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Wednesday Comics: DC, Frebruary 1980 (part 2)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 03/10/2021 - 12:00

I'm continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis. This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 20,1979.

Action Comics #504
: Another overly complicated Cary Bates story, but at least this one uses it (maybe!) to better purpose than last month's. Superman encounters a mysterious armored foe, then Clark Kent is saved by a man with "prana-power" gifted to him by his father who has an origin not unlike Iron Fist, but with powers of the mind as the ancient Eastern secret rather than martial arts. It turns out the armored criminal is really the guy's girlfriend who's been hypnotizing him to make him imbue her with prana-power for criminal misdeeds. 

Adventure Comics #468: I've never thought about it before, but the Levitz/Ditko Starman almost reads like a comic book tie-in to an 80s toyline, and the Wein/Staton Plastic Man could sort of be an "all ages" approach. The combination gives this book a more kid-aimed feel.

Brave & the Bold #159: O'Neil and Aparo have Batman team-up with his greatest 70s nemesis, Ra's al-Ghul to find a scientist who has developed the formula capable of turning any substance into crystal--I feel like this was inspired by ice-nine in Cat's Cradle. Anyway, an average story.

Green Lantern #125
: I think this is my first story with pre-Crisis Qward. I had seen pictures of their warriors with the lighting bolt weapons, but never the Weaponers or their world. Anyway, the O'Neil and Staton story is another confrontation with Sinestro and the prelude to a Qwardian invasion of Earth. This feels most like a Marvel Comic of the era than any other this month.

House of Mystery #277: The lead story here by Kanigher/Pasko and Chaykin/Milgrom about an actor who gets too into his roles after a deal with dark powers isn't very good. There's a short one about a vampire in a crypt getting the upper hand on a would-be vampire slayer that's a decent one-off joke. It has nice art by Mar Amongo, who I've never heard of before. The last story is a Cinderella riff by Kashdan, made better by interesting art by Nards Cruz and Joe Matucenio.

Legion of Super-Heroes #260
: Conway and Staton have the Legion going undercover to solve a murder in a 30th Century circus. This one feels like a bit of a throwback, but it's fun.

Sgt. Rock #337: "A Bridge Called Charlie." Standard Kanigher Sgt. Rock tale about a doomed,  heroic stand, in this case, even recognized by the enemy who pins an iron cross on his corpse. 

Super Friends #29: Bridwell and Fradon present a story that feels very Silver Age in its goofy/trippiness. With aliens set on using radiation to destroy all life on Earth, Wonder Woman using her spinning lasso, vibrating at a certain frequency, to move the Super Friends partially into another dimension, so they look like costumes walking around with no person inside. The Wonder Twins backup continues the Silver Age silliness.

Time Warp #3
: These stories really nail the vibe of EC titles like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, albeit with updated artistic sensibilities. It's nice to see Steve Ditko bring a bit of his Dr. Strange/Shade the Changing-Man trippiness to the tales he draws.

Unknown Soldier #236: This story by Haney and Ayers has the Unknown Soldier freeing a Japanese American from an interment camp to go undercover with him. The Nisei is ambivalent in his role and betrays the Unknown Soldier, but then changes his mind again and helps him. Haney makes an effort, but his story doesn't deal with these topics with the depth or subtlety they deserve.

Warlord #30: See an in-depth commentary here.

Weird Western Tales #64
: Conway and Ayers continued the Scalphunter/Bat Lash team-up from last issue, with Bat Lash explaining to Scalphunter why he betrayed him. I like to see the DC Western characters team-up, but otherwise this story is forgettable.

World's Finest Comics #261: All of these stories are pretty goofy, though some are goofy and enjoyable, others less so. Conway's Green Arrow/Black Canary story about an elderly lady given superpowers by toxic exposure to become "Auntie Gravity" is in the "less so" category, and made worse by Saviuk's inability to draw an old woman. O'Neil and Buckler's Superman/Batman team-up involving the Penguin and Terra-Man hypnotizing some actor into thinking he's the real Butch Cassidy is just too much of a puzzler to accurately assess. The Bridwell/Newton Mary Marvel story is about what you expect from 70s Marvel Family stuff. The Black Lightning story by O'Neil and Tanghal is the most serious but still has clowns on a boat.

On Bestial Ecosystems Created by Monstrous Inhabitation!

Hack & Slash - Tue, 03/09/2021 - 20:18

 Hello friends!

My new Kickstarter for Bestial Ecosystems Created by Monstrous Inhabitation is now live!

Well, from the depths of the diaspora of G+, comes monster ecologies. I've written a book for players and downtime activates. I've written a book for Referees and agency building encounters. To go along with On Downtime & Demesnes and Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas, comes Bestial Ecosystems Created by Monstrous Inhabitation!

It's got tons of ideas for monsters, advice for building ecologies, and ways to integrate that experience in play! What's more is that Kickstarter stretch goals will be exclusive to Kickstarter backers. So if you want this, now is the time to get it!

Go get in for a dollar and check out the PDF, and participate with other Kickstarter backers as you decide which biomes to explore and which monsters to add as Kickstarter exclusives.
Hack & Slash 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

How To Adjust Combat Difficulty on the Fly Using the Magic of Roleplaying

DM David - Tue, 03/09/2021 - 13:10

In Sly Flourish’s DM Deep Dive, Mike Shea explains how he adjusts encounter difficulty. “I don’t fudge dice, but I fudge everything else. A die roll is a die roll. That’s sacrosanct. But everything else around it is malleable.” This leads Mike to change things like the monsters’ hit points and damage numbers. The Dungeons & Dragons rules grant dungeon masters this freedom. The range of possibilities created by, say, a deathlock’s 8d8 hit points ranges from 8 to 64. DMs can choose the average of 36 hp or opt for another value.

I favor tweaking the numbers before the fight. This gains the minor benefit of letting me describe creatures as frailer or stouter than normal. I often dial up hit points for leaders, solo monsters, and other obvious targets for focused fire. In an encounter where a deathlock spellcaster leads a horde of lesser undead, the caster becomes an obvious target for focused fire and probably needs all 64 hp to live to cast a second spell. Some monsters need a damage boost to pose a threat. For example, gargoyles deal such feeble damage compared to their toughness that they turn fights into chores. My gargoyles may deal max damage rather than average damage.

Mainly, I refrain from changing the numbers during a fight. This helps me avoid the temptation to steer the game to suit my plans and expectations. Instead, the players’ actions and the dice guide the narrative. Sometimes during a battle I lower hit points to bring a battle to a quicker end, but by then the outcome is settled. Does this self-imposed restriction lead to more fun? Perhaps only for me. Players typically never learn whether adjustments came before or during combat.

In the Deep Dive, Mike Shea and his guest Ryan Servis mention a powerful way to adjust difficulty on the fly. Have the foes make better or worse tactical decisions—usually worse. Most often this means holding back a big attack or spell when using it could destroy the party. Sometimes it means changing targets instead of finishing a character, or focusing fire on an armored paladin or stout barbarian able take the blows.

Most DMs base some of a creature’s tactics on one roleplaying factor: the creature’s intelligence. They use smarter tactics with brainier monsters. DMs seldom dial up difficulty by playing low-intelligence creatures with cunning, but often this makes sense. Even beasts instinctively know to use their fighting traits in dangerous ways. Wolves gang up on the weak. Rats duck and cover. Tyrannosauruses bite before they swallow.

The most room to adjust difficulty comes from letting smart foes make weak tactical choices. Such poor choices can stem from roleplaying. In stories, villains frequently make bad decision, often because of the same character flaws that led them to evil. Their rage drives them to focus attacks on the wrong target. Their overconfidence leads them to save a devastating spell. Their sadism makes them leave a foe to suffer rather than dealing a killing blow. Their cowardice tempts them to run when they could have won. Their arrogance leads them to tell their henchmen to finish killing an apparently defeated party. A villain’s hubris can change a total-party kill into a second chance for victory.

In a battle scenes, bringing out such character flaws add a dimension to a villain while they explain the poor choices that spare the heroes. Still, you rarely need an explanation. Ryan Servis says, “The players never complain when the enemy makes a bad decision, but if you admitted to your players that you were fudging dice, they would all be upset.” Players rarely track all a monster’s abilities, so they seldom notice those fatal errors.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary On The Sorcerer Class for Labyrinth Lord By James Mishler, & Jodi Moran-Mishler From James Mishler Games For Labyrinth Lord Or Your Old School Games

Dark Corners of RPGing - Mon, 03/08/2021 - 17:56


James & Jodi Mishler from Mishler Games have created an OSR sorcerer class that dips deeply into the mythology of  classic Dungeons & Dragon style games with their latest Sorcerer Class for  Labyrinth Lord

"The new Sorcerer Class for Labyrinth Lord includes the following:

Class Details, including Spellcasting, Sorcerous Origin, and Evoke Magic;
The following Sorcerous Origins, each with their own special abilities:
New spells for the Dragon-Blood and Vampire-Blood sorcerers, adapted from spells included in the Dragonborn Race and Necromancer Class booklets."  The Sorcerer PC  Class is one of those classes you don't think your gonna need as a player or DM but then it hits you. This is a perfect class for an OSR  horror game or even a science fantasy campaign.  

