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The Power of Porcus

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 05/04/2020 - 11:00

Our 5e Land of Azurth came continued last night. In the last adventure, the party had followed some robbed figures into passages beneath the town of Shkizz. There they fought some giant rats and found a door beyond which they could hear chanting. They tried to slowly open the door, but when it appeared stuck, they just forced it.

The  robbed figures encircled a strange fire within a domed room carved from limestone. Above the fire hovered an anthropomorphic boar with undersized bird wings. One of the cultists sighted them, and the group demanded the party leave, as did the boar creature, Porcus, in a stuttering voice.

The party declined, and a melee ensued. The party dished out some damage, but Porcus was no slouch and soon Dagmar was down. Shade went to rescue their healer, but Porcus used their lack of focus as a chance to teleport out of the fight and slip into a secret door at the far end of the room. Our heroes, bloodied, had no appetite for chasing him

The cultists filed out past them with disapproving glances and remarks about both their jailbreak and their rude interruption of the meeting. The group let them go, then followed them back up to the surface.

Dawn was breaking. The party returned to their rooms where their stuff was still intact, and caught a short rest. The next day the townsfolk, once again law abiding, gave the party no trouble. The innkeeper had been among the cultists, but he either couldn't or wouldn't discuss Porcus.

Our heroes decide to go on a stakeout to see what happens at the switch over from day to night behavior. Dagmar was outside as night fell (determined to guard the wagon after two wheels were stolen the night before), and noticed strange flowers abruptly blooming on am unfamiliar tree. Detect magic reveals these blossoms to be magical.

Shade with her woodland lore knows them to be fay-flower trees. They cause madness. They were believed to be extinct.

The party believes it's the long term exposure to these blossoms causing the weird behavior, but where does Porcus enter into this? Before the nighttime revelers come out, they decide to go back to the underground tunnels to lie in wait in the ceremony room.

They do a little bit more exploring and bust into the home of mushroom farmer wererats, then happen upon another wererat pretending to be a captured human. In the ritual chamber, they find two wereboars emerging from the secret room (who they dispatch) but no Porcus. They settle in to wait...

5150 Preview?

Two Hour Wargames - Mon, 05/04/2020 - 02:15
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Walk through Harnmaster - Treasure and Bestiary, the final sections.

Bat in the Attic - Sun, 05/03/2020 - 18:41
First the Harnmaster Boxed Set kickstarter is on its last day.

TreasureThis is a 24 Page Article

This article is in part commentary on the value of things and a catalog of treasure. I found the first part very useful and adopted it wholesale for the Majestic Wilderlands as it fleshed out a mundane treasure a lot. The latter part has a lot of flavor but it is more tied to Harnmaster and the Harn setting.

The Value of ItemsThe advice is not give out the "value" as what the PCs get for it will be part of a subjective appraisal than a straight conversion into coin.

Treasure RegisterGiven the above the referee is advised to keep a secret treasure register where the generated value and characteristics are record.

Treasure AgeAs part of this the age of the treasure is generated. While a bit fiddly, Harn does a good job of structuring it time period into something more managable than usual. There are seven time periods each a very distinctive time in Harn's history. The unclearest are the differences, between Modern, Middle , and Anicent. A better way to look at it would be Current Kingdom, Early in the Kingdom's history, pre-Kingdom history.

Treasure ConditionNext is the condition of the treasure when it is found. Pristine or corroded badly?

Personal Possessions
Next a useful series of tables to generate the possessions of a NPCs. I suggest making a possesion roster for common types of NPCs as it something you don't want to do during play. Possession can consist of Clothing, Armor, Silver/Gold, Usurer's Notes, Gems/Jewelry, Trade Goods, Misc Items, and Camping/Equipment.

Next are the detailed listing and treasure generation for different types of treasure.

Potions and ElixirsHarn relies more on potions made from natural herbs than the traditional magic potion. For those of you who play classic DnD, I created my own take on this.

Gems and JewelryA detailed system for generating jewelry or unmounted gems. Very useful for other RPGs.

Written WorksHarnmaster put some emphasis on written works as mundane treasure. The result can be flavorful and sold to the right party can net the party quite a bit.

Mystic TomesGenerating works of a magical nature. The main mechanical effect is improving one or more skills.

Armor and WeaponsThis section generate armor and weapons as treasure. Focusing on the mundane effect like adornments and weapon quality.

ArtifactsThese are the magic items of Harnmaster. They are divided into two groups, major artifacts and minor artifacts. Major artifacts invariably have personalities although not all of them are sentient. Major artifacts have multiple powers while minor artifacts have only one.

The rest of the article about artifacts talkes about the different type of personalities (artifical, natural). How does Harnmaster Magic work with artifacts. A summary of some Harnmaster Magic spells that could be part of a major artifact so you can make them without owning HM Magic. How some artifacts need mental attunement which in-game is a empathic bond with the artifact and not some artifical treasure limitation. Some ways to invoke the artifact powers. Finally how Artifacts are powered by magical charges.

Artifact example.

Earthmaster ArtifactsThe last section, 3 pages, are a table and list of Earthmaster artifacts and their abilities. Earthmaster are the enigmatic precurser race found in Harn and left several extensive ruins.

Earthmaster Artifact example.

BestiaryThis is a 8 page article

While the Bestiary is only 8 pages the Harnmaster RPG comes with three additional article fully fleshing three types of creatures Gargun (Harnic Orcs), Ivashu (Divinely created monstrosities), and Yelgri (Harnic Harpies/Gargoyles).

Bestiary StatsThis this section explains how creatures are presented and what their attributes means. Like Runequest, GURPS, D&D 3.X and many other system, creatures have the same attributes as character. However due to the article format that Harn uses there also an abbreviated one line stat block also used especially in the Bestiary article itself.

Rather than go blow by blow it just easier to show by using the Yelgri statistics

Creatures have a Description, Attributes, Skills, Armor rating, and often a custom strike location chart. Somewhat similiar to Runequest.

This section also has notes on Ethereals or non-corporeal creatures. Basically only enchanted weapons and spells can effect them.

It also gives notes on making your own creature using charts like the below.

Special CasesThis section covers special attacks and abilities including: Acid, Attacks on Ships, Charging Attacks, Crushing Attacks (constrictors), Tangle Attacks, Tossing, Venomous Bites/Stings.

The remaining 5 pages of the article are series of landscape charts giving the short stat blocks of many mundance and magical Harnic creatures.

GargunThis is a 12 page article detailing Gargun or Harnic Orcs

Gargun appeared relatively recently in Harnic history. Created or summoned by Harn's only empire building mage, Lothrim the Foulspawner. After the fall of Lothrim's empire, his gargun servitors fled into the wilderness where they thrived after a fashion. Competing with barbarian tribes and isolated realms like the Dwarven kingdom of Azadmere.

There are several varieties of Gargun: Arak (Small Orc), Hyeka (Brown Orc), Khanu (Black Orc), Kyani (White Orc), and Viasal (Red Orc).

They have a unique biology in that each tribe is descended from a single queen who lays eggs that eventually hatch a gargun. The article goes into their history, culture, religion, and the different tribes as of 720 TR.

IvashuThis is a 6 page article detailing the different varities of Ivashu. These are monsters created by the Harnic God Ilvir who is said to dwell in a tower in the center of the island. There are different varities along with unique creatures. This articles details the five most common that are encountered.

They are Aklash (the choking wind), Hru (Rock Giant), Nolah (Dank Stalker), Umbath (Bearer of the Mask), Vlasta (Eater of Eyes).

Some like the Nolah are reminiscence of a DnD monster like Trolls some like the Vlasta are their own special form of Harnic terror. However they all have unique spin due to their back story of being created by the god Ilvir.

YelgriThis is a four page article.

This creatures is nicknamed the Harnic Harpy. It readly more like DnD's gargoyle but more mundane in origin. They are semi-intelligent and inhabit the mountainous regions of Harn.

Below is an example a naturalist style inhabited range chart that nearly all the creature articles use. This one is for the Yelgri

Wrapping it upSo that it for my walk through Harnmaster. Hope you enjoyed it, found it informative and will try out the system some day. It pricey but the quality is there and been the same since the mid 80s.

The previous post was Campaigns.This is the final post in this series.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Stalwart Age Stories

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 05/03/2020 - 17:58
Doc Stalwart's adventures are now going to be published as stand-alone short stories. While I was publishing them as a hybrid story/game supplement, my publishing plan for Sentinels going forward means that these stories belong on their own. I will update this page as I publish new stories.

