Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Five Ways To Screw With Bards In Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 15:54
I have it in for one particular PC class in any edition, retroclone or incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons or Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. That is the Swiss Army knife of classes 'the bard'. Why? 'Because they're pretty-good at everything, and not great at anything' & that pretty much comes into play across editions. You can find a pretty good thread on Giants in the Playground forum here. Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Lost Mine of Phandelver (2014): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 3

DM David - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 11:15

Lost Mine of Phandelver (2014) is fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Richard Baker and Chris Perkins for levels 1-5.

Adventures created to introduce new dungeon masters to D&D must be simple to run. Sunless Citadel offered DMs an easy recipe by sticking to the dungeon, but Lost Mine of Phandelver brings a more ambitious design and succeeds brilliantly. The adventure rates so highly because it allows players freedom to roam while offering enough structure and guidance to ensure that a new DM succeeds.

For new players, the adventure serves D&D’s expected and favorite ingredients. To longtime fans like Mike “Sly Florish” Shea, the elements may be familiar, but superb execution makes the adventure a winner. “Even years after its release, Phandelver remains one of the most popular D&D adventures for 5e and is my personal favorite.”

The adventure takes place in and around the town of Phandalin. This setting introduces more of D&D than a dungeon crawl can offer. Alex Lucard describes the scope. “There’s a mix of straightforward dungeon crawls, fetch quests and even sandbox-style mini-adventures, so DMs and players alike get a sampling of various adventure tropes. It’s very well done!”

Merric Blackman explains the design. “Phandelver has a directed storyline, where you’re investigating the kidnapping of a dwarf and the secret of the Lost Mine of Phandelver, and a sandbox feel where many of the characters you meet have their own goals and can send you on missions not directly related to the main quest. This isn’t a linear quest: after the initial encounter, you can choose which way to proceed through the storyline. There’s enough clues and direction so that you’ll rarely feel lost.”

The individual encounters invite more approaches than combat, so players get chances to win friends and outsmart foes.

“Phandelver is a great adventure full of opportunities for you to relax, play loose, and let the story evolve from the choices of the players and the actions of the characters,” writes Mike Shea.

“Overall I have to say Lost Mine of Phandelver is fantastic,” writes Alex Lucard. “Not only is it a great way to introduce new gamers to Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s a very solid campaign in its own right.”

Merric Blackman rates the module this way: “This is an extremely well-designed and well-written adventure. It’s fun to play and run, and offers a lot of scope to the players and DM to make it their own, while still being accessible to newcomers.”

Next: Number 2

Start at 10

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Commentary -B4 The Lost City By Tom Moldvay & The Legacy Of Vengence Of A Sword Dancer named Araa.

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 02:38
There seems to be any number of Dungeons & Dragons & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition purists out there. That's fantastic! The number of people purportedly playing the 'grand game' regardless of edition is up! The 'North West Texas 2019' rpg convention just happened. By all accounts it was a huge success. Congrats to all of the friends that went. I'm really happy that it came off Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] The Forgotten Grottoes of the Sea Lords

Beyond Fomalhaut - Mon, 06/10/2019 - 19:19
Tombs Forgotten Grottoes
of the Sea Kings Lords
The Forgotten Grottoes of the Sea Lords (2019)by Keith SloanPublished by Expeditious Retreat Press6th to 8th level
It all began in 2006 with Advanced Adventures and Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, at least if we define our beginning as “the first commercial module to exploit the Open Gaming License to publish an adventure for a classic D&D edition” (these things are fuzzy because Cairn of the Skeleton King was published around the same time, and solved the license problem by simply sidestepping it). Yet Pod-Caverns was not just the first one through the door, but also a solid demonstration of the old-school aesthetic and adventure design principles. The Advanced Adventures line has had its ups and downs in the 13 years since, and it has faded from the public eye a bit – at least I don’t see it mentioned with the same kind of excitement as the newest Kickstarter money sink. This is a mistake. There is still very good stuff there.
The Forgotten Grottoes of the Sea Lords (any relation to Tomb of the Sea Kings?) has a lot of the same timeless qualities which were found in Pod-Caverns. It fills a niche perfectly, and even helps define it. There are many tombs of this and tower of that, but Forgotten Grottoes is the natural choice if you would like to run an adventure in a series of sea caves (U2 and U3 are close, but a lot more specific). Like Pod-Caverns ran with D&D’s bizarre ooze and fungus monsters, this module mashes together all your favourite sea legends from pirates and sea monsters to fishy cults and buried treasures, and puts them in a big, open-ended dungeon. It is not stuck on a single note, but integrates a lot of them into a place that feels both cohesive and varied.
The Forgotten Grottoes are a large place, beyond the scope of a single expedition. 112 keyed areas are described over two dungeon levels, all in some 13 pages (the rest are supplementary material). Yet nowhere does it feel bare-bones or lacking in some aspect: the adventure has both complex set-piece encounters and small, hidden mysteries; bargaining and combat; puzzles and environmental hazards. Even lesser side-areas receive their due, or offer some odd opportunity for discovery and interaction. There are all kinds of small, clever touches that are hella atmospheric and make for neat mini-puzzles. The dungeon denizens have hung up a few dead seals near one of the entrances, which you can toss into the water to distract a hungry monster. Observing a pattern of repeating bas-reliefs lets you spot the odd outlier, and find a long-forgotten hidden room. Strange and powerful dungeon denizens like a weird bird-sage, a vampiress or a lich can become temporary allies, patrons or dupes (if the players play their cards well).
The number of things to mess with – not to mention the number of ways you can mess with these things – is staggering for a lean booklet. With six ways in and many more routes and level connections to get around, not to mention the strong inter-NPC dynamics, there will always remain an element of the unknown. In the finest traditions of old-school dungeon design, this is a place to explore and plunder, or a fine location to locate your favourite MacGuffin, but its scale and complexity prevent it from being fully explored and solved. You can’t go in and “clean it” – it is a place you organise expeditions into, then get out of before things get too hot. And that’s how it should be: there is always a corner of this dungeon that will make the players wonder – what did we miss there? Fabulous treasures or horrible death?
The balance of old and new material is right. There are well-known (or vaguely familiar) AD&D mainstays, but like the better TSR modules, there is sufficient novelty in terms of new monsters (including some truly horrid crustaceans) and non-standard magic items to keep the players off balance and guessing. Creative thinking will go far here, but there are just as many satisfying opportunities for good, honest hack-and-slash. It is a generous module that rewards the shrewd and the adventurous alike.
The Forgotten Grottoes of the Sea Lords feels a lot like a lost TSR module in style and execution. It maintains a strong identity while remaining broadly usable – if you have seacoasts and pirates in your campaign, it will certainly have a place there. It is the precise kind of “generalist” module which fits most games without sacrificing its distinctive identity. Well worth owning.
Both playtesters and their characters are credited in this adventure.
Rating: **** / *****
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gamers' Notebook Hex Version is Live on Kickstarter

