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Ecology of Kong Skull Island, AD&D 1st Edition Carnivorous Apes, & Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 17:14
So my father & I got a chance to catch Kong Skull Island over at the local dollar cinema last night. We loved it and mostly had the movie theater to ourselves so see it in a theater if you get the chance. The basic plot line follows an American Army crew into the heart of Skull Island. The special effects are well done the basic plot is a homage to Apocalypse Now with a mix of classic Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisted: Weird Weapons, Weird War

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 13:11
Usually with these revisitations, I go for a most from around the same date, but Jason "Dungeon Dozen" Sholtis aske me a related question yesterday, so I thought it was worth revisiting this one from 2010:
The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."

- Gen. George S. PattonWhen the crazy-quilt patchwork of nations that was Ealderde erupted in the Great War, a number of new technologies were brought to bear. Thaumaturgical and alchemical weapons and "weaponizable" advances were among these, and were utilized on a scale never seen before--with long-lasting, and terrible consequences.

First among these was the use of alchemical weapons, particularly gas. The forces of Neustria were the first to utilize them with fragmentation shells filled with stinking cloud potions. The Staarkish army soon escalated to lethal chemicals. Their "Magic Corps Men" cast cloudkill which, as a heavier than air gas, was ideal for filling enemy trenches. Since mages are a quirky lot, generally ill-suited to military discipline, their numbers in the Staarkish forces were small, and it proved expedient to replace them with thaumaturgic shells which could be fired from artillery at a greater distance.  The gas could also be pumped out of tubes, if the wind directions were right. Soon these methods were adopted by all the larger nations.

Other, more exotic chemicals were tried. Acid fog was released from sprayers to discourage attackers or soften defenders. Yellow musk, the pollen of the eponymous creeper, cultivated in secure greenhouses, was used to entrance enemies and make them easy targets. Amorphing solutions delivered via artillery shells sowed terror by making flesh malleable, dissolving limbs or even melting soldier's together. The only limits were the imaginations (and funding) of the alchemists and thaumaturgic engineers.

Magical weapons of mass destruction were also employed, and could be delivered to distant targets through the use of artillery and airships. Thaumaturgical explosives and blights laid waste to cities and farmlands. Rays of searing light, or jets of intense cold fired from zeppelins cut swaths of destruction across enemy trenches. Implosive weapons literally collapsed fortifications--or hapless troops--in on themselves.

Then there were the weapons calculated to cause as much terror as direct damage. Teleportation beams were turned upon population centers. Fear rays lead to mass panic. The battlefield fallen were briefly animated to turn on their grieving comrades. This is to say nothing of the even more exotic reality-warping weapons which, though rare, were powerful enough to disrupt the elemental fields to this day.

Another technological change in the Great War was touted as potentially rendering the human soldier obselete. Constructs and automata have been used before, but never in such a scale. "Land ironclads" or "landships"--now colloquially called "tanks"--were an innovation by the army of Grand Ludd on thaumaturgical techniques used to make anthropomorphic golems. Some tanks required human operators, but others were automonous to a degree, like the golems. This proved to be another one of the mistakes of war, as man-hunting kill-machines still roam the blasted former battlefields and depopulated wastes of Ealderde.

Man-shaped golems were still used--largely for their flexibility and, in some cases, greater psychological effect on the enemy--but these were produced with greater mechanical skill, giving them a wider variety of uses. Once again terror was a prime goal, as squads of murderous constructs with the appearance of children's toys were sent into unsuspecting villages in the dead of night. 

It's the hope of many that the most lasting innovation of the conflict will be that man has finally had enough of war. Certainly, the devastation wrought in Ealderde, and the refugees that still pour into the New World to escape the post-war horror, ought to be powerful reinforcers for such a lesson. Still, as the cynics among us would point out, no one has ever lost money betting on the short-memory or long-term foolishness of mankind.

Gary Con Day One - Kinds Words From Frank and More

Tenkar's Tavern - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 02:49

+Frank Mentzer  stopped by the Frog God booth today and gave me some amazing words of encouragement. Really appreciated and I'm very grateful. The old school is really a great community.

There is some exciting news for Swords & Wizardry Light / Continual Light that should get announced in the coming weeks. I am so psyched!

Met some great folks today. Haven't gamed yet but more importantly, I've spent time with fellow gamers and that is priceless.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gary Con Bound!

Zenopus Archives - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 22:01

I'll be at Gary Con for the first time this year, from Fri at 11 AM until Sun at 4 PM.
The event is being held in the same hotel (now the Grand Geneva) as Gen Con X, almost forty years ago in Aug 1977. This was the year the Holmes Basic set debuted and the first Gen Con that J. Eric Holmes attended. This summer is also Gen Con 50.

I'll wear the above homemade id in addition to my official GC badge. Please say hello. 

