Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Further Readings In The World Book of Khaas, Legendary Lands of Arduin - The Human Elf Wars

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 02/23/2020 - 14:33
"Over the pile of ancient corpses the two  warriors climbed. They found refuge in the tomb of some long forgotten Elven minor noble. The tomb was surrounded by the skeletons of some unknown race of alien marauders. The orcs passed without disturbing the trespassers even as the mad cleric & the black wizard had teleported away. The pig faced horrors dressed in a mockery of human armaments snappedNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Going Full Cha'alt - Volton The Deathless Major NPC!

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 02/22/2020 - 19:30
Resurrected from the billion year old junk yard of super science & demonic energies beneath the shifting purple sands of Cha'alt's Vega Corso. A lone demonic agent of chaos strides out for his mecha again. Call from beyond by the demon worm sultan of Cha'alt Nevar'us the Damned. Volton The Deathless has been called forth from the Abyss to defend the armies of  the Egg of Coot. The Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Army Ants: Twilight

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 02/22/2020 - 18:13
I've been working on this project for a bit now, and it's nearing completion. I'll be rolling out a promotion in March (my tentative release date is March 1st), but I wanted to talk through some design things as I solve the mechanical challenges of the game. I suppose I'll start with how this is different from or a reaction to the other MTDAA games, and what the plan might look like going forward.

First of all, this is not another re-release of the same game setting. My previous four MTDAA games have all been set in the same fundamental time period - the height of the Ant/Wasp War. For this game, I'm moving the time frame forward a few months, to the aftermath of the war, and the Twilight of the Ant Confederacy. 
My most recent games have been throwbacks, where the central design question has been 'what if I used the B/X engine as I have interpreted it, but applied it to some of the most influential games of the early 80s'? I've answered that question for D+D, for MSH, and now for Twilight 2000...
I never actually played (or owned) T2000, but my friends were fascinated by ads for it, and my first rpg designs (as I've written about several times) were how I assumed that game would work. Those games were messy and quirky and all over the place, but man did we have fun. So that's where Army Ants: Twilight begins: what if I was the designer of T2000 in 1984? Alternatively, what if I was to design the GI Joe RPG that the world needed so desperately but never received? I mean, my childhood would have been complete with an actual GI Joe RPG.
This game is also going to be fundamentally different from other games in this way: I'm borrowing the model that I was developing (and lost steam for) for Sentinels of Echo City and the Stalwart Age... the book is both an ongoing narrative and an RPG. In this case, the narrative does not support the RPG, and the RPG does not support the narrative; they are inextricably linked. The narrative is shifting from comics (where the story has been old to this point) to prose. I think it will make sense as it moves forward, but that's the plan. Finally, the plan is to have the books be in full color. I want these to reflect the best visual design work I can muster, while still being similar in organization and tone to my other recent releases.
Here's the cover design...

(5e AL) Where the Dead Wait

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 02/22/2020 - 12:39
By James Introcaso Self Published 5e Level 3

On their way back to Salvation, the adventurers are ambushed by a large force of undead and forced to seek shelter in a ruined cottage. As the dead close in from all sides, the survivors turn to the Oracle of War for a lifeline. Only this time, things don’t play out as expected….

Oh Adventurers League, never change!

This 28 page adventure is the usual “Night of the Living Dead” scenario, with undead attacking you while you are trapped in a house. Bad novel writing abounds and there is woefully little advice for handling the fortifying and undead assaults. It’s only got about ten pages of actual content, the rest being AL padding. A railroad from start to finish, choke down the crap you’re being fed you AL suckers!

I find myself really looking forward to the newspaper included in each adventure! I love how it sets a great vibe for the greater world. There’s very much a frontier/Deadwood (HBO series) thing going on, if all you ever did was read the newspapers in these adventures. Pretty cool, even with the basic typo’s. There’s also a reference sheet included for the NPC’s in the adventure. 

Annnnddddd…. That’s the last kind thing I’m going to say about this adventure.

This is a hack railroad of an adventure. Not a hack because it’s a railroad, a hack because the designer doesn’t know how to write an adventure. That’s pretty common, very few designers DO know how to write an adventure. So, a hack AND a railroad. Let me count the ways …

The hints are there in the marketing intro “things don’t play out as expected …” This is your first hint that you will not be playing a D&D tonight, you will instead be playing a railroad and be expected to do exactly as the designer intends. Other hints of this include: “The story thus far …” and “Kalli also stars in this adventure …” Let’s add insult to injury. As undead show up on the horizon the scav gang you rescued in the last adventure heads to the house. YOU WILL FOLLOW THE PLOT. THE PLOT SAYS YOU DEFEND THE HOUSE BECAUSE THE DESIGNER THOUGHT THAT WOULD BE COOL SO YOU WILL DO IT AND WE WILL MAKE SURE OF IT BY HAVING THE NPCS GO THERE. EAT YOUR CRAP!