Oubliette - Mon, 06/10/2019 - 18:14
I've just launched a new campaign on Kickstarter to fund a additional print run of our Gamers' Notebooks. This time the notebooks will have 17mm hexes arranged in an 8 across 10 down format on one page, and lines for notes on the facing page.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Building Avremier - Part Six: Colonization

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Mon, 06/10/2019 - 16:04
Continuing from Part Five...

Having nothing against Fantasy Eurasia as a concept, I chose to hie myself West for inspiration. It seemed the road-less-traveled at the time. It felt like the Land of the Free, since no one else was really building there - as far as I knew. At the time, I just wanted to explore a New World.

The Premise: what if colonists came to the New World, clashed with the indigenous peoples they found there, escalated the conflict into full-scale war - and lost.

I imagined humans coming to this entirely new land (for - reasons) and encountering the natives, which happened to be Fae. These first humans were grudgingly welcomed, but not yet trusted. Seeming primitive and ignorant to the human leadership, the Fae were treated much like children. Eventually, things went pear-shaped and descended into conflict. The Fae (being Fae) had deceived the humans far more than the humans had tried to deceive them. Also, the Fae had the native Elementals of the land on their side. In time, the land itself rose up against the invaders. It was how I imagined the colonization of America - if the Native Americans had the spirits of nature to fight for them. Still, the resulting conflict was terrible for both sides and Nature itself was forced to intervene. In the end, the humans lost the war. Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood stories helped set the tone, if not the stage. Once that premise was set, I was free to improvise and fill in the gaps. That required some attention to the landscape - something I'd neglected in my drawings. Maps were one thing, but actual landscapes were evocative in an entirely different way. Enter: Rodney Matthews.

At just the right time in my development, the bold and fantastical landscapes of Rodney Matthews burst into my life. So many possibilities. So much fun.
The gloves were off. My eyes were open wide. I was ready to push the limits of verisimilitude. I wanted to craft a world in my image.

I wanted to give my players encounters that would be memorable - not just for the challenging monsters and glorious rewards, but also for the stunning settings and immersive environments.

Some of the best writing advice I'd received was to "show - not just tell." Take that to heart? Yes I did. I wanted players to feel like they were a part of this world.

So, I listened. And I watched. I encouraged them to question everything. I encouraged them to try anything. I took all of that and incorporated it into my setting framework. A metagaming scaffolding of sorts. Inspired by the players and developed by the DM - to the benefit of all.

I'll explain in the next installment.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

the missing dungeons in literature

Blog of Holding - Mon, 06/10/2019 - 14:40

D&D’s most original addition to fantasy is the dungeon: an underground nightmare maze, a place with alien rules that must be mastered if you are to survive, a place that has no good reason for existing, a place that you explore for its own sake.

In its 45 years, D&D has spawned a video game industry that’s worth more than either the movie or the book industry. Dungeons, dragons, leveling, character classes, and loot drops define video game design space. But books, movies, and TV shows haven’t absorbed much from D&D that wasn’t in Tolkien.

In medieval and modern fantasy literature, you’ll frequently find magic swords, but no magic armor; wizards, but no clerics; and dragons, but no dungeons.

