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Review & Commentary On Rats In The Walls & Other Perils By Jeffrey Talianin For Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea & Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 02/18/2019 - 03:20
"Rats in the Walls”: A dockside tavern in Khromarium is plagued by rats of a most unusual breed. These abominable rodents have ruined the tavern keeper’s business and his life. The man is desperate, and he offers a substantial reward for the elimination of his horrific problem."So about a week ago during the last snow storm I emailed Jeffrey Talianin about grabbing a copy of the updated Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

5150: Fleet Commander Bat Rep

Two Hour Wargames - Mon, 02/18/2019 - 00:06





Playable with minis, counters or Power Point like I did!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

One More Day

Torchbearer RPG - Sun, 02/17/2019 - 13:10

Hello friends!

My apologies, but if you’re here for the announcement of the new Torchbearer adventure Kickstarter, we’ve opted to push it back by a day. Sorry if you’ve been waiting with baited breath, but thanks for your interest!

We’ll launch tomorrow instead (Monday, Feb. 18). I’m not sure what time, but we’ll make sure to post here, on the Burning Wheel HQ forums, the Torchbearer RPG Facebook page, the Torchbearer subreddit, and I’ll post it on my Twitter account too.

Talk to you tomorrow!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Holmes Basic Testimonials

Zenopus Archives - Sun, 02/17/2019 - 03:30


2019 update: Today is the 89th anniversary of J. Eric Holmes birthday! Please feel free to add your own testimonial to the comments below.

If you missed it major new addition to the Zenopus Archives site this past year was the addition of a J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery.

2018 update: This year we celebrate Holmes' birthday in the middle of the 40th anniversary year of Holmes Basic (July 2017-July 2018). As a tribute, I'll be running two session of Return to the Tower of Zenopus at Gary Con in a few weeks (I had to cancel these).

There will also be a "Ruined Tower of Zenopus - 40 years later" event, by a different author, at the North Texas RPGCon this year in June! (this game was played with Chris Holmes in attendance)

And Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain - a Holmes Basic mini-scenario available here - will be run for the second year in a row at Dundracon this coming Sunday.

If you missed it, last July Chris Holmes was on the 3rd season of the short podcast Tell Me About Your Character, talking about his third favorite D&D character (after Boinger and Zereth) in the games he played with his father in the '70s. (this podcast seems to be no longer available)

And since Holmes' birthday last year we've seen a lot of great releases:

Tales of Peril, a gorgeous hardcover compilation of Holmes' stories of the adventures of Boinger the Halfling and Zereth the Elf, debuted at North Texas last June and shortly thereafter was available for direct order from Black Blade Publishing. I've been slowly blogging my way through the book in a series called the Tales of Peril Book Club, although at the moment it is on hiatus while I prep my con scenario.

The Blueholme Journeymanne rulebook was released by Dreamscape Design, and expands the Blueholme Prentice rules up to 20 levels. It is chock-full of evocative art thanks to all of the Holmes fans out there who funded the Kickstarter for the art.

Jon of Appendix M released two issues of his zine Fantastic! Exciting! Imaginative!, which is inspired by the art found in the Holmes Basic rulebook. The content is by various members of the Holmes Basic groups on G+ and Facebook, including one article in each by myself. Join up if you want to contribute to the next one! These can be found at DTRPG: Vol 1 (free pdf) and Vol 2 ($4 pdf).

On Free RPG day I released Holmes Ref 2.0 an expanded compilation of my reference sheets for Holmes Basic referees. I hope to release a further expansion this year.

Each year I bring this post forward and invite you to add new testimonials. I've moved my posts from previous years to an archive page on the Holmes Basic site, but everyone else's comments from previous years remain below. Feel free to comment again if you've commented before.

See also:
Testimonal Thread at OD&D Discussion
Testimonial Thread at Knights & Knaves Alehouse  
Testimonial Thread at Dragonsfoot
Testimonial Thread at the Acaeum

(DTRPG links include this blog's affiliate # which gives us a 5% credit for each purchase)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Chase Scene Variations

