Tabletop Gaming Feeds

More on Clerics

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 12:00
It is no secret that clerics have always held a bit of an uneasy place in D&D. They were supposedly inspired by the vampire hunters of Hammer Horror with some further borrowings from Crusader orders. Even if later editions with variable domains, weapons, and powers have ameliorated there implicitly Christian, monotheistic origins, we are still left with them serving pantheons drawn from modern imposed-systemization on characters from later versions of myth, a systemization alien to actually polytheistic religions. But still, it's only a game, we can run with that, right?

Well, we're still left with unanswered questions regarding how the cleric class fits into the structure of religious organizations. Do all priests have spells? If so, where do they get the experience to go up in level?

Here are some possibilities drawn from real world examples that are potential answers, though of course not the only answers, to these questions. Most of these assume clerics adventure because they are "called" to in some way. Whether this is a legitimate belief on the part of the cleric and society or a mistaken one would depend on the setting.

Lay Brothers 
Clerics are not ordained priests but warrior lay brethren, like the sohei of Japan or the military orders of Europe. They would overlap a bit with paladins, but that's real just a matter of whether they were stronger in faith or battle. In this version, priests might or might not have spells, but if they did it would strictly be at the dispensation of their deity.

This is more or less the idea I proposed in this post. Clerics are outside the church hierarchy, though they may or may not have started there. They were chosen by their deity for a special purpose. They may be reformers of a church that has been corrupted or lost it's way, founders of a heretical sect with a new interpretation, or the first in ages to hear the voice of a new god. Priests here may have no magic or may be powerful indeed but false in their theology.

Similar to my "Saints and Madmen" ideas before, mystics are either heretics or at the very least esotericists with a different take on their religion than the mainstream one. The difference between this and the Prophet above is that they have no interest in reforming the church or overturning it, they are either hermits or cult leaders who isolate themselves from the wider world to pursue their revelations. John the Baptist as portrayed in The Last Temptation of Christ would fit here, as would perhaps the Yamabushi of Japan, or certain Daoist sects/practitioners in China. They might be not at all scholarly (with all spells/powers being "gifts of grace" unavailable to less fanatical priests) or very scholarly with powers/spells coming from intense study or mediation which even more mainstream priests cannot master.

Special Orders
Clerics are members of special orders within the church hierarchy dedicated to recovering the wealth and lost knowledge of dungeons for the the glory of their deity and the betterment of their church. Not all  priests have spells. Clerics are priests chosen for their aptitude or particular relationship with the divine or whatever. These orders may be quite influential within the church hierarchy, but their mission thin their ranks and keeps them in the wilderness and away from centers of power--perhaps by divine will or by design of church leaders.

Weird Revisited: Different Takes on Clerics

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 12:00
I was thinking of writing a post on different approaches to clerics in D&D--then I discovered I had already written one in 2015! I plan to expand on this in an upcoming post..

While on my vacation I did have a could of ideas of different ways to approach clerics. Nothing that would change there mechanics really, but changes to their "fiction" within D&D-like implied settings.

A God for Every Cleric
D&D talks a lot about clerics acquiring followers and whatnot, but only level titles hint at them being in a hierarchy from the outset. Maybe that's because every one of them adds a new god/Avatar/Saint/interpretation? They're struggles are the beginning of something at least partially new. Each cleric is the founder of a new cult, if not a whole new religion, and their deeds are its founding legends.

Saints & Madmen
Maybe clerics aren't priests with orders and heirarchies at all? Maybe they're crazy hermits and empowered saints? I've thought along these lines before, but there clerics were evangelists of a new apocalyptic cult. This way, they have always existed, but they're holy and special. Not all priests have spells.

