Tabletop Gaming Feeds

The Arduin Grimoire: The “Coolest RPG Book Ever,” also the Book Gygax Mocked As Costing Readers 1 Int and 2 Wis

DM David - Tue, 03/03/2020 - 12:00

When creators dream up imaginary worlds, they can go in two directions. They can build their world from a curated set of ideas, and then fit these pieces together into a logical and consistent manner. In a fantasy gaming, these creators worry about how magic affects society and culture, and then wind up with worlds like Glorantha or Tekumel.

Dave Hargrave’s campaign world of Arduin was not built; it was piled. To create Arduin, Hargrave took every fantastic element he dreamed up or fancied and piled them into one work of love. If Tekumal is a museum, with treasures for contemplation, then Arduin is a dragon’s horde, with everything shiny heaped to the walls.

Dave Hargrave pictured in his adventure collection, “Vaults of the Weaver”

Inspired by the Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements, Hargrave printed his house rules, lore, and advice in a little, brown book named after his world, The Arduin Grimoire. In 1977, his unofficial supplement to Dungeons & Dragons debuted at California’s DunDraCon II convention. The book’s success led to the sequels Welcome to Skull Tower (1978) and The Runes of Doom (1978).

In a look back on the trilogy, Ryk Spoor called Arduin “one of the most absolutely concentrated essences of the fun of roleplaying games ever made.” Jonathan Tweet, the lead designer of third-edition D&D, called Arduin the “the coolest RPG book ever.”

Sometime in 1979, I found the series on the shelves of The Hobby Chest in Skokie, Illinois. The pages teemed with fresh ideas. The author suggested strange pairings of science and fantasy. He tore up the D&D rules and offered wild changes. It all seemed a little subversive. I became enchanted. I haven’t found a game book that proved as enjoyable to read. At first I thumbed through the books at random, discovering gems, then I turned to page one and read. (Due to the books’ random organization, both reading orders felt the same.) As Hargrave wandered through Arduin lore and free-associated roleplaying game wisdom, I learned three lessons.

Arduin advertisement from The Dragon issue 6, April 1977

Fantasy gives freedom to imagination.

As D&D’s audience exploded, in the days before Appendix N, most new players’ experience with fantasy started with Tolkien and ended with a few imitators. The sort of science-fantasy found in say, Jack Vance, seemed wrong. To us, Hargrave preached bigger imaginary playgrounds. “The very essence of fantasy gaming is its total lack of limitation on the scope of play, both in its content and in its appeal to people of all ages, races, occupations or whatever,” Hargrave wrote. “So don’t limit the game by excluding aliens or any other type of character or monster. If they don’t fit what you feel is what the game is all about, don’t just say ‘NO!,’ whittle on them a bit until they do fit.” (Vol. II, p.99)

Evidence of his creative abandon appears everywhere, from the “Multiversal Trading Company” to descriptions of the world’s 21 hells. For instance, the 17th plane of hell features blasted futuristic cities and space ports under a blue-black, moonless sky. Most vegetation is petrified. This hell’s most common inhabitant is The Black Wind, a fog of shifting shadows, lit by crackling, blue lighting bolts. The wind envelops and attacks psychically, taking over the body, and “forever making it alien.”

Hargrave welcomes a variety of character types. “Do not be a small player in a small world, embrace the whole Alternity and give different types a chance. I think you will find that the world your game is in will become a lot more fun if you do.” (Twenty years later, Dave Hargrave’s portmanteau “Alternity,” from alternate eternities, would become the name of a Wizards of the Coast RPG.)

‘Alliance’ from Arduin volume 3 and an advertisement in Dragon issue 30

Gary Gygax favored D&D parties where humans outnumbered the elves, dwarves, and other non-humans. Such groups matched the mostly human characters in the fantasy tales that inspired D&D.

Today’s D&D groups resemble the Star Wars cantina scene, where exotic species outnumber the odd human. Hargave encouraged similar, strange mixes. An advertisement for Arduin shows an adventuring party consisting of 4 unlikely companions:

  • a phraint, emotionless humanoid insects
  • a deodanth, undead elves from eons in the future, now lost in their past
  • a saurig, dinosaur-men from the distant past bred as killing machines
  • a masked, human samurai somehow somehow fighting alongside these gonzo creatures

Even now, this assembly seems stranger than the typical Adventurers League mix of, say, a tiefling, a tortle, someone with fire for hair, and a goblin named Percy.

The rules belong to players.

Jonathan Tweet noted the weakness of the Hargrave’s rules. “The Arduin system is usually unbalanced and often unbelievably complicated.” Still, some mechanics would fit a modern game. For example, he offers rules for touch attacks and a hit point system that resembles fourth edition’s. But the specific rules hardly mattered. Hargrave encourages players to own the rules and their games, to tinker, to playtest. On presenting his magic system, Hargrave advises readers to “take whatever I have that you like, use the old established fantasy gaming systems…and put together whatever you like in a magic system. Who knows, it may end up with such a good system that people will want to publish your fantasy world.” (Vol. I, p.30)

Detail makes game worlds come to life.

In an era when state-of-the-art setting design consisted of the Wilderness Survival map and some encounter tables, Hargrave opened a world with detail that rivaled any setting that came later. According to Ryk Spoor, “One of the strongest and most powerfully attractive parts of the Arduin series was that, within and around the game mechanics, the statistics for demons and items and spells, Dave Hargrave wove tales and hints of his campaign world, giving us a look at the life of a world that didn’t exist, but…perhaps… could, elsewhere.”