Look, I’m not an asshole. Well, maybe, but I’m not hating on this for no reason. I understand that there are certain assumptions that must be made if you are going to write a ten-adventure arc, or whatever, especially given what I assume to be an assumption that the gaming group will change every week because of musical RPG tables at gaming stores and cons. Yes, I accept that. I object to the ham handed and railroady way this adventure is written. The NPC’s from the last adventure are alive again, except the one that the plot decided might die. That’s bad. The way the adventure is written, to dictate that the party WILL go to the house, implies rather heavily that the designer thought that would be cool so that’s what is going to happen. It’s the pinnacle of bad design: the designer thought it would be cool so it’s going to happen. This stands in contrast to emergent play, that special something that makes D&D special. But you don’t get that.

In fact, the party is punished for not following the script. If you don’t hang out in the little house then you are attacked by all undead at the same time, instead of facing them in waves. Fuck. You. That’s adversarial DM’ing. You’re changing the rules to punish the players if they don’t follow the little plot you’re masturbating to. Bad bad bad design. Oh, until the end, of course. Then you have the option of running away, thrown in as an afterthought. Basically, you take 10HP and get to run away. Yeah! I do that.

The writing is hackneyed. “A few moments later …” or “Th dead want you to join them …” or “They dies in the last war and yet …” or, how about the initial read aloud that has the other scav gang dragging your artifact through the mud? No, no they fucking do not. They don’t get anywhere near MY artifact! (OUR artifact. THE artifact, says Piter.) The writing tells you what you see, feel, and think. It’s fucking lame. It’s TELLING you instead of SHOWING you, and thats the definition of bad writing. 

But, it’s AL, so you get told that “If you gain a level you MUST tick the box on the adventurers record sheet showing that you have gained a level.” Great. This is the kind of padded shit that makes up the bulk of all AL adventures. Recall, this is a 28 page adventure with about ten pages of actual content, for $5. That everyone is going to buy. Nice work if you can get it. It smacks of that Adam Sandler rotating cast of friends that get fat paychecks for doing nothing. But, hey, at least EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. TIME. a door or furniture is mentioned it tells us that it takes no damage from psychic or poison damage. Seriously? Is AL D&D THAT pedantic? “Well, the adventure doesn’t say that the boulder doesn’t take poison damage, so I guess it’s ok.” My objection here is that they waste time on this shit instead of on actual content. 

Let’s take that NPC reference sheet. Instead of personality we get things like “Kalli belongs to the grey dogs” … just like she has in the last two adventures. Or, Sprocket, another NPC, having no personality at all on the reference sheet. What do you think the purpose of the sheet is? It gives the DM one place to look for how to run the NPC. This don’t do that. It’s a bad reference sheet. And it wastes an entire page with like five rows of a table. How about you overload that sheet of paper and put a few other reference things on it, like that “environment” shit for the house, how it’s dusky and full of leaves and dirt? Then it would always be at my fingertips, ready for me to add flavour? No? You’re just going through the motions? Ok …

But, again, the major failing is in the lack of supporting the DM. The adventure spends massive amounts of time on combat but, as in the last one in this series, seems to avoid any DM advice in the rest of the adventure. Coming down the chimney is mentioned off hand, but that’s essentially the only thing you get for advice in running this. Moving the furniture, it’s impacts on blocks doors and windows? Absolutely NOTHING. But you’ll drone on about the combat. Is that all D&D is? 4e mini battles? No, there are other pillars of play but you don’t know how to write for that?

There are a couple of climaxes in the adventure. First you are, of course, betrayed by the people you saved from certain death. The adventure justifies this by making them all “Alignment Neutral.” Fucking lame. Second, there’s supposed to be this thing you can do to make all of the undeads heads explode, but only in at the appointed time, after you’ve been betrayed! The clue says you must destroy the five undead focuses. What are they? No idea. 

Oh, it’s the things in the house that are one note? There are multiple features that, if damaged, spew blood everywhere and cause everyone to make a save vs Madness. I guess you discover them during the house exploration. But, all of the house exploration results in these kind of “Take Damage!” traps. No warning, just “did you pay your skill tax and min/max your character build” tax traps. Spew blood. Save vs madness. But, don’t worry! If the madness effect is too serious the DM is encouraged to roll again or use something less serious. So, don’t use the madness table then? It’s, ultimately, a pushback against exploring the house. 

This is bad writing on top of bad design. I make no judgements on the designers ability to write a blog piece, or world build, or run a podcast network, but they have no ability to write a coherent adventure that is useful to the DM at the table. But, hey, they managed to make it on to the writers circuit for this series, so, I guess it’s like a guaranteed $15,000 for every one they write! 

Eat your crap plebs. You wanna play AL? Your DM has to suffer through this.

This is $5 at DMsguild. There’s no preview, so you can’t tell what you are buying before hand and I can’t point you to specific pages to show off the examples of bad writing and design. 

I will, however, make a point here. If you have fun with this adventure it is because of the DM and not because of the designer. The purpose of an adventure is to help the DM run it and this fails at that.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gary Con XII games I'm running

Zenopus Archives - Fri, 02/21/2020 - 14:04

Gary Con XII general event registration opens up tomorrow at 12 PM Central Time; this is also known as Silver registration and includes the vast majority of badge holders, approximately 2000 in number. Due to the new staggered release of seats for registration, there will be at least one more seat available tomorrow for every game at the con.