Here the Mishler's do an excellent job of boiling down the PC  sorcerer into its OSR roots & this is both its charm. And its dangers; "Sorcerers are humans who possess innate magical spell-casting powers due to ancient, inhuman family bloodlines, such as through having an angel, demon, dragon, fairy, genie, vampire, or other magically-powerful creature in their family line." Why do I say dangers?! Because sorcerers have powerful supernatural or occult  parents. Parent can be very protective of their children. 
Mishler's sorcerers go to twentieth level & leave lots of room for the players & DM's to have fun with the class in OSR games. The class has plenty of opportunities to take full advantage of the magic infused nature of the class; "SPELLCASTING: Sorcerers possess the ability to cast magic-user spells, but in a very different way than magic-users gain and cast spells. A sorcerer does not learn spells, scribe them in spell books, and then memorize the spells desired. Instead, a sorcerer innately knows a number of spells equal to her level plus her Charisma bonus. She then use her spell slots to cast the spells she knows in any combination desired, within her combination of known spells and available spell casting slots. For example, at 1st level Tiana the Sorceress (CHA 16, +2) knows three 1st level spells (plus one from her Sorcerous Origin), which she can cast in any combination of two spells per day using her two 1st-level spell-casting slots. At each level, when a sorcerer gains a new spell, she may choose a spell of a spell level that she can cast (including any newly-gained spell level from that character level) from the magic-user spell list. For example, Tiana the Sorceress advances from 3rd to 4th level; she may choose one new spell of 1st or 2 nd level, as she can now cast 2nd level spells." 

The very nature of the sorcerer's magic makes it even more dangerous; "EVOKE MAGIC: Sorcerers do not have any proper training in the use of magic items that are normally limited to use by magic-users, however, their natural affinity with magic allows them to try to use such items that require activation. In order to do so, they must make a saving throw versus Wands (if using a wand) or Spells or Spell-Like Devices (if using any other item other than scrolls) each time they wish to use an item that requires active use. No roll is needed to use passive items that work without activation. To cast a scroll, the sorcerer must make a Charisma-based Spell Learning Probability Check (Intelligence Table II), with a penalty of 5% per level of the spell; even sorcerers who cannot read can try to use scrolls, as they can feel the magic in the scroll and simply evoke it out of the magical writing. However, there is danger in trying to evoke magic out of a magic item or scroll. If the saving throw fails with a Natural 1, or if the sorcerer rolls 96-00 when trying to use a scroll, Something Bad happens, the nature of which is at the whim of the Labyrinth Lord." I can think of at least ten or so uses for this class as the basis for an NPC villain or mid level hench villain with an occult parent whose a complete & utter bastard. 

Mishler shifts from the various Angel-Blood, Demon-Blood, Djinn-Blood, Dragon-Blood,  Efreet-BloodFairy-Blood, &  Vampire-Blood. There ar new spells, advantages, explainations, class advances, & all of this fits into about twenty pages. Not bad for a compact little class with tons of D&D potential to say the least. The two stand outs for my money are the Dragon Blood & the Vampire Blood who have some real potential as possible NPC  royals or henchmen for thier parents. Taking the material has been ported over into these sorcerers with spells like this; "Dragon Claw & Fang Level: 1 st level Dragon-Blood Sorcerer Duration: 1 turn per level Range: Self The sorcerer transforms her hands into dragon claws sharp as daggers, and her head into that of a dragon, complete with sharp fangs. The sorcerer may attack each round with a claw/claw/bite routine, dealing the following damage: 1st to 3 rd level 1d4/1d4/2d4, 4th to 6th level 1d4+1/1d4+1/2d6, 7th to 9th level 1d6/1d6/2d8, 10th to 12th level 1d6+1/1d6+1/2d10, 13th to 15th level 1d8/1d8/3d8, and 16th level and above 2d4/2d4/3d10. Attacks made with the claw and bite attacks are rolled on the Monster Attack Table rather than on the Magic-user Attack Table. The sorcerer can cast spells normally while her hands are claws, but other more detailed work might be troublesome." 
All in all you get the essence of the sorcerer with all of the backwash of the classes origin. In no way are the Mishler's work being desparaged here. This is a great PC class with some solid bones to it! 

So where can the Sorcerer class be used in old school or OSR games or settings?! The obvious answer is within Adventurer, Conqueror, King's  Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu. Half  dragons check & Science Fantasy check along with Sword & Sorcery. This is a perfect class to slide in the ACK's backdoor. Then there's Castles & Crusades which this class fits right into epecially given the number of elemental or potential god like cosmic powers we've got lurking in the background of Castles & Crusades. Yes I'm talking about the Adventurer's Backpack book here as the basis for a sorcerer to work along side the classes introduced within that book. 

Could the sorcerer class be used with say Lamentations of the Flame Princess!? Yes but it would require a bit of adjustment or would it?! Say using the basics of the sorcerer with some of the spells from Lamentations might be fun.. The sorcerer could be a very dangerous & unknown quatity as an NPC or as a PC. Sorcerer Class for  Labyrinth Lord is well done & serves its niche within old school or even OSR games quite nicely. A very useful class in my humble opinion. 
 The Sorcerer Class for  Labyrinth Lord is 
Available Right Here. 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Shifting Sands, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 03/08/2021 - 12:11
By Joseph Mohr Old School Role Playing OSRIC Levels 5-7

The desert sands of the Jural Empire are a dangerous place to visit. The sands are deep and are constantly in motion. Recently a sand storm uncovered an ancient pyramid that may be a thousand years old or more. It is believed that this may be the tomb of Emperor Nkuku who was a rich and powerful ruler long ago. What dangers and treasures might be discovered?

This 38 page adventure uses about sixteen pages to describe about eighty rooms in a five level pyramid. It is exactly what you would expect if I said “minimally keyed pyramid adventure.” It’s 5:43 am and I just put some Beam in my coffee, leftover from my weekend 44 cup coffeehouse adventure, to combat the ennui I now feel. 

I don’t understand minimally keyed adventures. Obviously. It SEEMS like someone has put a lot of effort in to this. I mean, it’s almost forty pages. There are dyson maps. Someone typed the entire thing up. There is some amount of effort that goes in to something like this. Some major effort, I’m guessing. And yet, it just feels … empty? Hollow? Like, what’s the point? 

Here’s the wandering monster table:

1. 1-4 Mummies

2. Dun Pudding

3. 1-4 Mummies

4. Dust Devil

5. 1-4 Mummies

6. 1-4 Mummies led by a Priest of Raal

Are you inspired, now, as a DM to run an awesome game? Is this something better than you could have written on your own? Does your mind leap at the possibilities of a table with “1-4 Mummies” appearing repeatedly on it? Are you excitedly planning how to introduce those mummies to your party? 

“This area is empty except for a trail of very old wrappings. They nearly crumble at the touch.” The trail doesn’t go anywhere. It’s just window dressing.

“This area has three guards standing upright against the north wall. Two hold a weapons. The third does not need weapons. All are zombies but each is a monster zombie of a different type of creature”

“All along this large hallway are murals depicting the god Raal and the Emperor Nkuku. Scenes of great battles seem to dominate the work.”

“The hallway is dark. The walls, floor and ceiling are made from sand stone. The desert wind can be heard whistling in the halls.”

“Pedestal – Resting upon a pedestal here is a golden crown. The crown is adorned with sapphires, fire opals and emeralds. It is worth as much as 25000 gold pieces”

“The doors to this room are locked. This is Nkuku’s work shop. He does experimental research here and is working on creating a new type of golem. Parts of this creature standing upright in the room. Right now it only consists of a torso and a pair of leg bones. What kind of golem is being created is a mystery as it looks like none the adventurers have ever seen or heard of. On a small table here is a large tome. It is a Manual of Animation”

The fucking experimental workshop of an undead pharoah. “Parts of this creature standing upright in the room, a torso and pair of leg bones.” I guess I should be happy that I got “leg bones” instead of “legs.” 

I don’t really know how to describe something like this. Let’s say you went to the grocery. You see a 6” by 6” by 1” lump of grey color in plastic wrap. It’s labeled “meat.” It’s $3. What exactly is the point of such a thing? It’s not for date night. I mean, I hope your date has more self-respect than to date you if you prepare something like that. And it’s not for you to eat, I hope. I don’t want to come off elitist, but, there’s more to life than Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel. 

