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[REVIEW] The Black Maw

Beyond Fomalhaut - Mon, 03/25/2019 - 21:08
The Black Maw (2018-2019)
by Craig PikeSelf-PublishedLevel 1+
Easier said than done! Megadungeon projects tend to begin with lofty promises, and tend to die somewhere between mapping the first few levels and keying the first one. Know, oh readers, that I have been there, too, and failed like all the rest of you. This is no endeavour for the faint of heart! For good megadungeons live or die by the ingenuity and variety of their ideas, and evolve through continuous exploration. And those who fail this test are cast aside, down among the chittering of rats gnawing on a dusty pile of 2000 copper pieces… forever.
The Black Maw is a serial level-by-level megadungeon construction project on DriveThruRPG. It is an ongoing effort, with three published levels and a product split between two sublevels to date. This makes reviewing it kinda risky – how much do you need to form a reliable impression? Is the initial impression subject to change? (YES!) I didn’t know where to place the Black Maw after reading the first level, and didn’t come away non-plussed, but with a few more parts on hand, a better picture emerges. I was, honestly, also hedging my bets, waiting to see if the followup instalments appeared at all, and where they would take the dungeon. Turns out they took it in a good direction.
The Black MawThis, after all, is a somewhat TRV OD&D-style megadungeon: a nonlinear maze with a bunch of level connections, undergoing continuous expansion, featuring a mix of whimsical and dangerous stuff, and varying its themes just enough to feel fresh while sticking to common elements which serve as a sort of glue to bind it together. The intro – one mid-length paragraph in all, again a sign of TRV good taste – itself establishes it as an anything goes place, “occupied time and again by civilisations both ancient and recent”. The dungeon’s common tissue is based on these different groups of (mostly) intelligent monsters coexisting in various forms of truce or conflict. “Dungeon factions” is fairly elementary these days, sometimes reduced to meme level to the extent that it comes across as suspicious – but it is fairly well realised here. Ordinary monster types are given a twist – dwarves are religious sectarians, goblins are kinda-Victorian gentlemen “in tattered waistcoats and tophats”, troglodytes are murderous alien reptilians, and ghouls are refined, somewhat bored aesthetes. Not my aesthetics, but credit where credit’s due: they work within the context of this personal dungeon, and they form the “rules of the game” the characters may choose to engage with, subvert, or ignore. What makes me happy are the “special” NPCs found on different levels. These are inventive vignettes, never overdone, with a lot of idiosyncratic colour.
BUT is it really a TRV megadungeon? The guardians of the Sacred Canon may register their complaints. It is too small “horizontally” to be all-encompassing, since the individual levels are more medium- than mega-sized. The first level in particular feels constrained and far from endless. It is, frankly, the weakest of the bunch, and makes for a fairly “meh” initial impression. The monster stock is sparse, and random encounters also deplete a finite, small pool of opponents, which is completely out of place. It feels empty and sort of generic, paint-by-the-numbers. Likewise, the dungeon levels are sometimes lacking in the empty space considered to be important for the care and feeding of megadungeons – no rooms are left unkeyed, and things are a bit squashed together. (Yes, gentle reader, Yours Truly stands guilty as charged on this point, too.) Monocled purists will come away with arched eyebrows from this one.
However, from Level 2 and on, the dungeon suddenly comes into its own. The writing becomes livelier (and has a characteristic wit that’s one signature of this dungeon). Monster-populated zones take on a distinct character, NPC lairs start cropping up in earnest, and there is a growing presence of imaginatively designed magical stuff – enigmas, simple puzzles, things to mess with for fun and profit. This is perhaps the best element of the dungeon – a continuous feeling of discovery and magical whimsy. Loot is interesting and well placed (although the author may be lowballing it if we go by the book… not as much as I do, but OD&D BTB is kinda ridiculous in this department). Magic items are varied, customised just enough to give them character. And again, the environments change, with each level after the generi-dungeon first one having its own style and challenges. There are steam tunnels to get lost in, just like in the old days! Monster-controlled zones where rushing in will bring down God’s fury on the hapless characters, but guile and negotiation may save the day. Underground pools and a tunnel system populated by ants (but you must shrink down to enter, making them into giant ants). An arena for ghouls and a troglodyte opera. Ways down to deeper level. The good stuff.
The Black Maw follows a minimalist presentation. Every instalment so far can be printed on one paper sheet via booklet printing for the text, plus a single sheet for the level map. The first page introduces the level with its common inhabitants and features. A key follows on two pages – 35-45 areas tend to be the norm, one paragraph each. The final page is a reference sheet containing a custom wandering monster chart and a helpful OD&D-style creature roster with all the stats you need in play. This packaging is user-friendly, and remains at a level of detail which does not sacrifice ideas and flavour on the altar of ill-conceived ideas about minimalism. The one-page dungeon was a mistake, but a five-page one? That’s workable. The maps are starting to get decent – the first one is a more polished one from Tim Hartin, but the next two, presumably by the author, are kinda rough. Level connections are still missing on the more recent ones.
The Black Maw is a worthwhile project to follow. As I have suggested above, it starts out unassuming, and gets better as it progresses. It is fairly true to the idea of the OD&D megadungeon, and even if you don’t play it, it is worth looking at for the ideas and structural look. (I would gladly hear of the concrete actual play experiences, too.) There is potential here, and it has the proper DIY spirit. Rating goes for a “so far” impression.
No playtesters are credited in these publications. Would appreciate a roster of playtest characters.
Rating: *** / *****
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

GMing off the rails

Deep Sheep - Mon, 03/25/2019 - 19:38
The last two sessions of my Mutant Crawl Classics campaign were improvised. I didn't have anything published I was running. The first time I had a plan. The PCs got a broadcast from up north that a military base was available to be looted and the PCs wanted part of that. They head up north, got in a fight with a road gang, and invaded the base. And they made a giant robot mad. Worked pretty well.