It’s the dungeons I miss.

I’d watch a TV show or read a modern book about people exploring a torchlit, hostile megadungeon: solving puzzles, bashing down doors, fighting strange and terrifying monsters. I’m not talking about a show with a set-piece in a tomb or sewer: there are plenty of those. I’m talking about the dungeon as a main character.

There’s just not that much content like that. Even most of the D&D novels I’ve read are more likely to spend more time on Tolkienesque wilderness quests than on dungeoneering, with maybe a few set pieces in a tomb.

So here’s where I need your help. I just had knee surgery and I’m stuck in bed. I’m looking for book, TV, and movie recommendations featuring dungeons.

Here’s the well-known, post-D&D fiction that I can think of with dungeon-crawl settings. Let me know what I missed.


Labyrinth: This is a pretty pure example of the breed. It takes place almost entirely in a dungeon. There are puzzles and weird monsters. The rules of the labyrinth are consistent but weird.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: The series as a whole is a travelogue, although the dungeon sequences are so good that they transcend set piece. Still, Temple of Doom is the only installment which really can be described as a dungeon crawl.

Cube: Cube is set entirely in a classic death trap dungeon. It’s got the puzzle solving, the location as the main adversary, and the claustrophobic dread that comes from knowing you’re a first level character in a module for levels 8-12.


Stranger Things: (mild spoilers ahead) Stranger Things is explicitly about D&D, and in season 2 they do dungeons pretty well. The tunnels of the Upside Down teach you to keep an eye on the ceiling; to use a map instead of a trail of crumbs; and to bring lots of flaming oil. That’s pretty D&D. Still, the dungeoneering-per-minute ratio is low.


Dungeon series: During my D&D-obsessed youth, I started reading the Dungeon series, edited by Philip Jose Farmer. I couldn’t get into it. It’s called the Dungeon series, though, so I suppose it’s probably got dungeons in it?

Maze Runner: A young adult book where teens have to learn to navigate a dungeon. Fits the bill even though the protagonists spend a lot of time in the safe central camp, having teen feelings, and not out there runnin’ the maze like I want them to.


I have no clue about anime. I suppose there must be some show which is exactly what I’m looking for, right?


OK guys, what have I missed? What are the great examples of dungeoncrawl literature of the past 50 years? Again, I’m looking for something where the characters’ primary activity is exploring a series of dangerous interior spaces. Does literature like this exist?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Mythic Underworld, Illustrated

Hack & Slash - Mon, 06/10/2019 - 14:00
Hey everyone! I'd just like to announce that I've finally got my Etsy store open!

A lot of the beautiful artwork, including some from the best-rated, award-winning, what's sure to be a cult classic module, Eyrie of the Dread Eye.

It's all original works, suitable for framing. I could frame before sending, but both framing and shipping are expensive—it's certainly more affordable for you to have it framed locally. But if you've got the money, I'll gladly frame it for you and ship it  your way!

Get yourself something beautiful and support an artist! Following are a selection of the pieces available. Visit the store to see all the beautiful originals, and hang up something beautiful in your home or gaming room today!

Hack & Slash FollowGoogle +NewsletterSupportDonate to end Cancer (5 Star Rating)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Superheroic Hooks

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 06/10/2019 - 12:24
While not exhaustive, this is a list of recurring story hooks common in superhero comics from the Silver Age on, though focused on the Silver and Bronze Ages. They are geared toward teams of heroes and those of moderate power level, as "street level" heroes can get into adventures just by going on patrol and spotting mundane crime. Still, they are probably useful at any level.

Assault: the heroes are attacked, either individually or as a group.
Challenge: An NPC challenges a hero to some sort of contest, be it combat, a chess match, etc.
Clandestine Attack: Heroes are plagued by some something not immediately recognizable as an attack (poor public relations, bad luck, problems with powers), but actually is.
Clash of Cultures: A misunderstanding or disagreement leads to conflict with heroes from another nation/world.
Crasher: An NPC of uncertain motivation appears in or invades the heroes' base/home.

Disaster: Sort of a natural or unnatural disaster occurs. This may also be a Clandestine Attack.
Doppelganger: A duplicate of one or more heroes or supporting cast members appears, either amnesic or claiming to be the genuine article.
Framed!: A hero or supporting cast member appears to be guilty of a major crime.
Gift: Heroes receive a mysterious item, base, or job offer.
Harbinger/Messenger: A stranger arrives either announcing the arrival of a greater threat, or to seek the heroes' help in stopping this threat.
Invasion: An attack by a force from another world, country, or time.

Invitation: Heroes are invited to a research facility, upscale party, movie studio, foreign country or the like.
Kidnapped: One or more of the heroes is kidnapped.
Manipulation: The heroes are being maneuvered into a course of action advantageous for the villain.
Masquerade: Someone is pretending to be one or more of the heroes.
New Hero: A new hero of uncertain motives appears either as a rival or aid to the heroes.
Quest: Similar to the challenge, but the heroes must overcome some challenge to acquire an item or achieve some other goal.