Doc Stalwart Issue One
Doc Stalwart Issue Two
Doc Stalwart Issue Three

Sentinels Locations - First Thoughts

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 05/03/2020 - 17:01

Doing some brainstorming for this project:
Nexus Rings are 50’ wide metallic bands composed of an alloy derived from several meteoric metals. These rings have been distributed throughout the known galaxy by the same alien race that created Doc’s ship. They require a complex activation sequence and possession of a ‘key’ that is composed of a comparable alloy. Note: There is an ancient alien race of scientist types who were good-natured, and who put a lot of things in place. They were kind of Ancient Rome on a cosmic scale, but they are now extinct. A lot of technology is their ancient stuff that is just being found now.
Introduction: Standard Locations (6-10 of them). These would be common ‘sorts’ of locations. There would be general commonalties, and maybe 3 sample floor plans for each one. Maybe a page of information, and a page with three floorplans… so a total of 2 pages each?
  1. Bank Floorplans
  2. Warehouse Floorplans
  3. Factory Floorplans
  4. Manufacturing / Processing Plant Floorplans
  5. Office Building Floorplans
  6. Goonsquad Fight Clubs
  7. Tunnels in the Depths

After skimming through the core rules, here are some sample locations that I want to develop:
  1. Harvyst’s House of Horrors. A maze of traps and illusions to drive visitors insane, crafted by the criminal Harvyst.
  2. Boondock’s Hideaway. Booncock, his bouncer Knuckles, and several of the villains who routinely stay there (just some more general villains for your use).
  3. The Penthouse Stronghold of Cybron and his criminal empire.
  4. The Jungle Abode of Simian Prime. The ape’s treetop fortress along with his mechs, battle suits, creations, and various apish minions.
  5. A school of young supervillains being trained by someone evil. Maybe an evil Hogwarts?
  6. The Volcanic Fortress of Marog Kyl. Set atop of volcanic spire on a distant world, inhabited by magma creatures, preparing to wage war as Marog tries to activate a Nexus Ring that sits in the shadow of his fortress.
  7. The Ruins of Demascus Station – a fragmented space station filled with strange and wonderful objects gleaned from a hundred worlds, now controlled by a strange sentient race.
  8. The Undersea Temple at Poseidon’s Beard. A vast undersea temple complex now held by a race of underwater militants and their various allies.
  9. Antiquity Isle. An island in the Bermuda Triangle populated by dinosaurs, protected by a dinosaur-riding savage, and watched over by a technological complex hidden deep in a volcanic crater, where scientists carefully monitor the isle’s inhabitants. Game stats for dinosaurs, prehistoric beasts, and savage peoples.
  10. The Powers Family Sky Fortress. The base of operations for the Powers Family.
  11. New Valhalla’s Fortress.
  12. Underground Mutant Stronghold in Meridian (map of Meridian? List of encounters?)
  13. First Family Dojo (See page 115).
  14. Vigilance Dam and the Hall of Heroes (see page 119).
  15. Witch Alley? (page 123)
  16. Arkovian Bunker where a villain holds sway. (see page 124)
  17. Marakevian fortress (see page 124)
  18. Part of Saltmere? (page 124)
  19. Part of Zualu (page 124)
  20. Mystic Tower of Zan Zelak. The center of the Keeper of the Mystic Veil, a well of all worlds, and the elder library of all known things. Stats for the Chronicle.
  21. Ro the Ravager’s Celestial Tower. Ro, the Voice of Ro, his various creations, and a whole bunch of weirdness.
  22. Ruins of The Tomorrow Complex. This could be its own section of the rules, with several sample levels. These could be themed with time travel, the undead, alternate worlds, and various strange laboratories. This could be five sections easy.

Sentinels Campaign Setting

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 05/03/2020 - 15:19

I have decided to at least try to develop a Sentinels of Echo City campaign book, but I still am not sure how to focus it. Let’s set out some goals for the project and then discuss how one might approach such a thing…
A campaign guide, to my mind, should do several things. First of all, it should provide a relatively comprehensive backdrop for gaming. This is different philosophically from developing an encyclopedia of the known world. It is not Wikipedia of Stalwart Earth. It is a roleplaying game supplement, and I want to approach it that way. It is supposed to provide a foundation for ongoing play, not lay out an existing universe in detail.
I also don't want it to be a catalog of characters. It is not the 'official handbook of the Sentinel Universe' or anything.
One issue is that I already did a ‘general’ overview in the core rules. It’s 20 pages long, and gives a pretty solid, albeit cursory, overview of the game world. I don’t want to just take that, write it again, and add ten layers. I feel like the primer that is there is pretty good – I could add a whole bunch of miscellaneous detail, but it wouldn’t significantly add to the game or the world. What you NEED to know is already in the core rules.
Focus on the idea of hooks. Every element should include hooks – not only what is it, but how you might use it in play.
Maybe I could think of it on the whole as expanding section 10: Adventures. Rather than writing linear adventures, I could provide 20+ settings within and connected to Sentinel Earth that may provide a foundation for adventure. These could range from the small to the large, from street level to cosmic. Wormwood Station, the Junkyard Dawg’s Compound, and Aegis Section Delta (from the core rules) all provided a map to explore, visit, invade, defend… a few of the characters that inhabit the location, and hooks for how you might set an adventure there. This would allow me to ‘dip my toes’ into dozens of locations, exploring each of them in significant depth while skimming past other places. These then become iconic, archetypal locations that suggest what similar locations might be like. This also allows me to build on the core rules while basically eliminating redundancy, which I like.
These ideas lend themselves to a modular approach. I could work on these one at a time, each at about 4-8 pages. I could release them as pay what you want downloads as I do them, trying to knock out one every few weeks. Once they are all done, I could go back and bundle them together in one master book. An average of 6 pages with 20 of them would be 120 pages, so targeting a 128-page supplement is not out of line. The core rules are 192 pages. To create another book that long, I'd need to create about 30 different locations... I do think that a version of the Solitaire Framework would be at the front of the book, and that the whole idea would be that you use the Solitaire Framework to build adventures as you explore locations. There is not a lot of 'he is sitting on his throne counting gold coins when the heroes arrive' type of text; it will be more along the lines of 'the villain is likely to be working in his lab, but is possibly in any other location in the complex.'


The visual design should be the same as Sentinels. I don't want to create a 'new' look for the game. I want to build on what I've already done, and have a second book that looks and feels like a companion to the original.

Fighting Fists, Terror Claws, and Mechanical Horses

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 05/03/2020 - 14:00

One thing about Masters of the Universe (and by extension likely any hypothetical rpg based on it) is that, sort of like D&D, advancement often means the acquisition of stuff. There are no mounds of gold or jewels for the heroic warriors of Eternia, though, instead they get new vehicles, the occasional animal mount, and He-man, at least, gets battle armor, flying fists, and thunder punch accessories. In other words, it's toyetic.

The other thing is these innovations aren't mass produced. All the heroes don't get battle armor any more than they all get a power sword. In the more post-apocalyptic world of the early minicomics these items are analogous to D&D artifacts

To keep the game becoming more of an arm race than the source material is, these items should require attunement or bonding. Getting more bonding slots/points should probably be one of the rewards for advancement.

Looking around, one MOTU inspired rpg, Warriors of Eternity, takes this into account, with new bond points doled in reward for narrative goals.

Skeletor levels up

Thoughts on Running an AD&D Campaign

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sun, 05/03/2020 - 13:07

So I am six sessions into an AD&D campaign with no modules, no resources beyond the core rules and the monster books. Normally this is a crisis point in a campaign. If I am running something that isn’t D&D, I am generally burned out from the effort required to keep things going. AD&D is not like that! It has many qualities that bring energy into the system. An AD&D campaign that gets over the initial hump has a momentum of its own. It is far less effort to keep it going than it is to go do practically anything else. The act of allowing the AD&D rules to set the baseline structure combined with a willingness to allow play to go where it must opens up a deep well of inspiration.

For those not following the campaign play by play, here are a list of differences between AD&D and B/X:

  • Magic is way more interesting. Tons of off the wall spells get used. Having to find magic the AD&D way creates one of the best incentives to adventure ever made. Success here– finding even two or three new first level spells– can fundamentally change the nature of the game and the balance of power between the first level classes. Exciting!
  • With three big books of monsters instead of a “pure” edited down list of archetypes, the players run into something they’ve never seen before almost every session. Everyone knows the original monster manual monsters by heart and they can recognize the B/X monsters especially with minimal description. AD&D monsters are all over the place, and because they were created before anything was really systematized, they have big broad-brush features that eat standard dungeon operating procedures for breakfast. Weird is good!
  • The “down and critically injured at exactly zero hit points” rule takes out some of B/X’s arbitrary death, gives one more thing for players to consider doing when in the heat of battle, and presents a real problem when the players have to figure out a way to evacuate someone from the dungeon when monsters threaten to overwhelm the slow moving party. Also, having a particular character being out of play for a week of game time allows a player to continue attempting to level their main PC while giving them the chance to sample something completely different.
  • The crazy rich range of player characters can completely change the tenor of the party in an instant. A group with an assassin will play completely differently from one with a paladin. The presence of a ranger or a half elven fighter/magic-user/thief can have wild effects on the behavior of the party as a whole. The nature of the game seems to change faster than the players can master it, keeping things surprising, weird, and fresh where B/X might turn into a grind.
  • Specifically, unbalanced classes that warp and stress common assumptions about the rules do something unique to the game. ACKS, for instance, has many variant classes. The assassin and the priestess classes there were sampled, found to be uncompelling, and then passed over. AD&D eschews balance, even coherence in favor of over the top archetypes. This is not a problem to be solved but rather a phenomenon to be leveraged– it makes everything more dynamic, less static. If attribute methods can limit the frequency of the weird stuff sufficiently (and one-in-nine chance of a paladin seems just about right) then this is a potent spice for exciting gameplay.
  • The easy access to healing at first level is balanced by the mind-blowing amount of gold required to pay training costs. Making it to second level– anyone making it to second level– is something that can take two or even three times as long. Anyone that makes it there will be out of play for a couple weeks of game time for training, again opening things up to allow for the player to try out a completely new character type.
  • The “one real world day corresponds to one game day” rule is the one thing that ties all of this together. I am strongly tempted to run more than one session a week when a time-dependent opportunity emerges in play. Players haven’t suggested this, but I suspect that two competing groups with some overlap between players would be insane. (One would probably cohere around the paladin, the good group… the other would be the circus freaks.) What I have seen at the table is that there is an extra incentive to do “just one more delve” when the players come back with no treasure. They see an opportunity, they fear it won’t be there next week, they know a little more than they did before, they think they can just go get it, they’ve underestimated how much real time it will take to do this because time just flies while you’re playing this game– and so they go back into the dungeon when other groups are tempted to call it a night. Gaming gold, y’all!

In summary, AD&D is objectively better than every other incarnation of the D&D game system.

No one understood what in the heck OD&D was, what it ought to be, what it could be. (Ken St. Andre and Steve Jackson had entirely reasonable responses to early D&D– ie, actually go design a game that people can understand.) Meanwhile, Gary Gygax had certainly discovered something that could keep people coming back to his house nightly for years on end.

Holmes and Moldvay only saw parts of this. What they saw and what they expressed about the game was certainly good. But Gygax knew something that they didn’t. And proven gaming wisdom that can allow you to recreate the wonder and excitement of his home campaign is baked into the AD&D rules.

