Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Box Breaking 248: Senshi from Arcane Wonders

Gamer Goggles - Tue, 05/29/2018 - 02:33

Check out Senshi from Arcane Wonders. It’s a unique hand management token drafting game that makes you think.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

I will play this week, even if I have to knock down some doors! This game looks like a something I will play a lot of!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #3 - ACKS

19th Level - Tue, 05/29/2018 - 01:36

I have a special place in my gaming heart for early editions of D&D. I'm not quite enough of a grognard to have played the original D&D when it came out - my gaming career began in the early 1980s. I played a lot of the Basic and Expert D&D incarnation as well as a ton of Advanced D&D. But they didn't quite make it this high in the list.

One of the things I loved about the Companion rules of D&D was the way it brought about domain play. Early in this list I had Pendragon as a game I really like but didn't get a lot of time playing. I really like the idea of PCs ruling domains. It's a reason I greatly enjoy George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. But there were a few frustrations I had with D&D. I liked the idea of demi-humans having their race as their class - it added a certain amount of character - but I also found it a bit limiting. When I played, I liked being a magic-user but I was frustrated by the limits of low-level magic-users. I liked the additional details in AD&D but missed the domain play rules. And sometimes those details got to be a bit too much. And yes, like everyone else, we swapped things between the games.

Along comes Adventurer Conqueror King - ACKS, which for me, emphasizes the things I love about those early versions of D&D and AD&D. It's definitely more of a D&D game than AD&D. It really emphasizes domain play. The designers put more thought into a fantasy economy than anyone I could imagine. They kept race as class... but made multiple classes for each race. This keeps the non-human races distinctive from humanity but still gives a lot of choice. The game (in its Players' Companion) also has rules for making your own classes - and wonder of wonders, all of the classes in the game follow those rules. Magic-users are fine-tuned to give them a pool of spells they can cast from daily, giving more versatility. It adds a proficiency system to add additional details to your character - a bit of a cross between skills and feats from later editions. Non-magical healing, dabbling in magic, blind fighting, navigation, etc.  The new Heroic Fantasy Handbook even acknowledges some of the issues thieves have, being so poor at their core abilities, and fine-tunes that a bit.

Basically, ACKS takes all the things I like about old D&D, keeps them, and fine-tunes them - smoothing over the frustrations I've had. The line of products for ACKS isn't huge but they are all first rate. I especially appreciate the Lairs & Encounters book - an excellent resource for sandbox play. The new Heroic Fantasy Handbook and Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu show how the game can be adaptable to other genres. Heroic Fantasy is good for a lot of literary fantasy, from Lankhmar to Middle Earth. Barbarian Conquerors is excellent for Conan, Elric, Barsoom, and Buck Rogers.

I've not played ACKS in a while - I do find it requires a bit of prep time and my group is a bit on the small side - I also find older D&D-type games tend to work a bit better with larger groups. It is time I'd like to be able to spend. Hopefully when I complete my master's degree later this year some time will open up - as readers of my blog have seen, my free time over the past several months has dramatically decreased. In any case, ACKS is a game I find gets so many things "right" for the way I see D&D which is the reason I have it ranked so highly.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Lake Geneva Original RPG Campaign: Finishing > Starting

Lord of the Green Dragons - Mon, 05/28/2018 - 20:58
Lake Geneva Original RPG Campaign: Finishing > Starting: To End Is But To Start... FINISHING-- OUTLINING and ORGANIZING  FROM MEMOIRS--
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

1d6 Random Shadow Stained Other Worldly Weapons of War For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 05/28/2018 - 18:22
It was great pity, so it was,That villanous saltpetre should be digg'dOut of the bowels of the harmless earth,Which many a good tall fellow had destroy'dSo cowardly; and but for these vile gunsHe would himself have been a soldier. Act I, scene 3, line 59. William Shakespeare,Henry IV, Part I (c. 1597) Do not pick up that lonely & forgotten weapon from that vault for you don't know where it Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Beer, Fritz Leiber, Arduin, & An OSR Campaign Set Up

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 05/28/2018 - 15:19
Its Memorial Day here in the States again & I got together with friends at a local watering hole to discuss OSR stuff. Swap some beer & shoot the breeze about International Dave Hargrave day, classic original Dungeons & Dragons, OSR games, & everyone's current campaigns. So we began to talk about WWI & some of the history leading up to it including the international  brush fire conflicts that Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Haunt at Crow’s Gulch

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 05/28/2018 - 11:12

By Randy Musseau
Roan Studio
Levels 4-7

… word of adventure and gold has drawn the characters to Crow Gulch A Gnome by the name of Galemon has offered 50 gold pieces, in advance, to adventurers and sell-swords willing to explore the ruins of the ancient tower in search of a silver orb. He will pay another 500 gold upon success. Rumors and fireside tales speak of a growing terror that lies deep beneath the Haunt and the rocky crag upon which it rests, but this has not deterred those hungry for wealth and glory.

This 24 page adventure details a small town (first half) and a about twenty wilderness encounters followed by about ten dungeon encounters (second half.) Small fonts, lack of whitespace and bolding leads to some wall of text and SERIOUS highlighter fodder. The descriptions get long, even if there is a nice realism to them. Far too many negatives for me, but it’s altogether terrible.

You drudge up a cliffside, having wilderness encounters along the roadway, then get to the tower and explore the dungeons underneath. Along the way are a couple of expanded wilderness areas: a harpy lair and dragon crevisse, if you choose to go off path to chase down some fleeing monsters for their lairs. Inside the dungeon you find a sorceress … turns out the gnome hiring you was ruse and she uses him to find strong souls to sacrifice in order to summon a demon. So, while a test/challenge adventure, it doesn’t feel artificial like those usually do.

That is the great strength of this adventure. The encounters feel natural and things seem to fit as a part of the natural world. It’s not because the toilets and fresh water were provided for. Rather the text gives that natural feel and also a kind of ‘in the moment’ sort of vibe. You find prisoners almost dead, or raving madmen who rushing down a narrow cliffside trail … who slip and fall off the edge. Harpies and dragons feed, creatures are doing things. More than that though it has that natural feel that the best MRP products did.

That does, however, come at a steep price. The font is small. Whitespace is sparse and bolding/offsets/etc non-existent. This text is THICK and hard to wade through. This all combines to make the text something torturous and I can’t see how you can run this at a table easily. Highlighter? Sure.

It engages in repetition to pad things out, with the same details being repeated. It has motivations and background and history embedded in the text. It engages in … definitions! Roblins are playing dones(dice.) There is a jacinth (orange gemstone.) Folks, if you’re gonna use a two dollar word then don’t explain it. Give your readers some credit. Otherwise 7th grade me will never pronounce Chaos as if it rhymes with Taos.

One of the harpy lair rooms starts with “Large Cavern. The ceiling is a dome of sharp stalactites and filth covers the floor. A ledge along the right wall is covered in piles of twigs, rags, fur and clothing, each arranged in a nest-like fashion.” That’s not so bad. Relatively short. Not a paragon of evocativeness, but better than most. Then come harpy stats, inline, then comes the searching, inline, all in the same single paragraph, with comments. “Searching the nests (8 in total) will yield …” (four more sentences, including telling us what a jacinth is.)

It engages in this behaviour in a variety of ways, over and over again. At one point you encounter a will-o-the-wisp trying to lure a victim in . It has in it: “This is a trap. The boggart is trying to lure victims in” and then at the end of the encounter everything is justified. “The Boggart is an immature Will-o-wisp. It is building strength by feeding off the essence of its victims. It can appear in humanoid form or as small and bright hovering lights. The net is old and useless. The crackling was coming from the Boggart itself as it attempted to maintain its current form.)” Well, no shit to both.

But, the core of the encounter is great. A tony writhing and twisting figure trapped under a small net crackling with blue electricity. And if you watch long enough you can see it change to tiny hairy man, giving you a hint something is not right. It’s great little encounter.

Most of the encounters here are great. People slipping off cliffs. Harpies luring you off cliffs (cliffs are a feature of the wilderness part of the adventure.) They are great. They just get ruined by the fact I don’t want to slog through the text.