Return: A long-missing hero reappears.
Siege: An Assault of some sort traps the heroes in their base or home.
Shutdown: A political/public relations issue leads to authorities threatening action against the heroes.
Villain Multiplied: Previously solo villains form a team.
Upgrade: A villain or hero has a mysterious increase in power.

Curse of Strahd (2016): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 4

DM David - Mon, 06/10/2019 - 11:15

Curse of Strahd (2016) is a fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure for levels 1-10 by Chris Perkins with Adam Lee, Richard Whitters, and Jeremy Crawford.

Fifth-edition hardcover adventures like Tomb of Annihilation pull inspiration from a catalog of classic modules. Curse of Strahd just draws from just one: Ravenloft (1983) by Tracy and Laura Hickman. Ravenloft’s 32 pages spawned a campaign setting, so it easily brings enough inspiration to fill a hardcover. Ravenloft ranked second on Dungeon magazine’s list of the 30 greatest adventures, beaten only by a compilation of 7 adventures.

Curse of Strahd captures everything we loved in I6 Ravenloft, and expands it into a full campaign,” writes Mike “Sly Fourish” Shea. “Of all of the published campaigns, this one is the most solid, with a clear motivation and excellent locations.”

While Ravenloft mainly stayed in a castle, Curse of Strahd gives players the freedom to roam the cursed land of Barovia. Most of the fifth-edition hardcovers aspire to play as a sandbox, but only Curse really succeeds as one. Credit a foundation borrowed from Ravenloft. To defeat Strahd, characters must collect 3 artifacts. Early on, the party gains clues to the items’ locations. This structure gives players a goal and a sense of direction.

Curse of Strahd borrows another brilliant device from Ravenloft. A card reading from Barovia’s version of a tarot deck reveals the location of the magic items and the roles of key non-player characters. This gives the story a random element that feels vital.

Although Curse of Strahd features a strong design, the vampire Strahd and the fearful gloom of his domain make the adventure’s best parts.

Strahd’s history sometimes makes him seem relatable—or even capable of redemption. But that lie just makes him more horrifying. Tracy Hickman calls Strahd “a selfish beast forever lurking behind the mask of tragic romance, the illusion of redemption that was only ever camouflage for his prey.”

The adventure never lets characters forget Strahd’s threat. “Stahd isn’t a villain who remains out of sight until the final scene. Far from it—he travels as he desires to any place in his realm. The characters can and should meet him multiple times before the final encounter,” the text explains. “When Strahd wants to terrorize the characters, he pays them a visit, either under cloak of night or beneath overcast skies. If they’re indoors, he tries to charm or goad a character into inviting him inside.”

Strahd’s presence taints his land with dread. “Many of the locations and towns seem to be quite ordinary or mundane at first glance…until you dig deeper,” explains Tyler Biddle. “The imagery is at times hauntingly beautiful and tragically grotesque. Barovia’s characters as well as its horrors will stay with you long after you’ve left the table.”

Wary of making the adventure too gloomy, the authors added notes of twisted humor. No player will forget Blinsky’s toys.

“Creepiness abounds, with locations and characters who just drip gothic horror,” Chris Stevenson writes. “Groups that hate being ‘railroaded’ will love the sandbox nature of Barovia. Curse of Strahd is the best 5E campaign book yet.”

After playing the adventure, the author of the Mindlands blog summarizes the experience. “Curse of Strahd is the best published adventure that I’ve ever played in. The atmosphere is fantastic, the locations, non-player characters, and villains are interesting, tragic and funny.”

Next: Number 3

Start at 10

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Black Hack Mugs, Badges, and Plectrums

Oubliette - Mon, 06/10/2019 - 09:21
I've just added some mugs featuring Karl Stjernberg's excellent covert art from The Black Hack Second Edition cover to Squarehex. Get them here:

I've also added some Black Hack button badges and plectrums to the site. All orders for mugs placed before the end of June will get a free badge and plectrum with each one.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary On The Advanced Labyrinth Lord Adventure Record Sheets By James Mishler Games

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 06/10/2019 - 06:11
James Mishler Games has been putting out some amazing OSR products over the years. Joining the ranks of his various Labyrinth Lord reference pdfs is a brand new set of OSR style Advanced Labyrinth Lord Adventure Record Sheets . Basically these are adventure, session, location, & stat journal sheets that let the players & DM's keep track of their Labryth Lord Advanced game sessions. According Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(Rise and Decline of) The Third Reich

Roles & Rules - Sun, 06/09/2019 - 12:00
The full title of this post belongs to a legendary board wargame of World War 2 in Europe, published by Avalon Hill in 1974. I owned it, and played it solo obsessively, as a teenager. Some of the finer points I only picked up following forum posts on BoardGameGeek last decade.

The partial title belongs to a novel by the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, one of many works published only after his untimely death in 2003. The protagonist is a champion player of the boardgame, among other titles. Impressively, the game's play is described in accurate detail throughout the novel, and plays a major part in the plot. To my knowledge, this is the only literary work to treat a hobby game in this way; I'm not talking about the haze through which a number of mainstream writers have rediscovered their teenage Dungeons and Dragons days recently.