Here is my schedule of games: 

12-4 Acrid Herald (espionage RPG) scenario with Merle Rasmussen (author of Top Secret)
4-8 "The Last Great Adventure - in 3D" AD&D adventure with Harold Johnson (author of C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan)
9-12 Gen Con 50 celebration at Horticultural Hall, original home of Gen Con

8-12 Orc's Drift CHAINMAIL game
12-2 Caves of Chaos - Cave G - 5E adaptation of B2
2-4 Dungeon! boardgame with the designer David Megarry
4-6 Auction run by Frank Mentzer
7-12 Battle of the Brown Hills CHAINMAIL written by Gygax, run by Paul Stormberg

10-12 Dragon Lairds card game with Tom Wham (a Holmes Basic artist!)
12-4 Braunstein IV: Banania with David Wesely

(I signed up late for the con, so I am not scheduled to run any games, though I will bring my Basic Rulebook)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Repetitive battles in dnd

Blog of Holding - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 19:04

A lot of people will put up with level grinding in computer RPGs – that is, repetitive combat against identical enemies. Imagine how easy it would be to run a D&D game for a bunch of those people! “You meet another group of 8 goblins. Roll initiative!” Everybody cheers!

It doesn’t work that way. Repetitive D&D combat gets boring way faster than repetitive computer game combat.

There are a number of plausible explanations for this: D&D players have higher expectations; they want to pack lots of fun into a limited weekly time slot; the social contract of the game means that you can’t quit the game when you are bored.

My theory, though, is that repetitive D&D combat doesn’t work because of other people’s turns.

In a CRPG, there is basically no dead time waiting for the computer players to go. The opponents either act concurrently with the player or, in a turn-based game, act very quickly. That means the player is always playing. Mindless activity beats inactivity every time.

In D&D combat, you’re actually playing (taking your turn) for maybe 15% of the time (assuming 5 other players and a couple of monster turns). The other 85% of the time, you are watching theater. So the theater has to be good.

In D&D, taking a swipe at yet another goblin isn’t a peak experience, but it’s pleasant enough: maybe about as fun as level grinding in a CRPG. The problem is, watching other people mindlessly level-grind is no fun at all.

Given the theater-heavy nature of D&D combat, it needs to be either interesting or short.

OD&D combat, for instance, is short. A random encounter with goblins is often a routine hack and slash, but with low goblin hit points and morale, at least it’s over soon.

The D&D edition with the longest combats is probably Fourth Edition. It puts all its chips on interesting combat. Every single monster has a unique attack or trait. There’s lots of tactical movement. There are no rules for random encounters, so each individual goblin fight is artisanally placed by the DM. Monster groups are mixed. And monsters are only threatening within a very narrow level band, so after you’ve used up the novelty of the Goblin Tactics trait, you’ll never fight goblins again (with these characters).

Still, in any edition, fighting the same old goblins gets boring after a while, which is why every edition has a market for more monster manuals, and why every DM invents new traps, battle locations, and monster powers.

All of this novelty isn’t primarily for the active player. I bet that in a one-on-one D&D game (one player and one DM), repetitive goblin battles would go a lot farther. DM inventiveness keeps the inactive players engaged. They don’t have fun dice to roll or damage numbers to add up. They need something to think about (“Oh my god, why did the goblin explode? What will happen to Frank if he fails his saving throw? How far am I from the nearest goblin? should I run away on my turn?”) or some new theater to watch (The look on Frank’s face when he takes 16 damage from an exploding goblin).

Repeat fights

In WOTC-era D&D, with its long-form battles, there should be no repeat fights: that is, battles which are essentially identical to recent ones. It’s just too boring for the players. TSR-era D&D is more forgiving of repeat fights, though you probably still don’t want too many.

But what about when it makes story sense for the players to face identical enemies?

There’s a tension between a dull D&D “realism” – in a steading of hill giants, shouldn’t every encounter be against hill giants? – and an unpredictable menagerie with no internal logic. I’m not advocating for the latter. if you’re in the Spiderwood, you’re not immune to spider attacks just because you already faced one. But each spider attack can be a novel variation on the general theme of “spiders eat you.”

If your dungeon key or random-encounter table is heavy on identical monsters or patrols, you can jot down two or three twists to liven up repeat battles. Each such twist gives the players a new avenue for creativity, a new puzzle to solve. The players waiting for their turns will welcome the diversion.

As an example, here is a list of 20 goblin “random encounters” which I’d consider running, even after the players have used up the standard “vanilla goblins” encounter. None of these encounters are super bizarre or outre – they’re just tweaked enough to differentiate one encounters from another.

1 A bigger group of goblins than the PCs have yet faced

2 Goblins with unusual weapons: 2 goblins per pike! 6 goblins operate a ballista! Thrown bottles of poison gas! Bolas and nets! Lassos from above!

