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The Den of Iron Pearl, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 02/03/2021 - 14:25
By Andrzej Son of Jerzy ASJ 5e Levels 1-3

Iron Pearl is a legend to treasure seekers. She discovered many flooded

cities and extracted various treasures from them. Often working on the

order of the world’s most powerful people. She was equally known for her

love for the pearls as well as her toughness. She had an aversion to society,

few people that knew her used to say that she felt more comfortable being in

the water than attending feasts. One day she disappeared without a trace,

what enticed rumors to spread like wildfire. Sitting by the bonfire,

adventurers and bounty hunters of every race and age told stories about

wealth she kept. They speculated that Iron Pearl hid all of her treasures in

several secret vaults, but no one has ever found any of them. This is about

to change.

This eight page adventure uses four pages to describe six rooms in a linear dungeon. A weird mix of decent formatting, shitty decisions, and a lack of design understanding makes this a frustrating one to review. It’s opposite day!

Good things the adventure does: it puts its clues/important elements in to bullet points for easy reference during play. This is a combination of traditional DM text, read-aloud and then the bullets that expand upon the information. That’s great! It totally helps run the room!

It does, at times, encourage en interactive play style through hints in the read-aloud. For example, the read-aloud in one room mentions a banner. Examining the banner (noted in a bullet) reveals that it is fluttering slightly. This leads to the secret revelation. Perfect! That’s exactly what a room description and further elements should be doing. It leads the players in to deeper examination, the observant ones anyway, end encourages an interactivity play style between the DM and the players … which is the soul of D&D. 

Otherwise, it’s pretty shit.

We get read-aloud in italics which is hard to read. Long sections of text should NOT be in italics. Further, it uses single word italics in places to call attention to certain keywords, mostly in the bullet point items. That’s great! That can be a proper use of italics! But it also uses a fucking fancy ass font which hinders legability. Boo! Boo I say sir! The DM text needs to be pretty trivial to read and comprehend and this fancy font shit don’t help that. 

The read-aloud is also a mixture of styles that switches up. In one place it is in the correct tense. In another it says things like “you arrive” and “you don’t see Arno here”, incorrectly using terse to address the players and their characters instead of just describing a scene. (Yes, that’s wrong. No, there’s not room for opinion.) In other places it changes audience yet again and says things like “ … that the players can see”, addressing the DM in the read-loud? Weird as all fuck. Further, the read-aloud draws conclusions. “This table must be a work bench judging by the …” NO! No! Stop! Don’t fucking do that! Just describe the fucking scene and let the players draw their own conclusions. Describe the crushed shells on top and the tools hanging from it, or its scarred surface, and ket THEM make the conclusion that its a work table. Remember, interactivity!

The front door to the dungeon is a puzzle. You need to roll a DC10 to understand its a puzzle. That’s depressing. Why do this? What if they fail? No adventure tonight? They won’t fail 10? Then why put in a roll at all? The DM will fudge it? Why put in a roll at all? This is NOT how you use a skill check in D&D.

Oh, yeah, that table I mentioned earlier? It’s in an empty room. A room with a table in it. And an ambush from four bandits. How do they hide and ambush the party in a nearly empty room? Who the fuck knows. Just shut the fuck up and roll for initiative, its combat time now. 


This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview is three pages. The last page shows you the first room, so you get to see the formatting, read-aloud etc, and gives you a good impression of what you will be facing in the adventure, as a DM.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Evils of Illmire, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 02/01/2021 - 12:11
By Zack Wolf Spellsword Studios B/X Levels 1-2

A whole classic campaign in your pocket! The Evils of Illmire is a “mini-mega” hexcrawl adventure module designed to provide dozens of sessions of perilous wilderness exploration and dungeon crawling. It features an evil cult, a doomed town, a dangerous wilderness, and a variety of vile monsters. The zine aims to provide plenty of free-roaming adventure content, but with an over-arching threat that looms over the entire region.

This seventy page digest “zine” adventure contains nineteen hexes, a town, and a fuck ton of lair dungeons scattered throughout a region. The designer knows what makes for a good regional area: a lot going on. It is pushing hard up against the limitations of the format, being as big as it is, but is not so off the rails, in verbosity, format or design, as to make it unusable. A de-light-ful little region to toss some PC’s in to!

Rarely do I find myself saying to myself “Holy fuck I want to run this thing!” … but that was the case with this adventure. And it was the case from the very first real page, the adventure synopsis. Illmire is a town that the party ends up at, rumors of treasure in dungeons in the surrounding region. (There are some “investigation” hooks also, but those are as crappy as one line investigation hooks always are. GOLD always works well.) So what you have are the towns hex and the eighteen hexes nearby that make up the region. Each of the hexes has something going on in it, at least one thing (6 mile hexes), and generally a lair dungeon or two … a designer finally figuring out how to make good adventure of the smaller Dyson maps. So the party comes to town and explores the surrounding hexes and dungeon, rumors abound, etc.