Everything is just so … bland. Why would you select something like this to fill your evening of gaming with? Are you proving how macho you are? Are you distinguishing yourself from those upstart kids with their spires of iron and crystal? Under what circumstances do you see something like this and get excited about it?

It’s a recently uncovered pyramid. It will be covered by sand again in 2d6 days. Is there a point to that? Thinking about that artificial timer, does it actually work in a case like this? I get it, its supposed to represent the shifting sands of the desert … but in an actual game? Is it going to come up?

It’s a hundred miles from nearest town, the text tells us. It’s only one mile from the nearest oasis. It takes five days to travel there. I guess that’s from the nearest town? Is that right? A hundred miles in fives days in the desert? The green smoke that the interior text tells us rises from the top of the pyramid … it’s not mentioned anywhere else in the adventure when you approach it. 

I don’t understand these things. It feels like work. It feels like drudgery. It feels like mechanically chewing some grey “meat” without regard to enjoyment. 

This is NT going to help the DM run a good game. Sure, it’s terse Mr Bathwater, but where’s the baby?

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $3. The preview is six pages, with the last page showing you the first two rooms. Rejoice in the preview of a minimally keyed adventure.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bob Haney's Marvel Universe, A Comics Counterfactual

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 03/08/2021 - 12:00
I've previously speculated in a couple of different ways about DC done in a Marvel manner, but it seemed like a good time to think about things in the other direction: what if somehow DC had managed to take over Marvel just as the Marvel Age was getting off the ground?

Talking about this with my friend and occasionally fellow blogger, Jim Shelley, we came up with several ideas, but since several came down to "Bob Haney," I figured that was worth a post in and of itself. This, of course, is just idle speculation, but I could see it informing a very interesting supers rpg campaign. Maybe it will look that way to you, too.

The HulkIn this timeline, the "hero and villain in one man!" dynamic that Haney brought to Eclipso (first appearing in May of 1963) will instead get applied to Marvel's Jekyll and Hyde character, the Hulk. The Hulk would retain his more villainous "gray hulk" persona through the entirety of his short run, and Banner would be his antagonist. Just like in the real world, this series doesn't last long, so in Tales to Astonish in 1964, Haney and artist Ramona Fradon bring the camp and whimsy they would have brought to Metamorpho to the Hulk. Bruce Banner becomes stuck in Hulk form, but still tries to woo Betty Ross, while being under the thumb of her father who ostensibly has Banner on a short lease "for his own good," but doesn't hesitate to exploit his abilities.

The X-Men
"Dig this crazy teen scene!" The X-men had a rocky start, so Haney was given title, along with a new artist, Nick Cardy--the original Teen Titans team in our history. Haney made the X-Men "hip" teens and gave them new foes like the Mad Mod, and more than one motorcycle gang. The male X-Men often refer to Marvel Girl as "Marvel-chick" as a term of endearment.
The Haney/Cardy team kept the X-Men from going all reprints, though the title wouldn't really catch on until the arrival of the New X-Men, same as in the history we know.

Weird Revisited: Four Sinister Sorcerers

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 03/07/2021 - 16:00
From the world of the City, here are five wielders of magic to challenge any party of adventurers:

The Algophilist: He’s older than current civilization, and he wants to make you hurt. His mistress is a goddess of pain, dead since the sinking of Meropis. Every tear evoked by her devoted servant, every scream and anguished cry he draws forth from his victims, brings his goddess incrementally closer to raising. Having learned (and suffered) at his goddess’ several hands for seven times seven years, the Algophilist knows numerous and varied ways to get his sacrifices. He can be met anywhere where the shadows make it easier for him to find victims, but he’s discovered a “backdoor” in and out of the alien city that overlaps with Hoborxen and often strikes from there, taking whoever mets his fancy to his sadist’s dungeon demiplane.

Hieronymus Gaunt: Lich and bon vivant (bon mourant?) currently on a world tour of debauchery and mayhem with a gang of followers in a stolen elephant-shaped hotel. In addition to his own sorcery, he's got a store of stolen magic items from all over the world.

Cheroot: Croaker (medicine man) and mugwump of a large hobogoblin tribe in the Steel League. He holds court in a large dump outside of Sunderland where he nightly incites the ‘goblins to ever greater crimes against humans. He wears a worn tophat which has the power to animate anything it is set upon (as long as it stays on it)--and Cheroot can command the animate to his service. The trash heap where he makes his throne is actually a garbage golem which will rise and fight for the shaman if needed.

The Unpleasant Woman in the Basement: What she lacks in looks, she doubly lacks in personality.  She squats like a gigantic toad amid the packages, correspondence, and pneumatic tubes in the basement mailroom of a midtown office building in the City. She's been there for fifty years and three building owners.  Those who displease her die in bizarre accidents or by suicide.  Nightgaunts fly at her whim. Scorpions will grow from her shed blood.

Class Matters - The Slayer player character class From Mayfair Games Demon Box set Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st & 2nd edition or Your OSR game Campaigns

Dark Corners of RPGing - Sat, 03/06/2021 - 17:55

 "FULLY COMPATIBLE WITH AD&D 2ND EDITION. Eons ago...they were imprisoned in a vast inferno for fomenting a conflict amidst the gods themselves. Now, they're loose and free to prey upon the will of man. Run out of challenges? Try matching wits with the embodiment of all evil. The Demons sourcepack includes: * 48 pages of hole-punched monster descriptions, covering the demons and the inhabitants of their inferno lairs, for your players to add to other game materials; * An 80-page game master's booklet; * The 64-page Infernicum Mallemancia, an ancient book of demon lore that provides your players with all the clues they need to tackle and defeat their diabolical adversaries; * New character classes, including the demon-summoning Thaumaturgist and the demon-hunting Slayer; * Rules for half-demon player characters; * Dozens of new spells and new magic items; * A Full color, 22 "x 34" map; * A complete adventure; and the most powerful spells in fantasy role-playing!"

Things have been very busy with a full on Hostile & Cepheus Engine rpg campaign ongoing on the other blog. But there's a great deal of player pressure to get back on the Dungeons & Dragons  or Advabced Dungeons & Dragons train. So last night out came the Demon box set binder. Started looking into the possibility of using The Demons I & II  box set as a sort of backbone with several of our on going campaigns. The demon slayer class is an old favorite of ours & it fits very well with what's an on going series of campaigns where demons play a sigificant part. 

So there are several reasons why the slayer class works in a number of areas when it comes to demon hunting, slaying, & banishing demons. The slayer is a  fighter subclass. The slayer uses the same skill progression as a paladin & has the same saving throws used by clerics. 
 They can work as a wandering bounty hunter of demons working the land for their ever going hunt against the Infernal. The fact is that slayers have to be very wary of the infernal or demonic taint that comes with dealing with the powers. And this leads into the lawful alignment aspect of the slayers. They can only be one of the three branches of slayers, white slayers who are lawful good, grey slayers  lawful neutral, or black slayers lawful evil. They will work together against any demonic or infernal threat. So this isn't a case of a Sith vs Jedi war or issue unless the DM needs there to be such a war. 

Slayers gain several abilities that help them in their struggle against the infernal; Detect demon within 12", Turn demon as if they were a cleric three levels higher then their own has no effect on other undead ( let this slide in several games), & they can cast wizard spells from a list within the demon box set that helps them in their battles. 
From all appearances these fighter subclasses are a wandering slayer of demons or the infernal. Slayers  have very little interaction with the infernal or the divine & those that do Fall. They lose all abilities if they have truck with the powers of chaos & the demonic. How do slayers work as a class for old school Advanced Dungeons & Dragons or in OSR games?! Well that's pretty simple actually. The slayer class is good for those players who want to do a rotating guest spot within your home campaigns. The guy or gal who wants to play once in a while for a Gothic or even a modern style of horror game. For OSRIC the slayer class could be used with impunity at the table top. With a game such as Castles & Crusades?! The slayer is going to require a bit of fiddling but its a pretty easy bit of kit to fit them into the mix of a C&C campaign. 

Slayers are the PC class that shows up like Jedi knights or Boba Fett in a campaign when that half demonic wizard shows up on his nightmare. The slayer has been tracking him or her for ages & now he or she has shown up in your game. 