3 Elite goblin rangers that have been assigned the task of tracking and ambushing the pesky PCs

4 Goblins who are stationed near a trap, ready to spring it on intruders. (This encounter can be re-used once per unique trap)

5 Two different groups of goblins: opposing or neutral factions, or a group of reinforcements who will arrive after a couple of turns

6 goblins who have survived previous encounters with the PCs, and have prepared for the PCs’ tactics (Unarmed goblins with tower shields surround the fighter while others grapple and gag the wizard)

7 Goblins who don’t want to fight (they might be scared, or willing to change sides, or protecting wounded, or emissaries under a flag of truce, or children)

8 Goblins from a different tribe, reveling in the mayhem caused by the PCs and willing to help them. They might be a war party or captives

9 things which only appear to be goblins. They could be halflings in disguise, or decoy dummies, or nilbogs, or barghest

10 Goblins with obvious treasure (the players won’t mind that the battle is otherwise familiar!)

11 Goblins who run immediately

12 Goblins who are arguing with each other and can easily be ambushed

13 Goblins who can retreat to a place where they are difficult to reach (maybe a ledge, small hole, or armored vehicle)

14 mounted goblins (on worgs, carrion crawlers, giant bats)

15 A goblin with an interesting personality (a groveler who wants to work for the pcs, or an 18-intelligence Sherlock type who shouts astute deductions, or a Drizzt do’Goblin type, or an entertaining trash talker with lots of hit points)

16 one of the goblins is an illusionist

17 Goblins with hostages, destructible treasure, or something else that gives them bargaining leverage

18 grotesque goblinoid experiments created by the local goblin (or evil human) wizard: they have a super-strong third arm, or they’re a chained pack of leprous berserkers, or they are scorpion-goblin centaurs, or they explode for 4d6 damage when hit

19 sneaky goblins who follow stealthily from a distance, looking for a chance to loot treasure whenever the PCs are in battle with treasure guardians

20 Finally, the goblin boss and entourage! The boss actually uses his or her low-level magical treasure to the fullest: potion of fire breath, giant strength, growth, or invulnerability for flashy combat fX; poison or philtre of love to be slipped into a PC’s drink; cap of water breathing plus a nearby lake for a safe place to retreat; immovable rod to block doors, climb to inaccessible locations, and perform all sorts of skullduggery; decanter of water to drown the PCs; beads of force to trap PCs; a folding boat to terrorize the countryside with a summonable Viking longship!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

High Tech Mysticism & High Caliber Adventure OSR Campaign Now Powered By The Raiders! of the Lost Artifacts Rpg System By Thomas Denmark An Actual Play Event

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:26
So last night I dusted off an old imprint time traveling/dimension hopping  pulp campaign of mine but this time I powered it using a combination of Raiders! of the Lost Artifacts  By Thomas Denmark  & Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea as the back bone system. This isn't the first time I've done this but I've reconnected this OSR powered system with my High Tech Mysticism & High Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Let's Talk Swords & Wizardry Light - Gary Con

Tenkar's Tavern - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 12:59

Gary Con officially kicks off this morning. +Michael Badolato and myself will be walking the con (and hanging out at the Frog God's booth), looking to discuss and give away Swords & Wizardry Light goodness.

Find us. Chat us up.

We'll be walking around with free physical copies of Swords & Wizardry Light and other stuff.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cold Iron: Forgery and Reality

Roles & Rules - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 09:11
European folklore often paints fey creatures as allergic to iron. This supports the idea that people with Bronze or Stone age technology, defeated by iron-using peoples, passed into the victors' mythology as faeries and other weird beings. The first and finest expression of this belief in gaming comes from Runequest, where technology is Bronze Age, meteorite iron is rare and near-magical, and elves and trolls can't stand it.

As with so many other issues, Runequest had the elegant solution and D&D ham-fisted it. In a medieval, iron-using society, there's nothing special about the metal itself. Thus the peculiarity, in the AD&D Monster Manual, of seeing iron as the bane of demons and other evil creatures. And the backpedaling, in a couple of entries, to insist that only "cold iron" bans a ghast or harms a quasit.

Adding injury to St. Dunstan's insult.As I understood this back in the day, "iron" must mean something different from steel. Most likely, the carbon involved in forging weapons in the medieval-Renaissance world somehow disrupted the mojo of iron, so you would have to special-order a mace head of the same stuff as your cauldron or door handle. And, it would be reasonably balancing to say that non-carbon iron couldn't make up a useful blade, because it would be too soft or brittle.

"Cold iron" is near-meaningless, more a poetic epithet than a technical term. Iron can't be extracted from ore without heat, and "cold forging" is a modern industrial term which assumes you can die-stamp a sheet of rolled iron (which passed through heat in the smelting and rolling processes). One obvious way to get iron "cold" is to chip it off a meteorite, but with what tools exactly?

Over the years, the D&D rules got cleaned up to the point where only this "cold iron" can harm some immune monsters, and the 3rd edition SRD lists it as a special material: "This iron, mined deep underground, known for its effectiveness against fey creatures, is forged at a lower temperature to preserve its delicate properties ."

