Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Solar Trek: The Orion Syndicate

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 01/14/2019 - 12:00
This is an expansion of this post.

The Orion Syndicate is transnational criminal organization involved cybercrime, money laundering, piracy, drug and weapons trafficking, and the slave trade. It originated in the Orion Colonies of the Belt (a loose association of libertarian ultra-capitalists of unclear origins), but the current center of its operations, to the extent such a diffuse organization has one, is believed to be in the Jovian Trojans.

The Syndicate are perhaps most infamous for their traffic in artificial humanoids. Their "Greens" (named for their green skin-tones) came to the attention of Federation authorities in 2250. Greens are promoted as having heightened sexual appetites and intoxicating pheromones. What is not mentioned by the Syndicate is that the conditions of their accelerated growth and training often lead to violent responses and animalistic behavior.

Despite the remoteness of their base of operation, operatives and associates of the Syndicate are involved in smuggling, hijacking, and hostage taking in the high traffic regions of Earth orbit. Syndicate associated hackers are all concentrated in this region.

While the Orion Colonies are officially neutral, the Syndicate's haven is likely protected by the Klingon Empire who may employ in them cyber-espionage against the Federation.

Treachery Isle

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 01/14/2019 - 07:16

By Kingtycoon Methuselah
Game of the North
OSR (LotFP?)
Level 4-5?

Nothing is what it seems and no one can be trusted on Cormorant Isle!  And yet you find that you must rely on dangerous strangers if you hope to leave the Isle alive.  Who are these tricksters and what is the secret that they will kill to keep hidden?

This 73 page adventure contains about ten adventure locales on an shipwreck island, each with about ten or so locations. Imaginative, this thing is VERY hard to decipher. Fonts, layout, rules, phrasing … I actually had a very real headache after the first two pages. I’m going to count this one as a ‘Failure to Review’ … I just don’t think I got it.

I usually review an electronic copy. This one I had to resort to printing out, which yields something a little easier on the eyes. As I noted, it gives me a headache. The format is three-column. The read-aloud font is a kind of dark magenta or brown, with a grey background, in italics.  There are weird section breaks that are not obvious. You’ll be reading a paragraph and the words will just stop mid-sentence. That’s your clue that the section below is a major new section break and you should continue reading from the top of the next column to finish the paragraph you are in … an invisible section break. Except when there actually IS a formatting error and the paragraph just ends WITHOUT it continuing in another column. “The heretic has “ … clearly is meant to convey something, but it just stops right there. The tables presented look like screenshots, with a font, background, color that over the line on readability. You CAN make it out, but for your eye health you should not.  This 24 pages of the adventure, proper, actually failed to print the first time I tried. There is something STRANGE going on, none of which lends a hand to comprehension … at the table or not.

The game system is … not mentioned? “OSR.” A scale walls test is mentioned as a “d6 scale walls test.” Like, that’s the check, as in game system, or you need to make d6 attempts at a check? Other sections reference Search result 1, search result 2, search result 3, and so on.  I have no idea. Things kind of LOOK like D&D. Each NPC and creature gets their own full page character sheet (with something called “Primary Mode” with a symbol in it?) and a “Phys/Men” trail score … but it also has HP, AC, HD, Mv, Init and so on. I just … I don’t know …

The writing is … abstracted? Obtuse? Both? Your ship needs provisions, there’s an island ahead. Through the spyglass you see a battle taking place on the beach. Three ships are burning. You see the last combatant drowning the second to last under the waves.

Huh? Battle between who? The people on the ship? There’s no detail, in the read-aloud or DM notes, of what the fuck just happened, or enough context to infer. This lack of context to infer what is going on is a major, major issue throughout the adventure.

This is in spite of a summary, which comes at the end of the keyed encounters on page 25 or so, that tells the referee what is going on. I note that reading that summary sheds VERY little light on the goings on.

Did I mention that there’s an Exquisite Corpse label on a Lulu product? My eyebrows are raised.

“But Bryce, you haven’t actually reviewed the adventure yet!” Correct. There’s a witch, riding a giant sword, over a beach throwing fireballs to set ships on fire. There’s an illusion of a bonfire. It’s also a teleporter to other, REAL fires. Uh, there are knights, and places, and some Lashan, and a witch and … I have no fucking clue what is going on in this adventure.

I fail. The weekend is coming. I’m going to try again.

Ok, weekend over. Tuesday now. I’ve been through the adventure three more times and feel that I now grasp it, although I’m not sure enough to run it.