All you have to do is let it work for you!

Just quit trying to fix it. The stuff you think is obviously broken all solves gaming problems you don’t even know you have.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 6: The Pugs of Slaughter

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sun, 05/03/2020 - 00:03

This session, I had to get a new recruit up to speed. Couldn’t help but notice that a summation of the campaign events that mean so much to me just come across as noise. But I have to sketch out the game space enough that people can make decisions even when they don’t want to know the details.

New guy wants to play an elf fighter/magic-user. He has no idea how spell selection works in AD&D and as he rolls up his starting spells he innocently asks if he starts with Read Magic. I jump in immediately with “OBVIOUSLY you start with Read Magic. Seriously what kind of adventure game is going to start you with spells but not give you Read Magic. Inconceivable!” Not sure if he got the joke.

Anyways, I briefly attempt to explain to the guys that there are some people who are really good at D&D and that most are not. I have seen a wide range of play ability and this group is… average. With that as a preamble I tell them that due to their recent successes (and also due to the DM getting the death dial rule wrong), other parties of adventurers have started forming, following their group’s example. One party went into the sewers and got completely wrecked. It’s possible that some were taken hostage. They were all saving up gold so they can level. Guy at the tavern says that they will gladly fork it over if they are rescued. And there may even be a spell book with three swoleceror spells in it if the magic user didn’t make it. Could be great!

Now, I hasten to interject that I am not trying to steer the players one way or the other. They are free to do anything, go anywhere. But I am certainly not trying to convince them to take on the sort of risk that could get them all killed. The players did not debate this at all. The paladin used is detect evil on this thief to confirm that this wasn’t some kind of ruse.

I’d told the players that there were ten men-at-arms willing to go in on this one due to the party’s reputation and the lure of large amounts of gold. We consulted the rules on this and determined that they would cost 1 gp a month. Compared to the cost of plate armor and training fees, this was of course nothing. Life is cheap in AD&D! (If I was Alexander Macris, I could tell you how many of these guys would be available in the fair city of Trollopulous. But I am not!)

The party decides that entering at a different location is a good idea. They go up the northeast of their entrance and head into the sewers. Before they go in, they notice a sinister figure that fades in into the city when they catch him observing them. Down in the sewers, they hear maniacal laughter to the east. The players ignore all this and head west.

After a couple hours of slogging in the much, they hear fluting sounds. The players immediately thing “At the Mountains of Madness”, but before they could decide what to do, these green balls with suction cup tubes pointing in every direction land right in the middle of their men-at-arms. They are easily beat down but one man-at-arms takes some damage. The cleric heals him and the players decide to turn back.

Somehow they end up going north. At this point I have no idea where they are trying to go or what they are trying to do. Then these howling wild men crash into them, hooting and hollering in a most unsettling way. The men-at-arms are shaken and fall back a bit. The cleric uses Command on one of them to cause one of them to charge. He is cut down by the bestial, howling wild men.

At this point the men-at-arms completely break. The players finish off the wild men and are disappointed that they don’t have any treasure. They make a halfhearted effort to look for a lair, but then turn back. During the fighting the party’s stalwart cleric happened to take enough damage that he dropped to exactly zero hit points. The paladin healed up to one hit point and the players evacuated him out of the dungeon and back to the city.

Upon returning to the tavern, they players are shocked to find the nine surviving men-at-arms ingratiating themselves to various wanton wenches with tales of their daring exploits in the sewers below Trollopulous. The players are furious and rebuke them in front of everyone, brandishing their blood and muck-covered boots with pride as they instruct everyone in the extents of their audacity.

Three hours of game time has elapsed by this point and I suggest that the players can take another stab at this if they wish. Combing back from the dungeon empty handed galls them, so they readily assent.

The cleric’s player rolls up his replacement– a half-elf Fighter/Magic-User/Thief, half-brother to Keebler Khan. (Their mom is very prolific.) The cleric had very much walked the line throughout the campaign, frequently admonishing the other players to be brave, pursue good, and turn away from trollops in order to pursue higher things. Switching him over to a half-elf changed the tenor of the session 180 degrees. In a lispy voice, no innuendo was off the table as this one player took and held the notorious rpg-spotlight for the rest of the night.

Back in the sewers with a lisping charisma-18 half-elf leading the nine men-at-arms into the depths. The players come across a door. Ten attempts later it is open and they find an oil-scorched room with a sinkhole in it. The half-elf is down it in a moment and discovers a cave complex below. He was all set to explore it and/or bring everyone else down with him, but then the ranger recalled to everyone that they were on a mission. Later!

An hour of trudging though the sewage brings the players to a new location. The elf and the half-elf go forward to spy things out. They see heat signatures and go for surprise. I think they get two segments of surprise, dropping one pug-man with darts and arrows. The elfs high tail it back to the main body. The half-elf dives under the legs of five men-at-arms, looking up the skirts of their leather armor as he dives to the middle ranks, because of course he does. He yells words of encouragement to them as the front line meets with the guards. With a paladin in front and a second rank of spearmen backing him up, the pug-men are decimated in the exchange after taking a couple of flaming oil canisters to the face.

Two surviving dog men flee inside of a cave. The party pursues and then three men-at-arms fall into a pit. They can see three different passages from there. The party takes out the two fleeing pug-men with ranged weapons and the half-elf scouts out the room the pug-men were going to. He blunders in the aftermath of an epic pug-man pow wow and loses 5 segments to surprise, nearly getting killed in the process.

The rest of the party then goes into the room and the party takes on about 14 pug-men as the come back from an incredible stupor. It’s total chaos. Pretty soon, men-at-arms are dropping like flies. The tides of battle turn against the pcs, in part due to ill-timed losses on initiative. In a last ditched effort, the players target everything they have on the leader in the hopes of causing the monsters to fail a morale check. The elf wades in with his shield spell on and takes him down, but dies in the process along with the half-elf and eight men-at-arms. But the pug-men flee the room and head down the left unexplored passage.

The players don’t even search for treasure but haul every human body out of the room in order to give them a Christian burial. They make it back to the sewers when they hear drumming sounds. The players refuse to ditch the bodies of the dead, but with 30+ vials of flaming on them, create a sufficient blaze to cover their escape, narrowly making it out of the dungeons alive.

Only two men-at-arms were still alive at the end. The paladin’s henchman Sullivan had dropped to zero hit-points and was recovered.

So much treasure on the line here and not one gold piece came out of the dungeon this time! Many discussions about just why it is that players couldn’t pull this off. Could you have managed it in their place? Write your fool-proof plan in the comments!

Characters in this game:

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, and 6b] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 = 2134

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

Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, and 6b] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 = 2012

Aulis Martel the Acolyte (8 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, and  6a] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 => [Frozen at 1500 until he levels!]

Gilbert and Sullivan: [Delves 2, 4, 6a, and 6b] (122 + 54 + 8 + 80) / 2 = 132

Two men-at-arms: [Delves 6a and 6b] (8 + 80) / 2 = 44

Note: These XP totals do not include any bonuses due to high prime requisites.

Experience and treasure:

No treasure! Delve 6a nets 139 XP divided 16 ways for 8 xp each. Delve 6b nets 566 XP divided 7 ways for 80 XP each.


Day 1: The Hole in the Sky

Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer

Day 7: The Big Score part I

Day 8: The Big Score part II

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

Day 15: The Drums of the Dog People

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

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women

(Day 26-31: Resting)

Day 32-33: The Pugs of Slaughter

The graveyard:

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

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

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Owl

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Sat, 05/02/2020 - 18:56
The file for my "master listing" of monsters for the Avremier setting is up in excess of 125,000 words at the time of this posting. So many creatures to stat-up and detail...including about a half-dozen owls. Still searching for that ever-elusive Massage Owl.

Okay, these beasties are more likely to end up in the Duckin' & Braggin' bestiary. But, the current word count for the Menagerium is valid. And there will be some owl entries.

OWLS:Owl, Bandit: An otherwise ordinary bird with dark raccoon-like markings across the face and a penchant for filching small valuables. Known to work in pairs or small groups.Owl, Devil: Owl, Jester: Named for the odd markings of their plumage. Owl, Monarch: Largest of the mundane owl species. Owl, Piper: Named for their complicated flute-like calls. Owl, Red:

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Walk through Harnmaster - Campaign

Bat in the Attic - Sat, 05/02/2020 - 14:45
The CampaignThis is a 16 page article.

First the Harnmaster Boxed Set kickstarter is in its last 48 hours.

This article has little in the way of general philosphy. Most of that was outlined in the Introduction. Instead this article focus more on the nuts and bolts of managing time and having things happen while the character travel around, have adventures, and live out their lives.

CalendersCentral to many of the routines is the Tuzyn Calender. A year is divided in 12 months of 30 days each. The full moon falls on the 15th and the new moon on the 30th.

The current year is 720 TR (Tuzyn Reckoning). While there are events in Harn history that happens 10,000 years ago or a 1,000 years ago. The most relevent are within the 700 years timespan of the Tuzyn Reckoning. Even within that "modern" Harn history is the past 200 years. This helps a lot with understanding what going on.

Another interesting aspect of the Harn setting is that the setting been pegged at 720 TR since its first release back in the 80s. I showed pictures of my collection in 2010 versus 2020 and despite that expansion anything set in the "present" is always referencing 720 TR. This allows Harn material both past and present to have a high degree of compatibility.

Finally while there are 24 hours in a day. Most of the following use 4 hour watches.

Day to day life in a Harn campaign involves determining one or more of the following.

  • Environ: Urban, Rural, Wilderness, Highway, Underworld (rare), River, Sealanes, Open Sea, Safe Environ (downtime)
  • Timetick: Normally the four hour watch, but can be 10 seconds for combat, 1 minute for Underworld or Urban
  • Weather Generation: More about this later but Harn has the best weather generation system of any RPG.
  • Encounter Generation: Roll to see what happen or who is encountered.
  • Movement: Where the players are going within the time tick.
  • Maps and Mapping: To aid this Harn product often have blank outlines or player view maps included.
  • Each of these section in Campaign gets explained along with relevant tables presented.