A combination of an intensely familiar game, and an intensely recognizable setting for me (a seaside tourist town in northeastern Spain, similar to the one half my family is from). You would think it irresistible. But, probably as intended, the short novel left me ambivalent as it ended.


At one level, Rise and Decline of the Third Reich is a slogging game of economic warfare waged on the basis of the all-important Basic Resource Points (BRPs). These are gained from territory conquered and held, and spent on waging offensives and replacing units lost to the game's bloodthirsty combat tables. Abstract submarine war and strategic bombing rules allow direct attacks on enemy BRPs. Diplomatic events offer minor yet consequential variants on the strategy of the game, which usually follows the ebb and flow of actual events.

But the stolid economic game fuels a demanding, knife-edged combat. Disaster always looms through encirclement and the catastrophic capture of a major capital. Armor, airborne, and sea invaders can ruthlessly exploit inor mistakes in placement. Further enablers of catastrophe: a low-probability combat outcome that spells disaster for an attacker who hasn't piled advantage thick enough, and the feared moment when a change of initiative based on underlying economy gives one player two turns in a row.

These strategic features come through blurrily in the novel, but the details of the game are all described extremely correctly, suggesting that Bolaño is either a fan of the game or consulted one extensively. The only few mistakes are probably errors in translation from Spanish to English. An uninitiated reader would still get the idea: this is an astoundingly complex game of skill and chance for nerds, played on the stage of world history. What's brought across most visibly is the Axis player's chance to overcome the weighty accumulation of economic destiny against them -- first Soviet, then American BRPs -- through lightning conquest and skilled tactical play.

THE NOVEL (revealing plot points)

The Third Reich is one of those novels (like Iris Murdoch's The Bell) where the author builds suspense along several lines of menace and desire, only to shrink away from fulfilling the crude expectations of the genre, delivering an anticlimax that is so very literary.

Our German narrator, Udo, is taking his weeks-long holiday in a Catalan seaside town. An emotional cipher, he never shows the passion for his girlfriend Ingeborg that he does for the solo Third Reich game he has set up in their room to plan out a strategy article. They socialize with another German couple, Charlie and Hanna, without much enthusiasm, and rub elbows with local lowlifes who are less sinister than they appear.

While the supposed driver of the plot is the mystery of Charlie's disappearance in the sea one day, there is more underlying drama in the way Udo's solo game gets replaced with a head-to-head contest. The live opponent turns out to be the local character El Quemado, a mysterious South American man with ugly burn scars who works and lives on the beach. He learns the game with surprising speed, taking the Allied side. As in history, Udo starts out in a winning position, but El Q turns things around surprisingly and drives back the Reich. As it's later revealed, he has some help, being coached by the hotel's reclusive German owner who has been sneaking into Udo's room to study the game.

I wish the ending was something worth spoiling. But as I've said, there is no real climax on any "front". The game ends peacefully, a corpse doubtfully similar to Charlie's washes up, a romantic intrigue never goes past first base. Having overstayed well into September, Udo returns to Germany (Ingeborg, and hs job, both long gone) to resume his hobby.

THE NOVEL AND THE GAME (more plot reveals)

For non-gamers, the game is still an effective literary device, an arena of alternative history. Through it, Udo gets to dream of winning the war, playing his own country, pursuing a strategy in which he invades Spain to get to Gibraltar. There's an obvious irony in the parallel reality of the German vacationers "occupying" Spain though peaceful means.

Udo tries to square his national self-esteem with the moral abyss, disconnecting bravery and technical skill from the aims of the Nazi Party. Udo knows each German corps counter by its general's name, a list he recites for us at one point in a narcotic litany.  Near the end he has visions of the brave, great generals looking down from the heavens and approving his efforts, doomed as they all may be in this instance.

El Quemado is not having it, and through Udo's unreliable narration we see glimpses of what the game must mean to someone who, it's implied, has survived a South American authoritarian regime. As the cardboard war's tide turns, Udo's opponent hangs photocopies of Nazi documents on the wall, a reminder of the moral facts that Udo would rather forget. As Udo's defeat becomes certain, El Quemado begins to mutter about war crimes trials, preparing us for a violent dénouement that never happens. Instead, Udo resigns himself to technical and moral defeat, the opponents hug it out late at night, and he has to return to his boring job and content himself simply with Germany being the peaceful, economic master of Europe.


As I said, there isn't another novel out there that uses gaming in this way, as a living, adult hobby that becomes a vehicle for deeper meaning. It's worth reading, and probably a better introduction to Bolaño than his mega-novel 2666 which I started but had to put down at the point where the exposure of misogyny via the murders of women in Mexico became a relentless, voyeuristic supercut. No matter what you think of it as a novel, The Third Reich is a rare treat for the literary-minded gamer.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Getting to Know - the Goblin

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Sat, 06/08/2019 - 19:26
Continuing the new feature, here is the second entry.

