Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Random Ultra-Warriors Generator

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 09/27/2019 - 11:00

I made this new logo yesterday so it seemed like a good time to post my Random Ultra-Warriors Generator. It's just a first draft, but it does a serviceable job of creating the sort of characters seen in Masters of the Universe or similar media.

The Monster Makers of Gyre

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 09/26/2019 - 15:12



The Promethean Society (Monstermakers, Frankensteins)
The learned members of the Promethean Society policlub believe that the multiverse is only intelligible when filtered through the senses of sophont beings, most specifically biologic sophont beings. They believe that a perfected biological being could perceive a more perfected multiverse, and thereby usher in a new age, the Godhead again made manifest through a creation worthy of it. To this end, the Promethean Society members are shapers of flesh and creators of artificial life. Some believe that mundane biological life could be upgraded through grafts or genetic alterations, while others believe only a bioroid Adam could possibly be the vessel for a new consciousness.

The equipment and supplies their experiments call for don't come cheap, so many members make a living providing biotech modifications to customers. Some make monsters for underground fight clubs, while still others illegal clones for the very wealthy.

DC Bombshells Trading Cards III: Sketch Card Preview, Part 3

Cryptozoic - Wed, 09/25/2019 - 16:00

Please enjoy the third preview of Sketch Cards from DC Bombshells Trading Cards III

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

PRESALE: Mera Holiday Edition DC Bombshells: Series 3 Vinyl Figure (for Pickup at L.A. Comic Con)

Cryptozoic - Wed, 09/25/2019 - 15:59

It’s never too early to start celebrating the holidays! This is your chance to buy the Mera Holiday Edition DC Bombshells vinyl figure when it premieres at L.A. Comic Con 2019! You can make sure that you get this limited collectible by purchasing it now and then picking it up at Cryptozoic’s Booth #1637 during the event.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

PRESALE: Black Dragon Cryptkins: Series 2 Vinyl Figure (L.A. Comic Con Exclusive)

Cryptozoic - Wed, 09/25/2019 - 15:59

This little guy can be a bit difficult to spot at night! Here’s your chance to own the Black Dragon Cryptkins vinyl figure created exclusively for L.A. Comic Con 2019! You can guarantee that you get this limited collectible by purchasing it now and then picking it up at Cryptozoic’s Booth #1637 during the convention.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Annihilation Rising

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 09/25/2019 - 11:17
By Lloyd Metcalf Fail Quad Games 1e/5e Level 5

Monsieur Nerluc clings to the local mountainside. Villagers tell frightened children that the monstrous form of earthen stone is just a natural rock formation. It’s a lie they’d like to believe themselves. Monsieur Nerluc is, in fact, the lord of all tarasques, and strange cultists seek to waken him. If they do, his age-old toothache will begin to throb, and he’s going to be horrendously angry.

This sixteen page linear adventure is everything one comes to expect from a 5e adventure and nothing as one would expect from an OSR adventure. A quick 1e conversion cash grab, it’s full of skill checks, inspiration, low treasure and long read-aloud. Joy.

This is a drop-in adventure for use when you need a quick break from your game. Of course, it’s set in the designers home system, Altera, has a strong “French influence”, the setting features ley lines, and there’s supposed to be a bunch of tarrasques, with the one in this adventure being their king. So, you know, seamless drop in to your campaign world! Seamless doesn’t have to be generic but the more idiosyncratic your ideas the less seamless the adventure, obviously. Or, maybe, not obviously, since this adventure goes there.

I use the word “adventure” loosely. There is really no hook to speak of and it’s just some linear encounters after that. After meeting some hippy cultists on the road you go up a mountain trail to tail them, get caught in an avalanche, get a task from some griffons to kill a troll, get carried to the top by them, and fight the head cultist. Dishes Done!

There’s no real hook. There are a few rumors and an actual nice bit of advice to throw in some earthquakes leading up the adventure. I like that advice, the more continuous integration of adventures rather than obvious stand-along adventure modules … but I do note that it runs counter to the advice that this is a side-trek adventure to thrown in when you need a break, etc. But, the main point here is that there is no hook. There’s no reason for the party to follow the cultists they find at all. They seem happy and I guess it’s their talk of waking the tarrasque that is supposed to que the party? Do gooding? It’s VERy tenuous. 

The first cult encounter is another bright spot. Hippy cultists rather than the dark brood that most cultists in fantasy tend to be. Hippies are more like real life … which is scarier and more relatable. I think Hack ‘n Slash did a take on this in Hoard of the Dragon Queen. It was good then and is good now.