Maps and MappingHarn has several different types and scales of maps.

Poetic a in-game map.


GM Atlas map

Local map

Interior Map

Campaign TimeThis one page section is about how to manage time within a campaign especially if you have multiple groups playing different session. While most referees are just refereeing one group at a time this type of advice is not commonly found anymore and is interesting to read.

Future HistorySome advice and tables on how to generate events going forward from the 720 TR start date.

Movement RatesHere we are given movement rates for different terrain and whether it is on foot, using a cart, a wagon, or on horseback. Harn measures distance in leagues where 1 league = 1 hour walking across level terrain or 2.5 mi/4 km. From long experience this is incrediably useful and I adopted it use for all my fantasy settings.

TransportationThis 2 page section gives advice, costs, and details on various forms of transporation like porters, wagons, and barges.

Caravan and Baggage TrainsThere are several important long distance trails on Harn (Genin Trial, the Salt Route, etc). Caravans are a common occurance on these trails and this sections gives advice, costs, and details on how they work.

EncountersThis section is a series of encounter tables and their mechanics. At first glance it doesn't look too different than what found in most RPGS. However it much more concerned about the life of the setting and less on encountering monsters to fight.

FormsThe last two pages are two forms for use in running a Harn Campaign. The first is a 30 day calender with space to note what happens during each four hour watch. The second is a 12 month calender with six columns allowing you to note events happening in up to six locations for an entire year. Of the two I find the first the most useful as a campaign log even when I am not using Harn.

The previous post Psionic, The next post Treasure and the Bestiary.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] Broken Castle