Howling Tower - Sun, 02/17/2019 - 00:07
Chase scenes (like many other RPG situations) are easy to over-orchestrate. If you find yourself planning where every pushcart and baby-toting mother will be encountered, then you're writing a script instead of setting up an adventure. I prefer leaving many things to chance, as in the almost entirely random approach like the one I outlined yesterday at Kobold Quarterly. (If you haven't read that column, what follows here might not make sense. You probably should read part 1 before this followup.)
It's astounding, the number of uses you can find for a standard deck of playing cards. The variations are almost endless. To demonstrate, let's look at what can be done with yesterday's simple foot chase.
Standard: Roll 3 dice for exits from each card.Variation: Roll just 1 or 2 dice for more constricted areas, 4 or more for areas with lots of roads and alleys.Variation: Roll 1d6 when a card is placed to determine how many potential exits there are.Variation: Roll 1d3, 1d4, or 1d6 to determine potential exits.
Standard: A d6 is rolled to determine the distance between cards.Variation: Roll a different size of die to determine path length, for longer or shorter paths.Variation: Instead of rolling a die, the distance is the difference in value between the two cards. For example, the path between the 5 of hearts and the 9 of clubs is 4 "spaces." Give face cards any constant value you like. For longer paths, make face cards worth 10, 11, or 12. For shorter paths, make face cards worth 5 or 6.
Standard: Place one card at a time as they come into play.Variation: If characters are familiar with the area, then you'll want to reveal more information, so they can make better choices about where to turn. You could:
  • Roll to determine the lengths of paths as soon as the exits are located;
  • Let characters spend a round looking down a path to see where it leads before running down it;
  • Place face-up cards adjacent to each exit so players know where the paths lead, but don't determine the path lengths;
  • Reveal the lengths and destinations of all paths from the current card;
  • Set out a full grid of cards face down, without paths. Designate the starting and destination cards. Characters must find a path to the destination, possibly doubling back when the route dead-ends or is blocked by an obstacle.
  • Create the whole layout beforehand and give the whole thing to the players. Characters can plan their route efficiently, but they won't know what obstacles they'll encounter. 

Standard: The layout represents city streets.Variation: The card layout can represent a sewer system beneath the streets, the roofs of buildings (paths represent street widths, and the difference in value between the cards is the height difference of the buildings), the inside of a single building, caverns, a dungeon, a wilderness, dry islands in a swamp, or floating islands of matter in the Astral Plane.
Standard: The layout changes each time the cards come out.Variation: When you set up a town, city, or other area for the first time, take a photo so you can use the same layout when characters return to that location. The cards become your map.
Standard: The chase is on foot.Variation: The chase can be conducted with cars, motorcycles, horses, dragons, boats, airplanes, flying carpets, or submarines. Characters can mix and match vehicles and foot travel to maximize speed and mobility.
Standard: The action is a chase.Variation: The card layout can create an area to explore instead of an area to race through.
Standard: Areas are small and turns are a minute or less long.Variation: Areas can be as big or small as you want, with turns adjusted to match. If areas are measured in miles instead of yards, then turns can be counted in hours.
This card system is something that I've used for years in multiple variations. Many of those uses were in solo games, which I have a real weakness for. I'm sure that I'll circle back around to this topic many times.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Chaos & Conquest The Spores of The Demon Lord Juiblex In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons As Well As My Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 02/16/2019 - 20:12
It is known as Juiblex, also called The Faceless Lord,  Lord of Sloth, Demon Lord of Poison and Ooze. It  is the demon lord & father  of Slimes and Oozes but its other names are  Szhublox & the faceless rot. Juiblex's lair is on the 222nd layer of the Abyss, which he shares with Zuggtmoy, the Demoness Lady of Fungi.  Together they are fungal rot & chaotic evil incarnate tearing apart the Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Blood on the Snow

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 02/16/2019 - 12:13
By Curt Carbonell Self-published 5e Levels 5-8

It’s the dead of winter in the High North. People are going missing, rumors abound of savage creatures in the wilderness, and the outpost town of Jotnar’s Folly is teetering on the brink of starvation. You must travel to the frozen foothills of the Spine of the World and put a stop to whatever is causing this suffering. Will you be able to survive the freezing temperatures, solve the mystery, and defeat the threat in time to save the town from certain destruction?

This 22 page adventure has the party trekking through bitter cold (environmental hazards) and meeting some gnolls before hacking a frost giant and his pet remorhaz. Pruning back the writing and some tweaks to the organization/support information would go a long way to making this an inoffensive adventure. At its heart it’s just a boring old set-piece battle with the added complication of a gnoll parlay.

Set in a far northern town, the children don’t drink lemonade but they do get hacked down. You pick up a couple of quests in town, go to a farmstead to find some dead bodies, find some gnolls at a campsite that you might be able to roleplay with, and then fight a frost giant and his pet.

This adventure tries hard. You can see the designer trying to do the right thing and then kind of leaving out what they needed to succeed. I’m going to assume it’s because of a lack of exposure to good design principles.

The adventure is set in the frozen north and the environment is supposed to be a big part of the adventure. There’s a little section at the beginning on sights and sounds that tries to help the DM introduce some atmosphere. Crunching snow, glare off the snow, etc. It’s got some nice ideas in it. But, what the adventure needs, is reinforcement of those ideas. Including that section in front kind of sets the DM’s mood while they are doing their initial read through, setting up the lens by which the further encounters can be viewed through. The encounters, proper, though need this data reinforced. The data should be repeated, not word for word but elements of it, in the various encounters. When you reach the ruined homestead a few words, under the title, like [crunchy snow, glare off the featureless plain] would have done wonders to help the DM set the mood WHILE RUNNING IT. Remember, the adventure needs to be focused on running it at the table. So while the initial sights & sounds are ok, the DM needs that brief environmental data reinforced in the actual encounter that they are looking at. The DM’s attention is drawn a hundred different way while running the game, helping them recall is a good thing. But, you have to do it without getting in the way. Hence the suggestion of the “feelings” under the encounter title.