But the last one didn't work so well. The giant robot was chasing them so they headed off to find some robotics experts. That turned into a  herd of mutant elf trampling their car and cyborgs who took them off in a spaceship to the inside of a volcano where another giant robot was being built.

It got crazy and was less and less players making decisions about what cool things their characters were doing and more of me the GM making up crazy stuff. I went off the rails and it wasn't good.

So now I'm taking a published adventure and looking through it, seeing what I want to use, and preparing a solid structure for next session.

But the question I want to ask you all is: Do you ever go off the rails like that? How do you rein yourself in?
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On How to Make 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons more Old School

Hack & Slash - Mon, 03/25/2019 - 12:00

 Click to get the Book of ListsMoving parts of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons are designed for heroic fantasy gaming. Mid-level characters are mighty heroes, slayers of dragons, and ready to take on any danger. Their resilience makes them brave, dangerous and deadly threats, with the resources to overcome any obstacle.

Usually these are planned adventure arcs. Here's a bad guy. Here's his evil forces. Here's a variety of deadly environments, ripe for heroic activity.

I don't have bad guys. I don't have expectations about what will happen when the game starts. I'm here to play a game to find out what happens. The core cycle of play for 5th edition doesn't match that style.

What changes do I make to my game so that I can play 5th edition in the classic style?

5th Edition to Classic/OSR style play
  • Give 1/100th the experience for killing monsters. Give 1 experience per gold piece value of treasure collected.
This shifts the focus of play. Fights are dangerous and they only cost, they don't reward. It puts the focus back on outhinking your opponent to get the riches, without exposing yourself to the risk of a fight. Because your players aren't expecting to get experience by killing things, you're free to populate your world with liches, dragons, and other deadly creatures, because there's no unspoken expectation that players should fight creatures to advance. 
I also recommend against using the milestone system, because this either presumes an outcome or distances player skill from advancement. They should advance comparable with their skill at securing treasure and power, commensurate with the risks they take. They should not advance simply by reaching numerical thresholds.

However, granting experience for surviving your first in-game month, witnessing a death, locating a new feature, exploring a new area, or other tasks that create a sense of adventure or exploration is encouraged, as long as these rewards are delineated ahead of the game and accessible to the players.
In general, keep rewards low, and look to advance one level every 3-5 adventures till reaching level 3, and then distribute treasure so that levels take between 4-6 adventures (weeks) to level. Obviously taking a lot of people along and being cautious will slow this rate. Taking risks and braving danger can shorten this. 
This results in treasure hordes that maintain their value, even if they don't increase in size very much. It makes finding a piece of jewelry or a few hundred coins a rich find. If the treasure grow at a slow rate, it should compensate for the rapid advancement assumed by fifth edition play.  See my Hack & Slash blog compendium II for an in depth look at treasure valuation and type.

  • Change long rests to take a week and short rests to take 8 hours

In the 1st edition game I'm currently in, even with a Cleric, Druid, and Paladin healing through bed rest is relevant. Changing a long rest to a week and short rests to overnight makes play more threatening and decisions more meaningful. Characters are forced to spread their resources in a manner more like an older-style game. 
This seriously adjusts the class balance.  Melee classes and classes that don't rely on refreshing abilities (rogues, rangers, champions) are significantly more effective. 
Cantrips are fine. Firebolt is fine. In earlier editions there was silliness with jarts. Wizards with crossbows abound. Allowing wizards to attack in combat is ok. Shooting flame wasn't common in classic style games, so purists will disagree. Better a bolt of fire than some weird-o flinging jarts into combat. (A jart is a weaponized dart—taking traits from a javelin. Javelin-dart: jart.)