Your ship needs provisions so you land on the island, seeing the end of a battle of knights, one drowning another in the surf. Landing, there’s recruitment attempt by the knight to his cause. His group (they have a camp farther in) is here to find and rescue a woman, kept by another group of knights. There’s a small castle that you and they can rush. (From this point out they serve as a kind of greek chorus, getting killed, etc as you explore the island.) You could, also, join up with the other group of knights or do something else … at least that’s what the text tells us, although its not exactly well supported. Somewhere in this the islands witch shows up and burns down your ship, trapping you. From the castle, ruined and full of bodies, you see a tower. Exploring the tower lets you see four other areas, each with some tie to an element. Getting through those MIGHT get off the island. Along the way is a kind of animalistic dragon with mimcry in a lava cave, some leshen, children in masks (another chous, or a sorts, maybe) the witch, and so on.

It’s got strong allegorical ties then most adventures (ie: >0) and some great language in it. Buried behind text that is THICK to get through. A highlighter won’t work in this one.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $7. The preview is six pages. The last four pages show the first encounter sections. I encourage you to TRY and read page three.

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5150 Bugs Outbreak - Part 3

Two Hour Wargames - Sun, 01/13/2019 - 21:08
Bugs AAR Part Two

The Bugs are out and about and that means that from now on, Civilians could be Bug Brained! These battered persons have a wild and crazed look. They are crazy and are unpredictable,
but will always behave aggressively. This could be a fierce charge into melee or  a stunning mental blast.

Part 4

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OSR Commentary - The Luz Dossier - A Paler Shade & Echo of Greyhawk - Campaign Notes

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 01/13/2019 - 19:02
"In the Yatil Mountains south of Perrenland there is rumored to be a magical hoard of unsurpassed value, a treasure of such fame that scores f adventurers have perished in search of it. Find the perilous Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and you may gain the hidden wealth of the long-dead arch-mage -- if you live!"There are certain modules that I've been obsessed with for years & S4 The Lost Caverns Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

What Ho!

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 01/13/2019 - 15:00

You've waited for it, and now it has finally arrived in soft cover. The fourth publication set in the richly drawn, a little bit Slavic, a little bit Vancian, all old school D&D, Hill Cantons settings: What Ho, Frog Demons! Even if you have the pdf, you'll no doubt want this handsome volume on your shelf.

What Ho has two shorter adventure sites, an overview of Marlinko Canton where this and the other publications have take place, and supporting tools like random village and frog demon generators. It's written by Chris Kutalik (owner-operator of the Hill Cantons campaign) and features art by fan-favorite Luka "Witchburner" Rejec.

Reserve your copy today!

(5e) Crimson Harvest

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 01/12/2019 - 19:19
By Andy Tam Self Published 5e Level 4

… The agricultural exports that once brought it wealth and decadence has since all but withered to naught. A group of intrepid adventurers has taken on the task the escort a vital cache of grains to the ailing town, but what seem to be a simple run-of-the-mill escort job takes a sinister turn for the worse. Ultimately embroiling all involved into a spiral of decay and madness…

This 58 page adventure features a cult in a village and about sixty locations in the manor home/dungeon.There are hints of an adventure in this, but it’s written like a linear plot based thing rather than a normal adventure. The benefit of the doubt would seem to indicate a lack of understanding of how to design a non-linear adventure.

Digging around on DMGuild, I was struck that everything there is either A) not an adventure, B) Some AL nonsense, C) Connected to the latest book. I went out of my way to find something relatively independent and came to this. The baddie here is a Warlock, in service to her patron. Nice! Reminds me of the days when druids were baddies. There’s also a civil war going on, with the village in question being majorly impacted. Muddy fields, bodies face down in the dirt, spilled blood, starving and desperate people … that’s pretty cool. I mean, it’s just gonna be used as a throwaway once this adventure is over, but what if it weren’t? Nice campaign regional.

This thing also tries. It’s got an encounter on the way to the village with an old woman trader doing some profiteering, a source of information, who also steals from the party at night. And it tries to add atmosphere, mostly by having a section at the start called “Atmosphere” with some bullet point ideas. And the entire concept of a village, starving during a civil war making civil hands unclean, desperate people, bodies down in the mud, a good ol’ hanging tree ala Witcher 3 (who also tried and failed at wartime) … ah, warms my DM heart. As does a certain brevity in combat encounters; only a few sentences each, on average!

Oh, and then there’s this bit right up near the top of the adventure, one of the few few words …

“Crimson Harvest is a dark fantasy story presented in the form of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure …”

Ok, no, it’s not as bad as those words would imply. But, man, seeing that can cause your heart to shudder.

The hook has the baddies luring the party to town. Lure adventure suck. They are right up there with Challenge/Test adventures. Then the guy who hires you will commit suicide rather than be captured, if you attack him. This is not going well. Really? He kills himself? He’s bought in that deep? And still passes for normal, enough to put one over on the party? Just let the fucking party capture him, who cares? Besides, the hooks are all lame anyway. Hired or assigned a mission or Yet Another Missing Loved One. My next PC is going to home from an extended close-knit family of about 600 relatives, just to mock all these lame ass Loved One hooks.