Likewise the adventure tries to set up a situation where travel between the various encounter sites has an element of the environment in it. Face a blizzard or hide in a cave? Go over a frozen lake or maybe go the other way to have a monster encounter? These little things have a number of problems. First, the table they are presented on only has three options, driven by a survival check. Given the multiple travel options it’s certainly possible that the same one could happen more than once. It would have been better to tweak this in to something else, like removing the check. This ISN’T messing with player agency because of my second point. It’s not always obvious what the consequences of the players decisions will be. For the decision to be meaningful the players must understand the nature of the decisions they are making. Going over the lack will reduce time but it looks treacherous. The other direction looks safer but maybe has monster spoor. Or you can see a blizzard in the distance, or something like that. They need to know that the blizzard is coming and/or that it will delay them. Otherwise the choice is random and you take the players agency away, things just happen to them. The adventure is not necessarily doing this on purpose but it doesn’t make it clear. Finally, the linkages between the hazards are weak. It mentions, for example in the “Rock and Hard Place” line on the survival table that the party might have to survive the weather and then has a section about a column away called Surviving the Weather. That’s generic, and could apply to the entire adventure when it’s MEANT to apply to this one line on the survival table. Rock & A hard place on the table could be called “Blizzard or Yeti?” and the blizzard referred to as “Event: Blizzard” or something like that. By being cute with the names you make the comprehension harder for the DM.

Read aloud is contained to just one entry per “major section” but can be long, and, as long time readers know long read-aloud, being more than 2-3 sentences are bad. Instead, rely on bullet points or other techniques to rely information to the DM so they can easily find it and convey it. Further, flowery read-aloud is almost always bad, in general, and is in this adventure as well. “Arrows stick out of the snow like frozen flowers.” is not good writing. Evocative writing is a good thing to strive for but metaphor is almost always a bad idea. In my experience it almost always comes off as groan & eye-rolling worthy.

It’s handles survival mostly through the 5e exhaustion check mechanism. This is a decent way to include it but not focus on the tedium of outdoor survival, like so many adventures do in the heat or cold. It would have been better, though, to include a brief summary of the exhaustion rules and maybe some modifiers, etc, in the adventure, maybe on the last page or something, to make the DM’s referencing it during play easy to find. I don’t want to go hunting in the PHB or leave the page open in the hardback during play. Remember, the designer should be focused on helping the DM run the adventure during play at the table.

But, to that end, a little travel table is provided between sites showing distances and typical number-of-days travel time. That’s the kind of helpful data I’m looking for, so well done!

It’s got a couple of other nice things it’s trying to do also. The mayor is being blackmailed by a protection racket, leading to some of the hooks, and provides better depth than usual to what would normally be a throw-away hook. That’s great. It’s exactly what I’m talking about when I ask people to think about their hooks just a little more He needs the lost protection money back, and it also leads to potential further adventure at the end of the adventure. Likewise, there’s a cowardly sheriff, a hero in his own tale, that has caused some trouble. This is a non-trivial element of the adventure, as he has killed a gnoll and they can be, potentially, allies of the party if the sheriff and gnoll tension can come to a end. The sheriff thinks he did the right thing. The gnolls are pissed he killed one of them. They are not necessarily hostile but potentially hostile. That can be a good encounter, with no enforced right or wrong to it. [The gnolls come off a little too do-gooder for me, like humans wearing gnoll costumes. There could be some more nuance there but its painfully easy to see where the designer is going.] The entire idea of the sheriff and gnoll group, with factions in the gnolls, is a great idea. It just needed some more work.

Folks will recall that Rients suggests shaking up the campaign, and the giant could very well fuck up the town. That could be GREAT!

It also tries to do something interesting with hooks. Four locations are described in town, each with a hook related to the adventure. This goes a long way to the concept of leaving out the shit don’t matter. Four ways in to the adventure, or further nuance to it, and thus four locations described in the town. That’s focus. The NPC’s are left to the appendix to describe, and I’d prefer a couple of keywords in the description to riff off of, but, at least they are short-ish.

The DM text tends to the medium and unfocused side of the spectrum, needing more whitespace/bullets/pruning back to enable focus on what matters when running it. Finally, it’s got a trigger warning at the start noting that some innocent people get killed as a part of the adventure. Uh … Seriously? If anything I’d say it doesn’t go far enough in this area. Showing why a bad guy is evil, instead of telling us, is a key way to motivate the party. I’m not looking for graphic depictions, but the current descriptions are abstracted enough that they don’t bring anything/much to the table.