Monthly Sale on Certain Printed Books 50% Off

Two Hour Wargames - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 02:59
Here's a list of printed books on sale this month. Follow the link and save big bucks! Supplies limited so don't wait.
Red Sand Black Moon
Piathoe's Peaks
5150: Missions Infestation
Warrior Heroes - Legends
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Squarehex 2019 Review and 2020 Plans

Oubliette - Wed, 01/01/2020 - 23:13

2019 was a good year for the business. The two highlights for me were getting The Black Hack Second Edition rewards sent out to our Kickstarter backers and The Black Hack picking up a Silver Ennie award at GenCon. Ongoing sales of The Black Hack have been strong and we now have 2 distributors in the US (Exalted Funeral and Noble Knight) and in the UK Leisure Games are carrying stock. We should also soon have copies of The Black Hack in general UK distribution via Asmodee.
Once the main work associated with The Black Hack was over it was nice to get back to a few smaller Kickstarter projects to fund print runs of several notebooks and booklets. In addition to the Kickstarters I'm always on the lookout for small niche publishing projects. In the last few years I've had the pleasure of printing material featuring the creative talents of Kristian Richards, James West, David Black, Dyson Logos, Charley Phipps and Karl Stjernberg. In 2020 I'll be helping Fish in the Pot with the UK/EU distribution of their one page dungeon zine.
During the year we managed to attend 5 conventions (Hammerhead, UK Games Expo, Barrage, Chillcon and Dragonmeet). I hope to do a few more shows than that in 2020, but they are very time consuming and apart from the Expo and Dragonmeet the financial rewards are fairly small.
I start 2020 with a Kickstarter project (Combat Counters) to complete which should be finished by the end of February. Then I want to run a follow-up project for The Black Hack to fund a booklet of classic monsters which will be a useful supplement for GMs running modules from other OSR/original games. After that I would really like to tackle a reprint of The Lichway. I first talked about my plans for that project in 2015. Although that was a long time ago, when you consider the adventure was first published in 1978, it's still the recent past really. I have done more groundwork on the project over the last 4 years, but more importantly, my ideas on how to best present the adventure have evolved considerably. In between these major projects I should still have time for a few small projects to produce paper pads, booklets and more 2.5D dungeon expansions.
When I started Squarehex I set a very low financial bar for the business. Essentially, I wanted a hobby business that would allow me to print niche items with little regard for how commercially viable they were. That sounds more reckless than it is in reality as I've never lost money on a project. Indeed all my Kickstarters are planned so I know the exact weight, cost and postage for every item before I start. The business has now almost reached the point where it could be a full-time job. If you'd told me at age 20, 30, or even 40 that I could be doing this for a living at the age of 50 I don't think I would have believed it. Even though the pay is a fraction of what I used to earn in the corporate world, I think I'm now in that small group of people who get to do a job that doesn't really feel like work. Thank you to everyone that has supported our projects or bought things from us via the webstore or at a convention in 2019. I hope we can tempt you back for more in 2020.
Happy New Year!
Peter Regan

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Trials of a Young Wizard

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 01/01/2020 - 12:11
By Simon Miles Dunromin University press OSRIC Level 1

Fresh-faced and more than a little hung-over our newly graduated mage of the great Dunromin College of Magic and his friends step into the tea-room next to the Porter’s Lodge and ask for something for a headache. Within minutes they find themselves accosted by the smiling figure of Malcolm Darkstar, Bursar of the College and owner of the tea-rooms, keen to ask them a favour…

This 48 page book has three adventures: a small kobold lair, a fetch quest in a dead wizards manor home, and a side-quest burning farmstead/argument with a doppleganger spouse. It makes some attempts at verisimilitude but fails in being usable, as it asserts it wants to be. Or even interesting.

Three little adventures for level one’s in OSRIC. There’s not much going on in these. There are, though, a lot of words. There are page long room encounters. There are LOOOOONG sections of read-aloud. There’s an attempt to use bolding to highlight keywords and phrases in the long text but it largely misses its mark, being the wrong words bolded to to get the flavor of an encounter. It largely shows an unfamiliarity with better formatting techniques like bullets and indentations. This isn’t a one-size fits all, an adventure should not be all bullets and indents, but a mix of text, bullets, indents, and bolding usually does a better job than just one of those techniques alone. Further, when bolding and text are used by themselves then it becomes critical to keep the text short, use para breaks appropriately, and bold the right things. And none of that is done here. The net impact is a kind text wall that resists scanning. And if you can’t scan the text easily then you can’t run the adventure easily. 

