is an abstracted pointcrawl, which it kind of a definitive guide to travel. If you want to go to B then leave in the east hallway from location A. It seems too small and cramped to serve as a major support for five factions the base of an entire city.

And, getting past the beekeepers again, I don’t see the purpose this fills. Too small and iconic to be an adventure, but too cramped and … knowable? To be the support for a major campaign in the city above. The factions have very basic goals but nothing to really fire the imagination. Dont get eaten. Get more pigs, and so on. They are more long term instead of the short to medium term specificity that could fire off as hooks for party shenanigans.

It tells us early on that: “The PCs are the flame to the fuse, and it remains to be seen whether they survive the explosion which will invariably ensue. Whenever possible, ask yourself what consequences arise from the PCs’ actions—“who will this piss off?” This is great advice, and a great attitude. But it just doesn’t follow through with enough specificity on the ground. More like general guidelines than an adventure, but too cramped and not enough intrigue to support longer play. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see the intro, Tax Collector dude, and four of the factions. From this you need to intuit that, while flavourful, it is more of an idea that you could ten create content around using these elements, then it is a support for adventure.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Go to Very Distant Lands

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 11/27/2020 - 12:00
Art by Steve Ellis

 Adventure Time ended its original run in 2018, but there's a now series of single episode stories on HBOMax. Watching those reminded me how a lot of rpgers were excited about Adventure Time, at least in its early seasons. It's sort of gonzo, post-apocalyptic setting seemed very much cut from the same cloth as a lot of rpg worldbuilding.
No official AT rpg has ever appeared in English, and in the end the show is a kid's cartoon, perhaps more character driven, than exploration based, but I think it would be pretty easy to derive inspiration from the form of AT's Land of Ooo, as opposed to exact content. In other words, if you wanted a D&D campaign for adults to do D&D stuff that was just in some ways reminiscent of Ooo, this is how I would go about it. (If this thread gets comments someone will no doubt mention the Far Away Lands rpg. Let me preempt that by saying that it has slightly different goals. It's more doing an AT but not AT rpg. I'm thinking of "if you want D&D to have more of a resemblance to AT" without going full cartoon.)
So this is what I think:
  • Make the setting more expressly post-apocalyptic. Not in the usual Tolkienian way that D&D usually is, but in the Gamma World way.
  • Avoid the standard versions of standard monsters. You can use names like "dragon" if you want, but avoid the standard fantasy dragons of D&D. Ok, maybe goblins or giants can stay, but no orcs. My suggestion: borrow a lot of monsters and races from Gamma World, and lean heavy on the AD&D Fiend Folio derived monsters.
  • Elementals are important, but maybe not the standard Greek ones. They seem to be part of a fundamental magic structure of the universe, but Fire, Water, yada yada may not be where it's at. Luckily, D&D gives us para- and quasi- elementals that are weirder.
  • Don't be afraid of the player's getting ahold of more advanced tech, but not weapons so much. Let them freely pick up a bit of the 20th or 21st Century here and there, but don't make weapons or combat related. Let them find record players (or ipods), or gameboys and the like.
  • Mutagens and weirdness. While AT doesn't dwell on it, it has decree of weirdness and even body horror that seems drawn from the most fevered of post-apocalyptic or atomic war fiction. The zones of Roadside Picnic have more in common with it that you might think.
  • Negotiation is always an option. Very few creatures should be attack on sight sorts. Most of them have got the same sort of troubles and aspirations as the adventures, just a different point of view.
  • Don't be afraid of humor. The first edition of Gamma World embraced the silliness of its premise and with something like this, you should too.