That’s all commentary on the back twelve pages or so of the adventure. The first half describes the region and town. In the same, if not more, detail. Lots of motivations for the butcher’s wife to stay in town, and so on. It feels more like a writers guide for a Tv series than it does something to use at the table.Way WAY too much detail, and a focus on things not needed.

It’s not a bad adventure, it’s just not good. Or, rather, it’s a pain to dig through. It feels like the setting should be pulled out for a fluff book, while the text proper needs to be pruned back a lot to remove all of the extraneous stuff, and then some whitespace and bolding, etc added for improved scanability. Also, I might buy a fluff book on the region, but it also needs to focus more on game ability rather than why the baker chooses to stay in town … unless there’s a hook in there.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview can give you a sense of the font size and density of the text, but not really the encounters, etc.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: Afterlife During Wartime

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 05/28/2018 - 11:06
This post first appeared in February of 2012. It was intended for the world of Weird Adventures but is usuable anywhere really...

Explorers in the planes beyond have recorded two noumenal realms devoted to the concept of war, though from two different perspectives. One is a shining realm of trumpets sounding the call to glorious battle for a righteous cause. The other is a grim place of endless, grinding war of attrition, leading to an apocalypse they may never come.

The Halls of Valor or the Fields of Glory is the name given to the after-life for the heroic warrior dead of several pagan faiths. Its trappings are pre-modern, though never in history did swords and spears so gleam, or armor so shine. The warriors revel all night in feasting halls and walk out at dawn (strangely hangover free) to do battle with representatives arriving from places of evil and chaos (or at least the representations of such beings). Occasionally (if that word has much meaning in a timeless place) tourneys are held, and the warriors pit themselves against each other. While dire wounds are suffered, they heal quickly and wound and pain are forgotten in the face of glory.

There have been some warriors of the Oecumenical faith, or even soldiers from modern times, who fell in battle and were taken to Halls of Valor in some sort of cosmic error. Some warm to the place after a while, but others seek a way out by appeal to the pagan gods who rule there. Sometimes, angels try to recruit such misplaced warriors to serve in the Heavenly Hosts. This is considered by the eikone Management a tidy solution to the problem of a misplaced soul.

The other realm is a place of blood-red skies, where clouds of ash are buffeted by winds thick with the smell of death. This is the Plains of Armageddon, the Eternal Battlefield. Here, the souls of warriors damned by their actions in war are conscripted as soon as they arrive into the army of one faction or another. Weapons are supplied by agents of the Hell Syndicate or the demon lords of the Pits; They use the armies here as proxies for their own agendas. Warriors from infinite worlds and all of history do battle in bleak and blasted landscapes where no one is truly trustworthy and most hands are actively raised against every other.

Some of the damned delight in bloodlust and slaughter and give themselves over fully to their not entirely metaphorical demons. Others seek desperately to escape and sign faustian deals to return the the Material world as diabolic thralls. Others are lucky enough to make contact with the agents.of Heaven and make other deals for a chance at working off the stain on their souls.

[BLOG] Combat and Magic: A Look Back at The First Hungarian RPG

Beyond Fomalhaut - Sun, 05/27/2018 - 20:02
Combat and MagicSpoiler: Mummies
Role-playing in Hungary does not have a particularly long history. It is telling that people who had started in the early 1990s are considered veterans of gaming, a generation which would barely count as neophytes in the US or the UK. More than that, we know little of that early gaming period. From the first groups in the mid-1980s to its first boom of popularity in 1990-1992, precious little material evidence has remained. By all accounts, people had fun playing (mostly) AD&D, and photocopied translations were circulated among fans (the best known version being The Ruby Codex), but the publication of homebrew materials was minimal, or at least extremely limited. It was a different time: photocopiers were hard to access, and home (or even workplace) printers were expensive equipment mainly found in research institutes and universities. Therefore, we cannot really speak of an age of fanzines, nor extensive home publishing. I know of (and own) one homemade module which was available at the time: The Great Pyramid, a mid-level dungeon whose themes and ideas should be hardly surprising.