Read-aloud is LOOOOONG. The entire thing is low on loot for a 1e Gold=XP adventure. The text continually makes reference to skill checks, inspiration, and other 5e mechanics. Clearly, a 5e adventure that just had stats replaced in order to sell a few 1e copies as a cash grab. I LOATHE the cash grab side of conversions. They seemed to plague the earlier spate of reviews in the early days, as designers just slapped a 1e, OSRIC, or LabLord label on their two encounter Pathfinder linear suck-fest. 

Oh! Oh! And that Avalanche? You either die, get buried alive, or make 3 DEX checks for 6d6 damage each time. And if you fail one you have to make a second check or get thrown off the cliff. Is this adventure serious? 

Clearly, just a quick 5e stat-converted to 1e for cash. And a sucky 5e adventure at that. That avalanche is a doozy! It’s too bad, I was really looking forward to a more historical take on the tarrasque. Serves me right for having expectations. In fact, if I ever rename the blog it’s going to be “Misaligned Expectations” or something like that.

This is $4 at DriveThru. There’s no preview, otherwise you wouldn’t buy it.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/283071/Annihilation-Rising-1E?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Wizards for Hire...Cheap!

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 09/25/2019 - 11:00


Comic book writer and artist Von Allan was set to contribute a story to issue two of Underground Comix, which seems likely never to be, unfortunately. Von has a lot of comics work available, though. Stuff that you should check out like, Wizards for Hire - Cheap!
Bill and Butch are a wizard and his dog (possibly also a wizard; it's unclear) on the planet Rigel V. They are somewhat lazy, and somewhat cowardly, unless beer is on the line! Von Allan's short anthology of their adventures is sure to please anyone who enjoyed the comics in the back of Dragon Magazine back in the day, and may well also appeal to fans of modern, dungeoneering comics like The Clandestinauts. In fact, my favorite story of the three features a total party kill of an eclectic group of adventurers that would be very much at home in Sievert's work.
Von does more than D&D-related fantasy however, Head over to his website to check out other stuff he's got to offer.

Gloriously Water-Logged Mines

Roles & Rules - Wed, 09/25/2019 - 06:40
In writing adventure material, nothing pays off like primary research. Look into the lives of rats, and you find that they are purblind and communicate subvocally. Pay attention to stone, and you find that at the juncture of limestone and granite sometimes grows a layer called skarn, laced with gold, copper, and gems. Architecture, chemistry, botany: as much as they constrain design with realism, they also open up intriguing possibilities with the ring of reality to them.
Lack of research also shows. How many lost mines, dwarven or not, have been written up for adventures? How many of them have been glommed together from the residue of Moria-sublime (halls, chasms, demons) and Wild-West-banal (railcarts, lifts, ingots)? The one thing that's certain is that horrible things from the deep have been unleashed and are now running around in the place. But can we do better in setting the scene?
Waterwheel-driven pumpEven cursory research turns up one detail of deep metal mining, in medieval Europe or any other civilization, that presents enormous challenges. Below the water table, mines tend to flood. The simplest solution: dig a drainage channel, or adit, to lower ground. But this presumes your mine sits on higher ground from somewhere. Deep mines don't have this luxury.
So, pump the water out. At first people pass buckets hand to hand, then as craft deepens, machines use hand power, mule power, water power to lift out the groundwater using buckets, screws, suction pipes and tubes. All these latter solutions need keeping up, and once the mine is abandoned, the lower levels partly or fully fill with water.

Flooded floors, concealing pits and swimming monsters; flooded tunnels, requiring magic light and water breathing to have any chance of mere survival. Or, another way: get the old pumping machinery working again and see how much you can clear out, and what treasures lie in the murk.
All this assumes a pre-industrial European level of technology. But a fantasy world also has dwarves, that people of notably precocious craft. Indeed, one solution only they might reach comes from the computer construction game Dwarf Fortress, whose worldbuilding is as complex as its graphics are crude. The game simulates groundwater by having some settlements sit over an aquifer level, whose water floods and ruins all construction beneath it. The way past the aquifer requires one of many complicated engineering solutions, including rapid pumping, opening a shaft to cold air that will freeze the water, or dropping a "plug" of dry stone into the wet level and boring through it.
Dropping the "plug"