Jail Break & Hell - Further Mediations on The Stormbringer rpg & OSR Campaign Memories

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 11/26/2020 - 23:10
 " Rogue Mistress presents a high-powered, dangerous campaign for either the Stormbringer or Hawkmoon roleplaying games. Rogue Mistress features eight chapters, comprehensive listings of new weapons, additional races from which new adventurers can be created, plentiful illustrations, plans, and diagrams, and new rules and clarifications for the Stormbringer roleplaying game."Michael Shea's Nifft Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary On Matt Finch's 'The Spire of Iron & Crystal' from Frog God Games For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 11/25/2020 - 17:52
 "For centuries, out in the wilderness beyond civilization's reach,there has stood an enigmatic tower known as the Spire of Iron andCrystal. It is a bizarre and ancient structure; four massive, eggshapedcrystals are mounted into a twisting, ornate structure ofrounded metal girders, one crystal at the top and the other threemounted lower down. Moving lights seen inside the huge crystalssuggest Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Bloody Engines of the Dinosaur-Men, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 11/25/2020 - 12:35
By Brian C. Rideout Deathtrap Games Labyrinth Lord Levels 3-5

What makes the screams echoing down from Eira Peak? After the recent avalanche that forced the people of Eirata to file their homes, many went missing. If they were killed by the falling ice, where are the bodies? Who are the veiled merchants selling exotic meats and fruit on the northern roads? And what are the strange many-horned “dragons” devouring trees and melons at terrific rates in the Salka Marsh?

This 28 page single column adventure features a thirteen room dungeon with dinosaur men and some steampunk technology. It’s heart is in the right place, but it’s emphasis on mechanics and excessive read-aloud, along with some production issues, makes “not as bad as most” a compliment only on the tenfootpole.

Not much lead in here. There’s a short history lesson and then a rumor table, with each entry on the table being expanded upon by a paragraph or so. One rumor has a body washed up from the river, taken to a local sage. There’s about a paragraph for the sage explaining what he knows. Likewise for the other rumors; about a paragraph each to handle it, as the DM, which is a fine way to transition from “hook thing” to “and here’s the dungeon!”

The dungeon is a steampunk slaughterhouse run by the dino-men, for turning people and herd dinos in to meat. They are armed with muskets and tentacle grenades and a mortar, and the steampunk devices serve as the main puzzles in the adventure. Turning vales to increase or decrease the pressure from boilers, lava tubes, the front door, and so on. These things are generally handled with a “make an int check” roll. This is NOT my favorite way to handle puzzles. I think it emphasizes the character sheet instead of the players and their interactions with the DM. The adventure would be strong with far fewer of them and more or a “figure out the puzzle” thing. As is, it’s essentially just an abstracted roll. If you want to lower the pressure then make a roll, and so on. 

The map, though, is isometric, with some catwalks and garbage chutes. The varied elevation is always a good sign in an adventure, and there is even a note or two about high heat on the map. Nothing about light or noise, which would have also been helpful, but at least there’s high heat. There’s a back door in to the dungeon, but no notes about it at all, so … who knows.

There are other weird little things missing from the adventure. Room one should have a Location A and B noted, according to the text, but it’s not present on the map. There’s also Some read-aloud in places that doesn’t match the style of the other read-aloud. One NPC gets extensive notes about what they want/don’t want (which is great!) but all of the other prisoners are just “prisoner”, without names, races, wants, or anything else. (Ok, there’s one other one, an old woman, without the explicit wants/dont wants), but it’s weird to see the various ways this was implemented. One fleshed out. An old woman whos not. And then just “prisoners.” for the rest. There are also notes in the adventure about a “flood” in the complex, or creating one, anyway, but it’s never really clear how this happens. Multiple rooms makes reference to it, but I guess, maybe, it has to do with an exploding boiler in one room? As a central element of the adventure, the flooding is not really handled well, or comprehensibly, at all.

Read aloud is longish, in italics, and contains too much detail, telling the players things they should not know unless they examine the room in depth. The DM text is longish as well, with more of a focus on mechanics, clogging up the text and making it longer than it needs to be … and thus harder to run, not easier. Treasure is abstracted in places in to “4 rarified fossils” and the like. Better to be explicit in the treasure, noting what they are of, or how big they are, or they are azure, or something, to give them meaning other than an abstracted “2ooogp.”

But, the multi-level environment is interesting. There’s potential in the puzzle-like steampunk environment. The prisoners could have added additional depth, as could the timer of the flooding/exploding boiler. It’s going in the right direction and, I think, at least a better exploratory/assault environment than most adventures like this. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1.50. The preview is six pages. You get to see the iso map, and room one. A better preview would have shown another room, I think, although you do get to see the minimalist hook investigation text. Not exactly great, but, again, going in the right direction.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wild Wild West Revisited Wednesday

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 11/25/2020 - 12:00

Instead of watching some parade on Thanksgiving, you can sit back and read the installments you've missed of "Revisiting the Wild Wild West" a rewatch and commentary on selected episodes by Jim "Flashback Universe" Shelley and myself.

