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The Maze of Peril video review by captcorajus

Zenopus Archives - Mon, 09/28/2020 - 20:55
The Maze of Peril (1986), cover art by Dan Day
Space and Time Books continues to restock copies of the original 1986 printing of The Maze of Peril in their Amazon store, as I previously reported
Click here or on the cover image in the right side bar to get a copy (the link includes my Amazon affiliate number)

Over on Youtube, captcorajus has a new video review of the book, titled "OSR Musings: Maze of Peril". captcorajus is a Holmes fan; I've featured two of his RPG Retro Reviews before, one of the Holmes Basic Set as a whole and the other of the Tower of Zenopus Dungeon. And this past February (just before coronavirus shut everything down), I had the pleasure of meeting and having him play Bardan the Dwarf in my game at Scrum Con!

I will note as a warning that if you haven't read the book yet, this review does include a significant number of spoilers regarding the plot.

OSR Musings: Maze of Peril

Stepping away from game and module reviews this week, I take a look at the Dungeons & Dragons inspired adventure by the author of the D&D Basic Set, John Eri...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On a Generator of Missions

Hack & Slash - Mon, 09/28/2020 - 12:00
I've run many, many games. No matter the game, the party gains access to a commerce hub and immediately begins asking about work. Here is a tool to help you generate missions and their complications. Links to the enhanced/illustrated downloadable version of this are at the bottom of the post. 

  1. Assault/Raid
    1. Fortress
    2. Town
    3. Ship
    4. Ambush
    5. Skirmish
  2. Extraction (Voluntary/Involuntary)
    1. Jail
    2. Prison camp
    3. Private prison
    4. Prisoner of war
    5. From employment (corporation/crown)
    6. Natural Disaster
    7. From hostile forces
      1. Tower
      2. Dungeon
      3. Jail
      4. Camp
      5. Building
  3. Theft
    1. Caravan
    2. Individual
    3. Building
    4. Hijacking
    5. Kidnapping
    6. Piracy (Tranfer of goods between vehicles)
    7. Salvage
  4. Bounty
    1. Monster
    2. Individual
    3. Posse
    4. Pest-Control
    5. Hunting (Safari-style)
    6. Hunting (Commercial gain)
      1. Any of the above may be Dead or Alive
  5. Escort
    1. Caravan
      1. Commercial
      2. Pilgrimage
    2. Animal (Cattle)
    3. Object/Transport
    4. Message/Parcel
    5. Personnel
    6. Smuggling
      1. Goods
      2. Weapons
      3. People/Items
  6. Coup d'etat
  7. Duel/Contest
    1. Sport
    2. Weapons
    3. One vs. One
    4. Team vs. Team
    5. Tournament+
    6. Brawl
  8. Assassination
  9. Sabotage
    1. Arson
    2. Destruction
    3. Planting evidence
    4. Forgery
  10. Exploration
    1. Area
      1. Mapping
      2. Trailblazing
    2. Spying
      1. Armies
      2. Governments
      3. Populations
  11. Mysteries
    1. Murder
    2. Disappearance
    3. Riddle/Puzzle
  12. Skill (Cooking/Leatherworking, etc.)
    1. Labor (Farmhand, General Labor)
    2. White Collar (Appraiser, Scribe)
    3. Black Market (Forger, Lockpicker)
    4. Service (Armor Tester, Waiter, Usher, Etc.)
Any mission above may be given by the Authority, an Individual (such as a Merchant, Noble, Wizard/Scientist/Alchemist, Politician, Public Servant), Rebels, Feuding families or groups, or a Faction. Any of the above may come with an "Obstacle Course" or test before employment. Any of the above may also be just a preface for a different actual task.
The actual adventure comes in the twist however. Common permutations of the above options are listed below. This is your VALUE-ADD.

  • Assault/Raid
    • You must attack and kill/retrieve a macguffin
    • You must defend a structure that someone is planning to attack
    • You attack the structure, but the 'victims' welcome you
    • You attack the structure and the victims welcome you, but then try to kill you
    • There are long term consequences of the Assault
  • Extraction:
    • You must recover or retrieve the macguffin
    • You must insert or place the macguffin in the target area
    • You are the macguffin to be retrieved
    • You go to the macguffin and they want to stay or you see a reason retrieving it would be bad
    • You go to the macguffin and they want to stay because they just wanted to expose weaknesses where they are (or some other method via they help their captors)
    • You go to the macguffin and decide retrieving it would be bad, but really it's bad to not retrieve it because you were misinformed
    • There is no macguffin and never was
    • The maguffin is surprisingly difficult to retrieve
  • Theft:
    • You must steal a macguffin
    • You must protect the macguffin from theft
    • When you go to steal the macguffin it's not their or is not what you expected
    • As above, except it secretly is (illusion, secret compartment)
    • You go to steal the item and discover the owners are glad to part with it or the macguffin wants to be stolen
    • There is no treasure to steal
  • Bounty:
    • You get paid for killing a creature
    • You get paid for preventing people from poaching or killing a creature
    • The bounty is on your head
    • The creature or the reward is fictional
    • No one believes the creature still exists but it does
    • The bounty on a creature is very high, after killing many of them, the effects on the ecosystem become known
  • Escort:
    • You must accompany a macguffin to a destination
    • You are the person to be escorted
    • Something has affected the destination that makes completion of the mission impossible
    • The macguffin is not what it appears, making delivery impossible
  • Coup d'eat:
    • You must unseat a person in power
    • You are the person in power someone is attempting to unseat
    • The person in power is actually the one who should be
    • The person in power is the one who hired you to depose him
    • You don't need to unseat the person in power because of their new position
    • Performing the Coup d'eat destablizes the region and the fallout changes the shape of the campaign
  • Duel/Contest:
    • You must defeat an opponent
    • Someone is trying to stop or defeat you
    • Your opponent throws the match
    • Your opponent loses, meanwhile he's accomplishing his goal while you're tied up with him
    • The contest is called on account of weather
    • The contest doesn't need to occur because of other developments that put you and your opponent on the same side
  • Assassination:
    • You must kill a target
    • People have taken a contract out on your life
    • The person is paying you to kill them
    • The person is paying you to kill them, but is actually under the control of the players enemies
    • When you go to kill them, they are removed in another way as an obstacle (or perhaps they leave the prime material) meaning it is no longer necessary to kill them
    • Assassinating your target causes more problems then it solves
  • Sabotage:
    • You must sabotage a target
    • You must protect a target from being sabotaged
    • There is a non-functional device that must be repaired
    • The target you set out to sabotage is already non-functional
    • The non-functional target is actually just a ruse, the real danger is coming from another foreshadowed source
    • The target due for sabotage fails of its own accord for entirly seperate reasons
    • Sabotaging the target actually makes your own goals more difficult to achieve
  • Exploration:
    • You must explore an area
    • You must prevent a group from finding out about an area
    • You set out to explore an area only to discover it is already well mapped
    • You discover a well mapped out area that you set out to explore but find that all the maps are very inaccurate
  • Mysteries:
    • You must solve a mystery
    • You must prevent someone from discovering what you have done
    • You set out to solve a mystery, but the solution is easily found. Knowing it causes a whole new set of problems
    • Something happened with an obvious solution, a close examination will show that perhaps the obvious solution isn't correct
    • Something that appears to be a mystery is clearly not when examined
  • Skill:
    • Your skill or work is tested
    • You are needing to hire people for a project
    • You set out to do a job, but it turns out there are bigger problems
    • The bigger problems require a different skill you have
    • It turns out that a skilled person wasn't needed at all

Originally published on September 24th, 2013. An enhanced version is available in digital form on Patreon and for free  on DTRPG. For other works, be sure and check out the Directory.Hack & Slash FollowTwitchNewsletterSupportDonate to end Cancer (5 Star Rating)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Treacherous Gold

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 09/28/2020 - 11:25
By Peter Rudin-Burgess Azukali Games Rolemaster/Harp Any Level

Treacherous Gold sees the characters stumble across a group of orcs escorting some hostages. The orcs think the characters are those they are meeting to exchange the hostages with for gold. The characters may choose to do so, or they may get ambushed by the orcs either before or after the exchange.