But that shits not in the synopsis. Oh no! Kidnappings in town. Bandits on the road that now pose as militia. A cult in town, spreading paranoi and fear-mongering. The temple boarded up, an abomination hidden underneath it. Pod people villagers, the town watch and militia under control, a cult assassin on the prowl, a new priest full of hellfire and brimstone extoling people to confess on themselves and their neighbors to be saved … and blackmailing them while sowing fear and paranoi in town. The town well poisoned, giving the villagers nightmares. A sickness in town, afflicting the elderly and children .. .the mayor on his deathbed. People dying a slow miserable death. And, out in the swamps, THE OVERSEER, a root cause of problems who, academically, doesn’t really care what happens. 

Oh, I was so stoked to run it from that description! And then the hexes start in. SOmething going on in each one, at least one thing. And multiple dungeons, usually, in them. Chances to talk and make friends. Climb the highest mountain to the crystal palace of the mountain giant who feasts you and hears your tales of bravery! And challenges you to quests! The lumberjacks with their boss, in the forest, plagued by fishmen. A floating tower. Sylvan glades. Mushroom forests. This fucking thing is PACKED.

And that is fucking great. A homebase SHOULD have a fuck ton going on. I love that the town, the home base, is a center of evil, and related to some sites out in the hexes, but is, also, an opportunity for downtime fun … getting involved in local affairs, brining the town to life and sucking the party in to its drama while they want some phat l00t out in the wilderness. It’s fucking great!

And its greatness is pushing up against usage. 

The adventure is generally devoid of summaries, except, perhaps, that synopsis at the beginning that mostly covers the cult in the town. This is rough, because there is so much going on that its hard to keep track of. If would really benefit from a page with the major NPC’s and factions on it and a page of summary for the major things in each hex. You need SOMETHING to be able to integrate the adventure as well as its MEANT to be integrated. This is exacerbated by the scattered way in which the places are described. Each hex is described and then the dungeons are described. And they are in some weird fucked up order. SO the hexes are not numerically arranged or alpha arranged, but something else. And it looks like the dungeons are also. This means a hunt for information. The result is everything scattered throughout the books. The town has the overview cult in one place, the town hex in another, the town “dungeons” in another, a town map in another. I don’t want to hunt the wumpus! Other areas, like the militia/bandit fortress, loose their meaning when the context of the fortress is not found on its page but rather earlier in the book, leaving it in isolate and in danger of not getting the full impact out of it. The entire book doesn’t seem to be arranged to play it as an adventure. It seems more like … the things were developed in isolation. And, this is in spite of the areas ll being pretty tightly integrated with each other! And yet they don’t feel DESIGNED to be used together, at all. 

I’m not saying this is adeal killer. THis thing is good enough that I would maybe put in an hour or two to prep my own summary and NPC sheets, with a highlighter in hand. And we all know how fucking much I loathe doing that. But this is GUUUUUDDDDDD. 

I note, in passing there is also some confusing word order in use, mainly in the dungeon keyed encounters.  A barrel has 50 gold nuggets, hidden under rubble in the NE corner. Compare that to Rubble in the NE corner hides a barrel with 50 gold nuggets. This word ordering exacerbates the already large problem of holding this thing in your head. Add to that a little TOO much backstory in some of the descriptions. I’m all for an occasional few extra words to add some context, but when it gets too lengthy, or too often, then these asides to the DM start to detract from comprehension.

Still, this designer knows how to design. Now they just need to learn how to layout and edit in order to pull the entire thing together. It’s not that it’s a mess, and it would probably have worked fine for a smaller volume. But, as adventures get longer and longer then the effort required, and focus required, to keep them coherent increases to need levels. This needed a little extra bit of love in that area. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. That’s too fucking bad. It needs a preview, as well as the level range in the product description.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bots and Junkers

The Splintered Realm - Mon, 02/01/2021 - 01:18
 I really like the rules for junkers from the first edition - they are one of my favorite things from that game. So, I'm keeping those largely intact, although I'm streamlining some of the mechanics around them. I'm also changing the basic idea of how a junker is found; in the first edition, you had to have a character who got a junker to get one. Now, every team will start with a junker (or make their first adventure about getting one- the default game assumption). However, the junker is ultimately 'owned' by the whole team; the same is going to be true of a bot. The team will have one bot that follows them around on their adventures; it might be connected to the junker, or find some way to happen along with the crew. The purpose of the bot is to be a GM-played character in the group who doesn't do much except provide comic relief, act as a sounding board, and give strategic clues at key moments. It's a non-living but still somewhat self-aware plot mover!
Your bot has the following stats:

AC 1d4+12; HD 2d6+6; Feat +8; MV 1d4+1; no attacks

Bots have impervious 1d4 from their metal shells

Bots have 1d4 talents

Roll 1d6 to see how much the bot resembles a terran;

1 = nearly a synthezoid; 6 = completely mechanical.

On this scale, C-3PO is at 2, R2-D2 is at maybe 4 (still has ‘legs’),

and BB8 is 5 (I man, he kinda has a head and a body I guess).