The Metal Moorcockian Con Job - Agenda of the Faceless Lord - Sword & Sorcery Observations On NeoPlastic Press's 'The Metallic Tome ' By Rafael Chandler

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 11/25/2020 - 04:12
"Juiblex is deemed a lesser figure in abyssal hierarchy, judged Lord of Nothing by his peers. However, in my research, I have plumbed the foul mire to examine the full darkness that is this disturbing fiend.”— Demonomicon of IggwilvIf there are heavy metal & death metal bands of adventurers roaming the wastelands raiding dungeons what happened?!  The big three Abyssial powers of the demonic lordsNeedles
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Raids, Ruins, & Hersey In The Countryside - G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (1e) By Gary Gygax & The Hundred Years War

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 11/24/2020 - 18:43
 So what happens when the giants during The Hundred Year War start to stir in the Welsh terrorities?! The players have already gone through the N1 Against the Reptile Cult & that's been put down. Now reports of giants have begun to get reports that giants are raiding the countryside. Now here's the thing, a prisoner has escaped back to the authorities, & she reports a pagan hersey involved as Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

3 Posts that Need Updates Thanks to Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

DM David - Tue, 11/24/2020 - 11:52

The latest Dungeons & Dragons release, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, brings a host of additions to D&D’s fifth edition. These extensions prompt updates to at least 3 posts on this site.

1. Fast, Unkillable, Deadly: The 7 Supreme D&D Character Builds for One Thing

Just two weeks before this post, I delivered a list of 7 supreme D&D builds, including best healer. Tasha’s Cauldron enables a new build to take that crown.

The older best-healer build combined of life domain cleric with enough bard levels to gain the paladin spell aura of vitality via the bard’s Magical Secrets feature. Tasha’s Cauldron paves a short cut by simply adding aura of vitality to the cleric’s spell list. Forget multiclassing; just play a life cleric. For each of the 10 rounds of aura of vitality’s 1 minute duration, you can use a bonus action to heal 2d6 hit points. The cleric’s Disciple of Life feature boosts that to 2d6+5 hp.

Now, to claim the crown as best healer in D&D, take the Metamagic Adept feat, also in Tasha’s Cauldron. “You learn two Metamagic options of your choice from the sorcerer class.” Select the Extended Spell option. “When you cast a spell that has a duration of 1 minute or longer, you can spend 1 sorcery point to double its duration, to a maximum duration of 24 hours.” When you cast aura of vitality, spend 1 of your 2 sorcery points to double the duration and the healing. One third-level spell heals an average of 240 hp. At just level 5, you can perform the trick twice. Remember when folks fretted about pairing the life domain with goodberry for 40 points of healing?

2. Concentration Frustrates D&D’s Rangers More than Paladins and Hexblades, but Unearthed Arcana Helps

In a post on concentration, I explained the trouble concentration brings rangers. “The hunter’s mark spell underpins the ranger’s flavor as someone who targets prey and pursues it to the finish. With a duration marked in hours, hunter’s mark seems meant to last through a ranger’s daily adventures. But the spell requires concentration, so rangers who need another spell lose their mark and what feels like a key feature. Also, rangers who aim to enter melee with say, a sword in each hand, suffer an outsized risk of losing their mark.”

Unearthed Arcana trialed a new Favored Foe feature that erased the problem of concentration and hunter’s mark. Unfortunately, the final version in Tasha’s Guide brings back the pain. “When you hit a creature with an attack roll, you can call on your mystical bond with nature to mark the target as your favored enemy for 1 minute or until you lose your concentration (as if you were concentrating on a spell).”

The offhand mention of concentration confused me, but a ruling on another feature sharing the wording clears up the intent. The trickery domain cleric’s Invoke Duplicity feature also works “until you lose your concentration (as if you were concentrating on a spell).” Lead rules designer Jeremey Crawford explained that this wording means that you must concentrate on the feature to maintain it, just like a spell.