Beyond Fomalhaut - Sat, 05/02/2020 - 09:39
Broken CastleBroken Castle (2019)
by Gene WeigelPublished by Gene Weigel GamesLow to high level
In our lesser age, he is only a whispered legend. Most supposed old-schoolers do not know his name, and have not seen him in his mighty stride. In what is colloquially referred to as “the OSR Taliban”, the name brings more recognition. “The Human Torch”, as he had sometimes called himself, is half man and half force of nature. He had been the first to raise his mighty spiked flail against the beast Lorraine Williams, and her poodles Zeb Cook, Ed Greenwood, and “Skip”. For long, he had fought them from his hidden base in Brooklyn (or thereabouts). When his own comrades tried to tell him the war was over, and Lorraine Williams was long gone, he sent back their severed heads and kept on fighting. Gene Weigel takes no prisoners. He is still out there, fighting the good fight for AD&D’s soul, so that we may sleep peacefully and not have to know the ultimate price of our peace. Now he has gifted us with an adventure. Broken Castle is the realest deal in the old-school. Half Temple of Elemental Evil homage, half mega-campaign synthesis, and half teenage asshole DM fever dream, it is 150% pure Gygaxian AD&D. It is a whiff of gaming cocaine, and a barbarian mess.
To make more sense, Broken Castle is a really enormous 268-page module you can (and should) buy from Amazon. It provides a complete sandbox treatment of the Barony of Grogham, itself a part of the Fallen Kingdom of Skulldon, in an even broader setting called the Swordlands. It describes the eponymous village and castle, two more villages, several smaller locations, five dungeons, and Broken Castle, a huge central dungeon. This is a bit of an understatement, since Grogham Castle also has a big multi-level dungeon under it, as well as forty-odd businesses and thirty castle rooms described in the location key, just in case you want to go “Keep on the Borderlands” on the hapless residents. There are brief writeups on scattered farms, their problems, and what might be found there if the PCs visit. The module includes a small supplement’s worth of new monsters, a selection of magic items, NPCs, new classes and spells, and more. If 268 pages sounds long, it is because this book is packed to the gills with material – in most respects, not overwritten. It is just big, a campaign’s worth of stuff.
In its lineage, Broken Castle is best considered a successor to The Temple of Elemental Evil: it starts in an idyllic feudal village, proceeds to lesser, “moathouse-style” adventure sites, and ends with a massive and hideously lethal dungeon of pure evil. However, the Temple was Gary’s monumental folly, a labour of love that was never truly completed after years of promises and delays, to be finished in an unsatisfying manner by Frank Mentzer. This grand homage to T1-4 raises the stakes by being “The Village of Hommlet / The Temple of Elemental Evil, but bigger” in every sense – there is little here that has not been extended, multiplied or squared – and it succeeds where Gary and Frank ultimately failed. It fulfils a promise originally made in the 1970s – that of the AD&D-campaign-in-a-book. It is as if you didn’t just get the Keep on the Borderlands, but the whole freaking Borderlands, providing several months of adventure. (The recently published Hoard of Delusion follows a similar concept and structure, and actually shares some common history design with this book, but it is smaller and much less baroque. It will also be reviewed here.)
Below, I will examine Broken Castle from various aspects before providing a summary.
Mammoth Flank
Italics? What italics?Let’s get this out of the way. When I call something a gem in the rough, I mean it. This is one, and not in a middle of the road way. Except for the actual production (Amazon print on demand), everything about this book is homemade, and while a lot of that “homemade” is good, some of it is pretty dire. It is somewhere above the level of raw campaign scribbles, but it is barely edited. It is like someone heaving a bloody and still steaming mammoth flank on the table before thundering “Now make something out of it!” The bulk of the text is dumped on the page without care, avoiding such luxuries as “bold type”, “italics”, or even “justified text”. The only visual anchors are represented by ALL CAPS text (e.g. room names). It is a massive work and it is easy to get lost in, miss a crucial detail, or fail to find something in the appendices (some of which are in alphabetic order… mostly… and some of which aren’t… mostly).
StatsThe stats are quite something. This is the most AD&D adventure not to actually use AD&D stats. Most people these days don’t blink twice before publishing something with *cough* *cough* OSRIC stats. Not Gene. He knows Lorraine Williams and her lapdogs are still out there, somewhere, and they are just waiting to pounce on someone who wrote down the word “Thief”. This is why they are called “Stealers” in Broken Castle, which returns to the 1980s-1990s tradition of writing unofficial AD&D modules with heavily disguised stats “for any game system”. Hit Dice is “Man Calibre”, Hp is “Points”, the number of attacks is ROB (Rate of Blows), damage is “Sword Calibre” (expressed in terms of weapon ranges, so a squogg’s SOC is equivalent to a flail for each tentacle, while the swampyr is “claws as short swords and bite as dagger”), and so on. Experience is called Seasoning. A +10% sword is +2, and ability scores are expressed in percentiles (40% is 8, 80% is 16, etc.). The module uses a silver standard, an idea I can sympathise with, but then also uses copper and bronze coins liberally. If you have practice reading AD&D stat blocks, you will know what is what, but it is all quite useless, and makes for a mess when fast lookup is essential (try to decipher a high-level NPC on the fly and see the problem – then repeat the exercise with a high-MC spellcaster).
Likewise, while the module is meticulous on the encounter level, it is mostly lacking in an introduction that would provide a sense of who-goes-where (and why). There is a lot of background detail simply scattered through the individual encounters, while there is no discussion that I can find which tells us what actuallyhappened to Broken Castle (the dungeon), or how all this stuff comes together with the Baron’s schemes, the interests of outside powers, or the labyrinthine evil plots which crisscross the Barony of Grogham. Sometimes, the key is missing entries found on the maps (Broken Castle the dungeon has a lot of these). Something the sequence of the number key jumps around a level a bit too much.
In the end, it turns out this is a mammoth that’s not quite dead yet, and you have to club it yourself to submission. This is probably going to be a turn-off for people looking for something ready-made. However… when was the last time you had mammoth? Have you ever had a full one? I suppose one could always write a negative review based on the bizarro editing, or the weird stats. One could also stop being a philistine and recognise greatness where it is found.
The Gygaxian Milieu
“Into the Jaws of the Quasi-Mediaeval Fantastic” declares Broken Castle on its back cover. “Venture into the ruins of the nearby crumbling castle of mystery and other strange locales from the quasi-mediaeval Castle and Village of Grogham in full functional detail” it declares on the front cover. This is quite important. What we are seeing in the book, Gentle Readers, is a fully functional Gygaxian Milieu out in the wild. That is, this is exactly the kind of thing you will get if you build a world according to the ideas found in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, while also adding your own spin to it. The DMG is the assembly guide; this is the applied result, and it makes for a hell of a demonstration. If you want to understand the appeal and grand vision of AD&D as God (and Gary) intended, this book will give you a complete walk through some guy’s campaign he ran for years. It is just as much a look into how one might construct a great old-school campaign, and I think this will be its main legacy.
The Fallen Kingdom of SkulldonThe bits and pieces about AD&D’s frontier baronies fall into place. Greyhawk’s “militant neutrality” is replicated in the fallen Kingdom of Skulldon, and its precarious balance between Law and encroaching Chaos. It is centred around sleepy rural communities living a very armed feudal existence, barons and knights who have to contend with orc raids, haunted ruins, and neighbourhood jealousy in equal measure. In true Gygaxian fashion, dark powers are slumbering in the hills and forests, and sending out agents to slowly pave the way for their triumph, while the forces of Law likewise turn to their own devices to prevent them from gaining the upper hand. You will see what kind of society this forms. Baron Marll’s castle is not a real mediaeval castle, but a quasi-mediaeval fortress built to thwart monsters, enterprising adventurer parties, and magical incursions. It has evolved to fill a niche. Baron Marll has an arena for monster fighting with its own Gamesmistress (a 10thlevel Fighter!). His dungeons have a pool of hallucinatory alligators, a hall of skulls, a wall of robotic arms, a pool of real alligators, and a chicken aviary (“The room is filled with wooden pallets and contains 1000 chickens […] as food for the alligators” – see, it makes complete sense!).
Everywhere in the barony are bits and pieces of intrigue and incidental detail. A podunk village hides a bizarre shrine to chaoticism; someone has left a carved demonic statue in an abandoned (?) home; a secret passage leads to a hidden meadow, and a villager is a high-ranking highwayman. Minor locations can contain full-day adventures, stumbled upon entirely at random. The depth of treatment is dazzling – for my preferences, sometimes overwhelming. On the upside, everywhere you go, Gene has left you an adventure to embark on, a mystery to ponder, a little find to make you say “Aha!” It is a bit like an Ultima game, with every corner of the world filled with oddities and personal touches. Broken Castle is filled with idiosyncratic wonder that could be Gygax, but it is ultimately a personal take. It is both standard and non-standard, based on which way you look at it.
Skulls. Why did it have to be skulls?It can be too much in some respects – like The Village of Hommlet, this supplement has a tendency of over-describing every village steward’s personal livelihood, every barrelmaker’s inventory (I counted 20 different barrel types from the tierce to the puncheon), and every guard’s coin stash (64 copper/35 copper/43 copper/53 copper/20 copper, etc.). Where does a moment of local colour (the barrelmaker shows you 20 different, bizarre barrel types you might never have heard of) turn into oversharing? Broken Castle has a very inventory-like approach to conveying a sense of the world, and it is not always to its complete benefit. Sometimes, it is an inventory of turnips (34/1 bronze coin value for 6) and beets (491/1 bronze coin for 15).
Just on the side, Broken Castle finally settles the age-old debate concerning fantasy heraldry. Lame storygame sop or quasi-mediaeval awesome? Broken Castle has a full page of banners and devices, most of which feature skulls, swords, and other kinds of heraldic excellence. This is the proper way to use heraldry in your game supplement. And use it – various heraldic signs periodically turn up in the various dungeons, where they actually serve as useful clues, if the players stop to think about them.
Advanced Dungeons & Designs
The last part of the review discussed the setting background; this section is for the “adventure adventures” in the book (inasmuch as you can draw an exact line in a monster-infested frontier setting). Five are on the smaller size, but this is a misleading statement. They are still about the size of a smaller early TSR module (say, White Plume Mountain or the Moathouse for Hommlet), with 30-60 keyed entries. They are also the opposite of overwritten – room entries are lean, punchy, and come in quick succession.
Two novice adventurers enter
Uncle Gene's dungeon (colourised)This is once again a mixture of AD&D design bedrock with an added layer of individual invention. The style is halfway between funhouse and Gygaxian realism. It is realistic “in context” (magical fantasy world with carnivorous gelatine and glowing superswords), and in respecting the cause-and-effect dynamic, while it is completely fanciful when dreaming up challenging and fun dungeon rooms. The Gygaxian flair is there in the design, with a similar playfulness, love for puzzles, and sense of wicked humour. In some ways, it is “high school killer DM”, but matured and perfected. Dungeons have room concepts like “The Pit of 3 Deaths”, “The Statuary of Death” (they are on facing pages), “Golden Room”, “Sword Golem”, “Hands of Death”, and “A Flame That Isn’t a Flame”. Challenge first, justification later, if at all; strange little ideas realised in a paragraph or two, before moving on. The dungeons reward a bold but careful approach, where the foolish die horribly, but the smart and ingenious can prosper. It is more challenging than the AD&D default – done with the full understanding that the players will play dirty, and therefore so can the DM. Welcome to Crazy Uncle Gene’s dungeon!
There are things to interact with, and sometimes break in fun ways (fucking around with a magical ice crystal used to cool food in a cellar can yield a darkly hilarious final result – “(…) eventually unstoppable if not contained before 6 weeks when it reaches 10000 million cubic feet (464.1589 feet on each side). At that point it rapidly starts covering the entire planet plunging everything into a new ice age.” [sic]). You find odd and awesome things in a fantastic Underworld, and there is always a promise of more things lying “beyond” where you are. A stairway suddenly descends 10,000 feet, and you find yourself in a foreign underworld realm, if only for the span of a few encounters. The “mundane fantastic” of monsters, wizards and dungeons is supplemented with the extra layer of the “fantastic fantastic”, things which would feel strange and a little awe-inspiring even to inhabitants of the fantasy world, and you can step from one to the other through the book’s stream-of-consciousness approach to the fantastic.
Orc Mound (revised and colourised by Settembrini)Each of the dungeons have their own design approach and individual identity. The Grogham Castle Dungeon is filled with “everyday” room types jerry-rigged with improbable magic stuff and defences; The Mine is an eight-level complex slowly conquered back from below by Underworld monsters; the Anchorite Tower is horror, with a seemingly benign religious order facing interior corruption, leading to a set of crypts, and eventually something really bizarre and unexpected; Orc Mound is a humanoid hack-them-up in a risky and exposed environment; and Cavern of the Man-Apes is more than what it seems, as it houses none else but… the Murder Cult! Yeah, those guys. The odd one out in my opinion is the mines, which are too big and too empty to be anything but a slog – the rest are all good stuff in one respect or another. Perhaps slightly more low-level material would have done the module good – this is more for the long mid-range. Note that the maps tend to be on the complex side – I would not dare to run this with the players mapping out everything, particularly the central dungeon, with its 3D cavern nightmare layout.
Murder CultistOf course, the crown jewel of dungeons is Broken Castle itself, which is to this module what The Temple of Elemental Evil was to T1–4. It is a legendary evil place so horrible, so depraved that it was swallowed up and undone by a magical catastrophe, literally split in two by a chasm cutting through walls, buildings, and two whole dungeon levels. What remains is an enormous pile of ruins, dead-ends, cave passages, new connections created by the chasm, and more. It is a bad place, starting from The Inn of the Manticore’s Testicles, and descending into two vast, deep levels with a total of 90 keyed areas, and some monster lairs which are nothing but nightmarish. It makes a very good job separating foolish adventurers from their life and valuables; it is filled with fair but tough “gotchas” and dirty tricks. Broken Castle the module is on the challenging side by default, and Broken Castle the dungeon is a test of all skills and abilities that adventurers have amassed so far. It gets odder as you get deeper, going from relatively realistic, to a place distorted by magical forces, where time travellers start appearing on the random encounter charts, greater undead and a demon make lair, and all bets are off. Just the first three rooms of the lower level include: a devious (but fairly obvious) killer trap playing on the greed of foolish adventurers; a word puzzle with an oblique but fair clue; and a room with “a dead dinosaur neck emerging from the east wall that seems to have cut it off” – a room that lets you travel back 6 million years and mess with stuff in the distant past.
Hey! What the hell?! I was just taking aThe dungeons are heavy on custom ideas, and custom stuff. It is actually not easy to create good monsters that aren’t just variants or reskins. These are quite good monsters, the kind that come from notebook scribbles and a good sense of the challenging and grotesque. Even the names roll off the tongue: caskeleton, swampyr, phantasmode, serpent ghoul, quggers, toll devil – yeah, this is the stuff that populated the better AD&D compendiums. The monsters are “gameplay weird”, in that they make no sense whatsoever, except in the context of an AD&D adventure, where they suddenly make perfect sense. So, uh, there are these man-shaped stone statues which are so lazy they just sleep in a lethargic stupor, but they love minerals so much that when they sense armoured trespassers, they suddenly become agitated. Let’s name them sleeping stonemen – we’ve got an AD&D monster right here. The magic items are quite good as well, and they represent both the mainstays (+1 swords and such, fairly common) and individual pieces (only found in tricky places, mostly one-of-a-kind). This is a rather good balance. The really good items are fairly rare, and tend to be very challenging to obtain (this may be the module’s least authentic aspect – it is much less magic-rich than AD&D modules tend to be). There is, also, a three-handed sword.
So this is Broken Castle. It is, surprisingly, not even a single book – at least two followups, THE CELESTIAL VACUOLE OF THE ASTERYX, and THE RUINS OF SKULLDON are mentioned. I am not suggesting you need to own this because you will run it – you probably won’t. It is too big for most of us, and perhaps we are not even meant to recreate it in full – it would be a folly to, because Gene has already been there before us. But if you need a great AD&D dungeon or three, the ones in the book are each worth a full old-school module (OK, I am still sceptical about those mines). The settlements and minor locations are as modular as anything. But above all, if you want to understand the appeal of Gygaxian fantasy at its greatest, or what makes for a great home campaign, this is an instructive book on how to develop your own, and make it fit together. Or if you just want to read someone’s published campaign notes for inspiration, this is a great one to pick up. It is the promise The Temple of Elemental Evil made, but never delivered on.
This publication credits its playtesters and several others, including “E. Gary”, in a full-page special thanks section. That’s class.
Rating: ***** / *****
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Walk through Harnmaster - Psionics

Bat in the Attic - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 23:32
PsionicsThis is a 8 page article. Four pages of mechanics, four pages of talent descriptions.

Psionics always been a bit of an odd duck in Harnmaster. Some referee used them some don't. Here they are presented as psychic powers. It important to keep in mind that unlike D&D's take, Psionics in Harnmaster do integrate with an important setting elements the Earthmasters.

The Earthmasters were an ancient races inhabiting Harn (and much of the world) predating the Elves. They disappeared leaving behind various enigmatic ruins. While Harn never spelled out in detail what the Earthmaster were, psionics abilities and artifacts are consistent theme.

IntroductionThe recommendation is that psionic talents be generated in secret by the referee and then solely revealed during the campaign. Once revealed they become a skill like any other although one that more supernatural in its effect. Of course if veteran characters are being created or if it happens to fit the campaign, it may be that the character starts out with knowing some of the talents they have. It works either way.

Psionic Talent Generation.The number of talents that a character has is based on Aura - 3d6 roll. Then a d100 is rolled and a table is consulted.

Each Talent is considered a skill and effected by the sunsigns like other skills are.

DormancyThe next section gives advice on how to handle dormant talents. Which is any talent that is Mastery Level (ML) lower than 21.