This year I'm DMing two different games, each a Holmes + OD&D game. This will be the first time I've run two different scenarios at one con.

Expedition to Skull Stack Crater is on Fri morning from 8 AM to 12 PM. The event listing can be found be found here. This is a "new" scenario; I wrote it a few years ago and ran it as part of my continuing annual kids' campaign.
Join an expedition to Skull Stack Crater to recover the legendary Spear of Decree, stolen from the Realm years ago by skull-masked raiders who then vanished from history. Your party has followed an old map to their hidden lair on an island in a water-filled volcanic crater. This 3rd level adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40+ years of the Holmes Basic D&D set. Characters provided. In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus is scheduled for Sat night from 7-11 PM. The event listing can be found here; currently, 3 seats remain out of 8. This is the same scenario I ran twice last year, including once in the same time slot:"Meet at the Green Dragon Inn and return to the dungeon under the ruined tower of the doomed wizard Zenopus to search for his legendary talking mask, forty years after adventurers first braved the passages. Play as Boinger, Zereth, Murray, or another character from J. Eric Holmes' stories. This adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40+ years of the Holmes Basic D&D set." 
Other Gary Con links of interest:
Gary Con website
Gary Con Forums General Discussion
Badge Registration
Full Schedule of Events (searchable)
Grand Geneva Resort website
Facebook Group
OD&D Discussion thread
Dragonsfoot thread
Knights & Knaves Alehouse thread

According to the Events schedule, there are 24 games listed as OD&D, including mine.

Other GMs on this list include paleologos of the OSR Grimoire blog (2 sessions), Paul Stormberg (3 sessions) and Chicagowiz (1 session), plus 4 from Tim Kask and 1 from Mike Mornard. And Muddy at OD&D Discussion is running three Blueholme games.

Are any other readers of this blog going?
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Artifices, Deceptions, & Dilemmas

Hack & Slash - Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:30

I'm doing ok. I hope you are doing ok. If you are on the internet, it seems really intense for a society that's in the middle of a unprecedented golden age.

I wrote a - one second,er  a, there. fixed.

A new book! About traps.

I talked to Russ Nicholson (Warlock on Firetop Mountain),  James Shields, Steve Crompton (Grimtooth's Traps) and Marcin S (Against the Darkmaster) and they all offered to do illustrations. Karl agreed to do the cover for this sequel, and Sandor agreed to edit again.

Can you imagine? Working with Russ Nicholson and Steve Crompton on a book about baroque situations and rube goldberg devices? Crazy huh.

So maybe you will like it?

I originally intended it to be a guide on handling agency in traps, but I did some research, and it turns out everyone already knows that.

Something more useful and interesting was landed on. It's a lavishly illustrated book full of fantasy adventure things and ways to describe them. We can't all just have in the front of our brain ready to go the difference between rattan, wickerwork and bamboo. It's probably been a decade since I last set a snare on a trap-line, to say nothing of more complicated mechanisms.

What's in here is the texture of fantasy, an visual look from renowned fantasy illustrators at how parts of a fantasy realm interweave. It is a book of magician's secrets for skilled Dungeon Masters.

Cause that's what everyone is! I saw Hobbs set up a trap that just murdered the guy who blundered into it. Clues were given and ignored. Death! Excitement!

Didn't I just run a Kickstarter? Well, that was last year and it delivered, on time, to, and I say this with all sincerity, raving praise. There's the five star reviews on DriveThruRPG, the crazy good cover, and, most importantly, an object lesson in good money management for the thousand people who backed the Kickstarter and got a book shipped for half what it's retailing for now.

Did I mention I'm running a Kickstarter?

Get Artifices, Deceptions & Dilemmas because it's a cool dungeons and dragons book where there's going to be pictures of magical traps and other useful fantasy stuff. Karl's doing the cover again. It's a direct sequel to On Downtime & Demesnes, covering the world of adventure in the same way OD&D covers the world of campaign time.

Why am I doing this instead of blogging?
My cat died on Christmas. I like to live indoors. There's plans for the blog in 2020.
Why isn't this in some collectible edition?
I use books. The illustrations I poured over as a youth were all in cheap paperbacks. Warlock on Firetop Mountain. One on One Game-Books, Lone Wolf,  I want you to use this, bend, spindle, mutilate, and tear. 
Didn't you just run a-
Last year, it delivered over 2 months ago.
What about-
If anyone has any questions about anything, please, reach out. campbell at oook dot cz.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: Hard Science Fantasy

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 02/21/2020 - 12:00
This post first appeared in 2013, though I revisited the idea with some other details in the years since...

Art by Bruce Pennington
Genre titles are really imprecise things, so let me explain what I mean: A setting that looks like fantasy, but is in fact sort of post-technological science fiction. What would make it "hard" as opposed to the usual science fantasy is that it wouldn't resort to what are essentially fantasy concepts like extradimensional entities or psionic powers to do it. The fantastic would come from at least moderately more possible sources like near Clarketech ("any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") nanotechnology, cybernetics, and bio-engineering.