The new Favored Foe skips the need to spend a bonus action, but otherwise it weakens the version tested in Unearthed Arcana in every way. In addition to requiring concentration, the new feature does less damage, only damages once per turn, just lasts a minute, and can’t be moved. Why do the D&D designers hate rangers?

3. D&D’s Animal Companions and Familiars—Choosing the Right Pet For Your Character

My post on choosing the right pet for your character continues to rank near the top of my daily page views, proving the appeal of animal companions.

The post began with the easiest route to a pet or companion. “Through roleplaying and ability checks (most likely Animal Handling or Persuasion), you can have a buddy,” Jeremy Crawford explained, “As long as your DM is OK adding a creature to the group.”

But this simple approach posed one problem: After the party befriended a creature, the party leveled up to meet greater threats while the friend remained the same fragile creature. At just level 5, most characters survive a flameskull’s fireball, but an 11 hp wolf needs extraordinary luck to live, and a 5 hp tressym goes to meet Sharess, goddess of cats.

My favorite part of Tasha’s Guide offers a remedy: The sidekick rules offer an easy way to add a special companion to a group of adventurers. “A sidekick can be any type of creature with a stat block in the Monster Manual or another D&D book, but the challenge rating in its stat block must be 1/2 or lower.” This means that sidekicks could range from that wolf or tressym, to a bullywug rescued from a monster who enjoys frog legs, to the kobold Meepo, future dragonlord.

Whenever a group’s average level goes up, the companion gains a level in a sidekick class of warrior, expert, or spellcaster. They gain the additional abilities and hit points required to survive and contribute without ever overshadowing the rest of the party.

My post on pets ends with advice for beast master rangers. This archetype’s animal companions earn a reputation for weakness, partly because the Player’s Handbook offers poor direction. The beast master’s description suggests taking a hawk or mastiff as an animal companion. D&D designer Dan Dillon says that such choices set players up for failure. Beast masters should not take beasts with a challenge rating below 1/4.

To enhance the beast master archetype, Tasha’s Guide presents three primal companions typed for land, sea, and sky. Beastmasters can summon these primal beasts as a companion instead of befriending the creatures in D&D’s monster books. You can choose to describe your creature as a hawk or mastiff or anything that fits a type, without the risk of selecting a creature too weak to prove effective.

Unfortunately for most tastes, spiders, snakes, and crabs still make some of the best companions, but the primal beasts offer effective companions that can feel warm, fuzzy, and charismatic. The primal companions tend offer more hit points than real creatures. Plus, if these spirt beasts drop to 0 hit points, you can revive them for the price of a spell slot. As spirit creatures, you can summon new and different beasts after a long rest.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

'Hope You Guessed My Name' - Further Mediations on The Stormbringer rpg & OSR Campaign Memories

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 11/24/2020 - 03:08
" Rogue Mistress presents a high-powered, dangerous campaign for either the Stormbringer or Hawkmoon roleplaying games. Rogue Mistress features eight chapters, comprehensive listings of new weapons, additional races from which new adventurers can be created, plentiful illustrations, plans, and diagrams, and new rules and clarifications for the Stormbringer roleplaying game."We were feeling prettyNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Aces Up WWI Dogfights - How to Video

Two Hour Wargames - Mon, 11/23/2020 - 20:26

 Aces Up - More info and a quick and easy how to play.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Black Friday 30% Off Sale Starts This Friday the 27th

Two Hour Wargames - Mon, 11/23/2020 - 18:48

 Starts Friday the 27th and runs through Sunday 29th. Type in 


and get 30% off of your entire order. Great time to catch up  on those titles you've always wanted to get.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On What to Do With a Dragon Corpse

Hack & Slash - Mon, 11/23/2020 - 13:00
My players were about to leave Thundertree, when they decided to look around to find a certain missing amulet. While they found the amulet, they also found a strangely attired group of humanoids.

Failing their stealth roll, they were invited in for tea and a strongly worded offer.

