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The Sword of Shannara, part 2

Deep Sheep - Sun, 05/24/2020 - 16:00
In my last post, I talked about the first quarter of the book and how it compares and contrasts to the Lord of the Rings. Here I talk about the 2nd quarter of the book.

There is only one scene that shows that this is a post-nuclear world and it is here where a half-flesh and half-metal insect-like monster attacks the party. Both Shea, the only one who can wield the sword, and his adopted brother are wounded by this beasts and are brought unconscious and close to death. After driving it away, the party must then find a friendly place where they can heal the brothers. But first there is a great group of gnomes blocking the way! The interesting thing is that these gnomes are not a war party looking for the heroes but some kind of religious ceremony. The heroes devise a plan to get past them and here we see a decision showing the morality of the heroes. The one designated to shoot an arrow will not kill an unsuspecting enemy so he wounds him instead.

After getting past the gnomes, they find some gnomes who heal the brothers and they are on their way again. Through a very Moria-like Hall of Kings. The monsters are different, showing Brooks's creativity, and this time, Gandalf (Allanon) does not get separated from the party but Shea. Of course, this is very problematic since only Shea can wield the sword. But the rest of the party goes on anyway to try to find the sword.

It's here that the story finally diverges from Lord of the Rings definitively. Shea is captured by gnomes and the rest find that the sword has been captured too. How can they possibly succeed? We'll have to read the last half of the book to find out!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[BLOG] The Anatomy of a Dungeon Map

Beyond Fomalhaut - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 22:04

Over several years, in posts and forum comments, Yours Truly has ranted and raved about the general decline in mapping quality in tabletop roleplaying games, later switching to first person shooters, and then back again to RPGs. Wading through disappointing map after disappointing map, it is easy to get the impression making a good dungeon map – the sort that leaps off the page and encourages exploration, environmental puzzle-solving, and creative tactics – is a bit of a lost art. Many dungeons are in fact not dungeons at all; rather, they are illustrations depicting something like a dungeon map, but offering none of the dungeoneering experience due to their limitations. It becomes all the more important, then, to highlight the good stuff, maps with the right scope, complexity, and structure.

Good structure is especially tricky, since many promising maps conceal a rather banal layout under visual frills, as well as twists and turns which do not, in fact, do anything – they are visual noise masking linear corridors and the occasional, vestigial side branch you can visit before returning to the main one-way rollercoaster ride. Good structure is still more of an art than an exact science, but it is generally agreed that some structural features are better suited to “map flow” than others, by encouraging meaningful decisions, environmental interaction, and emergent gameplay:

  • non-linearity, aided by branching and looping elements;
  • three-dimensional environments with verticality, interesting interconnections between dungeon levels, and a variety of terrain (c.f. “jacquaying”);
  • relative openness, counterbalanced by occasional bottlenecks usually referred to as “pinch points” or “choke points”, and maintaining significant barriers to make navigation a challenge.

Not every dungeon has to have these features to be a good dungeon (and keying is the second half of the puzzle), but generally, they help. Furthermore, the principles apply to tabletop games and FPS games in different ways; thus, Ultima Underworld, classic Quake levels, or Thief’s Down in the Bonehoard embody these principles differently than Caverns of Thracia, Tegel Manor, or Tomb of Abysthor.

The Winter Tombs
The current post looks at good design through the example of The Winter Tombs, a free dungeon level by Dyson Logos. This will also be released as a dungeon dungeon by Jim Pinto, but for now, we will restrict ourselves to the map. This is a particularly good test case, since it is a map that has a pleasing complexity without obfuscating analysis, and its structural elements are easy to identify and discuss. Here, I will only reproduce a low-res specimen; for the larger map, go to Dyson’s site, download the map, and print it at home. For the sake of analysis, I rotated the map by 90 degrees, putting the entrances on the bottom (hereafter referred to as “South”), then I produced a line graph to showcase the map’s structure. So, what lies beyond the cross-hatching?

The Winter Tombs is a single-level dungeon map with a tomb/caverns theme. The closest analogy is Judges Guild’s classic Sunstone Caverns, a semi-keyed dungeon from their second campaign instalment. Like Sunstone Caverns, this one is densely (although a bit less densely) mapped to provide a large playing area in one map.

Dungeon graph
The first element that leaps before the eyes is the selection of ways in: right from the start, the explorers can choose among four tomb entrances and two cave mouths. One of the tombs is a dead-end: a simple, but pleasing trick. Others are connected to the dungeon in ways that integrate cavern and tomb elements, with signs of environmental degradation and blockage to complicate navigation. The way the characters choose to enter and exit through will have a meaningful effect on how expeditions develop. Nevertheless, there is no initial difficulty selection, at least no outwards sign that makes one or more entrances harder to discover or access. (As a counter-example, consider the lower level back door to In Search of the Unknown!) Notably, there are not many outright exits. They are in the distant reaches of the map (near the octagons and in the upper right corner). If this dungeon has lower levels, it will take a lot of initial effort to reach them – the overall permeability is quite low until secure routes are identified and firmly established!

