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West of the Keep on the Borderlands

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 00:46

I enjoy running Keep on the Borderlands with new players, however I find myself wanting to embellish the area map more and more the more I play it. I believe it is well known at this point that old pulp stories provide a better resource for stocking a wilderness map than either fantasy novels from after 1980 or rpg supplements. For those that are still not convinced, I offer this example.

Rather than start the classic module at the keep where the players can buy equipment and collect rumors, I want to play out part of the travelling that happens before they get there.

On the road to the keep, the players encounter a bedraggled survivor of a caravan that was destined for the keep. He tells of veritable army of bandits that emerged from the forest, ransacking and plundering the goods, killing the troops that were meant to relieve the forces of the keep, and kidnapping the merchants and artisans. And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the warriors with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

The players have to decide whether to continue on the road and risk being waylaid by a superior force… or perhaps go around.

Now… to the north of the road, there is a random encounter table loaded up with mostly cannibals. (Give a 1-6 chance for a bear, spider, or wolf– otherwise it’s cannibals!) If the players strike off into the forest they will stumble across this grisly scene:

In a wide clearing, on a rather bold incline stood a grim stake, and to this stake was bound a thing that had once been a man. Kane had rowed, chained to the bench of a Turkish galley, and he had toiled in Barbary vineyards; he had battled red Indians in the New Lands and had languished in the dungeons of Spain’s Inquisition. He knew much of the fiendishness of man’s inhumanity, but now he shuddered and grew sick. Yet it was not so much the ghastliness of the mutilations, horrible as they were, that shook Kane’s soul, but the knowledge that the wretch still lived.

For as he drew near, the gory head that lolled on the butchered breast lifted and tossed from side to side, spattering blood from the stumps of ears, while a bestial, rattling whimper drooled from the shredded lips.

Kane spoke to the ghastly thing and it screamed unbearably, writhing in incredible contortions, while its head jerked up and down with the jerking of mangled nerves, and the empty, gaping eye-sockets seemed striving to see from their emptiness. And moaning low and brain-shatteringly it huddled its outraged self against the stake where it was bound and lifted its head in a grisly attitude of listening, as if it expected something out of the skies.

If the players want to follow this up, they will find the village “Bogonda, ruled by Kuroba the chief and Goru the priest.” They’ll be attacked by harpies on the way there, of course. And have to figure out what to do with a village penned in with harpies exacting an awful tribute on one side and merciless cannibals hemming them in on the other.

Meanwhile, to the southwest lies city of Ib. This is the closest thing to civilization that the players could reasonably get to if they would like to look for reinforcements.

It is told that in the immemorial years when the world was young, before ever the men of Sarnath came to the land of Mnar, another city stood beside the lake; the grey stone city of Ib, which was old as the lake itself, and peopled with beings not pleasing to behold. Very odd and ugly were these beings, as indeed are most beings of a world yet inchoate and rudely fashioned. It is written on the brick cylinders of Kadatheron that the beings of Ib were in hue as green as the lake and the mists that rise above it; that they had bulging eyes, pouting, flabby lips, and curious ears, and were without voice. It is also written that they descended one night from the moon in a mist; they and the vast still lake and grey stone city Ib.

To the south there is a strange mausoleum:

And so they passed through the jungle until they came to a strange clearing among the giant trees—strange because nothing grew there. The trees ringed it in a disquieting symmetrical manner, and no lichen or moss grew on the earth, which seemed to have been blasted and blighted in a strange fashion. And in the midst of the glade stood the mausoleum.

A great brooding mass of stone it was, pregnant with ancient evil. Dead with the dead of a hundred centuries it seemed, yet Kane was aware that the air pulsed about it, as with the slow, unhuman breathing of some gigantic, invisible monster.

To the southeast the players will eventually stumble across the bandit’s camp. The players could attempt to infiltrate it and rescue captives or else try some other insane scheme.

How much should you prep for this scenario…? Eh, D&D is not that complicated. Make something up! You don’t know which way the players will go or if they will bypass most of this altogether. The point is to throw all this at them as the need for it arises and then see what they are most into playing. Read the three pulp stories referenced here before the game. Be prepared to wing it. Do additional prep if any of this strikes a note with the players.

It’s okay if the players ignore all of this and instead make for the keep as quick as they can manage. There’s nothing wrong with looting the Caves of Chaos instead! Of course, if they want to sell certain offbeat magic items, the City of Ib is going to be their best bet. And getting additional gear at the keep is going to be tough until those bandits are dealt with!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Henchmen, Continued

Hack & Slash - Mon, 05/20/2019 - 16:22
Good morning world.The Internet can be a hostile place.It's best not to go alone.
The third henchmen, the alienist, is available on my Patreon. It's only because I want to encourage you, to help me not be homeless.600 dpi versions on the patreon, and easy to use .pdf collections coming of these intermittently. 
Come on, look at Dan the Candle Bearer. Who doesn't want to hire that guy?More cool stuff coming every day this week. (!)
Hack & Slash FollowGoogle +NewsletterSupportDonate to end Cancer (5 Star Rating)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Crypt of Rokar

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 05/20/2019 - 11:15
By Michael Mills Cannister & grape OSR Levels 1-3

Buried deep beneath the barrow mounds of the Wild Wood, Rokar the Terrible slumbers fitully in his sarcophagus, his bride beside him. What terrors protect Rokar as he dreams his fevered dreams? Do you dare enter The Crypt of Rokar in search of treasures and knowledge beyond imagining?

This ten page adventure describes a small tomb with fourteen rooms over four pages. Giants rats, yellow mold, zombies, and a ghoul make up your opponents, all found in their usual environments. Read-aloud is not overly long, in general, but not very interesting either. There’s nothing to separate this from any other low level small dungeon.

What if you don’t do anything bad, but you don’t really do anything good either. What’s the measure of a man in that situation? How do you make a determination, a decision to choose one thing over another? That’s easy for me; I expect more and in a crowded marketplace don’t settle for anything other than the best. Well, except for the fact that I bought it in the first place.

A damp library? What could it contain? Yellow mold. A storeroom full of crates and barrels? That means rats. I do indeed like the classic, but there’s a difference. You’ve got to do them well and they just are not done well here. Let’s examine this from the standpoint of last-minute adventure prep. The players just exted you from the liquor store, asking ifyou wanted anything else other than Krystal and japanese single malt. They are about three minutes away from arriving. If I provided you this map and said “you’ve got three minutes to key the adventure” then you’d come up with something that said “2. Library – Yellow Mold. 3. Storeroom – Rats.” If that’s expanded in the most obvious way possible then you have this adventure. It brings nothing new over you writing “Library – Mold” or “Storeroom – Rats.” That might be ok if it did it really REALLY well, but it doesn’t. It’s drab.