On raised past ML 20, psionic talents are developed like any other skills except when Skill Maintenance Points (SMP) are used. Instead of 10 SMPs per development roll, it takes 15. So a character can only make two development rolls per month instead of 3 if they are focused on improving psionic talents.

Invoking TalentsIt not particularly easy as even a marginal failure could cause the character to pass out.

Invoking talents is also fatiguing. There is a notation after the name of the Talent on how much Fatigue is accumulated after each attempt to use it.

There are two optional rules. On is for passive invocations of three talents: Medium, Prescience, and Sensitivity. The other is about Joint Invocation of Psionic talents.

Example Talents - Charm

Rob's Comments
I admit I am never of fan of psionics in a fantasy setting. But Harnmaster's take isn't half bad and it does fit given the lore. So far in three decades of Harn it hasn't come up in any of the sessions or campaigns I ran.

Previous Post Physician. Next Post Campaigns
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Keep On The Marne - An Alternative Timeline Campaign Set Up for B2 Keep on The Borderlands By Gary Gygax Using The Siege Engine System

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 19:14
German soldiers (wearing distinctive pickelhaube helmets with cloth covers) on the front at the First Battle of the Marne during World War I, taken in September 1914. Possibly staged for the camera due to the wearing of medals, which according to the source was not common practice in battle.The year is 1918 &  'The First Battle of the Marne' rages as the German forces try to take a small Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Incompleat RedStaff

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 18:04
This setting is somewhat less fully realized than some of the other color-themed side-projects of mine. I have a clear base and tone in mind, but have yet to get many of the broad strokes down on paper. Still, the bits and pieces that follow should convey the overall intent - if nothing else.

Blood in the WaterHow many generations should be enough to forget? The elderly tell stories of the “old days” to anyone that will listen. Children sing distorted pieces of history in their silly games. And, somewhere in all the dust-covered accounts and annals of what came before, there is bound to be a nagging worm of truth. But, we know what the ultimate fate of a worm tends to be…
Red Staff? Baton Rouge? After a fashion. A fashion known as Bayou & Sorcery. With flavors of Southern Gothic horror and fantasy noir. Where adventurers, mercenaries, and opportunists abound – but heroes are found mostly in romantic stories and weathered monuments. This is a realm under a magocracy – challenged by theocrats ­– administered by local Hag Queen bosses.
Blood will tell? For some, blood is all there is. Family and ancestry. Name and legacy. This is a land that craves blood – especially human blood. So hot, sweet, and full of vice. Everything takes its share. From the mosquitoes and ticks, to the gators and vampires – all the way up to the Gods Themselves. In this setting, pure blood is about as elusive and precious as pure water.
Where does your value lie?
Lay of the LandRedStaff is a setting built from the ground-up. During the earliest Days of Settlement, parcels of dry land were raised from the wet. The land is greedy and treacherous. The swamps are old and patient. The Gods sit comfortably at the top of the food chain, served by the elemental Aspects of Stone, Wind, Metal, Sea, Thunder, Soil, Blood, and others.
The past will not be buried. With dry land at a premium, interment of the dead has come to be either a costly proposition, or an expedient one. Aboveground mausoleums serve to contain the fortunate dead, while the hungry swamps receive many, many others. Still, there are those who may not rest after death – obligated to pay off debts as undead slaves. Necromancy is a thriving industry.
Know your history. Honor your bloodlines. Respect the land. Pay your debts.
Strangers to These ShoresThese are the New Colonies – we lost the old ones. Almost 500 years ago, people came to this forsaken land in search of new opportunities and with hope for a fresh start. Within fifty years, all contact was lost. It took nearly another thirty years before a proper expedition could be funded to reach the site of the first of the five “lost colonies.” Those brave souls were never heard from again.
Out with the old – in with damnation. There was big magic in those early Days of Settlement. Not all of it was big enough, and not all of it was human. Laws were established, and almost immediately broken. Dark deals were made. Hasty oaths were sworn. Lives were lost and souls were tainted. Those days, there were eager and merciless devils in the details. Just before the end, a lesser evil stepped forth to offer salvation.
Your freedom is your greatest magic. Your choices are as the casting of spells.
That Olde Black MagickThe wise women emerged from the swamps. Let’s call them what they are: witches and hags. The surviving remnants of ancient covens, and keepers of precious secrets. Caretakers of a tradition that transcends arcane spellcasting and denies theurgic obligation. They brokered new deals and negotiated better bargains. In no time at all, the land was defined by peaceable townships and settled parishes – governed by hags.
The Realm of Immurcie. This is now home. Measured not in good or evil, but in gain or suffering.  How much others must suffer for those who gain. How much suffering is caused by that gain, or – how much suffering may be alleviated by one’s gain. Because, make no mistake, there are powers abroad that crave mortal suffering. Terrible entities that must be appeased for the benefit of all. Unless they could be fought…
Will you be in a position to give mercy, or must you simply hope to receive it?
This New Redde MagickThere is magic in the blood – some more so than others. Bloodlines have become vital and arranged marriages more common among the elite. Arcane dynasties and Mage Houses. Some have turned to blood magic (sanguimancy), necromancy, and other questionable pursuits. A few bloodlines have proven resistant to necromancy. Blood and Family are held in higher esteem than Good and Evil. Visions in red-tinted gray.
The ebb and flow of magical tides. These breeding efforts aren’t producing more powerful wizards or sorceresses. They are a desperate measure to maintain the human presence in the magical community. It is not widely known that each human generation seems less capable in the arcane arts than those before. The blood is thin. The will is weak. The gods of the land make their offers.
Is the value of your blood measured in power, or in sacrifice?


The history of this land is similar to an elaborate work of stained glass art with many fractures and missing panes. Colorful, elaborate, broken, and incomplete. Each major race has its own account of the Settlement, and each has its own share of shameful secrets. Nearly five centuries past, human colonists came to ­­­­Immurcie. They struggled to establish five colonies. All five colonies disappeared: one claimed by floodwaters, another by wildfires, another by hurricane winds, another by savage earthquakes. The fifth simply vanishes. More than a generation later, the expedition sent to determine their fate also disappears without a word, or a trace. It would take more than fifty years for human vessels to once again reach these marshy shores. This time, the gods were waiting: Irde, Falav, Nirji, and others. Fortunately for this latest wave of colonists, the gods were not so terribly hungry as before.

The first human settlement surviving to this day is Bitanrue. A 300-year-old village grown into a town that longs to become a city. Traditional home of the Ardam Rau – the Red Mage. Despite its harried and humble origins, the Township of Bitanrue is laid out and constructed with a devotion and precision bordering on ritualistic. Some of the oldest families trace their precious bloodlines to their elders still residing in Bitanrue.
The road to civilization was treacherous and wet. So much of the newly-settled land had to be drained and bolstered. By magical means, new areas of dry land were also raised from the bayous themselves. A new realm was being formed of Parishes and Townships. Parts of this realm were claimed by those who had brought the solid land into existence, whether by engineering or spellcraft. These were the first true land-owners – the propriet.
Land has become precious as a means of defining and perpetuating the systems of value and position within the Commonwealth of Immurcie. It is a little-known fact that the magic which brought forth many of the land parcels of the early propriet also established tenuous mystical links between the masters and their titled soil. In many cases, the condition of the land has been reflected in the health and well-being of the owners. In rare circumstances, these links have been passed entirely to individuals known as Stewards – those who maintain the land for members of the propriet that can no longer do so themselves. Stewardship has created an entirely new class of land-nobility, but one that has yet to gain equal respect.
Waterways equal freedom to those who refuse or fail to claim land of their own. While fancy riverboats offer diversions and entertainments to those who can afford them, there are a great many houseboats and floating villages to be found upon the water. Buildings on stilts, rafts, or pontoons remain in fashion. Since the settlement of land rights, skirmishes and outright wars over navigable waters continue to flare. From river parties to river pirates, inland water routes are vital to nearly every community.
Nobility and ignobility serve to define and govern both sovereign states and petty territories.  Some of the oldest and most respected noble families have become land-rich or property-rich and cash-poor, barely able to cover the expenses necessary for maintenance and upkeep. There are quite a few nobles-in-name-only. And then, we have the ignobles of the streets, alleys, squares, courts, or parks. Little more than legitimized gang leaders, these individuals will be in possession of a Writ of Ignobility that defines their territory and position. Some examples include the Squire of Golden Hare Alley, the Demimonde of Charwood Circle, and the Petty Count of Reverie Park.  
The eternal wetlands will not be denied, and will never submit entirely to becoming mere foundations for human civilization. More than one early city has been claimed in whole by marshy waters. The swamp favors humans for being so short-lived and adding more regularly and reliably to the decay. It also finds human more prone to fear and base lusts. The Aspects of the Land gather lifeblood, vital energies, souls, and whatever else for the gods of the land.
Beyond the swamps the land becomes rugged and, eventually, mountainous. Stony hills define the north-and-west reaches of the continent, while long stretches of towering mountains extend down the western shore and to the southern bounds. Most of the Commonwealth is found within the swamps and recovered lands of human civilization. Outside, there are established realms and cultures far older: Anakra (scattered dominions of the Dragon Dukes), Juarokand (land of the Divine Jaguar), and Purachau (mountainous empire of the gleaming black Mummia Kings) – by way of example.
Excursions into the underworld have been the downfall of many adventurers who seek riches and glory. The land has few stable cave systems and certain terrible creatures dig burrows or hidden lairs for their own use. Places known as dungeons may be partially flooded and on the verge of collapse. A number of sunken ruins have been excavated, but tend to offer more danger than reward. But, still, we have not trespassed upon the true Underworld. The domain of degenerate races and resentful gods. A realm of the dead, but not an afterlife. Where souls may be lost, found, bought, and sold.

