Tabletop Gaming Feeds

FSG Kicking up 5E

Fail Squad Games - Mon, 11/19/2018 - 03:23

A few weeks ago Raven and I decided we wanted and needed to learn 5E better so that we could better understand the newest edition of the game for better or worse. We both love and play the 0E through 2E versions and enjoy them. It was just time to set things aside and dig in to try 5e in earnest without insisting it be an older edition. Here’s my take on how things are going…

The Journey

Up to now I’ve written and played modules in older editions and paid for help in the 5e conversions. No more. We found a local friend (Herman) and we talked about how to proceed. We would take it slow; stop, complain, look things up, and make a real effort to understand this edition. It turns out there was less complaining in play than anticipated but we do still need to look various things up. This slows play a bit, but we are progressing through the game better than expected.

Previously I had read the books and tried it a few times but always with a bit of expectation that the game was still what it once was. Of course, this is a foolish approach because those editions have already been printed. WOTC wouldn’t reprint the same game twice.

My Personal Issues in 5e

I have discovered by playing 5E weekly, rotating playing and GMing, that my issues were less with the game than with the way the information is presented in the books. The game plays differently than it reads when the dice start rolling. Running also seems to have smoothed out a bit with the progression of time as we become more familiar with the rules.

The Latest Adventures

Tonight players finished The Witch’s Trial in the Lands of Lunacy. During my time behind the character sheet, Herman is running us through the Phandelver adventure. The more hours we all spend on both sides of the screen, the more we are learning to like 5E. The power ratchet is real, however, doing 2 HP of damage to a monster with 6 HP is the same as doing 20 HP of damage to one with 60. We are also learning to better write to this edition from the ground up.

The Fun Side

As players, we are discarding the idea and verbiage of “Character Builds”. The Squad didn’t want to try to find the most powerful character stack. We are purposefully choosing the race class combinations we want to play and fitting the numbers and choices into that story. We had fears of overly complex play and abilities, overpowered classes (which is still on the horizon as we rise through levels), and spending hours looking up various abilities and skills.

I feel that we are all pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the game plays once the dice roll and the books are closed. Yes, we still need to look things up, but no more than we did in the 1E and 2E versions. The various character abilities are laid on slowly in lairs so GMs and player grow accustom to the options and abilities. It still feels like a night of D&D at the end of the evening and nothing more complicated than the “Complete Book of” era we went through.

The more we game, the more we all look forward to gaming again. The more we put the rules to practical application, the more we seem to accept the changes. It has taken us some time to adapt to 5E from our 0E to 2E roots, but we are indeed adapting.

We tested a live stream tonight and have discussed plans for future, better, and upgraded stream arrangements for FSG games to come online. Follow us on Facebook to keep up to date with our adventure into 5E and our games.

This acceptance of 5E came just as we were considering dropping production to the system and focusing on BECMI / LL. I’m glad we gave it one more try.

The post FSG Kicking up 5E appeared first on Fail Squad Games.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Review & Commentary On Jarkoon - Adventures on Planet X! By Simon Washbourne From Beyond Belief Games

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 11/19/2018 - 02:48
"Astounding! Amazing! Incredible! Non-stop action using familiar rules! Who wants to read through reams of text just to get to the action? No-one right? These rules assume you know how to role play. They assume you know about “Golden Age” comic book space fantasy adventures. (Sword & Planet rules through a retro lens). They assume you know how OSR products work. There, it’s done. You Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

SJWs, Alt-Right, and Fascists, Oh My! Real World Horrors in RPGs

19th Level - Mon, 11/19/2018 - 00:43

There's a lot of controversy going on with the latest incarnation of Vampire: The Masquerade. Apparently, in the new Camarilla book Vampires are posited as being behind the Chehen anti-gay purges - somehow related to hiding the true threat of Sharia law or something. To be honest, I found the editing of the text a little hard to follow.

White Wolf's owners, Paradox Interactive, has announced they are recalling a pair of books with such offending text as well as exercising greater control over White Wolf and no longer developing products in-house.

The backlash has ranged from "about time" to "they're not really taking responsibility" to "they are caving into social justice warriors".

I'm thinking a bit about what I would consider to be, at best, a horribly clumsy attempt at including real-world horrors into an RPG. At worst, it was an act of ill intent, trivializing the real suffering of LGBT people to push an agenda I find abhorrent. Truthfully, I'm not familiar enough with the particulars to judge. It's something I've really only seen at the periphery. I do know that I'm not fond of a number of people involved in the 5th edition - but I'm not certain as to their current status.

I also know that when I was most familiar with Vampire:the Masquerade, in the early to mid-1990s, the audience was a very diverse group. I knew a number of women who were fans of the game. Ditto many people of LGBT identity. Lots of goths. When I attended a Nine Inch Nails and David Bowie concert in 1995 there were a lot of Vampire: the Masquerade t-shirts in the audience.

I'm a proud "social justice warrior". I've protested Trump's anti-immigration and refugee policies at Copley Square. I've attended Pride parades in Boston. I fall pretty much on the side of "WTF were they thinking?" I've friends of a variety of politics. I freely acknowledge that it is possible for people of good conscience to disagree with each other. I was once a Libertarian-leaning Republican who is now a liberal Democrat. But I draw the line at people who embrace hatred and cruelty. Much to my shock and horror, I've encountered a few actual, "Hitler was right" fascists. And there I don't have tolerance.