Arduin Now and Then

To gamers today, Arduin’s three lessons may seem obvious. New games seek freshness by colliding genres, so cowboys meet the undead, magic meets cyberpunk, and so on. Endless setting books lend detail to world building. When the fifth-edition designers explain their hesitancy to tweak the published rules, they say the rules belong to the players now. Arduin’s phraints seem to have become Dark Sun’s Thri-Kreen.

True, but in 1978, Arduin’s lessons demolished barriers that would never stand again.

Gary Gygax versus The Arduin Grimoire

In the 70s, Gary Gygax resented products that rode his and D&D’s coattails. The man had 6 children to feed! Arduin aped the little, brown books and tore down D&D’s rules, so the grimoires earned particular ire. In the Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979), Gary added the Vacuous Grimoire (p.155) as a dig at The Arduin Grimoire. Read it and lose 1 intelligence and 2 wisdom. In the pages of The Dragon, Gary attacked spell points, critical hits, and other rules that Hargrave offered as improvements.

TSR issued a cease and desist letter to Hargrave, who responded by blanking references to D&D. My printing splices in mentions of “other popular systems” and “old established fantasy gaming systems” where D&D was mentioned. Hargrave took to calling Arduin a completely different game, although it skipped essential rules that readers must find elsewhere (in D&D). Rules sections are labeled as changes or revisions to an unnamed game (still D&D).

Over the years, Hargrave created the missing rules needed to make a stand-alone game. But no one cared about his rules. Dave Hargrave never realized that his rules hardly mattered.

His feverish invention mattered. Arduin’s lessons mattered—and they changed role-playing.

Emperors Choice Games offers Arduin products for sale. The original trilogy now appears in a single volume.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thoughts on Detect Evil

Bat in the Attic - Tue, 03/03/2020 - 00:58
Tim at Gothridge Manor looks at the Detect Evil spells in Old School Essentials.

Old School Essentials MechanicsDuration: 6 turnsRange: 120'Objects enchanted for evil purposes or living beings with evil intentions are caused to magically glow.-Intent only: it does not grant the caster the ability to read minds-Referee must decide what is 'evil'.
Here is the original found on Page 24 of Men and Magic in ODnD
Detect Evil: A spell to detect evil thought or intent in any creature or evilly enchanted object. Note that poison, for example, is neither good nor evil. Duration:2 turns. Range: 6”.
I am also familiar with Sense Foes from GURPS Magic that Tim refers too.
My own take emphasize the danger sense aspect of the spells. While it is something I prefer it is also in part necessitated by the fact I haven't used alignment in decades and still don't. 
I have two added wrinkles that in the case of magic it also senses when somebody been affected by magic against their will. For example a character under influence of a Charm Person spell. This type of magic is considered a hostile enchantment. It also detect demons and anything demonic. In my campaigns demons represents absolute evil in a spiritual sense.
Here the current write up for Detect Evil from my draft rules for the Majestic Fantasy RPG
Detect Evil (Cleric, 1st Level;)Range: 120 feet; Duration: 1 hour; MI: No; Art: Lantern;Detect Evil (Magic-User, 2nd Level)Range: 60 feet; Duration: 20 minutes; Art: Lantern;The caster detects the following dangers for the duration of the spell: hostile sentient beings, hostile monsters, and enchantments/auras that causes damage or some type of harm. It does not detect traps, poisons, and other mundane dangers. Demonic and demonic effects are always considered hostile.Focused Art: For clerics the spell’s range is extended to 180 feet and the duration for 2 hours. For magic users the range is extended to 90 feet, and the duration to 40 minutes.
Rob's NotesI have some additional mechanics in my take on Swords and Wizardry. MI is magical immunity. It determines whether is creature with magical immunity is effected by the spell. Since Detect Evil pertains to the caster it doesn't apply. 
Focused Art is an option in my rules where a magic user can focus on one of the ten arts of magic. If they do they get a small bonus effect to spells of that art. An aspect of the Art of the Lantern that it covers spells that impart knowledge of some kind. For clerics it depends whether the art of magic falls into the deity's sphere of influence. In the Majestic Fantasy Realms this would be Thoth the Lantern Bearer the God of Sages and Knowledge. 
Originally a focus in the art of magic would meant +1 caster level for that spell. But in Swords and Wizardry so few spells are affected by caster level that I had to come up a customized focus effect for each spell. 

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Appendix Arabian Nights - AL-QADIM Zothique OSR Campaign Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 03/02/2020 - 17:05
"Ride a magic carpet to a land of a thousand and one adventures! Visit spired cities, lush oases, and mysterious isles set in glittering seas. Meet sultans and sheikhs. See genies and giants. Discover a trove of new magical treasures!"Hmm this Jeff Grub setting box set  seems strangely familiar?! Over the weekend I've been doing a ton of thinking about Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique and I've Needles
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My Flavor of Vanilla

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 03/02/2020 - 13:10

Since my post on my occasional craving for vanilla fantasy, I've been thinking about what sort of vanilla setting I would do, if I was to do one. At least, what sort I'm leaning toward right now.

I would start with a setup substantially similar to Tolkien's Middle-Earth at the start of the Lord of the Rings. A great war, devastated the shining human kingdoms of the West. Amid the ruins are scattered petty kingdoms and free cities, "points of light" in the D&D parlance, dominated by the Small Folk--dwarfs mostly, but more of the folklore or fairytale variety than a Tolkienian one.

There are still humans there, of course, but the human dominated lands are mostly to the South. Elves exist too, but they are diminished (quite literally) from their Golden Age. They were once fairy lords, but now the elves of the West are short in stature and decidedly less magical. The Dwarf Folk view the elves with some suspicion, since some of their race sided with the forces of darkness.