Without external support, game groups had to make do with what they had: a few fantasy novels (Tolkien, a dash of Conan, and some disreputable but fun pulp literature), the occasional photocopied game supplement they could get from other groups, an increasing number of computer games, Fighting Fantasy, and their imagination. The results were varied, from the deadly dull to the quite imaginative (or at least somewhat original). One of these results is Combat and Magic [Harc és Varázslat], the first Hungarian RPG, whose brief appearance and fast downfall went mostly unnoticed at the time. But not by all: this was the first “real” RPG I ever played (after a systemless dungeoneering game at the Scouts I then believed to be an innovative sort of puzzle), and I still have good memories of the experience, even though in my first adventure, my nameless Fighter went down into some mines and got summarily killed by orcs in one of the first encounters. I barely knew what hit me, but I was hooked!
Thus, this post: part reminiscence, part a look at a game that’s both utterly predictable and compellingly oddball, a product of a naïve fascination with fantasy literature and an exciting new game form.
Combat and Magic was published in 1991 by the completely unknown company “SPORTORG Ltd.” Its authors, Tamás Galgóczi and Péter László were AD&D players (a decade later, I would buy Galgóczi’s lovingly bound and much used photocopies of the 1stedition AD&D rulebooks – these ancient bootlegs are as treasured parts of my collection as my OD&D set), and they had planned to spread their hobby through an introductory game, to be followed by more “advanced” supplements down the line. Combat and Magic comes in the form of two full-sized 56-page booklets, one for the players and one for the Gamemaster (called, according to local custom, the “Storyteller”). The second booklet also includes a folded map of the three-level intro dungeon (on which more later), and the whole package was originally sold with something called a “lucky die”, a ten-sider! (Considering the difficulties involving in obtaining a d10, people would apparently buy the game just for the die alone.)
Combat and Magic proudly wears its influence on its sleeve. The cover on the players’ booklet is graced by a notoriously bad rendition of Frazetta’s Conan the Destroyer fighting some lizard-things, while the Storyteller’s booklet depicts a scene right out of Tolkien, an adventurer menaced by something that looks like a ringwraith. The Conan-meets-LotR theme continues through the entire game in a strange manifestation of schizophrenia – sometimes the game has its semi-naked amazons, war galleys and buff fellows in leather gear holding various murder implements, and sometimes we are in Moria or Rivendell (and not a homage either: it is clearly Frodo and Co. investigating the tomb of Balin, facing the Balrog, or finding the mountain door).
An American Fantasy Game Similar to
Combat and MagicAs the introduction proclaims, “You have surely read J. R. R. Tolkien’s exciting book, The Lord of the Rings. This game leads you to a similar world, and you can live there, adventuring among the creatures of fantasy. You can meet goblins, elves, dwarves, dragons, and you only need a little imagination... If you like our offer, forward to adventure! You are awaited by the forbidding lands of the unknown world, its cities and peoples! Your imagination will wander the land of fantasy, the world of DRAGONFLAME...” In a charmingly earnest way, it goes further – the back cover of both rulebooks reproduces the cover of the Mentzer Set, the caption reading “The cover of one of the American fantasy games similar to Combat and Magic”. Similar indeed! Interestingly, just like Original D&D was billed as “Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns”, Combat and Magic is called a “Personality Game” (and on at least one occasion, a “Cooperative Personality Game”), and not an RPG – no common local term for RPGs having been accepted yet.
Vorg saves
an old PriestAs introductory games go, Combat and Magic is remarkably newbie-friendly. The future player is guided on his journey by “Vorg the Wolf”, an in-game character. Vorg, a 7th level Fighter, is somewhere between Conan and a wise Indian from a western (showing that the new concept of the barbarian had not yet taken solid shape in the local imagination, and the gaps were filled in by prior references). We first meet Vorg in a short story where he seeks out, confronts and kills Surat, the dark mage who had recently decimated a village, and now lives in a dungeon under a ruined castle built by the dwarves (“You have come to the right place if you seek Surat! He is I!” and “You wanted to kill me, warrior? You shall die instead!”). Vorg helps the player at all stages of character creation, introducing game concepts from an in-character stance that is at once weird, wrong, and completely charming. (“I, Vorg, the wolf, the highest level fighter among the long-haired ones, say to you that the most important attribute in the world is Strength.” Or: “You have surely read my adventure. The personality sheet for Surat the evil Mage would look like this: Intellect 88%. Number of languages 4, modifier +30 days. He knew four foreign languages before I killed him, which he had learned over half a year and +30 days. By my sword, I say it was a great accomplishment that I had destroyed him!”)
The game, not surprising considering its AD&D roots, uses seven attributes, but measures them on a percentile scale (Intellect, Strength, Agility, Speed, Endurance, Manual Dexterity and Physical Looks). Yes, they are rolled with entirely random 1d100 rolls, in order, no takebacks. Or as Vorg tells us: “Let us begin, and may the gods guide your hand!” These attributes provide modifiers for a whole lot of secondary values from combat ratings to poison resistance and the ability to read and write (Vorg, with a Manual Dexterity of 8%, is completely illiterate, and his 14% Physical Looks is fairly dire – but he has an impressive 92% Strength). Some people say chicks dig scars, but this is clearly incorrect on the world of DRAGONFLAME: when you receive face wounds in combat, your rating drops pretty substantially. On the other hand, chicks receive a 1.2 multiplier to their Physical Looks because “If your personality is a woman (…) you take better care of yourself and your beauty.” On the other hand, many other modifiers are fairly moderate, and much of the attribute range does nothing whatsoever or very little: there is, for example, no difference whatsoever between an Endurance of 26 and 70.
Haven't we seen this before? The three alignments (Good, Evil and Neutral) are followed by the character races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Goblins (here mostly thieves and wizards) and Orcs, set apart by ability score modifiers and limits (e.g. Orcs have a maximum Intellect of 60, get +15 on their Endurance, but -15 on their Manual Dexterity) and the occasional modifier to specific weapon types. Furthermore, Elves can sense the presence of the freshly slain dead, and see wandering souls, Dwarves see in the darkness and can withstand extreme temperatures; Goblins are stealthy; and Orcs almost never get lost in the wilderness. Actually, “Goblins” are probably meant to be hobbits, since they live in covered pits close to the earth, and have a democratic worldwide government run by a hidden ten-goblin council.
Combat and Magic has a fairly weird Vitality system: every character starts with 100 Vitality, plus race-based dice (Elves have 1d10 more Vitality, Humans, Goblins and Orcs have 2d10 more, and Dwarves have 3d10 more). At 0 Vitality, you are dead. However, the system also has something called Damage Absorption Percentage (DA), which starts at 20% of your character’s full rating, and goes up 2% every level, up to 38% (Fighters also gain a one percent bonus per level, but none of the other classes do). Should you receive more damage than this percentage, you fall into a comatose state, where you bleed out at a rate of 1 Vitality per wound per round – only healing can bring recovery. In practice, your average longsword does 1d10 damage, a staff does 1d5, and a cavalry lance – the mightiest weapon – does 1d10+10, so a few successful hits can dispatch even a relatively hardy character. As an obvious AD&D legacy, saving throws(or their equivalent, “Chance Rolls”) also exist as three flat percentile ratings to escape the effects of poison, magic, and dragon breath, respectively (although dragon breath, an oddly specific choice, still causes half damage). The real rating which matters is your DA: it is not entirely clear why the ridiculously high total Vitality is used at all.
This looks oddly familiarFrom classes (or, rather, “castes”, a really bad word choice which would then gain traction and crop up in almost every subsequent Hungarian RPG), the system offers four: Fighters, Trackers, Priests and Mages. These are somewhat less restrictive classes than D&D traditions would dictate: there is little difference between different classes when it comes to Attack and Defence %, Vitality or Chance Rolls; rather, each class gives a basically competent adventurer a set of bonuses and limitations. Accordingly,
  • Fighters learn to use multiple weapon types, and have slightly better combat values. Noble fighters (player’s choice to try for a 75+ percentile roll) get training with more kinds of weapons, but suffer a small Endurance penalty. Nobles also have to abide by a code of conduct: they may only attack a woman in self-defence, they must always attack from the front, and they may not use poison (“except evil nobles, because they are capable of it”). Even evil nobles, as we learn, “Follow etiquette, and only rarely have their captives tortured – and never by their own hands.” Their commoner counterparts start with a small penalty to either mounted or footman’s combat, which they “grow out of” by level 5.
  • Trackers are skilled hunters, who either work alone, or as guides to travelling companies. They can call an “animal companion”, with one attempt possible per level (if it is a failure, the beast attacks). A tracker must avenge and mourn two years for a companion if it is ever slain before calling another. They also have versatile wilderness skills: tracking, speaking with animals, hiding, and recognising traps.
  • Priests are spellcasters, who, unlike fighting classes, can only gain levels by returning to their churches, where they are also required to donate all their unneeded money. Priests are either Good or Evil, but never Neutral (this will become important a bit later). They are not limited by weapon type, but only know to use a few of them (up to 4, while a Fighter would start from 3-4 and proceed from there). Priests can contact the gods directly for advice and help. They also have a bunch of different abilities based on the specific god they worship, who are quite varied. The followers of Perlin, goddess of dreams and fairy tales (Neutral, Priests can be either Good or Evil) can perform divinations, but they must regularly interpret a dream as a form of sacrifice; meanwhile, the Priests of Dorl, god of earth (Neutral, Priests must be Good) have a special spell to hurl pebbles, can sense buried items under their feet, but they must bring home a clod of earth from every land they have visited, and can only use bludgeoning and cutting weapons.
  • Mages aren’t D&D’s physical wretches (having lower, but still passable combat abilities and Vitality), although they are limited to daggers and staves, and must not wear armour. They must return to their master to gain levels. Mages belong to one of two schools: Moonlight Mages are Good, and practice white magic; while Grey Mages are Evil, dealing in black magic (these orders also give their members assistance if they show the correct hand signs). Mages sense other spellcasters in a 10 metre circle.

After you determine your class, you must also roll for social status. This is another flat 1d100 roll,: you may start with 40 copper pieces as a “free homeless” (1-14), 1 gold piece as a servant (15-29), 75 gp as one of the “famed” (75-84), or 1000 gp as royalty (00). For reference, 10 gp is the price of a longsword, while for 1000 gp, you get a suit of plate mail.
Like true-blue old-school games, there are no skills in Combat and Magic. However, your character may have a profession, unless you are a noble fighter, because work is beneath nobles. Your choice of profession depends on your social status, your ability scores (with some racial bonuses and limitations), and your class. Here, Combat and Magic again delves into the oddly specific, letting you play a more conventional healer (restore up to 10 Vitality per week), sailor (you can navigate ships) and thief (you get the thief skill), or professions like a gravedigger (you recognise religious symbols and tolerate the stench of the grave), executioner (you can easily kill restrained victims) or miner (you don’t get lost underground). Your profession is, once again, rated at an utterly random percentile value, which never, ever improves. You might be the best weaponsmith out there with a 100%, or you can be a random fool who drops the hammer on his feet with a 3%.
Ironically, neither six- nor four-sided dice
are featured in Combat and MagicCombat in the game is a fairly straightforward but ultimately quite fiddly you-swing-I-swing affair based on an Attack % and a Defence %. Both of these are modified by a whole range of tiny little things which are individually minor, but can add up if taken together
  • In each round, characters must decide to either attack their opponent or forego it and defend themselves.
  • Initiative is a simple d10 roll for your whole group.
  • Your Attack % is used to figure if you score a connecting hit.
  • Armour (if any) can stop a blow outright, based on a matrix cross-referencing five armour types (leather, studded, chain, scale and plate) and three weapon types (piercing, slashing and bludgeoning) that’s reminiscent of AD&D’s infamous weapon-vs-AC chart. For instance, chain is 25% vs. piercing, 50% vs. slashing, and 35% vs. bludgeoning.
  • If a hit is scored, but the subject has chosen to defend himself instead of attacking, he can still roll a successful Defence % to avoid getting hit. Many weapons grant a bonus to Defence %, from 10 (daggers and hammers) to 15-20% (most swords and maces) to 30% (polearms), and you also get some from shields (10% or 20%), but you must choose whether you’d like to defend with your weapon or your shield.
  • If neither form of defence succeeds, you get to roll damage, which, as previously noted, can be pretty dire.