Thull explained how the dragon cult helped his sick grandmother out and provided for his every need. He explained that they quite successfully recruited dragons, he himself having never heard of a dragon refusing an offer of the dragon cult. And he strongly suggested that the players that had been spotted and invited in join, because he'd much rather be their friends than have to offer them to the dragon also.

The players agreed and the cultists got to walk outside of the door before the rest of the party attacked. The bard put dissonant whispers in the mind of the leader, who fled screaming.

The murder of several dozen cultists is not the quietest activity, especially not when one of them has taken psychic damage and is screaming as loudly as he can in draconic, which no one in the party can speak.

Shortly, the ground shakes as Venomfang roars, quite upset about having being woken from his slumber. The raging reckless frenzied barbarian, tired of the shrieking madness of the cult leader, runs up to him and splits him in twain. The Dragon climbs to the top of the tower and flies towards the party, landing right in front of the dead cult leader and the barbarian standing over his corpse.


The bard, being the bard, attempts to talk Venomfang down. She says "Oh, great and mighty dragon, we come only to bask in awe of your mighty form." Using the updated 5th edition modifications to the "On the Non-Player Character" social system, she rolls for the Honor action and gets a 26, changing his mood from hostile to neutral.

Then it is the raging reckless frenzied barbarian's turn to act. She attacks twice. Combat is joined.

It doesn't matter how powerful your dragon is. When you lose initiative against six players, you're going to have a bad time.

By the time Venomfang got to act, he had already lost nearly 100 hit points. The dragon took flight, and breathed on as many targets as he could. Two targets, only being the barbarian and the 1/2 orc monk. Venomfang did 56 points of damage. You'd think this would be deadly to a 1st level monk and a 3rd level barbarian. They both save. 28 hit points leaves the barbarian with 10, and the monk, being a half-orc, is not killed outright, so remains standing with 1 hit point.

How upset is Venomfang at this point?

Not nearly as upset as he is as he fails his saving throw against Tasha's Hideous Laughter when he's 30 feet in the air.

So, the point of todays post is, 
What can you do with a dragon corpse.

There is very little value in fighting monsters, except for the value of the monster itself. ACKS uses "Monster parts" that's defined as having a value in gold equal to the experience point value of the monster, arbitrarily assigning each unit a weight of 5 stone for 300 gold.

Essences work differently in that you can acquire 1 per hit die of the creature you kill. They are worth 10 gold towards crafting a relevant item or spell research, or may be sold for half price to recoup some value. In a system that is essentially on a silver standard such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess or 5th edition, then this value is reduced to 10 silver.

Dragons, being magical creatures, can provide up to 3 times the normal essence as a more mundane creature. That means a 16 hit die creature like Venomfang can produce up to 48 essences. You may extract essence from the blood, the flesh, and the brain. Note that this is an all or nothing affair. You can either have the corpse, or you can reduce it to essence. Turn the flesh into essence, no dragon armor for you.

This means totally breaking down the dragons corpse grants 480 gold, which is just in line for the amount of treasure handed out in Phandlever and Hoard of the Dragon Queen.


Dragon Hide makes excellent scale mail armor. It can also be used to craft a shield. It cannot be used to make other kinds of armor, select the rationale for such a decisions from the following list: verisimilitude, balance, simplicity.

A medium dragon produces 1 hide-unit of armor. A large dragon produces 3 hide-units of armor. A huge dragon produces 5 hide-units of armor. A unit of armor produces a medium sized shield, helm, or mantle (cloak). Two hide-units produce a medium sized suit of scale mail armor.

This is assuming the dragon was slain in normal melee combat. If the party takes care to do as little damage to the hide as possible (blunt weapons, sleep spells), then add 1 hide unit to a medium dragon, 2 to a large, and 3 to a huge dragon. If the party is particularly vicious in their attack on the dragon (arrows, many sword blows, violent spells), feel free to reduce the hide-unit values appropriately.

Dragon hide armor is resistant to the element the dragon breathes, and is easily enchantable. This can work however your rules system manages, but generally reduce the costs to enchant dragon hide armor, helms, shields and cloaks by half.

Dragon hide is consumed if the flesh of the dragon is converted into essence.

Note that good or evil, no dragon looks favorably upon someone wearing their skin.