Choke points and tricky bridges
Of course, many elements which appear complicated on a first look are essentially straight lines – a labyrinthine set of catacombs in the lower middle is a simple loop, impressive halls are essentially fancy corridors (bottom right), and many of the twisting cavern passages are simple “bridging” connections. However, the map uses these bridging pieces in a shrewd and disorienting manner, via over- and underpasses, slopes, and loops which reverse the direction of progression, diverting expeditions towards unplanned dungeon rooms. This is an underutilised navigation trick, and one which can be used well to draw the company into a danger zone. We can identify one of the dungeon’s main choke points in the bottom middle: a cave with four exits (one a dead end) is one of the main points linking multiple sub-sections. It is easy to reach from what looks like the “main” entrance, and it allows access to many further points of importance. He who rules the choke point rules the dungeon!

Two main structuring elements are also easy to see. These are the level’s waterways and a very large set of caverns. These play a different role. Water blocks or impedes movement, and conceals invisible monsters from the deeps. Hence, the rivers and the lake are barriers. The E and SW river branches separate the map into its southern and northern sections, while the NW branch further subdivides the northern part into two sections, almost as if they were separate sub-levels (I would certainly be tempted to design the key this way). There are multiple places where the rivers are crossed by bridges, and more where it would be fordable to an ambitious group. We can call these environmental challenges limited barriers. The lake is something that would probably be impassable at first, but become a potentially good way to access the rest of the level once the characters return with a canoe, build a raft, and neutralise whatever threat might inhabit the lake. Ironically, the easiest access to the lake (right from the “main entrance”) is bound to be completely useless on the first visit, aside from offering a tantalising glimpse of things to come!

A case of two octagons
The caverns are not barriers: they represent a nexus point. Although similar to choke points, nexus points are relatively open structural elements, which usually offer multiple ways of traversal, and collect multiple routes departing in various directions. You can see another one on the opposite side: the larger octagonal room with its five main exits (the NE one does not realy count as a full one). This is also a piece of dramatic architecture which stands out from the lower-level dungeon texture: it is YUGE, regular, and perfect for a complex set-piece encounter. Of course, sometimes, appearances are misleading: the other octagon just off to the NW does not actually do anything in the context of the map – it is a linear route to a lower level. Also, nexus points may start off as choke points, ruled by a nastier monster or puzzle before being cleared and used to the explorers’ benefit.

Dungeon highways
There is one more interesting feature concerning this map, which may not be noticeable first, but which has a strong bearing on its flow. This is the presence of long corridors linking distant corners of the dungeon, and once you look for them, you will find a bunch. We might call them accelerators (or fast lanes?), since clearing them allows fast travel through the dungeon. The clearest accelerators are found in the distant reaches of the level, including one which just “caps” the whole thing with a sequence connecting everything to everything. Once you get there, you can choose a way back just as freely as you could at the beginning, a dark “mirror image” of the dungeon’s multiple entrances! Others include the corridors bisecting the octagons, and the corridor to the right, going from the entrance areas all the way to the cavern. As the company finds the accelerators, they will prove very valuable in subsequent expeditions, getting them past the entrance areas and into the depths of it!

So, this is what a good dungeon level looks like. It walks the right balance between openness and navigation challenges, it has a good sense of progression, it is structured in fun ways that suggest both exploration puzzles and exploration solutions, and overall, it has a pleasing complexity that takes effort to figure out, but does not descend into unpleasant pixel-bitching and the exploration of dull, featureless mazes.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus Reviewed on EN World

Zenopus Archives - Thu, 05/21/2020 - 20:49
Screenshot of the thumbnail of the post on the EN World front page
DM's Guild Roundup, written by Sean Hillman, is a monthly or bi-monthly column on En World that highlights various DM's Guild releases with short reviews. The Ruined Tower of Zenopus appears in the most recent installment (posted earlier this week), which carries a modified title: "DM's Guild Extra: Community Reviews" and focuses on "three smaller offerings. One of these is an enhancement for your campaign, while the other two are adventures that can be set in your campaign". Full disclosure: I submitted the ROTZ to the column for review in reply to the February column. Here is an excerpt of Hillman's review of the RTOZ:

I enjoy all the products I review, but this adventure was of particular interest to me. The Ruined Tower of Zenopus appears in the original Basic D&D by John Eric Holmes as the Sample Dungeon. Many adventurers began their role-playing careers in this dungeon or other dungeons inspired by it. Zach Howard has brought this dungeon into the modern day with a 5E conversion...Read the rest of the review here:

DM's Guild Extra: Community Reviews (click here)

Product Link:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Click here to read other reviews of the RTOZ
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The d' Amberville Gambit - Campaign Session Commentary Report 1b - Now With More Jame M. Ward

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 05/20/2020 - 00:54
So my Castles & Crusades rpg campaign has been humming along with me updating various adventure elements thanks in part to the Castles & Crusades rpg community on Facebook. I was able to get my local print shop to do an incredible bang up job on my recent purchases from Drivethrurpg.So I've been incorporating huge swaths of past campaigns & that brings me to one of my most Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Running First Edition AD&D Without Modules or Campaign Supplements

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Tue, 05/19/2020 - 23:42

Just looking over these old sessions and I have to say, it really takes my breath away:

  • The Hole in the Sky
  • The Thing in the Sewer
  • The Big Score
  • The Drums of the Dog People
  • Altar of the Beast-women
  • The Pugs of Slaughter
  • The Overbearing of the Crystal Men
  • The Song of Fàgor

The excitement from that initial flash of inspiration coming to life. My attempts at adventure design blowing up in my face or collapsing in unexpected ways. One page dungeons that never got used. My mistakes in carelessly interpreting monster manual entries being revisited and then evolving into significant campaign elements. Encumbrance rules creating an awesome game scenario out of nothing. Players going in disorganized and without a plan and nearly meeting their doom for nothing. That time we stayed up until midnight because we HAD to play one more delve. That one multi-class elf character that took over the game session with his unquenchable thirst for the ludicrous. The Swoleceror spellbook that never got recovered. Oghma sitting in and showing everyone what play is like when an elite player seizes the initiative. The crescendo of a half-orc’s improvised composition conjuring an entire world.

Every session completely different from every other. Rude sketches on loose leaf paper held together by little else than random monster results, a fanatical commitment to playing by the AD&D rules as closely as possible, and the audacity and persistence of the players.

All of it emerging out of exchanges that go like this:

Players: Who the frack is this guy’s superior officer?
DM: Uh… I dunno… uh. He answers to the prince.
Players: What? That’s insane.
DM: Yeah, yeah. Sure. He totally answers directly to the prince.
Players: Okay, we go talk to the prince.
DM: (Under his breath) Oh crap.
DM: Okay, you go see Prince… uh… um…
Players: Yeah?
DM: Yeah, it’s Prince Elric.

It shouldn’t work. It can’t work. None of this makes sense. But then out of the chaos something just seems to emerge in spite of everything: Swords & Swolecery! A Game of Terrific Trollops, Glittering Gold, & Punishing Pugmen!

No other campaign would play quite like this. And yet… it is undeniably pure and unadulterated first edition AD&D.

Easily the best game ever made. Don’t settle for less!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

5150 - Send Lawyers, Guns and Money Now on Sale

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 05/19/2020 - 16:33

5150 Send Lawyers, Guns and Money now on sale. Includes:
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Check it out!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

For 10 Years D&D Suffered From an Unplayable Initiative System. Blame the Game’s Wargaming Roots

DM David - Tue, 05/19/2020 - 10:50

While every version of Dungeons & Dragons has a rule for who goes first in a fight, no other rule shows as much of the game’s evolution from what the original books call rules for “wargames campaigns” into what the latest Player’s Handbook calls a roleplaying game about storytelling.

Before you old grognards rush to the comments to correct my opening line, technically the original books lacked any way to decide who goes first. For that rule, co-creators Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson supposed gamers would refer to Gary’s earlier Chainmail miniatures rules. In practice, players rarely saw those old rules. The way to play D&D spread gamer-to-gamer from Dave and Gary’s local groups and from the conventions they attended. D&D campaigns originally ran by word-of-mouth and house rules.

Gygax waited five years to present an initiative system in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979). Two things made those official rules terrible.

  • Nobody understood the system.

  • Any reasonable interpretation of the system proved too slow and complicated for play.

Some grognards insist they played the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons initiative system by the book. No they didn’t. Grognardia blogger James Maliszewski writes, “Initiative in AD&D, particularly when combined with the equally obscure rules regarding surprise, was one of those areas where, in my experience, most players back in the day simply ignored the official rules and adopted a variety of house rules. I know I did.”

Not even Gygax played with all his exceptions and complications. “We used only initiative [rolls] and casting times for determination of who went first in a round. The rest was generally ignored. We played to have fun, and in the throws of a hot melee, rules were mostly forgotten.”

With Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the D&D story grows complicated, because original or basic D&D soldiered on with workable initiative systems. My next tale will circle back to D&D, but this one focuses on AD&D, the game Gygax treated as his own. (See Basic and Advanced—the time Dungeons & Dragons split into two games.)