There’s also this kind of mania for physical descriptions. Read-aloud and DM text both are pretty specific. 8’ high, 4’ wide, 5’ long passage, and so forth. Does that matter to the players? Short and stumpy, or other flavour text, would be better. This mania for EXACT dimensions, especially in read-aloud, drives me nuts. 

Dungeon trappings are buried in text instead of on the (linear) maps. (Well, the kobold map at least is linear.) Embedding the smells and noises on the mpa, for example, keeps them fresh in front of the DM’s eyes, helping them add flavor to the game as they are running it. Remember: the published adventure is supposed to be a play aid for the DM, helping them run it. 

There’s also a weird tone in this. King Modred and Lord Darkstar. The text refers to a bizarre land, and the whole “beginning wizard” thing makes me think of some juvenile audience … but then there’s murdered kids in a house on fire and other darker things. It’s got a weird tone. And almost no loot for a 1e adventure that, by definition, requires hold to get XP to level. There’s some handwaving about doing this on purpose, but by doing so you’re destroying one of the key posts of the game. 

This makes me think, for all the world, that the designer is VERY new to this. They have a vision in their head. It makes sense to them, and they try to put it down on paper. But, that’s not the goal. The goal is to get it in to the running DM’s head so they can run it during actual play. What makes sense to the designer, who is intimately familiar with their own work, doesn’t to someone who has to slog through all of the text text to get out the good bits.

And the good bits are few and far between. This is mostly kobolds and goblins and the like, with snare traps and other relatively boring things. There’s a ncie order of battle for monsters in how they react, but, like everything else, it’s too long and too prescriptive. Evocative is not prescriptive. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $4. The preview is the entire thing, at 48 pages. Yeah!  Try pages five, six, and seven as the overland/intro and tell me you can run that easily. Or pages eight, nine and ten for approaching the kobold lair. It’s just little to no organization at all except paragraph this and then paragraph that happens.

Happy Fucking New Year. What a way to start it.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: My Favorites of 2019

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 01/01/2020 - 12:00
In no particular order, here are my favorite comic book series of 2019. This only counts series that started with a 2019 cover date.

Spider-Man: Life Story: The life of Peter Parker as if he aged in real time. Sometimes the reconfiguring on famous storylines of each decade is tedious, but in the chapters where it works, it works well.

Coffin Bound: Izzy Tyburn, chased by an unstoppable killer unleashed by an ex-lover, vows that if the world won't have her in it, it will have nothing of her at all. Reminiscent of the classic days of Vertigo.

House of X/Powers of X: The X-Men as a science fiction. It's main flaw is that it leads into ongoing X titles that have thus far failed to live up to it.

Jimmy Olsen: a humorous homage to the Jimmy Olsen comics of the Silver Age from Matt Fraction and Steve Leiber. No collection as yet.

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt: Forget Doomsday Clock, this is the comic book follow-up to Watchmen worth reading. By Kieron Gillen and Caspar Wijngaard.

Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 3: Sketch Card Preview, Part 5

Cryptozoic - Tue, 12/31/2019 - 17:00

Please enjoy the fifth preview of Sketch Cards from Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 3!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

New Printable Initiative Trackers for Dungeons & Dragons

DM David - Tue, 12/31/2019 - 12:35

When I described the best ways to track initiative in Dungeons & Dragons, I showed how I track initiative by draping named initiative tents over my dungeon master’s screen. I favor this method because I like a visible reference to the characters’ and especially the monsters’ stats. At the table, paging through the monster manual or finding monster pages shuffled in my other papers takes me too long. Hanging key numbers in plain sight speeds play.

Collected Monster Initiative Tents

When I fill a monster’s initiative tracker, I save it for future games. Over a couple of years, I’ve accumulated hundred of tents, from aboleth to zombie. I appreciate this resource, but when the reuse proved helpful, I wished for monster tents that could hold more information: all the saves and an fuller outline of actions. So I created bigger trackers for more complicated monsters. These large tents work better for aboleth, while the small ones still work fine for zombie. My new design means I’ll be rewriting older tents as needed.

Download a PDF of my blank tents.

My player tents include spaces for AC and passive perception, plus space for up to 8 separate initiative scores. As an extra time saver, I have players pre-roll initiative. During the a game session, I never slow for initiative. When an encounter starts, I hand all the tents to a player for sorting, and then I drape the folds on my screen.