The approach would be a bit more The Hobbit than Lord of the Rings; leaning more whimsical than epic. The 1937 original version of The Hobbit would be the most central of Tolkien's work. Other influences include Weirdworld, Wally Wood's Wizard King series, selected stories from Lord Dunsany, Scott Driver's Dwarf-Land, and bits of The Princess of the Goblin and a smidge of my own Land of Azurth, particularly some early ideas that got abandoned.

Horror out of Hagsjaw review

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 03/02/2020 - 12:11
By Levi Combs Frog God Games S&W Levels 4-5

Travelers have long considered Hagsjaw a place to avoid. The town is known to outsiders by whispered tales of witches and strange doings in the old days. Once terrorized by a wretched coven of witches known as the Karnley Hags, the town was held in a grip of fear that saw its citizens oppressed and its children stolen. Anyone who dared oppose the hags was viciously murdered. When the witches were eventually overthrown and hanged in the town square, they muttered a unified curse with their last breaths, promising nothing less than misery and doom for all who remained in Hagsjaw. That was a century ago, and now Hagsjaw is little more than a forgotten watering hole. Time has not treated the decaying town or its folk kindly; it seems to die out more and more as each generation passes. The farms at the edge of town are empty of cattle and crops, the town’s buildings are crumbling, and even the sagging roofs of the abandoned, twin steeple church don’t look like they’ll hold up much longer. There’s little left to suggest that the town hadn’t withered away completely… until recently.

This 22 page investigation adventure is fairly straightforward and OOZES with flavour. Mostly horror/investigation, it’s basic form should translate easily to just about any genre, from CoC to Modern and maybe even to SciFi. The evocative writing is long and there’s significant room for improvement in that area.

Let’s start out with two important notes. First, I love decrepit towns and villages and adventures in them. Second, I think that adventures with a strong horror theme translate well to almost every genre and RPG system. If you’re allowed ANY supernatural in the system then horror is horror and good horror adventures tend to use simple non-genres specific creatures (ghosts, witches, etc) of which the theming is more important than the specific stats, and the themes tend to genre-hop well. 

Horror this is. The creatures you face are a blobby-like gelatinous human-ish creature … stat’d as a gibbering mouther. But because the emphasis is on the description rather than just saying “there’s a gibbering mouther in the church” it allows the creature to translate well. It’s a gelatinous blob/human/form creature first. This is EXCELLENT. The emphasis is on the creature and what the stats say is of secondary important. Flavour tends to always triumph over mechanics. This extends to the strange lights on the edge of the foggy forest … and a cliff. Will of the wisps. The use of generic “witches” and a witch coven in the backstory. That crosses genres well. They come back, as a kind of spirit of posession-ghost, taking over villagers and then charming more. That translates well. And then you have a mob of villagers, possessed, bribed, etc. Again, translates well. A straight up ghost? Yup, translate well. Maybe the only thing that doesn’t translate well is a halfling and a stayr. The halfling feeds you information because he was alive to see the witches hang, originally, a hundred or so years ago. Turn them in to an old man and shorten the time a bit and it works. The satyrs could just be degenerate villagers in the woods, ala HPL, and it wouldn’t loose anything. It might even work better, if The Old Gods didn’t play a part in your game world. Anyway, takaeway is that a well-written horror adventure relies on themes, like hanged witches, 3’s and the like, and this is a well written horror adventure. Not exactly scary, but you FEEL the creepiness viscerally.

And you feel it not only because of the well executed themes but also because the writing is evocative.  This great writing extends even to the hooks. Throw away hook. The worst ever. Caravan guard. Sent by the church, etc. But given fresh breathe by how they are written. The caravan guards? The first line is “Storm’s a comin’ … we better get off the road.” BAM! Instantly sets the tone, even before someone says “that place don’t nobody e’eer go.” Twist the language. Torture it. But communicate the FLAVOUR to the DM, and this does that. And it does it over and over and over again. Great, well written sentences. Great word choice that makes you FEEL the scene, and therefore be more likely to translate it to the players.

The writing here is very sticky. You remember the FEEL of the place. Which is good because it’s not organized very well. Details are buried in those evocative paragraphs. While they do a great job conveying a vibe that vibe is useless to the DM at the table running it if they can’t remember it. This is typically solved by writing text that’s easy to scan. But paragraphs don’t scan well without bolding, italics, bullets, whitespace, indents, etc. And this don’t do that. What is DOES do is bury information in weird places. The local farm has a great little thing about whipperwools. But that information, that there were hundreds, isn’t where you need it. The farm doesn’t tell you that, a person will tell you that. It needs to located someplace where it’s useful to the task at hand: an NPC communicating it. Otherwise it’s useless text that clogs up the DM’s ability to scan the text while running the game. And it’s TOO good to give up. This happens over and over again. Great NPC’s, over written, or, perhaps, not organized well enough to easily run them during play. (And the NPC’s are really really good. From the old coot to the rando’s you can throw in. Tropes, leveraged, are a good thing when done well.)

Treasure is light for a S&W game. But it’s also got versions for 5e and Pathfinder, so I suspect no one upped it for S&W. The Frogs could do a MUCH better job in that regard. It would help better communicate that they give a shit about S&W.  Although … layout seems cleaner and more modern than the Frog adventures I remember in the past, the memories anyway, so maybe they are stepping up their game? Anyway …

Let’s talk some magic treasure! How about this? “This silver ring is fashioned to look like monstrous, overlapping claws clutching each other in a circular pattern. Once each day, the

wearer can summon forth a swarm of disembodied, clawed hands that crawl over one creature  …” Great physical description (again that evocative writing) and effect (that then gets a mechanical description, but, at least it starts with the non-mechanical.) A certain potion is “horrible-smelling black ichor.” Good writing, even if “horrible smelling” is a conclusion that is telling instead of showing.