*sigh* I thought the publisher looked familiar. Did one of my “gentle readers” suggest this, or did I stumble upon it on my own? Yeah, I know, it’s Rolemaster, a system that has always intrigued me, in spite of my “light rules” preferences. Probably because of MERP. Anyway, it says generic (and it very much is) and I thought that maybe a Good Adventure is a Good Adventure, regardless of system.

This 32 page “adventure” details one encounter between orcs and the party. That’s about three pages. The rest of the product is a bunch of battle maps to print out. Still, one encounter in three pages is pretty impressive, right?

The idea is that the orcs have some hostages, encounter the party, and mistakenly think they are the ones they are meeting for a hostage ransom. You can pay and go on your pay with the prisoners. If you do pay then the orcs track you down that night and attack anyway. Because.

That’s it. It takes three pages to describe all of this. A group of orcs, hostages, some scaling (that’s the “Any Level” part) The rest of the adventure is a bunch of full size battle maps to print out. I remember this publisher now, as soon as I saw the maps. 

One encounter. Three pages for it. A product description that implies you are getting more than you are. Endless useless text about orc motivations. 

Ok, I’m seriously going to make a better effort on this shit. I’ve hit a string of these “not an adventure” lately and I don’t feel like I’m providing any value in “reviewing” them.  I’m not going to go all “Melan” and only review good/decent stuff, but I am going to make sure it reaches some bar. Like “an actual adventure.” Yes, I’ve said that before. This time for sure!

I’ve hit a bad patch with product, sorry gang! It does, though, provide some insight in to me. I’m always thinking that the product is going to be great and, in spite of repeated examples to the contrary, I never do the prep work required to determine if something is adequate before purchase.

This is $1.50 at DriveThru. The preview is all 32 pages. That’s a good preview. I should have used it. I’m a fucking idiot.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Star Trek Endeavour: The Clarity of Crystal

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 09/28/2020 - 11:00

Episode 2:
"THE CLARITY OF CRYSTAL"Player Characters: The Crew of the USS Endeavour, NCC-1895, Constitution Class Starship (refit):
Andrea as Lt. Ona Greer, Chief Engineer Officer and Lt. Taryn Loy, Geologist
Bob as Capt. Robert Locke
Gina as Cmdr. Isabella Hale, Helm Chief
Jason as Lt. Francisco Otomo, Chief Security OfficerEric As Lt.Cmdr. Tavek, Science Officer
Tug as Dr. Azala Vex, Trill Chief Medical Officer
Synposis: Checking in on the research station on the inhospitable Erebus III, the crew of the Endeavour discovers the unscrupulous head of the station is drugging the scientist in an attempt to make psionic contact with an ancient crystalline computer network.

Commentary: This is an adventure I wrote based off a session for a Star Trek Starships & Spacemen game back in 2013. When this group finishes the adventure, I may redo the notes to be Star Trek Adventures congruent and reshare them.
This adventure (inadvertently) featured yet another planet you couldn't transport down to. I'll have to avoid that in future adventures.

A Tale of Two TV Show Episode Guides

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 09/27/2020 - 14:30

It would be reasonable to ask what's the use of a print episode guide to a TV show in an age where the internet makes the basic information readily available on the likes of Wikipedia or IMDB? If you're dead set against it, I won't be able to convince you, but I would say a good episode guide doesn't just relate facts easily amenable to one internet search. At a minimum, a print episode guide should collate information that would likely require multiple searches to get, but a truly good episode guide presents a depth of research not generally achievable on the internet. It moves beyond the basic facts to give insight into episodes for someone already familiar with the basic facts.

The three volumes of These Are the Voyages: TOS by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn are the most comprehensive guide to Star Trek the Original Series available. Cushman's commentary on the episodes as tv drama is limited (though as much as many other guides available), but he presents a wealthy of information on the development of each episode from story idea to final aired version, with quotes from interview with creative staff and memos from producers and network execs. 

If it has a flaw, it is that it is not concise. Every season is its on volume, and every volume is sizable. But then, the audience for this sort of detail would just go Wikipedia if they wanted surface detail.

Scott Palmer's The Wild Wild West: The Series is sizable and pricey, but is lacking in the sort of details that make These Are the Voyages worthwhile. The appeal of Palmer's book is that, unlike with Star Trek, there are few books on The Wild Wild West available. In fact, there's only one other: The Wild Wild West, The Series by Susan E. Kesler. 

Where Kesler's book resembles Alan Asherman's The Star Trek Compendium in being a similar sort of thing to These Are The Voyages, but much less detailed and confined to one volume, Palmer's book only gives a detailed plot summary of every episode, a list of the primary actors involved (with pictures), and a number of stills from the episode. In the number of photos it exceeds the other works mentioned, but that's the only way. There is not insight into the creation of the episodes. It doesn't even list the screenwriters. 

So is it valueless in this age of the internet? Well, it does contain information you'd need to go to Wikipedia, IMDB, and Aveleyman to get, so it simplifies your searches, but it's got a high price tag for that. My recommendation would be Kesler's book, if you can find one.

Dead Heat? The Dead Rises.

Two Hour Wargames - Sat, 09/26/2020 - 20:02

 Some of you may remember Dead Heat. The Zombie Racing Game that came out ten years ago. Ten years ago! Yeah, I know. I've been giving it an update, new rules, and more. Here's a sample.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Crypts of Caverndel

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 09/26/2020 - 11:11
By Daniel Anderson & Cameron Foster The Bugbear Brothers 5e Level 4

The Crypts of Caverndel have been ransacked! A giant deer-skulled demon, beset by plague and pestilence, has torn the dwarven watch limb from limb before squeezing through the Hagmaw and disappearing into the crypts. The Crown has offered entry into an upcoming knighthood competition to any who might prove their bravery by entering the crypts and slaying the beast. In turn, whoever wins this prestigious competition would be granted rule of one of the Crown’s vacant demesnes.

This 24 page adventure describes a six room dungeon with more than a hint of Guillermo del Toro. Freaky deaky shit has some good base ideas, but it suffers from a poor communication style and inconsistent descriptions. It’s also essentially just combat with room modifiers. IE: 4e. The designers are, though, on the right track.

Nobility has a crypt. It’s been invaded by a demon, the guards killed. You’re sent in to kill it. Along the way you learn, maybe, that there’s some extra plot behind it all. It’s a six room dungeon with a few town locales attached. 

Both the town and the dungeon locations show a certain knowledge of making things memorable for the players. IE: having a kind of strong concept for the DM to hang their hat on when running a room, or NPC. The town doctor is dressed up all plague doctor like, never taking off his outfit and has a high ethereal voice … and wants things. A patient has a weird undead leg, pegleg style. There’s an eyeball/palm monster straight out of (What’s that fascist Spain del Toro movie that’s all just an allegory? Arg! Memory fails!) There’s strong strong imagery in this, including the deer-skulled demon thing, and more than a few of the rooms. It DOES tend to the freaky deaky side of the house, which makes things a little easier for a designer to work with, but the underlying concepts, freaky or mundane, are the same, and they pull it off. 