Some helpful players won’t wait for initiative. At the end of every encounter, they re-order the tents. I never have to call for initiative. While this skips a dramatic moment, it also blends the line between combat and the rest of the game.

Top Dog Games makes a line of pre-printed Stat Trackers that already come printed with monster information.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Lost Treasure of Atlantis

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 12/30/2019 - 12:10
By Chainsaw North Wind Adventures AS&SH Levels 6-8

In the far reaches of Hyperborea’s Crab Archipelago lies a small, mountainous island known as Crystal Point. Passing sailors recently have witnessed a crimson glow in Crystal Point’s waters and beams of russet light shining up from its steep cliffs. Too, unusually frequent lightning storms in the area have torn the sky in blinding flashes, shattering the air with their awesome sound. The seedy wharf taverns of Khromarium and elsewhere buzz with these strange tales—some even speculate that Crystal Point may hold the lost treasure of Atlantis! 

This 68 pages adventure OOZES with flavour. Primarily a “dungeon” of tunnels & caves, it also includes an island exploration to get there and little social adventure in an “evil” village to learn of the island. It, finally, lives up to the promises made of AS&SH. Flavour & interactivity abounds … diminished only by the layout (and editing?)  choices made. Buy More. Buy More Now, and Be Happy!

I was not looking forward to this review. I’m off, and lazy when I’m off work. And it’s an AS&SH adventure, and I’m not fond of those. And a 68 page slog through crap is no fun AT ALL when you have holiday things to do. But wait … what’s this? Talanian didn’t write this? Chainsaw did?Hmmm, He’s on my internal mental list as “Not a complete fucking idiot.” (And to be clear, this ranks right below “Bryce is fanboy Of” … there’s a big gap there that explains many things about me psychologically speaking.) To my delight Chainsaw has finally produced an AS*SH adventure that FEELS like a pulp adventure. It’s full of flavour and action and interactivity and is evocative as all fuck. 

A zombie has a map tattooed on his back, or a toothless sailor with glinting eyes grins and shows you a platinum coin, or a noble “of little renown” has gone missing. Even my own fucked up summaries of the hooks communicates some of the awesome of these hooks. Not long, but PACKED with flavour. 

And this continues in every part of the adventure. Onboard ship to get an island there’s wandering monsters, of course. I often lament “they attack!” encounters … but these are different. They have flavour. “A group drifts into the party’s path and crawls hand

over hand up their ship’s sides.” or “Giant tentacles burst from the water,

attempting to rip the party’s ship to pieces.” This communicates the encounter vibe well. One short sentence and the DM has something to work with. Evocative writing is important in an adventure, especially these days. Most of us have packed lives. By writing evocatively the designer communicates tone, tenor, flavour of an encounter directly to the DM’s brain, and then the DM can take over and build upon it. Encounter after encounter after encounter does this.

The very first location is an “evil” village. The people paint themselves red, like crabs. It’s full of crab parts. The blacksmith has a birth defect that looks like a crab hand. They keep slaves. They have two dudes in hanging iron cages …errr … one, the other, his brother, was burnt to death in his cage. There’s … oh fuck, why am I even trying. This is place is PACKED. Several subplots in just the opening village. The dude in the cage, another brother trying to free him, the village elders hiding a crab conspiracy (duh …) and a villanous merchant, a … it’s just fucking packed! And the island is also … including a mi-go automaton with rudimentary intelligence that has broken free and is repeating why me WHY ME” over and over again. Fucking Flavour. And, it should be obvious by now: Fucking Interactivity. More than just combat. Telegraphing. Plans to be made. Plots to be foiled. ADVENTURE!