Roll 1d6 for Communicates: 1-3 = mechanical sounds/code; 4-6 = via speech

The bot’s original purpose

  1. Butler. Open doors, fetch slippers. 

  2. Culinary. Make delicious meals.

  3. Librarian. Maintain records, organize, 

  4. Logistics. Shipping and receiving, processing.

  5. Medicine. Medical procedures and technologies.

  6. Pilot. Operate vehicles (generally in non-combat situations).

  7. Science. Assist with research and data processing.

  8. Technology. Interfacing with other technological systems.

I’m rolling up a bot. This is a science bot, which is designed to assist with research and data processing. Makes sense. It is somewhat human. I’m thinking of Twiki from Buck Rogers. He is bashful; this is a very shy bot who is a total nerd and gets nervous around living creatures (especially female ones). His name is K1RB, or Kirby.  I roll randomly for stats, and end up with:

K-1RB (Kirby), K-Series Research Companion Data Bot

AC 16; HD 2d6+6 (hp 15); Feat +8; MV 2 

Communicates via Speech

Impervious 3; Science Talent 

Kirby is 1 meter tall.

'The White Ship Has Come' Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Session Report #1

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 01/31/2021 - 14:58
"Out of the South it was that the White Ship used to come when the moon was full and high in the heavens. Out of the South it would glide very smoothly and silently over the sea. And whether the sea was rough or calm, and whether the wind was friendly or adverse, it would always glide smoothly and silently, its sails distant and its long strange tiers of oars moving rhythmically. One night I Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Play Testing Begins

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 01/31/2021 - 01:09

I'm ready to roll up a character... characters don't have a 'class' per se. They start with a lineage (where they came from - maybe a species, but it might be something else)... then you focus your character as you go. I like the idea that character creation in Sentinels is something of a game within a game, so I'm trying to replicate that here with the swords and planets vibe...

1. Roll for Lineage. The first step is to determine what talents are possessed by the species that is your ancestry. You are basically creating a species as you go… there is no ‘default’ species. There are Terrans, but they have been exposed to cosmic radiation that has caused any number of changes, so all bets are off. I start by rolling 1d6 to see how ‘close’ I am to human; I roll 1. This guy is identical to a human; he is a Terran, albeit one who may have been exposed to radiation. I roll 4 traits; I roll 18, 10, 88, 57. These (for now) are elemental resistance (cold), regenerate 1 hp per round; poison breath; emotion control. I’m thinking that he was a Terran who was part of a cryo project to equip terrans for mining work on Banquo’s Maw. This would mean that he would have a reason to find a junker, and to be on the moon in the first place. That’s a win. His power even lets him ‘cool’ the emotions of those around him. This will be a limitation of his emotion control power; he can only de-escalate heightened emotions. 

2. Roll for limitations. There is a 2 in 6 chance of a limitation. I already took one to one of my abilities, but I roll 1. I select susceptible to heat damage, since it makes the most sense. Any time he suffers heat damage, he sustains an additional +1d6 damage.

3. Roll for attributes. Now I’m ready to decide on my attributes. I roll 2d6 for each, rerolling 1s, and get: 6, 8, 8, 10, 7, 6. Nothing too great, but it’s fine.

I know that the 10 is going to improve (it will be the favored attribute), so it will be pretty good. While CON makes the most sense, it is the least fun… I’m thinking either DEX or INT, but CHA would be okay too. I am curious what a random roll would give me (but I’m not locking in to it), and I get INT. Hmmm. So he’s a thinker more than a fighter. That’s okay. Scientist. Explorer. Okay. INT it is. I’m starting to think of him as a kinder version of Mr. Freeze. Like if Mr. Freeze was a Vulcan. I’m going with low WIS because he is quite practical and has little patience for such things as yoga or vegan dieting. That poison breath is actually frost breath, of course. I think this guy is actually bio-engineered and not actually a terran at all.

STR 7 (-); INT 11 (+2); WIS 6 (-); DEX 8 (+1); CON 8 (+1); CHA 6 (-)

4. Roll for starting credits. I roll 80 starting credits. He takes a blast pistol (30 credits), a starter pack (20 credits), and a stun rod (10 credits). He has 20 credits remaining.

5. For talents, I get to start with three. I will take science (specialize in cryogenics), mechanic, and fortitude (+5 hit points). I know that he will need pilot, but I can wait until level 2 for that. 

6. Stats: I start with 2d6+1 hit points (roll 11), +7 Feat, Move 4 (I am changing up movement rules to get them to work in meters and km; so 3 is number of meters he can travel in one action while doing other things with no penalty; 5x this is his run speed in one round doing nothing else; this is also the km he can walk in an hour at a comfortable pace). Blast weapons are relatively cheap, but they are relatively weak and are only good at short ranges. 

My character is ready to go...     

Cryos Panek, Genetically-Engineered Proto-Terran Frost Trader

AC 12; HD 2d6+6 (16 hit points); FEAT +7; Move 3; Blast Pistol (+2/2d6/5) or Stun Rod (+1/Feat or stunned for 1d6 rounds)

STR 7 (-); INT 11 (+2); WIS 6 (-); 

DEX 8 (+1); CON 8 (+1); CHA 6 (-)

Talents: Science (cryogenics), mechanic, fortitude

Cold breath (once per turn, 3 meter cloud; 2d6+1 damage); Cold resistance (1d6 less damage from cold); Empathy Control, ‘cool’ (10 meters); Regenerate 1 hp per round 

Limitation: Heat susceptibility (+1d6 damage from heat) 

Next time we talk about bots and junkers!