Well, but there's something too game-y balance-y about this solution, full of vague and passive rules-speak. "Stuff that harms the Weird is super expensive because it comes from a Place of Rareness." It makes sense but lacks resonance. The same goes for meteorite iron. I suppose if only dwarves or lost human races had the technology to whittle blades from meteorites that would sound a bit cooler. But ...

Why not have iron (as opposed to steel) just show up the ability of non-carbon-forged tools and household implements to resist the supernatural? After all, the silver that devils and werewolves fear is dirt-common in the D&D world. Silver pieces are crappy coins that make slightly more expensive sling bullets than lead. A party in my campaign once bought a silver teapot, filled it with sand, and swung it as a flail against the equivalent of wights. So why not have desperate halfling housewives fending off a quasit with a skillet? Or adventurers chucking their iron door spikes at ghasts? 
As a bonus, if elves can't stand iron spikes, it throws a little game balance into elven PC's who (at least in AD&D) are far superior to poor old humans.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gary Con Day Zero - Setting up The Frog God

Tenkar's Tavern - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 23:21

Today was spent setting up the Frog God booth here at Gary Con. There is a whole lota stuff here, so someone please buy it all - else we'll have to pack it up on Sunday ;)

Shook a lot of hands and caught up people I normally only see at NTRPG and the con doesn't officially kick off until tomorrow.

Expect lots of photos. Of course, many are on +Zach Glazar 's phone. Need to make that gnome work ;)

I'll try and follow up after dinner. If not, Day 1 of Gary Con is tomorrow. Woot!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[BLOG] Don’t Kick the Bucket: Zine Insights into Early D&D

Beyond Fomalhaut - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 18:21
The quest for old game documents, particularly homemade adventure scenarios can be a frustrating search, and yield few results. We know little about how people really played, and what kind of games they did play. Things are more clear in the US – after all, many people publishing in APA zines went on to publish their stuff professionally or at least semi-professionally – while fewer things are known about the British gaming scene. One of the more famous dungeons from the age was Don Turnbull’s Greenlands, and a snippet, The Hall of Mystery, was published in The Dragon #21, showing a very tough sub-level (another, Lair of the Demon Queen, apparently appeared in White Dwarf #7). Sadly, Greenlands appears to be lost in spite of Chris Turnbull’s efforts to recover it.
However, other traces of early D&D survive in the online repository of the UK Diplomacy Zine Archive. I discovered these artefacts while following the links from Zhu Bajiee’s poston The Realm of Zhu, which lead me to the early issues of Chimaera, a zine dedicated to Diplomacy and other postal games. Chimaera was edited by Clive F. Booth, and published a respectable 102 issues between June 1975 and July 1983. This was a time, before computer games or ubiquitous television programming, when postal games were at their peak. Chimaera is mostly a relic of this hobby, of which I know very little, but it also reveals a small treasure cache of old D&D content from the dawn of the hobby.
This Crazy New GameThe first mention of D&D appears in Chimaera #5 (September 1975), as a request for information and reviews. This seems to be the earliest period of gaming in the UK, as people are regularly referred to three sources to obtain a copy of D&D (one of them the early Games Workshop, another based in Basel, Switzerland!) An introduction to Empire of the Petal Throne and the world of Tékumel is published in Issue #11 (January 1976), followed by a long series of adventure reports about the original migrant worker RPG (there is some quality dungeoneering there, rather less dodgy than the D&D content). EPT, in a quite naïve way, is even described as “surely the most detailed fantasy game that will ever be produced” (p. 12). Also included from Issue #19 are some play-by-mail En Garde reports with character names along the lines of Fabian Titanique, André D’Avidson (played by... yes, one Andy Davidson), Noah Speke De Inglisch, Charles Hercule de Thingy, The Scarlet Pimp, and Robert de Paté de Fois Gras – and, silliness aside, it proved very popular, becoming a regular feature through the zine’s run. However, our concern is not EPT or En Garde, but the utterly charming and fully authentic early D&D content starting with Issue #18.
Sample LevelDungeons and Dragons: An Introduction by Paul Cook is just a two-page contribution, but a key one. It contains a surprisingly succinct and interesting description of the game, character generation, and best of all, a sample dungeon level! It is not made clear whether it comes from Hope Castle, Paul’s main dungeon (“situated on the borders of the great empire of the Conans”, and “built thousands of years ago by the gold dragons”), but it is a fascinating document in its own right. The dungeon level, roughly the size of the sample dungeon from the OD&D booklets, is a collection of a few rooms and passages, supplemented with a minimal typewritten key of 17 rooms (only three of which are over one line of length). Nevertheless, we have a lot of cool features to note:
  • The level serves as a distribution nexus to reach the lower levels. There are no less than six connections in a relatively small place: two stairways to level 2, a slanting passage and a sliding door to level 3, a “space room” (whatever that means) dropping to level 5, and a trap door with a drop to level 7! That’s some serious connectivity – if you can survive the fall to those deep levels.
  • Four monster lairs offering very different challenge levels: a smaller and larger goblin lair, a minotaur, and an orc outpost. The treasures are generous (there is a ring of three wishes), but assuming a large first-level company, several adventurers will have to die to obtain them.
  • There are some quite magical and imaginative traps and tricks: the shrinking room, the acid fountain, an endless corridor, and a wizard masquerading as an old man, teaching the players to be wary of first appearances.
  • Then there is the bucket encounter (#10, forgotten from the map), which is perhaps the funniest part, and best classified as an enigma.
That’s a handful – and it is all on a single typewritten page. There is a pleasing complexity to it despite the limited space: it looks like a dungeon with a decent variety of content, and a promising layout.
The EmpirePaul’s introduction continues in Issue #19 with an examination of wilderness play – a particularly rare thing in a dungeon-oriented period. This is one and a half pages including two maps, but presents an appealing and adventure-friendly mini-setting. It is a fantasy mishmash where elves live in the forests, dragons live in the mountains and hill giants live in the hills, yet it has its own peculiar feel. The area surrounding Hope Castle is ruled by a disintegrating Empire ruled by the insane and childless Emperor Orweelia VI, and managed by a cadre of incompetent bureaucrats and a host of greedy local nobles. There are decent bits like “[on] the road through the vampire caves to Red Castle, there are two huge statues blocking the roads. It is said that anyone passing under them rather than around them, will be cursed with bad luck and die or else become incredibly rich – all within a year”, or a quarantined city with raging bubonic plague. Issue #25 offers further detail on the empire’s most important nobles, from the ancient wizard to the knight who turns men into mutants and sets them loose in his dungeons... and Grimy of Groin, a PC dwarf who obtained a castle by poisoning its former inhabitant (kind of a pattern in Paul’s games).
In Issue #21, we learn that the main characters in Paul Cook’s Isle of Wight group are imaginatively named, and quite the murder-hobos:
  • Merlin: often adventures alone or in a company of orcs, “was once friendly with a Balrog, but did nothing to prevent the Evil High Priest from charming the arse of it”, GM finally got rid of him with a potion of poison.
  • Aragorn:Don’t be duped by the name, Aragorn, [...] is again chaotic”, another guy with orc henchmen who kills elves on sight, has a pet chimaera he uses to extort people. “Takes pleasure in seeing orcs pick up lawful swords and dying.
  • Sinbad, Son of Popeye, Son of Trufo: Takes great masochistic pleasure in getting killed, to the point where he attempted to wipe out 16 werewolves on his own!” He was backstabbed and killed by Merlin and Aragorn.
  • John of Redtown: a rare lawful cleric, fond of using flaming oil-based tactics, and reliant on friends to keep him alive. Was once turned into a swine by a beautiful witch.
  • Lefalia the Elf: flaming sword guy.

