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CZX Super Heroes & Super-Villains: Autograph Card Preview, Part 3

Cryptozoic - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 16:00

Please enjoy this third and final preview of Autograph Cards from CZX Super Heroes & Super-Villains, led by the star who played Aquaman: Jason Momoa!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Psionic Crucible of the Fat Cannibal

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 11:18

By The Bugbear Brothers

The Bugbear Brothers

5e/OSR(!)

Levels 3-5

The bastion of the North, Xaefen Keep, has succumbed to darkness. Recently, there have been whispers of forbidden psionics that have taken root in the citadel. It is feared that this vile new craft is being used to torture the minds of young squires and madden them, thereby undercutting the Crown’s power. The renowned knight, Ervin Greystyle, also known as ‘The Axe’, has recently ventured North in order to investigate these troubling rumours. It has been several weeks since Ervin’s last correspondence, and he was due to return many days ago. The last letter Ervin wrote to the Crown contained a cryptic, macabre reference to a ‘gluttonous baron’ and his ‘mage juicer’, who reportedly dwelt in the lower crypts of the Keep. A reward of 500 gold pieces has been issued by the Crown to any who would confirm or refute the ravings contained within Greystyle’s last correspondence. There isn’t much time left now…

This 28 page adventure details a ten room dungeon in about nine pages. It’s got some good ideas and tries to be original in both treasure and descriptions. It also drones on too long in it’s read-aloud and DM text and is constrained by it’s smaller size. It’s notable for what it could have been.

This thing is so un-generic. It’s not using the generic fantasy tropes that are seen everywhere. It adds more detail to just about everything. It edges over in to Eberron territory, probably. There’s a fat cannibal baron. There’s a wizard addicted to potions. The local villagers are afraid of the Wendigos that plague their village at night, gaunt figures with decayed deer heads. They are engaged in pacifism, led by their local priest, in the hopes their god will save them. There’s a magic item that consists of a pair of of sow’s ears. And another that consists of a ghouls finger. And a pool of water around a column that if full of cloudy eyeballs, floating. It has a hut, underwater, of translucent glass, held down by “thick black tendrils and vibrant green roots protruding from the sea floor.”

And that’s only a sample. The environments here ARE interesting. They are new places with new things that the party has likely never encountered before, like the pool of eyes. The magic items are unique and well described. Mechanics are not overly emphasized in magic … that ghoul finger wants to return to its shelf … at a speed of 60’ and push 300#. Hmmm, now can I, as a player, exploit THAT? And that’s a good item. 

Haunting choir music, a woven meditation carpet, the scent of rot permeating your nostrils. Thick hemp straps. Note the use of adjectives and adverbs, the way these things are described. Not large or big or small or red. This is excellent use of language in order to add more to a description, to paint a vivid picture for the DM. “One of these paintings is molding and teeming with cream coloured maggots-some in the midst of hatching, others fully grown-chewing at its outer edges.” Sweet! Oh, did I fail to mention the cariboo skulls lined with nails that some prisoners affix to their own skulls in their madness… the faux-wendigos? This is good shit. It’s not all great, there’s are some “large” room contents and the like, but it’s got it where it counts.

What its also got is a case of Mouth Runneth Over syndrome. The read-aloud is long. The DM text is long. And long for interesting reasons. 

It’s not the usual irrelevant bullshit detail. There’s a thing that 5e adventures sometimes do where the read-aloud fully describes the room. If there’s a bookshelf with an interesting book on it, in a hyperbolic example, the initial read-aloud describes the bookshelf, the book, and also tell you what the books contents are. In other words it assumes a certain amount of follow-up and just infor-dumps the entire thing up front.The first room, that one with eyeballs, is a good example. The entire first paragraph does NOT describe the first room of the dungeon. It’ describes the ruins outside that you come upon. Oops, guess that should maybe be in a separate section, to make it easier to find, etc? Then it tells us of a room dominated by an obelisk. And it describes in detail the damage to the obelisk. ANd then the moat around it, filled with clounded eyeballs, with irises of various colours. From their state of decay it’s clear they’ve been here some time. The description goes on about some murals, but lets pause and just examine that obelisk and moat descriptions. The damage detail would be perfect for a follow-up in the DM section, as would the eyeballs, cloudy, and iris details. By NOT infor-dumping you encourage back and forth between the players and the DM. They ask about the pillar, you reply it looks damaged, They examine more closely. You describe more. (Someone, somewhere wrote an article/blog on this that was very good, but I can’t recall it.) The moat. I look at it, it’s full of something. I go over and look closer. Eyes. Ewwww! I look at the eyes, they are cloudy … with scintillating irises. Ewww! 

The adventure also engages in a lot of if/then clauses in the DM text. IF the players do this THEN this happens. Ray’s book on editing covers this, and other common writing issues, pretty well. These sorts of writing mistakes are common in this adventures and the designers would have benefited greatly by Ray’s book. The DM text proper is also lengthy for other reasons, mostly through some sloppy writing that takes a more conversational tone. That style is ok in places, all work and no conversational asides make DM Bryce a dull DM, but when it goes excessive it make the DM text long. And long DM text is hard to reference during play. 

There are also other missed opportunities. The village nearby, with the “Wendigo” problem, is given very little attention. Serving as a base and intro to the adventure it could have used quite a bit more. And better organization than a simple paragraph dump of information. It’s got good roots but needs more to bring it alive. A missed opportunity. Likewise … and I think I realize the gravity of what I’m about to say, this thing is constrained by size. Expanding it, a bit better design and integration of the areas, and you would have something that people would talk about the way they talk about Thracia. No, it’s not Thracia, not close, but it had that potential. 

On the nitpicky front, it’s got a random Big Bay Guy location chart. I don’t get why people do that, for multiple play throughs? In this case it can be a little justified since there’s a kind of map puzzle in one room that can show you locations … and creatures moving about in the place adds some life to the place. Generally though … it’s something that raises my eyebrows as a sign of ill things to come. 

It’s also got this weird System-less thing going on. It lists itself as generic/agnostic and OSR. And then mentioned exhaustion checks. And advantage. And lists DC’s for stat checks. That’s 5e. But is it, really? I suspect it’s just the designers home system which is a mash up of many things. The DC stats checks will wrankle the hard core OSR crowd, but it’s all easily ignored/converted on the fly by even an ok DM. 