Some of the blame for AD&D’s terrible initiative system falls back on Chainmail and Gygax’s love for its wargaming legacy.

Chainmail lets players enact battles with toy soldiers typically representing 20 fighters. The rules suggest playing on a tabletop covered in sand sculpted into hills and valleys. In Chainmail each turn represents about a minute, long enough for infantry to charge through a volley of arrows and cut down a group of archers. A clash of arms might start and resolve in the same turn. At that scale, who strikes first typically amounts to who strikes from farthest away, so archers attack, then soldiers with polearms, and finally sword swingers. Beyond that, a high roll on a die settled who moved first.

In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the 1-minute turns from Chainmail became 1-minute melee rounds. Such long turns made sense for a wargame that filled one turn with a decisive clash of arms between groups of 20 soldiers, but less sense for single characters trading blows.

Even though most D&D players imagined brief turns with just enough time to attack and dodge, Gygax stayed loyal to Chainmail’s long turns. In the Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979), Gygax defended the time scale. “The system assumes much activity during the course of each round. During a one-minute melee round many attacks are made, but some are mere feints, while some are blocked or parried.” Gygax cited the epic sword duel that ended The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) as his model for AD&D’s lengthy rounds. He never explained why archers only managed a shot or two per minute.

Broadly, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons held to Chainmail’s system for deciding who goes first. Gygax also chose an option from the old wargame where players declared their actions before a round, and then had to stick to plan as best they could. “If you are a stickler, you may require all participants to write their actions on paper.”

Why would Gygax insist on such cumbersome declarations?

In a D&D round, every character and creature acts in the same few seconds, but to resolve the actions we divide that mayhem into turns. This compromise knots time in ridiculous ways. For example, with fifth edition’s 6-second rounds, one character can end their 6-second turn next to a character about to start their turn and therefor 6 seconds in the past. If they pass a relay baton, the baton jumps 6 seconds back in time. If enough characters share the same 6 seconds running with the baton, the object outraces a jet. Now expand that absurdity across AD&D’s 1-minute round.

Years before D&D, wargamers like Gygax had wrestled with such problems. They couldn’t resolve all actions simultaneously, but players could choose actions at once. Declaring plans in advance, and then letting a referee sort out the chaos yielded some of the real uncertainty of an actual battle. Wargamers loved that. Plus, no referee would let players declare that they would start their turn by taking a relay baton from someone currently across the room.

Especially when players chose to pretend that a turn took about 10 seconds, the Chainmail system for initiative worked well enough. In basic D&D, turns really lasted 10 seconds, so no one needed to pretend. Many tables kept that system for AD&D.

But nobody played the advanced system as written. Blame that on a wargamer’s urge for precision. Despite spending paragraphs arguing for 1-minute rounds, Gygax seemed to realize that a minute represented a lot of fighting. So he split a round into 10 segments lasting as long as modern D&D’s 6-second rounds. Then he piled on intricate—sometimes contradictory—rules that determined when you acted based on weapon weights and lengths, spell casting times, surprise rolls, and so on. In an interview, Wizards of the Coast founder Peter Adkison observed, “The initiative and surprise rules with the weapon speed factors was incomprehensible.”

In a minute-long turn filled with feints, parries, and maneuvering, none of that precision made sense. On page 61, Gygax seemed to say as much. “Because of the relatively long period of time, weapon length and relative speed factors are not usually a consideration.” Then he wrote a system that considered everything.

Some of the blame for this baroque system may rest on the wargaming hobby’s spirit of collaboration.

Even before D&D, Gygax had proved a zealous collaborator on wargames. Aside from teaming with other designers, he wrote a flood of articles proposing variants and additions to existing games. In the early years of D&D, Gygax brought the same spirit. He published rules and ideas from the gamers in his circle, and figured that players could use what suited their game. In the Blackmoor supplement, he wrote, “All of it is, of course, optional, for the premise of the whole game system is flexibility and personalization within the broad framework of the rules.”

I doubt all the rules filigree in AD&D came from Gygax. At his table, he ignored rules for things like weapon speed factors. Still, Gygax published such ideas from friends and fellow gamers. For example, he disliked psionics, but he bowed to his friends and included the system in AD&D. (See Gary Gygax Loved Science Fantasy, So Why Did He Want Psionics Out of D&D?.)

Weapon speed factors fit AD&D as badly as anything. In theory, a fighter could swing a lighter weapon like a dagger more quickly. Did this speed enable extra attacks? Not usually. Instead, light weapons could strike first. But that contradicted Chainmail’s observation that a fighter with a spear had to miss before an attacker with a dagger could come close enough to attack. Gygax patched that by telling players to skip the usual initiative rules after a charge.