I will note a few of the more interesting things it does do. At one point it notes that zombies, locked in a room, fed on the canopic jars kept within. This is the old zombie trope, and one that I’ve seen reintroduced lately. I’m quite fond of it. It seems like the 80’s and 90’s and 00’s had zombies that were just lifeless bodies swinging swords. This new trend of flesh eaters brings so much more than that, being able to immediately leverage forty years of pop culture zombie imagery.  There’s also a little bit of hints captured in the read-aloud. That storeroom read aloud notes the smell of decay and faeces. The library notes a smell of damp and mold, hinting at the yellow stuff. It’s not consistent, but when it’s there I appreciate it. There should be a back and forth to D&D. The DM mentions something, the players, the smart ones anyway, dig deeper asking follow-up question. And thus player skill is rewarded. It’s got a couple of rooms that do this and I’m happy to see that.

It’s also inconsistent in its logic. The front doors are busted open but some statues nearby retain their bejeweled eyes. Those zombies that fed on the canopic jars? That’s backstory, the read-aloud gives no hint of a room in chaos, jars smashed and bloodstains on the floor, etc. Just the usual anti-septic description.

“Many books appear to be damaged by decay or pests.” the library read-aloud tells us. Puddles of books, rotting in damp, gnawed upon, all are words that evoke imagery much stronger than “damaged by decay or pests.” That’s an abstraction, a conclusion. Rich adjectives and adverbs appeal to sensory information instead and allow the party to draw their own conclusions.

Nitpicky shit: The level is only noted on the cover, so when I’m on DriveThru looking for a Level 1-3 adventure I won’t know this is one unless I lick on the cover to enlarge it. I’m not sure that’s the wisest decision from a consumer ease standpoint. There’s only about 1400gp of treasure in this. I think I would have expected more, seems low. Especially since there’s a wight in this Level 1 adventure, that can only be hit by magic items.

Finally, let me mention to deriguour text. You know the stuff. “The DM should blah blah blah.” or notes that you should read the boxed text to the players when they enter the room. I just skip this shit, but, as a point of interest, is this really doing anything but inflating page count? If you’re buying an adventure on DriveThru do you need to be told to read boxed text? Even if you DIDNT know that do you need to be told that? In this case it explicitly notes DM’ing in the players favour. I’m not cool with that. Is there a place for this genero information anymore?

This is pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $5. There is no preview. I get it, it’s free since it’s PWYW. I don’t give a shit, stick in a good preview anyway.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/275375/The-Crypt-of-Rokar?1892600

The players should have a reasonable chance of survival, however a certain amount of danger and risk is necessary to keep things interesting.

As game master you should adjust the number, strength and aggressiveness of encountered creatures to ensure this occurs.

When the players enter an area on the map you should read aloud the boxed text in its entirety. You may also add any additional information from the game master’s notes immediately thereafter as you desire. This may be necessary if the players fail to find a crucial item, exit or other plot device.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Aragorn Never Had an Identity Crisis

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sun, 05/19/2019 - 21:46

This came up the other day, so I had to look it up. Any classic character that is adapted to contemporary media is consistently mutilated into something they’re not. Most recently this can be observed in the many edits made to Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker in Disney’s cartoon adaptation of the original Star Wars film. It seems a small thing, maybe, but this is how people that hate us actively rewrite our culture right in front of us. Plenty of well meaning people take the knockoff for the original while their imaginations are dimmed. Before long, the waters are so muddied the original inspirational character concept is lost in the noise.

Now about Aragorn: was he reluctant to take up the mantle of king? Was he at all ambivalent about his identity and heritage? Let’s check back to the Council of Elrond and see.

Aragorn introduces himself in response to Boromirs tale of the dream about Imladris, a broken sword, and a halfling. Elrond identifies his lineage. Frodo reveals the ring. Bormir is still confused, thinking that the dream must indicate the doom of Minas Tirith. Then Aragorn says this:

The words were not the doom of Minas Tirith, but doom and great deeds are indeed at hand. For the Sword that was Broken is the Sword of Elindil that broke beneath him when he fell. It has been treasured by his heirs when all other heirlooms were lost; for it was spoken of old among us that it should be made again when the Ring, Isildur’s Bane, was found. Now you have seen the sword that you have sought, what would you ask? Do you wish for the House of Elendil to return to the Land of Gondor?

So… Aragorn announces himself as the true king at the Counil of Elrond to the steward’s eldest son. The reason he waited is because of prophecies regarding the ring, not due to some lame heroic journey that people decided that every single character arc has to follow starting some time in the late seventies.

Returning as king is politically complicated in war time, yes, particularly with the steward descending into madness. And it’s pointless anyway so long as Sauron is not defeated. With that miraculously taken care of, the way is opened for Aragorn to marry his betrothed with her father’s permission. Which was the plan all along.

He was humble, but he never compromised. He was, perhaps, an inferior guide for the fellowship in comparison to Gandalf. But he did his duty in that regard right up until circumstances dictated that he take another course– one that would involve leading an army of undead among other things…!

He never doubted his identity. He never shirked his responsibility. And he certainly never needed to be scolded by the guy that was going to end up being his father-in-law. Though he grieved in response to disaster, he never needed to be told to “boomer up” and be true to himself. He did what was right without compromise or complaint– with the hope that providence would set all things right in the end!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Annihilation Rising Goes live

Fail Squad Games - Sat, 05/18/2019 - 15:55

The latest in Fail Squad Games’ Quick Kick projects has gone live and needs your support!! This project is only running 11 days and ends on 5/28/2019!

 

Monsieur Nerluc clings to the local mountainside. Villagers tell frightened children that the monstrous form of earthen stone is just a natural rock formation. It’s a lie they’d like to believe themselves. Monsieur Nerluc is, in fact, the lord of all Tarasques, and strange cultists seek to waken him. If they do, his age-old toothache will begin to throb, and he’s going to be horrendously angry. 

 Can the heroes get to the “root” of the problem? Will they have a Tarasque lord running wild?  This adventure will be approximately 14 pages long when layout is finished and aimed at a party of 4–5 heroes of 5th level.

Back it NOW!

The post Annihilation Rising Goes live appeared first on Fail Squad Games.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Spire of the Kobolds

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 05/18/2019 - 11:11
By Megan Irving Aegis Studios O&O / BX Levels 1-2

The Untamed Gauntlet has many mysteries. The Spire is one of them: a huge tower of gleaming rock pointing towards the heavens, with a winding dungeon carved beneath it. Currently, a clan of Kobolds have found it empty (or empty-ish), and are using it as their base. Fearful of invaders, they have thoroughly trapped the upper levels, hiding their best treasures at the very bottom. The party has been issued a writ of salvage for a simple task in the Gauntlet (perhaps a location or goal detailed in another Odysseys & Overlords adventure module.) On the way to their destination, the adventurers see movement near the Spire. They know that monsters periodically move into the Spire, and might have treasures worth pursuing.