  •  Eliminate Death Saves

They don't exist. You die when you reach 0 hit points. That takes it back to Original Dungeons and Dragons or Basic/Expert. There, your game is ridiculously deadly. 
No classic style game that I'm a part of is actually that deadly. In my game, I use a critical hit table after opponents drop to zero hit points. Any hit taken at 0 hit points causes a serious long term wound or death. Another option, made popular by 1st edition, is any hit that drops you from a positive hit point total to a negative hit point total more than twice your level kills you instantly, otherwise you are bleeding out to -10/-Constitution total/-2xlevel. Take your pick.
  • Give Inspiration Strictly for Creative Play
Classic style play is not about people talking to each other in character, necessarily. It's about the players facing challenges. The games are based around challenging the player, not their character sheet. So inspiration isn't about remembering to display your background accurately—classic gaming assumes background is what happened in play. What happened before the adventure is of minimal importance. Does the Dungeon Master talk in-character for all the monsters? Yeah. Can the characters if they want? Yeah. Is it the focus of play? no.
  • Recalibrate Encumbrance & Light
Classic style games focus more on basic resource management. 
Make the light spell 1st level. Make Continual Flame 3rd level. Make Produce Flame consume a 1st level spell slot if used 6 times. Remove Darkvision from Elves, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, and Tieflings. This leaves Dwarves and Gnomes as the only races that can see in the dark.
You can carry a number of significant items equal to your Strength. A significant item would be a suit of light or medium armor, a weapon, a bundle 5 of torches, a potion, a vial of oil, a lantern, 200 coins, etc. A suit of heavy armor or a bulky item takes 2 slots. If you have more than 1/2 your slots filled, you are encumbered per the variant rules in the 5th edition Player’s Handbook on page 176. If you are wearing a suit of armor that grants disadvantage on Stealth (Dex) checks, you are encumbered. If you have more than 3/4 of your slots filled, you are heavily encumbered. Let common sense carry the day.
  • Consider the Ability Check Proficiency  variant rule on page 263 of the 5th edition Dungeons Masters Guide
It's really difficult to get players away from the idea of skill checks. Removing skills from the game is an optional way to move the je ne sais quoi of the game towards a more old school play style. This is certainly the option I would use with new players, to reduce choices required at player character creation. 
  • Remove individual initiative checks and always consider morale
Old school play is fast. Reasons you might have a dozen combats in the course of a session are two fold. Players generally take their actions in groups without worrying too much about which character goes first. Popular options include vegas style, where each side rolls a single die, and high roll goes first, or over/under, where for the first round some players move before the monster, and then the players and monsters alternate turns.
The second fold is there's no morale in the versions of Dungeons & Dragons that give the majority of experience from killing monsters. Institute morale to avoid combat slog. You can wholesale steal whatever system you find most useful, but a 2d6 roll against a target based on bravery is fine. If the die roll beats the numbers, the monster flee. Triggers for this roll are losing guys, or having a leader cut down (often providing little mini-missions in combat). Example targets are 11 for fanatic, 9 for brave, 7 for average, 5 for poor.The Bell Curve is important to morale, because it makes enemy behavior predictable enough for the players to take advantage of it. It is possible to convert the appropriate % chances to a D20, but it appears arbitrary, (Why is this one 11+ and the next one 16+ on a d20?). But 2d6 for 9/7/5 (good/normal/bad) is straightforward and predictable. 
  • Finally, understand that unlike low level games that cap at the lord stage, 5th edition allows characters to consider growing in power far beyond the first 9 levels, making them powerful in a similar way that demigods are powerful.
Consider a limitation of level inflation, either by capping advancement and allowing players to purchase features like E6 or E8 systems, or by increasing the experience points required to advance beyond level 5 by some arbitrary value.

ConclusionIt seems like it is a great deal of work to do, and yet, it is not! It's just a few house rules that speed up play. The advantages are manifold. You have easier access to classic style adventures like Eyrie of the Dread Eye, Isle of Dread, and Keep on the Borderlands, now that the gameplay assumptions match what's happening at the table. You have compatibility with the system that's most frequently played. 
You get to keep playing the exploratory, extemporaneous, player-driven, long term games you love.
Watch your players minds begin to turn, as they engage with the game by trying to figure out ways to turn it to their advantage. 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Of Men Who Are Monsters

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 03/25/2019 - 11:14
By Tyler A Thompson
Sad Fische Games
Beginning Characters?

[…] Most robbers and bandits will balk at the notion of anything near a fair fight and pick their prey accordingly.  This is not so for Robber Baron Karl Duval. Duval and his crew are known to target travelers, caravans, and brigades of essentially all sizes, from the poorest wayfaring peasant, to the most modest and well-guarded merchant, to even wagon trains carrying Imperial troops and supplies.  Far from foolish and reckless, such attacks are quick, organized, and surgical in their tactics- never mind staggering in their ferociousness and shocking in their brutality. Gaunt, cruel, serious, and a voyeuristic sadist, Duval now resides in a fortress somewhere in the wilds of the Valley.  He must be put down.

This fifteen page adventure details a bandit camp/area with about 100 bandits. No real surprises in the description, but it’s a mess in relating and organizing information.

In this game/campaign you represent petty lords and their retainers, which takes care, nicely, of the reason why the local lord isn’t involved. They are. It’s you. Down in the valley there’s a robber baron who’s got a small fortress (wooden palisade in the woods) and control of a small village that he uses for slave labor to keep people fed, etc. There’s your adventure. A general description of the village and a general description of the fort.

And by “general” I mean general. The thing is written as, essentially, free text with a subject heading every now and again. “The Blinds” and “The village” and “The barn”, for example. Under those heads will be a couple of paragraphs, or columns, of information about those subjects. If I had an idea for an adventure and If I were putting together a 15 page outline of it and sending it off to someone to actually write it then it might look like this adventure. The text is both general and specific, with not much organization beyond some simple headings and a paragraph break. The detail is abstracted. There are villagers, some broken, some full of rage, but that’s all we know. That they exist and there are about a hundred in total. The robber baron is a cruel man and his men engage in abuse of the villagers, with a DM note that it is the game masters discretion on how to depict that. It’s all very general with little in the way of the sort of detail that can bring something to life.