There's a lot real-life horrible stuff happening in Chechnya, particularly to people of LGBT identity. A horror game will likely find itself face to face with real-world horrors. But what does one do about it? I get the argument that a game - or fiction - is not obligated to ignore such horrors. And I'd understand people not wanting to read or watch them. But if such horrors are included, I believe they need to be done with care and sensitivity that was clearly not shown here. Again, assuming no ill intent.

Where I think White Wolf went wrong is turning acts of real-world horror into "a vampire did it". When I play historical games I avoid making supernatural beings the causes for real-world horrors. In my opinion, it cheapens them. It takes away from the fact that real people chose to perpetrate horrors such as the Killing Fields, the Holocaust, American slavery, Native American genocide, Armenian genocide, trench warfare, etc.

I find fiction works better when they keep that maxim in mind. For example, the recent Wonder Woman film rejected the notion that Ares, god of war, was behind World War I. He took advantage of the war, but humanity caused the war without any divine help. In Atomic Robo, Baron Heinrich von Helsingard allied himself with the Nazis to be able to use their resources, but he was not behind their atrocities. He was a monster of a human being who had no problem dealing out death and destruction. But he was not some man behind the shadows causing the Third Reich so as to have a smoke screen for his work.

I want to touch on the "snowflake" pejorative. Not wanting one's entertainment to be filled with real-world horrors does not make one a snowflake. You're not weak if you are triggered by something horrible. I've family who deal with PTSD - they're not weak for avoiding things that trigger them. It's reasonable for a parent of young children to not want to play a game that features the death/kidnapping of children. With an LGBT player in my group, I don't believe I'd use an adventure that involved the killings of such people. I'd exercise an abundance of caution about introducing things that might trigger friends and family. And if as GM you shove such things down your players throats, knowing such sensitivities, that makes you an asshole.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Blackmarsh Updated

Bat in the Attic - Sun, 11/18/2018 - 23:24
Several years ago, I added the option of using the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license to Blackmarsh to make it easier for people to use it for RPGs that don't have open content. This was done with version 3.0. Since then Creative Commons updated to version 4.0. One of the major difference is an explicit waiver of moral rights.

In copyright over the past couple of decades there is the idea that in addition to rights to profit and control how the work is copied that there is a set of moral rights that protects the following.

1) the right of credit or association
2) the right of integrity
3) the right of anonymity or context

The grant or transfer of economic rights (i.e. the right to copy and use) is separate than a waiver of moral rights. To make it clear that my intent is for anybody to be able to use Blackmarsh for whatever purpose they see fit I updated the Creative Common license to version 4.0 which waives my moral rights in the text and maps for Blackmarsh.

In addition several publishers have introduced third party publishing programs that don't use open content licenses. Since my intent to share Blackmarsh as widely as possible and to make it easy to use for one's own work. I removed the Non-Commercial and Share-alike requirements. Now only attribution is required.

To be clear dual license means you can choose to use either license. Either as open content under the Open Game License or the Creative Commons BY Version 4.0. Use whatever one works best for your project.

You can download version 11 either from my website. Or from RPGNow if you obtained Blackmarsh there. If you bought a print copy there is no need to get a new one as the text remains the same.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wings Between Worlds

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 11/18/2018 - 15:00

Because space-faring sailing ships are so 80s, let's have genuine aircraft flying between worlds, perhaps open cockpit, certainly of the bat-winged, Frazetta variety. Space will have to have air, of course. Let's say the system is enclosed in a big Dyson Sphere--a crystal sphere, if you like. With a sphere full of air, the temperature of the worlds at the various orbits will be of less concern, though where the warmth and the light comes from will have to wait.

The technology of the primary society might be what we would call Dieselpunk, except it isn't particularly punk or Diesel, but it's that between the Wars era sort of art deco stuff filtered through science fiction. Automobiles out of Flash Gordon and that sort of thing. And, of course magic.

Might as well port in a little bit of Planescape and have the worlds be more a more pulp planet version of the Gygaxian planes. The full compliment of D&D races would be necessary for a Star Wars Cantina vibe. Flash Gordon will help there, too.  The worlds might move in very eccentric orbits. Travel between them might mostly be by sight rather than map.

Elmore's take on the Sutherland Dragon

Zenopus Archives - Sat, 11/17/2018 - 20:42
Click for a larger view
This illustration by Larry Elmore is from a fairly obscure product, the manual for the 1982 adaptation of TSR's boardgame DUNGEON! for the Apple II+. It's on the last page, and is the only illustration in the manual other than the cover, which shows a B&W version of the box cover art by Jeff Easley. It may have appeared in another TSR product, but a Google Image search didn't turn anything up.

While much smaller --- perhaps a Sub-adult? --- Easley's dragon clearly shares many details with Sutherland's Red Dragon on the cover of the Holmes Basic set (July 1977), particularly the head - triangular, heavy brow, cheek "whiskers". Also note the V-shaped scales down the ventral portion of the neck, the slightly curved spikes down the back, even the shapes of the scales. 

Sutherland drew a similar B&W version of this same Red Dragon for the monster entry in the AD&D Monster Manual (Dec 1977) ---

Which was redone in color by Jim Roslof for the Monster Cards (1981) ---

A Red Dragon does appear as one of the monsters in Dungeon, so Easley may have been using one of these as a guide in order keep the look consistent between TSR products.

If you'd like to see the entire game manual, it can be found here at the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History.