The adventure design relies on the party being nosy nellies. Or, ratherm a mob attacks them the first night and the party is expected to follow up on that if they have not followed up on things previously. There’s also a trip in to the woods which I don’t think is telegraphed as clearly as it could be. Essentially, half the adventure lies in the woods, or comes from it, and there’s not much i9n the way of pointing people to that as the next step. Easily solved by a DM dropping some hint in questioning, but, still, a slight weakness in the adventure there.

The whole things FEELS like someone who had never seen an RPG write an adventure and then stat’d it for the mechanics and that’s a VERY good thing. And I don’t mean the mechanics are wonky or don’t make sense, they do. I mean it feels like someone came up with ideas and then looked to see what the closest thing mechanically was to them. That’s a great way to design. It’s not a blob because it’s a gibbering mouther. It’s a gibbering mouther because it’s a blob. The church in town is boarded up and you have to break in. But it feels more like a real world imagining of a boarded up church you’re breaking in to then it does some kind of fantasy lockpick/knock kind of thing. The basement of a farmhouse is unnaturally cold. IN a supernatural adventure? Really? Yes, it has brown mold. Shit makes sense in this. You can telegraph it, it makes sense, layers still won’t get it, until AFTER The encounter, when they are kicking themselves. That’s good.

You probably can’t save the village from the decline it was going through. But, if you save the villagers then “They carry the names of these heroes with them as they tell tales around the campfire or trade news with those traveling through.” The actions have consequences and the parties fame will grow. That’s a good reward. 

So, overall, a great adventure. I’d recommend this if it were organized a bit better. As written, it is highlighter and note taking fodder to run it. It’s the designer’s job to ensure I don’t have to do that. Design is good. Evocative is good. Interactivity is good enough. But it needs better organization. And I got No Regerts saying that.

Also, there’s no level designation anywhere on the cover or product description. That’s a MAJOR fail by the publisher.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is only four pages and doesn’t show you ANYTHING of the adventure except the background. That’s a shitty preview. A couple of town entries, or a page of encounters is what should be in the preview, to let the buy know what kind of writing to expect.–Swords–Wizardry?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tyranny and Mutation - The Planet Algol Blues For 'The Transmaniacon' For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 03/02/2020 - 06:29
Have you talked with your Transmaniacon recruiter today?Joining only costs you your sanity &  soul One of the main reasons why I got into blogging was being inspired by other OSR bloggers. The scene wasn't so terribly commercialized. That would come much later on but one of the early blogs that I read was Planet Algol. At some point was gonna be an OSR gonzo science fantasy rule Needles
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Launch Day: Part Two

The Splintered Realm - Mon, 03/02/2020 - 02:09
So, I'm not done with Army Ants news for the day. Hey, I promised the ants were on the march. For the next year or so, I plan to re-release the entire comics run of the MTDAA series, including some unfinished pages and a little bit of new connective tissue. I'm calling this Michael T. Desing's Army Ants remastered, and I will be sharing it on Tumblr. 

In the process, I am going back and re-scanning the original pages, or the best copies I can find. I am going to re-letter the entire comic using a font instead of the hand lettering, sharpening up the pages and doing touch-ups as needed. Since I am going a page a day, I can take the time to really clean this up to have a polished looking master set of pages at the end to do some sort of deluxe print edition. I've posted page one, and I hope you notice the difference between the versions.

Review Of The New OSR Retro System - Apes Victorious Rpg System From Goblinoid Games For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 03/01/2020 - 21:20
"ALERT! ALERT! PREMATURE LANDING! You groggily come back to consciousness after a long cryosleep. Your ship’s warning system is telling you the ship has entered the atmosphere of a planet and is about to crash land under autopilot. Crawling to a seat, you buckle in, joining your fellow astronauts as you quickly check instrument readings.Through the cockpit window you see a barren, desolate Needles
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After the Horsemen - Coming This Week.

Two Hour Wargames - Sun, 03/01/2020 - 19:30

After the Horsemen 2nd Edition comes out this week. The original was produced in 2012 and it's time for an update. It's set in the Post-Apocalyptic future. ATH can be played with miniatures or counters (we've included 20+ color counters) on the tabletop or on the Battle Board (we've included 3 of them). In the following couple of Bat Reps we'll be doing both.

You start After the Horsemen alone. There are 8 Encounters in the book and we have 10 of them linked together into a mini-Campaign where each adventure ties into the next. It's set in Lake Havasu City AZ after the Apocalypse. I start with a Voluntary Encounter as there wasn't an Involuntary one. More on that later. 

Our hero Billy Pink enters the edge of town and decides to visit a Bar for some Chillin'. It's the best way to recruit others to your band plus gamble, find companionship and even a job.  Billy enters the bar and there are three PEFs to be resolved - the colored markers. PEFs cna be something or nothing so you never know what you'll run into. 

Billy resolves the 1st PEF as 4 Sheep. People that are just trying to survive and making the best out of their situation. Sheep are usually timid and unarmed. Billy Interacts with them - has a conversation - and they give him a favorable response but don't have a job to offer. Unfortunately none of them are worth recruiting. Billy gains 1 Increasing Rep d6 for them having a positive response.  These d6 can be used to buy things as well as increase your Rep if you're lucky.

Billy goes to the next PEF and it's more Sheep. He Interacts with them, no response either way and they really aren't recruiting material. 
Billy hits up the last PEF in the upper right hand corner and meets 3 Pack Wolves. These are people that want everything and aren't afraid to take it from others. Each is well armed and have good Reps of 4 and 5. 