I haven't really seen this out there in gaming. Yes, Numenera presents a world utterly drenched in nanotech that can be tapped like magic by the masses, ignorant of it's nature. But Numenera still has psychic powers and extradimensional monsters. What I'm envisioning is more like Karl Schroeder's Ventus (where the "spirits" animating the natural world are AI controlled nanotech) or the Arabian Nights-flavored Sirr of Hannu Rajaniemi's The Fractal Prince where spirits in ancient tombs are digital mind emulations and the jinn are made of "wildcode" malicious nanotech.

Beyond nanotech, monsters would be genetically engineered creations of the past or descendants thereof. Or perhaps genuine aliens. Gods would be post-human biologic or AI entities--or often some combination of both. Or figments of human imagination. Or leftover bombs.

Why a more "rigorous" science fiction masquerading as fantasy world than the usual Dying Earths or whatnot? No real reason other than it seems to me starting with far future science fiction and figuring out how it would be rationalized by a more primitive mindset might yield a fresher take on the standard fantasy tropes.

A Preview

The Splintered Realm - Thu, 02/20/2020 - 22:59
More to come soon...

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus reviewed at the Hapless Henchmen

Zenopus Archives - Thu, 02/20/2020 - 13:26

Last week Noah S. over at the Hapless Henchman blog wrote many words about the Ruined Tower of Zenopus (as well the Dungeons & Dragons vs Rick & Morty set...!). Here's an excerpt:
"...What do you get for the price? A literal jumping off point for hours and hours of fun with friends, and of course some tropes that are as warm and comfortable as a bubble-bath. Zach has lovingly taken a 40-odd year old thing and made it readily accessible for current audiences and users of the system..."Thank you, Noah!

Read the rest over here:
Weview Wednesday - DIY Zenopus vs Sleek Corporate IP RickHey fam! Been off the blogging train for a bit, trying to get my brain in order. Frankly, since the Death of Google Plus and the Great Migration, I haven't been nearly as involved in an online RPG community as I previously was, although I wish that I could be.
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is on DMs Guild!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

My Secret and Possibly Quixotic Yearning for Vanilla

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 02/20/2020 - 12:00

Since I've entered the blogosphere (over 10 years ago now), I've imagined all sorts of variants of D&D-type fantasy from Weird Adventures to the cyberpunk planes City of Gyre, I've often even eschewed weird in the classic "Weird" sense. My takes were hardly even the most out there among the DIY crowd in which I have often found myself.

But there are times when I think back with nostalgia to a sort of game I never really played. Or games, I should say, it's not always the same. Sometimes it's nostalgia for fantasy before D&D was a thing, something like a mix of Byfield's The Book of the Weird, Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, and the film versions of The Last Unicorn and The Hobbit. Other times, I think it should be a bit grottier, like the World of Titan, and the illustrations in the Fighting Fantasy books, and more adventure-y like select illustrations from the Moldavy-Cook editions and the earliest AD&D books. The rarest, least frequent itch is for something like the illustrations of the "High D&D" era defined by the likes of Elmore and Caldwell.

All very vanilla, I know. Our elves aren't different, they're just elves. Feudal Kingdoms, bearded wizards in towers. All the tropes!

I don't really know what the yearnings about. Some of these things were the inspirations of my pre-D&D days, so maybe its sort of the world that had moved on before I was old enough to take part in it. Others, well, they were maybe what was in the gamebooks I was playing with, but I was ignoring it in favor of the stuff I was reading--comics books, Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, Conan yarns.

Of course, its all relative. I'm sure some people think my Land of Azurth game is pretty vanilla,  but to me is too knowing to be that. Maybe that's why I never pull the trigger on a game inspired by one of these things. Still, it's something I think about.

Lair of the Shorlee Wyrm

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 02/19/2020 - 12:35
By James & Robyn George Olde House Rules OSR Lower Levels

Years ago, a dragon was slain in the Shorlee hills, or so said the one surviving warrior who made it back, only to succumb to his wounds before the morning came.  But the attacks ended, so it must have been true. Dead men tell no tales, and the lone warrior died before revealing the location of the beast’s lair. Who knows what riches it held; who can guess what treasures lay unguarded for the taking?  There is an old saying in Shorlee: riches lie not for long, and who knows what dangers – and rewards – await those brave enough to go in search of them, for the site of the old lair is forgotten no longer. Its long-sought depths await the plundering hand of adventurers seeking their glory – or doom.

This 32 page adventure features a two level dungeon with about fifty rooms. It starts with some strong “rural rea-life slain dragon” theming, and then devolves in to mostly a hack. The mystery and wonder of the place peter out after 40% or so, and it reveals itself to be seemingly random, not continuing the initial strong theming. And it’s long-winded for it’s hacking, a quarter page for encounters is the norm with half page/one column not being unusual for “the usual hacking.”