You can also watch a 10-minute play-through of the game here --- Dungeon! for the Apple II

It had graphics like this screenshot, showing a Superhero versus a jolly Purple Worm ---

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Doah! Black Friday Sale.

Two Hour Wargames - Sat, 11/17/2018 - 17:53
Black Friday Sale
I usually run the last sale of the year in late November to include Black Friday. But this time I ran it in October! So to make up for it there will be a 25% off Black Friday Sale - that next Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Burning Goblins

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 11/17/2018 - 12:21

By Mark Bowen
Blue Sword Games
Level 1

he most recent raid by The Burning Ones goblin tribe has left the village of Greendale in a state of uproar. The miller’s daughter has been kidnapped and the mayor has put out a call for adventurers to hunt down the goblins and find the missing girl. But is there more to these raids than meets the eye? Why are the goblins burnt and timid? Only a strong band of heroes will be able to find the answers and save the girl from a gruesome death.

Why me?

This is a fourteen page adventure in a goblin lair with a dragon in it. Massive reaD-aloud, lame treasure, “maps as art” …is this really mainstream D&D?

The party is dumped in to the adventure, rescuing the millers daughter from the tribe of goblins that raided the nearby village. I guess the local manorial lord is absent again or can’t be bothered, so the mayor has the party dp the job. Seriously, what’s the point of taxes? It being local elections, let me note that the job of the mayor is to fill the potholes, remove the snow, time the traffic lights, and keep goblins from abducting important peoples daughters. I’m absolutely certain is a chaotic good act for the party to depose the mayor and collect taxes themselves. They can’t be any worse than this guy … who doesn’t actually exist except as an abstract concept in the column long read-aloud.

Well, there is an option for having the party hang out in town. You have to succeed in a skill check to have the townfolk tell you anything. a) this is stupid because the party are helping the townfolk. b) this is stupid because what are you supposed to do if they fail the roll? Oh, you’ll just fudge it and tell the party anyway? THEN WHY NOT DO THAT IN THE FIRST FUCKING PLACE?!?!?! It’s like the designers don’t actually think about or run their own adventures.

Back to Ye Olde Reade Aloude. People don’t listen to read aloud. WOTC even write an article about it. Two to three sentences is all you get then people stop paying attention. And yet, adventure after adventure does it. Why? Because they learned that it’s the”right/” way to things from others … including official product. Hey, Mearls, how about fixing this? Don’t Adept anything that uses more than three sentences of read aloud. Then people will learn new behaviours and I’ll have to find a new reason to drink. Like the crushing realization that life is meaningless. I think that’s traditional, anyway.

So … the goblins live in a cave. The cave is a linear map with six rooms. That’s fun, right!!! Linear! Six rooms! Oh, and there’s no grid, it’s just a “pretty” art piece. I say pretty because its not. Seriously, what was the point of the map? You know … the fucking pit trap isn’t even on the map. That’s right, the big old X is missing from the map. Who the fuck doesn’t put the pit trap on the map? Someone with little concern/knowledge of how to help the DM at the table, that’s who.

The tunnel with little no value items in it has a magnifying glass, a greatclub, and healing potions. Uh huh.

Who wants to guess how many goblins are n the goblin tribes lair cave complex? No, zero is wrong. It has four. Three at the entrance and one old frail goblin inside. That’s it. That’s a goblin lair. Those are the goblins that raided the village and everyone is in fear of.

Oh, the cave does have their leader in it, a dragon. Yes, a large dragon. That’s the goblin leader. He’s in the cave.

I’ve seen this in other modern adventures and have not commented … whats with slapping high level monsters on low level adventurers? Trolls at first level, etc. When do people fight skeletons? Is harryhausen dead? Why are you putting a fucking dragon in a level one adventure? Why not just put asmodeus in and call it a day? Is it the 5e power curve? I don’t get it. What happened to stirge and fire beetles? No, I’m not being old, I’m talking about power curves and character growth. Oh, and the dragon knocks people unconscious. WTF man?

Yes, you CAN sell out the villagers and offer the dragon tribute, and even gain the dragon as an ally in the future. THAT is genuinely a good thing.

Perhaps my greatest disappointment in this adventure, which is full of them, is a certain magic item. The only one worth mentioning. A disk, with writing in infernal, on how to soul bind to create soldiers for the “Grand Army.” And that’s it. It’s not actually a magic item or has value. The dragon knd of wants it, if it knows the party has it. That’s it. Man, what a lost opportunity. Let the fucking make some zombies man! Or grow some! What fun!

Just another adventure from someone who didn’t actually think any about their adventure.

This is free at DriveThru. As such I’m too lazy to talk about the preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Commenary- DA3 City of the Gods By Dave Arneson & David J. Ritchie & The Reflections of Blackmoor

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 11/17/2018 - 00:36
"New Magic? That's what the flying egg has. New magic unlike any ever encountered in Blackmoor. New magic of a type that could give the fledgling kingdom an important edge in the wars that are brewing on its borders. There are only a few minor problems. Like the fact that the magician who piloted the metal egg to one of Blackmoor's sworn enemies, the monks of evil and eccentric Order ofNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Garadur's Plateau Megadungeon Poster Map

Oubliette - Fri, 11/16/2018 - 13:38
I've just received a very limited print run of this giant megadungeon map by Charley Phipps. The prints are B1 sized (1000 x 707mm 39.4 x 27.8 inches) and printed on matt white paper. I've added some of them to my site (see link below) and I'll be taking the rest with me to Dragonmeet in December.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Flip Through: Dungeons & Dragons Art & Acana