The read aloud is extensive. Extensive read-aloud should never be included. Can I say that categorically? Are there exceptions? I don’t know. But it’s close enough to the truth to say it categorically. Plus, it waxes poetic and flowery and presumes to tell you your character’s actions and feelings. Find some vials? The read aloud tells you open them and sniff. Uh huh.

And that atmosphere that I mentioned had bullets? It’s mostly generalized and abstracted, giving you little concrete or inspiring to work with.

But that’s all minor nits compared to the major failures, on two key points. First, it fails utterly in some pretty basic design issues. Like it wants to split the party. This is a fucking disaster for DM’s, because it ALWAYS leaves a group of your players bored and disengaged. The only way this works is if have the ability to regroup almost immediately, and that don’t happen here. It also REALLY hates maps. Which is to say it loves them too much, in the wrong way. Clearly someone put some effort in to making battlemaps for everything, nice and colorful and detailed. But the main DM map is a zoomed out version, hard to read. And basic information like “how many villagers attack the party in the tavern?” are left unanswered because the information is not in the text OR on the map, as the adventure indicates it should be. So you can’t run it, by design, unless you use the battle maps which tell you the enemy count and location … and then the information isn’t on the maps? And, if it IS there, and I missed it, then it’s not clear enough. There’s this weird abstraction of detail, like in a tower with a boy. There’s no map, I think, but the locations are numbered like there is one. But they are weird, like #1 is  painting and #2 are the aforementioned glass vials and #3 is a chest, like there’s a map somewhere of a big room with numbers on it. Feel free to stretch your legs and try new things in design, but you should also make sure they work.

The second major issues is the entire adventure. Or, rather, how it designed. It’s clear that the designer is going for a kind of open ended sort of thing, something akin to a sandbox/independent location that the party find themselves in. But I don’t think they know how to do it.

There’s a strong bend to the writing that is linear and plot based. This then this and then this … not quite that but about as close and you can without having scenes. The militia, as cult members, are stationed outside the manor home to keep the party out. There’s a strong element of capturing the party or directing them to certain hidden entrances. If this adventure is The Wicker Man then everyone in the village is right on the edge of clubbing the party over the head. It doesn’t come off as much as a village with a problem but rather a kind of armed camp ready to assault the party, turning the adventure in to a hack fest almost immediately. The maps have a strong linear dungeon bend to them rather than presenting the place as a “normal” manor house. Look, I hate simulationist stuff as much as I hate linear stuff, but this is clearly close to the plot side of the spectrum, too much for its own good.

Getting out of the 5e echo chamber and seeing examples of good adventures would go a long way to helping the designers next effort. Pruning back the prescriptive writing elements and either returning to traditional map/key or putting more work in to the color battle maps actually helping the DM.

This is $3 at DMsguild. There’s no preview. Andy, go create a preview that shows a few encounters so people know what they are buying!

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The Umpleby's Net

Roles & Rules - Sat, 01/12/2019 - 18:11
A 2nd Edition Umpleby.Among the curious, little-used, and often-derided B-list of the AD&D Fiend Folio, there is a monster called the Umpleby that is tall, hairy, friendly up to a point, and can put a real hurting on you with ... static electricity from its shaggy pelt. It appeared in somewhat rough form in the source material, White Dwarf magazine's Fiend Factory (exhibit A below) and got a clearer set of rules and rulings in the Fiend Folio itself, including more detail given to its hair net weapon (exhibit B).

No relation.The Umpleby is one of the lesser known Fiend Folio contributions that poses a weird, specific challenge, like the Aleax, Meenlocks, and so forth. It has a little bit of the mess-with-you factor from grudge monsters like the Zorbo or Disenchanter. In the editions since then, it has sometimes gotten dragged out of the attic for sheer obscurity cachet, like the Flumph but more underground. A long time ago here, I dragged it out as an example of a bad monster.

And where on earth does that name come from? Is it just a coincidence that one Stuart Umpleby was the co-founder of an early communication network -- NET-work -- in the 1970's, that used an instructional computer system called PLATO? A network that eventually failed to join up with the Internet like like ARPANET did, and almost got canned by Nixon for hosting calls for his impeachment? Is it coincidence that PLATO's terminals glowed orange? If true, this has to be one of the most obscure current events references in all of D&D. If Stephen Wood's not around to comment, perhaps a mystery forevermore.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Future that was promised

Bat in the Attic - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 18:27
Look like we are going to get part of the future that science fiction said we would get. It not a rendering but an actual test article that will do VTOL tests in SpaceX's Texas launch facility.