'Playing Out In The Rocks' Cepheus Engine Rpg DM Workshop & Session Report Four - The Wreck of the Ages

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 22:38
 Several cargo modules from the wreck last week look strangely familiar to the players in the session  today. The wreck is over a 175 years old and yet perfectly preserved. Silent Running film fans will know these cargo containers. This game campaign session  picks up right where last session left off. The wreck in question is a pulsed fission propulsion craft from someplace else with ANSA Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thinking about setting

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 16:59

One of the mistakes I make is in presuming that space is largely settled, mapped, and known. Some of the literature that I’ve been reviewing as I think about this game falls into swords and planet - explorers in strange lands that just happen to be planets they travel between. The whole things needs an air of the unknown.

  • Space is largely unexplored and uncharted. We don’t know most of what’s out there.

  • An ancient evil has been reborn. At one time, dark forces moved among the cosmos planting seeds and establishing footholds on a thousand worlds. Then, they disappeared. They have reawakened.

  • The ability to travel between worlds and between systems is a relatively new phenomenon. It is not stable and easy to use, but instead is unstable, unpredictable, and often dangerous to jump between systems.

  • More decadence, decay, and old stuff. Less new and shiny. 

  • Think of worlds as city-states, or as collections of city states.

I’m thinking that one of the major sources of junker ships is a junkyard moon where hundreds of thousands of old craft were sent to die. I think of the Ming Dynasty who sunk their own Armada to cut China off from the rest of the world. I can see a culture that assumed a high level of technological progress, and then intentionally cut themselves off from the rest of the galaxy and shut it all down. They are gone now, but there are thousands of working ships sitting in junk yards that can be grabbed. The society itself is also gone - but there may be clues as to what happened to them.

Roaring Engines Under A Dark Sun

Sorcerer's Skull - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 15:30
Art by Brendan McCarthy
The pulp story, "The Dead-Star Rover" (1949) by Robert Abernathy, presents a post-apocalyptic future Earth, where people are divided into tribes/cultures mostly based on the vehicles they employ: The Terrapin are nomads in armored cars, the Bird People fly fixed-wing aircraft, etc. Replacing human cultures with Athasian races would be, I think, a fine idea for a campaign on it's own, but I think there are some other things you could do to spice it up.
I figure the machines would be left over from some ancient war, perhaps shortly after humans partially terraformed and inhabited the planet. Something happened, and the machines have gone all Maximum Overdrive. Maybe its some sort of technological misunderstanding like in Shroeder's Ventus, or possibly a result of exposure to some Athasian exotic energy source ("magic," in other words). The various cultures would have learned to secret of taming one "species" of vehicle or another, though perhaps not all members of any given culture would be able to do it. There could be rituals involved, too. And taming is likely the wrong word, and the machines would most likely be viewed with as spirt totem or the like. The machine is the patron of the fragile, biologic entity.

On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Timed

Hack & Slash - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 14:30

Timed Triggers

This trigger just regularly springs the trap. Note that the trap may be set to use a timed trigger after the initial trigger is sprung.

Timed triggers are great obvious traps. This can be gouts of flame or swinging blades. They are buzzsaws, vines, and swinging logs. It is spinning pillars, anti-gravity platforms travelling up and down, and sections of floor that disappear or collapse after you step on them. They are rarely a danger themselves, but can make other situations more interesting. 

They are best used in situations where other objectives need to be met, rescuing hostages, defeating a bad guy, stealing an item, made all the more complicated by the regular changes in environment. 

Traditional use

S2 White Plume Mountain by Gary Gygax

7. The door opens onto a stone platform in a large natural cave. The ceiling averages 50´ above the level of the platform while the floor of the cave 50´ below is a deep pool of boiling mud. Points A and B mark the locations of geysers. Geyser A spouts once every five minutes. Geyser B spouts once every three minutes. Opposite the entrance platform is another stone platform, approximately 90´ away. Between them a series of wooden disks is suspended from the ceiling by massive steel changes. The disks are about four feet in diameter, and three feet apart. Each disk is attached to it’s chain by a giant staple fixed in its center. The disks swing freely and will tilt when weight is placed upon them. The disks and chains, as well as the walls of the cavern , are covered with a wet, slippery algal scum that lives on the water and nutrients spewed up from the geysers. This coating gives off a feeble phosphorescent glow.

When the geysers erupt, they reach nearly to the roof of the cavern, and creatures holding onto the disks or chains may be washed off to fall into the mud below (an almost instant death). Characters with 18 Strength, or better, have a 65% chance of holding onto a disk that is adjacent to an erupting geyser. For each point of strength less than 18, there is a 10% lesser chance of hanging onto the disks (i.e. 16 strength equals 45% chance.) However, for each disk the characters is located farther from the geyser, there is a cumulative chance 5% greater of holding on i.e. one farther away (from the adjacent disk) equals +5%, two away equals +10%, et. Damage varies as the distance from the geyser. Adjacent disk: 5-50 points; one away: 4-40, and so on: 3-30, 2-20, 1-10, 1-6 and 1-4 for anyone in the cavern. Characters who make their saving throw versus breath weapon will take only one-half damage.

Timed trigger design

Early timed triggers can be as simple as a swinging blade, something obviously and trivially avoided, at least until you get hit with a Fear effect or henchmen fail their morale rolls and run into it while fleeing.