Finally, This is really just a three encounter adventure. Go to homestead and find some bodies and the sheriff. Go to campsite and find more bodies and the gnolls and hack them and/or roleplay. Go find frost giant and his pet and kill them. Three encounters in 22 pages, for $4, is not exactly “Participation Award” worthy. Yeah yeah, environmental encounters between the main ones. Whatever. I don’t wandering monsters in OSR adventures and I’m not counting Wandering Environment encounters here. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that, if you hack the gnolls down, there’s any way to figure out there’s a giant involved or where he’s going. It’s assumed, I guess, that the gnoll roleplay works out. Strengthening the “ought oh! The giants the bad guy!” part could be better. Or, maybe not, and you just let the giant fuck up the town. But that smacks of the designer saying “you better talk to the gnolls or else!” and that’s NOT good design.

For 5e it’s decent. But most 5e adventures are dreck. If instead its looked on as the initial effort of a first-time designer then there’s maybe a little hope in the future that they improve and bring us good things in their coming products.

It looks like this was produced from an RPG writers workshop the designer attended. I can’t say that it was perfect, but this one did come out better than most first time efforts. Maybe next week we’ll take a look at the workshop runners adventures. In any event, I do hope a lot of these 5e/Pathfinder designers expand their horizons and get out of their echo chambers. There is so much GREAT design work going on outside of the mainstream, and so little within 5e/Pathfinder. Broadening their perspectives would be great for these folks, if they can buck the emulation echo chamber trends.

This is $4 at DMSguild. The preview a good one, eight pages. You get to see the town and how the plot hooks are integrated in to the locations. You get to see the first two encounters (most of them anyway) and their read-aloud. The lack of NPC personality (it being relegated to an appendix) and the more conversation style of DM text that comes off as unfocused and hiding the details the DM needs.

https://www.dmsguild.com/product/266134/Blood-on-the-Snow?affiliate_id=1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

More Commentary On The Many Facets Of The Demon Prince Orcus In Original Dungeons & Dragons As Well As My Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 02/15/2019 - 15:27
  Tonight I busted out my copy of Eldritch Wizardry not because I was feeling nostalgic about psionics but because I wanted to stare into the face of one of demon lords of the Abyss. Lately, Demongorgon has been getting a ton of press because of the Netflix show 'Stranger Things'. But pound for pound I've used the demon prince of the undead more times then I can count. Eldritch Wizardry is Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Solar Trek Episode Guide

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 02/15/2019 - 12:00

It seems like a good time for a post collating my Solar Trek (a solar system confined, more hard science fiction rationalized Star Trek). Here's what I've done so far, titled with the TOS episode/setting element that inspired it.

The introductory post
The Orion Syndicate
"Return of the Archons"
"That Which Survives"
"The Cloud Minders"
"The Trouble with Tribbles"
"Tholian Web"


Review & Commentary On 'The Pay What You Want' OSR Monster Book - The Found Folio Volume One By Jeremy Reaban

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 02/15/2019 - 07:32
"Found Folio is a collection of roughly 130 monsters converted from 3rd edition (most notably the in print 3.75 edition) of the world's first fantasy roleplaying game back to 1st edition (and to an extent, original and other old school editions)."The Found Folio Vol I does exactly what it says on the tin. A collection of converted 3.5 monsters ready & willing to go into your latest adventure orNeedleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Players' Manual By Jeffrey Talanian (author), David Prata (editor) From North Wind Adventures

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 20:46
"The heroes of a HYPERBOREA campaign delve the mazes and labyrinths of vast dungeons filled with horrifying monsters, lethal traps, and bewildering puzzles. They explore savage frontiers, breach hostile borderlands, probe ancient ruins, and investigate cursed tombs. They plunder for treasure and magic in a decaying world inhabited by bloodthirsty beasts and weird, otherworldly beings." Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bring on the magic!

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 14:00
The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886

Hello friends!

Let’s talk about magic items. If you’re a GM, are you placing them in your adventures? If you’re a player, are your characters finding them in their delves? I hope so!

Magic items are fun to discover and use, and if you treat them as more than contextless powerups they can inject history and weight to your campaign.

First, I should note the way I present magic items in Torchbearer has shifted a bit over the years. In the core book, items had levels and you had to be of the requisite level to use the item. I’ve since tossed that restriction by the wayside because it’s artificial and cumbersome. The magic items in Middarmark don’t have levels. That’s why.

It’s my hope that dropping the level restriction also makes it easier for you to design your own magic items and drop them in your games. To help get you started, here are the various magical effects a magic item can provide. If I’ve missed something, let me know in the comments and we’ll discuss!