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Scrum Con Feb 2019

Zenopus Archives - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 15:44

If you'll be in the Washington DC or Baltimore area in mid-February I'll be running a game at Scrum Con, a new gameday/mini-con in College Park, Maryland on Feb 16. My game is the In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus (formerly known as Return to the Tower of Zenopus), the same scenario I ran at North Texas RPG Con last June and will also be running at Gary Con this March. My game is scheduled from 10-2 and there are currently 2 seats left out of 8.
As a reminder, here is the description for my game:Forty years ago adventurers first braved the dungeon under the ruined tower of the wizard Zenopus. Fearsome monsters were overcome and fabulous treasure was recovered, but eventually the stairway leading down to the dangerous passages was bricked over by order of Lady Lemunda, current ruler of prosperous Portown, and new buildings rose in the area. However, Murray the Magic-user has located a previously unknown means of entry to the old dungeons and has gathered you all in hopes of finding the legendary brazen head of Zenopus, a mask reputed to have the power of speech. Meet at the Green Dragon Inn and adventure as Boinger, Zereth, Murray, or another character from J. Eric Holmes' stories. This adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Holmes Basic D&D set.
Registration for badges and events is open at Tabletop Events and the cost is only $8 for the day, which includes two game sessions from 10-2 and 3:30-7:30. The available games are an equal mix of RPGs and wargames. Other RPGs with seats still available include Call of Cthulhu, a Star Trek/Dead Space Mashup, and Stonehell. Special Guest Zeb Cook is running a Return to the Isle of Dread session, although the seats for that are full.
More details can be found on the Tabletop Events page for the con.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Solar Trek: An Alternate Star Trek Setting

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 13:29

Bold proposal: Take the "stars" out of Star Trek. Make it a hard(ish) sci-fi alternate history setting taking place within our solar system. Yes, this would lose some of the mission statement of the voice over intro, but it would actually put it in line with Roddenberry's pitch noting similarities to Wagon Train and Horatio Hornblower (spoiler: neither series featured journeys to other worlds.). In modern high concept terms we could think of it as The Expanse meets Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

So, there would have been genetic supermen in the 90s, leading to advances in spaceflight technology unencumbered by democratic concerns. The supermen dictators would have sent out space probes, maybe even began colonies. (One of these expeditions would start the terraforming of Mars. Their colony of genetically modified individuals would centuries later provide the famous half-Martian first officer, Spock.) As the post-Eugenics War chaos ushered in World War III, some would flee the Earth to set up settlements elsewhere.

In the 23rd Century, some of these farflung colonies and societies are only now being re-contacted. Some have grown strange in isolation. Other have grown into military powers in their own right, like the bellicose totalitarian state lurking around Jupiter's moons, the Klingons, or the mysterious Romulans of the cold depths of beyond Uranus.

The solar system could be updated to modern science, or it might conform to the state of knowledge in the late 60s when Star Trek debuted. I suppose one could push in back even to the 50s science of Asimov's Lucky Starr series, if you just needed Venus with an ocean. Science fiction's knack in the era for coming up with creative ways life could be almost everywhere might prove instructive.

On the Top Ten Sandbox Locations.

Hack & Slash - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 13:00
You're in a D&D sandbox, you look around and find:

10. A giant rock carved like a skull. Cultists are rumored to lair there, and at night, sometimes the eyes glow as if it is possessed (or more likely that torchlight is reflected). Perhaps there are many levels of this dark place below.
9. A wizard's tower where strange lights and sounds emanate from realms beyond. Not many people would risk their souls in a wizards tower.
8. Rumors of great treasure and a hidden artifact are said to lie under caverns in the nearby hills. None who have survived the search have been successful.
7. A chateau is the home of a quite dysfunctional royal family with such wealth and power!
6. An old house, upon a hill. It's said to be haunted, those are just childrens tales. Yet people have gone missing and there are sometimes mysterious comings and goings.
5. A castle, ran by a reclusive old man. Rumors swirl about demons and blood magic being performed, but who can tell these days?
4. The ancient and hidden tomb of a malign creature. Those who have found it and returned, speak of death and horrible traps and mysteries.
3. In the nearby foothills are large buildings, several of them, of primitive make. Sometimes, if you watch, you can see a large shadow of some creature. Trolls or giants perhaps, surely. You've heard of the raids nearby.
2. A ruined moathouse, falling apart. Be careful of the large toads and collapsed roofs.
1. A small keep, with good folk, an amusing village idiot, and a respectable brick wall. It's also possible their ale is both well-brewed and affordable. They also are rather fond of folks, who happen to be of a certain sort of miscreant or wanderer. There's surely a cleric around, but I wouldn't trust him.