Moderate timed triggers are an effective way to challenge mid-level parties with beginning challenges. Take an encounter for characters of 1st-3rd level and add gouts of fire that criss-cross the battlefield and it becomes an appropriate challenge for higher level characters. Another type of timed trigger is one where a normal activity is given a hard time limit, you must defeat the monster/pick the lock/disarm the trap before the room crushes you, the ceiling falls, the guards arrive, or your get cut apart my laser beams. 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

River of Frozen Souls, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 12:10
By Allen Farr WinterBlight's Challenge Generic Level ?

The River Of Frozen Souls has shattered. As the remnants of this once mighty frozen fortress drifts south on the Sea Of Broken Blades, it carries with it the Anvil of Ice, a powerful artefact capable of bringing eternal winter to the world. Will this winter be your last?

This 49 page adventure tries to describe a northern town in the middle of winter, along with a series of dungeons in iceberg fragments. It’s very creative and has all of the elements required for a good adventure, it’s just that the designer has absolutely no idea at all how to put them together in to a coherent package for use. And I mean that more than I usually mean that. 

You get hired on as town guards. You get sent to a northern town for a few months. Your first day you get assigned to a murder that is causing a gang war. That leads to a series of dungeon fragments contained in icebergs off the coast. 

There is a pattern to these. After mountains of text laid out in a near-incoherent paragraph form, with embedded encounters, there will be a period of more free form player action. These are supported by terrific little vignettes for the party to interact with. There is a surrounding world here, or at the feel of one, that is terrific. It’s alive and full of potential energy. This is augmented by “themes” for the various sections, which are usually just environments conditions or some such. This adds to moods trying to be created, like the hostility of the weather or the strangeness of the north. Evocative writing can be almost good in places, like “At the far end of the room is an ancient throne entwined by the dragon’s tail and bedecked by large luxurious furs.” 

As guardsmen some of the “one liner” encounter range from a group of children challenging the party to a snowball fight to a distraught woman begging the party for help, because a ship sailing out has her son on it as a stowaway. There’s nothing else, that’s it. And it’s clear that you mind can run away with these little things. They are full of energy. Likewise things like your sword freezing to its scabbard, or an increasing number of villagers found froze to death in their homes, to bring home the severity of the winter. A great job.

Of course, the formatting is atrocious and makes the entire thing almost incomprehensible.

Columns of information, combining backstory, justifications, multiple plot events, and the like are the normal course of business. It almost makes you think that you are reading a summary of whats to come, but, you soon find out, no, this is the actual adventure. Arriving in town, hired on, ambushed by thugs, trained by the guard sergeant, these get just a couple of words each, almost as much as I just typed about them, embedded in longer paragraphs. This is no way to run a railroad, or format an adventure for use. 

Bold italics for read-aloud sections making it hard to read. An appendix compsigin almost half the page count, subtracting from actual value. A generic adventure, with no stats, written in an almost abstracted way, making it hard to pick out traps and creatures and certainly no detail on what they could be. Just stat the fucking thing for D&D man! Any decent DM can convert it and the non-decent ones are not going to use it anyway, in its generic form.

“The entrance to this room is constructed from the open maw of Blizzard, an ancient dragon that pledged its services in death to the master of the fortress.” You can see, from this section, how we both get a nice little feature, an entrance from a dragon maw, and how its ruined by all the backstory. And this is one of the more terse backstory elements. They go on and on, adding depth that will never be encountered during play. “… his hand outstretched as if holding something defensively. That something was the Rod of Thunderous Upheaval. It was the Rod of Thunderous Upheaval used in the heat of combat that shattered the River of Frozen Souls and Fortress Frostfang, see Arcanum.” There we go, a load of backstory for a corpse that adds nothing to the adventure. The adventure does this time and time again. 

It’s a shame because there’s some interesting things going on in this. It needs a TOTAL rework, with a complete focus on running it at the table and the expansion of the section where the party investigates the murder and the factions in the town compete. Then this would be an adventure to write home about!

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and gives you a look at some of the seventeen “iceburg dungeon fragment” locations. These tend to tbe the shorter elements, with some decently evocative writing in places. It’s good for getting a eel for the generic nature of the adventure, as in system neutral, and how that detracts from the adventure overall.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Light

Hack & Slash - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 04:30
Light Detection: This trigger only functions in always lit or never lit areas. It works by using materials that react to the interruption or exposure to light. The source of light can be natural (sunlight/moonlight), magical (light, continual light), or man made (incandescent, torchlight, lasers). The trigger can be set to go off after the first interruption or detection of light, or it can be set to be triggered after a certain number of counted interruptions or time exposed to light.  This simplistic description of light detection neglects the various ways it can be used.

This is an effective trick or puzzle when the sensor responds only to a certain color of light.

The default stance of the trick, is of course that once torch, lantern, or sun-rod light is shone on the trigger, the trap is set, but it is also a useful stance for constructing a puzzle.

Often the sensor will be visible as a colored opaque crystal sphere. This should be breakable of course but doing so should ruin the mechanism.