And there’s no level range on the cover or in the product description, you have the buy the damn thing first to learn it’s levels 3-5. Not cool.

Nonstandard. Imaginative. Some decently evocative writing. But suffers greatly from Too Many Words. And, a couple of large missed opportunities. And sup with that title? It feels randomly generated.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1.50. The preview is four pages and shows you nothing. Bad preview! Suck! Show us a room! Give us a sample of what we’re actually buying! Oh course, in this case it’s Pay What You Want, so you can get the entire thing, but, still. 

Cannibal?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Rolling City and the Devil Sun

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 11:00
This post is in response to a challenge from Anne at DIY & Dragons based on this post a the Githyanki Diaspora from 2009 suggesting an easy way to "Make Your Own New Crobuzon."



The Last City
Clacking, rumbling, the city moves. It rolls through the night on sixteen indestructible rails carved from the bones of dead gods. The shanties on its ziggurat steps rattle; it's bristle of towers sways. The city never stops for long, and it always stays ahead of the dawn. It's being chased by a vengeful god, the Sun.

The Devil Sun
There is a face in the green Sun, and it looks down on the world it hates with grinning, idiot malice. It chases the city across the face of the blighted world, through the ruined cities of the elder days. Where its morning light shines, its energy creates cancer jungles and fleshy masses of monsters. Even these wither and die under the force of its noon regard, leaving only blasted desert in the dying light of evening. The Devil Sun would destroy the clanking redoubt of the city, too, but it moves too slowly across the sky to catch it. For now.

Three Minor Humanoid Races
Xixchil once had their own city, but it was lost, and they bought their passage on the last city with their art. It was the Xixchil surgeons that developed the Warforged. The Xixchil are mistrusted because they live in enclaves of their own and practice secret rituals they do not allow others to see.

The Warforged were made to be the city's soldiers. There are many fewer now than there once were. They are officially accorded respect for their service, but many former refugees blame them for the loss of their old homes.

Athasian aarakocra live in the precarious high towers of the city. They are scouts and foragers.

Three Monsters
Clockwork automata serve in every level of the city, particularly performing jobs around the engines or on the city's undercarriage where living things can't go. Some damaged automata become rampaging clockwork horrors.

Obliviax is cultivated in some labs in the city for it's various memory uses: to fashion an anti-senility drug, to steal memories, or simply to make people forget. It has escaped and grows wild in some lower levels.

Arcane oozes sometimes crawl up the cities exterior. The gorge themselves to a torpor on the divine magic that powers the city. Sometimes they become a hazard and must be removed.

Deeper Readings Into Dungeons & Dragons - The Ranks of The Succubus

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 05:56
Now I've spoken about the Wraith of the Immortals box set before but I've been quietly on the side tracing a particular favorite type of demon that I love to use. The Succubus has been a staple of Dungeons & Dragons going all of the way back to Eldritch Wizardry:"The succubus appeared under the demon entry in the Eldritch Wizardry supplement (1976)" Then they appear in the Advanced Dungeons Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Table: Car Wars Compendium Second Edition

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 00:39

I love this game.

It’s easily among the best values in gaming history and one of the greatest “everything you need in one book” games of all time. It was played to death and then revised… played to death again, revised again… and then played to death some more only to be tempered into one of the great achievements of gaming history.

There are many editions and variations of this game. I have tinkered with the rules a great deal myself and chased after many attempts to simplify what people tend to think of as a moderately overcomplicated game. But this weekend I decided to come back to my old flame and revisit the game that I originally fell in love with a long, long time ago. Not as it was in the small black pocket box edition that was the very first hobby games purchase I had ever made. But rather, as the end all be all, supercharged Second Edition Compendium release that was, perhaps, the last thing I would ever be excited to receive on a Christmas day.

That means playing with the “Advanced Collision” system that was first released as part of the referee screen– and the variant fire rules (“All Fired Up”) and a development of the “Advanced Maneuver System” from the pages of Autoduel Quarterly. Further, it meant going back to the original rules for ramplates– the days before some line editor decided to nerf the most efficient means in the game for converting a hot rod into piles of debris and obstacles. Finally, it meant embracing the Compendium’s speed modifiers as well!

How did it go…? Well, I’ll tell you.

I selected for our first scenario a Challenge Night event where two hot headed amateur duelists would get a chance to kill each other in the Dumbarton Slalom arena with sponsor-supplied Scorcher compacts. These have two flamethrowers in the back and a ramplate on the front. The idea was to get to a decisive and dramatic ending fairly quickly. The session did not disappoint!

The opening started straightforward enough. I managed to edge ahead by a quarter of an inch in the opening moves before we sped into the part of the drum where we’d gain the ability to fire. I cut right and let loose with my two flame throwers, but because my target was speeding across my back arc I had to eat serious enough speed modifiers that this shot was pretty well wasted. (Granted, a lucky hit could win the game if I set my opponent on fire– neither of us had fire extinguishers!)

My opponent then kicked it up to 60 mph while I dropped down to 40. His additional speed gave him a great deal of initiative. If he got to move at just the right moment, I was dead. But then… just as he was arcing toward me for a potential kill… he lost control and started to skid!

We exchanged shots and I put enough burn modifiers on him that he was in danger of catching fire. He then lost control again and skidded into the arena walls. His driver bailed out of the flaming vehicle and I ran the guy down before he could make it to a safe zone.

At this point I proposed changing up either the arena or the vehicle design or both, but this was evidently an intriguing enough match-up that it was worth another go. This one saw my opponent skid into the wall yet again even though he had slowed down a notch this time. I then accelerated and came in for the ram. He scored multiple flamethrower hits on me as I closed, but the ram completely destroyed his car. My driver was able to bail out of the flaming vehicle and escape before it had exploded.

Now… this was pretty exciting for me. I love love LOVE having a continuing Car Wars character that has earned all his wealth by defying certain death in the arena. My guy “Duncan Idaho” had a brand new Scorcher that had had only 2 shots fired from each flamethrower and was merely nicked on the back with four points of damage there. Compendium Second Edition is pretty generous with the “general” skill point awards, so while he didn’t gain any salvage from this event, he did gain enough skill points to go to Driver-1. This would give him a better chance for starting an event with improved reflexes and help him recover better than normal handling status at the end of each turn!