This list, along with any of these three hexes from ChicagoWiz, and you got yourself a game, ready to run.

If you think I'm a good writer, reward me yeah? You get rewarded yourself! You don't only get the feeling of doing something nice, you get some neat stuff, like discord roles and high def art.

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More OSR Drama, Compromise, & Commentary - The Apocalypse Agenda & The Dungeon Master's Hidden Campaign Agenda

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 04:46
I've been gone for the day with sewing machine repair work & I've had to put the upcoming campaign on hold. I've been talking with my Steve's players via email & things have been moving along with an upcoming Castles & Crusades rpg campaign. Things are moving but I've slowed down because I started going over my old AD&D/B/X campaign notes. I want to use those notes for my C&C campaign. Needles
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Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 2 - Sketch Card Previews, Part 6

Cryptozoic - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 21:56

Please enjoy the sixth preview of Sketch Cards from our artists. Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 2 are coming soon! Links to contact the artists can be found below the images of their work.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part IV)

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 14:00
Robber’s Bridge Concept Map by D. Koch

Check out this amazing concept map from Mordite Press developer D. Koch! This is really starting to come together!

If you’re new to this series, we’re collaboratively developing a short Torchbearer adventure.

If you need to catch up:

In our last installment, we nailed down some details about our adventure location, what treasures might draw the PCs to the location, why that treasure hasn’t been plundered yet and who currently inhabits the adventure location. Check Part III for the details.

I also asked you to supply your thoughts on how the current inhabitants have altered the location and what traps or terrain features could give the PCs trouble. There were only a few responses, but they were great. We’re going to go over them next week. If you have additional ideas, there’s still time, so don’t hesitate to share your thoughts below.

The Scale of the Map

Before we get to that, though, I want to consider the map for a bit. Looking at the image of the bridge itself, a few things leap out to me.

First, I think I want the break in the bridge between the Gate House and the Middle Tower to be a bit larger — enough to make it clear that the break makes the bridge useless. It may be that we just need to give the reader a sense of scale. If that’s the case, we don’t need to change the image at all, we just need to add a scale to the key. What do you think?

Second, I’m thinking about the ruined Toll Gate in the south. D. Koch elected to make that tower ruins so we could focus on just one tower and keep the adventure area smaller. I’m 100 percent on board with the intent, but there are some kinks, setting history-wise, that we need to work out.

A Little Middarmark History

Just to get you oriented: Vanskrdal (now known as the Gottmark following the Gott conquest) is to the north2See Vanskrdal, Middarmark, page 23. It owes allegiance to Otkell, warchief of the Gotts3See Otkell, Warchief of the Gott Host, Middarmark, page 30. The Bjorning jarldom of Vargstrond4See Vargstrond, Middarmark, page 23 is to the south of the bridge. It is ruled by Jarl Una the Cat5See Una the Cat, Jarl of Vargstrond, Middarmark, page 23, who owes allegiance to the Bjorning High Queen Astrid6See Astrid Yngesdottir, High Queen of the Middarmark, Middarmark, page 13.

Otkell and the Bjornings are technically at war, but for the past 20 years or so it has been a quiet affair — mostly skirmishes and raids, not the clash of armies. This, by the way, is why the Bjorning raiders have occupied the tower at our adventure location. They’re harassing the Gotts and causing trouble.

Also, we should figure out how the Bjorning raiders are crossing to the northern side to conduct their raids. Do they have a boat or raft nearby? Have they created some sort of structure that allows them to cross the gap, but which could be easily destroyed? What do you think? How do the raiders navigate this problem?

Why Is the Southern Tollgate in Ruins?

Back to the southern Tollgate. So here’s the thing: The bridge was broken by dwarven mercenaries 20 years ago during the initial Gott invasion. They did it to prevent the Gott cavalry from flooding across the bridge into Vargstrond and continuing the invasion. It was one of the major factors in halting immediate hostilities.

It makes sense to me that the Gatehouse at the northern end of the bridge was ruined in the assault. However! The fighting wouldn’t have reached the Tollgate at the southern end of the bridge. That means the Tollgate couldn’t have been destroyed in that war.

That doesn’t mean the Tollgate can’t be in ruins! We’ve already established that the Bjornings don’t have the engineering knowledge required to repair a structure like this. So, the question becomes: What happened in the past that led to the destruction of the Tollgate? Why didn’t it affect the Middle Tower?