Although Dwarf Fortress simplifies the geological reality of seepage, the plug idea suggests that dwarves might have the skill to locate the source of groundwater and simply wall it off with non-porous stone. Maybe the water is controlled and channeled into a reservoir, for drinking and industrial use.
Allow a certain amount of magic in mining, and the pumping operation can be helped in a dozen ways. Maybe the dwarven priests have deals with elementals, or maybe these solutions are found among other underground peoples, like the dark elves. Golems can be set the task of working the pumps. The miners themselves breathe water in flooded galleries. Magic freezes flooded caverns so that ice tunnels can be dug through. A portable hole, or elemental portal, does the work of an adit in draining off water. And what might come through the portal the wrong way?
Another difference: human metal production historically had to be distributed over several sites, because the material for processing ore -- water, wood, and aboveground oxygen -- was not present within a mine, and not necessarily plentiful close to it. Dwarves, though, live entirely underground. Their mine dungeons necessarily include areas for crushing ore, then sorting and filtering the metal-bearing compounds through the action of water. They need to smelt ore in the heat of a furnace, creating liquid metal. If steel is being made, the fuel needs to infuse the raw iron with carbon. Most likely for dwarves this will be mineral coal rather than the medieval-era charcoal. Why not have the facilities for shaping and working metal objects right there to hand as well? A whole complex suggests itself. The only limit is availability of fresh air and water, which architecture or elementals need to supply. And Dwarf Fortress gives another idea: using the earth's own magma to power fierce furnaces.
In short, thinking about realistic logistics can take you places in design your unconstrained imagination never would. It can insert unforeseen challenges into mundane mines, or underwrite the need for a thematically varied industrial site in the more fantastic variety.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Game Preview: Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: ANNIHILAGEDDON Deck-Building Game

Cryptozoic - Tue, 09/24/2019 - 17:01

So how do we take everything great about Epic Spell Wars and translate it into other genres? Easy! A quick deal with the devil and you’re off to the races… no, no… maybe. Actually, we have been dreaming about expanding the ESW universe to include other types of games for a while. Heck, we have even designed a few—a very cool trading card game AND an almost entirely done role-playing system. Goofing around and exploring ideas, we tried adding ESW to our Cerberus platform and it was shocking how well it worked. Taking a few core design principals from ESW and adding it to our deck-building engine actually made the elements that are great in both absolutely AMAZING in combination. It was truly a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. I was actually surprised by how much fun I was having. For context, I have been playing our deck-building games for the last eight years. Conservatively, I have easily played over 500 games, and this is the most fun I have had playing a deck-builder… ever.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

PRESALE: The Joker x Harley Quinn DC Teekeez Vinyl Figure (L.A. Comic Con Exclusive)

Cryptozoic - Tue, 09/24/2019 - 14:59

Harley is channeling her Puddin’! This is your chance to own the The Joker x Harley Quinn DC Teekeez vinyl figure created exclusively for L.A. Comic Con 2019! You can guarantee that you get this limited collectible by purchasing it now and then picking it up at Cryptozoic’s Booth #1731 during the event.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Steal This Rule: Flashbacks and Heists in Dungeons & Dragons

DM David - Tue, 09/24/2019 - 11:15

In a heist film, a group of experts team to overcome elaborate security measures using a carefully planned series of steps. Much of the fun comes from seeing the ingenuity of the heroes as they crack seemingly impenetrable obstacles as if they were puzzles.

Roleplaying games such as Blades in the Dark and Leverage offer rules for adventures centered on heists.

As an activity for a roleplaying game, heists pose two challenges:

  • The exhaustive planning behind a typical heist would tax the patience of gamers eager to jump to live play.

  • The characters in a heist have more experience and expertise in the game world than the players can match. These characters can plan for trouble that surprises the players.

Heist games use a flashback mechanic to substitute for the planning players would rather skip and the expertise they lack. Players can call for a flashback to do preparations in the past that affect the current situation.

In my last post, I suggested using flashbacks as a formal way to allow players to pause the action and work out the strategy that their expert characters would have planned earlier.

For Dungeons & Dragons sessions where players attempt a heist, adding a flashback rule helps capture the feel of a well-planned caper.

When players face an obstacle, they can call for a flashback and describe a past action that impacts the current situation. For example, if the characters face a cult priest who demands to see the tattoo that shows their cult membership, they could flashback and narrate the scene where they forged the mark. This might require a deception roll to pass the priest’s inspection.

Flashbacks don’t work as time travel. The players couldn’t flashback to the scene where they killed the priest—he stands in front of them.

As a dungeon master, you might require an Intelligence check to determine if the character anticipated the situation and did the proposed preparation. The more unlikely the circumstance, the higher the DC.

As a price for a flashback, you can claim a character’s inspiration, take DM’s inspiration to spend on a villain’s roll, or both. The price of a flashback might start at nothing, and then rise through the game session.