Going into the third and final event of the weekend, I had to ask… should I set this guy aside so what we could have a fair match where everyone was started the game with equal amounts of skill? My opponent didn’t think that was a problem. I mean hey, if you have a cool continuing character in a Car Wars campaign, you should get to use him. If he comes out of his third Amateur Night event with enough salvage that he actually stands a chance on the freeways, so much the better.

We did agree to change up the vehicle design and keep the same arena layout. Here’s our all-new low end vehicle we whipped up:

S’most — Medium Reverse Trike, x-hvy chassis, hvy. suspension, large cycle plant, platinum catalysts, 3 PR tires, driver, FT left linked to FT right, fire extinguisher, targeting computer. Armor: F 20, R 15, L 15, B 20, T 4, U 4. Accel. 5, HC 3, 2,518 lbs., $7,986.

Division 10 option — Make tires and armor fireproof and add heavy duty brakes. Equip driver with body armor and a grenade. $9,997.

We played without the Division 10 options, hoping for another short and decisive event. Rolling in, I took a stray flame thrower hit early on and caught fire. My fire extinguisher failed to put it out until the next turn– everything on my car had taken one hit of damage! Things did not look good for my awesome continuing character, but on the next pass, my opponent found himself in the exact same shoes. Suddenly, every single die roll we made began to matter a whole lot!

I admit, my opponent had done much better than me in terms of dishing out the damage in this round. I was the better driver and cruised around the arena with no chance of losing control. Meanwhile, my target veered away from me toward the arena wall and the damage that I had done was just enough to make this hazardous. He made one control roll after another… then needed to make just one more. His luck ran out, though, and he crashed into the wall for the third game in a row!

Now things were serious. My opponent has just gone into a skid and so was at -6 to-hit for that until the end of the turn. I had continuous fire bonuses and could control exactly how the pass played out. I managed to get my hit against the stationary target. Time to check for fire one last time. I needed 8 or less on two dice to light him up. I got it! My opponent needed 4 or less on two dice. Not likely! But then… he got it anyway. Doh!

Now to check for fire extinguishers…. My opponent made his roll of 3 or less on one die and his vehicular fire went out. Me? I failed… and my car went up in flames along with my continuing character!

Absolutely brutal!

Now my opponent’s character “Borf” is the guy with a promising future. He has two skill points in Driver and six in Gunner. He has a very beat up reverse trike with two points of damage to each of the tires, one point of damage to each internal component, 7 points of damage front, 8 points of damage left, 7 points of damage right, one point of damage top, and 1 point of damage to the underbody. (Whew!) Though if it was up to me, I’d rule that the event sponsors would totally give him a brand new division 10 model of that vehicle to drive home him.

The game play for this round was much more random due to the loss of the ramplates. In order improve this design in terms of how it plays fighting itself, here are the changes I would make:

S’most II — Add bumper spikes and upgrade fire extinguisher to IFE. Armor: F 18, R 13, L 13, B 14, T 4, U 4. 2520 lbs., $8,402.

(We did get to one rules question game. Obviously, the fire modifiers stack up as are explained in the rules. What we wanted to know was what happened to the fire mods when a fire extinguisher puts out the fire. Do they disappear or do they stick, continuing to set fires on later turns again and again…? We went back and forth on this until we agreed that it would be more fun to have the FE wipe them all out when the moment a fire extinguisher puts out a fire. Your mileage may vary!)

But how do things set in the aftermath of three quick playing duels…? “Borf” now respects the control table enough to slow down a little but… but not enough to persuade him to put extra skill points into driver skill. He is eager to get back into the arena for a chance at nabbing enough salvage that he could pimp out his ride in a substantial manner. He is liable to want to fireproof everything if he has any say in how the next cars are designed.

But most importantly… he can’t imagine playing Car Wars any other way than with the Super Advanced rules accretions that 1980’s gaming addicts laid down in order to strike just the right balance between simulation-feel and smooth game-play.

If you’re in the camp of those that think they want simpler rules in order to open the game up to more casual play, think again! Everything you need in order to speed things up can be addressed by playing with identical makes and models a la Amateur Night events, restricting dueling vehicles to driver only, outlawing pedestrian equipment, and greatly increasing the ratio of weaponry to defense in the vehicle designs.

Drive offensively!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Veneer of Dungeons & Dragons In Old School & OSR Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 10/27/2019 - 16:40
Michael Weaver's cover for Dragon magazine #162 screams to Ravenloft second edition setting to me.  So the character workshop went alright folks but I've down with the Autumn sickness that seems to go around here in my neck of Connecticut. Its a very gloomy Sunday which is in keeping with the Halloween season. One of the things I want to talk about is using the veneer of Dungeons Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Brief History of Tolkien RPGs by John Rateliff

Zenopus Archives - Fri, 09/27/2019 - 18:31
John Rateliff showing off the prototype cover art for TSR's canceled Middle-Earth game
It's once again Tolkien Week, the week containing Hobbit Day (Sep 22nd, Bilbo & Frodo's birthday). Recently there's been some talk on EnWorld and the Piazza about TSR's failed attempt to license Middle-Earth in 1992. A post on the Piazza thread by Falconer led me back to where this was originally revealed: a very interesting talk entitled "The Brief History of Tolkien RPGs" by John Rateliff, given as his guest-of-honor speech at MERPcon in August 2008. Rateliff is the author of the History of the Hobbit and also a former TSR editor and author, where his works included the excellent Return to the Keep on the Borderlands.

His talk is available in two formats: 

(1) A series of posts of the same name on his blog, Sacnoth's Scriptorium. I've been following this for years (since ~2012), but this series is even older (2008) and I'd never come across it before. 

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV

(2) A video/audio recording posted on YT. It's over an hour long and is interrupted by many audience questions & comments, but is an enjoyable watch/listen (but if you just listen you'll miss out on some of his exhibits, like the prototype cover for TSR's canceled ME game).

Tolkien Moot 2008 MerpCon IV John D. Rateliff solo speech History of the Hobbit authorhttp://tolkienmoot.org John D. Rateliff, author of The History of the Hobbit at MerpCon 4 Tolkien Moot 2008. Tolkien Moot is an annual Tolkien convention sponsored by the Inland Empire Tolkien Society for fans and scholars, enthusiasts, and Tolkien role-playing gaming gamers of J.R.R.