The blood is a deadly poison if ingested, causing death if eaten or swallowed on a failed saving throw versus poison at -4, (or a DC 15 Constitution save, or DC 18 Fortitude save, depending on your system.) It has no poison effect via contact, inhaled or injury, although it is strongly corrosive against most metals and rocks, causing them to become brittle and prone to breakage over time (weeks).
If you bathe in the blood (requiring 40 gallons for a medium creature, half that for a small creature) you are cured of any diseases, any poisons are neutralized, and you gain 1d12 years of life, as a potion of longevity. After a single bath, the blood is useless for any other purpose.
There are 2 gallons of blood in a medium dragon, 10 gallons in a large dragon, and 500 gallons in a huge dragon. Blood sells for the same price it breaks down into if transmuted into essence, 10 gold pieces per hit die. The Dragon blood is consumed if the dragon blood is broken down into essence.


Dragon bones, horns, teeth, and claws, can be used to create staves, wands, rods, weapons and trinkets. A medium dragon produces 4 bone-units, a large dragon produces 16 bone-units, and a huge dragon produces 256 bone-units.

Why don't I include stats for a gargantuan dragon? Because get out of here. If you're killing a CR 24 gargantuan dragon, you don't need to be scavenging it for parts, leave that for the mortals.

As with other dragon parts, these reduce the cost of enchantment of items by half.
A wand or trinket (amulet, etc.) or small weapon costs 1 bone unit.
A rod or medium weapon costs 2 bone units.
A staff or large weapon costs 4 bone units.
A single bone unit can produce 10 arrows or bolts.

The dragon bones are consumed if the dragon bones are broken down into essences.


It is possible to consume a dragon brain to gain great power. It is also possible to die horribly. Make a saving throw versus poison when eating the brain or regurgitate the brain, ruining it and losing all benefit. (Constitution DC 10 save for medium, DC 15 save for large, DC 20 save for huge, or DC 10 + Dragon's hit die Fortitude save).
On a success, violent changes occur inside your body. Make a system shock roll or die. (Constitution DC 3 for medium, DC 5 for large, or DC 10 for huge, or DC 2 + 1/2 dragons hit die Fortitude save). If you live roll 2d8 on the following table:
2 You believe you are the dead dragon. Act accordingly.
3 You gain 1 hit point per hit die permanently.
4 You gain 1 point of Strength and Constitution. This can exceed your normal maximum.
5 You gain the ability to smell gold (As Treasure Finding, once a day)
6 You gain magic/spell resistance of 10% (SR of 5 + Character level, or advantage on all saves versus spells)
7 You gain 1,000 experience points times your level.
8 Gain 1 point of intelligence and 1 point of wisdom. This can exceed your normal maximum.
9 Gain 1-4 points of intelligence. This can exceed your normal maximum.
10 Gain 2 points of wisdom. This can exceed your normal maximum.
11 You gain 1d10 x 500 experience points.
12 You gain the ability to cast charm person 3 times a day.
13 You gain 1 point of Dexterity and Constitution. This can exceed your normal maximum.
14 Your eyes glow red, and you gain a 10 foot aura of dragon fear activatable at will.
15 Your skin becomes tough and resilient to damage. Gain a +2 bonus to armor class (+2 natural armor).
16 Gain immunity to the dragons breath weapon type.

The dragon's brain is consumed if the dragon's flesh is broken down into essence.


The dragons eyes may be swallowed. This follows the same procedure for swallowing the brain above.  If successful, the eyes replace (painfully) the eaters natural eyes, granting them dragon sight. This has several effects.

The eyes bulge unnaturally, extruding from the face. The orbs are the color of the dragon with vertical pupils. You gain Blindsight out to 15 feet, and darkvision out to 30 feet per size of the dragon, i.e. Medium is 15/30, Large is 30/60, and Huge is 45/90. Also, roll percentiles:
01-10 see into ethereal plane
11-30 see invisibility
31-70 no additional effect
71-90 detect magic
91-00 true seeing

The dragon's eyes are consumed if the dragon's flesh is broken down into essence.