Billy gets a positive Interaction with the Pack Wolf Leader so now Further Interacts with Sooze, a Rep 4  Pack Wolf. She's good with it and Billy recruits her. This will cost Billy 1 Decreasing Rep d6 at the start of each month that Sooze is in the band. This ends the first Encounter.************The edge of Havasu isn't very populated so the Encounter Rating is a 1 - not very good for finding a job.  I decide to move south towards the Downtown Area where it's more populated and has a better chance of a job. But first I have to see if Billy and Sooze will have an Involuntary Encounter - one that is forced on the Characters.
They do. Watch for Part Two.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Enter the Lumberlands!

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 03/01/2020 - 15:00

Erik Jensen of the Wampus Country blog and related publications is Kickstarting a new zine in that setting called Lumberlands: 

"...spend some time in the misty Lumberlands, a vast expanse of enchanted forest where brawny lumberjacks ply their trade, seek adventure and fortune, and defend the frontier from horrible sasquatches."

I loved playing in Erik's Wampus Country game in the days of G+ and I'm pleased it's been resurrected in this zine. Check it out!

MTDAA Twilight Has Arrived

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 03/01/2020 - 13:43
What if the B/X engine was used to create a mashup of a certain 1980s para-military post apoc game, another game set in a world of rampaging mutants, and the coolest elite military unit comic of all time?
It would probably look like this.
Michael T. Desing’s Army Ants: Twilight is two things: first, it’s an ongoing narrative about a group of ants at the end of the Ant/Wasp War, © Michael T. Desing. It is also a roleplaying game for two or more players, released under the Open Game License.
As a reader, you will hopefully decide to follow the exploits of a team of army ants on their greatest, and possibly final, adventure.
As a player, you will take on the role of an army ant or an allied bug, traversing the wilds. You will join with a team of other bugs to overcome the challenges that the referee places before you. You will use these rules, an assortment of dice, and your imagination to craft a shared tale of your adventures.
This core ruleset, which is also the first issue of the ongoing series, is released as a PWYW book in glorious full color, the way the 1980s would have wanted.
As part of the "Army Ants are on the MARCH" promotion, all other Michael T. Desing's Army Ants titles are also PWYW through March 31! Now is the time to get caught up on all things army ant.

28mm Koblod Cavalry On Kickstarter - Ends Sunday - Fully Funded.

Two Hour Wargames - Sun, 03/01/2020 - 02:54
Kobold CavalryCheck it out. Sculpts by Bob Olley - very good stuff and into the Stretch Goals already!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

One Day More

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 02/29/2020 - 21:23
Michael T. Desing's Army Ants: Twilight launches tomorrow, and I have a few little tricks up my sleeve yet to come. I finished edits today, and I'm very happy with this game. It is a tight little game - this is the game I wanted to write 25 years ago, but I just didn't have the chops to do it yet.

I look forward to sending it out to the world tomorrow, and I'm excited to hear what you think.

Strangers In A Sword & Sorcery Land - A Leap Day Sale - Cha'alt & AS&SH combined with Old School Campaign Goodness

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 02/29/2020 - 21:09
The world of Cha'alt started as a fairly typical medieval land with elves, dwarves, snake-men, clerics, and magic-users; steeped in superstition along with antediluvian traditions, before the Old Gods went mad.  Three-thousand years passed. The surface dwellers split from the malevolent creatures who slithered below. Those who remained on the surface lost the understanding of magic, but theirNeedles
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Tracts in Amber - Some CampaignThoughts on Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique, Mystara, & Tom Modvey's X2 Castle Amber

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 02/29/2020 - 17:31
"Aeons of aeons ago, in an epoch whose marvelous worlds have crumbled, and whose mighty suns are less than shadow, I dwelt in a star whose course, decadent from the high, irremeable heavens of the past, was even then verging upon the abyss in which, said astronomers, its immemorial cycle should find a dark and disastrous close. Ah, strange was that gulf-forgotten star - how stranger than any Needles
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(5e) Cha’alt

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 02/29/2020 - 12:11
By: Venger As’nas Satanis Kort'thalis Publishing 5e? Sure, whatever Venger ... Level: Meaningless! Fuck your rules!

Cha’alt is the beast of a book (218 pages) I’ve been working on for the past year.  It’s a ruined world focusing on a couple of introductory dungeons before getting to the main event – the megadungeon known as The Black Pyramid.   The Black Pyramid is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Unique design, purpose, feel, magic items, NPCs, monsters, factions, motives, agendas, strangeness, the works! There’s a decent amount of setting detail besides dungeoncrawling – space opera bar, domed city, mutants, weird ass elves, desert pirates, a city ruled by a gargantuan purple demon-worm, and much more!

This 218p book is part setting and part 111 room dungeon. It’s Venger doing what Venger does, in terms of creativity, and Venger Under Control when it comes to his worst qualities (writing too much, for example.) As written, the setting is better than the main adventure, The Black Pyramid dungeon. You could tweak it and make it better. Then it would be one of the best Rifts hexcrawls ever.

So, two books in one. The first chunk is a description of the world the Black Pyramid dungeon sits in, as well as a couple of smaller dungeon. Those two mini-dungeons are perhaps representative of some of Vengers worse work. Linear-ish, and maybe starting off by nuking your L1 characters with a fireball from a 7HD invisible wizard in the first room. But, let’s ignore those two efforts.