There’s a land right out of Harn, a quiet rural land with a scowling local steward serving his absent lord. A hundred years ago a dragon terrorized the lands and was slain by seven 2nd sons, only the last returning, to local sainthood as The Seventh Man, before perishing from his wounds. The lair was not found. Except now a local shephard found a bunch of coins by a hole in the ground newly opened up from the recent rains and flooding. With looting the lair threaten the lucrative local pilgrim trade?  Strong stuff and a solid planting of the seeds of local legend in a Harn-like land. This is all handled in a several bpage background & overview section. Very light on details and keeping things high level, it provides a pretty solid footing for interpreting what is to come.

And what is to come starts strong. A hole in the ground, opened up next to a tall oak tree (mythic underworld entrance!) with a few coins scattered around. And then a cave, full of massive mushrooms growing in it! Solid entrance. The caves continue. A skeleton half under rubble, a torn bag of coins. A cave with statues … and and a basilisk. There’s a strong low-fantasy, or, maybe, classic fantasy vibe going on.

But this soon devolves. Kobolds show up. In a dormitory with beds. Cultists, replete with suiside herbs stored in their cheeks. (What about Frank? He’s just here to hang out with the guys and play cards and get away from his wife. Now everyone is like Chew these Herbs If We Get Caught … And Keep Them In Your mouth At All Times! And no hint of this cult in the town/village overview section? For Shame!) The patterns become obvious after awhile. Enter a room, hidden monsters attack. There’s a weird thing to look at a time or two, like dragon eggs, broken, with small child skeletons inside of them (and a mute little girl you find the caves …)but for the most part this is just a hack.

And the designer seems strangely interested in keeping any advantage from the party.  The little girl refuses to help the party in any way. The cultists all commit suicide ratherthan be meaningfully questioned. The rings of undead control only work for the cultists. The skull from which gold coins flow (Cool!) is verboten for Lawful characters. It’s all a little forced, IMO, with a touch here and there of enforced morality. A character of Lawful alignment means dumb and unable to have fun, evidentally. Better to leave this stuff out

It is a sign though of one of the major problems with the adventure: the length of the rooms. Even the most simple room goes on for a quarter page, half a column, with longer rooms taking up at least a column. There’s this conversational style and a huge amount of DM asides mixed in with the rooms. I’m not a monster, a sly aside, with a wink, to the DM now and again if a fun little bit. But it becomes prescriptive when the rooms are full of it and you have to wade through all of this DM minutia to get to the important bits of the room … like how many creatures there are and IF there are creatures in the room. And this is an actual problem in several of rooms, the inability to quickly tell how many and of what there are. 

For awhile I’ve had four pillars of judgment. Ease of Use at the Table, Evocative Writing, Interactivity, and the elusive Supreme-Court-Porn of  ‘Design.’ I’ve toyed with the ideas that there is this kind of sliding spectrum of each and at some level they produce something that is worth your time to use. I think, now, though that I’m thinking of it wrong. The overwhelming feedback from most folks, when you talk about adventures, is how they don’t use them because they are hard to use. And they’re right. This points to the Ease of Use pillar. I suspect that there’s actually this hurdle in Ease of Use. The number one priority is to make it easy to use. Because if you don’t then no fucking person is going to use the fucking thing. It doesn’t have to be perfect in this regard, but you have to get over some hurdle. Just make it not torturous to use. Then if you can hit the bare minimum in terms of evocative writing and interactivity then you get a Recommendation. Maybe not even that, maybe you don’t even have to make it an interesting adventure with the writing or interactivity. Just make the fucking thing not a chore so it can actualy be used to play the game. That makes you a Journeyman. Anything at all in the other areas makes you a Master. There’s, how’s that for the setting the baf impossible fucking low and still seeing 90% of the designers not be able to meet it? (These rules only apply to MOSTLY everyone. Jabberwocky’s Wake still gets a pass from me.) Yeah, it’s really taken me ten years to come up with that. Go figure.

It’s short on treasure for an OSR game full of death and hacking. 10,000cp and 5,000sp might be realistic but not level-able. 

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. The preview is two pages and shows you only the setting background. It’s decent read, to get the vibe of the place, but a shitty ass preview since it shows you nothing of the encounters you’ll be purchasing/using. Previews need to give you a sample of what you’re buying.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Suicide Squad Classic

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 02/19/2020 - 12:00

There isn't a comic named Suicide Squad Classic, but I not the original Suicide Squad or to the recent incarnation that got a movie, but to the run that spun out of Legends in 1987. Written and created by John Ostrander and illustrated by several artists over its run, Suicide Squad (vol. 1) would go to 1992 and 66 issues. Ron Edwards has written some good essays about the series on his Comics Madness blog.

Anyway, all this is preamble to my wanting to clue you in to what I discovered this past week: Suicide Squad is now all available in trade paperback. The series of trades is as follows:

Trial by Fire (2011)
The Nightshade Odyssey (2015)
Rogues (2016)
The Janus Directive (2016)
Apokolips Now (2016)
The Phoenix Gambit (2017)
The Dragon's Hoard (2017)
The Final Mission (2019)

Holmes Day 2020

Zenopus Archives - Wed, 02/19/2020 - 01:23

I didn't have time to post over the weekend, but Sunday was the 90th anniversary of the birth of J. Eric Holmes on Feb 16th, 1930. In previous years, I've bumped a Holmes Basic Testimonial post, but the comment section for that is getting long, so here's a new post.