Flashbacks make a lightweight mechanic that you can easily adopt for a session focused on a planned mission.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[ZINE] Echoes From Fomalhaut #06 (NOW AVAILABLE!)

Beyond Fomalhaut - Tue, 09/24/2019 - 10:18

Echoes From Fomalhaut #06I am pleased to announce the publication of the sixth issue of my fanzine, Echoes From Fomalhaut. This is a 44-page zine dedicated to adventures and GM-friendly campaign materials for Advanced old-school rules, with cover art by Stefan Poag and illustrations by Denis McCarthy, Stefan Poag, and the Dead Victorians.
This issue holds a special significance for me, containing materials I have been hoping to publish for many years. The City of Vultures, a sinful, crumbling metropolis ruled by bizarre customs and malevolent conspiracies, has been the setting for three campaigns and multiple one-off games I have refereed. So far, precious little of these adventures have seen publication: by the time they were ready for release, both flagship old-school fanzines had folded, and I was left without a publication venue – clearly, it was simultaneously too big and too fragmentary to fit a single module. You could say I needed my own fanzine to make it happen – and here we are. Welcome to the City of Vultures!
The current issue offers a primer on the city, introducing its cruel gods, weird customs and labyrinthine secret societies. This article is reprinted from Knockspell, but updated and expanded to reflect the multiple years of play that has taken place since, and accompanied by a dual city/wilderness map with player-level detail. Some notes are also offered on the lands surrounding the City – these wilderness modules (there are two maps’ worth of them) are also forthcoming in later issues. The main focus of Echoes #06, however, is The Gallery of Rising Tombs, describing one of the four major Underworld complexes beneath the Beggars’ District. This is not a single dungeon; rather, an interconnected maze of entrance levels (three of them), sub-levels and side-complexes, for a total of 81 keyed areas. This scenario is suitable for characters of quite different power (but mostly in the 4-6 range). From a disreputable caravanserai to the under-temple of the rat-god and the domain of a damned warrior yearning for his lost love, mysterious discoveries and horrible death await in equal measure in… The Gallery of Rising Tombs!
Gaming dice not includedFrom the Isle of Erillion, this issue brings you an enchanted forest. The Wandering Glade is of no place and every place, appearing at different points of the land. For some, the glade is a place to seek lost treasures and hidden knowledge. For some, it is a site for nighttime revels and human sacrifice. And for some, it is a trap with no easy way out. Yet there is something about the place which no living being has discovered… yet! This wilderness adventure for 4thto 6th level characters (but suitable for repeat incursions at different character levels) describes the twisting trails and hidden clearings of this arboreal realm, as well as a hidden mini-dungeon for those who would seek its ultimate secrets (26 + 13 keyed areas). And, finally, if you need to kill things properly, there is The Armoury, a storehouse of 30 magical weapons. Confound your foes with The Sword of Barriers, master the treacherous Axe of Many Runes, or take up the choice of champions, mighty Frogbringer!
The print version of the fanzine is available from my Bigcartel store; the PDF edition will be published through RPGNow with a few months’ delay. As always, customers who buy the print edition will receive the PDF version free of charge.
IMPORTANT SHIPPING NOTE: Due to project meetings and conference season, orders between September 28 and October 11 may ship with some delay. I will try to do my best, but I will spend most of this time out of town.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

dungeon exploration in the Inspiration app

Blog of Holding - Mon, 09/23/2019 - 15:28

My “Inspiration 5e” app has two modes: “inspiration mode” and “exploration mode”. I’m working on a phone app for DMs called 5e Inspiration. It’s a tool for populating your game world with people, locations, maps, monsters, and treasure. Learn more!

inspiration mode

Inspiration Mode is the default mode. It’s for when you’re browsing for ideas to fill out a pre-existing or partially complete adventure. A random encounter in the jungle? A 17th-level treasure hoard? A ranger NPC? Whatever you want. If you like one of the suggestions, you can swipe right to save it for later. If you want to generate a new suggestion, swipe left. Inspiration mode is like Tinder for DMs.

Inspiration mode doesn’t presume anything about your adventure. It just presents ideas to you as fast as possible. It doesn’t ration out the interesting stuff: every location has an inhabitant, every monster has treasure. You loaded up the app because you wanted something, not because you wanted nothing.

exploration mode

Exploration mode is for when you want the app to design a whole dungeon crawl or hex crawl for you. Maybe your PCs ventured into an area you haven’t prepared; maybe you’re playing solo and want to be surprised; maybe you’re running a zero-preparation, all-improv game; or maybe you just don’t feel like doing cartography today.