Slayers should never be used with matters of the gods unless minions or  demon lords or ladies show up. They will not be impressed by the gods or by infernal or demonic royalty. Slayers want one thing the slaughter of the demonic full stop. From time to time I've used slayers as villains within games as well even the lawful evil ones intentions or goals are 'good' in a sense. The brutal methods they employ however are nasty & dangerous to the lives of PC's around them. Slayers at the table top level are a polizerizing force we've found. There are some players who love the 'lone wolf' aspect of the fighter subclass. And there are those players  who hate the class with a vengence. The slayer is a very polerizing figure at the table top. 
Slayers are never going to get their due at the table top level but paired with a paladin of equal alignment. These can be very nasty combinations indeed. The lone wolf nature of the slayer means that eventually in our experience that they will leave a paladin behind. 
Its too bad that given the storied legal history of Role Aids line we'll never get a slayer PC supplement. There is far more that can be done with this fighter sub class then merely as an NPC murder weapon or plot device. The slayer class represents a very in niche within a niche PC class but its one that can be used to great advantage with a clever player & DM. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sulphur & Snuff, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 03/06/2021 - 12:16
By Rook Self Published OSR Levels 1-3

A wicked theatre, a blue-skinned vizier, an imprisoned demon, evil noblemen and lots of torture, mutilation and cannibalism (and more within!). Sulphur and Snuff – A Devilish Performance  …

This eleven page landscape adventure features about twenty rooms in a debauched theater in a city. It successfully creates the debauched theater environment, but, is more locale than adventure. A certain degree of motivation is missing.

The closest analog I have for this adventures design is the one page dungeon contest. If you took a bunch of the better one page dungeons and strung them together in to one project then you’d have something like this. One page dungeons are interesting because of how they force the designer in to new and more interesting choices and really focus the efforts. And they suck because they are artificially limited by what you can fit on one page … and they can slip, far too easily, in to pretentiousness over delivering the goods. You have things like Stonhell or The Fall of WhiteCliff which take one pages and fit them together to form something more. This adventure is like that.

You get a one page overview map and a page or so of overview information integrated in to it, along with a page or so of “what does eating a demon organ do to you?”, “things people are talking about” and random people walking around the theater tables, etc, as well as monster stats all located in the rear. Then you get little mini-maps, each with three or four locations on them, blown up, with the text for the locations on the page surround it. The map, proper, has some color on it, noting doorway types, as well as some icons in the room, Blue Medusa style, to help trigger the DM in to what is in the room and how to run it, as well as what might be in the next room and splashing over in to this one. It’s an effective layout style for this sort of thing.

The rooms, themselves are written fairly well, both in terms of evocative writing that helps the room/situation spring to mind as well as presenting situations that are going to be interesting to interact with. The situations are familiar enough that the DM can grasp them, or, perhaps, the writing is good enough that the situations SEEM familiar enough to grasp and run with them … which would be either good writing or good design or both. Outside the theater, for example, we get a throng of locals fended off by two theatre guards in half plate. Prove your worth to get by them; 25gp. Or, the first real room, the foyer. Dimly lit, deep red carpets stretching out over the floor, walls lined with dripping black wax candles, a woman with a noble accent heard arguing with a clerk in a barred window, another guard trying and failing to hide a large streak of blood on the floor. You know this. You know these situations. Either because they are familiar to you or because the writing has CAUSED them to become familiar to you, you know them. They are inside of your head. You know how to run them. You know the attitudes to take. And if you know this then you can relate it to the players. And that is the entire fucking point of the entire exercise. Decent writings, good situations, they combine to form something greater than the sum of their parts. 

Blah blah blah blah blah blah. There’s more of the same. A pusher in the alley, bored and jaded nobility. Secret torture club. A demon on stage in a magic circle that is also being tortured for the delight of the social circle milling about in the main theater.

There are some challenges here though.
First, your gonna need a place to set this that has a fuck ton of jaded nobles. This place is stuffed like Biohock is full of rich assholes. But while BioSHock could put all the assholes in the world in their libertarian utopia, you’ve only got one city/kingdom to work with here. 

Second, there is some issue with the point of the adventure, and I think the designer recognizes it. They talk about it being a heist, a kidnapping rescue, etc, and not a dungeoncrawl break down the door, kill, loot, repeat adventure. But, then, we get to the SUPPORT of those other play styles. Lets say you wander about until you find the torture room or the treasury. Ok. The entire thing is written in a kind of a non-committal style, at least with regard to how things can/should go down. We get a very neutral description of a place with few comments on what can happen when the party fucks up or how to support those heist/rescue play styles. There are no real personalities to the NPC’s, or many “named” NPC’s, for that matter. The reaction to violence is given about three words … there’s just not enough here to support play beyond “go in to room and look around a have some fun isolated in this room.” It needs more … interconnectedness. 

“A languid, alabaster noblewoman reclines in a basin of blood. It seeps onto the floor as she

rises to meet the players. She is the Baroness Melvelia. She is a detached gossip and for d4 HP worth of fresh blood she will answer one question the PC’s might have about the adventure. She apathetically and effectively knows everything and will answer truthfully.” Well, Hello there! …. in my best Jerry Lewis … “Hey Laaaaaady!” How much do you really want to get your questions answered? Man, do you invite a woman like this to your parties? I mean, she’s interesting to have around, but you’ve got to get those blood stains out of the carpet and the apathy … ug, what a let down when you’ve got the tunes pumping!

This is free at the designers blog. I’d check it out.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas

Hack & Slash - Sat, 03/06/2021 - 01:07

Hi all!

My new book, Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas is out in PDF on DTRPG. It will be on Kindle and in Print on Amazon by early next week, and on DTRPG in softcover and hardcover by mid-march.

It turned out—well—people seem to really like it. There's a huge preview on DTRPG, and the video below is a pretty thorough walkthrough of how useful and beautiful it is. If you are wondering why I don't post as much lately, I personally drew well over 100 illustrations for this book. Here are some samples.

It's already got several 5 star reviews. Here's a video review of a preview copy:

You are already a great Dungeon Master. You run a game really well.

What's the difference between a room and a chamber? What's the difference between a mausoleum, a sepulcher, and a crypt? Would disarming traps be more exciting if you understood how those complex mechanisms worked? What does a magic trap look like? What does a solar room look like and what's usually inside?

What's in it?

Over 100 Illustrations of Lavish environments Guidelines for escalating threats while respecting player agency Hundreds of ideas for tricks and traps.

No longer will your players complain about traps or unfair encounters. Now when they meet their doom, they will blame themselves for their own foolishness! Be as cruel and devious as you want with these guidelines on how to do so fairly!

Looking for something to spice up an encounter? Pick one of hundreds of options of traps, rooms, walls, tricks or more! Fill rooms with ease, design encounters in ways that give your players the freedom to put their own characters in hot water!

What's it for?

Referees who run games and understand their role in facilitating the groups adventure. This book provides guidance on how to create encounters that respect players and allow you to make encounters as exciting and dangerous as you want, without fear of being unfair. Imagine a group excited to discover a trap. Fill in your gaps of knowledge raising your confidence and making you a master ready to lead players on an adventure.

These objective procedures give referees tools that fire a desire in players to dive into your creative world, discover its detailed history, and make their mark on it. Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas gives you the tools to eliminate doubt and provides a library of ideas that will take you decades to exhaust. It will be a vade mecum, at hand for every environment and dungeon you create. Design a dangerous dungeon, concoct an ingenious trap, develop a diabolical arena, all with confidence and without concern. Give yourself the power, all with simple and clear guidelines!

This is a book used in every game you run. Your next campaign, the one after that, the one after that. . . Not one wasted word. Every page is crammed with content and creativity. No filler. Tools that describe devilish traps and devious decoys. Explore your own Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas today!

Buy it now, Today!

Hack & Slash 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Forgotten Smugglers Cave #8: Reef Cavern

Zenopus Archives - Fri, 03/05/2021 - 16:29

This is an installment of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts at Area 1.

Area 3

Area 9

8. REEF CAVERN: The tunnel south from from Area 3 (Grotto) slopes gently down to this area. Any thief passing through it will recognize faint markings in smugglers' code indicating danger in the water. The passage opens up to a rocky beach, smaller than the one in the Grotto, on the edge of a much larger water-filled cavern (roughly oval-shaped, 200' east-west, 100' north-south).
The cavern is dimly lit by weird purple and green lights shimmering beneath the surface of the clear, gently-rippling water, the source of the light being an expansive cold-water reef of glowing, strangely-shaped corals, among which dart a variety of creepy but harmless fish. From the shore, the bottom rapidly drops off to a depth of about 15 feet. To the east, a hundred feet across the water, is a darker area where it looks like there may be an exit. The water is cold and brackish, being a mix of fresh water coming from the east and sea water entering through unseen underwater passages. 