AD&D’s initiative system resembles a jumble of ideas cobbled together in a rush to get a long-delayed Dungeon Master’s Guide to press. The system piled complexities, and then exceptions, and still failed to add realism. In the end, AD&D owed some success to the way D&D’s haphazard rules trained players to ignore any text that missed the mark.

In creating D&D, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax faced a unique challenge because no one had designed a roleplaying game before. The designers of every roleplaying game to follow D&D copied much of the original’s work. Without another model, Gygax relied on the design tools from wargames. His initiative system may be gone, but ultimately Gary’s finest and most lasting contribution to D&D came from the lore he created for spells, monsters, and especially adventures.

Next: Part 2: “It’s probably so different that even if it’s better, people would not like it.”

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 8: The Song of Fàgor

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Mon, 05/18/2020 - 23:37

So last session I’d just stolidly stood back and did nothing to frame up a situation or scenario for the players. I’d just left it entirely up to them to recall any loose threads from former sessions that they wanted to follow up on. This time I decided to try the exact opposite of that.

I waited for a lull in the conversation and then took a moment to rapidly move several things forward that had been suggested in earlier sessions:

  • There is an index card on the tavern bulletin board from Zanzel Melancthones offering a 1000 gold reward for the return of the cadaver of a crystal monster that had been brought to him previously. He offers 5000 gold for the apprehension of whatever thief presumably broke into his tower to take it.
  • There is an army of 50 Giant White Apes, 100 Apache horsemen, and several hundred orcs converging on the city of Trolopulous.
  • Fàgor (and only Fàgor) has noticed a blood red moon in the sky that nobody else seems to have seen.

We have six very different players this time. How in the world do they sort this out?

Some have this idea to go scout out what is going on with this army for the city. Others are very much enticed by the gold for the reward. The scouting missing looks to have the most support then Fàgor’s player stops everything to get more information about this red moon thing, but this turns out to be even more baffling.

The players go see the captain of the guard. The guy seems to be rather incompetent, declaring that they are a bit short on men-at-arms. The players (some of whom have served) ask who this guy reports to. Off hand, I just say the prince. They are shocked. This nudnik reports to the prince?!

Evidently some sort of common sense world building fail here. Naturally I double down. But the players want to see the prince now. And I have nothing on this guy. “The prince? Oh yeah. The prince. Prince… um… Prince Elric???” I tell them he looks like Nekron from Fire & Ice,

The players are really concerned about the fair city of Trollopulous and want to help. Prince Elric is not too concerned.. When informed of the approaching army, he declares that greatest treasure of the city is its trollops. He proposes holing up with them in his tower for a few days and then maybe summoning some extra-planar entities if things look like they’re getting out of hand.

The players decide to go north into the jungles. The set out after picking out their mules and war horses. I immediately get a random encounter of 20+ orcs. Obviously a detachment from the coming army. Maybe some kind of rearguard or something. Spies? Fàgor and Maubert ride straight up to them while the rest of the party keeps going on. Maubert scolds them for being out of position and rudely directs them to go a few miles west. They buy it and fall all over themselves to get going.

The players camp out on the jungles edge. At some point, Fàgor calls the other player characters “faggots”, explaining the “fag” is of course orcish for human. (Though his name means “great hero” in orcish, it transliterates as “human killer.”) In the night these four lions wake everybody up. Next day the ranger notices one trailing them. He send a couple arrows at it but misses and then hits a tree it was crouching behind. It slinks off with a growl.

The players get to the huge ruined pile in the jungle. Fàgor wants to go up the rope that the party had left behind, but when he pulls on the rope it nearly brings a precariously balanced boulder down right on top of him. They want to work out a way to get their horses into the ruins. The players find a place in the ruins where they can house their horses then get ready to go into the temple. (They don’t have any men-at-arms or henchmen with them this time for some reason.)

The players head in and cut left. They find a door and inside are jail cells with skeletons in them Fàgor uses his pike to carefully retrieve a golden belt buckle from one of the skeletons without opening up the cells. The players then continue in the maze of twisty passages, going in a complete circle. They head back in down another path and come to a hallway with five seven foot tall statues, each with twelve wings.

The ranger goes to investigate these things and then whoosh! He disappears. One by one the players go investigate, trying different things. The all disappear one after another with a big whooshing sound. Fàgor I think throws a rope near the statues and then pisses on it, maybe tries repositioning the wings. Then he steps toward the statues and disappears with a whoosh. The paladin was last. He slips to the end of the passage along the sides and discerns a circle in the floor. He considers a few different things but ends up jumping in to see what happens.