And, as per usual, it’s fucked over by the layout and editing. There ARE cross–references, and bolding, and some indents, all of which make things easier to find. There’s also the usual mania found in all Northwind adventures to laying out every word in a paragraph style. I don’t know if it’s in the designers manuscript or not. But I do know that the editor and “development person” should have done something about it no matter who did it. Unless they did it. In which case BAD! YOU’RE BAD PEOPLE! You can’t just bury information in a quarter page paragraph of small font type. I’m scanning the page, looking for the encounter description. I can’t read a column before relating it to my players. Get it? Do you get it? No? You don’t get it? That’s why it continues to show up in adventure after adventure? Look, I’m not saying you have to sell your soul down the river. What I AM saying is that you need to find another layout and editing style that both works for the “Howard wrote this a hundred years ago and look out layout looks like that!” and “usability at the table for quick scanning.” Do some work and find something that works for you from now on. And keep publishing from people like Chainsaw that know how to write.

I can poke some more holes in this. A reference sheet for NPC’s in the village. A kind of “overview look” for the large open vistas, like when you enter the village, see the island, etc. Landmarks, first things you see, etc. 

Chainsaw writes viscerally. You FEEL the encounter, NPC, etc. 

Plus, there’s a Lightning Reactor in this adventure. With levers you can pull. FUCK! YES!

This is a great place to adventure and a great adventure module. 

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is broken! Fix the preview!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Outer Dark of Space

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 12/30/2019 - 12:00

There are rpg publications out there combining the Cthulhu Mythos with science fiction, and maybe even some combining transhuman science fiction with it, but I don't know if any of them have combined the mythos with hard science fiction with a bleaker edge like Reynolds's Revelation Space or Blindsight by Peter Watts, or maybe a hard science fiction Prometheus.

The magic and occultism of Lovecraft's (and other's) stories are just the primitive misunderstandings of extremely advanced technology. The many of the so-called deities of the mythos are entities predating the current universe, somehow intertwined with its structure.

The Great Old Ones and other Elder Races have been fighting to control these entities or the knowledge they possess for billions of years. In their long war, they go quiescent or hibernate for extended periods to build their energies and plan their strategies for the next titanic battle. Many of these beings are no longer conscious or sophont by our standards, but rather post-intelligence. Other species are nearly powerless in the face of these titans, and so they hide when they are awake, and the try not to wake them when they are sleeping--though some are not above attempting to "hack" them or exploit their advance technology. This is the solution to the Fermi Paradox.

I figure human civilization would resemble something like Revelation Space. AI probably exists, but there are not yet hypersophont AI (at least not widely known) like in the work of Karl Schroeder or Hannu Rajaniemi, because their existence might make the mythos races less special.

Dumbarton Arena: APFSDS Ammo vs. Flaming Oil!

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Mon, 12/30/2019 - 03:23

Time for some more Car Wars!

My opponent’s character “Borf” had achieved Gunner-1. My character Egon had one kill and a couple of expensive cars he could salvage. Winning this game would be huge. “Borf” would probably shift to Driver-1 and Gunner-1. “Egon” would maybe jump to Gunner-1.

Now… technically it’s “not fair” for my guy to be going up against a more skilled driver. Some people would object to this. In our games, it takes maybe two or three games to level up a character. If you make it that far, you’re probably lucky… and your luck is liable to have run out. We figure it’s more fun to be able to enjoy being awesome while you can. The glory of beating a superior character more than makes up for the lack of “fairness.” The fun of having continuing characters more than makes up for any potential game balance issues– it’s all just part of the game.

We made some changes to the previous game’s car to make for a more fun event. Gone are the heavy duty anti-lock brakes, PFE, IBA, AVR, flaming oil dischargers, wheel guards, and armored wheel hubs. In their place we got stuff that would make everything more awesome: a HRSWC and HD shocks!

Gothmog II — Luxury, x-hvy chassis, hvy suspension, sport power plant with superconductors, 4 solid tires, driver,  2 linked ATGs with APFSDS ammo front, HFOJ back, spoiler, airdam, heavy duty shocks, HRSWC. Armor: F 55, R 25, L 25, B 25, T 0, U 0, 10-points CA on plant, 10-points CA on driver. Accel 10, top speed 120 mph, HC 3, 6,570 lbs, $29,900.

In the opening moves my opponent let me accelerate out in front of him in the hopes that I would turn away out of the gate so that he could shoot me up at his leisure. Instead I cut towards him, fired my guns, and t-boned him. I did enough damage to injure his driver but not take him out. So close! This dropped my handling status way low but I managed to maintain control. Taking a fire modifier from the flaming oil was dangerous. A second hit of from the HFOJ could very well take me out of the game. A nail-biting parity ensued that would continue through the rest of the game!