We can use this to establish something new in the setting that the players can discover while adventuring here. Maybe it was destroyed by Ofnir the Black Wyrm7See Ofnir’s Lair, Middarmark, page 32; one of the depredations that led Bjornar the Grim to confront the dragon8See The Death of Bjornar the Grim, Middarmark, page 7? Maybe another monster entirely? Or maybe it was the result of some conflict between the Sakki and the Grælings? Or between the Sakki and the Skyrnir? A natural disaster? What do you think it was and what cool thing might the players discover or learn here? What evidence and effects of the event would someone see? It could lead to another adventure entirely.

Also, did the Bjornings erect some sort of wooden structure there in its place? Is it still there? Has it rotted away? What does that mean for reaching the Middle Tower from the southern end of the bridge?

The Secret Bit

Finally, somewhere in the Middle Tower we need some sort of secret or hidden entrance that grants access to the lower part of the tower and the underwater passage to the Nykr’s prison. What does that look like? How is it hidden? How does it work?

Do you have any other thoughts on the map? Any changes or additions you would make? For instance, I think at the bridge level the tower needs a passageway with a portcullis on either side and a ceiling covered in murder holes. I think that also means we need a stairway on the outside of the southern side of the Middle Tower that provides access from the bridge to the first floor of the tower. Comment below!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On The Thursday Trick: Underground Hazards

Hack & Slash - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 13:00
Underground Hazards (Category: Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: Mechanical: Proximity
Mechanical: Light Detection
Mechanical: Interaction

Effects: Multiple Targets

Save: VariesDuration:Varies

Resets: AutomaticBypass: None (Avoid)
Description: The Sub-world is not like the world above!

Dungeons aren't supermarkets and there are dangers that exist only beneath the world. What features can be used to create interesting organic underground spaces?

Accidents and falling. This is interesting, because this hazard must be applied and telegraphed before used. Environments underground are not always smooth and level. This is naturally taken into account in every version of Dungeons and Dragons by the movement rate. It is bad form to punish your players beyond that for the underground and cramped movement space.

But that doesn't mean you can't use uneven ground. You just have to clearly communicate to the players where it is and under what conditions it applies. You can say "This ground is uneven enough that if you wanted to cross it at full speed, you have to make a dexterity check." You can inform the players of unstable ledges that could cause them to fall if they walk along them unless a check is succeeded. It's not that the basic level of these checks should be difficult, but that emergent events in the hazardous environment creates tension, tactical puzzles, and entertainment.

Note how I'm just assuming you would never present any sort of space without a vertical element, right? We're in the future of Star Trek II, where three-dimensional thinking rules.

Another thing that must be considered underground is light. Without a light source, movement becomes more hazardous. Stating that any movement out of bright light requires a balance or dexterity check can create an environment that feels hostile, held back by the characters light. This is extremely compelling, because it psychologically mirrors the activities during the game. They are exploring the literal unknown dark, and straying from their light is dangerous.

Again, not in every environment, and not by surprise. Variety is the spice of life.

Rockfall. Man, rocks fall from space under the open sky. You can sure bet they fall underground. Have a talk with your miners and dwarves about the stability of the underground areas. Some might be very stable. Some might cause rockfall due to the use of some sonic or thunder damage. Some might be so unstable simply passing through the room is dangerous. This should be another factor in underground environments that reward characters for playing dwarves or taking the appropriate skills.

Dehydration and Exhaustion. When Dungeons and Dragons was a more focused game about exploring dungeons, there were explicit rules to handle these.
RESTING: After moving for 5 turns, the party must rest for 1 turn. One turn in 6 (one each hour of the adventure) must be spent resting. If the characters do not rest, they have a penalty of -1 on all "to hit" and damage rolls until they do rest. Pretty straightforward. Adventures are heady stuff.

Flooding. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single cave, in possession of adventures and near a large body of water, must be in want of a flood. They know it's coming before it happens. Water dripping from the ceiling, deep roaring noises, slick walls covered in algae. Often the best way for flooding to work, is to have it be a triggable factor in the environment. You're underground. The cave is multi level. Popping the pimple of the water will change that environment, depending on the situation, to the monsters advantage or yours.

Becoming lost is too large a topic to cover here. Disease is also a serious hazard, but is its own topic.

Detection/Disarming: Falling and balance hazards just must be full stop presented to the players. They literally function as hazardous zones. By their nature and how humans deal with movement, we can easily tell the stability of an area and our capacity to cross it. (As you would well know if you ever walked through the woods and crossed a stream). The thing is, even if we don't know how dangerous it is, we can almost always tell that it is some degree of dangerous. Of course you can make an argument that there might be some hidden danger, but we are playing a game and designing an encounter. Putting in a "F&%k you, you're prone/take x damage" isn't fun, or particularly game like. It's not a choice, it's a tax.