Magical effects:

  • Break ties in your favor
  • Confer belief
  • Confer instinct
  • Confer special ability (fly, remain unharmed by fire, walk on water, etc.)
  • Confer spell effect
  • Confer traits
  • Confer wise
  • Increase Might
  • Provide advantage to abilities
  • Provide advantage to skills
  • Treat conditions

You can use these singly, or in combination to create more complex magic items. For instance, you can use the Confer belief, instinct, or trait effects in combination with something else to create a cursed item, or an item with a personality that weighs upon the bearer. In general, Confer belief and Confer instinct should replace the character’s existing belief or instinct, not add to it.

Try to give each item you introduce into the game a bit of lore, even if you’re using one from a book or adventure. What’s its name? Who made it? Why? What little nugget of history can your players discover by studying the item? Even a lowly ring of invisibility might have an epic history behind it.

Back in November, I posted a few new magic items. Here are some more to whet your appetite. What’s their story? How would you use them in your game?

Aegis Bracer

These leather bracers are crafted from a combination of supple leather, rawhide and boiled leather, all intricately burned with arcane sigils of defense. They protect the hands and forearms.
Effect: If you are targeted by a successful Attack or Feint in a capture, drive off or kill conflict, roll a d6. On a 4+, reduce your opponent’s margin of success by -1s. This effect works once per conflict. Attacks or Feints with spears, bolts and arrows are not affected.
Inventory: Hands/worn 1
Type: Magical clothing

Frostreaver

A sword of pale blue metal covered in fine crystalline hoar frost. The sword emits a powerful chill and a faint frosty vapor rises from it when unsheathed in above-freezing temperatures.
Effect: The subject of a successful Attack with Frostreaver is chilled to the bone, suffering -1s to their team’s next action. Frostreaver otherwise confers the normal sword benefits. Frostreaver’s cold is punishing. The wielder must wear thick leather gloves or similar protection to shield the hands or suffer the injured condition at the end of a conflict or turn in which it was used.
Inventory: Hands/carried 1 or belt/weapon 1
Type: Magical weapon

Jade Diadem

A crown of creamy white jade made for an ancient tyrant surrounded by scheming courtiers.
Effect: The wearer is immune to all mind control effects and gaze weapons.The wearer of the Jade Diadem gains the Suspicious trait at level 2. The wearer of the Jade Diadem is deeply suspicious of all who would approach them. It is extremely difficult to trick or lie to them, but they have a hard time trusting even the most altruistic people.
Inventory: Head/worn 1 or pack 1
Type: Magical jewelry

Keep Your Eyes Open

As a final note, as part of the #ZineQuest initiative on Kickstarter I plan to launch a new Torchbearer adventure on Sunday, February 17. It will join The Grind, another Torchbearer zine by our friends at Mordite Press. Check in here for announcements!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Empire and Venus

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 12:00
This is a follow-up to this post

Perhaps no planet in the Solar System has benefited more from the benevolent hand of the Earth Empire than Venus. The thick covering of clouds obscures modernization on a grand scale, and a planet moving from ignorance and savagery to progress and industry!

Looks a bit draft, doesn't it? The barracks are heated!
The mist-enshrouded cloud forests of the Venusian Highlands are home to a hairy race of primitive tribesmen, known to Earth explorers as "Woollies." The Woollies historically lived in crude, wooden huts, high up in trees to escape the numerous Venusian predators, but the Imperial Development Corps has helped them transition to secure reservations, with many modern Earth comforts. The grateful Woollies are eager to help the war effort against the rebellion, and the Imperial Army lets the well-meaning but unskilled primitives pitch in with menial tasks!

In the lowlands, the reptilian predators are even larger, making colonization and development hazardous. The Empire has granted Venusian Timber an exclusive contract to clear away those forests and eradicate the monstrous beasts, all in the name of a better tomorrow.

Watch out, there's one of them, now!Everyone has heard the stories of the green gnome of the Venusian swamps. Well, there have been reports of rebel activity in the area, too, and the government worries this eccentric old Venusian might be in danger! Imperial troops are looking for the little, old alien and hope to relocate him to safety, soon! Good searching, trooper!

They're gonna find you, little guy. Bet on it!

Witchburner

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 13:12
By Luka Rejec Hydra Cooperative OSR

… It’s an intimate, tragic adventure of witch hunting in a town huddled between rivers and mountains and forests one wet and cold October.

Warning: This adventure gets up close to a line I’m uncomfortable with in adventures. You should keep that in mind as you read my skepticism’s.

This 68 page “adventure” describes the NPC’s in a small town and wraps some rules around for garnering support from the locals to burn people as witches. Some reference sheets are provided to help the DM with the social situation, and it is CERTAINLY a well-charged situation in which to throw some PC gas … but I’m having my doubts as to the “Adventure” nature of this thing, as well as playability. In the end, I’ve decided it’s an adventure, and a cute idea, and some decent NPC’s, but it doesn’t all come together.