In Exploration mode, you’ll get a map to explore: a dungeon, an area of wilderness, a city neighborhood, or the like. The map is hand-drawn, procedurally stitched together, and populated with interesting locations and encounters, with every monster, trap, and treasure hoard marked. If you like a map, you can save it; that can be a piece of your campaign world now. This is full Tolkien worldbuilding mode.

Unlike Inspiration mode, Exploration mode provides content at a measured pace. There is the occasional empty dungeon room or deserted hex. While many weapons and armor have cool powers and variations, sometimes the party will just find a plain +1 sword. Treasure is doled out at around the by-the-book rate so that party treasure will match the 5e treasure assumptions.

In other words, Exploration Mode creates something close to a by-the-book D&D campaign (with the addition of hundreds of new monsters, thousands of magic item variants, and tens of thousands of unique encounter details).

exploration in the dungeon

Let me talk in greater detail about what “exploration mode” looks like for the dungeon. This will be completely testable in the first beta build. (“Exploration mode” civilization and wilderness hex-crawl maps will be in a later beta release.)

In Exploration mode, you can generate a complete, procedurally-generated, multi-level dungeon.

Each dungeon level comes with an explorable map drawn in the style of my Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map poster (but on a phone screen instead of a 3-foot-tall poster.) The map is created with a modified version of the Dungeon Generator rules, though I’ve tweaked them to provide consistency: I avoid overlapping rooms, make dungeons’ sizes consistent and configurable, guarantee stairs down to the next level, etc.

I’ve also modified the official random-dungeon rules to make an Exploration Mode dungeon as much like a human-designed dungeon as possible.

Each dungeon level has a level boss, and the whole level has a consistent theme appropriate to that boss. For instance, a “death knight tomb” will likely contain sarcophagi and other tomb trappings, and will feature many (but not exclusively) undead encounters. The climactic encounter with the death knight will be a difficult one for your level.

Each dungeon level will feature random encounters, tricks, traps, secret doors, puzzling room descriptions, and everything else you’d expect from an underground death trap.

If you like a certain dungeon, you can save your party’s location and return to it week after week. You might fight skeletons on level 1 one week, and a few sessions later be fighting trolls on level 6, all within the same dungeon.

Inspiration AND exploration

Ok, so Inspiration mode is Tinder for DMs – swipe left for new ideas – and exploration mode is Tolkien for DMs – instant keyed maps of any part of your world. Can you have both together?

Well, apart from the fact that you as DM can, and SHOULD, overrule anything and everything that the app suggests, the software allows you to combine both approaches. You can “swipe left” in exploration mode to reroll any encounter or treasure. Get to the end of the Death Knight dungeon and decide you don’t feel like running a Death Knight? Swipe left to reroll the contents of the room! Now it’s a blue dragon lair or whatever. Or, if you have a specific idea in mind – say you really want to run a demilich – you can tap the Search tab, look up Demilich, and run that instead. Nothing suggested by the app is immutable: you know your game world best, and what you say goes.

Now all of this is how the app works today. As I implement more of my ideas, and as a result of beta testing, lots of the app’s features will change. Speaking of which: Why not sign up for the beta test! Within a few weeks, I’m aiming to have stable iOS and Android versions ready for you to test. Sign up for the beta test!

Read more about the Inspiration app

Cryptozoic Will Showcase Exclusive Collectibles and Trading Cards at New York Comic Con 2019

Cryptozoic - Mon, 09/23/2019 - 13:00

Cryptozoic Entertainmentit will sell numerous exclusive collectibles and trading cards at New York Comic Con, October 3-6 at the Javits Center. At Booth #244, Cryptozoic will sell the exclusive Golden Goddess Wonder Woman Movie Collectible and Powerful in Pink Mera DC Bombshells figures, as well as exclusive figures from popular lines like Cryptkins™. In addition, the company will have limited prerelease quantities of the Wonder Woman: Princess of Themyscira Statue. For trading card collectors, there will be exclusive packs based on Outlander, Steven Universe, and Rick and Morty

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

weird Revisited: The Witches of Ix

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 09/23/2019 - 11:00
This was one of the earliest Land of Azurth posts, appearing in August of 2014...

Art by Ian MillerIt is likely you will never have cause to visit the land of Ix, and in this, you should consider yourself lucky. The only exception might be those who have the misfortune to live in blighted, ghoul-haunted Noxia. To you Noxians an oft cold and mostly gloomy land of forests, bogs, and mountains, infested with goblins and ruled by witches, may not seem so dire. Remember though that you must cross the toxic badlands of the Waste to get there.