Gamer Goggles - Fri, 11/16/2018 - 04:17

In this Flip Through Matt Takes a look at  Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana a Visual History.  This is a pretty in depth overview of this book by Sam Witmer, Kyle Newman, Jon Petersen, and Michael Witmer.  Art & Arcane is a complete history of D&D including everything from Chainmail to 5e. If you have been playing for awhile you will have several I remember that moments.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

This book is so valuable – it makes me fell like a teen age boy again and I believe it always will!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

1910s vs. 1920s United States in Call of Cthulhu - A Quick Overview

19th Level - Fri, 11/16/2018 - 01:30

The default era in the Call of Cthulhu RPG is the 1920s. The 1930s, a common era for pulp campaigns, is another well known era. I've kicked off a 1910s campaign. One of the things that I'm working on is making the period stand out differently. This is an incredibly brief, stream of consciousness capsule - any of these paragraphs could be an entire post - or book! This is a fairly US-centric blog post.

What are the important differences? Let's start off with the my starting year of 1914. Very quickly, immigration is going to drop off. The Great War helps bring about a drop-off, with European nations occupied with war. However, immigration laws in 1921 and 1924 will do even more of a job in slamming the door on immigration, specifically targeting "undesirable" immigrants such as Italians, Slavs, Poles, and Jews from Eastern Europe. It also reinforced bans on Asian immigration.

Politics are a bit different. The German, Ottoman, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian Empires will all fall as a result of the Great War. A variety of new nations will emerge from these empires.

One thing about 1920s characters is it is easy to explain any previous military experience - having served in the Great War. The United States was officially neutral in the Great War until 1917 and did not engage in earnest until 1918. Prior to that it had a fairly small military. With that caveat, there are some military conflicts the United States was involved in. 1898 saw the Spanish-American War, giving the United States an empire. Many of these acquisitions were no happier about being part of the United States than they were as being part of the Spanish Empire. The military was actively involved in suppressing rebellion in places like the Philippines and Cuba. The United States occupied Nicaragua in 1912, an occupation lasting until 1933 (with a brief break). The US also backed the independence of Panama from Colombia to facilitate the building of the Panama Canal. The United States became involved in the Mexican Revolution, including a 1916 Punitive Expedition (which is an important aspect of the 1920s Trail of Cthulhu adventure Many Fires).

Economically, the Great War introduces rapid inflation which continues after the war. A dollar in 1914 is worth $1.16 in 1917 and $1.37 in 1918. It peaks in 1921 with a 1914 dollar worth nearly twice that of a 1921 one -  $1.94.  It dips a bit as the decade continues - in 1928 dollars, a common starting year for Cthulhu campaigns, it is worth $1.73. Economics seems boring from an RPG perspective, but it caused quite a bit of pain, especially in cases where payroll did not keep up with inflation. This was a major contributing factor of the 1919 Boston Police Strike, with Boston's police officers living on poverty wages. While employment was good during the war, after the war the US economy struggled to absorb returning veterans. There was a brief recession from August 1918 to March 1919 followed by a more severe one (sometimes considered a depression), from January 1920 to July 1921. After this the Roaring Twenties kicked off, economically speaking.

This era saw much more anarchist activity and the socialist party was very active. 1910 saw the first socialist elected to the US Congress, with the election of Victor Berger as a Representative from Wisconsin. He ran afoul of the Espionage Act in 1919 and was blocked from his seat. Socialist Eugene Debs ran for president several times, getting 6% of the vote in 1912 - and was arrested in 1918 for violating the Sedition Act.

Race relations were not particularly good during this era. (Nor were they good in the 1920s for that matter). President Wilson was racist, even by the standards of the day. He introduced segregation to the Federal government - as a result of Reconstruction, the Federal government was actually integrated far more than society at large. Wilson also fired 15 out of 17 African-American supervisors within the Federal government. The Great Migration began in 1916, with many African-Americans  moving out of the rural southern United States. 1919 unfortunately saw the "Red Summer", with many race riots. To quote W.E.B. DuBois's poem "Returning Soldiers":
We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting. Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.Not all states allowed women to vote in the 1910s - prior to 1910 only four did. Voting rights were inconsistent - none in some states, presidential elections only in others, primaries, in others, etc. It wasn't until 1920 that the passage of the 19th Amendment granted women nationwide full voting rights.

The technology isn't radically different but there are some highlights. There is no consumer radio. The best that can be done for portable music is the 78 rpm disc record - often no more than 3 minutes in length per side. The automobile is present but not to the dominant levels that the 1920s will see. Movie studios began moving from New York to California in the 1910s. Longer films ("feature length") came to prominence in this decade and it was the 1910s that saw actors getting credit for their roles.

This is a stream of consciousness post so it's hard to think of a good way to close, as I jump from topic to topic. But one thing which comes to mind - Americans loved to drink. As I've been diving through 1910s Boston Globe issues on line, I've been seeing a lot of advertisements for beer and spirits - some on the front page. Some fortification is probably in order before facing a shoggoth...