The game world is a mashup of every post-apoc trope ever. Independent city states. Giant mecha city. Domed city. Roving tribes of primitive wastelanders. Giant sandworms. Cthulhu shit and cultists. Galactic Star Empires. Heavy Metal. You name it and Venger threw it in. Dune-like Spice fracking, methcrystals, and even sex panther cologne from the Anchorman movies. El Senor Venger Assman don’t know know restraint, and that’s a good thing for something like that. So, take about half of those RIfts supplements books, distill them down to about a column each, and call that your game world. Groovy. Best Rifts/Gamma World setting ever. I remember some blog that had something like a UFP Starship crew messing around on Carcosa. It reminds me a lot of that, except you’re not the starship crew. Probably. I call this a Yul Brenner. And it’s a decent Yul Brenner. Enough detail in those columns to inspire the DM, which is what fluff should do. Basically, while exploring the main event (The Black Pyramid) the party might need something/want to do something outside of the dungeon and that’s where this support material comes in.  Healing, complications for the DM to throw in, get a replacement arm that’s robotic from the robo-surgeon in the domed cities, or sell your chthonic artifact. That’s the real purpose of this section, which lasts about half the book. Like I said, I’m kinder these days about background fluff. 

And then there’s Maud. I mean, The Black Pyramid. This is the focus of the book and the reason you bought it. This is an absurdist funhouse dungeon with no pretext to it. Blue Medusa may be the closest analogy. A bunch of vignettes, a set piece in each room, described and the players encountering it. Blue Medusa, though, had some internal logic. There was some pretext. Some of the rooms worked together. It kind of made sense.

Not this. “Funhouse Dungeon” is thrown around a lot. I suggest that we are all individuals, err, I mean hyperbolics, at least in this area. The Black Pyramid has no logic at all behind it. Imagine an army of 10,000 men in a 10×10 room. And 18 Cthulhus in the next room with 12 Abolethethsin a desert room in the door on the other side. I’m not a simulationist. Food, water, bathrooms, neighbors … I don’t think I’m really hung up on that shit. But here Venger pushes past any semblance of suspension of disbelief. Suspending your suspension of disbelief, as it were. One room has a movie theater, with patrons. How did they get there? What do the people next door think? Travel rights? Nothing matters. It just is. Run it. The Peewee’s Playhouse room? Just run it. Any of a hundred other joke rooms? Just run it.

This then is your main qualification for wanting this, at least to run. Do you want to run a game like that? A game in which nothing matters? I realize that statement could be taken as me poking fun, or being negative, but I’m not being that when I say it. Do you want to run a funhouse? A REAL funhouse? Then this is for you.

It’s got an index. The rooms are fairly well organized, maybe tending to the lengthier side of things in places, but not terrible in that regard.  Something is going on in each, in some fashion, so it’s not the expanded minimalism that others engage in. It’s ok. I’m too traumatized, still to this day, by WG7. I can’t enjoy a real funhouse dungeon. 

But …

Listen to the Voice saying Follow Me …

Venger ‘The AssMan’ Satan has missed a real opportunity with Chaalt. Or, maybe, that opportunity still exists. This COULD be the greatest Rifts/Gamma World adventure to ever exist. EVAR. Both of those have a serious fanbase behind them and neither has anything like “Anything Good” to support them. Of course you can’t call it for Rifts cause Kevin will sue the fusk out of you.

But …

If you take The Black Pyramid, each of its little vignettes, and instead give it room to breathe … you turn it in to a HexCrawl! The most bestest post-apoc hexcrawl evar! Then it has room. The pretext is handled almost automatically. The fucking dungeon is really a pointcrawl anyway, this one in particular. Venger’s got some pretext “connecting tubes’ thing to connect his little vignettes in extradimensional space, but why not instead just go all in and make it a hexcrawl, turning each room in to a hex? You spend, what, two months rearranging the rooms a bit to make a bit more sense and fitting them in to the most minimal pretext and logic possible. This, then, would be a chance for Venger to go mainstream. Capture all of that Rifts/Dark Sun/Gamma World/Eberron demand. 

This funhouse would work that way. The pretext is easy. It’s a hexcrawl, that’s how people got there. A little bit more work, a couple of months, rewriting and rearranging. Then it’s yours Venger! All of the success ever in the world! But you gotta put in a little extra work to turn it in a hexcrawl is a little pretext. I suspect, though, Venger is morally opposed to that though.

This is $20 at DriveThru. The preview is the first 32 pages. As such you get to see the Gamma World like game world. It would have been better to also include a few pages of actual encounters in the pyramid, maybe one of its maps also, so people knew just how funhouse and pointcrawl they were buying.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Egg of the Coot & The Demon Worm - Cha'alt/Godbound Campaign Commentary Session Report Part Ten

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 02/29/2020 - 05:41
The Witch Coven of Garlghast & the Egregore set by Privateer Press (34035), make excellent substitutes for the witches of Egg of Coot.  Cha'alt/Godbound  campaign had a high rate of ultra violence! In tonight's game the party encountered a Cha'alt demon worm along with purple demon  cleric summoner  & its  the sky ship guardians. The demon worm turned on the handlers as its cleric was Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Ants Are Ready to MARCH

The Splintered Realm - Fri, 02/28/2020 - 18:29
From now through the end of March, all MTDAA releases are up as pay-what-you-want downloads. If you have some holes in your MTDAA library, now is the time to fill them. This month will also see the release the the MTDAA: Twilight RPG, which uses the same system (and fundamental layout) as Tales of the Splintered Realm. It's a B/X retro style version of MTDAA with shades of Twilight 2000 and Gamma World. I expect it to be out early next week; I'm in final edits right now, and want to make sure that all the tweaks are sufficiently tweaked before I tweet. Or something like that.