Ix has only one town worthy of note, and it cowers in the shadow of Hexenghast, an impossibly large and sprawling castle built beyond the memory of Ixians. Hexenghast is large enough to accommodate the four Great Houses of Ixian Witches and their various servants, mercenaries, guests, and prisoners. In fact, it is so large it houses these individuals and still has a great many halls and rooms that are unoccupied and perhaps unexplored for centuries.

Art by Yoshitaka AmanoA grand coven of the leaders of the Great Houses rules Hexenghast (no mean feat, given all the infighting and intrigue). The management of the rest land is done by lower level witches with mundane human and goblin subordinates. Mostly they are concerned with the collection of Hexenghast's due in taxes and farm goods, but they also suppress any unauthorized practice of magic and promulgate state propaganda.


There is an order of witches known as the Witchfinders. These cloaked figures appear within a day of the birth of any child in Ix. Every newborn is examined, and if the child bear some witches' mark, it's whisked off to Hexenghast and given over to one house or another to raise. When the children come of age, they cross the flickering Ghostlight Bridge that spans the chasm between Hexenghast proper and the sub-castle of the Scholomance. There, they are tutored in the dark arts until they are ready to assume their adult role in Witch society.

It has been the custom for new graduates of the Scholomance to spend some time abroad before settling into Hexenghast, engaging in the sort of infamies that youths who are schooled in the Dark Arts and confident in their own superiority are wont to engage in. This was the context in which Angvaine and Nocturose crossed into Noxia all those years ago.

Art by Yoshitaka Amano

[REVIEW] Through Ultan’s Door: Issue 2

Beyond Fomalhaut - Sun, 09/22/2019 - 19:35

Through Ultan’s Door: Issue 2 (2019)by Ben LaurenceSelf-PublishedLow-level
Glgbghhhbghhh *flrp* glggThis is the second issue of a fanzine dedicated to presenting materials from the author’s long-running campaign (that, as I understand, mostly took place on Google Plus with a rotating cast of characters). The first issue served as an introduction to the setting of “Zyan Below”, a set of dungeons below the floating dreamland city of Zyan, and the Inquisitors’ Theatre, a sub-level built by one of Zyan’s eccentric guilds, and now taken over by a carnival’s worth of bizarre rival factions.
The second instalment follows the structure of the premiere issue. Two introductory articles offer a primer on the setting’s lost souls, and guidelines for adventuring in Slumberland (combining genre authenticity with practical solutions for what happens when someone gets randomly disconnected from an online game). However, most of the text is dedicated to a self-contained dungeon along the Great Sewer River, apparently the main connecting thoroughfare in Zyan Below. Catacombs of the Fleischguild is the holy place and burial ground for Zyan’s butchers, who have taken their art to macabre heights. Unlike the Inquisitors’ Theatre, the catacombs are still in active use, making for a different play dynamic. While the location key is based on static locales of interest and an encounter table, the level’s defences are more systematic, strife among the inhabitants is harder to identify and exploit (although it is not impossible), and repeated incursions invite increasingly strong defensive measures. The interesting strategic choice here is found in the degree and means of engagement: the intruders can move relatively freely while they are sightseeing (this is almost a museum of sorts), but things become increasingly dangerous as they start messing with things.
A trick that already impressed me in the first issue – and which is repeated here – is using a straight 1d6 roll for random encounters, but dedicating one pip to a “sign”, a hint at the creature’s presence somewhere around you, which is logical, a source of good tension, and a hint for the players to get ready! I believe that good D&D is built on small quality-of-life innovations like this: simple, elegant, adds to the play experience.
The dungeon is more “thick” than expansive. It has a small footprint with only 31 locations (and no empty rooms), but each of the keyed parts have a great deal of both descriptive detail and interactive elements. There is a specific style to this campaign that’s best described as decadent. Everything is ornamented, everything has archaeological context, and it is all opulent and slightly rotten. It is a strong flavour and it is easy to find it too rich for your palate. For example, one room has “a head wearing a porcelain hawk mask (150 gp)… a head wearing a crystal ape mask (200 gp)… a bronze amulet with underwater scene of clustered fish set with cabochon sapphire bubbles (375 gp)… a jadite mantis mask (150 gp)… a golden armband of serpent with two heads that meet at the clasp, their eyes agates (200 gp)”. There is a great amount of creativity on display, and the treasures are not just lying around randomly (a weakness of many old-school modules), but as the room entries listed their procession of weird treasures, I found myself thinking there was some advantage to the “16*100 gp gems and 8 pieces of jewellery at 1000 gp each” approach.
The dungeon is themed to the limit. The Fleischguild’s master butchers have built themselves a wondrous and very disturbing abbatoir/sanctum where marbles resemble choice meats and fatty tissue; you can sacrifice to meat-loving deities (one altar is piled with “delicious cooked sausages of rare flavour” and a stack of “candied meats”, “dusted in powdered sugar like Turkish delights”); and you can encounter fat spirits, giant flies prowling for rotted meat, as well as a demon who is a disturbing, man-shaped mass of ambulatory veins. It even finds a use for M.A.R. Barker’s outrageous invention, the eye-spoon (you can find multiple ones among the treasures) – indeed, you could place this dungeon right under Jakallá, and nobody would bat an eye. This is a very specific and peculiar kind of fantasy, but it works – and it makes for an excellent dungeon crawl.
Through Ultan’s Door’s strength is not limited to its exotic backdrop setting; rather, it lies in combining setting details with D&D’s exploration-oriented gameplay. The fit is not 100% seamless, since the dazzling amount of detail does make the rooms slightly hard to “read”, which does have an effect on the action therein (“You forgot about the ceramic bowls on top of the pillars! Now you shall die!”). But this is a quibble, since in general, the writing is clear and effective. This mini-dungeon rewards careful exploration, inventive problem-solving and shrewd negotiation; its traps and challenges are inventive and require out-of-the-box thinking to best; and it is heavy on well-integrated, interesting secrets (more than a third of the level, and most of its interesting treasures are hidden from the casual observer). It is good D&D in an exotic setting the same way Empire of the Petal Throne is good D&D in an exotic setting. It is not “too weird to live.”
Through Ultan’s Door comes with a detachable cardboard cover, showing Russ Nicholson’s grotesque depiction of the catacombs’ entrance on the front cover, and Gus L’s dungeon map on the inside. This is a good map, combining visual appeal with practicality. I think there is also a “monster card” displaying the encounter table (a boon for table use), but I must have misplaced it – or was it all a dream?
No playtesters are credited in this publication. [Correction: The zine credits the playtesters right on its first page.]
Rating: **** / *****
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] Goddess of the Crypt