This nine page adventure details a small eleven room dungeon on about 2.5 pages. A pretty straightforward hack on a small map with little exploration, it’s just a few kobolds in a hole. It’s focus is on dry descriptions rather than evocative environments, and goes through contortions to use a map without any modifications. Weird. Not egregiously bad, but not good either.

The spire is huge tower of gleaming rock pointing upwards towards the heavens. On the way somewhere else the party sees movement near it. They know that monsters sometimes move in to it and might have treasure. This is, just about word for word, the introduction to the exterior description of the Spire and the inciting event. There are not any more words than this to describe the outside environment, spire exterior, or the moving monsters. The only other words are a stat block of a kobold hunting party and how they react to being avoided or fought.

I’m a big fan of FOCUS but abstraction has to be of the appropriate level and it’s not in this opening salvo. Either it’s three paragraphs of generic information that’s not needed or you need to change a few words and give us a little more concrete under our DM feet. The pieces are too far removed from each other to put together. Dyson (it’s a Dyson map) has a nice little rendering of the spire next to the map that, taken together, provides a little more inspiration. It’s still lacking though. It’s the designers job to add that little bit of inspirations and it’s not there in either the spire or “the movement.”

Room one is an “imposing hall” with “arcane carvings.” Again, a level of abstraction. Telling us the conclusions that we would draw from a more concrete description. Not a longer one, but a more concrete/evocative one. Imagine if different words were chosen to describe the hall and the carvings. Ideally they get the willies as they come to THEIR conclusion that it’s an imposing hall and the carvings are arcane. The adventure does this sort of thing over and over again, avoiding the concrete and instead relying on conclusions and abstractions. A room with “mostly junk” is not the value add I’m looking for in an adventure.

Other room elements are missing. The kobold king wears a dented crown, never mentioned again. Those arcane carvings get nothing more noted about them. Throw aways not impacting the adventure. You can do this, a little, but in such a small adventure I would expect more interactivity and follow up of individual elements called out by name.

The map, a Dyson one, is small and I’m not a particular fan of those. OSR games tend to work best in exploratory environments rather than Lair environments. You need room to breathe, in my experience. Accepting that, though, the map itself is treated a little too holy. I’m guessing it came pre-keyed and the designer want to expand a bit on sections not keyed. Rather than put additional numbers on the map, or features like tripwires and oil pools, they instead rey on the text. There’s a fair bit of text between the description of room one and room two, one describing some storerooms and another a ramp leading from rooms one to two. This seems a tortuous workaround to the problem of just putting  notes 1b and 1c on a map. I’m pretty sure Dyson don’t care, from his website language, and it these notes, tripwires, oil pools, etc would go long way to both overloading the map with useful information and removing some of it from the text. This allows the text to focus more the actual adventure instead of describing where the tripwire is in the room, or where the oil pool is.

On the nitpicky side, lots of tripwires and lots of traps, all of which get almost the exact same description. Spotted with remove traps, etc. Pulling this out to a general section in front of the keys would make the individual descriptions shorter, allowing more focus on the actual room and easier scanning during play.

This appears to be for a game/setting called Odysseys & Overlords, which appears to just be B/X or a derivative. There’s almost no real treasure in this, but for a magic sword, which makes it suspect as a Gold=XP game … if indeed it is one.

It’s not a terrible thing, but it’s not a good thing either. And the level of abstraction pushes it to the bad side of line. One of the best descriptions is of the first ramp: “A long stone ramp leads down into the darkness at a steep angle. Strange skittering and echoing noises can be heard from below. There are torches on the walls, but they aren’t lit.” Downward at a steep angle in to the darkness, skittering echoing noises. Those are the sorts of descriptions I can get behind. It paints, in just a few words, a visceral picture, a feeling.

This is $1 at DriveThru. There is no preview. Boo! Boo I saw sir! Boo! Show us what were buying before we buy it!


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/275268/Spire-of-the-Kobolds?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

DIRECT SALE: American Gryphon Cryptkins: Series 2 Vinyl Figure

Cryptozoic - Thu, 05/16/2019 - 16:59

What's more American than an eagle? A creature who is part-eagle, part-lion, and (almost inexplicably) part-American flag! American Gryphon is a variant of the Gryphon Cryptkins: Series 2 vinyl figure and is a Cryptozoic Exclusive, only available on the Cryptozoic eStore while supplies last!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Life in a Ruined Village

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 05/16/2019 - 13:00
Evening by Russ Nicholson

Hello friends!

It’s been a bit since the end of the Bridge of the Damned campaign, so I wanted to give you some insight into what I’ve been working on.

In the third update, I provided some details on the Saxaling clan that lives on the northern bank of the Vimur River. I also focused on the manor village of Saxatoft.

Saxatoft is a location you can visit in Bridge of the Damned, but it is currently not a functional settlement. In game terms, the Bjorning raid that kicked off the adventure was a disaster. That disaster prevents Saxatoft from being used for a town phase. Lady Clotildis, wife of Ridder Fulk, is doing her best to keep her people alive and to rebuild the village, but she could use help!

In the meantime, while the village can’t be used for the town phase, it can be used as a camp location.

That’s all well and good, but none of our existing camp events tables are really a good fit for this situation. So I’ve made a custom camp events table specifically for camping in the ruined village. You can make use of this for your own games even if you’re not using Saxatoft, though you might have to tweak some of the entries a bit.

This, by the way, is a process you can go through for your own setting to give it a bit more personalized flair. The generic tables from the Torchbearer core book are great and I use them all the time. But sometimes, especially if there’s a place the players are likely to return to again and again, it’s worth the extra effort to make something more specialized.

Note

This table is a bit different than the camp events rules in the core book. In the Torchbearer core book, you roll to determine whether a camp is a disaster, minor inconvenience, safe camp, minor break or lucky break. Then you roll on a subtable to get a specific result. This method brings all of that together in a single table.