This system comes with a fair whiff factor, although Defence % tends to be fairly low, and if you know enough weapons, you can use one which gives your opponent a lower Armour roll (it pays to stock up on different weapon types).
No, reallySpellcasting in Combat and Magic uses a spell point system: both Priests and Mages have 10 spell points per level, recovered through meditation (Clerics) or 1d10 hours of sleep (Mages). It is possible to cast spells over one’s point limit, at a risk to the character’s sanity (the chance of escaping unharmed is 70% the first time, 40% the second, and a mere 10% the third). The spell list goes up five levels, and beyond the Wizard/Priest split, each spell is also associated with an alignment. Characters can use spells of their own alignment, and neutral ones (remember, spellcasters can’t be neutral). The spells themselves are mostly D&D ripoffs (Hebron’s Smashing Fist, Call Monster I, Tiny Hut, Prayer...), but there are also some compelling oddities, such as…
  • Almos’ Blue Parasol: protection vs. falling rocks, hail, and rain spells
  • Hair Growth: uncontrollable hair growth entangles victim
  • The Quarrelsome Door: creates a talking door
  • Dream Voyage: the victim sleeps for 1d10 days, dreaming of a fantastic voyage that feels like the same number of years, and ages accordingly
  • The Dark Blue Berries of Pavlovich: creates 30 berries, eater sleeps one day for each, losing 2 Vitality per day

The lands of RôhenAlthough the Storyteller’s Booklet is dedicated specifically to running the game, and players are admonished to avoid reading it, it starts with a brief world guide that would probably be a better fit for the main rules. The world of DRAGONFLAME (no longer capitalised here) is a naïve fantasy mishmash, but it has its own creation myth, and a huge, active pantheon of gods with quite silly names (Kayar, Zomur, Serlafor, Zorikon, Xirfon etc.). The planet of Rôhen (note the Tolkienesque diacritic) has three continents, but the game is focused on one called, appropriately enough, Draco, and specifically its north-western corner called the Four Kingdoms. To keep with the tone from the LotR appendices (the definitive model for fantasy world-building in early 1990s Hungary), Draco’s history is punctuated by a lot of blood and thunder, like “the Second Metal War”, “the rise of Tarrakis, Lord of Darkness” (he had the Twelve Knights of Death on his side, but was eventually driven out of the known world), “the foundation of Divide” by King Farseer the First, “the imprisonment of Agay Khenmare of the Threadbare Cap and eight demon by the Moon Mages”, and “the Second Dragon War”.
Three of the Four Kingdoms
(the Kingdom of the Dead Land is off to the east)Draco’s geography is no less fancy, with a giant inner sea (divided into the Sea of Three Moons, the Sea of Two Moons, and the Cold Sea), and a bunch of doggerel toponyms like Faradas, Eld Virg, M’Bo, Búrnan and the Forest of Gerildor. However, the published game is focused on the so-called Four Kingdoms, to the north of Shadia, and east of the vast Orc Swamp. Actually, only three of the kingdoms are nice places to visit: the Kingdom of Black Land, the Kingdom of Lagos, and the Bonecrusher Kingdom, whose ruling dynasty has died out, and left behind a war of succession (the most likely successor, Ed Morrison, lives in the town of Helltop; the capital city is named Skull Hill, but the kingdom is actually a fairly normal place with a sheep-based economy). This is less true about the Kingdom of Dead Land, whose southern part is a confederation of independent mercantile towns, but the north has been taken over by bandit gangs lead by the evil wizard, Agay Khenmare of the Threadbare Cap.
Pretty sure this is Éowyn or GaladrielThis mini-setting is quite charming in its own way; half Tolkien, half AD&D, but with the Northwest-European cultural references exchanged for a decidedly Hungarian perspective. This is quite intriguing, since the Hungarian fantasy genre, and Hungarian RPG fandom in specific has shied away from its own history and culture. It is still a European mishmash ranging from Finland and France equivalents to something feeling a bit like fantasy Ukraine (with NPCs named Pierre Vandel, Oleg Isakov, Stefan Schaller, Valdemar Kanagas, Commander Tony Elton, and Arnold Denman), but there is something almost indescribably Hungarian about the land’s large plains, agricultural towns and, above all, the slightly rustic tone of its place names. As strange as it sounds, this familiarity is the strangest thing about the whole Combat and Magic experience, because nobody has evertried anything like this again – Hungarian fantasy has focused on discovering the fantastic in distant lands, to the neglect of our own.
The majority of the Storyteller’s Booklet is occupied by the obligatory monsters and treasures. Like the spells, much of this section consists of AD&D ripoffs and a mish-mash of mythology and the stuff you lift out of every fantasy book you have read and liked – that is, it is derivative but actually pretty good. Some of them come from the excellent Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges, such as the Bao a Ku (a monster tied to a set of stairs, which becomes more and more real as someone goes up, and attacks on the top), and some are just strange in the way RPG bestiaries can be strange:
  • the Dorag is a huge blue snake with two feathered wings, which lives until you cut off its head… twice;
  • the Ilmex resembles a rug with a wavy edge, with three three-fingered hands on each side, and a bird’s head perched on a long, thin neck at the front – it is a subterranean predator;
  • Armoured Toads are... toads in black armour, with a hop attack;
  • Fuzzballs! They are big fuzzballs with... legs capable of long jumps up to three metres. And a large toothy mouth. “They are always on the move to attack any kind of mobile meat.”
  • The Vilotoner is a mixture between a huge eagle and a bat. It is very intelligent, able to converse in three languages, and cast Wizard spells. It is curious, vain, egoistic and easy to offend.

The Caverns of Singing Mountain, LVL I-III
There is some decent guidance on setting up and running a game (actually, more than many subsequent Hungarian games, which often wouldn’t think too deep about the question), and a bunch of Storyteller-specific rules, but the other big interesting thing about the booklet is the example scenario, The Dragon of Singing Mountain. Nothing less than a three-level dungeon, it is a tutorial for both the players and the Storyteller. You have to defeat a dragon and save a kidnapped princess – but before that, you have to get through the caverns of Singing Mountain. The caverns – really dungeons – are mostly linear, and the action largely features combat and basic exploration. You get to fight morlochs, dog-headed men, a wererat, skeletons, zombies, black dwarves, and an evil wizard. There is an underground smithy, an evil temple (the idol has gemstone eyes and a poison gas trap), a mirror room, a plant room (with life-draining plants), a library and a well, but disappointingly, it lacks the wahoo nature of some of the rulebooks..
What is interesting is how the adventure starts in a way that explains everything to the Storyteller, with a choose-your-own-adventure structure and readout text, and starts to hand over more and more responsibilities as it goes on. The first level is full of handholding, but halfway through the second, the room descriptions become sparse outlines to be filled out on your own. The third level, with a deep, dark underground lake, is only described in brief and left to your development: here lives Tungar the Dragon in an island tower, there is an old orc Priest who serves as the ferryman, and other mysteries are also in evidence.
Is Combat and Magic a good RPG? Not really. It is simultaneously awkward and simplistic, with fairly fiddly rules to realise simple concepts. The character generation is more complicated than in AD&D for less mileage, and the combat system has its awkward spots. There are puzzling ideas, like the Vitality/Damage Absorption concept. I don’t think many people had played by the book – I am pretty sure we didn’t, because the combat I remember was far deadlier than the baseline. I do not count the game’s high randomness as a design mistake (although many people in the 90s would, if they had even heard of it); it is endearing and almost feels fresh in our day. In practice, all those flat 1d100 rolls would tend to even themselves out, and your character would have a few areas where he would be better than the others (at least I don’t remember my PC being overshadowed, which definitely did happen in our attempt to play M.A.G.U.S.,the second Hungarian RPG.
Seen through modern eyes an incredible 27 years later (has it really been that long?), the areas where Combat and Magic feels fresh is the enthusiastic spirit of adventure, the way it embraces the fantastic, and the way it tries to make most of a very narrow set of influences. It owes a lot to The Lord of the Rings and it owes just as much to AD&D, but there are a few things there which are beyond imitation.
Why did Combat and Magic disappear from the public consciousness, so much so that most gamers have never even heard of it? In a way, it came too early, at a time when there were no established communication channels for roleplayers yet – no magazines (the first would come out late 1992), no fanzines, only two game stores in the entire country, and often little contact between the isolated gaming groups out there. Interestingly, the game was by no means unknown. I know multiple people who have started with it, usually for a few months before they would find their way to AD&D (either the bootleg translations or the real deal). It was also a mainstay at a few game clubs; apparently, fans in the city of Miskolc had come up with multiple typewritten fan supplements and their own shared setting (“Sword World”).
Combat and Magic had sold well enough to merit a follow-up, and its creators had ideas to bring it forward with new booklets. What happened to it was much more banal: the owners of the publisher, SPORTORG Ltd., had just disappeared with the money and let the company go bankrupt. It was not an uncommon way to make easy money those days – most of these cases would never be solved by a sluggish unprepared court system. It was an ominous sign of things yet to come – and as we will see from later parts of this series, far from the last case where legal issues would intrude upon the hobby.
“And now, stranger, the time of farewells has come. I have told you everything I know about the world of fantasy. I bid you farewell, for I am called by faraway lands, furious battles, and by glory… perhaps we will meet again somewhere. Only the gods know. Good luck!--Vorg, the Wolf”
What price glory?
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