There is a chance that a dragon has magical stones in it's kidneys, gall bladder, or gut. 1d4+1 stones may be found. There is a 40% chance of a medium dragon, an 80% chance for a large dragon, and a 20% for a huge dragon to have 2d4+2 (huge dragons always have 1d4+1 stones). These are Ioun stones and their effects are generated randomly.

The dragon's stones are consumed if the dragon's blood is broken down into essence.


Eating the heart of a dragon has different effects depending on the size of the dragon.

Eating the heart of a medium dragon affects the eater as if they were  under the effects of a haste spell. There are two servings of the heart.

Eating the heart of a large dragon affects the eater as if they were under the effects of a haste spell and a heroism potion (of the appropriate class). There are 4 servings of the heart.

Eating the heart of a huge dragon affects the eater as if they were under the effects of a haste spell, a super-heroism potion, and and the spell aid cast by a 15th level cleric. There are 8 servings of this heart.

In any case a system shock roll (Constitution DC 3 for medium, DC 5 for large, or DC 10 for huge, or DC 2 + 1/2 dragons hit die Fortitude save) must be made after the effect ends to avoid dying.

The dragon's heart is consumed if the dragon's blood is broken down into essence.


A character may sever their own tongue, and attach a dead dragon's tongue in it's place. This process is dangerous due to the bleeding risk, but rarely fatal. The person attaching the tongue must succeed at a DC 7 Healing check (DC 20 Medicine check, DC 25 Heal check) on a success, roll on the following table:
1 Saving throw difficulty of your spells increased by 1.
2 Blindsight 10 foot radius.
3 ability to detect poison in a 5 foot radius.
4 verbal charisma based skills (persuasion, charisma, bluff) increased by 2 points.

On a failed healing/medicine check, the attachment was botched, and you speak with a lisp or slur. This causes you to fail casting spells with a verbal component 1 in 5 times (20% spell failure chance).

The dragon's tongue is consumed if the dragon's flesh is broken down into essence.
This is available in permanent form as a Pandect for free from DTRPG. If you like this content, you can support it on Patreon and get advertisement free versions of the pandects. This post was originally published on October 17, 2014
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The Thief King’s Vault, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 11/23/2020 - 12:10
By Tim Hitchcock Frog God Games S&W Level 5

It has long been said there no thieves in the city of Caltoshar. At night, one can safely walk the streets, and a few worry about locking their doors. Yet one would be foolish to believe Caltoshar is without a criminal element, for there are thieves aplenty if one knows where to look. The best advice would be for you to assuage you curiosity with such matters, and enjoy Caltoshar for what it appears to be. You’re probably not one to take wise counsel, though.

This twenty page adventure uses eleven pages to describe a couple of lead in scenes and an eighteen page dungeon. A thief/trap/tomb dungeon. The signature Frog style is prevalent, delivering the usual mediocre product. 

The Frogs are famous for not giving a damn about their editing. In this adventure we get: “[…] attempts to open them. must saving throw 18points of also anc (see below) hidden […]” I don’t know what the fuck it means either. But, whatever; they will keep throwing these scraps to the crowds and the crowds will keep lapping it up like mothers milk. It’s 2020 and there is no right, no wrong, no up or down, yes or no. Just a whole bunch of rap, flowing freely. As usual.

Scene 1: You get invited t a winery and asked to go steal a little idol from a merchant. Scene 2 you obtain said idlo. Scene 3: Returning to hi, dude you hired is killed by thugs. Scene 4: Walk five days through the wilderness. Scene 5: an eighteen room trap dungeon. These can serve us by framing some discussions about design.

Scene two has the party trying to obtain a small idol from a merchant. He lives above his shp on the second floor, keeps his windows locked, and has two small dogs. This is handled fairly well in two (longish) paragraphs. It doesn’t drone on and on. You can sneak in, feed the dogs, charge in and kill the dude, whatever. It’s ALMOST an afterthought. By which I mean “not overwritten at all.” You need some details, about the locked windows, second floor, neighbors, the dogs, but the rest is just left to the DM to run. They way it should be. I can quibble on word choice and criticize on flavour, but it is, essentially, done correctly.