Photo Credit - Tremont Street, Boston, circa 1910. Boston Public Library.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tomb of Annihilation Review

Gamer Goggles - Thu, 11/15/2018 - 15:14

Tomb of Annihillation

Publisher WotC

256 pages

5 chapters

6 appendices


Tomb of Annihilation is tied to a classic adventure; Tomb of Horrors which was extremely difficult.  Keeping that in mind it should be noted that this isn’t for the weak at heart- there is a good chance that players will have several characters die. I suggest that they show up to play with a few back up options because Tomb of Annihilation is just as difficult. The players are intorduced into the adventure by learning about the Death Curse. Which is really nasty if you’ve ever died. Basically the disease attacks the health of anyone who has managed to brought back to life, that is their health begins to decay. Oh, and if you die the Death Curse prevents your soul from being reanimated by any means, it seems even the gods are powerless. With the mission set first level PC’s begin their adventure to deal with the Death Curse that if they are lucky enough to complete will put them up to about eleventh value.

Before talking about the adventure let me express a few things.  Chult is everything a GM wants; beautiful, exotic, and enticingly deadly. This combination creates an insane amount of fun while the curse infects players. Chult also adds several new arrangements for the dead; eight new fauna in all. The cities are every bit as rich as the jungle too. Each city is full of content that is both ordinary and exotic enough to give it it’s own personality.

Which brings us to the Port of Nyanzaru,the real start to the adventure. This is where players will kind set up their base of operations (we did). It is from here that the players will initially gather information, possibly find a guide, and most likely get outfitted. The port city is also full of great little side quests to get the PC’s started. Beyond that the players can explore several npc’s.  We used the port as our safe haven from the jungle.  It’s where we rested and even relaxed. With that being said we aren’t running through Tomb of Annihilstion like a meat grinder. That is something you can do if you want, but it’s extremely difficult without a crazy pace.  I highly suggest that PC’s try dino racing I had a blast.

The jungle is by far one of the most exotic places written about for 5th ed. The new fauna has some pretty extreme effects, but jungle have always been dangerous. My favorite is the Monkey Fruit.  Because it is a diabolic kind of fun I plead the 5th. There are several other encounters for players to deal with like dinosaurs and undead. Not to mention the threat of diseases, dehydration and insects.  That is why a guide for the jungle is suggested.  The jungle has several key locations for the players to discover.  What’s great about is that they can really takle them in any order.  That doesn’t mean they will pickk the right place, but it really gives the players a sense of control in the story, which is something many adventures don’t do very well.

The Next stop for the adventure is the Forbidden City. Which is nescessary for us to visit if we are going to get into the Tomb of the Nine Gods.  It is gurded by a Yuan-ti “cult”. If I say anymore then that I will be giving players some super ammunition – no spoilers here. But I can tell you that the city is just full of puzzles, traps, and violence if you want to play it that way. One good thing about the is the way the writers tie the NPC’s to the Death Curse. Our GM actually allowed us to ally with the major NPC instead of fight him. Since, our party is largely filled with holy rollers we will most likely have to fight him after exiting the temple – providing we live that long.

The temple is a massive dungeon, 65 pages, that is really the only part of the adventure that you have to play. Thatt’s right the rest of the book can be played pretty much like a sand box. The temple is a nasty place, difficult puzzles protected by deadly traps and often hideous monsters too. This is where we are in our adventure and I suspect to die a few more times before completing the adventure. Again no spoilers, What I can say about this part, and every part of the book really, is that if the players look hard enough there is almost always another way to accomplish their task.

The appendices are absolutely amazing and needed.  If Tomb of Annhilation didn’t include them the gm would miss important parts of story while reading things like the wandering monsters.  The first appendix gives us two new backgrounds that are fiting for this campaign, the Archeologist and the Anthropologist.  Of course most of the new material like fauna and monsters can be found here. But one of the most important resources the book has is appendix E, the player hand outs.  I found that the hand outs were super helpful.  I have often felt that for too many GM’s have overlooked them, not realizing how valuable a tool they are.

Tomb of Annihilation is an extremely dangerous adventure where I believe players should expect their characters to die! The Death Curse pretty much makes the parties mistakes a TPK.  Which limits the people who might want to play the adventure. It isn’t really for people who don’t want a challenge, and even then you shouldn’t fear death. With that said there are several work arounds that allow players to avid death if they spend the time working together. I think that the authors have done an excellent job with Tomb of Annihillation. It does a great job of bridging the gap from AD&D to 5th ed.  Being someone who has played both I feel that they have respected the original motifs in Tomb of Horrors, while expanding on them without damaging the original job. Thgis is als a great reference books for GM who want to create nasty jungles, temples, and puzzles. Further this adventure offers players a change of pace allowing them to save Sword Coast in a new way.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Prepackaged and Individually Portioned

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 11/15/2018 - 14:00
The Light of Civilization Flickers by Russ Nicholson

One of the biggest challenges Torchbearer GMs face is creating dungeons or choosing published dungeons (especially if they weren’t specifically written with Torchbearer in mind).

I highly recommend crafting your own dungeons if you have the time. It’s fun! The Adventure Design chapter can help make it a snap, too! But you don’t need to shy away from published adventures, even from other games. They’ll make your life easier.

Whether you choose to make your own or use a prepackaged adventure, you’ll get the best results if you play to Torchbearer’s strengths.

Small Adventures Are Better

Under the House of the Three Squires1The adventure included in the Torchbearer core book is sprawling as Torchbearer adventures go. It will take a group 4-6 sessions or more to complete. The Dread Crypt of Skogenby, on the other hand, can play in a single session if your group is really focused, but will probably take them 2-4 sessions.