1d10 Random Swords of The Ancient & Violent Ones For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 05/27/2018 - 17:01
Ahimelech Giving the Sword of Goliath to David By Aert de Gelder  (1645–1727) The fire-eyed maid of smoky warAll hot and bleeding will we offer them. William Shakespeare,Henry IV, Part I (c. 1597) Act IV, scene 1, line 114.Swords have a power & legacy beyond the violence that they are often employed. They are a part of the souls of their owners. The blood & violence that coats them Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cosmic Knight [FASERIP]

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 05/27/2018 - 14:00
art by Dean KotzCOSMIC KNIGHT

F                 RM   (30)
A                 RM  (30)
S                 RM  (30)
E                 IN   (40)
R                 EX (20)
I                  RM   (30)
P                 IN (40) 
Health: 130
Karma: 90

Real Name: Raymond "Ray" Logan
Occupation: Former astronaut, aerospace executive
Identity: Secret
Legal Status: Citizen of the U.S. with no criminal record
Place of Birth: Riverside, Iowa
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: None
Base of Operations: Costa del Mar, California
Group Affiliation: Knights of the Cosmos; Super-Sentinels

Body Armor. Provides him with Incredible protection against all physical, radiation, and heat- and cold-attacks. He can survive indefinitely in the vacuum of space.
Enhanced Senses. He can detect radiation from all across the electromagnetic spectrum, including heat and radio. He can detect life signs, including specific individual with Incredible ability. he is able to see in normal darkness without penalty. He has Excellent sense of taste and smell.
Flight. Unearthly speed in the vacuum of space and Monstrous speeds in an atmosphere. he is able to create spacewarps allowing shortcuts for travel over interstellar distances.
Regeneration. His armor has a self-repair capability that provided him with Good Regeneration.
Universal Translator. Can translate any language it heard for at least 6 consecutive turns with Monstrous ability. Once it had learned that language, it could store the information in his memory banks, allowing him to speak and understand it at will.
Force Blast. Monstrous intensity
Force Field. Monstrous rank energy sheath, 1 area.
Energy Solidification. Monstrous ability to create and shape solidified energy. Power stunts include:

  • Containers of Monstrous material strength
  • Carrying Monstrous Loads
  • Acting as a limb of Monstrous Strength

Phasing. Excellent rank.

History: Ray Logan was an astronaut whose experiment spacecraft malfunction on re-entry. Burning alive, Logan was transported from the doomed vehicle at the moment just before death by the Cosmic Archons. Even their great powers could not restore his ravaged body, but they were able to transmit his consciousness into a robotic form. The Archons had selected Logan to be one of their intergalactic group of fighters for justice, the Cosmic Knights.

Logan returned to earth with the ability to transform his Cosmic Knight form into something more close resembling his former biologic body, but he is keenly aware of his loss of humanity even as he works to protect earth from menaces from here and from the universe beyond.

Amazon Mutual: Day-Glo Ideas from the Typewriter Era

Roles & Rules - Sun, 05/27/2018 - 12:08
Digital cameras can't really handle Day-Glo. I tried.
The year: 1982.
The text: electric typewriter and Letraset titles.
The cover: fluorescent orange.
The art: strictly amateur.

"Amazon Mutual Wants You!" Volume One, from Dragon Tree Press, is the most interesting and creative of my three old-school pickups (previously, previously).

 High concepts.

The concept driving this anthology is very 1982. It's that era in which the first flush of playing D&D straight had faded out, and the kind of self-aware narratives seen in Dave Trampier's "Wormy" comic were taking hold. So, the party are meta-adventurers, having been hired by a guild (the titular Amazon Mutual) to carry out the corpse retrieval clause on other adventurers' insurance policies. The four adventures are four such missions, each with a different author and a markedly different style.

Some of the guild rules are typical AD&D fun-crusher magical fiats. Retrieval teams are geased ("absolutely no save!") not to steal the victims' possessions. Body bags of holding eliminate the problem of lugging corpses back. There are half a dozen better ways to approach the first problem, ways that open the slim possibility of hoodwinking the guild -- Amazon keeps a list of possessions and recovery teams are held liable for missing stuff; an annoying familiar chaperones the rescue effort; and so on. The body bags solve a problem that's nonexistent if the party eliminates all opposition before retrieving the corpses, and kill an element of challenge that should hang over the adventure if they don't.

The book's approach to what we would now call challenge ratings, though, is one of the dead-end gems of the Typewriter Era, up there with the Midkemia attack matrix.
  • First off, each adventure has a manifest of all the experience points available in the form of monsters. (It would be most helpful if treasure was listed, too, though, but the need for a GM to manage advancement rate is one of the most underrated things in level-based gaming.)
  • This manifest also includes suggested experience awards for outwitting monsters, dealing with traps, and finding clues and other plot goals. Given the slow advancement pace of by-the-book AD&D this is absolutely key.
  • There's also a section where it's explicitly recognized that the character power level appropriate for each adventure depends on what approach the players and DM take. So, one adventure is suitable for level 7-9 if the DM plays it as a standard fighting room-crawl, 14-18 (!) if the DM treats it as an organized fortress where all the denizens can be warned in a short time, or much lower levels if the players choose to take on the adventure with sneaking, diplomacy, or infiltration.
Temple of the Four Gods. The first adventure takes you to retrieve four adventurer bodies from a temple with a prosaic layout, short on monsters and long on tricks and traps. There are a few clues explaining how the temple went over from the four gods to the service of Loki, but overall this is a funhouse mini-dungeon with a few random gleams of dark humor.  Two corpses can be had almost immediately without any fight, one comes after a four-goblin battle, and it's only the last body that forces the players past a meaningful number of tricks and traps. Would run: 3/10.

Stronghold of the Mer-Witch. An underwater cave mission to retrieve two adventurers. One is dead and can be found almost immediately after a nasty fight with a gigantic eel. The other is alive but a captive of the mer-witch deeper in, who commands a small army of mer-orcs and (not very tough) sea trolls, and can throw three death spells a day among other powers. A coral golem and an interestingly furnished underwater torture chamber liven up the otherwise unremarkable, "storehouse, barracks, kitchen" design. Would run: 6/10.