The Temple of SetA new dungeon, The Temples of Set and Seker, is found in Issue #23. This is another contribution by Paul Cook, and represents partial write-ups of two rival temples “situated somewhere in the dungeons of Hope Castle”. The odd thing about the twin temples, erected by the gods themselves in the struggle between Chaos and Law, is that their backstory pretty much mirrors Dark Tower, the infamous high-level AD&D deathfest by Paul Jacquays, but preceding them by three years (1976 vs. 1979). It would be interesting to know if this was a case of loose inspiration or parallel evolution, although it is probably the latter: there does not seem to be any further connection, and both draw on the D&Dised mythology of Gods, Demigods and Heroes (as does Temple of Ra Accursed by Set, a fairly uninteresting Judges Guild module from 1979). The temples, with 14 and 11 keyed areas respectively, are quite different from the entrance level provided in Issue #18, and are best thought of as themed sub-levels. Some apparent features stand out:
  • The map is a branching structurewith a prominent use of secret doors. The players could miss much of the place if they were careless. There are no connectionsto other levels (what appear to be stairs are just a trick), probably meaning these complexes were located on the boundaries of a regular level.
  • The key is a mixture of general and themed encounters. They have a sinister bent, like a girl being sacrificed in an evil ritual, men dying of the bubonic plague, food being poisonous or turning into spiders, or exploding glass. They also appear dangerous, potentially deadly for an unwary group.
  • There is a room where there is a 5% chance you will meet Set; otherwise, you meet 100 of his minions (10th level Lords).
  • Seker’s temple is of course much less interesting than Set's, but it could potentially serve as a base of operations for Lawful groups (although considering Merlin and Aragorn, they would just loot it and put the inhabitants to the sword). There is a room of 3 wishes, and another where there is a 1% chance of an encounter with Seker (as the key informs us, lawful gods are more busy than chaotics).