The rowboat from Area 3 will travel 10' per round with 1 or 2 people with improvised paddles, or 20' with 3 or 4 paddling. However, unless it has been re-waterproofed, such as with the pine pitch in Area 7, it will leak and sink within 5 rounds, or 10 rounds if 2 or more characters continuously bail. The empty barrels from Area 7 can be paddled at only 5' per round, but will not leak. If anyone enters the chilly water, purposefully or not, assume they can swim adequately in normal clothing (10' per round) or leather armor (5' per round), but sink in metal armor, with a 50% chance each round to remove it, or take 1d6 points of damage from drowning (these rules are adapted from those in the Sample Dungeon).

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Scattered about the reef are a dozen of the the Sea-Changed (link goes to the full write-up for this new monster; abbreviated stats are below), ordinarily quiescent. However, any activity that disturbs the water may attract their attention; throwing rocks only has a 1 in 12 chance, but each round of boating or swimming has a 1 in 6 chance. If so, 1d4 of the Sea-Changed will rise to the surface and attempt to inflict "the sea-change" on the living (which happens on a successful hit followed by a failed save versus poison). Once a character is inflicted, no more attacks will be made on them; if all characters are so affected, the Sea-Changed will return to the bottom. The change causes the loss of one point of dexterity per day as the calcification spreads, and upon reaching zero, the victim will be transformed into one of the Sea-Changed, and then drawn back to the reef.

The Sea-Changed (12): DX 6, AC 5, HD 1+1, AT 1 claws or weapon, D: 1d6 + save vs poison or inflict calcification (lose 1 point of dexterity per day until transformed into one of the Sea-Changed), undead (turned as zombie; any that are successfully turned will return to quiescence in the reef); 1 in 10 have pearlescent eyes (roll on the gem table for value).

The Sea-Changed by Lore Suto

Crusty Bones Locker.  Barely visible in the middle of the coral reef is an ornate, padlocked chest, so covered in calcifications that it has become an immovable part of the reef. Even if unlocked, the lid will not open; the only way to get at the contents is to smash through the top. Inside is a mixture of 500 gold coins (500 g.p.) and 50 small pearls (10 g.p.), one of which is a red pearl (heals 10 HP once per day; fighters only; from the Blackmoor Supplement).

There are two exits from this area, north and east, which can be found by following the links on the above map; if there is no link, the area is not yet posted. 

Chronologically on this blog, the previous post installment was Area 7 and the next posted installment will be Area 9.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Diluting Appendix N

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Thu, 03/04/2021 - 12:09

So there is a new Appendix N book out. Which makes sense, I suppose. After all, who can get enough of the authors that Gary Gygax so famously listed in what was once an obscure corner of the 1979 Dungeon Masters Guide?

Mind-bendingly stellar authors like A. Merritt, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, Roger Zelazny, L. Sprague de Camp, and Fletcher Pratt– authors who not only had a direct impact on the development of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons but who defined fantasy for ALL of the game designers creating the first big wave of role-playing games. And I have to say, it is nice to have a big bunch of Appendix N packed within the pages of spiffy paperback. Or it least it would be, anway. As none of the INCREDIBLY INFLUENTIAL YET CRIMINALLY OVERLOOKED authors I just mentioned appear within these pages. 

In their place are three authors that are “sorta kinda almost” Appendix N authors due to their appearance in the anthology Gygax gave a nod to, Swords Against Darkness III.Omissions are one thing and borderline inclusions are another. And I suppose it would be fine if that were the end of it. But for some reason, stuff that doesn’t even have a tenuous connection to Gygax’s list shows up in here.

I don’t get it.

Why are C. L. Moore and Clark Ashton Smith present in a volume that purports to be a compendium of Appendix N stories? The Appendix N list is the compelling time capsule that it is precisely because of its idiosyncrasies. There are no valid grounds for embellishing it– unless the book isn’t really about Appendix N as it is, but rather Appendix N as someone would like it to be. Appropriating the title and subtitle of my PHENOMENALLY SUCCESSFUL book would seem to argue for the former, but the sleight of hand here of casually introducing new literary landmarks as if they had always been present is another thing entirely. Bebergal wants it both ways. I doubt he bothered to read my book before co-opting its title to his purpose.

Anyone who had read it would know why the hatchetmen associated with traditional publishing are INCAPABLE of shedding any light on this topic at all. They are, after all, the ones responsible for suppressing the fantasy canon in the first place!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Twilight: XXXX

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 03/04/2021 - 12:00
With Twilight: 2000 on it's way back in a new edition, it seemed like a good time to think about retro-apocalyptic alternate histories other than the official one.

Twilight: 1945
Germany gets the bomb, but it isn't enough to save the Third Reich, just enough to take basically everyone else down with them. The players are allied troops stranded in Europe, just trying to make it it back home.

Twilight: 1984The worst fears of the early 80s are realized and there's a limited nuclear exchange, but enough to send everything crashing down. Here the action might be stateside, in the fractured United States (much like the state of the U.S. envisioned in the regular game).

The Spire of Quetzel, Forbidden Lands adventure anthology

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 03/03/2021 - 12:11
By Chris McDowall, Patrick Stuart, Ben Milton, Karl Stjernberg Free league Publishing Forbidden Lands

Wind dies. Pale grass grows in spirals. Lichen forms blurred iridescent sigils on cracked stone. Black trees curl their trunks and crook their branches as if bowing. The Spire is driven through the skin of the world like a pin through curling paper. With every step toward the tower, it writhes and warps like a hallucination. It seems infinitely tall, like something in a dream. There is one silver door, marked with a pavonated eye in iridescent blue and green.

Forbidden Lands is some Modipheus RPG that tries to emulate OSR play, I think. I don’t know. What I do know is that they snagged a lot of Name Brand designers to write a volume of adventures for their game. That’s one way to get a decent base of adventures for your new game!

I don’t usually review anthology stuff, collections of adventures from many designers. I never feel like I give any one adventure enough attention and so I do a disservice to them all. In addition, you’ve got the issue of “How Much Did The Publisher Fuck With Their Creations” to deal with. But, I think I’ve found a new work method that might help me do better reviews of these anthology things. So, off we go!

Adventure 1 – The Spire of Quetzel – Patrick Stuart

This thing is 23 pages long and describes about ten locations in about eight pages, with the rest being monster descriptions,  events, etc. Locations can be a bit of a misnomer; while some of the keyed locations are “normal” rooms, as one expects, others are more situations. “You are in a huge maze” or “you are in a huge greenhouse.” Patrick is a very good writer and uses language quite effectively to paint dreamlike images for the DM that I find quite evocative. His situation/encounters are also highly interactive. This feels like a process done right: imagined and then put down with mechanics as an afterthought, instead of mechanics driving the system. “I need a CR5 encounter” is the bane of adventure design.

Looking at those last two senses of the introduction gives a good summary of the descriptive style “With every step toward the tower, it writhes and warps like a hallucination. It seems infinitely tall, like something in a dream. There is one silver door, marked with a pavonated eye in iridescent blue and green.” This is an adventuring site, no doubt about it! This is what you yearn for! Adventure awaits! Not just some bullshit dry location, but someplace WONDROUS. And an eye, pavonated like a peacock feather. Note the relationship to the queens name: Quetzal. And then, the first encounter, a couple of bird creatures, peacocks crossed with archaeopteryx and Birds of Paradise. Demons. I, dummy that I am, still did not get it. Not until I saw an art piece. They are Vrocks. This is a strength is a good designer and Patrick does it wonderfully. Not just a Vrock.  Not just a bird demon. No, he creates a description that causes you to totally rethink your preconceived notions of what a Vrock is. Turcotte did this with his devils and undead in his Jarls adventures on Dragonsfoot. It’s not a class of creature. It’s not a demon, or a vrock, or a bird demon. It’s not some genetic classification of monster. These are Grumis and Nachtrapp, weird creepy intelligent old men in brilliant giant peacock bird-creature form. Through specificity the soul of an encounter is gained.

Those demons also highlight the interactivity of the adventure. They guard a staircase. (Specifically, a spire of gilded bone leading up, with a keening wind echoing down and a pale light gleaming from above, with long-dead bodies strewn across the floor and hung like pennants on the walls. Tell me you can’t see that in your head are not excited to run it!) Anyway, those bird demons. They guard it, but they don’t want to. You cna talk to them. There are a lit of bulleted talking points for them, making them easy to run. They have a neato little entry describing their personalities, voices of hoarse whispers laughter of a goat coughing, non stop talking from them, the tone never changing, speaking as if discussing a minor poet in a library, no matter the intensity of the situation, never verbally upset. That’s a fucking NPC you can run!

There’s this kind of art nouveau quality to the descriptions, and they extend to the magic items, like The Feathered Blade: a dagger, it’s handle of lapis lazuli, carved in the shape of an eyes, it’s blade one metallic silver feather. If you wound a flying creature with it then it steals the ability to fly from it and grants it to you for a day. Neato! Fuck your “there’s a +1 dagger here.” 