* * * * *
Earlier Tolkien posts on this blog that you may have missed:
1973 Preview of Mythical Earth MinifigsGreen Dragon Miniature (Mythical Earth Minifig)Beren and Luthien (2017)Gygaxian Orc Tribes (originally derived from Tolkien)Tolkien's Wild HobbitsHobbits as the Rangers of BasicRIP Arthur Rankin JrBeornings [Aurania]The Endless Caverns of Tu (D&D in Middle-Earth campaign idea)Tolkien Lives at WaldenbooksHobbit Day 2013Hobbit Day 2012Two new Hobbit BooksThe Hobbit Animated (1964)Centaurs and Samurai and Werebears, updatedBalrog by Greg BellHolmes on TolkienSummary of Tolkien references in the Blue BookBalrogs in the Blue BookBalrog PCs gone missing Green Dragon InnGreen Dragon Inn, part II (Greyhawk's version)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bayt Al Azif #2: Unboxing Video

Zenopus Archives - Thu, 09/19/2019 - 14:37


Over on YouTube, MaxWriter* has an unboxing video of the print-on-demand of issue 2 of Bayt Al Azif. He pages through all of the articles, so at 4:33 in the video you can get a glimpse of the reprint of Holmes' 1983 review of Call of Cthulhu and Chris Holmes' new art that accompanies it. For more details see my previous post. 


Purchase link:

Bayt al Azif issue 2
(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)
*MaxWriter also has a long-running thread at ODD74, "Role Playing Journals", that details  game sessions he's run.

Bayt Al Azif #2 UnboxingThe second issue of Bayt Al Azif is out and it looks as amazing as the first. It's available as a softcover, hardcover, and PDF. Check it out. Bayt Al Azif Issue #2 - https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/246849/Bayt-al-Azif-2-A-magazine-for-Cthulhu-Mythos-roleplaying-games Hi everyone - I'm Andy and I've been doing Minecraft videos for some time in addition to IRL stuff and tabletop roleplaying games.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rob Kuntz & Arneson's True Genius

The Viridian Scroll - Tue, 09/10/2019 - 16:24
TLDR: this book is a hot mess, but buried in it is an interesting, if IMO flawed, perspective. 




CaveatThis is my reading of Rob Kuntz' book: Dave Arneson's True Genius. It was not an easy work to unlock. Any errors in representing it are mine. I am very critical of Rob Kuntz in this summation and review, even though I found some of his thoughts "interesting." I don't want anyone to interpret my dislike of this work, or its execution, as in any way devaluing Arneson's contribution to D&D. It has been established in very authoritative forums (like Peterson's Playing at the World) that Arneson contributed a number of critical, innovative, and formative ideas to role-playing in general and D&D in particular.
Who is Rob Kuntz?Rob Kuntz, as a teenager, lived with Gary Gygax's family. He was there when Dave Arneson demoed Blackmoor to Gary in 1972 and was an early playtester, taking part in Gygax's Greyhawk campaign of the same year. He literally saw the birth, a good portion of the evolution of D&D. Rob also worked for TSR from its founding through 1977.
Part 1: Assertions About GygaxIn Arneson's True Genius, Rob Kuntz makes the following claims:

When Gygax used Arneson's ideas to design D&D, he did irreparable harm to Arneson's legacy and the entire potential future arc of the hobby by:
  • "Redacting" Arneson's ideas. Gygax built a marketable system of role-playing by taking what was already established – wargame rules – and adding to them some of Arneson's ideas that were groundbreaking but neutralized through systematization. Kuntz refers to this as "enchaining" D&D and reducing it to a "market +1" state. Meaning Gary used Arneson's ideas to make the next predictable market thing.
  • Setting the precedent for the industry. The fact of D&D's success created inertia that moved the entire hobby community in one direction and defined the role-playing industry. This financially-proven groove meant that other possible futures were left unexplored, e.g. one that extended from Arneson's way of playing the game. 
  • Discouraging others from creating. When Gygax created AD&D, he moved D&D from an open system – which encouraged players to invent – to a closed system – an "official" rules set that discouraged innovation and established TSR's intellectual property. This was directly contradictory to an Arneson's open and flexible system ideas.
  • Doing all of this in bad faith. Gygax (like Arneson) never played D&D by the rules he set forth. In selling the D&D rules to the world, Gygax actively suppressed the true style of play in which he and Arneson indulged themselves and their players.

My Impressions of the Book and the Above ClaimsDave Arneson's True Genius is frustrating to read because of its poor organization, vague ideas, and ridiculously stilted and ornate language. Some paragraphs are so convoluted that I had to guess at their meaning after several failed attempts to decode them into English. The entire book has only about 55 pages of actual (widely-spaced, large font) text, and they contain the same half dozen ideas repeated throughout. 
The argument that Gygax damaged Arneson's ideas, and his future potential, and hoodwinked us all by selling us a set of rules that falls short of the Platonic ideal of a role-playing game is academic, rhetorical, and immature. It boils down to crying over what might have been. This is especially silly when one realizes that Arneson had decades in which to present an alternative by a) fully describing his original play style and b) building on it. Arneson failed to do either of those things in any way that engaged or inspired a significant portion of the community.
In assuming that the move to a closed set of rules (with AD&D) was solely about denying the creativity of DMs, Kuntz misses that it enabled a more communal, common play experience and the production of adventure modules (some of which Kuntz helped write). Otherwise he makes a fair point about the shift in corporate attitude regarding extensive "home rules."

As for the accusation that Gary never played his own rules as written, I say "a designer designs." It's no wonder that both Gygax and Arneson sessions were more "R&D" than "QA."

Part 2: The Garden of Eden When he is not blaming Gygax for putting D&D on the wrong path from the outset, Kuntz is lauding Arneson's genius, ascribing to him amazing feats of intellect without actually describing most (any?) of them. In trying to imagine what we missed due to Gygax's nefarious activities, Kuntz suggests that any forward trajectory from Arneson's conceptual model would essentially end in a recreation of "the human brain." Any "throttling" of the system would damage its potential.