Paul Cook’s campaign was not the only one to receive attention in Chimaera. Dave Tant, whose articles start from Issue #19, focused on higher-level play, and organised a zine-spanning play-by-mail campaign called The Pits of Cil. After organisational matters and rules interpretations, the campaign is introduced for good in Issue #22. It is a post-apocalyptic setting of a future Earth descended into barbarism and populated by strange new creatures, giving a grounding for the dungeon, “an ancient ruined palace”, “built on the site of earlier palaces and subterranean workings” (in fact, the name comes from Eyes of the Overworld, although it does not seem to have provided more than some superficial influence).
The Pits of Cil: IntroTant’s game involved eleven parallel groups delving into the ruins, from The Hill Booth Boys to Leviathan’s Angels. All of them were assembled from a generous XP budget, allowing for a mixture of high (7th-8th) and low-level characters plus retainers. Issue #23 introduces a further opportunity for coop play in the form of Inter-Zine Dungeons, allowing the transfer of characters from one zine’s campaign to another – “forcible (i.e. involuntary) transfer by means of a transporter room”, “voluntary transfer by means of a trek across a moderately hostile landscape”, or transfer via a wish. It is raised that this presents issues of rules compatibility and referee interpretations (concerns which influenced the design goals and tenor of AD&D), as well as different paces of publication between the zines. The idea of a multiverse of games – whose US parallels are recounted in a classic 2005 thread by Calithena, and which has been revived via the much more recent Constantconand the FLAILSNAILS conventions – seemed to hover between something that was at once very desirable, yet laden with conflicts and trouble that made implementation mostly impractical.
Dungeon EscalatorsThe postal format itself posed problems: later issues reveal players regularly missed turns, or did not respond accurately to prodding, resulting in outcomes like “Still nothing heard from Les Kennedy, so his character dies, and his party turns chaotic. Sorry to see you go Les.” (As it turns out, these followers turned into roving, autonomous mobs of chaotic rabble who posed a danger to the active players.) Exploration seemed to proceed at a very slow pace, although the PVP infighting – a popular and exhilarating hobby on MUDs and later online games – must have made up for it. The early write-ups don’t reveal too much about the Pits of Cil beyond the creative chaos taking place, but some play reports do exist. In Issue #34, Tant gives a DM’s perspective of a convention session, which may have taken place in The Pits or (more likely) could have been entirely self-standing. The quest for The Bowl of Midas has ideas like a rack of electrified swords (ouch), and “the Stone Giant, heavily disguised as a Giant Beatle with a Magic Guitar.” From Issue #35, regular and more detailed play reports start appearing (this was around the time the first character reached the 5th dungeon level).
The Pits of Cil continued for four years, spanning over 850 letters before it wrapped up in Issue #69 (October 1980). Dave Tant already drew some conclusions in Issue #62. The dungeon was starting to get clogged with “abandoned parties”, and the remaining players – down to ten after the campaign’s heyday of thirty or forty, this final number including Don Turnbull – had to spend most of their time repulsing their attacks. Runaway PVP also hindered dungeon exploration, and the faster correspondents could gain an advantage above their peers. The campaign ended with a bang, with an earthquake destroying the dungeon and the remaining characters using their wish spells to escape (one particular player from his wedding to a fairy princess). Tant planned a followup AD&D campaign set on an island, but details of this game are scant.

Chimaera itself lasted until July 1983, ending its run with Issue #102 after eight years, something that’d make many commercial hobby publications proud. As editor Clive Booth noted, the drive was no longer there, nor were many of the friends he had started the journey with. There were, of course, changes in the world as well: later issues talk increasingly about microcomputers, while D&D had gone from its roots to something rather different. It was, without doubt, the end of an era.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Curse of the Shrine Goddess

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 11:17

By Oswald
Self Published
Level 1-3

A man built a temple to a woman who died. It became a shrine for those who lost a spouse too soon. Later. Much later. A young couple came. Their tribes warred so they could only marry in death. It was poison. Which angered her. They walk the temple ever since, cursed by a shrine spirit. She has a hatred of suicide only dead widows can know.

Heads Up: This adventure went through my Critique Partner service.

This is an eight page PWYW exploration adventure in a shrine/tomb that kind of channels the backstory of the Taj Mahal. It’s got great imagery and lots of little scenes that lend this wonderful vibe of mourning and loss to the various areas. There’s some great construction in this, making things work together to an overall effect. It’s dreamy, haunting, frightening, and does it all through interaction with the characters, forcing nothing on them. It tempts.