In my experience, groups typically get through three to four areas per session of play. Especially for the early sessions of a campaign, you want short, snappy adventures that allow the players to face some trouble, (hopefully) find some treasure, and return to town to spend their ill-gotten gains. Save the slogs for later adventures when the players are dug in and committed.

Something on par with Skogenby, or even smaller, is recommended. If you’re writing your own adventure, three or four areas is sufficient for a session’s worth of adventure.

Incorporate the Environment

A fair number of fantasy adventures just come down to fighting monsters. Desperate fights with monsters are fun, but Torchbearer really shines when there are environmental challenges to face as well. Getting from one floor to another when the stairs have collapsed, or swimming through a water-filled passage while figuring out how to manage your light and keep your spellbook dry, is incredibly fun in Torchbearer. Look for adventures that allow you to incorporate such challenges, or make sure to build them in if you’re writing your own.

In Skogenby, the tight squeeze (area 2), secret door (area 6) and rockfall (area 9) are all examples of environmental challenges. I like the tight squeeze in particular because it’s not a challenge when entering the dungeon—at that point you have all the time in the world. It’s only when you need to exit the dungeon in a hurry that the tight squeeze becomes a serious problem for the PCs. I like it because the problem presents itself innocuously to the PCs, but perceptive and savvy players can recognize the danger and take steps to mitigate it.

Use Monsters with Care

The Torchbearer versions of some monsters commonly found in other fantasy roleplaying games can be considerably more dangerous than they are in their native systems. When you’re running an adventure written for another game, consider the numbers. Even relatively weak monsters can devastate a group of Torchbearer characters if they outnumber them significantly.

Add a monster’s Nature to any helping dice at its disposal to get a feel for how many dice you’ll throw against the players in a conflict. And keep in mind that Might can also tip the scales. Monsters with Might 5+ are especially dangerous because PCs can’t kill them without access to level benefits or magic that boosts their own Might.

Consider that Skogenby has lots of monsters, but it doesn’t have them in every room. That leaves space for careful PCs to choose the best plan and approach before taking the monsters on. Even more important, the big bad is walled off from the PCs to start (though it has ways to make itself known), which allows them time to explore and build up resources before tackling the most difficult part of the dungeon.

Keep an Eye on the Future

Consider whether the adventure presents an immediate, delayed or dormant threat to surrounding communities. Think about how the situation might evolve if the players ignore the adventure or attempt it but can’t resolve things.

As I mentioned in previous post, Skogenby presents an immediate threat. If the players don’t successfully deal with Haathor-Vash right away, the threat will grow. The undead will overrun the village, causing the survivors to flee to surrounding villages for refuge. Soon the dead will present a threat to those villages as well.

Use Enemies, Friends, Mentors and Parents

In character creation, your players took the time to detail their relationships. You might not use them in your first adventure, but think about how they might be involved with or affected by the dungeons and hazardous locations you place. Not every adventure should involve a relationship but incorporating them judiciously will make your games pop.

Turning again to Skogenby, the village presents an opportunity to incorporate such relationships. Perhaps the PCs have family connections in Skogenby, or a mentor has disappeared into the dungeon itself. Maybe an enemy has gone in seeking treasure, or made common cause with Haathor-Vash!

Consider with the Eye of a Torchbearer Adventurer

One of my favorite non-Torchbearer adventures to run in Torchbearer is an old White Dwarf magazine D&D adventure called The Beacon at Enon Tor2This link leads to a version of the adventure converted for Castles & Crusades. Consistently, one of my favorite moments when running this adventure is when the players stumble upon the tower’s storeroom, which is filled with barrels of oil, dozens of torches, bins of nails, axes, saws, timber, sacks, sailcloth and more. The adventure notes that none of it is especially valuable, but to Torchbearer adventurers, this room is a treasure trove!

Every time players find this room, I know that they’re going to find something creative and surprising to do with all that stuff. Don’t be afraid to give the PCs lots of gear and supplies. They’ll have to figure out how to carry it, and in the meantime their creativity will kick into high gear.

In Skogenby, the chamber of ablutions (area 4), chamber of vigils (area 5) and the altar of ascension (area 6) all contain materials that can be used by creative players. What would you do with the spears from the sarcophagus trap, or the sand in the urns? What about the sleeping dust from the trap in the secret door?

Place Treasure and Other Loot

Treasure is an essential element of Torchbearer adventures. Torchbearer characters need the opportunity to gain treasure so they can go to town, heal up and resupply before heading out to adventure some more. If they aren’t getting treasure, Torchbearer goes from being a difficult game to a punishing one.

Just as you shouldn’t worry about giving players access to too much gear, don’t be too worried about giving the players access to too much treasure. The characters will have to figure out how to carry it and town will drain treasure fast! You don’t need to make it easy to get the treasure, but you don’t need to be shy with it either.

Published adventures are usually pretty good about placing treasure, but it’s tempting to just rely on Torchbearer’s treasure tables when you’re writing your own. Fight that urge! Don’t get me wrong: The treasure tables are fun and you should use them. But you should make sure to specifically place some treasure—gold, gems, magic items, etc.—and then use the tables to round the planned treasure out.