Getting that second flaming oil hit was not trivial, though. Having to maneuver while on the unlit oil proved to be about as dangerous, though!

Both of us took steadied on a bit to try to get back in control. My opponent then cut left to force me onto one more flaming oil slick. He lost control and went into a spin-out. This should have been my game! He made a right angle turn as he spun around. I fired my ATGs, killing his driver… a spun around again laying flaming oil in his own path of travel… and then slammed into the wall, coming to rest on his own flaming oil slick!

All I had to do was stay in control and not catch on fire and I would win the game! Sitting on top of a flaming oil slick, it would be crazy to maneuver. I opted to hit the obstacle counter that had dropped when I took out my opponent. I lost control, fish-tailed, and then spun out… coming to rest on the same flaming oil slick that was burning up my opponent’s car!

My driver jumped out of the car to try to get away before the vehicles exploded. I wasn’t fast enough and my awesome continuing character died a horrible death in an explosion.

So after a nail-biting game that lasted an hour and a half, our continuing campaign fell prey to a de facto total party kill– an outcome made more hilarious by the fact that I would have won the game outright had I not fired my weapons producing an obstacle directly on my path of travel…!

What do you do when your entire campaign goes up in smoke…? Come up with something even more awesome, natch!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] Lowcountry Crawl

Beyond Fomalhaut - Sun, 12/29/2019 - 18:16
Lowcountry Crawl
Lowcountry Crawl (2019)by John GregoryPublished by Technical Grimoire Games
The inaugural issue of a fanzine describing a “Southern Gothic” setting – something based on early 19th century coastal South Carolina by way of D&D-ish RPGs (it is barely statted, but would go well with the common B/X-based systems). As the intro states, this is a fairly underexplored setting idea, but once you look inside, you will see that it would fit very nicely into any pirate- or smuggler-themed RPG set around the Caribbean, or in colonial America. The “Barrier Islands” of the first issue are a chain of small islands, somewhere between sandbanks and habitable land. The coast is by and large modular and self-contained – you don’t need future issues of the zine to find this useful.
What you get is a decent mini-setting: basic guidelines to generate new islands, with a description of the environments you may find there; a sample island chain; random encounters; and a selection of setting-appropriate stuff. There is a good mixture of approaches from the naturalistic (the hazards and opportunities of wildlife, mud, and the tides) to the folkloric (pulled from local legends and folk tales) and the fantastic (wild stuff like giant eye islands and giant reed rafts supporting an entire village). It is not “in-depth”, remaining closer to the surface concept level than presenting a fully detailed adventure, but it is more than a zoomed-out overview. The four major islands present a place where you can venture from the safety of civilisation to the odder, more dangerous corners of the wilderness. The further you go, the tougher it gets. There are basic connections to link it together and give you a structure for improvisation. I find this approach useful; it is perhaps closest to what Wilderlands of High Fantasy gives you (but on a much smaller scale). There is a listing of local creatures and magic items, which are the high point of the zine, with a macabre sense of wonder. Here is a one-eyed dog monster bound to hidden treasure; a bloody skeleton in the marshes with hanging strips of skin called Tommy Rawbones; raccoon baculum (yes, really), or magical chewing tobacco (nasty stuff).
This is the first RPG product I have come across that lists a sensitivity reader (granted, I live under a rock). I surmise it is a very sensible idea to hire one if you randomly find yourself writing sentences like “Actually, slavery is pretty cool”, or “The lesbians at the tavern have damn fine tits.” Your sensitivity reader will just find these passages and recommend that you remove them, all at a modest price. It is a very useful invention that I see getting widely adopted. Beyond sensitivity, “Akelah” has contributed a strange merchant selling odd semi-magical gewgaws. It is not the high point of the publication, but it is fairly okay.
Altogether, Lowcountry Crawl is an “idea zine” with an interesting theme and an excellent sense of place. It is neither a fully described locale nor a toolbox, but a set of related ideas to provide a framework for adventures you will write or make up on the spot. In that respect, it is the potential beginning of something good – although not necessarily the thing itself.
No playtesters are credited in this publication. However, there is a sensitivity reader!
Rating: *** / *****
Chew on this!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Depths of Felk Mor