If we were to indeterminately throttle his [Arneson's] conceptual model into the future what we would note as an end result would be akin to a massive array of information having multi-functional processes interconnecting at all points. Eventually we would have the workings of the human brain (Kuntz, 41).
It sounds like Kuntz is talking about artificial intelligence or perhaps a Futurama-like visualization of Arneson's brain in a jar. It's a game of passive-aggressive keep-away in which Kuntz tells us we have done/are doing RPGs all wrong while simultaneously telling us it's virtually impossible to describe the right way – the Arnesonian way. "... what system(s) organization transpires in their [TSR/WotC D&D] place would be anyone's guess (Kuntz, 40). [Emphasis mine.]

To read him in a more charitable light, the best possible role-playing system would be one that exists only in the heads of every DM running a game and would be entirely unfixed – free to evolve and iterate as needed. Kuntz calls this the "Garden of Eden" state. Mechanics are fluid and the hivemind of players both allows for expansive movement by invention and contraction by a general consensus of best methods.

To me, this is the real meat of the book. The thing I was waiting for. Perhaps the best way to read Arneson's True Genius is to just start on page 40 and end on page 48.

My Thoughts on the GardenThis Garden of Eden argument reminds me a bit of Dawkin's Selfish Gene (1976) in which he invents the term meme (with a meaning quite different than it has in today's social media) and discusses the way songbirds communicate ideas through imitation and innovation without losing an innate quality of sameness. I kind of wish Kuntz could have made his argument (only) along those lines. Had he simply defended role-playing as an activity owned by everyone – and left off blaming Gygax for bottling spring water – he might really have been saying something important.

As it is, Kuntz' writing reads like an academic fever dream that would be "like, really deep, man" after the joint has been passed a few times around the circle. He is reluctant (unable?) to quantify anything about Arneson's genius and leaves it almost entirely to broad, unsupported, and ultimately meaningless declarations.

Sadly, I would have to say this book is an embarrassment and possibly does more harm to Arneson's legacy than good. And yet, if you can get past all of its flaws, there is at least one clever thought in Kuntz' rambling manifesto.

AftermathThe final few pages of the book are an attempt to debunk Arnesonian D&D as a derivation of Chainmail and/or Brauenstein. The conclusion is that they were influences, but not ingredients, and I'm fine with that. The argument isn't worth reading.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Holmes' 1983 review of the Call of Cthulhu RPG: Rediscovered and republished in Bayt Al Azif #2

Zenopus Archives - Tue, 09/10/2019 - 12:45
Cover art by Jensine Eckwall
A major announcement for Holmes enthusiasts: in 1983 Holmes wrote a review of the then relatively new Call of Cthulhu RPG (by Sandy Petersen), for the inaugural issue of the short-lived Gameplay Magazine (February '83 to April '84), a periodical similar to Dragon but with much more of a general gaming focus. I was completely unaware of this major piece by Holmes ⁠— one of his last in the field of writing about RPGs ⁠— until recently when the long-lost article was rediscovered by Tony A. Rowe of the Cryptic Archivist blog. The original 1986 author bio for the Maze of Peril novel mentions that Holmes had articles in several magazines including Gameplay, but after finding a computer game review he wrote in a later issue (detailed in the Holmes bibliography) I had assumed that was all he had written for that publication. Not so. The review, which is a two full pages as originally published, is written in his characteristic engaging and genre-fan style and includes anecdotes and advice based on CoC games that he himself had run, as well as providing more fodder for a Holmes "Appendix N"

And now, with the permission of Chris Holmes, I am thrilled to announce that this article is once again in print in the second issue of the Cthulhu RPG magazine Bayt Al Azif, along with brand new illustration by Chris of a scene from one of those actual-play stories (!), and a half-page of commentary on the review by myself (bringing the total to 3 full-pages):



Bayt al Azif issue 2
(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)
Both digital and hardcopy are available through the above link. This second issue is longer ⁠— 108 pages ⁠— than the the first, and once again includes a wide variety of articles of interest to the Cthulhu RPG enthusiast, including multiple scenarios set in different eras. Here's a screenshot of the Table of Contents:




Thanks to Tony for locating and scanning the original article, to Chris for agreeing to reprint it and providing accompanying art, and to the editor Jared Smith for accepting it for his magazine and doing the layout.

See also the earlier post about my article for the first issue of Bayt al Azif.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Lords of Mars

The Viridian Scroll - Fri, 09/06/2019 - 00:19
I made a new game.





I'm almost too tired to talk about it right now, so I'm just going to let you have a look! It's a pastiche of John Carter of Mars based on Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons. More on the making of it, and its future, tomorrow.

Enjoy. Comments, typos, etc. welcome.

Get it here: https://rayotus.itch.io/lords-of-mars





Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Holmes Games at Pacificon

Zenopus Archives - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 15:33
"Tegel Manor mapping" by Guy Fullerton showing a marked 20-sider in use
Over at K&KA Alehouse and Dragonsfoot, Guy Fullerton has posted a con report from Pacificon Game Expo 41, which took place this past Labor Day weekend in Santa Clara, CA, which includes two different Holmes Basic games he played in.

These included Tegel Manor DM'd by Thom Hall:

Open Role Playing
Fri 7 PM
to 11 PM
(4 hrs)R-475: Tegel Manor
Presented by Thom HallHolmes Edition Basic D&D published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, New to gaming, Characters/Armies Supplied, All Ages
Location: Prospector 1 - ADescription:Bob Bledsaw's Tegel Manor published by Judges Guild in 1977. Tegel Manor, a great manor-fortress on the seacoast, is rumored to be left over from ancient days...

...and a Holmes + Greyhawk City State of the Invincible Overlord game DM'd by DF/ODD74 member peterlind, which I didn't see on the event listing.
Guy also ran two sessions of AD&D himself:
Open Role Playing
Sat 9 AM
to 3 PM
(6 hrs)R-321: The Mere Beneath
Presented by Guy FullertonAD&D 1st Ed. published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, General gaming experience, Characters/Armies Supplied, Thirteen and older
Location: Prospector 1 - ADescription:Descend a waterfall to explore the watery caverns, and plunder an ancient Hydromancer fortress. Exploration (no plot) and danger (no fudging). Lvl 4-5
Open Role Playing
Sun 9 AM
to 3 PM
(6 hrs)R-323: The Garden of al-Astorion
Presented by Guy FullertonAD&D 1st Ed. published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, General gaming experience, Characters/Armies Supplied, Thirteen and older
Location: Monterey - ADescription:Rumors say this secluded valley contains a garden of enchanted fruit trees, and gems the size of eggs. Your party surely has the strength to drive off the primitive beast-men within, and reap the rewards. Classic module by Gabor Lux, aka Melan. Exploration (no plot) and danger (no fudging). Lvl 6-9
Now that you've read the event descriptions, head over and read about how the games went.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Herbert Zamboni

The Viridian Scroll - Tue, 09/03/2019 - 15:25
TLDR: It's a monster, it's a puzzle, it's either one depending on how you approach it. Neat design.