Divine Inspiration - Ray Harryhausen's Jason & The Argonauts 1963 & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Campaign Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 02/28/2020 - 17:27
"The legendary Greek hero leads a team of intrepid adventurers in a perilous quest for the legendary Golden Fleece. " Sometimes you've got to go back to the well for inspiration & in this case its the Ray Harryhausen 1963 classic Jason & the Argonauts. Here's the low down on this film from its wiki entry; "Jason and the Argonauts (working title: Jason and the Golden Fleece) is a 1963 Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] The Treasures of the Old Kingdom

Beyond Fomalhaut - Thu, 02/27/2020 - 17:00
Treasures of the Old Kingdom
[REVIEW] The Treasures of the Old Kingdom (2020)by Jonathan HicksPublished by Farsight GamesLow levels
Disappointment comes in many forms. The cynical cash grab, the sloppy mess, the paint-by-the numbers borefest, the formulaic knockoff, the fantasy module with no sense of the fantastic, the outrageous disaster. None are more tragic than the misguided labour of love. This is the adventure you would like to succeed, but which end up failing. Treasures of the Old Kingdom is a tragic failure, because it is built on multiple fundamental adventure design mistakes. It is not bad because its author failed at doing something – rather, it did because he kept doing the wrong things. Not out of malice, but because we – the hobby, collectively – have failed to make a proper distinction between good and bad adventure design. This module keeps making mistakes in an entirely typical manner – typical enough among many disappointing modules to make me choose it as an exhibit of “DON’T DO THIS!” So here we are.
To begin with the good, this adventure is entirely self-illustrated in an amateurish but endearing style. Nobody will call it good art, but it has charm – there is a soul to it. It is also a module that has a few pieces of good imagery poking out from the bad baseline. A tiny kingdom whose king is little better than a local bandit; a muddy, half-built settlement that’s between an encampment and a new village; its tavern, a great tent with a tree sticking out through a big hole in the canvas; a great ruined statue standing over a river, Colossus of Rhodes-style; a military camp preparing for a battle with invading orcs. These are well realised, and there is certainly a visual imagination at play.Best TavernBut these are set pieces. Not interactive bits, not even things which get a part in play (none of the above do). They are scenery in a predetermined story. It is clearly intended as an epic that starts as skirmishes against monster lairs, and builds up into an epic secret quest into dangerous territory involving a mysterious benefactor and an evil magic item… and you get to sail beneath a great statue from a forgotten age (where could that come from?). What actually happens over the course of the adventure follows the stages of a linear narrative, with a fairly inconsequential side quest. You know it will be bad when you see it is set up as a story – “Part One”, “Part Two”, and so on. It is railroading, with a lack of player agency – things happen because they happen, and because the adventure would be over if the players didn’t go along with the GM. If they don’t take the mission… if they follow a different course of action or a different route… if they do something differently than intended… the adventure as written is over.
Meaningful player agency is missing from the big picture, but also from decisions on the level of individual encounters. There is nothing useful to do outside the adventure plot, and there is not much opportunity to do something more than go along. Initially, the players can pick between clearing out multiple monster lairs, a choice which does not matter (because the lairs are simple 1-4 room affairs with little content going for them). Later, they get a Plot Chaperone, who feeds them plot points in exchange for doing as she tells them. Except for the last segment, they don’t have to make hard decisions, or figure out something on their own, or come up with a clever stratagem that saves the day. They are just along for the ride. Ironically, the railroading even removes the usefulness of the content that might actually serve as a basis for something better. For example, there is some not-entirely-bad background info on the mini-kingdom, along with a nice regional map, but it gets no play because it does not matter – the plot train passes them by.The Kingdom of Cardigul (not actually featured in a meaningful sense in this module)As it often goes with tragically bad adventures, the proportion of functional and utterly useless content is seriously skewed. A lot of attention is dedicated to background detail (that does not enter play), read-aloud texts and NPC monologue (that only pulls down the experience), and a lot of framing for utterly inconsequential scenes (that are basically filler). There is the obligatory “next morning” section, one of the sure-fire signs the author wanted to write a story instead of playing a multi-player game. Lengthy exposition on trivial material, usually as a way to link important scenes to form a coherent narrative structure. That is the mistake: trying to enforce a vision instead of letting it happen spontaneously. Railroading is not just a removal of player agency. I have observed in many similar modules that it also tends to result in a lot more effort to accomplish simple things than normal. In a better constructed module, one good paragraphs could convey the GM the ideas which several bad ones do not. This is a 28 page adventure which could have easily been two pages (as it stands), or which could have used so many words to give us a much more rounded, complex adventure, and a mini-gazetteer to boot. However, this adventure does not even trust the GM to do obvious, simple things. Paradoxically, it becomes over-detailed in filler sections which do not matter, and remains underdeveloped in sections which might (adventure content).
The adventure’s dungeons are not dungeons. Not in the sense envisioned by D&D’s makers. They are quite minuscule even by lair standards. The lair of the Mutant Ogre is a 4-room cave system, the two optional side-encounters are single-area affairs, and the burial vault – the final objective – is a corridor with four rooms to the sides, and a fifth room at the end. But even this vault has barely anything in it except overlong boxed text focused on mundane detail, and four basic encounters which are slightly fancy combats.