The wandering monster table is a good example of this. “You are attacked by large predators” or “you encounter a small animal.” Uh. Ok. “You have an encounter with a merchant who has something interesting to sell.” You can see how there’s very little in the way of further prompting, the sort of specificity that can make an adventure come alive. Not two paragraphs, or even two sentences, but a different write up with specifics.

Random things I find annoying that pale in comparison to the horror of the free-flowing text descriptions: no bandit talks or reveals information. They are all resigned to their fates. Seriously? You’re telling us where the camp is in exchange for liquor, cigs, and being let go, not pledging your eternal soul. The map of the “fortress” (which is much like the Steading) is in a kind of greyscale no greyscale format which is about impossible to read. And the entire thing is in .docx. Uh … print to PDF much? I’m pretty such Word docs continue to be one of the primary virus transmission methods; I almost didn’t open the doc because of that.

It DOES make sense, from a “yeah, this is what a bandit lord would do” kind of way. A little rigor in the men, some officers who have not completely nought in, slave labor in the village … but there’s just nothing more outside of this to justify its existence. Which is too bad, I think the concept of a Birthright type of game could be cool.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of 50 cents.–Adventure-for-ZweihanderRPG?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Just Another Omniverse Monday

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 03/25/2019 - 11:00
Gameroom in Progress.I spent most of my weekend packing books and assembling a new gaming table, so all I've got for you today is two new previously only available on Google Plus Omniverse posts.

These delve into the lesser known periods: the secret vigilante past of the future Commissioner Gordon of Gotham and the heroes who combated the monster surge of the 1950s, the Monster Hunters.

Kickstarter: RPG Smith

Stargazer's World - Mon, 03/25/2019 - 07:26

This is just a quick update to let you folks know that the Kickstarter campaign to fund the RPGSmith (check out my article about it) GM features is now live. They need about €22,125 to add new functionality to their web application. Following are the GM features they want to add if the fundraiser is successful:

    • Create and manage campaigns (similar to Rule Sets in the current player version).
    • Invite player accounts to join their campaign.
    • See their player’s character’s dashboard.
    • Make updates to anything on their player’s characters, including character stat values, inventory, etc. (If allowed by the Player)
    • Make updates to the Campaign settings (such as creation/removal of character stats, new items/spells/ abilities, updates to the default dashboard, etc.) which would be automatically updated for the PCs.
    • Provide a chat interface which all users joined to the campaign can use to sending private or public messages with anyone else in the campaign.
    • Share handouts, images, and other information with the players through a document sharing interface.
    • Build and control a campaign page of tiles visible to the players where the GM can store text, notes, images, counters, and other tiles.
    • Provide all users in the campaign access to share Dice results in real-time.
    • Have access to a campaign dashboard similar to the mock shown below. This will give GMs a high-level view and instant access to content they control in their campaign.

For more information on RPGSmith and the fundraising, check out the Kickstarter page.

Related posts:

  1. Kickstarter: Fate Core System
  2. Kickstarter: Feng Shui 2
  3. How not to run a Kickstarter to fund your RPG

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Review - Victorious Hunter & Hunter Catalogue By Mike Stewart

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 03/25/2019 - 06:23
Gadgets are something that any Steampunk or Victoriana rpg can use. Over the weekend I had an opportunity to grab the Victorious rpg  By Troll Lord Games bundle that is currently on sale on Drivethrurpg One of the books that I've had my eye for quite sometime is Victorious: Hunter & Hunter Catalog By Mike Stewart  Its basically an adventurers catalog of interesting & insane gadgets & devicesNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

So about The Fantasy Trip

Bat in the Attic - Sun, 03/24/2019 - 23:06
I got my Fantasy Trip Legacy box on Friday. Then the next day I got a email from SJ Games saying it shipped. Looks like they really got this Infinity thing nailed down tight.

So when I opened the box and removed the plastic the above is what I got. All I got to say that is one monster box. I also picked up pocket box version of Melee/Wizard. It thicker than the original but it also nice quality cardboard counters instead of the stiff paper version of the original. I think anybody who want Melee/Wizard for a wargame is going to be pleased with the pocket box version.

I then opened the box.

It nice how they made the inside box lid a function aide in it own right. It can be used as a drop table to generate a random dungeon.
Removing the cover sheet and the contents we get.

As for the packing, note they cleverly put two finger wholes in the The Fantasy Trip Mega Hex lid. This made it super easy to pull out from the bottom. 
As for the rest, you get the paper boxed set of Melee, Wizard, and Death Test. A very sturdy referee screen. A expanding file folder style organizer, two poster maps, In the Labyrinth main rulebook, reference book, and Tollenkar's Lair adventure.  Along with dice, a deck of pregens, and pads of character sheet (two sizes).
It was exciting to open this up and look at each item. Definitely felt like I got my money worth even though I didn't get the "Get it all" level.
The poster maps

The referee's screen along with the map and book for Tollenkar's Lair

The front of the referee's screen

The remaining leaves of the front of the referee's screen.
Finally some of the cards with pregenerated characters,
Overall I think this is a outstanding product for a RPG. Steve Jackson and his team did a great job with this. One of the best part going forward is there are multiple entry points for people to try out the system before deciding to buy into the line.