·         A “Gothic Fantasy” domain with a Louisiana “Bayou & Sorcery” flair.·         Human colonists come to ­­­­Immurcie. They struggle to establish five colonies. All five colonies disappear. One claimed by water, another by fire, another by wind, another by earth. The fifth simply vanishes (void). Subsequent investigative expedition disappears.·         The realm is named Immurcie. Rugged in the NW and descending into delta in the E and SE. Ruins in SW inhabited by weres and mummies. ·         “Southern” magic and monsters. Magic more difficult and less common for humans, with each generation less capable than those before. ·         Possibility of multiple breaches between the material world and a coterminous plane just beyond the veil. ·         Bloodlines have become vital and arranged marriages more accepted. Arcane dynasties and Mage Houses. Some have turned to blood magic (sanguimancy), necromancy, and other dangerous pursuits. Some bloodlines are resistant to necromancy. Good and Evil not as important as Blood and Family. Shades of gray (red).·         Bitanrue: Heavy corruption of “Baton Rouge.” A false village created to guard and hide the Rod of War (the Red Stick). See Red Staff under ITEMS & STUFF, below.·         Humans tried to adapt the land to their needs, but they found themselves changed instead.·         Rule by magocracy, challenged by theocracy. Permissive, but not lawless.·         Class of artificially-created servants for magocracy and class of voluntary undead (indeadtured) servants for theocracy. Animate Dead as cleric spell? Indeadtured uprising?·         Flavors of New Orleans (300 years old), France (Paris is about 800 years old), Haiti, Africa, Caribbean, Jamaica, Southeast Asia.·         So – a “lost colony” from about 500 years ago, then, the “new colony” of about 400 years?·           Stilt buildings, pontoon buildings. Aboveground tombs and crypts. Newer structures built upon older foundations.·         Old families, curses, dangerous magic, ghosts, talismans, old money, lavish excess, river boats, sunken city, disease/fevers/parasites, slavery, possession, music, parties, mummers, gambling.·         Ties to land/property, family/tradition, church, city, art, guild.·         Islands of prosperity raised from the swamp.·         Wetlands/bayou, lake lands, plantations, canals, river parties, gypsy camps, hot springs, faerie absinthe, rum, bourbon, whiskey, cordials, brandy, smugglers, pirates,·         Water rights and passage:·         Land rights: Parishes and Townships.·         Hunting regulations:·         Dungeons: Ruined, collapsing, partially-flooded, accursed. Underground dungeons are even more treacherous than usual.·         Parts of the land itself will sometimes rise to attack – resembling spell effects and requiring saves.·         Hagsfell: “A fell is a high and barren landscape feature, such as a mountain range or moor-covered hills.”·         Possibly combine with Violet Grimoire for one shared setting. Veriscine to the north.·         Damp, rot, rust.·         Firearms?·         Heroes are few and far-between. Adventurers tend to be mercenaries, opportunists, looters, and hunters.·         Raiders/pirates from the outer isles:·         Drifting islands within the marshes.·         Boat villages:·         Undead labor:·         Blood Debt:·         Blood Points: Hit Die + Con bonus + Size adj + Race adj + Class adj.·         Up to 12 pints of blood in the human body (9-12). D6 hit points for an average human. 1 HP = 2 pints of blood.·         The swamp favors humans for being so short-lived and adding more regularly and reliably to the decay. It also finds human more prone to fear and lusts/greed. The Aspects of the Land gather lifeblood, vital energies, souls, and whatever else for the Gods.·         Isle of the Dead·         Place Names: Anakra, Bascova, Chievrul, Ertaine, Estomar, Felascau, Ghaile, Juarokand, Lath, Mouse Hole, Owlslae, Puracha, Riscillaine, Sulane, Vado Sethria, Viscinae, Wendlow, Widderdam, Wythe.
·         Aquatic race claiming sunken ruins. ·         Aspect: A sort-of replacement for the elemental as an influential and interactive creature. Aspects of: Stone, Wind, Metal, Sea, Wood, Sky, Thunder, Rain, Soil, Blood. Possibly representatives of the “Color Gods.”·         Bookwyrm:·         Cephalopod, Freshwater:·         Coffer Corpse:·         Crabmen: Pirates and slavers.·         Crimson Death:·         Cultists:·         Dwarves: Tend to be bankers, judges, lawyers, or similar professions.·         Dragon Dukes: Serpentine dragons with qualities of Pan Lung and other Oriental Dragons – especially Scaly Command. In human form, they assume roles similar to wealthy gentleman farmers and plantation owners. Wealthy and influential, but rural. Dominion of Anakra.·         Dragon Turtle (alligator snapping): Lifespan of 800-1000 years. Some have lived for 2000 years.·         Dragonfly, Giant: Black, blue, green, red, white, gold. Ravenous hunters and fierce fighters.·         Elemental, General: Unlike Avremier, elementals will be extremely rare and often bound by magic. Introduce the Aspect.·         Elemental, Water: Tainted, Zuvembie.·         Elves: Privateers sailing forth against the interests of the Hag Queens from fortified islands. Prefer to avoid the mainland. Influence over wind and water. Mage of Sail? Value freedom and independence. Dabbling with skyships. Cultivating alliances with dragon turtles (alligator snapping). Rare as PCs.·         Exquisitor:·         Fae: Savage and warlike, or noble and courtly.·         Gatorfolk: Larger and more savage type of lizardfolk. Possible PC race.·         Ghoul, Gluttonous: Torso splits open to consume grappled prey.·         Ghost, Shroud: Formed of the deceased’s burial shroud. Much like a ‘classic’ sheet ghost. The shroud itself could bestow certain ghostly properties to a living being that wears it.·         Ghost children: Not undead, but “fey.”·         Gnomes: Bayou Clans. Black bear, coyote, fox, otter, raccoon. Bayou hunters and trappers that dabble in dark magic and swamp alchemy. Fetish shapeshifters.·         Goblin Water Viper: Elite fighters/assassins and swimmers.·         Gorgon, Swamp: Amphibious and serpentine. Possibly a type of hag.·         Grendel: Possible PC race.·         Guevel: Like a satyr, but with march hare traits instead of goat.·         Hag, Blood·         Hag, Brood·         Hag Queens: A unique coven of witches with increased power and influence within their specific demesne (each ruling a city or parcel - territory). Not major villains – more like crime bosses with somewhat benevolent intentions. Can be employers, patrons, allies, or enemies for the PCs. Control ley lines and nexuses. Wyrdmills. Always well-dressed and put together. Very matronly or business-like. Commanding and unyielding. Hag-tied. Humans developed hags into a ruling class, quite by accident. ·         Halflings: River traders who deliver messages and goods with the help of giant otter allies. Explorers and mapmakers. Tinkers and spies. Sometimes use lost ruins as makeshift ports and bases of operation. Crude submersibles. Selkie traits.·         Hydra, Swamp: Serpentine body with giant viper heads. ·         Indeadtured Servant: A living person who dies with a serious debt might be raised as a shade or zombie in servitude to an individual or organization. Their spirit or corpse works to pay off the debt accrued in life. A shade is commonly consulted for information and is unable to perform physical labor. A zombie performs manual labor until its term of servitude has ended, or it falls apart from wear. “Working your fingers to the bone” is a literal expression that originates in an indeadtured zombie working itself into a partial skeleton. Some indeadtured servants end up lost, abandoned, or forgotten and go wandering in a fugue state. See: Undead, Fugue.·         Infernals: Mostly run/own gambling dens and brothels. Patrons of Hellfire Clubs.·         Kraken: Allies of the Hag Queens. Influencing shipping lanes. Attacking privateers.·         Lizardfolk: PC race.·         Some monsters are just as inclined to come to you.·         Manticore, Jaguar: Native to Juarokand.·         Merfolk ruled by orca-based merfolk that can become massive humanoid orcas.·         Mudmen: Form crude little societies/villages deep in the swamps – built around the source of their magical animation.·         Mummia: Powerful mummified undead with gleaming black skin hard as stone. Created through embalming treatments of alchemical bitumen. Rulers of Purachau, a realm of half-elves.·         Mummy, Swamp·         Palatine:·         Pirate Lords:·         Plague Fly: Giant insect, large enough to use as a mount. Some will have Plague Knight riders.·         Render, The: Name for a horrible serial killer.·         Sanguine Jelly/Blood Pudding:·         Shadar-Kai: Probable elf replacement race – for PC and NPC. Entirely hairless.·         Shifters: Term used instead of lycanthropes.·         Siren: Possibility that these are somehow failed hags. Feeding on whatever men or other creatures they can lure and catch. Hoping to regain their chance at hagdom. Possibly fallen hags as well.·         Sphinx, Jaguar: Native to Juarokand.·         Swamp Sisters:·         Swinehead: Devil Swine slavers, slumlords, and bandit chieftains. Less influential than the Hag Queens, but arrogant and scheming. Devil Swine will be more powerful and influential. Some are attempting to become Devils in more than just name. A heavy wereboar (pig) with magical powers to acquire slaves and treasure as signs of status and for its own unspeakable purposes. Lavish tastes but not very discerning, preferring gaudy and tasteless extravagance over true value or art. Charm Person by voice within 2", one person ata time. Polymorph Others, butonly into pigs. Locate Object and Telekinesis once each perday. Once the swineheadmakes a bargain, its word is binding, but it will twist the intent to its own advantage. Ordinary wereboars commonly serve as henchmen and are immune to the monster's Charm and Polymorph abilities. The swinehead is cruel, sadistic, and cannibalistic.·         Trusc: Deep-sea race of dwarvish humanoids, partially covered in chitinous plates and coral growths.·         Undead Boatman: Possible long-lived Fugue Undead.·         Undead, Fugue: Usually (but not always) applied to some form of zombie, these are former ‘indeadtured’ that were never released from servitude, but are no longer under direct control. Tend to be found in repetitive actions, or wandering alone. Rarely last very long, tending to fall into a true-death state within days or weeks of losing the necromantic binding.·         Undead Lords: Those who have the most influence over the channels to their undead type.·         Undead Pirate Lords:·         Vampire, Absinthe: Grendel PC race?·         Vampire, Swamp: More feral and associated with disease. More like nosferatu.·         Vampires that feed on specific types of blood to advance their own power and condition. See: Blood Ascension.·         Werejaguar: Favored caste of the hobgoblin civilization of Juarokand. Ruled by a God-King and Priest-Knights (kind of like paladin-samurai with bishop-shogun). Also a caste of jaguar monks.·         Will-o-Lich: Glowing, flying demilich skull that creates will-o-wisp slaves from drained souls. When the ‘wisps feed upon the lifeforce of their dying victims, a portion of that energy is channeled to their maker. The ‘lich has all the properties of a will-o-wisp, able to become nothing more than an immaterial globe of light and unable to utilize its “death howl” ability during that time. If choosing not to glow, the immaterial ‘lich is effectively invisible. It is thought (hoped) that only one of these monsters exists, and the identity of the will-o-lich in life is unknown.AC -7, Move 15”, HD 75 hp.·         Zuvembie:·         Shrimp, other crustaceans, wading birds, pumas, owls, gators, lesser dragons/drakes, bats, water rodents, turtles, frogs, bugs/swarms, snakes, fish, eels, waterfowl, will-o-wisps, shamblers, lycanthropes, zombies, ghouls, oozes, vapors, carnivorous plants, orchids, lotus, water lilies.