But …

Our room descriptions, six of them, along with the business descriptions in town, use a muddled format. The Panopticon room tells us that it’s circular with a high domed ceiling, the surface riddles with hundreds of golden twitching eyes, following your movement in the room. Nice! Note the “twitching” element, and golden. That’s really good use of language to add specificity and detail, and evocative writing. Then it goes in to detail on the mechanics of the eyes. Then, in paragraph two, it tells us that over time the chamber has turned in to a lake, having been flooded by groundwater, and in the center sits a small island. Floating on the lake are countless bloated bodies of dead soldiers that have been hacked to smithereens. A couple of problems here. First, good job with those floating bodies! I might suggest that smithereens is not the best word, but the rest of the description is pretty good. But, then it’s all fucked up with the backstory. DONT. FUCKING. CARE. about the over time bullshit. It’s a fucking lake with bodies in it. The rest is just filler fluff explaining why, and that’s almost never called for in an adventure. Further, the description of something THIS important and obvious is in paragraph two. And then there’s the third paragraph also, describing he creatures in the room. 

Better would have been a short paragraph describing the room, circular, high dome, golden twitching eyes, that sentence. Then follow it with a lake in the center, with island, with countless bodies floating, that sentence, then the creature in the middle. Perfect! Then you can have three extra small paras, each starting with a bolded word, like “eyeballs” (bolded) and the mechanics for it. Then Body search  9bolded) and the mechanics for it. And all of the bullshit backstory of the room dropped. That would be a VERY effective format, delivering information concisely and maintaining reference ability. Hmmm, maybe i’ll do a (bad) rewrite of that room at the end.

Treasure can be abstracted in this. “You find wealth worth 1000gp” Well, fuck that’s exciting, I guess. Don’t abstract treasure, be specific. It’s what a decent number of players are after, even in a non Gold=XP game. But then it goes and sticks in a warhammer, magic, made from the molar of a front giant (mjjolner, anyone?) That’s great specificity. Inconsistent.

The adventure could also use more cross-references. When it mentions “the panopticon”, in reference to a room, it should be “the panopticon (r5)” or something like that. Likewise when it mentions people or places. Just give us a hand on where to look. Other weird things like putting the description of a hallway, outside a room, in the description of the room 30’ away. Clearly that should have been another locale. 

And then there’s the interactivity. This is mostly combat. Rooms can have a combat modifier, like difficult terrain from hands and arms reaching out to grab you, or the eyeballs confusing you. That’s very 4e, a focus on combat and terrain/combat modifiers. More interactivity. Exploration is a pillar also! 

So, decent attempt but they need some serious work on the layout/organization of their room entries and to be more consistent with their descriptions/abstractions. And something besides combat. Town is not for RP and Dungeon for Combat. You can mix it up. And put in some other shit in the dungeon also, besides combat. And I don’t mean just traps. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages, but it just shows you the town locations. You can get a look at some of the NPC’s and some of the muddled descriptions that are indicative of the issues with the rooms. It would have been better if it showed one or two rooms.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Buck Rogers XX5e: Venusians

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 09/25/2020 - 11:00

Venusians are a genetically modified strain of humanity, with smaller, closer set ears than is typical for humans of Earth, and a nictating membrane over their eyes. The tend to heavier-framed due to Venus' thicker atmosphere.

There are three cultural groups the partially terraformed Venus of the 25th Century: the Aerostaters, Ishtarians, and Aphroditians.

The Aerostaters are nomads you engage in trade and herding from their dirigible cities. They are stereotyped as friendly and fond of festivals and large parties.

The Ishtarian Confederation dominates the planets surface-to-orbit transport. They are most known for their theocracy and mystic religion.

The Aphroditians are natives of the southern continent. They are descendants of the original colonists of Venus and live in a society constructed around large fiefs controlled by one of several families. The people are mostly farmers or miners. They are stereotyped as shrewd traders, but also stubborn and hot-tempered.

Venusian Genotypical Traits
Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution and Wisdom scores increase by 1. You may also increase your Strength or Intelligence by 1.
Age. Same as humans.
Alignment. Any.
Size. Venusians are Medium.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Nictating Membrane. You have a Advantage against attacks which might cause you to be Blinded.

(5e) Hell Prisons

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 09/23/2020 - 11:11
By Filip Gruszczynski Self Published 5e Level 5

Welcome to an infernal dungeon run by fiends! The devils are trying to tip the scales of the Blood War by establishing soul conversion facilities. These terrifying prisons are used to torment souls with an intention of creating more powerful devils and filling the battlegrounds of Avernus with powerful soldiers. Only brave adventurers can disrupt this horrifying scheme.

This 24 page adventure describes a three level dungeon, in hell, that is a prison run by devils. It has a nicely bureaucratic take on ell, and its devils, which adds a delightful aspect to the adventure. The map is simplistic, the read-aloud longish and the DM text could be formatted much better, to the point my eyes kind of glaze over. But, great room concepts!

Is there anything more conforming to our modern souls than seeing the concepts of of our lives exaggerated, just a bit, and then having the phase “it’s actually Hell. No, literally, it is Hell”: added to it? There’s a fine fine line here. You want to make Hell bureaucratic, and depict the Lawful evil nature of the devils and their corruption, but you don’t want to go all the way in to farce, depicting an actual DMV, for example. You’re taking the movie Brazil and then setting it in Hell. The scenes must be recognizable, approaching farce but not quite reaching that line. 

This adventure does that, and that’s what I mean by “Great Room Concepts.” It’s taking things we recognize of bureaucracy and power and just pushing it a little bit more, and adding Devils and Hell to it. The Devils, this being a prison, have a commissary. Plus, you know, this is Lord Mammon, greedy boy that he is, looking for some extra lucre. But no one figured that the prisoners would have nothing to buy with, so a bored devil sits behind the counter. Or, a torture device workshop, Mammon,getting the loewest price contractors to work on it, some slave Duergar … who ar enote particularly interested in attacking the party … unless there are dwarves present, of course. The devils in the barracks could not really care less about the party, being off duty at the time. There’s also an element of bribery involved with the devils … they always being willing to make a deal, well, generally, as long as its in their favor. You recognize this shit from your job. You recognize it from trying to get customer service from some megacorp, or dealing with some government bureaucracy.  It’s familiar, and therefore fun, with not pushed to the level of farce. Or, maybe not to level of a literal DMV in Hell anyway. This is a Hell, maybe the first one I’ve ever seen, that I can really get behind and see having fun running. The devils are their own worst enemies, or at least their LE nature is anyway. LE Hell finally makes sense. You can imagine an exasperated Cobra Commander …errr … Megatron … errr … Asmodeus, wondering why he just can’t get anything done. (Fun Bryce Fact, I own four action figures. Johnny Cage, who is not afraid to die, a giant Starscream, cause he’s the best, a giant Cobra Commander, cause he deserves better, and a giant Grand Moff Tarkin, cause he hold Vaders fucking leash. Yeah hierarchy!)

This is, though, the end of my compliments.

Read-aloud tends to be long, six or seven lines, and fall in to the common trap of over explaining. In the aforementioned Torture’s Workshop you see hunched silhouette gathere in the middle of the room loudly discussing a new contraction … and iron chair by the look of it. TMI! TMI! This destroys the ability of the characters to ask “what are they looking at?” Preceding the part I quoted is a pretty exhaustive list of things in the room, parts mostly, again, just adding words without depth. You want your read-aloud to be evocative but not to destroy the interactivity of the room, the back and forth.

DM text is then likewise long. Again, the torturers room, we get the backstory of the outsourcing vs unskilled labor thing Mammon has going on. That’s fun, but not really relevant to the actual play. (An aside or two like this during the adventure, for the DM, is ok; I’m not a total killjoy.) But, what’s missing, is WHAT they are talking about with the chair. Just replacing the Mammon stuff with a line about “Yes, but can we get the blood sausages any cheaper?” or some such would have added a lot and given the DM something to spring board from when the party asks “what are they talking about?” Better formatting, in general, separating the mechanics from the excellent fluff, could also be in order. It kind of runs together frequently and distracts. 