Eight pages with twelve rooms makes this a pretty focused adventure. A title page, a map page, a rumor/mechanics page, and then four pages of keyed encounters and one more half page describing a couple of more mechanical pieces. The adventure describes Coral Castle, an old shrine and temple. What do we know about it? Well “the superstitious lot of local muck dwellers have this to say about it …” says the intro to the rumor table. I’d like to note that one intro sentence provides more gameable inspiration about the local village than dozens of the throw-away villages I’ve seen. “Muck dwellers” … maybe on stilts, on the edge of a bog, muck, literally? Oh yeah. The rumors, twelve, add to the fun. They are written in a kind of folk manner, embedding some part of the teller in to their wording. Reading rumor nine “We were a proud people once …” it starts out. And you get, through it, a detailed image of the speaker in your mind. A mournful kind of person, maybe a bit in their cups, knowing what kind of people they once were and how they’ve fallen to what they are now. To be clear: there’s nothing more of the local village presented beyond this rumor table. And this adventure does not, in any way, need it.

The imagery in this adventure is great. Rot swollen door. Cherry blossom leaves fall in slight wind. Sky blue splotches of color bleeding through the coral wall. A bowl of rot. A floor dirt soaked and hardened with animal blood. But that’s only the static descriptions. The Crypt of Widowed Virgins, underground, as some water on the floor. Skeletons in the lower alcoves crawl through the water, making no ripples, attempting to drag players in to the lower alcoves and drown them. Nice stuff! Short. Strong imagery. Great play opportunities. In an alter room skeletons in frilly pastel trousers playing pipes and carrying a litter with a skeletal bride and fight the party to get her to the altar to marry. Strong use of language compliments the more dynamic room elements, that are themselves well done, to bring about this excellent picture built up in the DMs head.

I tend to harp on terse and evocative writing. I do this because boring and lengthy writing is a common problem in most adventures and making it terse and evocative is an easy contrast that can’t be confused. There are Other Ways though. You can write sticky. You can create a little element that, while longer, only needs to be read once in your lifetime and it will remain with you. Old Bay, the hill giant in the crab-men caves from Fight On #3 (itself one of the best dungeon levels ever) is one of those characters. Once read you will never forget the old crab-leg loving guy. Likewise there are at least three things described in this adventure, a little longer than normal, that you will only need to read once, maybe just referring back to stat at some point but never needing to come back for their character. You grok them. There are two lovers trapped inside the shrine, cursed. There is a maze that can appear between doorways and a “minotaur” in the maze. All three are sticky in the same way as old bay. The woman, Alaesis is determined. Steely eyed obsession. She refuses to feel despair. Aturio is panicked and worried, desperate for help. Knows he is hunted. Has died 86 times and is a broken man. The minotaur is their child (not A&A, but the Taj Mahal builder dude and his dead love) that was never conceived. Perfect-looking, 20, Strong, beautiful, intelligent, kingly. Never fails morals. He could have been anything. He would have been great. There’s more text for all three, but I’ve given you some of the highlights. VERY strong characterization for the DM to work with and expand upon, without having to refer back to multiple paragraphs of text.

There’s a great element of the weird in this. You can steal gems from the night sky mural on the roof of one of the rooms. “Afterward, looted stars no longer show at night. Ever.” Nice! Or w window you can crawl out of, in to the void you see through it, to see the UNDERSIDE of the castle … and the secret is holds. There’s no real attempt to explain this, or the stars, or other details. And there doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t fall in to the trap of trying to explain the WHY of the weird in a game where elves shoot fireballs. And yet it’s not arbitrary. There’s a story that can unfold, through the various rooms, if the party pays attention. They can figure out some of the secrets hidden away

The adventure relies on temptation for a lot of its action. There’s loot laying around. Looting, in what is essentially a large memorial crypt, while the deceased is present in spirit form, leads EXACTLY where you would expect it to. When you loot, or do other things to piss of the dead lady, some of the room ‘activate.’ IE: the cherry blossom trees in the garden have their leaves fall and blow … acid leaves that burn the skin. That crypt of widowed virgins? They’ve mostly got valuable wedding rings on … I love it when a adventure puts this sort of temptation in front of the players. Everyone knows something bad will happen. The players are making a deliberate and informed choice (implicitly informed, sometimes) and tus THEY control the action. And if it were playing I’d gleefully loot the place like a cackling madman. Consequences be damned, they only add to the fun!

It’s a good adventure. My critiques are nitpicks. Maybe a little more formatting for certain sections to make the Treasure and Activated sections stand out a bit more than they already do. There’s a maze mechanic that you have to read a couple of times to get ahold of it. If I were doing it I’d probably devote a sentence or two to the approach, to try and generate a mythic underworld transition and/or enhance the otherworldly aspect; maybe put it up high on a cliff with a narrow coral path and lots of mists and sea spray or something like that.

This was a solid adventure and the revisions to it have really kicked it up a notch. I think it compares favorably to the adventures Gus L does at Dungeon of Signs. Short/terse. Evocative. Punchy. Memorable. Not forced but presenting opportunities.