·         Bard variants: See Carrow, below.·         Breaker (Thief): Specializes in gaining access to places, and to information. Licensed guild.·         Carrow: Strolling gamesman and itinerant gambler. Dextrous. Irish-Scot origin. Setting-specific rogue/bard.
  • Cartomancer: Spell-like effects and manipulations of fate through tarot cards. Able to throw cards, and other small hand-held objects, as weapons. Wield exceptional control over magical cards – like Deck of Many Things. Sleight of hand. Alternate card suits: Beetles (Scarabs), Moths, Crows (Ravens), Flames, Apples, Moons (Crescents), Knots (Bows), Rings (Hoops), Lanterns (Lamps), Harps, Bells, Daggers (Knives, Blades), Thorns (Claws), Chains (Links), Coils (Snakes, Serpents), Pines (Firs), Towers (Turrets), Scythes, Horns (Trumpets, Heralds). Alternate face cards: Baron, Baroness, Count, Countess, Duke, Duchess, Herald, Knight, Lord, Lady, Mage, Page, Prince, Princess, Squire, Tyrant
·         Chandler (Candlemage): Candle magic. Oils, ointments, unguents, renderings – minor alchemy. ·         Chivalier: Instead of Chevalier – this is not a horseman. This is a knight of the highest (possible) nobility and honor. Paragon.·         Digger: Recovery expert. Notoriously unsqueamish. History and anatomy.·         Effete Mage:·         Entromologist: Chaos practitioner.·         Fetch: Possibly Spellfetch.·         Hagsworn: In service to one hag, or a full circle. Resist magical effects of other hags. Marked as the favored of hag(s). Able to communicate with patron hag. Causes some discomfort or issue for certain alignment/ethos. There is always a condition or set term for release.·         Necropaladin:·         (Color) Priest:·         Witchdame:
·         Ancestor Worship:·         Blood Ascension: Sub-campaign arc where some elite vampires consume selected sources of blood (dragon, devil, armiger, hag, fae, etc.) to elevate themselves toward some kind of undead divinity. Some also pursue biological alchemy toward this effort.·         Bloodletting spell.·         Clerics with very personal patrons – not all deities.·         Cultist Deities: Named for their prevailing colors and setting-specific variants of Mythos Deities. Annual (or once every six years?) festival to appease and honor them all. In a procession, the Black God is always first – the herald with a horn. Sort of Mardi Gras meets Day of the Dead. Each god corresponds to a two-month period of the year. One’s birthdate becomes important as an auspice. Each god has its own monolith or stone.1.       Black: Chaos, deception, knowledge – Nyarlathotep. “Nirji.” Plays the horn. Earth and death. Scorpion, North. Quiet, direct, plain, aloof, and cold.2.       Blue (Indigo): Gates, magic, sky/space – Yog-Sothoth. “Caeru.” Plays the flute. Air and night. Turtle. West. Solemn, dignified, commanding, and patient.3.       Green: Evolution, providence, sea – Dagon/Hydra. “Irde.” Plays the cello.4.       Red: Blood, creation, rage – Shub-Niggurath. “Ubrul.” Plays the drum. Fire and sun. Tiger. East. Bold, fierce, brazen, watchful, and merciless.5.       White: Control, dominion, secrets – Cthulhu. “Alhab.” Plays the violin. Breath and life. Owl. South. Gregarious, giving, evasive, mysterious, elusive.6.       Yellow: Decadence, greed, madness, pleasure – Hastur. “Valaq.” Plays the harpsichord.·         Cults, Forbidden:·         Dark Druids:·         Ebony Plague: Similar to the Ebony Swarm, this is a far greater number of Ebony Fly Figurines within a container, that grow and animate as Chasme demons when released. They are under no one’s control and will wreak havoc until destroyed. The number of Flies can be anywhere from hundreds to Apocalyptic. The container will be an artifact jar similar to Pandora’s “Box.” An artifact jar (Shoacteffe’s Ebony Jar), like a Greek pythos, contains thousands upon thousands of Ebony Fly Figurines that animate as Chasme demons when released - forming an apocalyptic plague to threaten the land. Lord of the Flies. Shoacteffe (SHOWK-te-FAY).·         Gods will be largely Diabolic, Demonic, or Eldritch. Gods known as Powers.Ara: Salamander-goddess of waterways and openings. “Witch goddess.”Cob: Toad-god of secrets and bindings. “Witch god.”Pip: Serpent-goddess of wisdom. Setting-specific lyshau variant of Apep. About 50’ long in snake form. “Witch goddess.”Xeb (“Sheb”): Alligator-god of the Bayou. Setting-specific lyshau variant of Sebek (Sobek). Patron of the Dragon Dukes. Ruler of reptiles (except serpents). Savage and dark. “Witch god.”·         How best to take dominion over a new land? Kill/usurp the native gods.·         Legal magic:·         Ley line usage:·         Nectar Curse:·         Summoning practices and wards:·         Taximancy: Animating stuffed corpses.·         Voodoo:·         Witchcraft·         Wizardry, Hedge:·         Wyrd holds sway over Ohd.
·         Coffin Nail: Magical properties from legend and folklore.·         Cordial: Delicious potion/elixir type.·         Jam: Magical concoctions with properties of sustenance, irresistibility, sugar rush, or adhesive.·         Red Staff: The greatest magical artifact, held by the Ardam Rau (Red Mage). There will also be a Black Staff, held by the Ardam Mor (Black Mage), and a White Staff, held by the Ardam Per (White Mage) – neither of which will be an artifact.·         Stained Glass Shield·         Trophy Head: Ritual treatments in the swamp. Fashioned into mace heads or shrunken fetishes.
  • “He started talking out of nowhere, speech slurred like a drunk after a serious bender. It startled me after such a long silence, and he kept going on and on in that annoying rambling way he had - so I shot him again.”
·         His helm once bore a crest, but no longer. Brown of hair and of eye, tanned skin. A mélange of accoutrements from countless campaigns. Declining to speak, there was no accent to fix him upon any map. He was all but nameless, a ghost, and that made the others nervous.
·         It rippled or shimmered as it drifted through the chill moonlight. To my mind was suggested at first some kind of gigantic deep sea jellyfish, but one that swam through the upper air instead of the murky brine. A languid multitude of tendrils and tentacles waved in such patterns as would imply effortless swimming. The longer extensions split near the ends into articulated feelers that recalled horrific fingers. These occasionally brushed against the trees and stones of the marshy vale, lingering as if fondling a lover. Though the sight of the thing felt like a phantasmagorical dream, the acrid ammonia reek it gave off left me undeniably awake and in tenuous possession of my crumbling faculties.·         Pitiful, thin moonlight exposed more shadow than shape beneath the trees. Hollow trunks of bleached wood slouched in staggered disarray like so many forgotten grave markers from a time before words in prayer books. Heads choked by creeper vines and roots drowned in stinking rust-streaked water that clung to the feet and ankles. Everything clung here. Gripped and twined. Smothered and buried. But nowhere worse than at the fetid heart of the forest. The lowest point. Where the water lay deeper and blacker. Broken limbs and pitted stones covered in leprous patches of lichen and mold fungus. Glistening mockeries of the dead. Decayed branches in attitudes of final repose with bent knee or curved spine. Lank mossy hair. Slick mushroom skin. The nouveau rot. The decline before the fall. Gleaming and taut like the caul over a newborn’s red and sightless face. The first convulsive breath pulling at nothing but membrane. Denied the clean air. If only to break the surface, making the breach from gestation into being. Distinguish shape from shadow. Leave behind the watery grave where growth took place in darkness and roots found purchase in warm, nurturing flesh. Everything clung here, before casting out. Gripped and twined, the twisting cord. Finally, I take a breath. Fill my greedy lungs. Open my eyes to the furtive moon. Separate and free. Air tainted by decay, it festers inside. Teems with textures and tastes. And I remember, a little. Saturated with sensation and purpose. I am reborn. I am myself. I am hunting. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: A World Unconquered

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 12:47
I originally uncovered this map in 2013...

Sword & Sorcery comics of the seventies usual got around to supplying a map at some point, and Claw the Unconquered was no exception. Though it ran only 12 issues (from 1975 to 1978), Claw featured a map in issue #5.  Wikipedia seems to think Pytharia is the name of Claw's world--and it may be--but it's also the name of one of the country's in the "Known World," as you can see. Interestingly, Claw shares this world with another sword-wielding DC hero: Starfire, who's part Red Sonja and part Killraven, living in a post-apocalyptic alien-overrun future.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure there's some game inspiration in this.

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

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:

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

  • 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. 

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