On the negative side, there’s quite a bit of long italics sections, generally for the room overviews. I assume this was the publisher “helping.” M<aybe some house style? It sucks because it’s hard to read long sections of italics. The monsters also appear in the end of the adventure. Generally, I’d be ok with this, but, given that they are so unique, with their personalities built in, you really need them “in” the room page to be able to run the adventure well without page flipping or some such. The formatting feels … I don’t know … normal? SOme of the rooms, particularly the “situation” rooms, are complicated and the text is pushing the limits by what can be accomplished for easy running in a “normal” paragraph layout style. (I wonder if this is digest form? Maybe that’s a contributor also?) It all feels very awkward. THis is exacerbated by some mistakes in the layout with line spacing and paragraphs and mushing things together so they appear to be a part of a subheading rather than, for example, general notes on a location. It feels like the vodka soda of layouts. Basic.

The Bright Vault – Chris McDowall

This sixteen page adventure describes a 24 room dungeon with three monsters in it. It’s high concept and empty and the kind of adventure that makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life when played.

Which is, perhaps, a bit harsh, but true. There is some sharp dividing line for me in adventures. Well, at least one anyway. On one side you have these sorts of exploratory adventures. There are things to do and places to go and loot to steal. It feels like you have a purpose in being there, if only to snag some phat loot. We might also include many plot adventures in this category, seeing as you have something to do in them. And then you’ve got the other side of the line. The museum adventure. You go some place and look around. It doesn’t feel like there’s much else to do in the adventure, or, rather, there’s not much purpose in doing anything. These feel, I don’t know, pretentious? Empty? Hollow? Like, what the fuck is the point of this place? There were a couple of adventures in Raggis Grand Adventure Plan that fit in to this, as well as some Ed Greenwood adventures and a host of indie game adventures. And, this one.

So, 24 room dungeon. It has three demon spawn siblings in it. There’s a bodyless aura-thing protector spirit there interacting with you also. One room is a treasure vault, but the aura-thing will only let you take one item. That’s the adventure. Three child-like demon-spawn, mostly innocent in nature, and an aura-spirit that lies to you and them to keep them inside the place. I guess you can kill the demon spawn, but why? Why even go in? Why even interact with anything? 

A lot of rooms are empty, or might as well be. You go in a room and the aura-spirit says “this room is blah blah blah” and then uses the [mural, fire, whatever] to test the party and question them and find out more about them. Ug. At least, the first third of the rooms has specific cues for te aura to talk to the party, I guess because there are “Faces” on the doors to allow for that. But, given that the aura is meant to tempt and lie, especially to the spawn, then it seems … disconnected? 

So, central conceit: poor.

And then there’s room descriptions like “A large wicker basket fills the room, thinly lined with straw.” and “A dusty library filled with even more dusty books.” Masterpieces of evocative writing, to be sure. This is augmented by one of my favorite design choices: I couldn’t be bothered. “Roll 2d4 precious treasures and 1d6 valuable treasures to be placed here.” *sigh* Just put the fucking god damned things in man! The randomness doesn’t nothing to enhance the adventure and all you’re doing is shoving more work off on to the DM. 

The Hexenwald – Ben Milton

This eleven page “adventure” is less adventure and more “five witches in the forest you can talk to.” As such, there’s little to say about it as an adventure.

Bens writing is inconsistent, with some stellar descriptions like “The path north into the Hexenwald ends at a wide pond, buzzing with insects and covered in green scum.” Buzzing insects and green scum add a lot to the visuals of that description. In other places though we get things like “A wooden hut stands on stilts in the middle of a wide still pond.” The vodka soda of descriptions for a witches hut.

The witches themselves get about a column or so of description each, with their personalities and their relationships to the others. Frankly, this is a textbooks example of how something like a mind map could be useful for showing complex interpersonal relationships at a glance. Otherwise, you’ll be digging through the text trying to ferret out their relationships to each other. 

There is a little section at the end that relates events and/or quests that the withes can give the party, mostly against another of the five witches. This, then, could be thought of as the adventure. Here are some places. Here are some people. Here are some things that could happen. I get it, and it’s one way to do it, but I think that the adventure aspects could have been done better and have been brought to the forefront. 

There are some decent ideas, generally one per witch, in this. A hut full of lit candles everywhere, with runs inscribed glowing on them. Put one out and a smoke servant appears. Nice!

Graveyard of Thunder – Karl Stjernberg

This thirteen page adventure details a small eleven encounter cave with The Last Thunder Lizard in it, dying. IE: elephant graveyard/whatever that episode of the D&D cartoon was. Along the way you get a lizardman Last Guardian Of The Caves and an orc chief looking for the Phat Loot. Some nice elements here.

Big field. Mesahill in the middle. Lightning striking all around a a section of it, centered on the hill. I’m in, cause if that ain’t a great big pointy arrow I don’t know what is! And, that’s a strength of this adventure: bringing the wonder and some situations that are interesting without being explicit set pieces. Beyond the lightning field, I’d like to call out a couple of notable standouts.

Encounter one is outside the cave/hill, and, infant, outside the lightning field proper. Some tents just outside of it, with Mr. Orcy McOrcerson camped out, with his men. He heard about this place and wants the loot. He will tail the party, and/or “lead” and expedition the way Kuz did in to the Tomb of Horrors. The orcs hosw up a few more times in the caves, as warning corpses or abandoned scouts. However, they are really a missed opportunity. There was a chance here for an obsessed orc leader, KHAN!!!-style wanting to get in and squandering his meager resources of bodies. Instead we just get a couple of words on them and no real sense of how they could be used to better effect than they are. 

There’s also, in more than one place/manner, some good tension building. In one place you find a body with dart in its neck … a good clue for the party AND building tension for whats to come. In another there’s this cast off line (two, I think, in separate places) about hissing in the darkness to scare off adventurers. Again, the hissing is a missed opportunity and the ability to leverage that in to a full on tension building adventure is missing.

The whole things comes off as a very journeyman effort. Good usability, like moving from the general description in the read aloud to the specific in the DM text, is done well. But in other places there are large gaps, like the absolute lack of any monster descriptions. Instead we get their history and backstory, when we should be getting a decent little one or two line description by which to make the party shit themselves.


Anthologies are a mixed bag. They seem like a good thing, but seldom are, due to inconsistency in either writing, design, or tone. There’s some House Style bullshit going on, like the italics for read aloud and shoving the monster stats, etc in the rear of the adventure. A little too rigid if you ask me. And you are, since you’re reading this. Still at $10, you might get a good adventure out of it.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and show you fuck ll, except for the last page, which is the first location key for Patricks adventure. From it you can glean the encounter/formatting style. Very poor preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1980 (part 1)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 03/03/2021 - 12:00

 I'm continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis. This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 8,1979.

Batman #320: O'Neil suggests that when there isn't enough crime in Gotham, Batman scans the international papers for international crimes to solve. He's off to Italy to deal with murders of priests. This is sort of a giallo in the confines of the comics code.

DC Comics Presents #18
: I've always liked this 70s Zatanna costume. It's a shame they've never done an updated version. This team-up with Superman, Zatanna, and her dad by Conway and Dillin, again emphasizes Superman's vulnerability to magic, and suggests its due to his nonearthly origin and therefore complete lack of Homo magi genes. However, Superman recalibrates his a spectrometer device he has to detect magic "at the far end of the spectrum" with smaller wavelengths even that cosmic rays.

Detective Comics #448: This is the inheritor of the Batman Family setup. The Batman story by Burkett and Newton features the Spook, a character I only knew from the Who's Who. Batgirl actually helps out a street gang while lamenting her recent failed bid at Congressional re-election in a story by Harris and Delbo. Harris aided by unexpected but welcome art by Schaffenberger has Robin taking down kidnappers targeting his college's campus. The other two features are more humorous tales of a Gotham City cop on the day of his retirement and a Elongated Man yarn. This may be the best issue this week.
Flash #282: Continues from last issue, Bates and Heck have the Flash escaping form the deathtrap Reverse Flash left him in. Meanwhile, Reverse Flash is toying with Green Lantern back in 20th Century Central City. Somehow, the yellow of Zoom's costume is such that Green Lantern can't catch him even when he is dressed as the Flash, which makes Green Lantern seem pretty weak.

G.I. Combat #218
: These three Haunted Tank stories make me feel like I don't like the Haunted Tank very much. Not any worse than the other war comics this month, I suppose, but some variety might have helped.
Ghosts #85: This issue has a conceit of all of it's stories being based on true events which was absent from the last issue. The stories are a bit better this time around too, with more creative use of the ghost conceit: a murder is run down by a ghost car in a junkyard, a fiery ghost of a man pushed into a volcano comes for his murder and his faithless wife.