They have all ended up in this weird strobe-light filled, screeching pulse place. The players can’t think of anything to do except move in a random direction. They arrive at some sort of crystal lattice that is growing out of nothing. They find at the top of it a platform with a organ on it. Somebody goes up to it and pulls out some of the stops, hits a key or two. Then somebody else hits the lowest foot pedal on the organ and the platform suddenly starts to tip over as the crystal lattice disintegrates.

Fàgor then starts playing the organ, a soothing, peaceful tune in a Lydan mode. The pulsing cacophony ceases and is replaced with clouds and some kind of kudzu type plant begins to grow from every direction. Fàgor then modulates into a substantially different sort of song. Counterpoint is involved. It all culminates into a legitimately intricate composition. As it develops, a red sandstone structure grows around the players which then gradually spawns architectural complexity, furniture, stain glass windows. When the song concludes, they are in some sort of alien cathedral.

The players consider looting the place but decide not to as there’s nothing demonic about the artwork. They go outside and see a world full of gigantic mushrooms. They explore a ways, concerned that they might inhale dangerous spoors. They find a stream of crystal clear water that leads to a pool. The players don’t want to drink it. They fill a waterskin with it.

They head back to the cathedral and decide that they want to take a mushroom cutting before they bail out. As soon as they slice into one, mushroom figures in many directions start moving towards the players. Everyone except one person fails their open door check. They all run inside, find a circle on the floor and all dive into it. They appear back at the temple, find their way back to where they housed their horses, and then camp for the night, their sleep interrupted by both the howling of wolves and the roar of lions.

Hans Franzen the Swoleceror (2 hits, Burning hands, Jump, Message, Read Magic) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, and 8] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 0 = 2012

Brother Pain the Acolyte [Delve 3b, 7, and 8] XP: 351 + 54 + 255 + 0= 660

Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, and 8] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 = [Frozen at 2250 until he levels!]

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, 7, and 8] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 = 2389

Fàgor — (12 hits) Half-Orc Fighter [Delve 7 and 8] 255 + 0 = 255 (His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. For real!)

Malbert the Veteran (9 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, and 8] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 0 = 1226

Experience and treasure: Nothing! (They’ll get something for the gold belt buckle when they go back to Trollopulous, maybe.)


Day 1: The Hole in the Sky

Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer

Day 7: The Big Score part I

Day 8: The Big Score part II

(Day 9-14 — player characters all carousing¹; Keebler Khan fully recovered) <—- I day of real world time = one day of game time!)

Day 15: The Drums of the Dog People

(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women

(Day 26-31: Resting)

Day 32-33: The Pugs of Slaughter

(Day 34-39: Resting)

Day 40: The Overbearing of the Crystal Men

(Day 41-46: Resting)

Days 47-48: The Song of Fàgor

The graveyard:

Dorkorus — Half-elf fighter/magic-user/thief — Half brother to Keebler Khan, talked with a lisp! Killed by a pug-man in the Trolopulous mega-dungeon.

Dairage — Elf fighter/magic-user — Killed with his shield spell one, valiantly taking down the leader of the pug-men so that the party could have a chance to escape certain death!

9 Hapless men-at-arms!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Mail Call Commentary - Campaign Session Commentary Report 1a

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 05/18/2020 - 16:18
So the United States Post Office finally came through on Friday & decided to deliver my order to me from The Collector's Store. Note that this wasn't Covid 19 related but the second time that we're gonna lose your package. I put in a case & everything with the United States Post Office this was after the The Collector's Store screwed up my order with details on my address. The first order is Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Showdown in Dhoon

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 05/18/2020 - 11:00

Our Land of Azurth game continued last night. The party sprang its ambush on the demon Porcus. After he cornered them in a side room, he surprised them by wanting to parley. On the condition they leave town, he revealed that he had nothing to do with the fay-flower blossoms and had only been summoned by the townsfolk cultists afterwards. He alleges the true culprit is a wizard from a neighboring town.

This is Dhoon on the banks of scenic Lake Dhoona. The party makes their way there and discovers the local lord, Lorn of Dhoon, has recently had a personality change and has been making some really nonsensical decrees. His latest sees dwarfs banished form the town under penalty of stretching on the rack.

Turns out there is no wizard in town anyone knows of, but there is a dark druid, high priest of the chaotic Church of the Dark Flower, named Slekt Zaad. That was the name Porcus gave them they couldn't remember!

Kully's got a plan to frame any mayhem on their rivals, Prof. Marvelo and the Eccentrics, while invoking Mayor Drumpf's name in a sting on Slekt Zaad. They go to the temple and get an audience with the high priest. He seems disinterested in their fake offer, but their dogged insistent regarding the fay-flowers eventually ticks him off. Slekt reveals his true face: he's some sort of plant man:

He has the doors shut by his guards, and even offers the party the first shots in the the throw down. None of this particularly worries them being a brave--or foolhardy--bunch. However. none of their attacks seem able to hurt Slekt Zaad. Eventually they switch tactics and grapple him. He can't escape, but they still can't hurt him!