Ruined Village Camp Events

Roll 3d6

2Abandoned. The conditions in the village are too miserable. The survivors
quietly slip away in the night, abandoning the town to ruin. 3Collapse. The flame-licked structure you’re squatting in comes down on your
head with a relieved moan. Camp ends and remaining checks lost; structure
destroyed and may not be used further as a camp. All must choose: Make a
Dungeoneer test to get to safety or Laborer tests to save packs and gear. 4Terror. This place is haunted by those recently slain by violence. They emerge
howling from your nightmares. Camp ends and all remaining checks lost. Test
Willto remain sane. Suggested failure result: afraid condition. 5The recent death and misery in the village has lured corpse-eaters into your
midst. 1D2+1 ghouls investigate the pyres to see if any meat escaped the
flame; finding none, they look for fresher flesh. Spend a check to make a test or
engage in a conflict to avert the disaster. If failed, in addition to the resulting
twist or condition, camp ends and all remaining checks are lost. If successful,
camp continues. 6Raid! 2d6 bandits (the Bjorning and Græling thralls) fall on the camp to take
supplies and the children they had to leave behind when they fled. You may
spend a check to make a test or engage in a conflict to avert the disaster.
Otherwise camp ends and all remaining checks are lost. 7Fouled well. The corpses of humans or animals were dropped into the well
during the raid, fouling the water. The well water is undrinkable (anyone who
drinks it is automatically made sick). 8Barren lands. The game in this area has been driven off by the fires and the
land has been foraged clean by the survivors and escaping thralls. There’s
nothing edible to be had for miles. No Hunter or Scavenger tests possible in
camp. 9Hanged man. There’s a corpse of one of the raiders hanging from a tree
nearby, full of ill omen. You cannot recover from the angry or afraid conditions in
camp. 10Smoking pyres. This place is full of ghosts. Recovering spells and invocations in
camp is impossible. 11The roof leaks or the room floods. It begins to rain if it is not raining already.
Water seeps into your gear ruining: 1-3 torches (d3), 4-6 rations (d3). 12Safe camp! 13Midden. +1D to Scavenge for town items in this place. 14Sympathetic children. The local village kids bring you rations of food and wine. 15Fell off the wagon. Roll once on the Gear loot table. 16Overhear a whispered conversation about: 1-2 a cult, 3-4 a local secret, or 5-6 a
political matter. 17Fruit-bearing trees. The orchard or briar has fruited. Collect 2D6 portions of
forage. 18There’s something valuable buried beneath the floorboards or flagstones of the
structure you’re squatting in. Roll once on the Treasure and Valuables loot
subtable (page 145). 19Volunteers! Neighbors hear about the dire straits of Saxatoft and come to
volunteer help. Roll 1d6: 1-2 Laborers, 3-4 Craftsfolk or Artisans, 5-6 A knight
and their retinue. Persistent Results

Some of these results are persistent. If a building collapses, there will be no shelter until it is rebuilt. If the well is fouled, the water will remain poisonous until action is taken to remedy the situation. If the same result is rolled again on a subsequent visit, things should get even worse.

We Can Rebuild It

When the players first encounter Saxatoft, the village is still reeling from the raid. As a result, all camp event rolls are at -1.

Getting Saxatoft back on its feet requires three things:

  • The manor and outbuildings must be repaired (skills like Carpenter, Laborer, and Stonemason may come into play; Steward might be used to organize work parties).
  • The village must be repopulated (either the thralls that escaped to the hills in the raid must be found and recaptured or the PCs might convince people from other settlements to move to Saxatoft).
  • The village’s stock animals must be replenished (perhaps by raiding other nearby settlements and herding the animals back to Saxatoft, or purchasing some breeding pairs from other settlements).

If the PCs successfully perform one of the above actions, they eliminate the -1 to the camp events roll. If they successfully perform two of the above actions, they receive a +1 to the camp events roll. If they perform all three, Saxatoft once again becomes a functioning settlement that can be used for the town phase.

Each time the players make an expedition away from Saxatoft and return, there is a small chance that Clotildis and the small band of survivors she leads will have performed one of the actions themselves. Roll 1d6. On a result of 1, they have taken an action to get Saxatoft back on its feet.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Tower of Zenopus in Ghosts of Saltmarsh

Zenopus Archives - Wed, 05/15/2019 - 14:16
Ghosts of Saltmarsh alternate cover by N.C. Winters. I like this one more.
Way back in the mists of 2006, on Dragonsfoot I wrote that:
Another dungeon that could be fit into such a combined setting would be the Zenopus dungeon in the Holmes basic book. It's set in Portown on the coast and also has pirates/sea caves, so I've often thought of having Portown and Saltmarsh be the same. Neither town is described, though, so Restenford could be used for details. (Though I guess it could be a bit much to have one small town with both a haunted house and a ruined wizard's tower.)I'm certainly not the only one who has had the idea of merging Portown and Saltmarsh. The similar coastal setting and lack of a full description for either town make them a natural fit. While Saltmarsh being described as a "small south-coast English fishing town of the 14th Century and with a population about 2,000" does feel smaller than Portown, a "small but busy city linking the caravan routes from the south to the merchant ships" plying the Northern Sea, it's still an easy merge for the DM building a coastal sandbox setting. In fact, I have run each of these adventures in the last few years in my kids game, and while I kept Saltmarsh separate, I still had it nearby on the same coast as Portown.

Now the Wizards of the Coast have themselves taken advantage of this. Yesterday an eagle-eyed member of the Holmes Basic community over on MeWe, Chris H., reported that he'd spotted the Tower of Zenopus in a flip-thru review of the forthcoming Ghosts of Saltmarsh...! This is the latest hardcover 5E adventure from WOTC, a compilation of conversions of the original AD&D modules U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh*, U2 The Danger at Dunwater, and U3 The Final Enemy** (the pdfs are also available as a discounted bundle), plus four later adventures from Dungeon magazine.

In addition to the obvious similarities between Portown and Saltmarsh, I'm also not surprised to see Zenopus turn up in this product because Mike Mearls is credited as one of the co-Lead Designers (along with Kate Welch, interviewed here), and he ran a Return to the Tower of Zenopus this past March at Gary Con, and also tweeted this map, so it was certainly on his radar at the right time.

After looking into the previews myself, the area map for Saltmarsh shows the town on the mouth of a river emptying into the Azure Sea. Yes, that's right, they've preserved the Greyhawk location names from the originals! Across this river on a peninsula is a location marked "Tower of Zenopus". Per the map compass, this places the tower generally to the west of Saltmarsh, which fits with Holmes' original description (albeit without an intervening river). The U1 Haunted House is in the other direction along the coast, east of Saltmarsh. 

On the page facing this map is a four-paragraph section titled "Tower of Zenopus", which gives the background for the location --- condensed from the original --- and some brief ideas for encounters found therein. It's much more of an adventure hook than a fleshed out location, and it acknowledges as much by concluding that the details are left for the DM to determine. It would be fairly simple to use a direct 5E conversion of the original dungeon (perhaps adapting my list of Portown rumors to get the PCs over there?). 

As far as I can recall, this is the first time TSR or Wizards has recycled any of the Zenopus content in a later product, and also the first time it has been officially placed in Greyhawk. Also significant is that they've titled it the "Tower of Zenopus", as over the years this has been the most frequently used colloquial name for the originally unnamed adventure. In the new version, just the like original, the tower is a complete ruin and the actual adventure is in the dungeons beneath. As I've written before, this follows the naming convention of Castle Greyhawk, where the dungeons are referred to by the name of the ruined edifice. 

In addition to the Azure Sea, the area map also includes the Hool Marshes to the east of Saltmarsh and the Dreadwood to north, clearly placing it on the original Darlene map from the World of Greyhawk folio or boxed set. Also, the "Geographic Features" section following the Tower of Zenopus mentions the "Kingdom of Keoland", a location going all the way back to the proto-Greyhawk Great Kingdom map.