Mission to Danger. The gonzo spirit of early-days roleplaying lives here. The person to be rescued, captive but not yet dead, is a "Hobbit Fighter-Techno" with a pistol, a switchblade, and a deadman switch, for he has mined the dark elves' dungeon fortress to blow sky-high! The DM is asked to play out the ticking clock in four hours of real time. Some nice situations can happen: meeting an illusionist cat who might help with infiltration, a possible fight between an enemy red dragon and a captured rainbow dragon, finding out the hobbit is an ornery and contrary ally, and a treasure hoard that turns into a river of molten gold if the explosives blow. Would run: 8/10.

Grimethorp's Manor. This adventure plays around with the Amazon Mutual premise. The party has to retrieve a peacefully deceased retired adventurer from his mansion, following the letter of his policy, but his ghost doesn't want his body moved. It's a clever concept but the execution is lacking. Until the party finds the body, they will be walking through the mansion rooms with nothing interesting to do. When they try to take the body out, the ghost starts interfering, casting nuisance spells and animating the house's furnishings to attack, just to frighten and annoy but not cause harm. That's also not going to work. You frighten D&D players by taking huge chunks of hit points, and making them roll save-or-die, not by having a rug say "boooo".  Would not run as is, and the adventure needs a lot of editing to work; I'd start by having bandit squatters and other random ruin pests in the mansion to give the adventure a real first act, make the ghost's attacks really dangerous, and on top of that have the rest of the bandits coming home from a raid just as the party is making to leave.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Hargravian Commentary - Happy International Dave Hargrave Day!

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 05/27/2018 - 06:30
So its international Dave Hargrave appreciation day which has very different connotations for me as both a dungeon master & as the son of a Vietnam veteran. Arduin is of course the sometimes controversial cross genre fantasy world of Bloody, Bloody, Arduin. Bloody, Bloody, Arduin hit me square in the face at about seven years old & was long before Palladium's  Rifts that I discovered that Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Updated & Expanded Ecology Of Dave Hargrave's Star Spider For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 05/26/2018 - 18:18
The following notes & expansions are on the extra dimensional & Outer Darkness menace known as the Star Spider. The auditorium filled with spectators & senators from across Pan American Empire,Marcus Orearlus  of extraterrestrial studies department  of the college Alchemists and Elementalists looked the crowd over & waited till they were seated. "Welcome friends,senators,  alumni, & Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Gauntlet of Spiragos

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 05/26/2018 - 11:07

By Matt Franklin & Richard Thomas
Onyx Path Publishing
Level 1

For centuries, titans bestrode the world, colossal heads and shoulders lost in the clouds, carelessly smashing and crushing all beneath. When the youngest of them had enough and declared war on their ancient parents, even the land itself suffered. These scars of the Divine War, which ended less than 200 years ago, have still not healed. One such scar is the Chasm of Flies, a rent in the earth created when the titan Spiragos the Ambusher was smote down by one of the young gods, Vangal the Ravager. Now, the Chasm is inhabited by spider-eye goblins and their spider allies, but it is also thought to be the resting place of powerful artifacts from that elder age.

This thing is a fucking mess.

This 45 page adventure is extremely linear, and, in the modern way, has so much text that it is impossible to follow and/or pick out the parts of the text that you need to run it. It’s got a good mythology behind it, and the dungeon setting is nice, but none of that justifies the excess for the actual content.

Forty five pages? Well, The actual “dungeon” doesn’t start until page twenty five, and the appendices with new monsters start at page thirty five, so you get a ten page dungeon. That contains maybe … eight encounters? Asides, advice, history, backstory, repetition … and it all works with a kind free-flow description style that bucks the room/key format … making the entire thing nigh incomprehensible.

The gimmick here is that, of the three magic items you are looking for, you are actually adventuring inside one of them. A titan’s hand, inside his gauntlet, is embedded in the earth and that’s the pit/chasm you descend down into. Nice setting, with metal cave walls, old bone columns, etc. It’s nice, as is the titan war backstory/setting.

But fuck me man. There’s A LOT of read aloud. And it’s all in a small italic font, making it a pain to read. The goal is to help the DM not make their eyes worse. If I have to hold it up to my nose, instead of laying it flat on the table, it wasn’t a good design decision.

The linearity is stupid. “Here are three optical encounters the party can have on the way to the pit.” They are all just combats, nothing more. And there’s a fourth provided, a kind of hit & run necromancer to dog the parties tails. Again, all optional. The actual dungeon is just more of the same. On the way down encounter this, then this, then this. And it’s all fucking combat. You might as well be playing Descent.

The worst part is the free form layout. It’s linear, but without an encounter/key format. It’s all “ then this and then this” and mixes advice, history and backstory in to the text. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to figure out which area is being described, transitions, etc. It’s one of the most stream of conscious styles I’ve ever seen.

I loathe modern design. “At your discretion this body may have any treasure you wish to give the party.” Well no fucking shit sherlock. How about you add some value and put something on that body? This whole “optical combat” and “freeform treasure” design style is loathsome. Provide some fucking value for christs sake.

This extends to the adventure format proper. There are no real maps and the adventure essentially relies on skill checks. Want to find a trapdoor down to the next level? Make a skill check to find one on your current level. Just roll the fucking dice and master the combat rules; that’s all there is to this adventure.

It does have a decent synopsys, which I wish more adventure had, and the new magic items are decent, leaning toward the low-powered artifact end of the scale. They don’t quite feel wonderous, but they are a cut above the normal slop and include notes on how to destroy them. That lends an air of mystery to them, which is what magic items SHOULD have.

This is free at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. They don’t really reveal what the adventure proper is like. At best you have to discern that it takes six pages to get to the hooks. That’s not good.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Opening The Gates Of Muspelheim With G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King The Third Part Of A Pulp Adventure Campaign Cycle

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 05/26/2018 - 02:26
"Giants have been raiding the lands of men in large bands, with giants of different sorts in these marauding groups. Death and destruction have been laid heavily upon every place these monsters have visited. A party of the bravest and most powerful adventurers has been assembled and given the charge to punish the miscreant giants."Once again this isn't the first time that I've talked Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Choose your own sci-fi stock art.

Bat in the Attic - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 19:18
I like supporting other OSR projects. The more people we have doing this stuff successfully helps to keep this a thriving hobby with enthusiastic gamers. As many if you with my works know, I am partial to black and white line art and James Shield excels at drawing in that style. I was very pleased with what I got from his last kickstarter and now he has new one, Do It Yourself Science Fiction Stock Art.

This time the focus is on science fiction but what especially neat is that it is also a tool kit for making your own. You can see a preview of it in the image below and he explains it on his kickstarter page.

While the focus of the OSR has been traditionally on fantasy, but there is now a wealth of science fiction material built on the ideas behind classic DnD (White Star, Stars without Number, etc). Having resources like James' DiY Stock Art will make it take much easier for projects to get done and in our hands.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 1 - Sketch Card Previews, Part 13

Cryptozoic - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 18:30

Please enjoy the thirteenth installment of our Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 1 Sketch Card previews, hand-drawn by our talented artists. Set coming soon!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the week of May 25th in the Old School Renaissance.

Hack & Slash - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 12:00
Holy crap! We've had a crazy week, let's get right into you beautiful people!

Big News
Warhammer 40,000 is the origin of grimdark! ("In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war") Home of the immortal rotting carcass of the golden emperor who sends his brave genetically modified and tortured half-human marines to purge and burn corruption and heresy, now have adventures for kids of all ages!
"Catholic Space Nazis sound like awesome villains, how can they be the heroes?"
"By comparison."
You heard it folks, Warhammer 40k Children's books.

Warhammer Adventures

The 41st Millennium and the Mortal Realms are fantastical places, ripe for adventure.

Like you, we love these worlds, and we’re always looking for new ways to share them with all kinds of fans. Today, we’re delighted to announce a new type of Warhammer fiction and 2 new series that are sure to excite young readers and parents* eager to introduce the next generation to the joy of Warhammer.
Warhammer Adventures is an exciting new range of books coming next year for boys and girls aged 8-12 years old featuring younger protagonists having thrilling adventures and facing off against dangerous enemies.
They are gonna sell like hotcakes.
 Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes is on the horizon, coming on the 29th. If you're curious what's inside, check out Kiel Chenier's take on it in his tumbler post: Is Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes worth your money?