Goblins in Avremier have almost always been a type of dark fae. Maybe it's part of my exposure to so much myth and folklore. I just got bored with the idea of a progression of humanoid sword-fodder designed to fill easy little encounters for up-and-coming heroes.


Maybe it was my lack of interest in big wars between Good and Evil. It could've been my aversion to the concept of dark-and-nasty versions of the heroic races. Whatever the reason - I always felt goblins deserved better than just dark reflections of gnomes or dwarves. Besides, most of the books I'd read about faeries and the faerie realm included goblins as part of the Unseelie Host. In Avremier, those are the Ilfae.

In the 80s, there seemed to be a constant struggle for the DM to keep providing new and exciting encounters for players who would pick up and read every new book, supplement, or magazine they could. That's when I really started to create my own stuff. Sure, most of us loved creating new monsters. I did that as well. But, I was just as excited by the idea of taking existing monsters and giving them an Avremier twist. The player would be much more surprised by something that seemed familiar, but subverted expectations, than by a creature that was entirely unrecognizable.

Anyway, here are some of my archival notes on goblins in Avremier. As a little bonus, a stat block for the Gutter Goblin is also included.

Goblins are dark fae (ilfae) - a throwback to grimmer times. Fallen fae that like to pretend they are still noble and fair. False wings, wigs, mica dust, body paint. They may breed with other fae and qualify as fae for the purpose of magical effects and racial affinities.

      While most are still evil, they are definitely not as simple as the standard goblin. They are dark and vicious creatures that delight in the downfall of bigger folk – even other goblinoids. Males are able to grow hair on their chins, but not really anywhere else on their faces. Leaders may attempt to grow a scraggly little beard as a sign of status. Quick and agile. Flanking (swarming) and backstabbing bonuses. Slender and flexible, squeeze through small openings and excellent acrobats/contortionists. Colorationvery much in the range of slate and shale. Secrete natural oils to become slippery. Goblins are immune to all lycanthropy – except wererat.       Most goblins have a fascination with toys. This includes any interesting weapon, complex device, shiny trinket, intricate bit of craft, or an actual children’s plaything. It is not unusual for a goblin warrior to have a favorite knife and a favorite doll. Have a knack for devices and gadgets - even for magic items. Goblin clans that pursue the assassin arts and monastic disciplines, some with levels of illusionist.       One goblin clan allies with death dogs instead of worgs. Clan that rides giant bats or cave crickets. Harvest paralyzing carrion crawler venom for use on weapons. Trained “guard mimics.” Goblin balloon harness – flying goblins! Warrior sect of lake-dwelling or swamp-dwelling goblins that require potential members to personally kill a giant snapping turtle and fashion a shield from its shell as a rite of passage.  A group of goblins is called a deceit – a deceit of goblins.        One goblin chieftain has convinced local ogres they are long-lost relations that should co-exist in harmony. The ogres take immediately to their "little cousins" and welcome them to the family. Now, the goblins have dedicated ogre defenders while the chieftain enjoys a truly elite personal guard. This alliance has made the goblins particularly bold and savage.      

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Building Avremier - Part Five: Sophistication

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Sat, 06/08/2019 - 18:09
Continuing from Part Four...

Blackmoor. Tekumel. Shannara. Urth. Pern. Elfquest. Kane. Sunset Warrior. True Game. Lord of Light. Books of Swords. Dying Earth. City of Bones. Many more...

For some reason, me-as-a-teen really enjoyed the concept of science fiction disguised as fantasy. I loved reading fantasy novels, only to eventually discover the truth beneath the surface. I'm not talking about people from modern times suddenly finding themselves in a fantasy setting. I mean a fantasy world built upon a science fiction foundation.

"But, David, you didn't do that with Avremier. That's a traditional fantasy setting."

Again, I make myself laugh.

Avremier is certainly presented as a fantasy setting. Avremier has always been run as a fantasy setting. Avremier can always be run as a fantasy setting. Avremier is actually a science-fantasy setting. And, not just in small doses - I'm talking about huge dollops of crazy tech.

Back in the 80s, the concept was still fresh to me. A lot of writers were doing it, but most of them were done so well that each one seemed a revelation. I was tired of every author trying to be the next Tolkien or R.E. Howard. I was so lucky to have access to so many books. Robert Aspirin and Piers Anthony helped teach me the possibilities of humorous fantasy. de Lint showed me how traditional folklore could be adapted to new stories that retained the feel of the original but introduced a fresh taste. Zelazny stretched my awareness out in so many directions. Wolfe showed me the potential of language and imagination. McKillip gave me magical worlds that left room for my own adventures. Le Guin took me to places shaped by something other than Eurocentric tropes.

But, the "a-ha!" moments of learning the truth behind the fantasy curtain stayed with me. Every time I realized something magical was actually something technological. Every moment where it was revealed a god was actually something (or someone) else entirely. Whenever magic was revealed as extremely advanced science. Sometimes, the author would even present science and magic as ongoing cycles in their setting. Some worlds were old enough to experience ages of magic, followed by ages of technology, followed by another age of magic - and so forth. I found that to be a rather exciting concept as well.