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 12/28/2019 - 12:21
By Roderick Waibel Sacrosanct Games 5e Levels 1-10

Normally a time of year for celebration of the harvests, there is a tangible pall over the keep.  People are on edge, and a level of inherent distrust seems to be festering underneath weak smiles and cordial habitual greetings.  It seems as though the harvest celebration is happening out of routine, rather than genuine excitement. It is as if somehow the people are trying to use it as a way to get their minds off the pervasive sense of dread that is brought with each wave of fog. The circumstances that brought you to the keep are varied, but one thing is for certain: something is amiss.

This 236 page adventure uses about a hundred pages to describe a multi-level underground caves/tunnel/dungeon with about 250 rooms. Maddingly, it develops well but it missing in a kind of overview to get the DM oriented to it. Combined with a casual writing style, you can tell its got some interesting things going on but the amount of work required to massage it in to playable form would be substantial. 

Multiple levels of a single mega-dungeon here, with a very brief regional map. The adventure is, though, in the dungeon. It starts with some ant tunnels. They take up a pretty substantial part of the adventure, about fifty of the 250 or so rooms. Then it leads to some intermediate caverns, and then a large underground cave with several subterranean races living in it. It ends up with a more traditional dungeon down there, in a tomb with some cutists, etc. 

The ant tunnels and upper levels are relatively interesting from a ,,, developing story? standpoint. You get this initial impression and then there are little hints of things going on that develop in to more. It has a kind of developing horror present in it. It also reminds me of the Buggems lair in Legion of Gold, and, Gamma World My Favoritests, I am perhaps biased.

Things tend to go downhill after that. The underground community section has five factions present, but while each get a decently extensive write up I don’t feel like it lives up to its potential in any way. And the final dungeon levels, in  a temple, etc, do bring back more interesting ideas again but … it just feels off.

The thing is not organized well. For such a large adventure, 250 rooms and level one through ten and 260 pages, it feels … sparse? Almost half the pages are appendix but it’s really lacking in organizational, or summarizing data that could help orient the DM to the play of the thing. A few overviews would have been in order, and the ones that are present could be much better. The humanoid settlements get a page of so write up each with their motivations but then revert to traditional room key. And the write-ups are not really in a manner that help you use them. It’s more of a style guide that one could then use to develop DM aides and text for running an adventure. The lore guide full of background data that helps you write the actual play guide, so to speak. Oh! I like that analogy! And it works so well for so many descriptive errors in an adventure. “This room used to be …” Hey! That goes in the lore guide that the adventure writer uses to write the adventure! Not in the adventure proper! And this adventure does that a lot, with used to be’s and this is that way because Y …  That sort of tex almost never contributes to the actual play of the adventure and gets in the way of the DM running it.

Descriptions also feel sloppy. One that sticks out, aboveground, is with some caravan ruins. A short description of a ruined wagon, torns pits of cloth, destroyed goods. Then the DM text mentions, in an off hand way, the survivors relating … whit, what? Survivors? And also that the ants rendered people … ants did this? It’s as if the writer knows what they want, what they have in mind, but they don’t get it down on the paper in a way that orients the DM to the actual play. Information is not well organized. The focus is not on the core of a room but rather tangential room details. Muddied descriptions. And then, when the text gets LOOOONG, and it does get column-length or longer in places, it becomes nigh impossible to discern playability. 

I note as well that this thing could use a lot more cross-references. There’s a bunch of mini-plots present but no help for the DM about where to find out more. You’ve got a missing relative? Better read all 250 pages to find out their name; it’s buried in there somewhere! Some cross-references would have helped a lot. It aso uses room name description “Laboratory” and so on, but also mixes in commentary “Looks like a hot time!” or something like that. You can totally do things this way … but given the weakness of the room descriptions and DM text then an evocative room description would have helped orient the DM to the room in a much better way. 