The map is simple, just a circle with rooms hanging off of it for each of the three levels. No real exploration. And there’s no real key. The rooms are “Bedroom” or “Barracks.” Please put in numbers. It’s almost always the right thing to do, a traditional key, in a dungeon like this. Some rooms have quite the screams coming from them, or steam pouring out. This is SOMETIMES noted in the section before the read-aloud, sometimes not, but it would also have been nice to note it on the map, letting the party know whet they see/hear/etc BEFORE, while looking/listening down the hallway. I always appreciate map queues to the DM.

The prisoners also tend to be generic. “Humanoids” appear a lot, without anything else. There is one small table of prisoners, but without personalities, just “warforged cleric of Bob” or some such. One page of good NPC prisoners would have gone a long way. Likewise, there are three examples of deals the devils will make, but a little table, or morse guidance here, would have gone a long way. It’s also doing this thing where “roll three times on the DMG table to see what magic items are for sale …” No. Just no. Put the magic item in the adventure. Just do the work ahead of time for us. It’s ok. We appreciate it. And, of course, there’s no level range on the cover or in the product description. Bad publisher! No “Regerts” for you!

A nice idea, but it needed more work to bring the ideas home in a gameable way. But, it knows what to do with the concepts, and that’s a far sight more than most genero plot adventures.

This is $2 at DMsGuild. The preview is three pages and all three show dungeon rooms. Yeah! You can see the sample NPC table, the expansive read-aloud, and messy DM text. Good preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Revisiting the Wild Wild West

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 09/23/2020 - 11:00

Here's a periodic reminder that Jim Shelley and I are continuing our selective re-watch of the Wild Wild West weekly on the Flashback Universe Blog.

You can catch up on installments here.

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #1-2 & Intro

Zenopus Archives - Tue, 09/22/2020 - 13:28
This is the start of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, a new adventure I am posting on the blog as I write it. Below are the Background, Location, Area 1 and Area 2. Subsequent posts are limited to a single area. The dungeon can be navigated using the links surrounding each map. Note that the posts in this series are subject to revision as it progresses.

The coda to the Sample Dungeon (aka the Ruined Tower of Zenopus) poses several unanswered questions that are meant to inspire avenues for the new DM to expand the adventure. One of these asks, "Do the pirates have other treasure troves hidden in the sea caves?", referring to the group in Room M. I used this as the basis of Rumor #13 in the d20 Portown Rumors (also included in the Ruined Tower of Zenopus conversion). Below is one sea cave system that can be used for such a sea cave.


BACKGROUND: Years ago, this natural cave system was the preferred route for smuggling goods into Portown, because it leads from the sea all the way into the town proper. This changed on the night of magical destruction of the Tower of Zenopus, an event which shook the land enough to collapse both the cliff face over the entrance to the smugglers' cave and a section of the main passage through the tunnel. This rendered it unsuitable for smuggling, although it is still possible to traverse the system with some difficulty. After the town knocked down the remains of the tower of Zenopus, the smugglers eventually began using the caves there instead.

LOCATION: This sea cave is located at the base of the sea cliff to the west of Portown, to the south of the Zenopus dungeon.

Encounter Areas:

              Area 2

What remains of the opening is barely visible at the top of a pile of boulders, coated in barnacles and seaweed, that rises from the water line. At low tide, 10 feet of rock is exposed, at mid-tide, 5 feet, and at high tide, the entrance is just below the surface. 

A boat can be rowed alongside the slippery pile without too much difficulty, but climbing up it will require some dexterity, with a slip dropping a character into 5 (low tide) to 10 feet (mid-tide) of choppy sea water. One person at a time can fit through the narrow entrance by scooting sideways while on their belly.

Once inside, there is a less slippery scramble down to the sea water covering the floor of the cave tunnel, which is of similar depth to the water on the outside, depending on the tide.

Area 1 Area 3

2. SEA CAVE TUNNEL: The cave tunnel is about 10 feet wide, and runs east-west 200 ft., with the eastern end leading into the water in a grotto (Area 3). The tunnel slopes up about two feet along the length of the tunnel. The water of the tunnel is filled with numerous large (2' long), trapped fish. These will bump into anyone walking through the water of the tunnel in an alarming but harmless manner. 

This adventure continues in Area 3.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeons Masters Can Make Fake Choices for Players, But Should You?

DM David - Tue, 09/22/2020 - 11:00

Eventually, every dungeon master winds up guilty of illusionism: You offer the players a choice that seems to matter, and then rearrange the game world so all the options lead to the same outcome.

An illusionist GM prepares an encounter that pits the characters against an ogre on the road. Then, whether the players take the low road or the high road, they face that same ogre. If they opt to stay home for tea and cakes, the ogre fancies a bite.

In the early days of role-playing games, when players tried to beat dungeons and dungeon masters acted as something between referee and adversary, such illusionist deceptions resembled cheating. Chivalry & Sorcery (1978) advised the GM to set out a dungeon’s details in advance so he could “prove them on paper should an incredulous group of players challenge his honesty or fairness.”

As the game changed into a way to engage players in a story, illusionism became a tempting strategy for GMs. Deception appealed to GMs who wished to steer players through a particular story, but also to GMs who needed to prepare a game without preparing for every possibility.

GMs running campaigns aim for three targets: player freedom, world detail, and ease of preparation. Those of us who must keep a day job can only choose two. Illusionism seems like a way to cheat by dropping player freedom while making the players think they remain free. If the players believe their choices count, what does it matter if they don’t?

The ogre encounter seems innocent. Dungeons & Dragons players expect to stumble on monsters, and that ogre could appear on either route as a wandering monster. But what if the players must guess whether the Dread Baron travels the low road or the high road? Do you base the villain’s travel plans on whether your story calls for a showdown today?

Many GMs feel that offering an illusion of choice robs players’ of real control over their characters’ fates, so illusionism is unfair on principle. While writing about illusionism, John Arendt concludes, “The DM is obligated to administer the setting in a way that ensures player choice is meaningful, in accordance with the previously established facts.” Courtney Campbell adds, “I think illusionism is abhorrent in both D&D-style games, and story-based, plot-arc games.”

I admire the principle, but players don’t join your game because they admire your unwavering game theory.

In every RPG session, players sacrifice some of their characters’ freedom for fun. When they join the game, they silently agree to band their PCs together, to cooperate, and to have their PCs award the magic item to whoever rolls highest on the great d20 in the sky.

The price of illusionism comes from another angle. Much of the fun of games come from making interesting choices and then experiencing the consequences. For more, see “How to improve your game by forcing characters into tough choices.”

In a role-playing game, good choices come with enough information to make illusion difficult. The sort of choices that let you easily fake illusionary consequences tend to be dull choices based on scant facts. When you serve players such vague options, they hardly enrich the game. High road or low road? Flip a coin.

If the players must decide whether to travel the low road or the high road, then either choice could lead to the same wandering ogre. But suppose on the low road, the hag Auntie Boil always demands some small, wicked deed of those who travel her swamp. On the high road, frost giants guard an icy pass, but one may owe the party thief a favor. Ogres could wander either route, but now the choice becomes interesting because each road takes the adventure on a different spin.

The best choices lead to consequences too specific to fake with illusion. If the players spurn a town that pleaded for help against raiders, the town burns. If the players betray Lady Redblade, she treats them as enemies.

You could contrive circumstances that spares players from the expected consequences: A storm delays the raiders until the players arrive. Lady Redblade blames a rival for stealing the artifact that the players took for themselves. But whenever a convenient break spares your story from the players’ actions, your game world loses credibility. If players seldom see their actions lead to repercussions, they learn that their actions hardly matter.