Jonah Hex #33: Hex is witness to a family tragedy while trying to take out some outlaws in this tale by Fleisher and Eufronio Reyes Cruz. Both the father and son make some boneheaded decisions, so it seems like tragedy was inevitable, honestly.

Justice League of America #175
: Conway and Dillin are channeling Marvel and Roy Thomas' Vision stories with "But Can an Android Dream?" Red Tornado frets about his lack of humanity and reconnects with his sort of foster daughter and former girlfriend to form a family. Doctor Destiny provides some menace. A solid issue for the time.

Men of War #25: Continuing from last issue, Gravedigger gets to save FDR, then for his trouble gets given another deadly mission that would have otherwise gone to the Unknown Soldier. I guess that's a win? We got more of Rosa's origin, but also the indication he might not be truthful. This character piqued my interest, and I like Grandenetti's art. It's a shame there wasn't more of it.

Secrets of Haunted House #21: More EC-esque yarns. The first is a perplexing yarn about a ghost that isn't. I would say it was dumb, but the plot-twists indicate Carl Wessler put some thought into it, for better or worse. The second is a cautionary tale about the the highstakes world of rural scorpion fighting. The last is sort of the Island of Doctor Moreau, but not quite. 

Superman #344: Superman stories of this era like to throw magic at him a lot. Maybe it's the presumed vulnerability? In this Wein/Levitz story drawn by Swan, Superman combats Dracula and Frankenstein for the life of a young medium. Superman uses heat vision and super-pressure to turn a hydrogen balloon into a miniature sun to get read of Dracula, but not before Frankenstein robs a bakery delivery truck.

Weird War Tales #84:
The goofiest tale this issue is by Mike Barr and Charles Nicholas wherein the ghost of Woodrow Wilson prevents the assassination of DeGaulle by Nazi saboteurs. In the other two stories a Russian general sells his soul for victory in WWI, only to get killed in the Revolution, and American troops from WWII getting transport to Camelot to loosen up the sword in the stone with explosives. 

Wonder Woman #264: Conway and Delbo have the Gaucho employing robotic rheas (roborhea) to bedevil Wonder Woman. I think that says it all, really.

AI-animated Alias and Strahd

Blog of Holding - Tue, 03/02/2021 - 13:10

You know that MyHeritage service that creepily animates your photo of your great grandma using AI?

It will happily animate D&D paintings too. Here’s Alias from Clyde Caldwell’s great Curse of the Azure Bonds cover. Have you ever wondered what she would look like if she were looking slightly to the left?

Sure, deepfake technology is a menace will will further devalue truth, empower liars and charlatans, and open the door to unconscionable harassment and invasions of privacy. Let’s use it for its one noble use, eerily animating Dragon Magazine and D&D novel covers, and then delete all the source code. Drop any other AI D&D videos in the comments!

EDIT: How about this suuuper-creepy version of Dragon #136 by Ken Widing.

She looks like she’s just realizing she’s inside a Dragon Magazine cover. Watch her mental journey as she looks for a way out, which she finds in the last terrifying split-second of the video when she notices you. (Warning: everyone who has watched this video all the way through has disappeared 2 weeks later)

(Looking through old Dragon Magazine covers, I’m realizing for the first time that they are 50% ladies with teased hair and 50% gentlemen who are skeletons. God I hope I can deepfake one of the skeletons)

EDIT EDIT: How about everyone’s favorite vampire, Strahd von Zarovich by Ben Oliver.

The deepfake animation gives Strahd a creepy, artificial semblance of life that works insanely well for Strahd. If they ever do a Ravenloft movie, Strahd should be completely deepfaked.*

*except they will have deleted the source code by then

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

To Find the Fun in Traps, Did D&D Miss the Search Check?

DM David - Tue, 03/02/2021 - 12:45

Traps add fun to Dungeons & Dragons when players can (a) make choices that help uncover them or (b) interact with them. Interaction includes crawling to evade scything blades or stuffing the mouth of the green dragon statue to block a jet of poison gas. Fun interaction favors discovery over die rolls and certainly doesn’t include just subtracting damage from hit points.

The standard routine for traps in fifth edition skips all the entertainment. The game’s example goes like this: A character’s passive perception reveals a trap, then a player rolls a Intelligence (Investigation) check to discover how the trap works, and then someone tries a Dexterity (Thieves’ Tools) check to disable the thing. This rote mostly dodges any potential fun. Passive perception just skips any engagement, and a trap’s discovery leads to zero choices. The only activity comes from die rolls. The only decisions come during character building. I daresay the procedure’s designer dislikes traps, but dutifully includes them based on D&D tradition.

Because the fun of traps comes from finding and interacting, dungeon masters can watch players evade them all and rate the session a success. Still, characters may overlook a few gotchas. Unnoticed traps that spring on characters serve three purposes:

  • To make careless and reckless choices lead to consequences.
  • To set a mood of peril.
  • To warn of more dangerous traps ahead.

For setting the mood and as a signal of more traps, the devices players do find work just as well. Even spent traps and their victims’ remains serve the purpose.

When players spot traps and use ingenuity to evade them, they gain the pleasure of figuring things out and feel clever. But even traps where the interaction goes wrong can prove fun. On the Mastering Dungeons podcast, Teos “Alphastream” Abadia says, “I recall an adventure that had a series of traps that were engaging enough that my party activated all of them after spotting all of them, and we were all laughing and having a great time. At one point a player found this pressure plate, and somehow, she concluded that this was the safe spot, so she jumped on it.” Later in the gauntlet, the group found a pit that dropped to a strange growth that hit the bottom, so someone dropped a torch to see. The growth was brown mold, which grows with fire.

The advice in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for running traps favors using passive Wisdom (Perception) scores to decide when characters notice traps. This advice aims to speed play by skipping time wasted looking for non-existent traps. But passive perception also loses the surprise and fun of rolling the dice. (See D&D and the Role of the Die Roll, a Love Letter.) Also, passive checks eliminate decisions that lead to uncovering traps, except for choices during character creation. Sure, no one wants a game slowed by fruitless checks for traps, but traps work best where players expect them—preferably past the spiked and burned corpses of previous explorers in dungeons with words like “horrors,” “death,” and “Tucker’s” in the name.

Passive perception can fill a role in a dungeon master’s trap game. Perception enables characters to notice things that simply require keen senses, such as a trip wire strung across a corridor. Passive perception can feel like a rule where the DM just chooses whether someone finds a trap. After all, the DMs who set DCs often know their group’s perception scores. But when only the characters at the front get close enough to spot traps, the choice of marching order factors into success. Sometimes the choice to light a torch also leads to success by eliminating the -5 penalty darkvision suffers in total darkness.

If someone observant leads and that character inevitably spots a trip wire, then the incident still sets a mood and signals more traps to come. Plus, players who chose the Observant feat feel rewarded for their choice.

Even the highest passive perception score falls short of trap radar. Totally concealed traps such as a pressure plate buried under dust require a search to uncover. For searching, choose Intelligence (Investigation) checks. Someone skilled at Investigation spots ordinary but significant details such as the residue around the gaping mouth of the dragon statue or the scratch left by the swing of scything blades. When players must ask for searches, they make the choice that a uncovers a trap. Plus, the roll for success adds the uncertainty that passive checks lack, and that roll adds surprise for the DM.

Traditionally, the D&D rules granted thieves and rogues a special knack for finding traps. Arcane tricksters aside, fifth edition’s rogue class fails to reward the Intelligence scores needed for skilled investigation or the Wisdom scores needed for keen perception. Not even the so-called Mastermind archetype requires brains. Even a rogue who chooses to pair Perception or Investigation with expertise will probably fall short. This makes either clerics or wizards best at finding traps, depending on how the DM runs the process of looking. (Hint: Wizards.) The rules for tool proficiency in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything help rogues meet expectations. Characters proficient in thieves’ tools gain advantage when they use Investigation or Perception to find traps. This amounts to a +5 to passive perception. Perhaps the thief can lead the marching order.