For me, some of the Holmes Basic-related highlights of the past year were:

Returning to Gary Con for the second time and running In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus twice, and among many other highlights, playing in Carl Heyl's all-day drop-in Discos & Dragons game where I met his version of Zenopus.

Following the demise of the great G+, compiling the Holmes Basic G+ Community Archive, a collection in blog format of 7 years of posts to the community.

Running a kids' game, the Master's Lair (hope to turn this into a dungeon to share).

Returning to North Texas RPG Con for the third time and playing in Steve Muchow's sequel Zenopus dungeon; playing in Chris Holmes' game; and making a guest appearance as Zenopus himself in another session of Carl's Discos & Dragons game.

Writing up d12 Hauntings for the Zenopus Dungeon.

Continuing my long-running annual kids' game, this time with N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God.

Being a guest on the Save or Die podcast for the second time, in Episode #154: Holmes Basic.

Writing about Holmes' 1946 Letter to a Pulp Magazine.

Facilitating the re-publication of Holmes' 1983 review of Call of Cthulhu RPG in the second issue of Jared Smith's Bayt al Azif zine.

Running the original Zenopus dungeon for the Scrum Club at a special session the weekend following Thanksgiving. Rich McKee transcribed the events of the game, which I apparently forgot to post here but appears on the Third Point of Singularity.

Releasing the Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild, a 5E D&D Conversion of the original Zenopus Dungeon 

And a special shout-out to Thom Hall for running my Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain at DunDraCon 44 this past Saturday, as he has previous years (2017, 2018):

And I'm looking forward to the following in the next few months:

Helping to put on Scrum Con 2020 with the Second Saturday Scrum Club in less than two weeks (Feb 29th), and running a session of the aforementioned Brazen Head game.

Appearing on the Wandering DMs live video chat on Sunday, March 1st at 1 PM EST.

Returning to Gary Con XII at the end of March and for the first time running two different scenarios at a con, the Brazen Head and a new scenario, Expedition to Skull Stack Crater.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Concerning Judges Guild, Further Developments

Bat in the Attic - Wed, 02/19/2020 - 00:41
Today Robert Bledsaw II posted a message on the Judges Guild Game Company group on facebook. Below are the links where you can read it for yourself:

A Private Message from Bob II
Note: the above link doesn't work as the post been deleted  you will have to use the archive link.

The link to the message

The tone, tenor, and many of the elements of his message mirrored the conversation I had with him on Sunday, February 8th. That conversation in conjunction with the posts I found was crucial to my decision to cease doing business with Judges Guild under Robert Bledsaw II.

My response to his message.

I still will not do any future business with Judges Guild. The moment that the royalties since the waiver equal to what is due from the work I did for the CSIO kickstarter, all Judges Guild products will delisted from Bat in the Attic Games. The two Judges Guild licensed products with my original IP will have their Judges Guild content removed and reissued in a new edition.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Once & Future Greyhawk -- Using The World of Greyhawk (1e) Campaign Folio By Gary Gygax For An OSR Science Fantasy Campaign

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 18:26
"So the players have been complaining that the campaign is too dull, eh? Not enough detail? Why is this country at war with its neighbors? How can trade routes exist with all those wandering monsters? Most importantly, why do all of those unsacked, unlooted dungeons and ruins stand so close to the one big city all of the adventurers in the world hail from?" "Rejoice, Dungeon Masters,Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Fully Immersive Internet: Experience Influencers in the VR Future

Dungeoncomics - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 13:30
The Rig was a highly classified military appliance used in training Special Forces. The Rig provided a perfect facsimile of the experience without having to send a trainee into danger.

How to Build a D&D Monk So Good That DMs Want to Cheat

DM David - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 11:56

I’ve seen a dungeon master go from rolling saves against a monk’s Stunning Strike in the open to rolling in secret. I’m sure that meaningless switch had nothing to do with prior encounters where the monk ran around the battlefield and stunned all the strongest monsters before they acted.

The title of this post uses the word “cheat,” but we know DMs can’t really cheat. I chose the word for a provocative headline. The DM’s sudden switch to secret rolls certainly came from a noble goal. He aimed to make the game more fun, and Dungeons & Dragons rarely proves fun when every encounter turns into a beat down of helpless monsters.

At least a monk’s player always relishes such encounters. I love playing a monk with boots of speed and the Mobility feat, who zooms about like the Flash and punches everything. I’m sure my monk’s stunning fist has irked a few DMs, but I play an unwise monk. My monk pushed Constitution ahead of Wisdom, a poor choice because he hardly needs the hit points. Before the monsters’ turns, his speed lets him run for a cup of tea. (I like tea.) A good monk focuses on Wisdom for a more potent Stunning Strike. The Stunning Strike feature rates as so powerful that an optimal monk rarely squanders ki on anything else. Good monks barely need hit points. Their foes wind up with cartoon stars and birds swirling around their heads.