Skogenby uses treasure to tell its story. The silver arm rings kicked everything off. The silver ewer in the chamber of ablutions is part of Haathor-Vash’s mystery, as are the runes in the altar ascension. And, of course, there’s some loot in Haathor-Vash’s vault. In all, there’s 28D to be found in the Dread Crypt.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Commenary -S3 Expediation To the Barrier Peak By Gary Gygax & Echoes of Blackmoor For Your Old School Campaign

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 11/15/2018 - 01:11
'The Grand Duchy of Geoff has recently been plagued by a rash of unusually weird and terrible monsters of an unknown sort. This western area, particularly the mountain fastness which separates the Grand Duchy from the Dry Steppes, has long been renowned for the generation of the most fearsome beasts, and it has been shunned accordingly -- save a handful of hardy souls with exceptional Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Campfire Tale

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 11/14/2018 - 12:17

By Mark Craddock
Cross Planes Games Studio
Black Hack/Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

Uh ….

This eleven page “adventure’ details one encounter, a forest clearing. I think not.This review is going to suck because there’s nothing in this “adventure” to review.

The publishers blurb says “introductory adventure” and “levels one through three.” In this case “adventure” means one forest clearing that a naga attacks in to while the party is camping. Then a hag shows up to attack also. The end.

Yeah. Level one. A naga AND a hag. 3HD and 4HD. There’s this certain aesthetic in old school play that overpowered encounters are ok, and I agree with that. The deal, though, is that the players have a choice to engage or not. Your first adventure. You are camping in the forest, 5 minutes after creating characters. Then a 3HD naga crashes in. Uh … uncool. And then a 4HD hag shows up to kill whoever is left. That’s decidedly NOT old school play.

And then it does this weird “roll to continue the game” thing. You have to make these investigate rolls … for basic information. And if you miss it, well … nothing happens? You have to make a roll to notice a thick fog rolling in? And a crescent moon, and the fog, and … it just makes no sense.

Side Trek adventure from Dungeon Magazine, crappy though they were, generally had more going on than this ENCOUNTER doe. Not a fucking adventure. ENCOUNTER. I could never have the audacity to publish something like this. Which is why I’m a middle class wage slave.

This is $1.50 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You get to see everything but the hag battle at the end.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Stan Lee

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 11/14/2018 - 12:00

As everyone has likely heard Stan Lee passed away this week. The exact contributions of the pioneering creators of Marvel Comics will likely never be known, but Lee and Kirby: 'Stuf Said! from TwoMorrows will give you those two contentious creators' own words on the topic over the years.

A better thing, I think, is to just enjoy the fruits of Lee's collaborations with artist-creators. To that end, you should probably start with Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol 1, and see where that takes you.

Lee's other embittered collaborator was Steve Ditko. There work "together" can be found in Spider-Man Omnibus Vol 1. All due respect to Ditko, but I'm kind of partial to the Lee/Romita partnership era of Spider-Man Omnibus Vol 2.


The Tangled Origins of D&D’s Armor Class, Hit Points, and Twenty-Sided Die Rolls To-Hit

DM David - Tue, 11/13/2018 - 12:24

In 1977, when I first read the Dungeon & Dragons basic rules, the way armor class improved as it shrunk from 9 to 2 puzzled me. Shouldn’t higher numbers be better? Players just used AC to find a row on a table, so rising ACs would have worked as well. Magic armor introduced negative ACs, making the descending numbers even more awkward. Also, many of the demons described in 1976 in the Eldrich Wizardry supplement sported negative armor class.

D&D’s designers seemed to think rising armor classes made more sense. The game rules stemmed from co-creator Gary Gygax’s Chainmail rules for miniature-figure battles. Chainmail rated armor from 1 to 8, with better armor gaining higher values. Co-creator Dave Arneson based his Blackmoor fantasy campaign on Chainmail. His campaign developed into D&D. In Blackmoor, higher armor classes represented better armor.

So how did the first D&D rules set the puzzling convention of descending armor class?

The answer lies toward the end of the genesis of D&D’s combat system.

In the original D&D rule books, the combat system that everyone used appears as the Alternative Combat System. “Alternative” because players could just use the combat system from Chainmail instead. When Dave launched Blackmoor, he tried the Chainmail system. But it focused on battles between armies sprinkled with legendary heroes and monsters. For ongoing adventures in the dungeon under Castle Blackmoor, the rules needed changes. Original Blackmoor player Greg Svenson recalls that within about a month of play, the campaign created new rules for damage rolls and hit points. (More recently, Steve Winter, a D&D designer since 1st edition, tells of playing the original game with the Chainmail combat rules.)

Much of what we know about how Dave adapted the rules for his Blackmoor campaign comes from two sources: a 2004 interview and The First Fantasy Campaign, a raw publication of notes for his game. Most quotes in this post come from those sources.

Chainmail’s melee combat matrix

To resolve melee combat, Chainmail used a combat matrix. Players matched the attacking weapon or creature against the defender, rolled a pair of 6-sided dice, and consulted the table for an outcome. “That was okay for a few different kinds of units, but by the second weekend we already had 20 or 30 different monsters, and the matrix was starting to fill up the loft.”

Dave abandoned the matrix and extended Chainmail’s rules for missile attacks to melee combat. In Chainmail, ranged attackers rolled 2d6, and tried to roll higher than a target number based on increasing armor classes. Blackmoor gained melee to-hit rolls.

Chainmail’s man-to-man combat and ranged combat tables

In Chainmail, creatures lacked hit points, so a single hit killed. But with extraordinary individuals like heroes, wizards, and dragons, a saving throw allowed a last chance to survive. For example, the rules say, “Dragon fire will kill any opponent it touches, except another Dragon, Super Hero, or a Wizard, who is saved on a two dice roll of 7 or better.”