Still, after all the influences and examples, the core concept of Avremier came from another place entirely. To be honest, I can't really pinpoint a specific origin. It might have been the evolution of my own beliefs and interests focused through the lens of countless books and stories. I doubt I'm the first, or only, person to come up with such a premise. Though, I never really came across the same thing being done by someone else. Not saying it hasn't happened - just that I've missed out.

In the next installment, I'll explain that premise.

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OSR Commentary Castles, Crusaders, & Deeper Clark Ashton Smith Zothique Dreams With X2 Castle Amber By Tom Moldvay

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 06/08/2019 - 17:22
Last night I sat down with a group of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons players & it was an interesting walk through about their game campaigns. Their dungeon master is going on vacation & asked me to step in. Whoa.. I took a very large step back from this. I'm already engaged with an on going OSR  campaign which has been running for a very long while. So I'm putting the breaks on stepping in &Needles
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Melee: Killing JON of the ISLES

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sat, 06/08/2019 - 17:10

It didn’t add up.

I mean I knew that an ST 12/DX 12 character would have an significant advantage in Steve Jackson’s classic Melee microgame. This is just one of those iconic artifacts of gaming legend– right up there with stats for the original G.E.V. counters having to be revised due to actual players doing stuff with them that the playtesters never imagined.

But it was too much. “JON of the ISLES” was way too awesome. He cut down hulking crossbowmen and nimble swashbucklers with ease. Soon the body count was up to seven; his ST pumped up to 13 and his DX at 14 via the oft-lamented experience system… the guy pretty much couldn’t miss. It was awful.

But more was at stake here than everyone else’s chances at nabbing a prized continuing character and bragging rights over the week’s lunchtime game sessions. The natives were restless, frustrated. Rather than seeing a challenge worth rising to, they saw a pointlessly insurmountable obstacle. “Your game’s broken,” they told me. Sour grapes to be sure! But also fighting words. They’re talking about one of the greatest designers in history. Nobody’s going to besmirch the legacy of Steve on my watch. Not going to happen!

So I made my challenge and spent ten minutes carefully perusing the rule book. There had to be a way! And there was.

JON of the ISLES was played by someone that had neglected to mine the equipment list for every conceivable advantage. This wasn’t much, but it was enough to counterbalance those additional ST and DX points that looked so unbeatable. The biggest problem that I could see was the guy didn’t have a backup weapon. Maybe there would be a way to punish him for that?

Ah, yes there was…! The hand-to-hand rules say that if I can move onto his hex, he has a very good chance of dropping his weapon. I started to work up a dagger-wielding figure just for this purpose, but then I looked again. Yeah, if I move into JON’s front hex I would have to stop. And then once engaged, I could take the “Attempt HTH Attack” option. But… it’s not that easy. There are only a few very narrow circumstances where this is allowed, having a higher Movement Allowance being chief among them. And the stats just weren’t there for that.

But there was a way that it could be pulled off. Not a surefire method… but a solid chance. Spears do less damage than broadswords. But… being much longer, they have the capacity to short-circuit JON’s dexterity advantage. I’ll have a chance to seize the initiative with that! But there was more…. A character that takes 8 or more hits in a turn immediately falls down. And prone figures can always be engaged in hand-to-hand. A spear’s 1d+1 damage was never going to pull that off, but if I could lure JON into charging me or else allowing me to charge him, I’d have a better than even chance to knock him down!

The day of the battle arrived. I was allowed to my one charge in. (An unforced error!) I then got just enough damage to knock him down. I won the initiative for the movement phase and moved into HTH range. We both dropped our weapons in the hex. I got lucky with a HTH attack and did another 2 hits of damage with a punch, putting him beyond the -3 to all attacks threshold. He was stronger than me and could conceivably hurt me in a HTH scenario… but not after the deathspiral was in motion!

At this point JON’s player did not feel he could retreat. He didn’t have a backup weapon and didn’t want me to pick up the spear and use it to finish him off. So he stayed to trade punches and was finished off with a flurry of 1-point hits.

(For what it’s worth, I will say that my chest-beating at this point wasn’t too obnoxious.)

Now… does this mean that the game is broken in just a slightly different way than we first imagined? No it doesn’t!

The spear charge / hand-to-hand combo can be countered in two ways. First… you can merely close to a distance of two hexes and accept a spear jab there the turn before you engage. Maybe not ideal, but hey… you gotta give spear carriers their due!

And though this auto-knockdown seems out of control (especially combined with 2-in-3 chance of a defender dropping their weapon in HTH combat), also note that armor makes it MUCH less likely that you’re going to get knocked down. It takes 8 hits of injury to trigger the auto-fall, and plate armor pretty well ensures that that’s never going to happen, even if you charge a spear carrier!

So there you go. There’s definitely more to this game than closing to melee range and taking turns wailing on each other until somebody goes down. Dagger-toting goblins with MA 12 are going to be a real problem under these rules. And if you’re used to fighting naked like the Irish did back in the day, you’ve got good reason to rethink that here. The penalty to adjDEX is harsh, but getting knocked down is even harsher!