Illusionism isn’t a cheat; it’s a compromise. Illusion may save a great encounter or contribute to an impression of freedom, but it bears a price. Whenever you serve an illusion of choice, you miss a chance to offer the sort of real choice that enhances the game.

Should you use to illusionism at your table? The game is yours. Every dungeon master knows the benefit of deception. Now you understand the cost of a lost opportunity. Interesting choices carry a price.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Advanced Edition Tables with Javascript

Bat in the Attic - Mon, 09/21/2020 - 16:31

I continue to covert over some of the tables I made with Inspiration Pad Pro into Javascript. This time it is the Grenade Scatter tables from the DMG and the NPC Personae Table.


Advanced Edition Tables

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Megadungeon #5

Hack & Slash - Mon, 09/21/2020 - 14:02

 I hope everyone is doing well! 

Megadungeon #5 is available in PDF. Print will be coming soon!

It's got new dragons and non-player character's, three amazing dungeons; the lavish mine of fur slime, the alchemical trials, and the tunnels of the tuth. It's got articles on how megadungeons are exciting and upgrading your home base in a megadungeon campaign, with examples for arclight. Drain your player's funds by allowing them access to dangerous grenades and weapons! 

It's over 60 pages and my daughter made the table of contents on her own accord!

People are, I think, sleeping on this, so here's some insides. 

Did I mention it's illustrated on nearly every page? AND it's only 5$? Get on it, without delay!

Hack & Slash 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Grognardia interviews Chris Holmes

Zenopus Archives - Mon, 09/21/2020 - 13:20

If you missed it, the newly resurrected Grognardia blog posted a new interview with Chris Holmes this past Friday. Chris answers ten questions, with lots of stories about discovering D&D in the mid-'70s.

Chris also recently guested on the Save for Half podcast, Episode 26.5: North Texas RPG Con, and back in the spring was on the Appendix N Book Club podcast, Episode 67 Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan At the Earth's Core

Interview: Chris Holmes

Today's interview was a real treat for me. Chris Holmes, son of Dr J. Eric Holmes, kindly agreed to answer my questions about his own experiences with roleplaying, as well as the life and works of his father, whose Basic Set was the very first RPG I ever owned. 1.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Garden of Bones

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 09/21/2020 - 11:11
By Diego Nogueira & Guiseppe Rotondo SpaceOrange42 Gold & Glory Non-novice Adventurers

The Garden of Bones was created by a powerful necromancer to be given as a present to a love interest of theirs. Once the gift was rejected, the necromancer turned the garden into a place of nightmares and horrific creations they built to externalize their frustration. It fell into obscurity after the ages passed away, and it became a myth. Now, a scholar with sinister interests has located a map they believe to lead to this mythical garden and desires to be taken there to admire the garden and possibly collect the legendary Ghost Lotus.

This 24 page digest “adventure” is just a series of random room rolls. It has a touch, here and there of evocative writing, but overall fails to deliver any meaningful interactivity from it’s poor encounters and descriptions. 

Gold & Glory is a Savage Worlds D&D-like adaption. It’s well disclosed on the product, so no hints of deception in the marketing. The blurb for the game says it delivers an OSR-like D&D experience. Does it?

Well, maybe? I don’t know. The adventure certainly doesn’t.

It’s another in a long line of rando adventures. There’s no map, you just roll for a new location every time you enter someplace. And “entering someplace” means “walking through a wall of fog that surrounds the current area you are in.” Of course, everything changes behind you. And, of course, this means that the exit is not fixed. The DM needs to roll a 20 on the random room table and then an exit appears. And when you leave that area, not going through the exit, the exit disappears, because the place changes all behind you. 

This is lame. I have no idea why designers think this is fun. It’s not delivering the exploratory element of OSR D&D. It’s delivering a “suffer through the random rolls” element. Just sit there, bored, with no control over your own fate, until the DM rolls a 20. That’s fun, right? You need some direction over your own fate in order to create tension. Do you continue or not? Are we pressing our luck? Delicious tension … absent from these random things.

The random rooms are, for the most part, not interactive and just window dressing. “A crushed skeleton under very thick dark vines.” reads one entry. “A 3 feet tall fanged skull with a small fire burning inside.” reads another. That’s the entirety of the encounter. A few years ago I made an observation that helped ruin the DisneyWorld magic for me. You sit down on something and it moves through a track and you look at little vignettes. This is the same thing. Walk in, look at something spooooooky, but there’s nothing really to do so you move on to the next vignette. Unless there’s a wandering monster. I guess you roll for one of those in each room also. 

You roll a d20. If you get a 2-10 then there’s a wandering element present. If it’s a 5-9 then it’s a creature. Why leave out the 1? Why put the monsters in the middle? Why not have it be 1-5 are monsters and 6-10 are “some other freaky thing?” I don’t know. Maybe a 1 means something special in the game? You got me. It’s a bizarre fucking way to organize things though.

The rumors are not in voice, which is lame, and you have to succeed on a roll to get one. I’m not a fan of hiding fun behind a roll. Just give the party a rumor. It’s fun. There ARE some more powerful rumors present, generally on the separate “i go to the library to research” table. That’s ok. Maybe a roll that’s modified by a skill check success level would have been better. Roll a d6 and 7-8 are the really good ones, that you get to by adding a +3 from reading a book? 

The descriptions are meh. At least they tend to be quite short. Too short. Monsters, in particular, you get bad descriptions for. “Half undead cultists” is a conclusion not a description. There’s just nothing about them, physically, to help bring home the mystery, wonder, and horror to a party encountering them. AGain, not an argument for a much longer description, but rather a much better one. I don’t care about the origin or backstory, what’s important NOW is what the party experiences. Perhaps the best example of this is a bone spider that shoots sticky blood from it’s mouth. That’s decent. The rest, though, are meh.

The general description of the garden is ok. “… extensive valley hidden by deserted rocky hills in a cold, mountainous region. The ground is completely covered by loose bones that rattle when walked upon …”  But then, of course, we’re told later, far deeper on the page that the place is covered with a constant greenish cold fog. That should have gone up with the general description of the valley. As you crest the hill, what do you see? You look down upon a valley. What do you see? You get an expansive overview of the area … and the general description should cover not, not put the fog in the “Walls” section. Yeah, it’s serving the purpose of a wall, but the party should be told about the fog initially, and for ease of use that should go up with the general description. 

So, it’s a wander around bored adventure, experiencing random things and maybe, occasionally, one of the unique encounters to interact with, until you find the flower you’re looking for. Then wander around some more until the DM rolls a 20. How about, insead, I roll a d6? On a 1 you find the flower on a 6 you find the exit. On any other roll I just roll again? That’s a fun night of role-playing, right?

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see the two rumor tables. Suck ass preview. It should show up a wandering monster page and/or an encounter page. We need to be able to actually see the content we’re paying for, not the supporting material or title page nonsense. Bad preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Star Trek Ranger: Patterns of Vengeance

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 09/21/2020 - 11:00

Player Characters:
The Crew of the USS Ranger, Federation scout ship:
Aaron as Lt., j.g. Cayson Randolph, Operations Officer
Andrea as Capt. Ada Greer
Billy as Lt. Cmdr. Sobek, Ship's Counselor
Paul as Cmdr. D.K. Mohan, Chief Helmsman
Supporting Cast:Lt. T'Sar, Science OfficerEnsign O'Carrol, Security Officer

Synposis: The USS Ranger encounters the derelict USS Brackett, lost 22 years ago. They find all the crew dead having inexplicably murdered each other. Then, the Ranger away team begins to fall prey to the same strange madness.
Commentary: The USS Brackett (named for science fiction writer Leigh Brackett) is a Malachowski class ship as seen in Star Trek: Discovery. It's naming follows a pattern of naming Malachowski class ships for science fiction writers, including the USS Clarke and the Asimov (in the Christopher Bennett novel The Higher Frontier).
This is the second episode for Science Officer T'Sar. She was inspired by Phil Noto image:

AD&D Session 20: Lizardache’s Den of Instinkquity

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Mon, 09/21/2020 - 00:48

This game opened up with the return of Malbert . Everyone that this guy had been adventuring with before is dead now except for Fagor. While not a whole lot seems to happen in any one session, the changes sure do seem to add up. It’s a completely different game now!