This morning I played in an online game of Delving Deeper with Cody Mazza of the No Save for You podcast. (He and I talked about Delving Deeper recently in a two-part episode.) Cody was running Greg Gillespie's excellent megadungeon, Barrowmaze, so I don't know whether to credit him or Greg with this idea.

The party is following the tracks of a rival gang of explorers. (The Bogtown Bastards if you must know. Curse their rotten hides!) We came upon a room at the East end of a hall, with an exit to the North. In the middle of the room (and filling most of it) was a huge quivering mass of flesh and several dead bodies. We needed to get to the door on the other wall, but were understandably reluctant to try and pass this quivering mound. I suggested tossing in a body in the corner opposite the wall we wanted to get to. The mass grew legs, stood up, shambled over to the fresh corpse and then dropped down on it. While it was raised up, we saw faces of other dead people in its belly. Yikes!

I named it Herbert Zamboni – because we plan to come back with a monster charm spell and use it like a zamboni to clean out the hallways for us. Even this time around we used it to polish off dead bodies so that they wouldn't reanimate as zombies, which is something that seems to be happening in the Barrowmaze. After leaving the dungeon it occurred to me that it might actually BE the thing turning corpses into zombies. Like maybe it eats corpses and poops out zombies. We'll see.

Anyway, I liked the fact that this encounter was either a monster or a trap, depending on how you approached it. We could have tried to fight it or burn it, but instead we decided to trick it. (I only had 2 hit points, so you had better believe I wasn't going to try and fight this bugger.)

I drew a picture of Herbert later. At the last second I added some subtle/weird eyes. Or are they nipples? Or maybe both - eyples that lactate milky tears. Shrug.


Herbert Zamboni
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Strategic Review 102 Summer 1975

The Viridian Scroll - Sat, 08/31/2019 - 23:24


Contents:
  • Expanded to 8 pages 
  • An opening memorium to Don Kaye
  • Editorial from Brian Blume to assure everyone that TSR is not in it for the money 
  • Survey for the Strategists Club awards banquet 
  • Cavaliers and Roundheads rules additions
  • News from around the Wargaming World
  • Q&A about D&D rules
  • New Ranger class
  • Creature Feature: the Roper
  • A treatise on Medieval Pole Arms (as promised)
  • Additional unit organizations for Panzer Warfare
  • Ads for Origins I (Baltimore, MD), Gen Con VIII, a game by TSR called War of Wizards, and the Tactical Studies Rules catalog: Cavaliers and Roundheads, D&D, Greyhawk, Tricolor, Warriors of Mars, Star Probe, Chainmail, Tractics, Panzer Warfare, Boot Hill, Classic Warfare, dice and miniatures

Items of  Interest:
The loss of lifelong friend Don Kaye was a huge blow for Gary, just as the business is really taking off. Gary and Don needed capitol to start TSR and Brian Blume bought in for 2k, each partner owning a third of the company. Don was fairly reluctant to partner with Blume at first. Don died of a heart attack shortly before a surgery scheduled to correct it, and his third of the business went to his wife. She didn't want to have anything to do with it, so Brian persuaded his father to buy out Don's share, making the Blumes a 2/3 controlling interest in TSR. This would cause problems later.

One account I read said that Don worked on Boot Hill before he died, but credit on the 1st edition is reserved for Blume and Gygax.
The Wargaming World news is varied but mentions an early zine by Flying Buffalo and the ongoing shift in wargames to sword & sorcery and science fiction themes. 
The D&D Q&A is probably the most valuable and interesting part of this circular. It opens with an explanation that Chainmail is for large-scale battles (1:20) and that the "alternate system in D & D be used to resolve the important melees where principal figures are concerned." It then goes on to say: 
When fantastic combat is taking place there is normally only one exchange of attacks per round, and unless the rules state otherwise, a six-sided die is used to determine how many hit points damage is sustained when an attack succeeds. Weapon type is not considered, save where magical weapons are concerned. A super hero, for example, would attack eight times only if he were fighting normal men (or creatures basically that strength, i.e., kobolds, goblins, gnomes, dwarves, and so on).Considerations such as weapon-type, damage by weapon-type, and damage by monster attack tables appear in the first booklet to be added to the D & D series -- SUPPLEMENT I, GREYHAWK, which should be available about the time this publication is, or shortly thereafter.Initiative is always checked. Surprise naturally allows first attack in many cases. Initiative thereafter is simply a matter of rolling two dice (assuming that is the number of combatants) with the higher score gaining first attack that round. Dice scores are adjusted for dexterity and so on.
After this is an example combat between a single hero and a bunch of orcs, who swarm the hero and try to grapple him! Two hit, but when they roll the grapple check the hero shrugs them off. There are lots of little interesting notes, like how many orcs can attack at a time and that the one who attack from behind get +2.

How to do saves and morale for monsters is clarified. Experience for magic items discussed. And the fire-and-forget spell system is rehashed, noting that wizards can only cast a memorized spell once but can memorize the same spell multiple times.

The most important thing here is to see what parts of the rather fuzzy rules set confused people the most (or mattered to them the most).

The Roper and Ranger are cool additions. Oddly enough the illustration above the roper is a dragon and purple worm. Huh. I would think a roper would be pretty easy to draw – easier than a dragon anyway. Joe Fischer, a name you see a lot in early Dragon articles, wrote up the ranger. The emphasis is on traveling light and operating alone at low levels; they can only own what they carry, can't hire men at arms or servants, and can't work with more than one other ranger. They do, however, get tracking and some followers and spells at later levels. The followers table opens up the idea of unusual companions (e.g. lawful werebear, pegasus, hill giant, etc.).

The Pole Arm article is about as tedious as expected. Stats and special notes are given for 12 different pole arms. Several others are mentioned as variants.