The trigger most certainly does not have to be binary. It can require a certain degree or configuration of light, or perhaps be part of a multi-part puzzle where the light that triggers the light detector also gives a clue to the next step in the process while allowing the puzzle to succeed (like opening a door or portal where something must be thrown).
Traditional Use
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax2. STRANGLE VINES: . . .These creepers are attracted to the strongest light source, i.e. Continual Light, bright ship’s light, light, lantern, magic sword glow, torch light.. . . If the ship’s lights are on the viewers will see various forms of large and small fish, and have a one in six chance of getting a glimpse of the “frog-thing”. . . Glints of gems will be seen from the lake bed! If they use lights in the observatory they absolutely will not only see that creature, but it will begin smashing at the plastiglass observation windows to get at the tender morsels within. The chance to break through is 5% per round. Attempts will cease as soon as the light is extinguished or the party is out of the monster’s sight.
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth by Gary Gygax1. SMALL CAVE WITH MANY TUNNELSThis low-domed chamber has its ceiling literally dripping with stalactites. . . A tribe of 18 troglodytes lairs in the five small tunnels which radiate from this cave. . . Unless the party is exceptionally quiet and shows no light, the trodlodytes will be lurking in ambush for them, and they will surprise the party on a 1-4 (d6) or a 1-2 if a ranger is leading the party.
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil by Gary Gygax339. HALL OF ELEMENTAL MAGICThis huge echoing hall is constructed of polished black stones, which give back odd reflections of your light. The most striking features here are the symbols set into the chamber floor. To the north is a triangle of dull ecru stone, outlined with some sort of gray metal; a throbbing radiance seems to spread in dun-colored pulses that wash over the area. To the east is a great 10’ square of translucent stone, blue at the edges and shading to a deep green at the center, bordered by a strip of pale green; the whole gives out undulating sheets of blue-green light. To the south is a circle of translucent crystal ringed by a silvery band; the whole sends forth slowly rising clouds of pale light, that spread and disappear. To the west is a long diamond shape with four points radiating from the sides of the lozenge. The whole is fashioned of translucent stone mottled red and amber, outlined in red gold. It sends up sudden tongues of brightness, planes of pale fiery light that vanish as quickly as they appear. All of these radiations gleam from the walls and floor of the hall. Any object in the center of the four symbols shows the four different illuminations, and the ghastly purple of their mix.. . . Any creature who steps into the area of an elemental symbol and stands there for 3 segments is transported to the corresponding Elemental Node: the Air Cavern (circle), the Earth Burrows (triangle), the Fire Pits (lozenge), or Water Maze (square). The only way to escape therefrom is to win through to another “gate” area or to possess the complete Orb of Golden Death, inset with all four proper gems.
Light detection design Early use can be situations in which characters must maneuver without light to avoid an enemy. Simple puzzles can differ based on the time of day or season. Mirrors to reflect light into certain spots (with multiple solutions so that players might discover one and not another). Later, more difficult puzzles can be avoiding light being used as a tripwire, or environments that change based on available light (such as a room that is different at night than during the day).

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary On T2000 Fanzine- You're On Your Own No. 1 From Game Designers' Workshop (GDW) For Twilight 2000 original edition

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/29/2021 - 23:02
 "The War has raged for years The high-tech ammo is almost gone. High-tech equipment is failing, piece by piece, with no spares to fix it. The front lines are held by a few grim, desperate soldiers.The US 5th Division holds the line in Poland. Now, a Soviet encirclement has cut it off in a province ruled by ambitious warlords, local militias, and bands of marauding deserters. HQ is 200 klicks to Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary On The Pay What You Want Adventure - 'Sleeping Giant' written by Joseph Mohr From Old School Role Playing For Cepheus Engine rpg & Old School Traveller rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/29/2021 - 16:59
"The travelers are offered a job with a substantial payday, The only problem is that the job is on a burned out radioactive world in the Sonora sector of space, An alien species, long dead and gone, once used robotic walkers to invade the planet Ceqal IV. The Olonsean Empire would like to have artifacts from these walkers. The patron, however, has other ideas." Joseph Mohr is an engine every Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thieves' Guild Built in the Subterranean Ruin of [Insert Generic Anthropomorphic Urban Rodent God Your Choice]'s Temple

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 01/29/2021 - 12:00

Billy Longino just can't take D&D seriously. Well, I can't say for certain that he's incapable, but I can say that he doesn't try very hard.

Which can make for some pretty fun game sessions, actually. He greatly enjoyed his Halfling police procedural Southfarthing Confidential back in 2017 (has it really been that long?) at NTrpgcon. I have not played this current adventure of his, but the name says it all really: Thieves' Guild Built in the Subterranean Ruin of [Insert Generic Anthropomorphic Urban Rodent God Your Choice]'s Temple.

This is certainly the sort of thing I could run in my Azurth game, at least in broadstrokes, but I'm no real critic of adventure design. Bryce Lynch and Gus L have opined, so there you go.

Anyway, it's now available in print on demand.