His wizard ally shows up and tosses a fireball. Slekt is still threatening to kill them. Erekose is dragging the grappled high priest toward the door--but then he's paralyzed!

Magic from the Machine

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 05/17/2020 - 14:30

A post last week led to discussion of what constituted science fantasy. In discussion those admittedly ill-defined genre boundaries, I thought of one type that is fairly common in comic books but not that common elsewhere: the blurring of technology and magic.

This is not quite the same thing as Magitech, or perhaps more accurately it's a subtype of it. Magitech can be lame (or at least uninspired) stuff like magic carpet taxi cabs or soldiers armed with fireball shooting wands. I'm talking more things that have the appearance or origin of technological devices but seem to have effects that are magical. Jack Kirby employed a lot of this stuff, particularly in the New Gods, where the characters evolved from the remnants of mythological beings, but who possess and advanced technology of a sort. The Cosmic Cube is another such artifact as is the Miracle Machine in the Legion of Super-Heroes. Heaven is depicted as full of this sort of technology in Morrison's JLA.

I feel like this sort of aesthetic is ripe for use in rpgs. Maybe Exalted does some of this, perhaps Godbound, but mostly science fantasy in rpgs is pretty standard. I think it would be pretty easy too. Potentially as simple as reskinning magic items with a technological look and a few features.

5150 Send Lawyers, Guns & Money - Billy's Crew

Two Hour Wargames - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 22:05
Billy Pink, Sooze, Amber the Net Runner, Fast Eddie and Bent on the streets of Dhankann.
Waiting on last of artwork. Will have of 30+ new and unique counters.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

In The Shadow of Tegel Manor - Play Session Report One

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 19:54
So we rolled in at about five A.M. & it was a great night of gaming! I'm using various incarnations of Tegel Manor including Frog God Games Tegel Manor. I cranked up the Gothic & Lovecraftian elements to eleven in last night's game. Frog God Games old Tegel Manor kickstarter video. It really gets the manor's feel across!A pirate ship anchored itself into the bay of Tegel village after Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Style of Play in Ø2\\‘3|| (that game I'm about to publish)

The Disoriented Ranger - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 13:04
A plan is a list of things that won't happen, especially when you are self-publishing and even more so in trying times like these. That said, we've made great progress in that roleplaying game I'm going to publish: Ø2\\‘3||. The writing is almost done, the art is lined up and the editing already started ... we are on our way and maybe (maybe!) it'll be out there as early as end of June. Wouldn't that be something?

Anyway, I'm always saying a publication is worth at least 20 posts here, and I honestly believe that the people enjoying this blog will enjoy reading Ø2\\‘3||, if not playing it. Or I could be totally talking out of my arse here (and there). To put this to the test and to give you a hint what will be in store with this publication, I thought I share a part of the introduction to the DM part of the book. Here we go, unedited (please hype):

Style of Play

If you have read this book in a linear fashion (as one would be bound to do on a first reading), you’ll only have a glimpse of what style of play we have in mind for the DM. As we define in the beginning, the system itself will produce lots of abstract patterns that help forming and directing the narrative.

Some indications of how that works have already been shown throughout the book (how Anger limits the actions a player has in combat is one example of that). However, it’ll need a little bit more than that to make it work for a District Master. We believe that each DM needs the equivalent of what the character sheet is for a player. A world sheet, if you will, although more fittingly it should be called something like an ‘analogue world engine’.

A clockwork like that would by necessity be way more complex than anything you’d expect from a character sheet, which is why we dedicate the second half of this book not only to offering a DM more background for the setting of Ø2\\‘3|| but also try to ease the DM into designing their own campaign with this game.

How to exactly do that will be described later in the book. For this introduction full of inspirations and themes we want to conclude with a little passage how all of the above connects to form a game in Ø2\\‘3||.

There is one universal truth that unites all DM/Player-driven roleplaying games: the decisions the DM makes push the narrative that manifests at the table beyond its event horizon to move it forward. The feedback loop between players and DM will create areas with possibilities that get limited as the dialogue about them progresses to a point where a final decision needs to be made how to progress. That’s when the DM makes a call on what needs to happen next and how.

Aspects a good DM will take into account with their decisions need to be (1) the established narrative, (2) the player expectations, (3) the setting (as a background), (4) the immediate scene (as the stage, if you will) and (5) the rules (basically the physics of the simulated gaming environment).

As important as those aspects are, they are also merely indicators. They offer possibilities. The style of play that emerges from decision to decision to choose among those possibilities is in equal parts what will make the tone of a game and what defines a DM.