Beyond Fomalhaut - Sun, 09/22/2019 - 14:37

Goddess of the Crypt (2019)by VagabundorkSelf-publishedLow-level
Goddess of the CryptInto the Odd is one of the worthwhile old-school D&D spinoffs of the last decade: it has a strong vision, simple but well thought out mechanics, an interesting implied setting, and a well-structured game framework which encourages going out on hazardous but lucrative adventures. It is kind of like OD&D for a rusty and very weird Victorian England; a place where you might encounter morlocks, Martian war-machines, occult mysteries and temporal/spatial anomalies, and where your beginning characters are largely disadvantaged nobodies hoping to make it big by hook or by crook. Like OD&D’s beginning murderhobos, there are bizarre and dangerous dungeons to plunder and occult treasures to unearth. Like OD&D’s name-level characters, the endgame involves retiring as wealthy and powerful eccentrics, and there is a pre-built career path to reach that destination.
What Into the Odd is missing is the same thing niche games tend to miss: a steady support of interesting, well-thought out adventures (Silent Titans, which uses the game system, and even includes its core rules, is the major exception as a full-length campaign). This is a shame, because, ItO is precisely the kind of game that’s fairly easy to develop scenarios for, and a good fit for smaller, pamphlet-sized projects. So here we are: Goddess of the Crypt is a published ItO mdule – and a fairly well hidden one.
The adventure takes the characters, working on behalf of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, into a temple populated with serpent-men and super-science. A previous expedition has been lost down there, and it may also be swell to uncover some of the precious artefacts they have been looking for. This is a dungeon with 11 main keyed areas, which is not much, although most of the rooms have a neat multi-layered complexity with multiple things going on. This complexity is both a boon and a hindrance, as the module is structured in a nested bullet point structure
  • that theoretically makes information well structured and easy to find,
    • unless there are several levels of the bullet points and the information is scattered among them
      • in a labyrinthine way
        • no kidding, it really looks like this
          • sometimes there are five levels.