Cha'alt Three Kickstarter 'Dancing in the Streets' or Saving Cha'alt - Cha'alt/Godbound Campaign Update

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 01/28/2021 - 19:40
 So there hasn't been a lot of movement on the Cha'alt/Godbound campaign front for a few weeks now. Mostly because of scheduling & Covid related player issues. Then a barrage of emais came in from players, 'Have you seen Venger's new Cha'alt kickstarter?' or 'Did you know about what's happening to Cha'alt?' Cha'alt has been a major NPC player in my campaigns ever since the first book came out Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

"D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth": a talk by John Rateliff

Zenopus Archives - Thu, 01/28/2021 - 14:36

On 1/28/21 there was a online talk, open to the public, titled "D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth", given by John D. Rateliff, who is both a Tolkien scholar (author of the History of the Hobbit) & a former TSR employee (author of the Return to the Keep on the Borderlands module among others). The talk was recorded and is now available here:

I watched the talk & enjoyed it, particularly Rateliff's concluding "fantasy crossroads" image  from the last issue of the Strategic Review. Knowing that Rateliff had written his doctoral dissertation on Lord Dunsany, I asked a question about his influence on D&D, having been listed in Appendix N of the Dungeon Masters Guide.
The talk was co-hosted by the University of Glasgow Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic , which has a page for the talk here:

Rateliff blogs regularly at Sacnoth's Scriptorium:

(Updated 1/29)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ootherion Logos

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 01/28/2021 - 12:00

 Jason Sholtis is working a comic set in the world Operation Unfathomable called Ootherion: Ape Myrmidon. He asked me to come up for a logo for the comic. I did several iterations, not because Jason is demanding but because I wasn't satisfied. Here are the last two I did:

I don't know which will appear on the comic, but I'm relatively satisfied with both of these.

Shards of Tomorrow 2 Design Goals

The Splintered Realm - Wed, 01/27/2021 - 21:21

 Let’s set up some design goals.

  • It’s a game - it’s not a movie or novel; the setting is not about telling a great story, but about equipping the players to tell their own stories. It should be open-ended and diverse; there isn’t one central story, but a series of interconnected stories that allow the player to jump into it anywhere. It’s not about the humans defeating the bad guys. It’s about an ongoing, unending series of conflicts that the player characters find a way to navigate within.

  • Use the system as presented in Tales of the Splintered Realm, but not be beholden to it. Freedom to manipulate the system to better fit the narrative. For example, I’m thinking of bringing in some elements from Sentinels of Echo City; I am thinking also of bringing in some things from Army Ants (getting more actions per round; weapon tinkering rules). It’s going to be a ‘greatest hits’ collection of the other games I’ve done.

  • Maximize value. In reviewing the first edition of Shards of Tomorrow, I noticed that I created new mechanics for different situations; just looking at spacecraft, there are different ways to resolve hit dice, values, upgrade costs, and maintenance costs. Since we already have one random element (hit dice), this same value can be applied in different ways; weekly maintenance can be hit dice in credits; upgrade costs can be hit dice x10.

  • Maximize space. I want this to be 64 pages, and formatted as Tales of the Splintered Realm, but have EVERYTHING for the full game. Rules for character creation, advancement, technology, creatures, vehicles, setting, and a solid starting adventure. 

  • Art. I have to accept that art matters. Presentation matters. The visuals matter. More illustrations, and of the highest quality I can muster.

  • Take my time. There is no hurry to get this done. I want to take my time with it. If it takes six months, no matter. It’s about the process, not the product. I like tinkering with systems and writing rules. I may as well spend time doing that.

[REVIEW] The Palace of Unquiet Repose

Beyond Fomalhaut - Wed, 01/27/2021 - 20:05

The Palace of Unquiet ReposeThe Palace of Unquiet Repose (2020)

by Prince of Nothing

Published by The Merciless Merchants

Levels 3-5 (HAH!)

Know, oh Prince, that good sword & sorcery adventures in old-school gaming are still hard to come by; and for all the talk of the mouldering tomes of Appendix N, few have struck the right balance between the imagery and spirit of S&S, and the playability of old-school D&D. Most old-school adventures do not reach deep into the pulp tradition, or fail to grasp what is in there; and most S&S adventures remain semi-interactive railroads, failing on the game level. Indeed, one of the most credible efforts in the last few years has been The Red Prophet Rises, by Malrex and Prince of Nothing; and furthermore, Tar Pits of the Bone Toilers by Malrex was pretty good too. So here is another adventure written by the Prince – and by the gods, he gets it right once again!

The Palace of Unquiet Repose, an expedition into a dead city serving as the tomb and prison of a haughty demi-god, is a monster of a module, a blood-and-guts nightmare in under 60 pages (a further ten or so are dedicated to The Screaming Caverns, an extra dungeon scenario). Those pages are not wasted. The substance – the information to help you run the module – is present, while padding is excluded. Everything serves a purpose, and the text is highly polished. No, it is not an exercise in layout-as-avantgarde-art. The maps are simple, plain-looking, highly readable affairs. The text is ultra-orthodox two-column century gothic, occasionally broken up by mini-maps showing the present area, and pieces of inky-looking art that do not really add much. Bullet points and bolding are used in appropriate places for structure and emphasis. Important details in the text are cross-referenced with the appendices and other parts of the module. It looks as adventurous as Swiss technical documentation, and it all works as unobtrusively and efficiently as Swiss technical documentation – in the background.