After some further delving, I realized that this area map in Ghosts of Saltmarsh is simply a direct update of the area map from U2 Danger at Dunwater. All of the major geographical features and even the hexes lines on the map match the placement on the original. 
The original even gave hex numbers for the World of Greyhawk map, with Saltmarsh being located in hex U4-123. So while the new adventure may not be specifically identified as being in Greyhawk, it is easily placeable and usable with that campaign world.

In the image below I've annotated the original U2 map with the new location for the Tower:




*All Drivethrurpg links include my affiliate number.

**I've long suspected that this title is a sneaky pun (spoiler: The Enemy with Fins; i.e. the Sahuagin). I even asked Gygax about it once on DF, and while he claimed no knowledge, we did exchange some fintastic puns.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Krillo’s Tomb

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 05/15/2019 - 11:14
By John Heffernan Island of Bees 5e Level 3

The adventurers are hired to enter into a catacomb to discover the treasures inside before a rival faction of thieves can get there first. Their employer, a goblin named Krillo, offers them all of the treasure that they find inside, and only asks to keep the relics and magic items. Can the heroes enter into Krillo’s Tomb and escape with their lives? There’s only one way to find out!

Yeah yeah, 5e on a Wednesday. My raging against the entropy is less successful than usual and I’m behind. I’ll do some OSR on Saturday.

I’m an open-minded person not an ossified old man. I’m an open-minded person not an ossified old man. I’m an open-minded person not an ossified old man.

This 34 page adventure has six “scenes” that compose the dungeon exploration. The core adventure is on about fourteen pages with the rest being pre-gens and a dwarven runic language treatise, as well as rules for a Stealth minigame. It’s not all together terrible for a newer game, but it is rather boring, with an emphasis on mechanics rather than en evocative environment. IF it were evocative then it would be a fairly normal 5e adventure. IE: straightforward.

Bob the goblin hires you, for 100gp, to go loot a tomb. He wants the magic and you keep the loot. Seems there’s a mercenary company of archeologists (!) on their way soon and he wants to loot the place before they arrive. He’ll give you 100 more gold if you do it non-violently! Yes, you have to stretch for the pretext. Yes, the nonviolence thing is fucking weird. Yes the tomb is strangely devoid of cash, you might get 300gp more in the tomb. For the sake of my own sanity I’m going to ignore all of that.

The scene thing is WEIRD. It’s like little set pieces. In scene one you are trying to sneak past the guards outside the tomb. There’s a little map with things to hide behind, and rules for sneaking and guards being on alert and spotting you. There are notes about the guards being helpful, and how they get annoyed and call for help. I’ve never played Metal Gear, but I suspect the designer has. This is straight out of “the stealth level’ in every video game every game that has one. It takes a page of text to describe the scene, ? to repeat the stealth rules in the appendix, ? to describe the general guard attitude, ? for the stat block, ? for the aftermath and seven sentences to describe where the seven guards are. Likewise for a mummy chase scene. It feels videogamey, with the blind mummy jumping from platform to platform and the party trying to be quiet. Not exactly a bad idea, but the focus on mechanics makes it feel like a videogame rather than a living breathing D&D adventure.

And it’s all written in this weirdly abstracted/generalized text style. “The north half of the left room has an altar in the center with an imprint of a laying dwarf carved in the center. Stone tables are covered with rolls of fresh bandages, and a series of empty clay jars. The roof is domed and covered with stone spikes that jet out.” Very fact based text. And that’s true of every encounter. In fact, A LOT of the encounters are like weird Grimtooth traps you’re trying to navigate, at least the Grimtooth “room” traps. Lots of elements and a convoluted mechanism.

Once of the scenes takes place between two other, when a door opens. While a big door opens a bunch of thieves come out from behind you and start blasting away at you. While the door opens. That’s the scene. Others are more like some weird Grimtooth room that you’re trying to navigate.

And then there’s the dwarf runes mini-game, with the party trying to decipher the runes in the tomb for clues. I’m not opposed to these sorts of things, in fact I think player puzzles can be fun. But this particular one seems more like the dwarven runic language being described and the party trying to figure out the entire thing. I could be wrong about this and it could be fine in AP.

As a Challenge Dungeon or tourney dungeon this might be ok. It’s hard to get past the focus on mechanics though. I wish it were more evocative. That might smooth over the mechanics and make it something to whip out for a D&D tourney.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggest price of $3. The preview is eight pages long and a good one, showing you the first three scenes. This includes the “sneak past the guards” scene, a “dungeon exploring” scene, and the thief/elf-bandit attack scene. Elf bandits attacking. Thematically, modern D&D is missing something.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/275492/Krillos-Tomb?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Lake Geneva Original RPG Campaign: Days of May Sale

Lord of the Green Dragons - Tue, 05/14/2019 - 16:24
Lake Geneva Original RPG Campaign: Days of May Sale: **OYEZ Friends & Fans! If a BARGAIN you seek to make, hurry to DAYS OF MAY SALE . Gold pieces you shall save, on ERKA Standard Edition ...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Lake Geneva Original RPG Campaign: Red Book™ Line--Free PDF MAJOR UPDATE

Lord of the Green Dragons - Tue, 05/14/2019 - 16:23
Lake Geneva Original RPG Campaign: Red Book™ Line--Free PDF MAJOR UPDATE: Three Line Studio has posted a 10 page/1.1 meg PDF file as an Update and Proposed Product Line Map for the Red Book™ Line. Very Exciting! D...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Strong Moral Dilemmas in D&D and the Unwanted Kind that Keeps Appearing

DM David - Tue, 05/14/2019 - 11:14

The best tales climax when the heroes must choose between what they’ve learned is right and an easy route to what they thought they wanted. In fiction, such moral dilemmas reveal character. When a woman who only ever wanted to be queen realizes that someone else is better suited to the throne, will she still take the crown?

Everyone who enjoys games such as Dungeons & Dragons likes making choices and seeing the outcomes. Many of those players also enjoy exploring and revealing their characters. So in roleplaying, moral problems may rank as the most interesting and most revealing. In the Dungeon magazine article, “Temptations and Dilemmas,” printed in issue 148, Wolfgang Baur writes about the joy of posing dilemmas. “They make the player really engage with their characters and the game world. Sweet sweet perfection: all you have to do is let the PCs wrangle about it for a while.”

Creating moral choices in D&D proves harder than creating similar dilemmas in stories. In fiction, moral choices often force characters to pick between what’s right and what’s easy. But D&D characters rarely make decisions alone. They face choices as a party, and these groups inevitably mix rogues and paladins.

More than popular classes, rogues and paladins represent two ways players often imagine their characters’ moral outlooks. These make popular character perspectives because they bring escapes from either the restrictions or the unfairness of modern life.

In our world, we often feel bound by rules and obligations. Playing a rogue who’s free from ethical burdens and who boasts the power to ignore rules feels exhilarating.