If I were to redesign a rogue class, I would consider more abilities that reward a high Intelligence. This would yield thieves more apt at spotting traps and spies more capable of investigation. Character optimizers call classes that require high scores in more than one attribute multi-ability dependent or MAD. Such requirements weaken classes a bit. Fortunately, MAD paladins bring power to spare. Sorry, MAD rangers. A hypothetical MAD rogue would get a small boost to compensate. My dream rogue would also become a capable backstabber, unlike the current version where daggers only rate as a strategy for players seeking the roleplaying challenge of playing an inferior character.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Star Spire and The Bruja, The Beast, and The Barrow, dungeons & dragons adventure reviews

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 03/01/2021 - 12:11
By Gus L Ratking Productions B/X Levels 1-2

1. The desert night is shattered by the fall of a crystal shard, a sky tomb filled with treasures from beyond the fixed stars and ready to plunder. 2. Curse and disease are endemic ailments of the adventuring life, and finding reliable treatment is never an easy task in the wastelands of the Crystal Frontier, but Marble Eye, the witch of Pickbone Mound is said to have the panacea for everything.  He’ll take all your hard earned plunder, but like all witches the canny old bale worker would rather make a deal and there’s something in the tombs beneath his cursed hut that needs attention.

These two adventures have seven pages total, five of which are the adventures proper. One is set in a crashed crystal meteor, an exploration adventure, and the other in a barrow tomb, given the task to bring a pig to a certain room in it by a wizard you seek a boon from. They are evocatively imagined, interactive, and close enough on usability to meet the needs of something that is only 2-3 pages long. IMAGINED rather than plodded, I would summarize.

I’m trying to not review short one to three page things; they just don’t seem to hit very often and make too many sacrifices. But, there are exceptions, and, by combining two from the same designer then there are some interesting things to say about what’s going on. And there’s are interesting.

Gus isn’t fucking around. There’s a cover and then a short sentence or two of background and then the room keys, spread out over the remaining pages. No real filler, except for some artwork that is stylized and interesting. (As an aside: … and, interesting color choices also. The art style and color choices certainly work together well to create something different without falling over the edge to pretentious.) 

The intros here are short but imply things. The things implied are further adventure and how to integrate it in to your campaign. Recognizing the limitations of the page count, the intro does double duty, setting up the adventure in such a way that the DM can expand on it. “Across the dizzying gulfs you watch it fall, a streak of burning pink that blots the fixed star and drowns the nebula of the night in its blaze. The impact echoes, only a few miles to the east, a cacophony that banishes sleep, and now at dawn you stand above the crater which cracks and pops as the sand cools to crazed glass around a bent spire of tomb crystal, ready for the plunder.”  Flowery language aside (this is the intro/background/inspiration section, and that’s all there is, where it is generally allowed) you can see how you, as the DM, might integrate this event in to your campaign. And so it is with the second adventure also. These very brief set ups with things implied for the DM to integrate them in to the game. No pages and pages and pages of backstory. “Hey, here’s this thing. And here, be inspired to integrate it in to your game.” That’s the way you do a fucking background!

Both adventures have around eight encounter locations in them, and both have a couple of encounters “outside” the dungeon before you get to the “inside” portions. In the Star Spire it is a group of bandits who ride up and then the burning sands and getting in to the thing. In the Barrow/Brujah, it is the wizards hut, and his yard/fence. Both serve as a kind of front yard to the adventure, and things that can hang on and provide more than a brief hit for the actual encounter. “The Innocents”, a group of big, dumb farm boys led by Bruno, a scruffy veteran brigand, “friends” of Graf  the duelist, just having arrived on lathered horses. Greedy and murderous, but cowards. Perfect! Perfect! The party has to deal with them before they go in. Maybe they are still there when they come out, weakened. And, then, note the name drop of Graf … a hook to integrate in to a follow up game. The adventure just drops this shit in over and over again, allowing the DM to build it in to more than the words on the page. That’s good design.

And note the writing. Lathered horses. Big dumb farm boys. Streaks of BURNING pink and a cacophony of sound. Sand cooling to crazed glass. This is good writing. The scenes spring to mind. You can immediately both imagine it … and, there are great black chunks in your imagining that your mind races to fill in. And it doesn’t feel fake. It doesn’t feel like someone just said “let me open the thesaurus and fill in an [adjective/adverb] before each noun.” They feel IMAGINED rather than workmanlike. And the adventure delivers on this time and again.

Let’s look at how Gus handles magic items. “A gleaming copper spear”, engraved with its name Biter. Sweet! A brief description but one that stands out in a sea of “+1 sword” magic items. You WANT to know more about it. It strikes as a magical weapon, but is cursed to inflict damage to the wilder on a fumble … and maybe kill them if thrown. Cursed backbiter! Essentially, the one from the 1DMG, but brought to life! Another one “drinks the blood of those it stabs”. It’s +1 and gives the wielder 1hp. That one line though, “drinks the blood of those it stabs”! … that gives the DM something to work with! Short, but leads to more. This Is The Way. That Vampire Doctor Spam man approves! 

The adventures, proper, are quite good. There are things to steal, pry out of walls, people to talk to and make deals with and, of course, horrible monsters with GREAT descriptions. 

There are a couple of areas that could be better. In places the map legends run in to the “hard to read” territory. Black text on a dried blood oval, while evocative, is just a few shades too far over the line for my eyes. And the text is pushing the limits of use in places. The descriptions ARE short, they have to be since the entire thing is only a few pages long They are using a paragraph style with bolded keywords. They start off well, with obvious things first and more full descriptions kind of mixed in. A mural with horses, for example, to give my synopsis of a much better written description. This allows the DM to say “there’s a mural on the walls” and then follow up with what’s on it when the players start investigating. There’s a limit to how much you can do with this style and still have it be easily usable during play. I’m not saying the descriptions are over the line, but, they are getting a bit close. Triple column, some fancy fonts for room numbers … the eyes start to wander. I suspect that the lengths here are just about as far as this style of organization can take an adventure. More and you need to switch and/or stick in some extra helping boxes, etc, to make things clearer.

GREAT fucking adventure for only a dollar. I wish more adventures were like this. If things were at least this good then I wouldn’t be reviewing adventures. Imaginate the fuck out of it, indeed!

These are $1 each at DriveThru. The preview shows you everything, so you can see what you are getting in to. Perfect.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Colonel Gander's Mutant Recipe

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 03/01/2021 - 12:00

This is a session report for two Land of Azurth 5e games: January 31st and last night. 

The party was still exploring the weird chicken factory complex in the deserts of Sang. Exploration had led them to discovery of both the birthing area of the mutant chicken folk, and a living mutant. Trying to find out something of the history of the place, they interrogated him, and he pointed them in the directions of the communication center. There they were able to play some sort of hologram off something like looked suspiciously like a super-VHS tape (it was, of course, not recognizable as such to the party). 

The hologram was of one Colonel John Harcourt Gander, foundered of Gander Foods. He revealed that his Civil War veteran grandfather, John Gander, had been whisked away by some magical doorway to Sang from a place called America. In Sang he had won the love of a princess and founded a kingdom. He also discovered that something made animals grow large in Sang, and exotic Sang spices tasted really good on chicken. These insights and a stable gate back to Earth allowed his descendants to create a poultry empire based on commerce between the worlds.

These revelations made the party more sympathetic to the mutant chicken who had otherwise been acting completely murderous and so were responded to in kind. 

Then, they discovered the master computer running the facility, who offered to store the factory to functioning if only the mutants were exterminated. The party was noncommittal but did follow the computer's directions to the surviving mutants. They found the chickens supervising a robot's attempt at surgery on one of their wounded fellows.

Dagmar healed the injured chicken, earning the party the chickens' attention for parley. The chicken were receptive to being given the factory as a homeland, but when the party suggested they might still grow nonmutant chickens for human consumption, things took a turn, and Dagmar the Cleric decided they might as well attack. Soon, the chicken's were slaughtered and the party had thrown their lot in with the computer.

They did let the chicken Dagmar had healed live, but left him to figure out exactly what to do with him later.

In exploration, Waylon opened a safe containing fuel pellets and apparently exposed himself to radiation, but he was sure his hardy frogling constitution would save him. The computer directed them to the only other surviving mutant who was in the control room of the station's atomic reactor.

The party went to get him too, but wound up tangling with a beef security bot in the mutant's control.  Once the robot was destroyed, they prepared to enter the reactor room.

Underground Freaks

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 02/28/2021 - 15:30

Paul "Gridshock 20XX" Vermeren used to talk about running Operation Unfathomable as a superhero thing. I don't know exactly what he had in mind, but I think it would be most interesting to do something with weird powers bizarre deaths underground that combines superheroes with an old school D&D mentality.

Marvel published a comic in the 80s by Peter Gillis and Brent Anderson called Strikeforce: Morituri about a group of individuals given powers to fight an alien invasion. The catch is that they will die within a year as a side effect of the process that empowered them.

With something like my modern Operation: Unfathomable idea where a group of volunteers (or maybe a suicide squad of "volunteered" criminals) get exposed to chaos and mutated into something more than human in order to complete a mission in the Unfathomable. I'm sure there's some old school based superhero system that could provide powers. Perhaps just a random table of spell or monster trait inspired powers would do.


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