Ye Olde town council hires the party to find the witch in their town. If you can do it in less than a month then you get the cash. There are some mini-mechanics provided on convincing the town council that the accused is a witch, and some around the town folks growing to love, or hate, the party. There are thirty main NPC’s provided, each with a quirk or secret or two, and each generally with a small group of others in the household, also with a quirk or so. There are reference sheets for tracking the love/hate thing, and mini-rules for mob justice.

It is a social adventure. Each of the thirty days in the month has some little small event, like townsperson x tells the party townsperson Y was a witch when they were younger, etc. This is also augmented by some kind of calamity, some witchsign like stillborn cattle (and generally much weirder) that whips up the locals a bit more. Too harsh with the locals and they start to fear you. Too many fear you and a mob forms to burn the party as witches, the tables turned.

It’s a decent set up. The locals are in witch fear fever. Everyone has something to hide. The mini-rules handle the extra new situations well. The calamities and rumors on each day keep the action moving. And in to all this you add a WHOLE bunch of gas in the form of the party and wait for the shit to go down. It’s all very loose, almost a framework for an adventure rather than adventure. That’s both a strength and a weakness.

There’s no actual plot, other than what naturally develops during play. That’s because there is no actual witch … the locals are just all spun up because of some coincidences. But … no one knows that. The coincidences are not explained. The locations and events precipitating things are not touched on AT ALL. So, the pumpkin that spills teeth when cut in to? Only mentioned in passing once, in as much detail as I just typed. Or the fish that turned up dead with a handprint on them? Again, no more explanation AT ALL than I just provided. It’s literally all just rumors and people with something to hide. There’s strength to that, it recognizes that all you really need is a volatile situation and adding the party can turn it in to an adventure. On the downside … well, it  feels plotless. The lack of explanation for the “bait” that starts everything is totally up to the DM. And not explicitly so, just implicitly.

It’s also the case that the party will need to frame someone to get the money … and/or save themselves from the mob. Or, they can just rob people.

The lack of the precipitating events, and of a plot, does leave things feeling a bit hollow. It’s all just fucking around. You could just as easily take People of Pembrocktonshire, or any other NPC book and say “they all live in the same village. The party is hired to find the village witch, but there isn’t one.” Same adventure, essentially.

It’s heart is in the right place. It tries to provide reference sheets, etc. The entire thing needs A LOT more cross-referencing. Every time it uses the words The Mayor it also need to put “(p39)” right after it … and do the same for all NPC’s. You gotta help the DM out … especially when things are as loosy goosy as this. People affiliations, like Councilor, Cult, Lodge could also be better noted in more locations. There’s also about a column of “background story” for each of the main NPC’s. They do a good job of communicating flavor, but are useless in play. I also think they are useless in play if you skip them … there’s no way you can hold 30 NPC’s in your head.  This seems much more aimed at people just reading the adventure rather than running it. Still, skip it and your ok.

It’s all a bit too aimless for my tastes. The secrets are not explicit, or damning, in most cases. “I can tell wwhat’s wrong with someone when I touch them.” Ok, sure. I  guess so. It needs a little more push in the PC direction and just a little more pretext at the beginning, I think. Yeah, there’s a rule on how to actually put a witch in the adventure. But, it’s just random.

Luka has done something different and I applaud that. It FEELS a lot like that movie The Witch … except for the ending of course.

And therein ends the review I wrote four months ago, when this thing first came out. I have NO idea how I didn’t post it then. In fact, I trashed it. I went through this morning to buy it and DriveThru said I owned it. A search in my Google Drive showed a doc in trashcan. Restoring it got me the review above. Fuck if I know man.

In rereading the adventure and the review I think I should add a few words. You can see me struggling with the open-ended nature of the adventure. Or, maybe, The Adventure As Theater. The Red Herring Adventure. Or maybe The Adventure As Journey Rather Than Destination. This is perhaps best exemplified in my disgust with most “it was all a dream” adventures, or adventures that, by fiat, remove consequences. “All the dead PC’s return to life. Yeah!” This adventure isn’t that, but the commonality is, I think, Theater. Let’s say the DM wings it one night because they have no adventure prepared. They make someone stare at the party when they enter the tavern. The guy follows them in and they see him stare at them some more. Nothing is actually going on, the party just catches the guy looking a bit. The party reacts, and the DM follows the natural consequences. This adventure is closer to that setup and you can see me struggling in my review. There is no witch. The phenomena is unexplained. And yet we continue to live our lives and have an adventure, placing meaning. [Life is, of course, without meaning. You can’t give it meaning. You must live it anyway, recognizing the absurdity.] This adventure gets up close to a line I’m uncomfortable with in adventures.

If you can accept the nature of the adventure then this is not a bad adventure. In fact, it’s a pretty decent adventure that could be better with a little work. It’s certainly one of the Best, if you’re not an overly-analyzing git like myself.

Also, Luka tells me that the Funeral Edition has some worksheets that make it easier to run. Luka is smart, so I suspect the new worksheets remove some of my troubles with keeping track of the mechanical systems, etc.