(And do note if you’re irked by the dweebie wizards hauling around new school staffs to power their spells… lobby your opponent to let you combine Wizard with Melee, cast Summon Wolf and get up in his grill. You’ve got a better than even chance of making him drop the darned thing!)

Anyway, the integrity of my game is preserved. The greatness of 70’s Steve is demonstrated yet again. Granted, you can develop the nuggets of these rules into something with more nuance and granularity. (See GURPS.) But you cannot beat Melee for either elegance or excitement.

It’s a thing of beauty!

I am saddled with being accused of staying up all night analyzing a pitifully small 24 page rules pamphlet, sure… but I can live with that!

Long live Melee!

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Building Avremier - Part Four: Diversification

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Sat, 06/08/2019 - 15:20
Continuing from Part Three...

During high school, I was reading every fantasy or sci-fi novel I could get my hands on. Drawing had been my primary form of expression - mostly sketches of persons, places, or things in my campaign world. It was in high school that I was assured that I also wrote well. Up to that point, I wasn't really putting much effort into crafting plots or stories for my game. It was mostly just dungeons linked by some overland scenarios. I had created a world for adventures, but not for much else.

It seemed time to give my big, messy creation a sense of purpose. While I've compiled a few versions of my own Appendix N, there were a few select works that pushed me forward in creativity.

Sherri S. Tepper's True Game novels.  For the cover art (James Christensen and Kinuko Craft), the characters, the world-building, and the hidden details and history.

The art of Christensen inspired me in other ways. Fantasy could be colorful and even whimsical. Details could have deeper meaning - not just to add layers. I was starting to gain a deeper appreciation for symbolism.

Frog and OgreAnd, there were so many different ways a fairly common mythic/folkloric creature could be represented or designed (Frog and Ogre).

Flight of the Fablemaker

Bold new ways of getting players to the adventure (Flight of the Fablemaker). Yes, flying ships became a definite thing for my campaign.
College of Magical Knowledge

Unique sites and structures offered for more than just breaking into and exploring for monetary gain (College of Magical Knowledge).

But, the writing affected me most deeply. Not only the shape and flavor of the setting - which was quite unique and captivating, but also the REASONS for why things were the way they were. I won't spoil the surprises for anyone that might be inspired to find these books, but I will say that Avremier became much better for the experience.

In the next installment, I'll discuss how and why Avremier became a Science-Fantasy setting.
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Getting to Know - the Bugbear

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Fri, 06/07/2019 - 19:02
Perhaps this will be a regular series. No promises.

One of the hallmarks of the Avremier setting (and its offshoots) is monster variants. Or, at least, monsters with origins and details that differ from, or flesh out, the official entries or stat blocks. In fact, just about every monster found in Avremier is different in some way - to better fit it into the setting.

Some of the differences are cosmetic, or subtle. Not everything needs an entirely new coat of paint. Some of the changes might be surprising for some...such as goblins being dark fae, or sphinxes encompassing a broad creature type that includes manticores, lamias, lammasus, and shedus.

For no particular reason, this series will start with the bugbear. Sometimes, there will be full monster descriptions and/or stat blocks. This time, there will just be a sharing of the official archive notes for the Bugbear in the Avremier setting.

·        Bugbear: Known variously as the Wildegoblin, Wodegoblin, or Diregoblin, the bugbear is a stealthy figure found often on the border between the wilderness and civilization. In Avremier, it is not too unusual to see a bugbear hunter/trapper shambling into a small town for  supplies and trade. There are bugbear rangers, druids, barbarians, hunters, trappers, guides, and assassins. They are exceptional trackers. Some bugbears may emit a pungent musk when roused, causing fear in those nearby. Lycanthropy among bugbears will produce werecavebears or wereworgs, almost exclusively. A typical bugbear has exceptionally large hands and feet, helping it to walk more silently, cross soft or snowy terrain, and even wield weapons that are one category larger as if normal size. Their keen senses of hearing and smell make bugbears difficult to surprise, and allow them to notice nearby hidden or invisible creatures. They can see in the dark up to 60’. Some bugbears may have a monk-like unarmed strike attack. Not all bugbears are Evil, but they will mostly be of Chaotic alignment, and are hardly ever Lawful. There is a particularly cruel and ancient religion or cult that worships a demonic figure strongly resembling the Krampus. These cultists often wear hideous wooden masks, and carry birch rods or lashes of chain or leather as symbolic weapons. A bugbear defeated alive by another in combat will usually have a notch taken out of its ear as a badge of shame. 
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Sword & Sorcery Motives of Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) From X2 Castle Amber By Tom Moldvay

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 06/07/2019 - 18:47
"Trapped in the mysterious Castle Amber, you find yourselves cut off form the world you know. The castle is fraught with peril. Members of the strange Amber family, some insane, some merely deadly, lurk around every corner. Somewhere in the castle is the key to your escape, but can you survive long enough to find it? This module contains referee notes, background information, maps, and Needles
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