Updating the him to the current situation following on from last session was much harder than I expected. The rough player map was completely wrong. My wizard duel that set off an explosion on the southwest side of city had gotten changed in the players’ minds into a meteor strike on the southeast side of the city. Everything was confused! When the players went into the dungeon, nothing was where they’d thought it was, even after I carefully gave out exact lengths for were doors were, turns, and passageways.

One thing was clear, though. Going across the electric shock line created by the blue rocks in the trenches was completely OUT. The players would rather go several levels down into the dungeon than each suffer a guaranteed one hit of damage. Color me shocked!

Fagor’s player had previously complained about the high price of information. Chaz’s player (ever the devil’s advocate against whatever bee is in my bonnet at any given time) had begged for slightly more conventional, un-awesome low-level play areas. The thirteen one page dungeons I created for the campaign in the past few weeks (and incorporating the sketchy notes from my binder) were devised specifically to deal with these two minority criticisms. My theory was that the players as a group would OF COURSE choose awesome over dull. The reality is…. well, I guess we’ll see more of that as the campaign continues to unfold.

The players had captured a LIZARD MAN last session and opted to engage in enhanced interrogation during their six days of down time. When Fluid the Druid selected “lizard man” for his new language he abruptly found out that it didn’t do him any good with this thing. Doh! (Should have taken Green Dragon instead, man!) The new magic-user got lucky on his random spell rolls, though and got to select “Comprehend Languages” for his utility spell. The party finds out that there are more of whatever these things are down in the cave area beyond the sinkhole.

So the group this week elects to go to the cave area and ties a 50′ rope around a stalagmite. Peero goes down and checks things out, then tugs the rope to signal that all is clear. Then the party wonders how they can know if it really is Peero on the other end or not.

They go down and check the place out. Then they cover each of the three entrances to that room while Chaz the Footpad tries to hammer in 14 iron spikes into the sinkhole leading down to it. Naturally this causes so much noise that some monsters come to investigate what is going on.

We have a great big fight. Reading from my one page dungeon map, I accidently say the word “troglodyte” when describing the situation. OOPS! The mystery of why Fluid’s Lizard Man language didn’t work is accidentally revealed!

The ensuing battle was pretty epic in all the ways that the sages of old school gaming proscribed. Chaz climbed down into the battle zone and then traversed to a position above the “lizard men”. He rained darts down upon them from his perch. Note that if I had stopped the game to sketch out the encounter map and set up figures, this probably couldn’t have happened unless I had planned in advance to ALLOW for this very thing– not likely given my lack of creativity and shoddy preparations! “Theater of the mind” (ie, fantasy role-playing) leaves the door open to the players subtly influencing the nature of the actual situations. Players contribute to establishing the individual combat scenes just as surely as the influence the broader campaign.

Chaz was going to jump down on one of the lizard men, probably for a back stab. It would have been awesome, but the morale of the monsters broke before that could be effected. The magic-user had held back his sleep spell. Instead he wanted to toss flaming oil. This wasn’t actually prepared in advance due to lack of funds on his part. I ruled he had to spend an entire one minute combat turn getting set up while the battle raged.

The fighters on the front line took some hits. I remember Malbert got knocked down a good six points. Dangerous! The druid healed him during the conflict after I think casting bark skin on himself. Jerelek the magic-user scored two direct hits on lizard men, fully combusting them and scoring splash damage on their pals. Fagor lead his shield wall (which we later determined was not actually a shield wall) to bypass one of the jewelry-wearing lizard men. There behind the front rank, his two sumo henchmen overbore him, gaining a leglock and bringing him to his knees. Peero then rushed up and thrust a torch in the dude’s face. The following round, the AD&D Grappling Rules dictated that an astonishing suplex reduced the thing to unconsciousness.

At the end there were only three of these things left. They won initiative on the round that they got a fighting retreat result. They steadily backed down the hallway away from the chaos. I ruled that the players did not get their usual free parting attacks because of this. I did rule that Fagor had time to switch to his bow and get of some ranged attacks. It was far from enough damage to eliminate the survivors.

Now was the moment that really was the entire point of the session, though. What do the players do NOW?

They are deep in the dungeon, in a relatively dangerous area. They still have a sleep spell ready and can potentially take out a significant number of monsters with that if they can get it in position. (The first time in 20 sessions that we even had a sleep spell in the game. Incredible!) They have lost an EXTREMELY VALUABLE HENCHMAN who was (amazingly) just on the verge of leveling. (Most people just make them die for no reason.) The previous session they had an incredibly paltry take. WHAT DO THEY DO?

Well it might be because the party is overcautious and it might be that they just know better than the DM. It might just be that it was getting late. But the players pretty well all agreed that they should take the wrought gold and wrought silver jewelry and get the heck out of there before the monsters came back with reinforcements. Perhaps due to the intel of their being near a full fledged lair, they seemed to just assume they’d get overwhelmed. Sleep spell or no sleep spell!

Fluid the Druid had other ideas. The other players recoiled in horror. Face palms. Cringe. Not again!

The players take the treasure and get up the sinkhole. Fluid does, too. He wants to wait and see if the lizard men pursue them. The other players aren’t having it. They just leave him there. Fagor’s player declares to everyone else that “he needs to learn.”

Fluid the Druid waits a while and then… sure enough. The lizard men are coming up the sinkhole. He wants them to chase him and is going about it all wrong, though. Jerelek’s player (who wasn’t in a position to advise) tells him he needs to go the full Bre’r Rabbit: “oh know! They’re coming! Eeeeek!!!”

Fluid races out of the dungeon and back to the wizard duel crater with the lizard men trailing him. Before the session he had announced that he had taken Call Lightning as his spell specifically because it was raining where the DM was and this would be a rare chance to use it. He cackles with glee because he is about to turn the tables on the monsters, but then he consults the rule book. Uh oh. It takes a full ten minutes to call down lightning. THIS IS NOT GOING TO WORK.

Fluid switches to plan B. He jumps onto Bison Buddy and declares he is CHARGING the twelve lizard men that are coming for him. (“Are you sure you want to do this when you could simply just ride away?” Hey, it’s Fluid!) I have no idea how to adjudicate this. Complicating things, the lizard men have the initiative. Which doesn’t really make sense. How is this even supposed to work?

Well… I suggest that the charge would likely take effect first and that in the aftermath on it, I could only imagine at most four of these things getting attacks off on Fluid. Fluid could totally just ride away safely, but he INSISTS on living dangerously. He rolls into the mass of lizard men. The charge and trample is incredible, killing outright three or four of these things. But how does AD&D combat even work? Is there anything that prevents all of the surviving monsters from taking a swipe at him? Fluid’s player reminds me of one thing that does: the ruling I had already made prevents them from doing just that.

Fluid now faces a stone axe, a stone morning star, and two claw/claw/bite routines. He takes a significant but not overwhelming amount of damage. A few key misses made all the difference. Of course, if all of them had an attack it he would have had NO chance at all.