We are all Grognards here, even you youngin's. So we like our Dr. Who Classic. Fortunately is going to have a 7 day marathon of classic Dr. Who. So grab your Scarf and Jelly Bellies and take a look at adventure ideas and hokey terrifying to children effects. Should be a good time. Over 500 classic episodes from the 26 seasons of classic Doctor Who will air worldwide on the live streaming video platform Twitch from May 29th. Fans will be able to watch adventures from the first seven Doctors – from 1963’s An Unearthly Child to 1989’s Survival – while chatting live to thousands of other viewers around the world. This epic screening of classic Doctor Who from May 29th until July 23rd follows Twitch’s successful marathons of Power Rangers, Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
 YoutubeQuesting beast covers the brilliant Chthonic Codex. In addition he has a discussion with Scrap Princess on how to improve spells in Dungeons and Dragons.

Mr. Welch talks about the King's Festival on Mystara. (I love this guy!!)

Speaking of Mystara, here's an interview with the Japanese developer on what material they were forced to cut from the action-beat-em-up Chronicles of Mystara.

Greg Tito acts like a madman, coming on stream with "Job Titlte here/Twitter here" as his contact. They got it fixed about 5 minutes in. He talks about the Stream of Many Eyes livestream and other streaming casting decisions and covering other news on 5/22/18.

Mike Mearls isn't sick any more and he's working on the Soul Knife Monk subclass on the Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour 5/22/18.

Here's a link to this week's Heroes of Jordoba, Uncle Matt's Live D&D game.

Faerun History posted Tales from the Tavern -Hulburg- Forgotten Realms Lore and History
KickstarterSo here's the thing. This whooole industry is a shitshow. I'm not supporting or recommending any of these kickstarters. Caveat Emptor

The Dice Dungeon: It's a cool dice game, where you build a dungeon inside. . . a cardboard dungeon waffle. How long do we think that cardboard waffle is gonna last? They get props for the commitment to the dragon mask in the video.

Arcane Scrollworks 2: Second Level Spells You can get pieces of paper with scroll art on them. I guess this is a prop or something you frame?

There's this unfinished super generic dungeon crawler that hasn't funded yet. Comments by backers are generally negative, talking about the poor art quality, and the lack of . . . anything . . . interesting. You could take a look at Dungeons Runners! On second thought, Camelot is a silly place.

Deluxe Metal Meeples are high quality meeples by Campaign Coins who's had 4 successful campaigns.

Welcome to Yarnia! It's a knitting pattern! It's an RPG! The video is filmed in a room filled with boxes and a fish tank. It's nearing 30,000$! It's got almost a week left. There's mugs and . . . yarn patterns, and how the hell do you get 30,000$ for that? There's a book! There are these knitted cat
Welcome to Yarnia!things! I guess you knit a companion animal for your character? I don't understand anything about this Kickstarter! Brilliant!

Yarnia is the best damn thing I've ever seen. I mean, in all seriousness, treating a knitted 'choose your own adventure based on your stats' as a record of your adventure hits all the shamanistic notes for me. It's a record of your adventure in the artistic flow. Also, Yarnia. Cause you knit with yarn.

Maybe some of  you don't knit, or cross-stitch, or crochet. I have and this is crazy appealing. The woman looks super trustworthy. She seems to have one failed and two successful kickstarters that appear to have satisfied backers. Maybe it's worth a trip to Yarnia?

Dark Fable Miniatures has a pretty attractive line of Orc Miniatures, of the humanoid face variety. If you're looking to expand an orc force, they aren't bad.

I don't know what this is, or if it's any good, but this Map Maker is hitting some of the right buttons with it's folder and pouch setup.

Games worth checking out!Bryce Lynch certainly has a lot of nice things to say about this adventure, and it's free! Check out Mines, Claws, & Princesses.

"The groom is dead, the bride Sunnhild taken. Men rave in pain whilst their women wail in sorrow. Blood mixed with tears, the chieftain Erfried cries out “Only you are left who can hold a sword. Go now. The orcs ride to Sanjikar and you must follow.”"
And then there's the Esoteric by Emmy Allen:
Picture the adventuring party of most old-school games. A band of thugs, occultists, criminals, weirdos and outcasts who, rather than settle into normal society, risk everything exploring the dark, dangerous places of the world. Perhaps they will become rich and powerful, perhaps they die unceremoniously.
Keep this same adventuring party, and picture their equivallent in the modern day. A world with police, the internet, chain stores... The same band of thugs, occultists, criminals, weirdos and outcasts drift into the underworlds of organised crime and the esoteric.
This, then, is the premise of Esoteric Enterprises: the occult exists in a dangerous black market, where organised criminals traffic in magical grimoires and relics alongside narcotics and weapons. Hidden from the public eye, various gangs, cults and covens struggle for influence and resources in the dark tunnels beneath every city. And beneath that, stranger things lurk; inhuman creatures turn their cold gaze on the mortals who intrude on their subterranean realm.
New on RPG now!There are over 200 products released in the last 7 days. Here is a selection of some of the most interesting.

Embers of the Forgotten Kingdom by Metal Weave Games. There's no stats in this book. You know that campaign where you're just like "If you want to write a book, you should just write a book?" Well that's what this pastiche of the Dark Souls setting is. It's a kickstarter success, which paid for the art, and only has a .pdf option on It's a region you can add to a campaign.

The Storyteller's ArcanaThe Storyteller's Arcana seems to be a dual-statted (1e/5e) set of tools for for Dungeon Masters to use in their games.

The Greydeep Marches is a fantasy setting that is dealing with dark powers from an ancient empire and a threat in the mountains to the east. It doesn't show much in the preview. It's 34 pages for 7$

PC15- The OSR Chymist, this is a back-porting of the Pathfinder alchemist class to old school rules.

This weird product. I mean, this must be the future. You can buy this in pdf or softcover in all different weights of paper. It's called "Non-human Player Codex for Early Era Fantasy Gaming" and it's the rules for dwarves, elves, etc, for three rulesets, Original Edition Characters, Labyrinth Lord and Advanced Edition Companion. Why do you need just the non-human races? Who is this book for?

There's a DCC release from Studio 9 Games (C. Aaron Kreader) called Greenwood of the Fey Sovereign. It's a low level adventure, with a wild elf class. I can't get a look at the adventure proper but the art looks interesting.

Raging Swan had a few releases this week, Languard Locations: Low CityMonstrous Lair #8: Ghoul Nest,

Wizards Releases:
Boot Hill Wild West (3rd Edition)
Amazing Engine: Bug Hunters

Steve Jackson Games Releases:
GURPS Classic: Ultra-Tech
Autoduel Quarterly #8/3
Car Wars Midville
GURPS Classic: Autoduel
The AADA Vehicle Guide

Just a note that I also check the new releases on the DM's Guild, but it's like swimming through a sewer.

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Underground Comics is Here!

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 11:00
The wait is over! You can now purchase Underground Comics #1 at IndyPlanet in print and digital. Comixology digital is on the way if you prefer that format. (If you missed my previous talk about UC, check out this post.)

It's 36 pages by some great DIY rpg illustrators. Here are the preview pages that will (eventually) be on the IndyPlanet page:

On Gygax Design II

Hack & Slash - Thu, 05/24/2018 - 12:00
Let's look at the background section of the adventures B2: Keep on the Borderlands, and Return to the Keep on the Borderlands. Part I of this article is here.

Keep on the Borderlands has a four paragraph background, and a two paragraph starting encounter. The expectation is that the background is read aloud. 

The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounds them. Yet, there are always certain exceptional and brave members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies - dwarves, elves, and halflings - who rise above the common level and join battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land. 
I mean, he wrote it as if it pulsed fire in his heart.

The starting scene is particularly appropriate because it instructs the players to introduce themselves to the gatekeeper, and thus the other players.

What follows is six pages detailing the keep itself. We're going to talk about this in a minute.

The Return to the Keep on the Borderlands has a five paragraph introduction, and a two paragraph starting encounter.

But wait? What chicanery is this?!