In TSR news we find out that price of dice is rising!
Finally, be prepared for an increase in the price of multi-sided dice sets. The volume of business we do in dice is increasing, and what has been carried as an accommodation has reached the point where it is barely breaking even; then the manufacturer upped our price by some 35%. The cost will go to $2.50/set immediately.
According to an inflation calculator, that's about $12.10 in 2019. So it was fairly high; given that you can buy a basic set of dice for around $9 or less.

I wondered if War of Wizards was any good. The advertisement promised $5 pre-release rules sets for a game that would cost at least $7 on release. Heading off to Boardgamegeek, I found some pictures and discovered that it was written by M.A.R. Barker of Empire of the Petal Throne fame. Players over at the geek rated the game a measly 4.7. The games counters (cardboard chits) are horrendously bland, but everything else looks pretty good. The battle takes place on a 20-space track, and there are 71 different spells to choose from. There were two editions published back in the day, '77 ad '79. And Tita's House of Games published an edition in 1999. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Strategic Review 101 Spring 1975

The Viridian Scroll - Sat, 08/31/2019 - 03:57


This TSR house engine began as a six-page, two-column circular with clean, sans-serif fonts. Printed before the Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements, it provides an interesting look at D&D in diapers.

Contents included:
  • News – primarily plans for future publications 
  • A "Creature Feature" in which the Mind Flayer made its first appearance
  • A summary of changes to the new printing of Tractics
  • A discussion of spears in Chainmail, which ends in a promise to really do pole-arms justice in the future (which had me snickering, knowing just how much space they got in AD&D)
  • Two and a half pages on "Solo Dungeon Adventures" 
This last article and largest feature of SR101 was penned by Gary Gygax, with thanks to George A. Lord and play testing credit to Rob Kuntz and Ernie Gygax. Most of the three pages consisted of random dungeon generation tables that would later appear in the AD&D DMG, roughly three years later.

Some of my own earliest solo explorations used these tables and I found them to be quite workable. I was using the DMG versions, but I may have to give these precursors a whirl.

One thing I have to say, I love the look of this zine. I wish that Dragon had adopted some of the same no-nonsense styling. But I realize I may be in the minority in that wish.

Look for more of these posts as I continue my forensics into early D&D. It's, quite frankly, fascinating to see the ideas come together.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Philippe Druillet Is a Genius

The Viridian Scroll - Thu, 08/29/2019 - 19:35
TLDR: Druillet's Lone Sloan is all about the drawings, and the drawings are INCREDIBLE.

This isn't really RPG related, and yet it seems like something I want to talk about in this space.





Let me talk about the story first. An interstellar rogue is approached by some red priests to rip off the emperor of a pleasure planet. It gets messy. Despite all the high action, the story is a bit plodding at times, but by the end it all kind of comes together in something pretty cool. And, honestly, it read like an RPG session!





The drawings have that kind of greebly-vastness that only certain artists can pull off. Every panel is packed with squiggly details that suggest as much as delineate, but are nonetheless exact in their own way. Not just noise in the same way that the best punk music or stoner rock isn't just noise.





The panel layouts are incredible. They have a kaleidoscopic symmetry that reminds me of the work of Joseph Stella.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Evolution of D&D in a Nutshell

The Viridian Scroll - Wed, 08/28/2019 - 16:57
Click to embiggen.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Yokai Goons

The Viridian Scroll - Tue, 08/27/2019 - 16:20
TLDR: It's hard to pick a favorite Tunnel Goons hack, but this might be mine: a two-page ghost detective game set in the Meiji Restoration period of Japan (follows the Edo period). 

Yokai Hunter. In format this free game is two tri-folds: one for the player(s), referred to as the "Hunter," and one for the "Grand Master."

Front of the Hunter's Book: woodcut by hokusai, 1834.
Let's start with the latter, the GM tri-fold. It contains a summary of 10 different types of Yokai (supernatural creatures); 2d8 (15 total) missions; a summary of the historical period; further information on how to create Yokai, hunters, and NPCs; and cogent advice on running the game, with questions about the setting the group can/should explore.

The Hunter tri-fold contains a character sheet; d20 table of names, ages, and occupations; an equipment list; and the core rules. I have already talked about Tunnel Goons in previous posts. Yokai Hunter differs quite a bit from the original game, taking Nate Treme's invention and making the system into something with the right bells and whistles for a period ghost hunting thing. Here are some of the highlights.


  • Sentence-based character concept: "I'm a [trait][occupation] who [something from your past] and seeks [a goal]. E.g. "I'm Hachiro a nervous smuggler who is hunted by a former patron and seeks anonymity." (Hunters where ritual masks when they hunt so I imagine my character "hiding" in this role, drawing on his family's knowledge of ghost hunting. His dad wanted him to go into the family business, as it were, but Hachiro turned to smuggling to get rich quick – and because ghosts scare the bejeebus out of him.)
  • Path-based stats: Courage, Self-Control, and Wisdom. These are somewhat self-explanatory, but they are used in interesting ways. The system describes them as follows: when you roll dice "the GM will indicate which path you should follow: Courage (for actions that involve impetuosity or anger), Self-control (for actions in which it is necessary to remain calm and control one's impulses), or Wisdom (for actions that require certain knowledge or prudent and thoughtful behavior)."
  • Special Equipment. When you acquire an item you test Wisdom and, if you pass, the item grants a +1 bonus, situationally. This is a really interesting way to codify magic items into a system in an unexpected and fun way.
  • Resolution gradation. Not sure what else to call this. The author Chema González (aka Punkpadour) has essentially worked PbtA resolution categories into Tunnel Goons. 10+ you succeed. 9 = you succeed, but suffer a consequence. 8 or less you fail and the situation escalates.
  • Advantage/disadvantage. And Chema throws in this mechanic, which has become really popular in designs since the introduction of D&D 5e. The hunter rolls an extra d6 and discards one – highest if disadvantaged, lowest if advantaged.
  • Cursed die. And Chema adds a cursed die that starts at a d8. Basically you roll it "when you want to bet your very soul" in an action. You can't roll it while advantaged. The die, however, works like advantage – you drop the lowest one in your pool which contains 2d6 and the cursed die. If the result of the cursed die (whether you succeed or fail) is higher than your current Curse Resistance you attract bad luck and lose a point from your Curse Resistance tracker. I'm not going to get any further into this mechanic. You can read it for yourself, but you basically have a pool that shrinks as you become more cursed and is replenished only through ritual cleansing at a holy site (at a cost). And the cursed die changes sizes based on your points. It's cool.