This is $13 at DriveThru. There’s a free version available.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/256916/Witchburner?affiliate_id=1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Black Book: The Art of Jim Starlin

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 12:00
Preempting my return to Storm this week was the fulfillment of the Ominous Press Kickstarter, Black Book: The Art of Jim Starlin. It's available for preorder now from the Ominous Press site. it includes images (mostly black and white but some color) from over his career and at the Big Two and independents.

We get to see his original image of Thanos:


And unpublished stuff from an as yet unfinished (tragically, never to be finished by Starlin alone) new Dreadstar story:


It does tend to skew a bit toward more recent material rather than his heyday, but has some images of stories or characters that never saw print, including work he did on a Captain Marvel (the Shazam! one) limited series.

If you are a Starlin fan, it's something you'll want to pick up.

An Age Undreamed of With Jason Vey's Free OD&D Booklet Age of Conan For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 03:17
"When I was a fighting-man, the kettle-drums they beat, Under the caverned pyramids great Set coils asleep; When the world was young and men were weak, and the fiends of the ight walked free; I strove with Set by fire and steel and the juice of the upas-tree; What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie? -Robert E. Howard, “The Phoenix on the Sword” "So I've been down in Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Faith & Fortune - Fighters, Wizards, & Priests In Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 02/12/2019 - 20:43
When we start looking at original Dungeons & Dragons clerics then we're getting right into the heart of the bed rock of the game in many ways. Clerics are so much more then their given credit for. Back in the Seventies &  Eighties clerics & their churches as well as the temples were the center pieces of adventures. Clerical orders were the movers & shakers among kings, queens, & royals. They Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Top Dungeons and Dragons News

Hack & Slash - Tue, 02/12/2019 - 16:30
We should remember the past, lest. . .

If it were a fad, you wouldn't be reading about it right now.
Dungeons & Dragons was always a fast starter. The first printing of 1,000 copies were gone in just a few months. That print run was doubled and sold out even faster the second time. The popularity was synergistic. Due to a mixup with rights involving The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings—Donald Wollheim of Ace Paperback was upset because Tolkien snubbed him when he asked to print Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in paperback. When their limited 5 year license to print them ran out, he just decided that it was public domain and began publishing it illegally. In order to stop this, in the late 60's they ran a huge publishing campaign to assert their rights in the united states, making the lord of the rings a very popular book in the early 70's. The themes in the book and the rising counterculture of the time made the seminal fantasy novel a nationwide phenomenon.
A lot of that popularity contributed to the fast success of Dungeons and Dragons, which in turn began to spawn more fantasy novels. With distribution channels in bookstores, gas stations, sears, and cheap child friendly books (Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer Basic) along with ads in boy's life and other teenage magazines, it sold millions of copies. 12.9$ million dollars worth in 1981—That's almost 50 million dollars in 2019 money.
It was the first D&D boom, and for many years, was the largest.

Money TroublesOne of the reasons Dungeons and Dragons was able to get into so many distribution channels is that they were sitting on a large pile of money, and therefore willing to take the risk of distributing to bookstores. If a book didn't sell, you could return the cover for your money back. Once control of the game was wrested away from the Gygax family, by the selfish and despicable Blume brothers, everything changed. No longer were they interested in employee feedback. Through a series of poor business decisions, and a rumor of a large stock of suddenly returned books (from Sears, iirc.) in the late 90's, Dungeons & Dragons found itself solidly in the red.
But like anything wonderful and good that asks nothing of the world, people remember and give back. Turns out, Dungeons and Dragons was a fan favorite, A long time player and creator of a cardboard based drug that prints money, Richard Garfield, decided Wizards of the Coast would purchase D&D. They did so, changed the corporate environment, immediately made a series of good business decisions and began to work on 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons.


Third edition is coming. . . .In the late 90's Dungeons and Dragons was dead. In addition to releasing more and more tone-deaf supplements that sold worse and worse, modern gamers had made all their complaints about Dungeons and Dragons that weren't understood by the gaming public. They had grown up with Dungeons and Dragons, and everyone had moved to the more mature and adult role playing game "Vampire: The Masquerade". In addition to being a bizarre synthesis of of the most overbearing aspects of 'narrative second edition play' (i.e. illusionism, or railroading), it also had a cool cache, and it was a fair sight easier to hook up after a vampire game then the nerdy Dungeons and Dragons.
But in late 1998, rumors began—a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons? I perused the neophyte site EN world sometimes more than one time a day for details.
And it didn't disappoint. It was released, along with the D20 license allowing Dungeons and Dragons to flourish as content came out. But even from the release of the Sunless Citadel the path we are on began to form. Characters complained about the open dungeon, and the monsters that were stronger or weaker than what the low-level party could handle, leading to design that increasingly became more mechanical, linear, and focusing on the slaying of monsters. (Literally, "We couldn't kill the roper because it's too difficult for a low-level party", of course? That's the idea of risk versus reward and thinking creatively?)