Wrapping it up.
Right now I am in the midst of preparing Wilderlands of the Magic Realm for publication. Once I get that done, I will setup some of the counters and megahexes and do a run through of the system.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Maps of Inner Space

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 03/24/2019 - 14:30
I posted these maps/diagrams from Marvel's Micronauts before, but it has been a few years. They're always good for a gander...

Here's the Homeworld of the Micronauts:

And here's the insides of their ship, Endeavor.

Easy NPC Reactions

Stargazer's World - Sat, 03/23/2019 - 18:44

Michael recently posted about the 3hex style of starting a game off easily with minimal prep.

I thought I would share a technique that makes for interesting and sophisticated ‘common’ NPCs but without having to do any real prep. It can also lead to some interesting spin-off adventures in its own right.

The technique is based around a cross reference between all the NPCs as you create them. I use a spreadsheet but any grid will do. You list the NPCs across the top and down the side and block out the point where they cross reference.

The point of the grid is to map out the attitudes between all the people you have created. The actual numbers should reflect the system you are playing so in B/X, for example, -3 to +3 would be about right as that reflects the Cha characteristic bonuses. If you were playing Zweihander then -30 to +30 would work well or -4 to +4 for FUDGE and FATE.

Here is an example for a small town.

So in this case any interactions between Captain Flack and the Pugh twins would be at +2 (reading across) because he likes or respects them, but the Pughs do not really care one way or another about Flack (their reaction modifier is ±0) but between Captain Flack and the Mayor is as -2 and Philby (the Mayors manservant) is -3.

The Mayor doesn’t have any strong feelings towards Flack (±0) but Philby is at -2 so it looks like the animosity lays there.

The numbers in this case were simply 1d6-3. What this gives you is a layer of social cohesion between all the NPCs in a town without having to prep and write complex back stories.

As a GM you can ‘lend’ these reactions to the PCs when they get caught between two NPCs. For example Captain Flack asks the characters to carry a message to the Mayor. He does this to avoid going there himself. If the characters have to ask to see the Mayor via Philby he is much more likely to make them wait around and just be plain awkward if Philby knows they are carrying a message from Flack.

As GM you can use this same grid to construct all sorts of small town politics. Let us look at Dora Minton, Chippy Minton’s wife. Philby has a +3 reaction to Dora but Flack has a -3. They are at totally opposite ends of the scale. Was that the source of their falling out?

Chippy Minton has a -1 reaction mod towards his own wife but she is at +2 towards him. Does that sound like he is angry at her for something and she is desperate to make amends?

This table/grid can be a source of town gossip, local tension or even great assistance to the characters. It is fast to build on the fly. If you create an NPC you can quickly rolls a couple of D6 to see how he or she is regarded by their peers. You do not need to complete the whole table at once. If the characters ask at the tavern about a place to stay you can quickly check the reactions between barkeep and two inn owners. Maybe he like one much better than the other?

I find this grid to be a really useful ‘no prep’ way of adding a layer of depth to towns and villages and the NPCs that inhabit them. If an NPC goes missing who do the local gossips start to blame? Who do you need to win over to resolve a local rivalry?

Related posts:

  1. Quietly beavering away
  2. Hinterland
  3. And then she said, “Wait, Professor Jones can help us with this one!”

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Steam & Scandal 1971 - High Tech Mysticism & High Caliber Adventure Campaign Encounter

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 03/23/2019 - 16:24
"Tracis Clay lit his "Vander Meer' cigarette & looked out on the face of Manhattan. The city hadn't changed much since he was last here in Nineteen Sixty Nine. But the skyline seemed so different now ever since the all out war between the Black Terror & the Black Bat had wrecked several key city blocks.But it was three years ago when Tracis had left the city after his uncle had been Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Dungeon Terrier

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 03/23/2019 - 11:19
Frank Voelker
Protodragon Games
"Early Levels"

Tactically delve into moist halls and sample locally-sourced flora in search of Sir Howard, a gentleman terrier marooned in the depths of a lost smuggler’s den, now colonized by a mysical diviner and other less savory creatures.

This ten page adventure details a 13 room small lair dungeon. It’s experimenting with a nested bullet style of formatting that has some potential, although could use more polishing. It’s a slow dungeon, with only a few encounters.

Well, it’s got the stink of Pugmire on it, the game of talking dogs/PC’s. PUgmire entrenches too much magic for me, but, whatever. This also has a charming aspect to it, at its core. The encounters, even those not to my liking, feel like someone put some effort in to them and that they form a cohesive core. Even down to the DM table called “Who’s a good Boy” that only has one entry” Sir Howard, the missing dog in question. There’s both a clarity and a charm to the writing, overall.

The creatures all have names and some kind of personality, even the giant spider that jumps out to eat you. And in “personality” I mean just a couple of words, usually, to describe a motivation or tactic or some such that lifts them up from just being another boring monster entry. This is combined with some attempts at creating an unusual environment. A boney arm sticks up from under a moss patch, or some glowing blue fungus, or a mushroom patch, for example, with table to describe them.

The format here is a kind of nested bullet point style. Each bullet has a couple of words to describe it, and then some nested bullets below it to describe it, each of which may a few words of their own and so on.