So, what's not to like. Well, I do have a small reservation about two things: 1) having both + and advantage mechanics in the same system and 2) having difficulties that exceed 10 when 10 is a success. (What does it mean if you get an 11, but the difficulty is a 12? Did you get a mixed success, as in a 9?) But beyond that – and I don't really know if any of this is a problem without playing the game – there is nothing to not like. Which is to say, everything about this game just sings to me. It looks fantastic. 
BTW, the art, font-choices, and design sensibility are all wonderful as well. The character sheet is really attractive and makes the curse mechanic much easier to grok. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Solo Play: Eternal Caverns of Urk Part 1

The Viridian Scroll - Sun, 08/25/2019 - 20:30
The mad prophets have sentenced me to walk the Eternal Caverns of Urk until I receive a vision from the First God. I fear I will not return, and if I do I may be no longer sane.

[This is a solo play narrative, making use of Nate Treme's Eternal Caverns of Urk zine. My character is Kesh the Domite. HP 10, Brute 0, Skulker 1, Erudite 2. Items: mirror, flask, cloak uneven gray. I tried to stay in first person, but probably messed up some.]

Beneath a merciless noon sun I stare into the dark, cool void of the cavern's mouth. The rock in this region is chalky, formed into great boulders and plates of rainbow hues. Black moss coats the entrance. I remind myself that I have been commanded to enter, but my feet are unwilling for the moment. I check the meager "gifts" I was given when parting from the prophets, the only things I was allowed to bring: a flask of clear liquid (water?), a small mirror, and the strange cloak of striated gray that they insisted I wear despite the heat.

I step inside. The air is cold and mildewy. I will soon be grateful for the cloak I think. And the use of the water seems obvious enough, unless they have given me poison, or more likely some form of dream nectar. What of the mirror? Of what possible use could that be?

I walk for some hours, leaving the light behind me. Moving in total blackness by the touch of my fingers on the wall I begin to think I can see floating lights. At first I am convinced they are random flailing of my optic nerves, but they resolve into softly glowing eyeballs the size of beer barrels.

At first I am too terrified to move, but they keep their distance. Watching. One of them bounces and gyrates in a crazy motion, never breaking its steady gaze upon me. I walk forward, but this seems to displease them and they bar my way. Another takes up the crazy looping antics of its peer, but with a sinuous grace in place of the frenetic hopping of the former. When it stops I start to walk forward again, but quickly see them draw together. So I imitate their ritualistic dancing with some moves of my own. Katas I learned from my youth. Concentrating on my breathing and execution to calm my fears, I go through the 39 stations of the most complicated routine I know.

[This is the first roll I made other than generating random stuff. Turns out these giant eyes were into dance battles. I got by with a 10, including a +1 from Skulker.]

The eyes glisten around me. Then they all weave and bob excitedly, looking at each other as much as me. And for a miracle they arrange themselves in a broken line ahead of me, softly lighting my way.

And I go forward.

The cavern is wide here. Filled with strange yellow fungi of many hard-edged facets. Their geometry seems something more than random and I contemplate them for some time. The air here has grown warm and humid. And glowing drops of water fall form the ceiling in a florescent rain. Parched, and unwilling to drink from my flask, trusting this unnatural water over the unknown liquid in the gifted flask, I point my face toward the cavern ceiling and drink.

My heart freezes as I see a flabby mantis clinging to the ceiling. Inverted over me and frozen in with it's thorny forelimbs reaching toward me. Had I not looked up ... I shudder to think.

I tuck and roll forward into the yellow "trees" as the mantis springs forward and down. [Roll+Skulker, Success - barely] He misses, but quickly recovers and scuttles across the ceiling, hunting me. The cuboid blooms of the trees are between us, giving me cover. The mantis stops, seemingly befuddled, and stares in my direction with that strange pinched face. Suddenly there is a small voice ...

In my head! "Come out little one. Show yourself to me. I am no threat to one such as you. We will be friends."





It's a soothing voice, but something tells me not to trust it. [Roll+Erudite, Success - barely]. I know better than to come out, but I find myself unable to move. I call out loudly. "Help!"

For some minutes the voice keeps trying to coax me from my spot. I bite my cheeks and pinch myself to keep it from soothing me into feeding myself to this psychic monster. After an interminable time, I hear soft, thumping footsteps. Then a loud crack and the mantis drops, almost on top of me, stone dead.

"I say. Come out of there young fellow. You can't go messing around with these Prizing Mantises you know. Dangerous stuff. Luckily I was returning from my hunt and heard your call. Come with me and we'll get you a stiff drink. I expect you could use one!"

I hear the fruity, mellow voice of this rescuer long before I see him. It's a rather nice voice and I stand up, revealing my location. "Thank the prophets that ... Oh, hi there."

I went a bit speechless at this point. Before me is an 8' tall fellow covered in pink fur. He is extremely round and a bit bear-ish, but with two, short horns curving over his fuzzy dome. Despite his fearsome size, he somehow seems a bit comical to me, standing there in a fussily-stitched vest of green and holding the smoking barrel of some metal staff, but something tells me not to laugh. Bad manners I think – but it's more than that. I sense a vague danger. "Thank you for the rescue. And yes, I could use something to drink. How far is it to your home?"

He informs me that he and his people are camped just a few caverns further in. And that they would be welcome of some outside news. So I walk along with him, skipping to keep up at times. His gate is awkward but covers a lot of ground. As we walk, he prattles on endlessly about the flora and fauna of the caverns. As if educating me.

In fact he is telling me things I had no way of knowing ere now, but somehow it rubs me the wrong way. Like he is some pompous professor trying to fill my head with useless facts that he will test me on later. I try to listen, but I spend more time sizing him up than absorbing his words.

When we reach our destination, I am shocked at the level of comfort represented by something so hastily called a camp. Slender lightweight rods support little gaily colored cabins of silk. There is a small fire, hardly needed for warmth here, but the flames are licking at pot of something that smells incredible! A spicy stew of some kind that promises to be both hearty and energizing.

[Took a break here for tonight. I think I'm in trouble as these fellows are into taxidermy.]
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