But seriously. What is the correct way to adjudicate a crazed scimitar-wielding druid charging a bunch of lizard men on bison? Was this fair? Was the ruling good enough? Everyone wanted to see the resolution of the fight. We were also pretty well out of time. Was it the right thing? How can you know???

Anyway, with the battle going like it did, the players were now seeing things a little bit differently. Why didn’t you tell us you had a plan?! I shut that right down. “You didn’t have time to plan. You were 100% sure he was committing suicide. This is exactly what should have happened.” Well, given I had ruled at all reasonably on the charge. The charge that NO ONE had really planned for.

Note that the two more of the lizard men in the group Fluid fought had those fancy “Lizardache” style wrought jewelry on. They had a reasonable chance to double their take, but left it in the crater.

Back in town, Chaz takes their items to the gnomish jeweler for appraisal. He ends up getting 1200 gp for BOTH. And most certainly does not succeed in tricking the DM into switching the offer to 1200 gp for EACH at the last second.

The players take a masochistic pleasure in the grades given out for play. This time the magic-user gets downgraded to a merely “Superior” rating for failing to cast his spell at all.

Chaz the Footpad got enough XP to level but did not have the gold in order to pay for training costs. Previously I had ruled that Chaz had to pay full training costs due to racism at the Trollopulean thieves’ guild. It’s a hefty 3000 gold pieces this time. Note that if he was training himself, this would be doubled to 6000! (Note the other thief– a human one– I’d ruled that he’d only have to pay a 40% cut of all his treasure hauls in order to preserve the rapid leveling of the thief class.

Either way, though. Every other game just gives away this leveling stuff. AD&D says, naw. GO EARN MORE MONEY! It’s not XP for gold. It’s levels for gold. And the XP amounts for monsters are really irrelevant. What to do!

Ah, one more thing came out at the end. Fluid the Druid noted that he had some kind of water breathing spell now that he was at third level. He could go explore that underground lake if the rest of the party would go for it. Come to think of it, he could organize his own party by himself he felt like he would rather spend gold on finding his on henchmen. The capacity of old school campaigns to support MANY competing play groups simultaneously is just one of their many features that so resilient in the face of WHATEVER the players end up throwing at it.

Oh, one last footnote. At some point I revealed that Stoogie the Dwarf had stood Chaz up this time, possibly due to poor treatment. Chaz literally never noticed that he wasn’t there. Which reminds me that the deal I had offered Chaz on leveling as an elf when the thieves’ guild was racist against elves… it was that though he would have to pay training costs (possibly at the double rate given what the rules say), he would be able make a lot of that back by being the person that the demi-humans paid to train THEM as thieves. NOW it’s coming back. So yeah, ticking Stoogie off and killing Doogie and Loogie was not a good idea if that is what we were doing!

Treasure and Experience:

Treasure shares came out to 160 gold each. Experience shares were 239 each with 119 for the henchmen. Fluid the Druid gets extra XP for the fight this time. His xp share is 368… with Bison Buddy picking up 64.

Cast o’ Characters:

Malbert the Veteran (9 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, and 8] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 0 + 239 = 1465

Fluid the Druid, Initiate of the 2nd Circle — Level three druid. [Delve 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17, and 19] 4000 + 106 + 369 = 4475 XP. Should be broke from training. 63 gold last time and 160 this time. Procurer of the fabled Boobs of Opar.

Bison Buddy — [Delve 17 and 20] 64 XP.

Fagor the Half-Orc Swordsman— Level three fighter. [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, and 20] — 4000 + 1816 + 106 + 239 = 6161 XP. His horns have grown incredibly large. Looks frightening and diabolical. Cloven hooves His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. Member of the Order of the Knights of Trollopulous.

Logan — [Delve 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, and 20] Plate mail and shortswords. 333 + 70 + 76 + 875 + 31 + 80 = 1465 gold and 362 + 35 + 95 + 264 + 908 + 53 + 119 = 1836 XP!

Nasty and Dernhelm — [Delve 12, 14, 15, 19, and 20] Just a codpiece and a spear. 333 + 70 + 76 + 875 + 31 + 80 = 1465 gold and 362 + 95 + 264 + 908 + 53 + 119 = 1801 XP each! (Trained for dedicated grappling)

Peero the Sweeper — [Delve 19 only] 53 + 119 = 172 XP and 31 + 80 = 111 gold. [Note 15 strength and seven hit points!] Has antique monocle from 5th aeon.

Chaz the Elven Footpad — Level two thief. [Delve 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, and 19] 1250 + 30 + 528 + 362 + 106 + 239 = FROZEN AT 2500 XP UNTIL HE LEVELS. Member of the Order of the Knights of Trollopulous.

Drizzle Pizzle the Elf — [Delve 20[*S] only] 119 XP and 80 gold.

Jelerak — Level one magic-user. [Delve 20 only.] 239 XP and 160 gold.


Day 1: The Hole in the Sky

Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer

Day 7: The Big Score part I

Day 8: The Big Score part II

(Day 9-14 — player characters all carousing¹; Keebler Khan fully recovered) <—- I day of real world time = one day of game time!)

Day 15: The Drums of the Dog People

(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women

(Day 26-31: Resting)

Day 32-33: The Pugs of Slaughter

(Day 34-39: Resting)

Day 40: The Overbearing of the Crystal Men

(Day 41-46: Resting)

Days 47-48: The Song of Fàgor

(Day 49-70: In shock from an awesomely weird adventure. Sad!)

Day 71: The Woman in the Ice

(Day 72-76: Resting)

Day 78-79: The Return to Trollopulous

(Day 80-85: Carousing in a besieged Trollopulous.)

Day 86: “You Just Ruined My Story Arc”

(Day 87-92: Utterly exhausted!)

Day 93-95: The Schwérpunkt of the Pig-Men

(Day 96-101: Carousing)

Day 102: A Night in the Autonomous Zone

(Days 103-108: In Trollopulous)

Day 109: The Rave of the Monkey Goddess

(Day 110-115: Scouting out jungle and undead quarter)

Day 116: Snakepede Legion

(Day 117-122: Fagor leveling; Chaz protesting)

Day 123-126: Return to Sorceress Mountain

(Day 127-132: Narjhan leveling. Rhedgar researching sorceress woman.)

Day 133-137: The Boobs of Opar

(Day 138-143: Fluid the Druid, Narjhan, and Rhedgar all training)

Day 144: Spirit Cooking of the Rich and Famous

(Day 145-172: Fagor acquires Peero the sweeper)

Day 173: In Search of the Level Appropriate

(Day 174-179: Some first level cleric spent 200 gold to look for the men-at-arms he could take down to up to the third level.)

Day 180: Lizardache’s Den of Instinkquity

The graveyard:

Dorkorus — Half-elf fighter/magic-user/thief — [Half brother to Keebler Khan, talked with a lisp!] Killed by a pug-man in the sewers of Trolopulous.

Dairage — Elf fighter/magic-user — Killed with his shield spell on, valiantly taking down the leader of the pug-men so that the party could have a chance to escape certain death!

9 Hapless men-at-arms! — Killed by the pug-men in the sewers of Trollopulous!

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, 7, 8, and 9] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 + 195 = 2584 [Looked like a member of ZZ Top] — Killed in the sewers of Trollopulous while bashing a baby wererat with his shield.

Catskinner the thug — Smashed to a pulp by a white ape in the swamps near Trollopulous.

Aulis Martel the Adept (8 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 7, and 13] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 255 => Just leveled up at 1500 XP. Reduced to idiocy by a Guild Navigator in the basement of the party’s autonomous zone in the undead quarter of Trollopulous.

Torin the Strider — [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 16] 2250 + 800 + 734 + 70 + 191 + 362 = 4407 xp (levels at 4500) [Looks like a member of ZZ Top] +666 gold from session 12, +141 gold from session 14, +338 gold from session 16 [Member of the Order of the Knights of Trollopulous] Killed by by giant bombardier beetles in the Jungles of Opar.