Some folks suppose that monsters typically enjoy good Constitution saves, and that limits the power of Stunning Strike. That theory mixes a sliver of truth with lots of wishful thinking. Few monsters can repeat saves against stuns from a monk with a high Wisdom. Monks regain ki after just a short rest, so they usually bring enough to make three or even four stun attempts on their first turn. After a monk’s allies finish mauling stunned foes, turn two rarely needs so many stun attempts.

Monk ability scores

For the best monk, make Wisdom and Dexterity your highest attributes. Both raise a monk’s AC. Dexterity helps your attack bonus and damage, but Wisdom stuns. By the time you near 10th level, you usually hit anyway. When you spend ki to stun, you want the high save.

Monk races

With ability score increases to Dexterity and Wisdom, plus a 35-foot walking speed, wood elves make especially good monks.

The Mobile and Alert feats combine so well with the monk class that human monks make another sound choice. A variant human can start boosted by a feat.

If your campaign allows aarakocra characters, consider one. They gain +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom, and a 50-foot fly speed, which seems too strong when paired with a monk’s hit-and-stun tactics. Without special permission, the Adventurers League forbids aarakocra characters.

Monastic traditions

The power of Stunning Strike typically makes spending ki on anything else a poor choice. That makes the Way of the Shadow a strong choice for monastic tradition. Shadow monks can use Shadow Step, their strongest ability, without spending ki. In dim light, this ability lets shadow monks teleport up to 60 feet. Plus, they can spend 2 ki to cast Pass Without Trace, a spell good enough to merit 2 fewer stun attempts.

If the optimal strategy of spamming Stunning Strike seems tiresome, other traditions bring more variety. Here are some stronger options.

If you prefer lots of attacks and battlefield control, the Way of the Open Hand lets every hit from a flurry of blows bring a chance of knocking foes back 15 feet or knocking prone, which brings advantage to the rest of your flurry.

The Drunken Master tradition lets monks disengage after a flurry of blows, adding some mobility and defense. The tipsy flavor may not resonate with some players though.

The Path of the Kensi enables a monk to use more damaging weapons and to become a master archer. However, if you want an Asian-flavored archer that deals game-breaking amounts of damage, opt for a Samurai. (See How to Build a Sharpshooter Who Wins D&D (If the Rest of Your Group Doesn’t Mind).)

Monk feats

The Mobile feat combines with monk so well that according to D&D Beyond, 23% of monks select it. You gain even more speed and foes you attack in combat can’t make opportunity attacks against you. This enable monks to attack, and then dart from reach. Monks hardly need hit points when they only run into combat on their turns.

The Tough feat ranks as the second most popular monk feat, but it makes a weak choice. Well-played monks can survive on fewer hit points. If you want a more durable monk, choose Resilient (Constitution) instead.

The Alert feat pairs well with a monk’s Stunning Strike. Combining the feat’s +5 bonus to initiative with the monk’s Dexterity means you almost always go first. This gives you a chance to stun all the most dangerous monsters before they act.

No wonder Stunning Strike tempts DMs to roll saves in secret for no particular reason.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ragged Hollow Nightmare

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 12:32
By Joseph Lewis Dungeon Age Adventures OSR (&5e!) Levels 1-4

Yesterday, young Tobias went to investigate an old tomb by himself. Everyone told him it was a bad idea. Everyone was right. Today, you and your companions awaken to a town in chaos. Why is the temple sealed behind a divine shield? Why are children and worshipers trapped within? How do we get inside? What did Tobias do?!

Quick reminder. There’s a Patreon button off to the right. It helps me buy these adventures, uh, so, uh, you don’t have to? But if you donate then you are, also, buying them? Hmmm, I should work on the marketing related to this. One day …

This forty page adventure is PACKED FUCKING FULL. It has a small town/village, about a dozen little mini-adventures, and a temple, sealed off by the powers of good, with about forty rooms in it. There’s good layout, evocative writing, and things to talk to in, what turns out to be, a nightmare madhouse of a temple. Non-combat/NPC interactivity may be a bit low, and the level range may be off also.

You wake up one morning to find the neighbors all rushing towards the temple in town. Seems it’s now surrounded by a strange golden glow and no one can get in or out. The clerics offered free schooling, so, you know, the villagers kids are inside. So, could you, you know …? Also, as one hook explicitly points out “… which is full of rare books, valuable religious art, and magic items!” Yup! Sore would be happy to help! Only one problem … getting past the magical golden force field. Fortunately, the bell tower, 60’ above, it sticking out beyond it. Alas, there is no way to get to it.