Nothing lasts forever. . .Fourth edition was eventually announced. The game had become weighty and the people that played online spent their wrath in character optimization boards arguing endless spherical cows. Adikson had left, the D20 glut had gutted sales, and it was time to move forward. A new game was designed, creating lists of powers—with copyrightable names, of course—and planned integration with online tools. Unpopular races like gnomes were removed, and tieflings and dragonborn were made core (because people really like playing half-demons and dragon/lizard people. It's a fetish.) Since people were playing it like a tactics game, they designed it like one. Healing surges, powers with cooldowns, and more.
Many people would say that it was disconnected rules or that the change was too radical. I don't think that's true. I wasn't excited about 4th edition, but I played it, a lot. It was just really bad. Even when they tried to correct it later in official materials, it was too little, too late. Combats with creatures or opponents with hundreds of hit points, exhaust all your powers (which were printed on cards), and then left with each person doing their damage or missing to chip away at the ridiculous hit point totals. It was not a fast process, and in fact during one combat, I just went ahead and calculated our average damage per round and figured out, on average, how many rounds it would take to deplete the boss's hit points. The Dungeon Master, campaign setting, and all the rest was fine. I was playing with reasonable people, we just kept having. . . problems. I had a lazer that blew things up because that's something paladins could do in fourth edition. But you couldn't shoot anything that wasn't an enemy in combat There were issues with skill challenges (understatement) and thinking through the effects on the spell list created an untenable reality. In the first printing, speak with dead allowed the caster to communicate with anything that had died in the area, no matter how long ago. Basically there were a million undead in a sensor network that any mage could take ten minutes to ask a question. Strangeness abounded; poorly thought out design lead to the games eventual doom, but it wasn't the only nail in the coffin.

Murder and suicideThat wasn't the worst news to come out of the 4th edition debacle. Originally their marketing plan was to distribute "patches" to the ruleset and require a paid subscription to an online tool to create characters. The rules were designed to be integrated into a true virtual table top that would allow play in much the way modern virtual table tops such as Fantasy Grounds do. Sadly, the direct of the project suffered a breakdown when his wife filed for divorce, and he killed her, then himself.
I doubt it would have changed anything in regards to 4th edition but it never even had a chance after the virtual table top plan collapsed.

 Though the most famous Dungeons and Dragons news story of all time, has to be the Patricia Pulling story. Very simply put, she had a bright intelligent son, who suffered from a psychotic break. He began barking and acting like a wolf, killing animals in their backyard. He soon committed suicide. Ms. Pulling claimed that her son died because of a Dungeons and Dragons curse. She brought lawsuits against his school, TSR inc, and more. They were thrown out of court for being meritless. She then began a campaign of lies and disinformation that lasted years.
She was a confused angry lady. She once claimed that 8% of people were satan worshipers because she estimated 4% of kids were and 4% of adults were and if you add them together you get 8%. When it was pointed out to her that this isn't how math works—not even addressing her claim is a made up estimate—she said it didn't matter because 8% of everyone being a satan worshiper was a conservative estimate. Her organization, Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons, died out when she did, in 1997, but the world had moved on in 1990.

Today Dungeons and Dragons is riding the wave of popular culture, and hopefully will be producing rich fantasy worlds for generations to come.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sanctum Sanctorum

Torchbearer RPG - Tue, 02/12/2019 - 16:00
We come bearing news

Fair friend,
We write to you now to say that we have missed you, and that we are sorry for having abandoned you to the cold, unfriendly climes of the internet. 

But, as penance, we have labored long and in secret to recreate our tiny fallen kingdom. Behold, the new Burning Wheel HQ forums!

  • If you are new to the forums, click Sign Up to create a new account.
  • If you had an account but never posted, your account was lost in the great purge. You’ll have to sign up again.
  • If you are a veteran of the forums, click Log In and click I Forgot My Password. Your password has been purged, but you can create a new one and recover your account.

Once your account is set up, join us in reading and posting about Burning Wheel, Torchbearer, Mouse Guard, Dungeon World, Burning Empires and even FreeMarket. We look forward to your coming home.

Spread the word!

If you’d like to see one of Luke’s weird (obsessive) side projects, check out his new Miseries & Misfortunes campaign live on Kickstarter until February 16th.

I hope you all have been following the #ZineQuest initiative on Kickstarter. It’s been great fun. For example, check out this sweet Torchbearer zine, The Grind, by our friends at Mordite Press.

Not to be outdone, Thor has plans to announce a zine project for a new Torchbearer adventure scenario on February 17. You can follow me on Kickstarter for launch notifications or await the arrival of the goblin we’re sending to your house with a special message.

Until next time!
Extra Rotam Nulla Salus
—Luke, Thor & BWHQ

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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