The introduction is not to be read to the players and contains ancient history. What's more it's dull. No, really. I'll—just look:

Such, at any rate, was his plan. In the event, Macsen found that retirement agreed with him. He devoted all his time to managing the affairs of the garrison and the Keep, . . . Fortunately Macsen had chosen his castellan well. Devereau was a faithful henchmen, an archer who only remained behind because of a crippling wound received in an early adventure. . . Today it is a small but thriving community once more, less populous than of old but warded by people who have invested years of hard work making this into their home and been willing to defend it to the bitter end. That's how it ends. That's the call to adventure. Let me sum up.

Once a dude got a keep, and it was too much effort to dick around with assholes in the woods. And so other people did it, and then all the monsters were dead. Then he went off and died in war, and the rest of the people stayed and now they are strong and happy.

Two paragraphs on a dude that's dead. Story that's both boring and not accessible to players of the game, and the call to adventure is "It's a safe, nice place."

The starter encounter has a paragraph of read aloud text as you approach the keep, and you are hailed by a guard. The boxed text makes no horrible affronts, only slightly telling the players what they feel or do. Then there are eleven pages detailing the keep.

So Much of the KeepWhy do we care about the keep? What can we learn about the way it's presented in the module? What's in those six pages?

Amazingly, it's very gamified. Each section of the keep is a tool to drive the adventure. Gygax meticulously details the arms, armaments, and tactics of people in the keep in addition to documenting the location of every loose copper piece.

What's noticeable is the expectation that the interior of the keep will be explored as a dungeon environment. The players walk in, and then walk around to all the different places. Let's look at some of the gamification of the environment:

1. Main Gate: "Two men-at-arms. . . require that persons entering the keep put their weapons away and then escort them to area 3."
3. Entry Yard: "All entrants, save those of the garrison will be required to dismount and stable their animals (area 4). The Corporal of the Watch is here [and] is rather grouchy, with a low charisma, but he admires outspoken brave fighters and is easily taken in by a pretty girl."He doesn't have a name, but he gets a personality. Further:
Map by Dyson Logos3. Entry Yard: Cont. "A scribe. . . records the name of each person who enters or leaves. . . Lackeys will come to take mounts or mules. Any goods not carried will be stored in the warehouse. Another lacky will then show travelers to the Traveler's Inn."
This connects directly to the entrance scene, informs characters of the stables, that there's goods in the warehouse, and then walks them over to the inn. Which is at area 15. If you're using the map, this walks the characters directly past every other interesting player facing building on the map. To wit:

They walk south past the stables and warehouse, directly towards the bailiff tower (at 6), then west directly past the smithy/armory (at 8) and the provisioner and trader (at 9-10) and the fortified loan office on the south wall (at 11).

By the time they've reached the tavern, they've been exposed to everything there is interesting to do in town for a new adventure, but it doesn't stop there.

Areas marked 7 on the map are private apartments, and Gygax provides two. A jeweler who will exchange gems and money for the characters, and a priest who is willing to assist the party in the caves (but spoilers secretly is chaotic and will attack the party—I've killed more than one player who came to the priest for aid and got a cause wounds for their trouble.)

The apartments (and their many empty partners) are set up for the Dungeon Master to introduce characters of their own. Though this is not explicit, the introduction does say "Special quarters are available for well-to-do families, rich merchants, guild masters, and the like."

How do we know that the information that's listed here is deliberate and not just something compulsive Gygax did because he was an insurance actuary? Because of what he leaves out. He does not detail the normal family members of the personages of the keep.
"The five small apartments along the south wall are occupied by families of persons dwelling within the Outer Bailey of the KEEP."This is the only sentence addressing what Gygax felt were non-game entities. They aren't described, given treasure, etc. because they aren't likely to be involved in gameplay. The smithy's grandmama isn't going to need combat stats, and the players aren't likely to interact with a house full of women and children, so those "apartments . . . are occupied" is all the text that is given.

This deliberate presentation of some things and not others is designed for what the Dungeon Master needs in play. What if the keep is attacked? What if the players attack the keep or try to steal things? Well, that information is there for those Dungeon Masters. The contents of the bank and warehouse are documented. 

Can you figure out why? I can. Because I've played Dungeons and Dragons before.

Where is there to go in this keep? What can the players do? Those questions are also answered in the text, in a very sort of computer game, pick the smithy menu, here's some information about that encounter.

What's in the northern half of the outer bailey—you know, the part the characters don't walk past on the way to the tavern—is unsurprisingly the things the characters will need after their first foray out into the wilds. 16 is the guild house for travellers, 17 the chapel for priests and healing, and most importantly, the gate to the inner keep, which you can only gain access to after you have accomplished deeds in the caves.

You can't go home againIn Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, the map remains very similar (with one or two new tricks). The guard challenge is repeated and they are met at the gate by a named non-player character, Sabine the Gatekeeper who directs them  to the stable, warehouse, marketplace, and inn/tavern. Everyone in the sequel is given names ("The second floor houses. . . Laurl, Charl, Wort, and Joop.")

Each home in the sequel has details of their occupants, no statistics, just a story about what type of person they are.
"A quiet man who keeps mostly to himself, Reece. . . has since married a local woman (Asgrim, a young widow whose first husband marched off to the battlefield while they were still newlyweds, never to return). They have a three year old son, Decius, and a year-old daughter, Nadya."I don't see how the above is accessible or useful to play. He's a cobbler. When will the players intersect with this information? Why is it detailed? 7f details three sisters who are milkmaids and their schedules throughout the day, but should I references 7f which I'm deciding who's in an area?

Each paragraph is giving me a little character story or vignette. . . and no tools to integrate it with what's actually going to be happening at the table. The presentation is convoluted bullshit with zero effort given into what I'm supposed to do with that information.

It gets worse. The players can't buy anything at the smithy "Rafe can make horseshoes, nails, and bits with ease, but weaponsmithing and armor-forging are beyond him." followed by this useful gem that can in no way impact our game, "The keep once had a resident weaponsmith in Mascens day who kept the garrison supplied."


Let's play a game. In what world where you have sat down with your friends to play Dungeons & Dragons is the following information useful?

"Beasley's daughter, Calista, divides chores and responsibilities with her husband."

"Most folks only stay here for a few days, but some stay for extended periods."

There's literally thousands of words detailing small family relationships, who's married to who, local town politics, organized only by building title:"Guild House" under which you find, Greeves and Peta who are the grandparents of Jess who is in the one-eyed cat.

Is the adventure about small town drama? If it is, why is it so poorly organized? How would I keep this web of stories and relationships straight without re-writing everything?

Every entry in the original adventure contained information that I might need. And it did so in the correct place. Anything else, it left me to create and keep track of (such as the large number of un-named guards and people)

There are some bright spots. Even though entirely too many words are used, there are an entertaining collection of colorful characters that the players can collect as henchmen. There's no indication of where they are located in the keep next to their stats, but: Third, a warrior who wears a bronze mask all the time, Brother Martin, a fair cleric who makes sure that everyone provides input (even shy people), Opal, a neutral moon cleric who's Lawful-Chaotic alignment axis changes with the moon. A clever but loony mage, a manipulative necromancer who just wants to find a way to worship at the hidden temple, and a cowardly thief.

Then there are three keep encounters, one keyed to happen after the first three times the characters return to the keep.

If the intent was to detail family relationships, following the form of Gygax is the worst way to organize it. Even though the original module has six pages devoted to the keep, it just feels like six pages of tools for the Dungeon Master to respond to players ideas and successes. Whereas the house descriptions in the sequel are devoid of any mechanical information.

I can see how you could interject some of this drama into the lives of the player characters, but I want to be clear. The text provides no tools to assist with using this information in play, besides creating the unexciting situations: A ward falls in love with her step-father, or how the twenty some-odd members of the Lum clan make up most of the militia. etc. What's more is that the format actively works against this.

I can run the keep with a single pass over Gygax's text. I couldn't even understand the second adventure unless I spend the time to reorganize all the information it gives me.

Next time, we'll look at the wilderness and cave encounters proper.

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