Campsite: Grimy, wet, ashes, Campfire: burnt out, small, still warm Rotted crates: deteriorated, half-gone, contains the following: Blackened dagger: oak handle and wide blade. Homemade Hooded lantern +oil.

It’s an interesting format and it feels like I’ve seen similar formats before. It’s going for easy scanning, with bloding, and keywords to paint an evocative picture. Important things first, general vibes first, then expanding that.

I’m not sure if this adventure is a good one to judge that format by. It feels like the full potential of the format hasn’t been reached. The descriptions could use some work to make them really pop. The real problem, though, is the adventure feels unfulfilling, and I think that colours the formatting a bit.

There’s a lot of trivia. The thing is full of skill checks that don’t necessarily lead anywhere. Roll PER to smell like earth. Roll higher and smell dog urine. Ok. So? Roll Survive to figure out a giant boar laired here a year ago. Ok. So? Quote a bit of effort is spent on rooms and descriptions that don’t really offer much true interactivity. It feels like a “huh, ok, that’s weird. Let’s move on.” sort of encounters. Greenwood has done this a lot. You need something more than “here’s a something weird.” I get a slow burn and all that, and some weird shit is fine. But the emphasis must be on meaningful interactivity, or the potential thereof.

On the petty Bryce side of things: the rapids mentioned are not on the map. Can you modify the map when you license it from Dyson? Idk. Also, there’s no level mentioned in the product description on DriveThru, you gotta blow up the cover. There’s also a mention about giving the caves some lead-in to create an “entering the dungeon” vibe. Give the length, ten pages, it seems that a paragraph or a couple of sentences could have been devoted to that actual description, rather than going meta and saying “i put some caves in front of it to give it an entering the dungeon vibe.”

Finally, the room with the dog in, Sir Howard, and intelligent and kindly beast, seems to be full of his treasure? It’s weird to see a very friendly NPC with a half page description of his loot. Or maybe it’s not meant to be his loot and it’s the Bad Kids (yeah, a 13yo is the villein) stuff? Which is also weird that the dog hasn’t investigated it? I don’t get it?

Something else strikes me about this. It feels like the players may get too comfortable. There’s an implied “dark unknown lurks in front of you” from the map, but that doesn’t really come through very well with the descriptions. That could have been heightened either through the descriptions or through the mechanics (wanderers, etc can do this) to put some pressure, time, danger, etc, on the party.

This is better than most 5e adventures, but still misses.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru. The preview shows you all ten pages. Yeah Frank! We all know no one is going to make any money on this shit, so by giving people a good preview you ensure happy consumers BEFORE they buy.–Quest-for-the-Dungeon-Terrier

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

5150 Fleet Commander and Star Navy for One Low Price!

Two Hour Wargames - Fri, 03/22/2019 - 22:30

Get it here and save 10 to 20%. Already bought Fleet Commander? Send us an email and we'll refund the difference!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Star Navy versus Fleet Commander - Compatible but Different

Two Hour Wargames - Fri, 03/22/2019 - 22:23

Fleet Commander vs. Star NavyAlthough the two sets of rules are compatible, here’s a quick explanation of the difference between the two.  Star Navy gives you more control over each ship, while Fleet Commander places you at a higher level complete control of the fleet, not each ship.TypesFleet Commander uses the same ships as those found in Star Navy, same Classes are used – 3 to 6. We used the stats for each ship in Star Navy to build the ships in Fleet Commander. Hulls sizes are reduced by half. How a ship causes damage to the enemy is not as important as the overall effect, so fighters, guns, torpedoes have been rolled together into one value in Fleet Commander called FirepowerMovementIn Star Navy you plot the movement of each ship, turns, and speed. In Fleet Commander each side lays out their ships based on the location of its Flag Ship – in the center of the line.AttackIn Star Navy you roll on a variety of tables to fire weapons, launch missiles or torpedoes, and launch Fighters; then use tables to evade missiles and torpedoes, try to shoot down fighters and missiles.Fleet Commander tries to cause damage by rolling 2d6 versus the Rep of the ship with all the ways to cause damage rolled into one Firepower factor.Pass 2d6 score a full nit, pass 1d6 and the target could escape damage and immediately return fire – something not found in Star Navy. Pass 0d6 and the target returns fire, immediately.DamageIn Star Navy you need to find the location where the ship was hit and it takes damage on that location. The crew takes one of five different Reaction tests to see what they do.  It’s like you are the Captain of each ship.In Fleet Commander the ship takes damage to the hull and the crew takes a Damage Control Test to see what they do. Ignore and act normally next turn, go to Damage Control and forfeit their next activation, or leave the fight.Ending the FightIn Star Navy each ship is checked to see if they leave the fight.In Fleet Commander you track the number of ships lost in the fleet and when you reach excessive casualties and fail on the Will to Fight Table, the rest of the Fleet leaves at the same time.In ConclusionWant to command some ships with individual detail? That’s Star Navy. Want to command a fleet with many more ships, that’s Fleet Commander.As they are compatible, you could play a small fight with 3 to 6 ships with Star Navy and a large battle with 10+ ships using Fleet Commander.
Now on sale here.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Campaign - I1 Dwellers In The Forbidden City By David 'Zeb' Cook & Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 03/22/2019 - 17:42
"Somewhere in the heart of the steaming jungle lies the answer to the whispered tales - rumors of a magnificent city and foul, horrid rituals! Here a brave party might find riches and wonders - or death! Is your party brave enough to face the terrors of the unknown and find the Forbidden City!?" David "Zeb" Cook's I1: "Dwellers of the Forbidden City" (1981) was the first adventure in TSR's Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Flip Through Review 83: Book of the Damned for Pathfinder

Gamer Goggles - Fri, 03/22/2019 - 02:46

In this review Matt looks at the Book of the Damned for the Pathfinder role-playing game. The book does contain information on demons, devils, daemons and the worship so the content might not be for everyone.