This then is what sets this adventure apart. To get to the site, sitting right next to you, you have to find a way in. There are a few items scattered around the surrounding countryside that could help. But it’s not really pointed out anywhere at the start. Talking to people in town will get you some adventure hooks, from the vermind basement to the poison well to the witch that lives in the woods outside of town. There are, I don’t know, a dozen or so of these? Talking to the townspeople might give you three or four, but those lead to others which can lead to others. The formulae might be: the mundane quest in tow leads to something fantastic, which leads to something even more so. The poison well has a mutant frog-man with open sores in it, laying injured. He cna plead for his life, telling the party of a haunted house nearby with a pair of metal jumping shoes. Ah ha! A way up to the tower! And thus it goes.

From a design standpoint this is one of the few misses in this adventure. It feels like there’s a time crunch, to get inside the temple and save people, and it is perhaps a bit non-intuitive that you need to run around the countryside to get in. It’s natural to talk to the townfolk to see what they know, in order to get in, but “clean out my basement” or “the well is poisoned” seems like things to NOT pursue, although The Witch outside of town is a rather obvious follow up in looking for help to get in.

(I might note, as well, that this adventure comes with both 5e & OSR versions. OSR healing being what it is, having substantial adventures before the “main” temple adventure is likely to result in drained HP, and days of recovery time. Perhaps some fun to be had there with nagging villagers, worried about their children, while the party recover from their wounds. Again, a bit of a system/tonal variance in the OSR/5e, but neither this or the “countryside” thing is enough to worry too much about. It’s noff, not a deal breaker.)

The town is nicely done, terse, brief hits of shopkeeper personalities. A little note on “what they know”, IE: the actual play stuff. It’s organized well, with bolded heading and doesn’t go on and on about extraneous details. Really well formatted. In fact, the entire adventure is well formatted and organized. It’s easy to find information and it writing is tight and evocative. A “a town, a main 40-room adventure, and a dozen side quests in 40 pages” would imply. Top notch. It’s three column layout but feels clean and modern without using an avant garde layout, and doesn’t feel cramped at all the way three column can. 

I don’t know what else to say. It’s fucking great? A barrow with a hag eating people. An old woman in the woods who people say is a witch. And bakes cookies. And is a witch. But a nice one. A fey goblin market full of shuckers AND chock full of minor magic, like apples and dolls and their ilk. The town is full of events, at night, the stuff of nightmares, since they ARE nightmares. But it doesn’t FEEL like one of those terrible consequence-free “it was all a dream” adventures. Or even a dream adventure at all. It feels like the real-world, but twisted, but not so much as to stretch disbelief. Well, until you get inside the temple. Then things start to spiral a bit … “An exploded pig lies screaming on the floor. A silver key glint in its mouth.” A) Uh, oooo, that’s disturbing! B) A golden key in it’s mouth?! Sweet! Temptation! I love temptation in an adventure! It’s what D&D is all about!

I would note a few other nits. While the adventure does have some cross-reference, a few more could have been in order. I’m thinking specifically oft he section where it mentions the three items that can help the party get up in to the tower … those could have used some cross-references. There’s also a bit of an issue with what the party sees. It’s natural for the party to explore the outside of the dome, to look in, to see what they can see. There’s no overview of what the party can see, even though there ARE outside areas. This means the DM needs to dig through the adventure for those sections and, kind of ignore the upper levels and the like. A nice overview of “what walking around the place shows you” was in order. Likewise, windows and the people inside? No one at the windows screaming for help, or vignettes of horror? Finally, I would be a bit worried about the party focusing on getting in rather than pursuing the mini-adventures. Like I said, they are behind some barriers and “lets get 100’ of rope and string up a pully system” is, I think, something my party would turn to first rather than a quest for a quest for a quest. That may be an actual play thing, but some guidance in that area would have been nice.

Still, overall, a GREAT adventure. Even the magic broom has a personality!  Great new creatures, good new magic items. The oSR version might be a little light on loot and a little off in level range, but this thing if chock full of flavor and and is easy to use. The nits are easy to overcome. 

Dungeon Age Adventures is one of those publishers/designers to keep an eye on. 

This is $5 at DriveThru, and comes with an OSR version and a 5e version. The preview is fifteen pages and shows you the town, rumors, the layout and design choices, the way it organizes data, and a couple of the side quests. If I were being a hard ass I might have also like to see one page of the encounters of the main temple/adventure to get an idea of what “core encounters” look like also, but, still, good preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: The Otus Pantheon

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 12:00
This Pantheon first appeared back in 2016.

Blame Chris Kutalik. He did a post back in the day about imagining a pantheon based on Erol Otus's strange evocative illustrations in Deities & Demigods. This is what I came up with:

Click to check it out in its enlarged "glory." The domains provided are for 5th edition.

Dark Hold Kobold Cavalry Kickstarter!

Rebel Minis - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 02:52

We are Live! 

We are very excited to announce our Newest 28mm Scale Dark Hold Kobold Cavalry Kickstarter!

The Kobold Cavalry set is a pack of 10 pewter(unpainted) 28mm scale Kobold riders on Giant Ferrets and Komodo Dragon mounts sculpted by master sculptor Bob Olley. Each pack contains a Kobold General, a Standard-bearer, Kobold Spearmen, Kobold Swordsmen and even Kobolds with Axes!

Check it out here:

Thank you for the Support!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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