Under rules where one hit destroyed a character, Dave tried to spare player characters by granting saving throws against any hit. “Thus, although [a character] might be ‘Hit’ several times during a melee round, in actuality, he might not take any damage at all.”

But the system of saving throws still made characters too fragile to suit players. “It didn’t take too long for players to get attached to their characters, and they wanted something detailed which Chainmail didn’t have,” Dave explains.

Chainmail battle on a sand table

“I adopted the rules I’d done earlier for a Civil War game called Ironclads that had hit points and armor class. It meant that players had a chance to live longer.” In a Chainmail battle that featured armies spanning a sand table, hit points would have overwhelmed players with bookkeeping. But the Blackmoor players liked the rule. “They didn’t care that they had hit points to keep track of because they were just keeping track of little detailed records for their character and not trying to do it for an entire army. They didn’t care if they could kill a monster in one blow, but they didn’t want the monster to kill them in one blow.”

When players rolled characters, they determined hit points. For monsters, hit points were set based “on the size of the creature physically and, again, on some regard for its mythical properties.” Dave liked to vary hit points among individual monsters. To set the strength of a type of monster while rolling for an individual’s hit points, he probably invented hit dice.

Dave said he took the armor class from Ironclads, but the concept came from Chainmail and the term came from its 1972 revisions. I suspect Dave meant that he pulled the notion of hit points and damage from a naval game that featured both armor ratings and damage points. Game historian Jon Peterson explains, “The concepts of armor thickness and withstanding points of damage existed in several naval wargames prior to Chainmail.” Still, nobody has found the precise naval rules that inspired Dave. Even his handwritten rules for ironclad battles lack properties resembling armor class. Perhaps he just considered using the concept in a naval game before bringing the notion to D&D.

In Blackmoor, Dave sometimes used hit locations. Perhaps naval combat inspired that rule. When ships battle, shells that penetrate to a boiler or powder keg disable more than a cannonball through the galley. Likewise, in man-to-man combat, a blow to the head probably kills.

Dave’s rules for hit locations only reached D&D in the Blackmoor supplement, which came a year after the game’s release. But hit locations made combat more complicated and dangerous. Realistic combat proved too deadly for the dungeon raids in D&D. So D&D players never embraced hit locations. Even Dave seemed to save the rule for special occasions. “Hit Location was generally used only for the bigger critters, and only on a man-to-man level were all the options thrown in. This allowed play to progress quickly even if the poor monsters suffered more from it.” Dave ran a fluid game, adapting the rules to suit the situation.

By the time Dave’s fantasy game established hit points, 2d6 to-hit rolls, and damage rolls, he showed the game to Gary Gygax.

Next: Gary Gygax improves hit points by making them more unrealistic, and then adds funny dice

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Things I've Written Published Elsewhere

Zenopus Archives - Tue, 11/13/2018 - 12:21
Most of my RPG-related writing can be found here on the blog or on the sporadically updated Zenopus Archives site. But I do have a few articles that have been published in print or pdf. In view of my recently published zine article, I thought it was time to write up a list of these, which will have a permanent home here on the site.

Listed in reverse chronological order, these are ---

"Clerical Cosmic Horror: The Brief Era of the Cthulhu Mythos as Dungeons & Dragons Pantheon" in Bayt al Azif #1, October 2018. With an illustration by Chris HolmesCurrently available in pdf or print. See also this post.

"Holmes and the Lost City" in The Lost City Campaign Sourcebook, March 2018. With an illustration of Zargon by myself. This is a fan compilation of supplementary material for the module B4; see this DF threadCurrently available as a free pdf

"Axel the Dwarf" (NPC) in FANTASTIC! EXCITING! IMAGINATIVE! #2, Nov 2017, Inner Ham. With an illustration by Jon Wilson. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG or in print directly from the publisher.

"Green Grabber" and "Old One" (new monsters) in BLUEHOLME Journeymanne Rules, Fall 2017, Dreamscape Design. Old One illustrated by Bradley K. McDevitt. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG, or in hardcover or in softcover from Lulu. See also the original posts here and here.

"The Writings of J. Eric Holmes" and "Annotated Bibliography for J. Eric Holmes" in Tales of Peril, the Complete Boinger and Zereth Stories of J. Eric Holmes, Summer 2017, Black Blade Publisher. Currently available in print directly from the publisher. See also this post.

"Regal Lizard Man" (new monster) and "Harpy Axe" (new magic item) in FANTASTIC! EXCITING! IMAGINATIVE! #1, March 2017, Inner Ham. Currently available as a free pdf from DrivethruRPG or in print directly from the publisher. See also this post.

"Lesser Magic Items" (20 new magic items) in Dungeon Crawl #3, Summer 2013. With three illustrations by John Blaszczyk. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG or in print from Lulu. See also this post.

I also contributed to proofreading the original release of the OD&D retroclone Delving Deeper2012, Immersive Ink, currently available in pdf or free on the web.  
(All DrivethruRPG links include my affiliate number)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Commentary - Calidar's Vortexs & Dimensional Cancers - Otherthere & Back Again In Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 11/12/2018 - 18:58
Last week I wrote about cracks in many of the major campaign worlds & what it means for players as well as their dungeon masters. Calidar newest kickstarter has exploded since I first started writing about it. But what does this hold for Greyhawk?! A lot of very weird planar threads & adventure hooks actually. Skyships are nothing new in the skies of Greyhawk & Mystara but these worlds don'tNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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