Knowing that, The Book of the Damned contains a lot of information about the biggest and baddest fiendish divinities.  Reaching into the deepest and darkest crevasses of the Abyss you learn about their worship,  and the realms they live in. For player characters there is information the players can use to worship the fiends. Giving you tools like obedience, and sample structures for cults.


I think the best part of the book is the section on contracts. As a G.M. I found this to be exhilarating! It is a great tool for trapping players who want to be tempted, or who can be duped into bartering with the devil. What makes the section so good is that they give you all of the parts of a contract and stress the importance of each one, more importantly it even gives you way to break the contract. It’s just too much fun!


Click here to view the video on YouTube.

If you want to add demons and devils to your campaign check this out.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

5150: Fleet Commander Now on Sale!

Two Hour Wargames - Fri, 03/22/2019 - 00:18
Now on sale. Play it with minis or with the counters that are included; just play it! Check it out.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

High Tech Mysticism & High Caliber Adventure Encounter - The De Media Silvis

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 03/21/2019 - 17:16
The chicken house of Baba Yaga is often seen marching through the the De Media Silvis & all sane folks avoid it. "Mayhap I shall find curious adventure - mayhap my doom awaits me. But better death than the ceaseless and everlasting urge, the fire that has burned my veins with bitter longing." -Robert E. Howard, "The Hills of the Dead" Captain the darkness it took the men & then the Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Twenty city festivals

Blog of Holding - Thu, 03/21/2019 - 15:00

Festivals make a great backdrop for adventures: they’re one of my most-used adventure elements. They’re a fun way to share your world-building with the players. There’s no better way to showcase a religion, city, or fantasy culture than through its bizarre celebrations.

Festivals often include contests, which give players a menu of optional things to do (what high-Con character can resist a pie-eating contest?). Contests are great because they’re one of the few ways you can introduce an NPC rival who doesn’t immediately die in combat.

Next time your characters head to the big city, have them wander into a festival. Here are 20 festivals, ranging from silly to sinister. I’ve tried to give each celebration a story hook, a contest or two, a threat, or something else for the characters to do.

City Festivals (roll d20):

  1. Bonfire festival: A traditional time for dancing, firelight, and the occasional arson. Rival adventuring groups run an anything-goes relay race through the city, with each party member carrying the torch through a neighborhood: the race is lost if the party’s torch goes out. Possible encounters with entertainers, apprentice mages, thieves, and racing adventurers.
  2. Festival of gift-giving: Everyone gives a present to a close friend. Merchants are everywhere. It’s easier than usual to find magic items and luxuries for sale, but they’re priced higher than usual.
  3. Fortune’s fool festival: (Might instead be named after your pantheon’s trickster god.) Everyone wears masks. A traditional time for romances, assassinations, and practical jokes, each of which are generally accompanied by the festival’s irritating catch-phrase (such as “Fortune’s fool!”). Possible encounters with spies, assassins, entertainers, and slumming nobles in masks.
  4. War festival: (Might be named after your pantheon’s war god.) Jousts and tournaments. Celebrants drape soldiers and adventurers with garlands. Anyone who defeats someone else in a joust, tournament, or duel may take the loser’s garlands. Possible encounters with knights, veterans, gladiators, and expert duelists.
  5. Magical festival: The city is lit with Dancing Lights, Faerie Fire, Pyrotechnics, and dangerous alchemical explosions. Spellcasters are expected to entertain the citizens with dazzling magic shows. Possible encounters with mages, alchemists, and crowds demanding entertainment.
  6. Flower festival: A traditional time for flowers and feasts. Each neighborhood chooses two Champions of Beauty to compete in a city-wide dance contest; the winners get money and their neighborhood gets glory. Possible encounters with entertainers, neighborhood leaders looking for contestants, and beautiful people of all walks of life.
  7. Midnight festival: It’s a somber festival with lots of chanting. On the plus side, if the midnight rites are not interrupted, the city is safe from undead plagues for another year! Possible encounters with priests, acolytes, holy knights, and the occasional disruptive undead.
  8. Festival of life: (Might be named after your pantheon’s life god.) Clerics are expected to cast healing spells for free on this day; people try to outdo each other in good deeds. Possible encounters with priests, holy knights, and sick and injured people looking for healing.
  9. Festival of shadows: Honest folk stay indoors while thieves, vampires, necromancer mages, and the like rule the streets for the day.
  10. Storm festival: (Might be named after your pantheon’s tempest god.) Rain or shine (preferably rain), there are war dances, feats of strength and drinking, music contests, and challenges to unarmed combat. Possible encounters with barbarian warriors, wrestlers, and skalds.
  11. Day of mourning: A gloomy holiday commemorating a tragic historical or mythological event. Donations are given to worthy causes. Guards impose small fines for laughing, celebrating, wearing bright clothes, and the like. Possible encounters: Nobles giving alms, guards imposing fines, paladins in grim parades.
  12. Victory festival: The city celebrates its founding or some historical success in battle. A day of parades, patriotism, and traffic. Parades sometimes turn into riots between rival groups celebrating different victories. Possible encounters: veterans, angry mobs, suspiciously well-armed parades.
  13. Brewer’s festival: Beer is free. Traditionally a day for merry-making, drinking contests, brawls, and being robbed while unconscious. Possible encounters: drunkards, human soldiers, dwarves, tavern brawlers, and opportunistic thieves.
  14. Topsy Turvy festival: Nobles wear rags and merchants provide feasts for the poor. A randomly-selected prisoner is pardoned, released from the dungeon, and made king or queen for a day, which is usually fine, but there have been occasions where it wasn’t fine. Possible encounters: nobles in rags, feasting crowds, kids bossing around parents, or the King for a Day: possibly a pardoned assassin, political prisoner, or an old enemy of the PCs.
  15. Faerie festival: People wear masks and glitter, play practical jokes, and give anonymous gifts. Possible encounters: entertainers, nobles, and visiting faerie folk (good and evil) who are serious about practical jokes and gifts.
  16. Hero’s feast: Veterans and adventurers are celebrated, feasted, serenaded, and showered with gifts by those they have helped in the past. Possible encounters: veterans and adventurers of all sorts, generous merchants and nobles, and archpriests who cast Hero’s Feast for worthy heroes.
  17. Monster night: People dress up as monsters and wander in torchlit parades. Every year, a few people are killed by real monsters wandering the street undetected. Possible encounters: commoners dressed in realistic monster costumes, werewolves, goblins, and grimalkins (demon cats who can change into panthers).
  18. Candle Night: After sundown, relatives who have passed away are remembered, ghosts walk, and death magic is at its greatest power. Carrying a candle is said to attract good spirits and ward against evil ones. The candles are by no means foolproof. Possible encounters: ghosts, zombies, shadows, necromancers
  19. All gods day: The city’s business is at a standstill as each religion organizes a procession or parade. There are frequent brawls between the processions of rival faiths. Temples compete to exhibit the most impressive displays of divine magic. Attracts: high priests, holy knights, and parades that frequently devolve into angry mobs.
  20. Country Fair: Roll on the Country Fairs table (coming soon)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Power and the Word