The preview on DriveThru is a little TOO good. It’s eight pages long. And the adventure is eight pages. Not cool if you believe people are jerks, but WONDERFUL for a Pay What You Want adventure. You’ll know EXACTLY what you are getting. Check out the last page for the minotaur description or page four for the Aturio & Alaesis description. Or the second to last page for both the wedding altar and crypt of widowed virgins.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comic: Head Lopper #5

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 11:00

Andrew MacLean's quarterly heroic fantasy comic Head Lopper returned last week with the first part of a new story arc: "And the Crimson Tower." I've discussed Head Lopper before, pimping the collection of the first storyline. In brief, it's the adventures of a burly, bearded warrior with a flair for decapitation and an unusual sidekick--the still-living, severed head of a witch he decapitated.

This new arc starts off with a setup pretty much as D&D as you can get. Head Lopper, his friends, some plucky little humanoids, and some ne'er-do-well adventures, enter the Crimson Tower of Ulrich the Twice Damned. It's pretty much a killer dungeon with puzzles, deadly traps, and a fight with a three-headed dragon automaton.

Check it out!

Using The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth & The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun Adventures To Construct An Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Rpg System Mega Campaign

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 02:32
I've been thinking today about the connections between The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth & The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun how these two adventures can be used as a touch stone to create a mega Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea campaign. “There have been times when only a hair's-breadth has intervened betwixt myself and the seething devil-ridden world of madness; for the hideous Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ch. 4, Page 25

Castle Greyhawk - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 16:55
"Wait," Erac's Cousin said, and his familiar heard the voice in its mind. "Let me see those pages."

Erac's Cousin could see through his familiar's eyes and scanned the pages of the open book Ehlissa had thrown between her and his pet to buy her precious seconds to escape.

"Hmm...could this be The Chronicles of Keoland by Lord Kelvin Halmari?" Erac's Cousin mused to himself. "If it is the rare first edition, this alone could be worth the risks I've taken..."

Ehlissa had turned and followed the hallway north as it curved around the mage's office. There was a door on the left, but it seemed to be locked and she could not budge it. Up ahead, though, was a glass orb mounted to the wall with magic light inside it, and this light illuminated an open archway across from it in the north wall.

When she stepped into the room, the light winked out behind her. It had lasted long enough, at least, for her to see another door...

Synthetic Technicians

Torchbearer RPG - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 16:49

Some jobs are too dangerous to give to humans or require more precision than humans can handle. For those instances, the Company supplies synthetic technicians.

Bishop: “I prefer the term ‘Artificial Person’ myself.”


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Special Contractors

Torchbearer RPG - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 16:45

Sometimes the Company needs to bring in a little something extra. That’s when it turns to special contractors.

Johner: “I’m not the mechanic here, Ironsides! I mostly just hurt people!”


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Free OSR Appendix 'S' Science Fantasy Download - Science Fiction Adventure Classics #01 (1967 Summer) For Your Old School Campaigns & Details on The New Aurach Adventurer,Conqueror, King Rpg Kickstarter

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 15:40
Pulps can be difficult things to sometimes get a hold of or they used to be Appendix S material is a very mixed back of stuff. Appendix 'S' is what I refer to as my go to science fantasy index. Science Fiction Adventure Classics which ran from '67 to '74 was a God sent in some respects, according to the Pulp Trader Website;"A series of reprint magazines. In Spring 1969, Ultimate Publishing Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

We're Number 1 - Hottest Small Press (43rd Hottest Overall ;) - Pocket Creatures Volume 1

Tenkar's Tavern - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 13:24

I woke up to a wonderful surprise. Pocket Creatures Volume 1 is currently (920 AM, March 21st, 2017) the Hottest Small Press seller over at RPGNow. (Number 43 overall)

Thank you all for your support. If something like this doesn't ignite creative fires, nothing will ;)

I head out to Gary Con early this afternoon, so posting will be sparse.

Thanks again. I'm all googlie inside ;P
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Box Breaking 206: Zombie Munchkin From Steve Jackson Games

Gamer Goggles - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 03:15

In this Box Breaking Matt Takes a look at Munchkin Zombies. One of the things about this edition is you play the zombie!!


Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Munchkins eating brains!! It has to be fun.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

We're Number 4! (Hottest Small Press)

Tenkar's Tavern - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 02:23

As of 3/20/17, at approximately 1015 PM Eastern Time, Pocket Creatures Volume 1 is sitting at #4 for Hottest Small Press. While I know that position is fleeting, I just want to thanks everyone for their support.

Expect Pocket Creatures Volume 2 in a week - I'll push it live at RPGNow when I return from Gary Con.

The content for Volume 3 is mostly ready, but it will be the first one laid out with InDesign, so give me a few weeks to get a hang of that.

Remember, Pocket Creatures is laid out so that you can print it in booklet form if you would like - 4 pages, 1 sheet. Or if you have something like the Swords & Wizardry Legion folder (check out the Swords & Wizardry Legion Facebook Community) a single sheet per monster starts a nice Creature Collectanea :)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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