In our world, we see misdeeds rewarded, good people suffer, and too often we feel helpless to act. Playing a paladin with the strength to punish wrongdoers, help the deserving, and right wrongs feels rejuvenating.

Choices between right and easy inevitably split a party’s rogues and paladins.

“Assassins, poisoners, sneak thieves, death priests, drug smugglers, necromancers, diabolists, and warlocks make it tough for more heroic, lawful, or good characters to look away or condone their smuggling, sneaking, theft, magical abuses, and so on,” Wolfgang writes. “There’s a dilemma for the party every time a character crosses the line and does something that another, more moral character might find unforgivable.”

In D&D, rogues and paladins must find ways to work together or the game falls apart. “If you wind up with that one paladin singled out and forced to choose to compromise his character just to keep playing, you have a problem.” See A Roleplaying Game Player’s Obligation.

So in D&D, moral dilemmas must avoid posing an unsavory-but-easy solution as an option. Instead these problems must force players to weigh which of two, imperfect choices brings the most benefit—or the least corruption. In “5 Tips on How to Design Diabolical Dilemmas,” Johnn Four imagines starting the party with a simple job to capture a war criminal, and then adds moral complications. What if the players discover that the elderly criminal now repents by running an orphanage? If the players decide to take him to justice, what if they learn that the alleged crimes may have saved a village? Do the players still bring the man to execution? None of these choices make the adventure easier for players, but they all land the players in thorny dilemmas that reveal characters.

Johnn suggests developing moral dilemmas by starting with a simple choice and asking questions that help you imagine complications.

  • Who gets hurt?
  • Who escapes justice?
  • Who undeservedly benefits?

While moral dilemmas benefit the game, you can press too hard to create them. Players enjoy difficult choices in balance with uncomplicated situations where their power lets the good guys win. Often players use their ingenuity to solve a moral dilemma without any tough choices. Players savor those victories.

Even when DMs work to foster moral dilemmas, most D&D games only occasionally feature such situations. But one sort of quandary appears frequently, and it’s awful.

Blame co-creator Gary Gygax and his adventure The Keep on the Borderlands (1979). D&D’s first Basic Set included this adventure, so through the 80s, the keep easily ranked as the game’s most played scenario. In a reprint, D&D creative director Mike Mearls writes, “In its 32 pages, Keep on the Borderlands provides the clearest, most concise definition of D&D that you can find.” The keep showed countless dungeon masters how to create a D&D adventure, and mostly it set a good example.

What awful moral dilemma appears 8 times in this classic?

When Gary wrote the keep, he aimed to create an infestation of D&D’s various evil humanoids: kobolds, orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls, and lizard men. Gary favored applying some natural order to his imaginary world, which included various young monsters incapable of fighting.

After slaughtering the orcs’ parents, do you put their infants to the sword? As a player who favored the paladin type, I wanted to right wrongs, not debate whether to murder young. The rogue-types in the party would open the 1977 Monster Manual and point to the word “evil” beside a pig-faced monster, but I had no taste for the baby-orc dilemma. I want to smite evildoers, not kill helpless foes. I’m far from alone in that sentiment. Worse, young non-combatants appear in 8 of the keep’s locations, and then in the countless adventures that follow the keep’s example.

I recommend contriving situations that leave helpless foes out of reach. Instead of populating the Caves of Chaos with generations of humanoids, why not imagine war parties locked in a standoff?

Even though the baby-orc problem rates as something to avoid, other dilemmas can enrich the game. M.T. Black’s adventure The Lich Queen’s Begotten ends with an interesting variant on the question of whether to kill an innocent destined for evil. Both times I ran this adventure, a party of mixed paladin and rogue types chose to protect the innocent—not necessarily the easier choice. Both groups wanted a follow up adventure where they worked to thwart the innocent creature’s evil destiny.

That’s the sort of choice that makes heroes.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Talking Lovecraft with Zaklog the Great!

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Tue, 05/14/2019 - 04:37

Hey, y’all.

Did this show with Zaklog the Great last Friday. Enjoyed talking Lovecraft and Lord of the Rings and… these obnoxious people that poison your mind until you’d begin to think that your “beloved past had never been.”

Lovecraft writes three times that “there was no hand to hold me back that night I found the ancient track.” After mulling this whole scene over in light of the Boomerclypse we’re in the process of rolling back, I’ve concluded that there was in fact a hand there. The hand of wisdom!

I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.

There’s a horror story for you. Don’t let it happen to you!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

DIY Light-Up DC Teekeez Figures

Cryptozoic - Mon, 05/13/2019 - 20:16

With summer on the horizon, it's the perfect time to create your own Light-Up DC Teekeez!  These glowing collectibles are the ideal decorations to give those warm nights a tropical, fun vibe! You can watch the tutorial video, but also remember to read the full instructions below.  As always, remember to be safe!

 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cult of the Blue Crab

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 05/13/2019 - 11:17
By Rudolf St Germain Studio St Germain 5e/13th Age Levels 3-4

The small city of Shallow Bay is plagued by a gang of smugglers who sell contraband alcohol and luxury foods to the people. The mayor’s expensive lifestyle has depleted the city coffers and the head of the city guard orders his men to investigate the smugglers and put an end to their activities. Unbeknownst to most, the smugglers are a front for a radical chaotic water cult that wishes to sweep earth free of “the wicked”. The money made with the contraband is intended to buy better equipment and hire powerful allies for an expedition to the lost Temple of the Chaos Elemental. By awakening this ancient evil the cult can take the first steps towards their ultimate goal of destruction and mayhem.

This twenty page adventure, describes, in twelvish pages, some smugglers in a big fishing village and two small dungeons of about six rooms each. A competent but simple adventure, it struggles against its formatting choices and lack of specificity in detail. It’s easier to run than most modern dreck.

When is an adventure a sandbox and when is it just an outline? There’s some point of crossover where the DM is given enough information to improvise further and it’s a sandbox and some place else where the DM needs to add some substantial labour. This adventure is somewhere near the dividing line. You can take this, as written, and run it, with little to no more prep. Given that you can’t do that with most adventures today, this is a not insignificant accomplishment. It correctly provides an environment in which the party can have an adventure. A village. The local fence and a few other town personages. The smuggler base. The dungeon underneath. The OTHER dungeon the smugglers want to get to. The supply ship that drops off goods to smuggle. A rough timeline/events that can happen. Now … go run an adventure. You can do that with what’s written. You can’t do that with most adventures. Then again, it’s also VERY basic. Ask some questions, find the fence, pressure him, ambush smugglers, raid base. A pretty cut and dry adventure formula. If I were forced to choose all of the crappy Adventurers League, DMSguild, and others and their shitty formats, or the one used here, I’d have no problem choosing the format used here. It provides a high level overview of the situation and then answers some questions on how folks will react. I’ll take that ANY day over the overwritten garbage that passes for a modern adventure.