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 03/21/2019 - 13:00
Priestess of Delphi (1891) by John Collier 

Hello friends! Note that I’ll be at PAX East next Thursday, so there likely will be no post next week.

The Fury of the Lords of Life and Death is a potent prayer given to first-level clerics. But perhaps it doesn’t quite fit the concept of your character? Just for you, here are seven alternative prayers for your cleric.

Choose one blessing. Your cleric knows this blessing in place of Fury of the Lords of Life and Death. Your cleric may use this blessing once per phase. Breadth determines who gets the advantage dice. Each blessing has a duration of one turn.

Blessings Dowsing Rune

With a prayer to the Water Witch, the invoker ties a blindfold about the eyes and uses a forked stick to feel the way to water.

Dowsing Rune Effect

Grant advantage to Survivalist tests for locating potable water.


Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person, small group

Gift of Hospitality

Spilling a libation of mead to the ancestors and spirits of hearth and home, the invoker lays a blessing upon the hearthfire.

Gift of Hospitality Effect

Grant advantage to Cook tests when cooking for friends, family and guests (who have properly invoked the Rites of Hospitality). Strangers must first be made friends or acknowledged as guests or the blessing automatically fails.

Gift of Hospitality Factors

Advantage (start counting at 1): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person
Diners (start counting at 1): Family and friends, guests

Heike’s Cunning Needle

Calling upon the Jotunn Heike, who surreptitiously uses her needle to unweave threads from the Skein of Destiny, the invoker causes locks to spring open and bonds to come undone.

Heike’s Cunning Needle Effect

Grant advantage to Criminal tests for picking locks and slipping bonds.

Heike’s Cunning Needle Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person, gang, guild

Inspiring Aura

With a shout, the invoker calls upon the Lady of Valor to steel hearts and minds.

Inspiring Aura Effect

The subjects of this invocation gain advantage to Will tests to resist fear and terror or recover from the Afraid condition.

Inspiring Aura Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person, two people, small group, warband

Merciful Balm

With a gesture and word, the invoker begins to glow with the inner light of Hyresti, Lord of Mercy; no spirit of disease or plague can stand before Hyresti’s gentle light.

Merciful Balm Effect

Grant advantage to Healer tests to treat fevers and illness.

Merciful Balm Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person, enemy

Poison Tongue

Smearing honey on lips and tongue, the invoker’s words begin to drip with sweet poison.

Poison Tongue Effect

Grant advantage to Manipulator tests when goading someone to betray their family, friends, followers or those to whom they owe loyalty.

Poison Tongue Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person

Winter’s Winding Path

Intoning a prayer to the Lady of the Winter Hunt with eyes closed, the invoker allows their skis to take them where they will.

Winter’s Winding Path Effect

Grant advantage to Pathfinder tests when in the wilderness and lost places.

Winter’s Winding Path Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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