Rockfall. Anyone with the appropriate skill or background should absolutely be able to tell what's going on mechanically here. If they ask. When presenting rooms with rockfall, make sure you note what's on the floor. Dust, small stones, loose rocks, a boulder, spiderweb divots and cracks in the ground. If it is a rock fall area, then rocks fall. Before entering any area where it's stable unless shatters or fireballs start going off, dwarves and characters should have a  handwaved check to determine if that is the case. It's more interesting for the game if the know the consequences of using loud, damaging, area of effect spells.

Flooding. Players are going to shrug their shoulders and move ahead when you give them clues that the cavern will flood. They will say, "Well, I've got to go on the adventure!" They will often feel that they have no control over when you will flood the cave. So it's important to present it clearly to the player so they understand the dynamic. Is it a dangerous area with the risk of instant death, not only from crushing damage, but needing a way to breath water? Will it wash the characters away? Will it destroy the temple? If you're using as part of a load-bearing boss, then it really doesn't matter, right? To make it interesting in the game, the players have to understand the threat, and you should be able to communicate it to them, so they can make meaningful decisions.

This post might be more useful than the entire Dungeoneers Survival Guide. If you liked it, and you'd like to see more monthly posts, please consider joining our hierarchy on Patreon for special Discord roles!

The Tricks and Traps series examines original and classic traps discussing how to present the traps while maintaining the agency of the players. A complete list of sources and inspiration may be found here. The Tricks and Traps Index page contains a complete listing of all the tricks and traps on this site, or you may browse by tags.
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: The Pulp Core of Trek

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 12:00
I was once again talking about how I might run a slightly alternate ST:TOS game with fellow fan, Jason Sholtis, the other day, which reminded me of this post from 2012...

While I've enjoyed all the Trek series (well, maybe not Voyager) to one degree or another, my favorite has always been the original. It's very much of it's era which gives it a cool design sense and adapts a lot of Golden Age and pulp science fiction elements. The "core canon" for my game would be the original series.

(As an aside, I'd say that a lot of later accretions on the Trek universe have served to downplay the old school science fiction feel. Genetic supermen and a interplanetary sleeper ship coming from the 1990s does not suggest the 20th century history of space travel in Trek played out like it did in our history, but rather more like the imaginings of Werner von Braun and Willy Ley.)

I mean, what would Trek be without Rigel II cabaret dancers?

I wouldn't leave it there, though. The now-noncanonical animated series adds the Kzinti (among other stuff) to the mix. Got to have these guys:

James Blish's novelizations of the original episodes give them a subtle sci-fi lit spin: I think Trek is better with a mysterious Vegan (VAY-gan, alright?) Tyranny in it's past than without it. Always early fan documents add a lot of stuff. The Starfleet Officer's Manual and Star Trek Maps are definitely in--as are parts of the totally out there on its on but well illustrated Spaceflight Chronology.

OSR Commentary & Review Meat In A Tavern By Matt Finch - A Jordoba Campaign Introductory Adventure For The Swords & Wizardry Retroclone System

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 17:55
"Meat in a Tavern takes place below the Happy Ending Tavern (also known as the Sign of the Cleaver), in the Grim Quarter of the City of Jordoba — or any fantasy city you might choose. The Grim Quarter is essentially a holding-pen type of neighborhood for the city’s most dangerous residents, the ones allowed to live here for their skills or strength, but only to reside within the walls of theNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Comixology Unlimited

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:00

DC Comics has joined Marvel (and a number of indies) on Comixology Unlimited. There are currently 52 (huh?) DC titles available along with the other stuff for $5.99/month. It's not a lot, and it's mostly newer stuff, but hopefully that's just where they are starting. It might be the excuse I needed to finally go with Comixology Unlimited, but we'll see.

In other news, after a bit of holiday, I'm getting ready to return to the adventures of Storm. You might want to refresh yourself on the last story, "The Living Planet" to get ready.

Behind the Walls

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 07:14
  • By John Large
  • Monkeyblood Design
  • Swords & Wizardry
  • Levels 1-4

Ebeneezer Garbett, a local farmer from the mushroom-filled valley village of Otterdale, returned to the hamlet with tales of riches he had found. Now, no-one has seen him since, and he villagers are becoming ill with a strange fungal infection.

This 49 page adventure has the party getting to trouble with a fungus creature in a small village. A good overview and some evocative writing is buried in text that could use some better organization to tighten up the important bits to make them stand out. A nice open-ended adventure, small, but with repercussions ala LotFP.