But, it’s also playing fast & free with the abstraction. The town is presented in paragraph form, single column paragraph form, on a page and a half. The event that caused the town to act against the smugglers was boat of tollkeepers getting sunk while they were trying to stop the smugglers. That’s as much detail as you get … besides the adventure noting that the party could follow up on that to determine how far out the smugglers are. Am I’m serious when I say I’m now summarizing what’s in the adventure. I’ve just told you everything it says about the situation in as many words as the adventure uses. Another two sentences about grieviing widows, the name of the boat, and some such would not be out of order for such an important event and potential plot point for the party to follow up on. I’m not looking for two pages, or even one, but SOMETHING about the event IS needed if this is going to be an adventure rather than an adventure outline.

It provides some decent support for escalating the situation, with the smugglers, but not really with the town. So while it tries to be a sandbox it does, by leaving out half the adventure, force a certain point of view: the adventure is with the smugglers and any potential complications with the town are not important. But the journey IS the destination in D&D. Just not in bad D&D …

On top of this is fumbling in several areas. It’s one column presentation is almost always a No No, because of well-known readability issues with that format. The town overviews rely on italics in the paragraph to pick out information; whitespace, bolding or bullets would be better. The cult leader is bad because she was raped as a young woman. It doesn’t dwell on her background, but it’s always weird when things like this are used and called out in otherwise generic-ish adventures. It’s weird tonal shift that doesn’t fit. A water elemental is “bound to her service with a collar. LAME. That’s explaining WHY and justifying things. She’s the leader of an evil water cult, of course she has a water elemental. Likewise the use of Sahuagin mercenaries. A tonal thing that doesn’t quite match with the water cult thing the adventure is trying to do. Sent by the evil water god? Sure. Sahuagun mercs though? That implies some setting that is off putting to me. As is the Satyr that acts as the local fence. Magical RenFaire. Bleech. And then, in this village of 600, five thugs are hired to kill the party. Hmmm, again, a tonal imbalance, I think.  The dungeons, the two of them, are more line “art project” one page dungeons, with some small text blocks pointing to rooms, rather than a traditional room/key format.

Take the usual 5e adventure and rip it apart and try to make it less of a railroad. Get rid of most of the text and just put inthe generic-ish essentials. You’d have this adventure. On one hand it kind of resembles the level/amount of detail I use in my home game; a list on a piece of paper with a few words each and some notes on a map. This takes those home notes and adds a few more words and formats it not as modern dreck but as a sandbox-ish adventure.

It’s going in the right direction. The adventure needs to make wiser formatting decisions and provide a little more detail in almost every area. Then you’d have a basic adventure like you might write up in 30 minutes for a home game/the usual 5e adventure. A little investigation, some sneaking, some hacking, some crazy plans, etc.

This is showing up a Monday because the blurb says it can be OSR, with some specific advice for 5e/13th Age. This means “statless, with stat suggestions for 5e/13th Age.” On the one hand I’m kind of intrigued to see that Generic/Universal label applied to modern games like 3e/5e, and games like 13th Age. On the other hand, I’m saddened to be tricked in to something with an OSR label. Sure, I guess, as a generic adventure, it could be OSR. In the same way that any adventure OUTLINE could be for any game.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is six pages and gives you a good idea of what you’re getting. The first few pages outline the town/cult, and then one of the locales, where the fence hides out, is presented. This gives you a good idea of the one-pager dungeons to come as well as the kind of abstracted/outline/sandbox that the adventure is. All you’re not seeing is the section on how the cults reacts to various events, etc. IE: a little guidance. A VERY little guidance. Which would be enough if the adventure was more sandbox and less outline.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/274990/Cult-of-the-Blue-Crab?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Number Crunchin Time (Dollar Edition)

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 05/12/2019 - 15:05
One of the things I wanted to do last month was release a whole bunch of product and see what stuck. I wanted to get a sense of how much interest there was in my stuff. Here's a recap since March 1 for five releases:

Stalwart Age Issue 1 (149 Downloads; $23.60 Gross Sales)
Stalwart Age Issue 2 (96 Downloads; $5.16 Gross Sales)
B1: Dungeon Denizens (181 Downloads; $8.65 Gross Sales)
C1: Trove of Treasures (114 Downloads; $4.00 Gross Sales)
D1: Against the Goblins (96 Downloads; $3.05 Gross Sales)

However, for context, there are two other important figures:

Sentinels of Echo City Deluxe Edition (9 Downloads; $78.11 Gross Sales)
A1: Tales of the Splintered Realm Core Rules (44 Downloads; $3.00 Gross Sales)

It's hard to take away anything concrete here, but there are a few general observations about these trends:

1. The primary purpose of the PWYW supplements is to drive sales of the core rules. Since the core rules for Tales of the Splintered Realm are also PWYW, that breaks the whole model. The benefit of Stalwart Age is not necessarily the sales of those supplements, but the way it drove sales of a game that is over a year old. At this rate, each PWYW release for Sentinels could be reasonably expected to generate 3-5 downloads of that game, which is nothing to scoff at. Making $20-$30 for releasing an 8-10 page supplement is a good business model from my end.

2. Stalwart Age 1 did remarkably well; earning over $20 when none of the other PWYW releases got to $10. That's maybe the first issue effect or something, since sales for 2 were in line with other PWYW releases.

3. The fact that the monster book had twice as many downloads, and over 2x the sales, of the adventure was surprising. I guess that the takeaway is to come out with more monster books than adventures; I didn't expect that, but I suppose that's already the model that D+D pretty much established; core rules sell the most, monster books and player guides second, and adventures in third place. My own small sample shows this trend to be true.

What all this means is that I better get going on Stalwart Age #3... that's in the early stages, but I hope to have it out by the end of the month (so I can still put May on the cover). I have a handful of story ideas for it, but I'm working out long-term plot stuff that will help the unify the whole thing later on a little better.

(5e) The Curse of Lost Memories

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 05/11/2019 - 11:09
By Christophe Herrbach, Anthony Pacheco
Griffon Lore Games LLC
5e
Level 1

Hey, quick reminder that I have a Patreon. It helps offset the costs of the website and buying adventures. Unlike some, I don’t accept adventures to review; I buy everything I review.

https://www.patreon.com/join/tenfootpole?

In the wealthy Kingdom of Lothmar, hardly anyone remembers the once-powerful Barony of Wailmoor that fell 150-years ago to a terrible demon invasion. But PCs have memories of events that precipitated the fall of Wailmoor, and these memories will haunt them until they travel to the lonely moor and solve the mysteries associated with an old, unstoppable curse. Can the PCs save their minds from going crazy “remembering” events they never lived? And who is the mysterious—creature—that haunts the moor and longs for the embrace of an archangel?