Obviously, this is a wee bit too much of a good thing, and ironically makes the text harder to decipher than just sticking with boring old paragraphs.
What makes Goddess of the Crypt worth checking out is the dungeon itself. It has the spirit of OD&D’s “mythic underworld” concept, working more along the lines of loose association than strict logic. As a temple/crypt, the dungeon has somehow established connections with laboratories and extra-dimensional pockets. It mixes meso-American feeling snake temples with early 20th century weird (pseudo-)science-as-magic devices. It has superb ideas like a bas-relief of one-eyed men serving as an opening mechanism for a secret door (opened with a freshly plucked eye), or an enchanted key that fits every door, but turns them into an entrance to a specific extra-dimensional place. There is a roster of monsters representing various stages of serpentile evolution and cross-breeding, and bizarre monsters from dimension X. It is an interactive dungeon with imaginative things to mess with.
However, it is still more a first step in a great direction than a fully formed dungeon that hits all notes. The map’s frequent use of one-way doors introduces some interesting choices, but also results in inevitable backtracking, and turns a seemingly non-linear dungeon level into a significantly more restricted one. At least if I interpret the map correctly: some of the door symbols are deceptively similar, and for something done with a mapping programme, it is surprisingly hard to read. I also believe the contents could have been spread out a little more with the good use of empty rooms (and less pointlessly winding corridors, unless that is part of the snake theme). The issues with structuring information have already been covered. I would be interested to see further releases from Vagabundork, with a slightly less fragmented structure – the potential is there, if the presentation can be improved somewhat.
No playtesters are credited in this publication.
Rating: *** / *****

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Life After 1980: RPG Consent Forms, Broken Elfs, and No Concept of Economy

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sat, 09/21/2019 - 11:44

D&D (John Blacktree) The Nature of Consent Forms in Role Playing Games — “There are great DM’s and awful ones. It’s a roll of the dice. (pun intended) but when something like a consent form is brought forth you are exerting an unearned level of control over others fun. They didn’t sign up to be whipped and burned with candle wax. They just want to play a game.”

Fantasy (Dutrope) Editor Interview: Cirsova Magazine — “For some reason, we get a lot of elf stories. Unless you’re doing something Dunsanian, no elves! Look, we can fix formatting, we can add page numbers to the footer of your manuscript, but we can’t fix a story that has generic D&D elves in it.”

Writing (Dean Bradley) Fighting Style and Character — “Before the renaissance in traditional European martial arts, a katana conveyed a much more seasoned and developed fighting style than a bastard sword. We now know that the fighting style of European knights was every bit as systematic and developed as that of the samurai, but the truth mattered less than the viewer’s impression of skill and study.”

Books (Castalia House) Swords & Dark Magic — “The better sword and sorcery writers who came out of the 1970s got their start in the small press. They started out writing short stories, then novelettes. A few then made the jump to mass market paperbacks that were generally 80,000 words long. Now it is backwards, the writers of the past ten to twenty years start out writing 700 page novels for seemingly never ending series. They have no concept of economy.”

Appendix N (Grey Dog Tales) Tarzan Reborn! — “I have no way of knowing exactly how the late Fritz Leiber approached the job, but I can easily imaging him watching the movie over and over, along with reading the original script treatment, making copious notes on what did and didn’t work. Frankly, he did an astonishing job of it. I was recently reliably informed that Philip José Farmer considered this to be one of the best Tarzan novels he ever read. I can’t disagree with that appraisal.”

D&D (The Alt-right DM) How Consent Works — “When you sit down to my D&D game, you consent to play my games. Both the RAW B/X game, and the head games that are part and parcel of dealing with a maniac like me. Like my second ex-wife’s ass cheeks, there a lot of overlap between the two.”

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Evocative Maps

Bat in the Attic - Fri, 09/20/2019 - 20:13
While Google+ was a thing I posted this map from my Majestic Wilderlands campaign


The party talked to the dragon Mori (center and up) and succeeded converting her to their cause. In turn she explained what she knew about the forest. But rather than write a description, I described it visually with the above map. Figuring that it was more effective in visually conveying the highlights of what could be found.

Recently I did another for the current Swords & Wizardry campaign I running using my Majestic Fantasy rules. In this case it is about the Valley of the Dead Queens northwest of Viridistan.
As with Dearthwood, the characters were able to have a long discussion with allies knowledgeable about the region. I felt it was easy to convey the information visually. In the valley you can see the towers of the Dead Queens along with the Obsidan Tower and the Serd Worms.

Keep in mind the scale of the Majestic Wilderlands is 12.5 miles per hex not 5 miles hex. So the maps are larger than the original counterpart. Which is why villages are now castles or towns. 
Below is how the above looks on the main map I drew for myself.

Finally here is the first poetic map I drew. It was for the last GURPS campaign I ran in the Majestic Wilderlands
And the written summary It is written from the point of view of the rebel giving the information.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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