The writing is the heart of the monstrosity. It has power, menace, and gloomy pomp; expressive terseness. Opening it up at random points: “The double door is set in the naked rock, man-high, of tarnished, ancient bronze. Faded imagery can barely be made out on the surface.” Or: “These Sial-Atun have been led to the Palace by Captain Sarakhar with promises of infinite riches and godlike might. Instead they find only ennui and ancient horror while they wait for their comrades to return.” Or: “A great marble hall contains rows of carved sepulchers of worked obsidian, edges sharp like razors, gleaming from the light source. Alcoves on both sides of the room stretch off into darkness. Faint glimmers can be discerned within.” It earns its barbarian chops, although the appendices wander into purple prose. Where it matters most, though, the lean-and-mean writing succeeds on the technical level, as a mood-setter, and as a scenario rife with potential for conflict, exploration, and off-the-wall ideas. There are great names. Diorag the Breaker. Uyu-Yadmogh. The Children of the Tree. Gate of the Host Incarnadine. Chamber of Tribute by Conquest.

Leading to a land of dead empires, the Palace beckons. A hazardous wilderness trek is followed by two entrance levels, leading into a vast subterranean necropolis surrounded by a lake of liquid mercury, and then the titular Palace, a 26-area dungeon serving as the resting place of Uyu-Yadmogh, accursed sorcerer king, and his vast treasury. You are not alone: three factions, two coming from outside and one established inside, contend for the ultimate prize (whatever that may be). Death and horror will follow.

Mr. Thing, He Who Must Be
Fun at PartiesThe genre is high-magic sword & sorcery turned up to 11. It is not for everyone. It is macabre, loud, album cover art S&S, set to metal riffs. (Or so I think, since this is a musical genre that goes right over my head, and feels pretty much like random environmental noise to my ears.) It is a lot more baroque and grandiose than even most S&S fare, a bit in the manner of Diablo and a bit in the manner of the Final Fantasy series, and I have to confess that it feels rather over the top. Grimdark easily becomes its own parody, and The Palace of Unquiet Repose is on the borderline, because it has no “normal” to fall back on, no section that is just a modest “/11”, and no counterpoints to its sensory assault. Here is a grand grimdark dungeon-palace “dotted with all manner of hideous gargoyles”, and haunted by tattooed, cannibalistic, insane, deformed, gem-studded things. That eat souls. The writhing souls of the eternally damned. Here are the grimmest motherfuckers of a rival NPC party, one “a beautiful golden, hairless child, one of its eyes (…) an orb of absolute blackness”, another one “a monstrous silhouette etched in absolute blackness”, and he is called “An Unbearable Thing, Drawn From The End of Time, Given Hatred and Substance (Wolf of Final Night)”. The leader of the other guys wears “the gilded skulls of lords and generals (500 gp total)” on his plate mail. The leader of the third faction has “a single wild green eye staring out of a skull-like face”. Sometimes, you can’t catch a break. After a while, “Fred the Fighter” starts to look like an appealing concept.

This is not a Palace of honour. Indeed, the wasteland hellhole is more containment zone for a grand sort of evil than convenient treasure-hole, and those who disturb it mostly go here to die. Yes, the cover indicates a 3–5th-level range, but it is the sort of 3–5th-level adventure which will kill off entire parties of characters, starting before the dungeon entrance. Everything here is dead, dangerous, insane, or cursed (sometimes all four). It does not quite become what the loud kids call a “negadungeon” (a punishing killer dungeon where you are much better off backing out and not adventuring), but it is a dungeon where you have to bet with dear stuff to start rolling, and the odds are stacked in favour of the house. It is also a fundamentally static setting even with the rival factions, and in this respect, it is less successful than the lively Red Prophet Rises. “Do you touch the horrible soul-devouring trap for its fabled treasures?” This is the central premise, and it shall determine whether you and your group will like the module. If you like poking bear traps (and the sleeping bears trapped therein), this module has a lot of exciting things to poke, and princely prices to extract. Break off chunks of a massive golden idol. Pry blasphemous death masks off of a mindless golem-thing. Rouse a reanimated demi-god chained with adamantium chains to “a monstrous throne of jagged glass” and find out what happens. You know you want to.

While a bit one-note in its themes, the Palace is very open-ended. This is a place to develop bold plans and win big or lose big. There are useful suggestions in the text to run the scenario and resolve some of the encounters, but there are so many ways you could exploit the Palace and its moving parts (not to mention the rival NPCs) to “break the bank” that it would be folly to list them all. You can sic the proverbial irresistible force against the proverbial immovable object. You can build yourself an invincible army, or a Rube Goldberg contraption to entrap soul-eating 15 HD monstrosities. You can become just a bit too powerful. The resourceful will thrive, and the weak shall be weeded out. Kill or be killed.

In summary, The Palace of Unquiet Repose is a grand module of a very specific sort – one maniacal and meticulously perfected note played very loudly by people who know exactly what they are doing. It is exemplary as a “GM-friendly” module, and it has splendid imagination. All of it, or most of it is brand new – aside from scorpions, the monsters, magic, and NPCs are original creations. And it goes up to 11. Yes, it is very good, if you like this kind of fringe thing.

No playtesters are credited in this publication.

Rating: ***** / *****

Mouths. Why did it have to be mouths?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

'Playing Out In The Rocks' Cepheus Engine Rpg DM Workshop & Session Report Three

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 01/27/2021 - 14:08
 This session report picks right up where last session  left off. Some healing was done via Aesculaptor Mark III unit ( medical/cyber unit via classic Traveller Cepheus Engine rules )  & her synethic operator. The synethic cyber medi surgeon was quite kind & engaging but a bit too percise for the players. Basically this was an excuse to re equip & upstock on personl items lost during the PC's Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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