This 218 page adventure is modern storytelling to it’s dying breath. Setting new records in “obfuscation through expansive text”, it’s hard to make out what is going on because of the column long (at least) backstories for everybody and everything in the game world. This is not an adventure. It’s a novelization of an adventure.

Let us examine one of the core mechanics of the adventure: you cannot die. If you die you get rebirthed back at a tree in the central village, with all your stats lowered by one. You can’t go below 8. What, then, would be the purpose of this? Not even in death can you escape the plot of the designer. The plot will go on. And you will be a part of it. Death will not save you. You do get all your stat points back when you level. So, you know …

Clever monkeys will immediately recognize opportunity in this absurdist mechanic. Rebelling against the railroad and lack of agency, let us accept, and in acceptance of our fates find victory, just as in the mystery of the Blue City Lacuna. Take your whole party to stat 8. Charge each combat, doing whatever minimal damage. Finding whatever secrets. Learning the map. Die and reform a thousand times a day. Until, finally, the Storyteller relents and you can wander, freely. The presumption of resurrection abstracted in to a new mechanic. You walk about enchanted, in ecstasy, like the gods you saw dancing in your dreams. Freedom, terrible terrible freedom.

How anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond me. This is, truly, not D&D but a storyteller game. Not a story game. In those you have some control. This is a storyTELLER game. Your agency is near 0. The closest thing to a videogame I’ve seen, the endings may be different, at some point. But the cut scenes are meaningless. Just die and be reborn.

NPC’s get full page descriptions. Paragraphs on how they react at all three friendliness levels. Encounters for third level characters are CR 8 through CR12. Paragraphs of read aloud at every opportunity. The inn serving wenches are all 16-20 year old whores.

The first encounter is chapter one and takes up most of the first quarter of the book. Every NPC extremely detailed. Everything with a background. Names and ages. All to facilitate a forced on flashback. (DC 20 WIS save. If anyone one party member fails it then they all have the flashback.) If someone dies in this first encounter then a noble will step in and heal them. You will not deviate from the railroad.

How much of a railroad? There IS a correct way to complete the adventure. Kill someone? No xp. Convince the noble of your cause? Get 25xp. The designer has determined the correct course of action and you will follow it and only be rewarded at most if you do.

The maps are illegible. You can’t read the numbers or lettering on them. This, the most basic of functionality you need to provide to the DM. The ultimate reference page. Illegible. And this then is the mortal sin of this adventure: it ignores the DM. It doesn’t understand that rule 0, the reason for its existence, is to help the DM to run it at the table. The map is illegible. The text is SO overloaded with verbosity, everything with backstory, everything overly described, that there is no way on earth a DM can use it easily. Multiple readings. Notes. highlighter . Put in your own cross-references to other areas. Invest an absurd amount of work. Everything is so overly detailed that its all meaningless. Who the fuck cares about the tavern wenches or the soldiers? I mean, sure, a few words to give them some personality, three, four, but paragraph upon paragraph? Ages? The names of the soldiers dogs? Seriously? Why not also the names of their mothers, in case it comes up?

At one point it notes a road and mentions several times how hard it would be to get a wagon up it. Uh. Ok. Why? What’s with the wagon? Is that important? At another it offers that “if the party does not accept the trail through the maggot carpet …” uh … what offered trail? Was that mentioned?

If your still with me then your ears picked up at the maggot carpet thing. What’s so fucking bad about this adventure is that there is some good stuff hiding inside. A carpet of maggots and the bones of small creatures, writhing. Nice imagery! The fucking read-aloud is too long, but, still that good stuff! And all of the flashback memories are listed on one table, with triggers and what they impact. Great reference material! The wilderness section of the adventure has varied and interesting encounters, a little combat heavy, but still, leeches and crocs in a swamp, a dull blue glow from under the water if you detect magic …!  that’s great! Hidden treasure. At one point you can reach an overlook in the wilderness and the text summarizes what you can see. Perfect! So many adventures leave out “what I can see from a distance or upon approach.”

But the text, It’s a nightmare. Here’s one small snippet from one object in one room: “The desk does not have anything on it. This desk was used by Humbert, the tower guard as a station for when Silas was in the tower. He sat there, preventing visitors from entering the tower unannounced and providing security should someone try to break into the tower. After the last battle in the Barony, Humbert took everything that was his in the tower and left. He traveled to the Viscounty of Kandra where he died there, like many Wailmoor survivors.”

Note how NOTHING in this text applies to the adventure. Nothing. It’s so closely related to my platonic Dungeon Magazine “looted trophy room” description that it could BE the new platonic idea of bad adventure writing. What the fuck is the point? And it does this over and over and over again. Everything. Everything and Everyone. Mountains of backstory and motivations and details. More than any other adventure I’ve reviewed, it hides the adventure. More is not more, not when it gets in the way and obfuscates the adventure for the DM running it.  This is the writing of a wannabe novelist, not the technical writing of an adventure designer. You’re not writing to paint a rich picture of the world in all its glory. You’re writing for a DM running the thing at the table. Even if we accept the bullshit storytell play style, robbing the players of their agency, even if we accept that, the criticisms stand. It’s unusable without a hard core effort at note taking and highlighting that, essentially, negates the purpose of the text you’ve bought. We’re not supposed to be paying for the fucking backstory.

This nightmare PDF is 20 fucking dollars on DriveThru. 20. Fucking. Dollars. The preview is eleven pages long. Go ahead and read it. Read it all. It is COMPLETELY meaningless. It’s an example of the rich and detailed backstory for the village the PC’s start in. That plays such a small part in the adventure. It’s insanity. Utter insanity.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/270071/Curse-of-the-Lost-Memories-5E?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Blogger This For a Lark

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Fri, 05/10/2019 - 15:29

Ten Reasons Why I Like Playing Halfling Characters
1.       No one asks you to be party leader.2.       In fact, everyone insists upon you not leading the party.3.       To be honest, no one wants you making decisions at all.4.       You can use almost any other party member as a mount.5.       No matter how much sugar or caffeine you consume, it’s all “role-playing.”6.       No need to pay attention since everyone either forgets you’re there or tells you what to do.7.       Quoting The Hobbit or LotR doesn’t get you yelled at for breaking character.8.       Sneaking, squeezing, or wriggling out of danger.9.       Traps designed for medium intruders. Halflings don’t get decapitated by scything blade traps.10.   Coming up with silly character names is expected, not derided.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Qwik? What's Qwik?

Two Hour Wargames - Thu, 05/09/2019 - 23:20
Or should we say "What was Qwik?"
It was a game by THW based on the movie Blood of Heroes. "What?" Movie was okay, game was great.
The movie came out 30 years ago, the game came out 8 years ago. "What?!"
Yeah, I know, time flies. And gamers change and games have to change with them. 
What was detailed then, is streamlined now.
What took a while to play, can be played in half the time.
But some things don't change.
Still bloody...still easy to learn...still compatible with After the Horseman. 
But that's another story... :)

More to come.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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