Scene three has the party returning to the dude that hired them, presumably with the idol from scene two. They find his tied up in the middle of the room, a pool of blood under him. Surprise! There are six thieves in the room, staging a coup against the dude, the current guildmaster.It’s fairly easy to see what was being tried for here. A coup, the underlings grabbing power for themselves, etc. But, it comes off as just another generic D&D fight. “Thugs”, not names, showing up for the first time in the adventure. No hint of dissension prior. The imagery here is not quite hitting the mark. We get hints, with the dude croaking “its a trap!” if ungagged before the ambush is sprung, but it’s just that, hints of what could have been, missing the details and design that could have turned “six thugs attacking” in to something with more resonance. It is at the end of this scene that we’re told what’s inside the idol … which should have been mentioned in scene two, when the party first picked it up. 

Scene four is a joke. A short little multi-day wilderness journey, with two wandering monster tables. The read-aloud covers all five days. And then there are wandering monster tables for The Plains and The Hills, with no guidance on when to use which, or what frequency, or anything. I guess it’s the day three foothills the read-aloud mentions? It’s just an afterthought, and not in a good way. In a “no one cared enough to actually proofread this adventure” way.

Scene five. An eighteen room dungeon. This is, essentially, negotiating one trap after another. The read-aloud reveals too much detail about the rooms, killing the back and forth between the party and the DM. It also contains no hint of the traps to come other than “there are doors.” It just uses the “throw everything in one paragraph” Frog style which, I think, is fairly typical for the industry. Or, what I think of typical anyway. It sucks for running it. When you get to the end you are met by some people who offer you 200gp for all of the treasure you’ve found. There are no stats for them in case you don’t want to hand it over, though it’s implied they are powerful. 

Who really cares? These are not, I suspect, meant to be run. They are just churned out for the 5e crowd to make a buck and then converted to the OSR for a little more cash to grab. Who the fuck cares about quality? It’s not like any of this was surprise. “Vault of the Thief King” by Frog God Games tells you everything you need to know.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages, the first three pages, so you get to the see the title page and the adventure hook. Nothing at all to help you make a purchasing decision. Shitty shitty low-effort preview.

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Weird Revisited: Dead Stars & Outer Monstrosities

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 11/23/2020 - 12:00

 The release of the pdf of the William Hope Hodgson-inspired rpg Grey Seas Are Dreaming of My Death last week, brought to mind this post from last year...

Art from the Oldstyle Tales Press editionAs we understand the word," said the old Doctor. "Though, mind you, there may be a third factor. But, in my heart, I believe that it is a matter of chemistry; Conditions and a suitable medium; but given the Conditions, the Brute is so almighty that it will seize upon anything through which to manifest itself. It is a Force generated by Conditions; but nevertheless this does not bring us one iota nearer to its explanation, any more than to the explanation of Electricity or Fire. They are, all three, of the Outer Forces—Monsters of the Void.... - William Hope Hodgson, "The Derelict"
Spelljammer has never really felt like it was about exploration to me. There's nothing wrong with that, but plenty of science fiction literature paints space as a place for confronting the unknown. This is really a perfect fit for Spelljammer where its pre-modern, "magical" spacecraft put the stars within reach but not the science to understand any of it. Not that there is necessarily science as we know it to understand, in any case.
I think I would look to the horror/adventure stories of William Hope Hodgson, specifically his nautical yarns like The Boats of the Glen Carrig, "The Voice in the Night," "A Tropical Horror," and "Demons of the Sea." A little pseudo-science borrowed from his Carnacki stories could only help.
The characters are competent space-hands, perhaps mildly colorful rogues like Howard's Wild Bill Clanton or just working stiffs like the crew of the Nostromo in Alien, not bold explorers or science fantasy swashbucklers. Their jobs involving them going through places that are not (usually) inhabited by hostile species of space orcs or the like, but are instead fundamentally almost wild, always strange. Weird danger can rear it's head at any time, and your vessel is just another ship that disappeared in the Void.
Weird phenomena should be encountered as frequently as monsters, I think. Monsters, when they do show up should be unfamiliar, and probably not seen enough to become mundane.
Beyond the stories of Hodgson and Alien, other potential sources of inspiration could be the comic series Outer Darkness, the science fiction stories of Clark Ashton Smith, Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and of course, Moby Dick


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