Simon the Thug Henchman — [Delve 12, 13, 14, and 15] Studded Leather and shortswords. 333 + 70 + 76 = 479 gold and 362 + 35 + 95 + 264 = 756 XP. Cut down by a six armed snake woman in the temple in the crevasse at Sorceress Mountain.

Hans Franzen the Swoleceror — (3 hits, Burning hands, Jump, Message, Read Magic, Zilifant’s Effervescent Protein Bomb, Bigby’s Discomforting Wedgy) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, 8, 11, 12, 13, and 14] 2500 + 734 + 70 + 191 = 3495 XP. (Levels at 5000) [Looks like a member of ZZ Top], [Member of the Order of the Knights of Trollopulous] 1336 + 141 = 1477 Gold. Killed by a “Bone” devil as he opened the door to the Fire Escape.

Brother Pain the Acolyte [Delve 3b, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 14] [Looks like a member of ZZ Top] XP: 1500 + 191 = 1691, +141 gold from session 14. Killed by a “Bone” devil as he attempted to free innocent looking little girls from evil spirit cooking people.

Bill Murray the Prestidigitator — [Delve 16 only] Gold 338 and 362 XP. Killed by a “Bone” devil in the den of the spirit cookers.

Dronal the Bravo — Killed by a “Bone” devil in the den of the spirit cookers.

Biff the Bold the “Veteran” — Pinned to an ice wall by a “Bone” devil in the den of the spirit cookers.

Kathars the Veteran — Welcomed into the pits of hell by Mephistopheles.

Doogie and Loogie the dwarfs — [Delve 16 only] 169 gold and 181 XP each. Killed by beastmen in the underground complex.

Half-Beard the Veteran — [Delve 12, 13, 14 and 15] 666 +141 + 152 = 1009 gold, 734 + 70 + 191 + 528 = 1523 XP. [Member of the Order of the Knights of Trollopulous] Killed by a lizard man in the caves underneath the underground complex.

Gilgalad — [Delve 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, and 19] Plate mail and shortswords. 333 + 70 + 76 + 875 + 31 = 1385 gold and 362 + 35 + 95 + 264 + 908 + 53 = 1717 XP each! Killed by a troglodyte in Lizardache’s Den of Instinkquity.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Buck Rogers XX5e

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 09/20/2020 - 14:30

I've recently been looking at 1990s Buck Rogers XXVc rpg from TSR. It's a not unclever update on the original Buck Rogers comic strip, which started as post-apocalyptic science fiction story but transformed over the original comic strip into a more pulpy space yarn. It keeps both of those elements, but weds them to a elements of hardish sci-fi, post-cyberpunk. 

Earth is mostly devastated and under the thumb of RAM (Russo-American Mercantile), a megacorporation that rules Mars. Several planets have been partially terraformed, and humans have been genetically engineered to live on them. Plus there are gennies, artificial transgenic organisms developed to help in the colonization of the solar system. 

The system the game used was a 2e derivative, which means it would probably be relatively easy to adapt to 5e. Not that any version of D&D is ideal for science fiction gaming, in my opinion, but hey, it's there so it's good for a blogpost or two.

Valor in the Prison of Despair

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 11:11
By John Josten Board Enterprises OSR Levels 5-6

Deep underground there is a prison where they keep some of the most terrifying monsters found in all of fantasy.  But these are predators, not prey.  How to keep them fed?  That answer is far worse than you have already imagined.  Are you ready to take on but prisoners and jailors?  If not, could it mean the end to the city?

This 76 page adventure uses about 24 pages to describe a one hundred room dungeon. Kind of. It’s basically just shit to stab and VERY long room DM notes. A textbook heartbreaker.

Look, no one is born with some kind of innate ability to know how to write an adventure. Adventure writing is technical writing of a special sort and it’s foolish to think that, BAM, right out of the gate, you’ll write a good one. Yeah, yo know where this review is going, don’t you?

I tend to focus on three main pillars of writing: interactivity, ease of use, and evocative writing, while bringing in that Special Sauce, Design, on occasion. All of these areas require some understanding of the purpose of an adventure (to be run at the table) and take some skill to pull off. None of them are gating conditions, but, in general, I’m much less forgiving if an adventure is easy to use (“it didn’t make me want to stab my eyes out”.) 

The chief complaint of adventures is that they are hard to use and require too much prep. This generally gets to the length of the text and in the encounters and how it is organized. This adventure gets it wrong in almost every way. It takes 1.5 pages, for example, to describe the gates in the dungeon: open, closed, controlled, and destroyed. One and a half pages. It goes in to detail not only on the description of the gates but also on the DM mechanics of opening a gate. This is crazy. I’m not messing with that. It’s too much to hold in your head and too long to easily reference, especially as presented in the text. 

The text relies a great deal on read-aloud. In italics. I will continue to harp on this point: long sections of italics, especially in a small font, are hard to read. If your own personal experience is not enough to convince you (after all, Mr. D, a demon might be deceiving you …) then there have been numerous academic studies stating the same thing. And yet the text here relies on LONG sections of it, in a small font. Essentially, th read-aloud. My eyes glaze over. I hate it. 

And then there’s the room text proper, mostly DM notes, that drone on and on about trivia. This room used to be. How the room is currently used but there is no one in this empty room to use it that way. The room “appears” to be something. It’s crazy how much of these rooms are padded out with text that makes no sense in the adventure. The designer is confusing text length, and a fully fleshed out description/purpose of the dungeon, with it being a “good” room/adventure. The purpose of the adventure is not an academic paper on the lifestyle of the dungeon inhabitants. It’s to run a great game at the table. In this regard, more is not More, More is Less. It makes the text long and hard to scan during play. It pulls the DM out during long pauses. The padding out of ineffective text, like “appears to be … “ just adds to the problem. Rooms that are a column or longer are not unusual. “It currently has no one in it.” Well no shit; the adventure tells us when there is. 

And, what is Interactivity? Is it stabbing shit? Is combat the only purpose of D&D, especially older D&D without its tactics porn to keep it company? To its credit the adventure does several factions and prisoners to talk to, but that’s only one part of good interactivity. There is no exploratory elements, no mystery, no wonder. No statues to fuck with and buttons to push. No fruit trees to poison yourself with. The resources to interact with, and perhaps exploit, are just not present. There’s a mini-game where you could avoid the big wandering monster boss in each section of the dungeon, but that’s not real great either. Room after room of boring and boring stabbing. 

Finally there’s the hardest thing, Evocative Writing. Good writing is hard, I will admit, and takes practice. “A huge ugly earthworm appears.”  Huge is a boring word. Ugly is a conclusion. Nothing make up good evocative writing. Use your thesaurus. Show, don’t tell. Agonize over your words to come up with a great, but terse, description. In fact, the earthworm is the exception, most monsters don’t even get descriptions in their entries, their appendix being just culture and history shit, boring to the players about to stab it. “The walls of the chamber are fairly smooth.” “There appears to be no one in this chamber.” A bizarre creature with huge legs. The entries do not come alive.

The designer clearly had a vision, witness all of the extra pages that describe background and how to play Old School. But they failed in their execution, byt a long margin. I would call this almost the textbook example of how to write an ineffective adventure. “Don’t do anything this adventure does.”

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see the background and none of the room entries. Not a good preview; the preview should dhow s some of the actual encounters. That’s the purpose, to see if what the designer has written is worth our time. And, in spite of it being stat’d for OSR play, it does not tell us the level range before buying it. The level range is buried somewhere in the mountains of text inside of the adventure. I weep for the future.–Game-Masters-edition?term=valor+prison?1892600

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