John hangs out at reddicediaries, his blog, and published Murder Knights of Corvendark, a nice weird little adventure that needed a bit more. This adventure feels smaller and more intimate, in spite of the page count. Set in his Miderlands, a kind of England-ish setting, this one one is right on the border with his version of Scotland. Some farmer found some Goman gold after some heavy rain, now he’s disappeared, people are dying from a sickness, and an adventuring company (! Not adventurers! A company! I love the nod to mercenary that makes this more dirt-farmer than the magical ren-faire connotations that Adventurer has!) that looked in to the coins has disappeared.

Certain elements of this harken back to The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with a fungus creature, interconnected colony creatures, and some explicit notes to make it more Pod Person like. It’s not overdone and it related to Thing and Body Snatchers in the way that they are folklore; not really gonzo explicit but more remembrances of a theme that influences how you, as DM or player, relate to the content. That’s the kind of stuff I like, the leveraging of other themes or content to bring more than the writing itself does.

The ending of this has, probably, the giant fungus creature dragging itself up from its small underground vault and heading toward the village, probably caused by or at least witnessed by the party. This feels like an adventure climax without it feeling forced, and it a kind of gentler LotFP apocalyptic ending if the creature escapes. This harkens back to Rients and his Broodmother advice or really fucking up your campaign world, and the explicit advice (in a paragraph) handles the guidelines on the greater world well if the party Oops it up. Plague masks, movements of people to drier areas less likely to fungus up … it’s good imagery.

And there’s a decent amount of good imagery in this combined with JUST enough nods to realism that it feels real, without slipping in to simulationist nonsense. The rumor tables are in voice, which adds richness to the NPC’s. There’s a feast getting ready to go off in the village, in celebration of the new found wealth flowing in from the farmer and adventuring company. A locale of humid mists, lanterns during the day, a valley alive with encounters. Tendrils growing through a door to the creature on the other side and ancient metal weapons missing their wood … it having been absorbed by the fungus creature. A little adventure overview in the beginning kind of ties everything together and orients the D on what’s to come. The fungus creature has bits of bone, gold, skulls, etc visible on its surface as it attacks while its minions try to infect rather than kill. A richness of detail in combat AND outside of combat.

But …

The art and maps, while well done from an imagery standpoint, suffer from usability issues .. .mainly the numbered locations fading in to the map. Pretty map, but I don’t want to fight it to find the numbers.

I can also complain about several smaller things. A location, seen from far off, isn’t really dealt with until you’re right up on it. ANY time the party is outside the designer needs to pay attention to what they see in the distance. It’s that Fallout 4 thin of seeing a red glow in the night that draws you to go explore there. “Oh, uh, yeah, I know it’s night and everything, but, everything is on fire.” Well, how about telling us that as we approach  instead of hiding it in the room 3 description? [That’s not an example from this adventure. In this one I’m talking about a prominent jagged outcropping that isn’t dealt with, well, from a visibility standpoint until your on top of it.] Further, the main farmstead is covered in two separate description locations in different parts of the book, NPC cross-references are haphazard, at best, and an NPC summary sheet, with location, personality, sickness, etc, is sorely missing. The investigation portion is largely social, and social adventures need different resources than room/key exploration adventure sections. The wanderers could really use some personality also. They are a cut above minimal, but not by much. A little personality in the NPC or situations would bring them to life.

It’s also very weird that the fungus is mentioned, in one place, as being highly flammable, but fire is not mentioned as a weapon against the fungus creature or its minions.

The major flaw, though, and what keeps this from a Best Of list, is the mixing of interesting details in to long text blocks. There are some great details in this but they are lost in the text presented. The descriptions and flavor are rich and, while not Failed Novelist long, picking up the pertinent details out of the text blocks is is not easy. The mist in the valley. The mold and mushrooms everywhere. The lamps lit in the day … these deserve bullet points or bolding in their paragraphs. The idea is that the DM reads it once before play and then, during play their attention is drawn to the bullets or bolding and they say “oh, yeah, that thing …” and they include it in their description to the players. This happens over and over again. I would say that it has the scenes set well, for the initial read through, but doesn’t support the DM well, at all, during actual play. Bolding, bullets, summary sheets. What do I, the DM, need RIGHT NOW as I’m running it, and can I find it easy?

This is $5 at DriveThru. The only preview is a “Quick” one, meaning you don’t get a chance to see the content at all, just a hint of the (quite nice) layout. [And rare shout out by me to the person who did the interior layout and art. I know nothing about thatshit, but it looks nice.]

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Drama, Compromise, & Commentary - Gods, Monsters, & The Dungeon Master

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 19:22
This morning I got a phone call I was dreading. Over the last twenty four hours there's been some descent in Steve's group of players over if they want to continue on Clark Ashton Smith's  Zothique using the Siege Engine system by Troll Lord Games or try Sine Nomine Pubblishing's game Godbound rpg. Now I've been reading over the last twenty four hours I've been reading Godbound & it reads Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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