Ce n'est pas un dungeon.The story must triumph over all impediments, including pesky players. We encounter the typical design tactic of second-guessing. In an early lair encounter, the GM is advised to fudge an encounter:“If you feel that the players outmatch the Mutant Ogre too much, or they are defeating it too easily, then have another walk in from cave 4 – it seems the Mutant Ogre wasn’t working alone, after all! However, don’t make it too hard for the players as this is their first encounter and there’s a lot for them to do before this adventure is even remotely over.”I have seen many similar adventures as a player (and have been guilty of GMing them in the past), where, for the sake of “correct pacing”, the GM sacrificed the game’s ability to offer surprises, setbacks, and grand victories. You can never be too clever, or just absolutely lucky, nor can you fail conclusively. If you rise above the “plot zone”, you are hammered down; if you fail, your defeat is snatched from your grasp to keep you trudging along the Storyline – one that is no longer your own.
Later in the adventure, the characters must venture into a war zone to retrieve the MacGuffin, hidden in a small dungeon. A battle between orcs and men rages around them as they race against time to find a hidden switch, but there are no stakes, because the GM is instructed to control the scene:“Make sure that the PCs who fight aren’t hurt too badly and run the battle as cinematically as possible; the enemy should be easy to fight, foes the PCs can take down with pretty much one hit, and any attacks on the PCs should be weak and lacking damage – minus 1 from all rolls with a minimum of 1. (…) If the PCs do engage in the fight, make it exciting and incredibly tense as the orcs try their hardest to get over the wall and into the compound. (…) The battle is fierce, and just as it seems the walls are about to be breached have Carthean or one of the PCs find the symbol (…).”Carthean Outlines
the PlotThe culprit is there in plain sight: “cinematically”. This undoubtedly is a cinematic event, but one that makes for a lousy game: the characters have plot armour, their enemies are impotent, and the search for the switch succeeds or drags on purely at the discretion of an all-important Storyteller manipulating a GMPC. The encounter accomplishes the exact opposite of what it sets out to do: there is no real tension or challenge (because things are continuously being fudged to make things a bit easier or a bit harder), and no real accomplishment or sense of victory. A proper setup for this encounter would give the players a puzzle, and a countdown to hold back the tide until they can solve it (perhaps with the provision that on round 6+1d4, Carthean will do it on her own, should the players be absolutely incompetent puzzle-solvers). It would actually make it easier to describe and set up the encounter, and it would give the characters a real sense of beating the race against the clock. But this is obviously not what happens in this module.
It is fairly clear the author does not quite understand the game system he is writing for. It is no accident. The credits reveal it to be a scenario originally made for Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition. I grew up on the Fighting Fantasy books, and love them to pieces – but they are obviously not D&D in their assumptions, and AFF is no exception. For example, D&D awards the bulk of its experience points for treasure – mountains of it. Like it or not (I have my reservations, on which I will write later), GP = XP is the grand equation of old-school D&D. Treasures of the Old Kingdom offers measly bounties of 60 gp (for the Mutant Ogre, going up to 80 if the characters haggle successfully), anaemic lair treasure at 1d6*100 gp (same place), and a princely tomb with “jewels worth 2d6*100 gp”. Or you can always search the trash for 2d6*2 gp (page 7). One thing is made clear here: the author does not know what “treasure” means in old-school D&D – only the final dungeon helps things. But don’t forget – you will have to divide up the loot among the party members.
For another case, let us take the module’s deathtraps, found in the final dungeon. Consider the following:“Every three rounds the tiles shift colour and if a player is not standing on a red tile (…) a vial of poison gas will drop from a hole in the ceiling onto the player and, if they do not make a Save roll [sic] they will suffer 1d6 damage.”Or:“The floor is false and once more than one person is on it the flagstones will give way and reveal a drop six foot drop [sic] down to spikes that inflict 1D6 damage if they fail a Save!”Or even:“Also, each chest has a 1 in 6 chance of being trapped with a mechanism so that when the chest is opened a poison dart shoots out of the lock doing 1 point of damage per round for 1D6 rounds. These traps can be found with a successful roll, and the dart avoided with a successful Save roll.”Disregard the typos, the lack of punctuation, the varieties of notation and the wrong terminology, and focus on the principal issue: the supposed deathtraps don’t do their job. They are feeble. Now yes, S&W Whitebox (a.k.a. LBB-only OD&D) is a game where first-level PCs have 1d6 Hp on the average, and damage is also 1d6 by default. Your character might die in them... if you trigger that 1:6 chance, followed by a failed save, followed by an unlucky rolls. Maybe. But these traps will never get respect. Here is a good one, from Tomb of the Serpent Kings:“When the bar is lifted, the iron pegs begin to rise. When the bar is fully removed a trap is activated. A huge stone hammer swings down from the ceiling, aiming straight for the backsof the now-trapped PCs. It nearly fills the corridor, but there is a small gap on either side. The PCs can:1. Save to Dodge OR2. Use another PC as a springboard, giving them +2 to Dodge but giving the shoved PC –2.PCs hit by the hammer automatically die (or take serious damage, like 2d6+4).”That is a trap that accomplishes what traps should do in a dungeon: make you very, very careful about taking the next step. I could also mention the ferocious animated statues guarding the vault’s treasures: they have what I would call (pardon my English) “shit HD and damage”. Something that is described as something like a hulking golem-like thing has 1+2 HD, and your regular 1d6 Hp damage. They are worth – no joke – 30 XP each. That's terror.I could no doubt go on about Treasures of the Old Kingdom. It seems to be wrong on many levels. But the central flaw of the adventure is that it is not written and set up as a worthwhile interactive experience. Why would you take a game whose central conceit is that you can “inhabit” fantastic characters and attempt the heroics you see in books and movies, and then take that control back through GM shenanigans? It is perhaps the bad question to ask from a small self-published affair like The Treasures of the Old Kingdom. The author did not do this to us. The module’s sins are not his. Other game designers, much more influential ones, did this to the author and all of us. It took so many of us a lot of effort to break free of our mental shackles after being taught – conditioned, even – to Love The Story or face the rats. This is the fate old-school gaming was supposed to liberate us from, and have us appreciate being free once more. And yet we still see this stuff, again and again and again. It is such a sadness.
No playtesters are credited in this publication.
Rating: * / *****
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