Now, roleplaying games allow for a lot of conjecture-driven projection between the ‘real world’ (or our perception thereof) and the gaming environment. DMs will instinctively use that leeway to compensate for all kinds of shortcomings a game might bring by applying common sense, personality and good old story telling instead of the rules.

Again, to a degree this is a necessity due to the complexity of the aspects a DM needs to take into account at any given moment. However, the gap between the limitations a game brings and the craftsmanship of a DM decides about the experience at the table. In other words: it takes a great DM to work with an incomplete game.

But what makes a game ‘complete’? It is our strong belief that a game should offer all the rules necessary to produce a similar (if not equal) basic experience to which then a DM adds their personal touch.

To be more precise, Ruled As Written (R.A.W.) each game of Ø2\\‘3|| should produce the kind of stories it wants to tell while allowing for autonomous, intuitive and spontaneous play from all involved, including the DM.

This is, ultimately, where the style of play in Ø2\\‘3|| connects to those original games of yore: a game of AD&D is recognized as such through the usage of its rules (it’s just its popularity that allows DMs to project the game instead nowadays).

To achieve something like this, a set of rules needs to provide abstract patterns that go beyond what the main set of rules described in the beginning of this book will do for a DM. It is the area where the game designer gives a game nuance. It is what makes it complete.

Since Ø2\\‘3|| is about a dystopian world where individuals are imprisoned, manipulated and monitored in their own private little bubbles, we decided to create tools for DMs to generate twists and turns for the narrative that culminate in the tropes one would expect in a story like that along with point-driven economy (called ‘Pennies’) that forces players to make the setting response stronger and more dangerous the more advantages they take.

DMs will also get the opportunity to create the districts the characters live in as well as surrounding districts and districts they might travel to. It will bring that specific part of the world in Ø2\\‘3|| to live and help a DM in describing a complex science fiction setting with lots of urban areas. This ‘sandbox’ will change over time as the narrative emerges and the DM spends Pennies.

All this is kept abstract enough to let a DM make out of it what they deem interesting and entertaining, offering enough material and interaction to allow believable freedom of movement on the player side while staying consistent with the premise of the game and the fictional surroundings.

In Ø2\\‘3|| DMs will improvise aspects of the narrative most would expect to be prepared (like encounters and the basic story) and will be able to do so consistently because the game offers the tools and additional rules to give complete support for conjuring all the little details that make the game a unique experience.

Lastly, this approach to roleplaying games allows a DM to actually play their part of the game as they can freely improvise and create without making hours of preparation necessary before each Episode.

And that's that

As you just saw, this will be somewhat demanding, and purposely so. Aren't there already enough roleplaying games out there doing the same over and over again? This will be an attempt on going into another direction. I'm actually not afraid to fail. The book stands for itself and it will not embrace mainstream. It'll also be hard to find (look at the title) and it'll be only PoD for the price I deem appropriate (no pdf ... you want this, you buy the book or know me personally). That said, all involved are giving their best to make this as good a book as possible.

We'll also sell merch. Here is part of a poster (details on where to buy it will follow):

The complete poster will be a detailed cityscape with lots of details ...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mayday Mayday! Traveller RPG Day 2020 - Part 16 - The Crew

Cyborg Prime - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 02:15

The eighth and final live Traveller player panel for Mayday Traveller RPG Day 2020.  The Crew discusses more Traveller character backstories.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mayday Mayday! Traveller RPG Day 2020 - Part 15 - Marc Miller

Cyborg Prime - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 02:04

The eighth Interview for Mayday Traveller RPG Day 2020 is Marc MIller of Far Future Enterprises.  We discuss the origins of Traveller with the creator himself!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mayday Mayday! Traveller RPG Day 2020 - Part 14 - The Crew

Cyborg Prime - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 01:25

The seventh live Traveller player panel for Mayday Traveller RPG Day 2020.  The Crew discusses more Traveller character backstories.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mayday Mayday! Traveller RPG Day 2020 - Part 13 - Matthew Sprange

Cyborg Prime - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 01:19

The seventh Interview for Mayday Traveller RPG Day 2020 is Matthew Sprange of Mongoose Publishing.  We discuss the origins of Mongoose and the Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mayday Mayday! Traveller RPG Day 2020 - Part 12 - The Crew

Cyborg Prime - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 01:11

The sixth live Traveller player panel for Mayday Traveller RPG Day 2020.  The Crew discusses more Traveller character backstories.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mayday Mayday! Traveller RPG Day 2020 - Part 11 - Mike Leonard

Cyborg Prime - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 01:00

The sixth Interview for Mayday Traveller RPG Day 2020 is Mike Leonard of El Cheapo Products.  We discuss Traveller RPG Paper Minis, starship deck plans, and other great sci-fi expansions.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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