There’s also some weirdness in the communities giant cavern that is strains disbelief. The entire thing in on a piece of graph paper with 1 square equaling 300 feet. Those are pretty tight confins for five factions plus some wilderness. And there’s this 1 kilometer zone around each community where you encounter those inhabitants … which means around three-ish squares in the middle of the map where you DON’T have those encounters. It feels really small for what it is. And then there is some conflicting information about one of them, with mi-gos servants collecting sacrifices/slaves .. .but they also can be befriended? That doesn’t have to be impossible, but it feels more like an error than a possibility. 

Megadungeons are difficult beasts. They require some special organization to help the DM run these large and complex environments. Combined with the casual writing style in this it comes out as a product in which individual zones (of which there are a lot. yeah!) and rooms have pretty good ideas that hit over and over again, but they don’t fit well for the DM to run at the table.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is fifteen pages. Page eleven of the preview/page sixteen of the book shows you the Abandoned Camp encounters with the survivors/ants thing I referenced earlier, for you to draw your own conclusions. Read the last three or four pages of the preview to get a sense of the writing style. It’s an ok preview, but would have been better also showing some dungeon pages.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Grayharrowing Adventures

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Wed, 12/25/2019 - 06:13

Design & Development
Because a few people have actually asked some questions, and because I do benefit from examining my own creative process, I’d like to share some notes and observations for a campaign setting built from the ground-up. Avremier has been building for nearly forty years and I actually struggle to recall many of the earliest details. Grayharrow was started within the last few years – though its origins do lie in an earlier iteration of Avremier (from the mid-1980s). Very little from that Grayharrow survives to this project, but those small kernels are very important.
Project History
Vythakhar was an unused realm in the first iteration of what is now the Avremier setting. It was a place of strange magic and an atmosphere I could only describe as, “eldritch.” It was a weird place created by a very young me, and none of my players ever reached it. Maybe a shadowy reflection of Melniboné. When I set out to bring Avremier “to the masses,” I found that Vythakhar just didn’t fit my current vision of the setting. So, rather than attempt to force a triangular peg into a round hole, I decided to create an Avremier spinoff, of sorts. Not that Vythakhar is part of Avremier. It is just a mini-setting that takes much of its flavor and detail from the early days of Avremier’s development. Like an archaeological site recently unearthed for study and possible appreciation. What you have here is Vythakhar placed within a more suitable setting, developed by a more mature and experienced me. It is my hope that both have aged well.
So – that’s where Grayharrow comes from. An exotic kingdom that never saw use in my game, poised at the edge of a hand-drawn map that no longer exists. The players just never travelled that far. Possibly for the best. Recently, when I dusted off some of my notes from the 80s and 90s, Vythakhar and its environs came fully to my attention after years of neglect. The timing seemed right, because I immediately began brainstorming a new campaign setting. But, I was no longer a kid living at home, with hours and hours to spare in the building of another sprawling and detailed fantasy world. I’d have to exercise some restraint – something I’m rarely good at when it comes to creative endeavors.
Guidelines and Ground Rules
This was not going to be a project that would grow and develop at a leisurely pace after extensive playtesting. I had set out to build a fantasy world with boundaries and some measure of focus. I would have an overall genius loci, in the form of a fallen deity that left behind titanic skeletal remains. The initial visual was very appealing to me – creating a landscape around a massive skeleton. In fact, this dominant physical feature would help define the true scope of the setting. With a bit of number-crunching and mathematical reckoning (not my personal strengths) I determined that the divine remains would be about 38 miles long. So, Vythakhar would have to be at least that size. And, I just had to place Imharra, the main city of the setting, directly into the palm of one dead hand. Nothing less would do. Also, the skull would be one of the most important features of the setting. The place where the mind of the departed deity would reside. A crucial focal point for the intended flavor and subtext of the campaign world – psionics.
Those who know me are aware that I generally exclude psionics from my own game and campaign setting. Still, over the years, I have come up with psionics-based ideas that seem fun to me. Grayharrow gives me an environment suited to those ideas. A showcase, of sorts. A psionic lich-king with an exposed crystallized brain, served by lawful-neutral psionic paladin enforcers, with leashed crystalline intellect devourers as hunting hounds. Clans of psionically-endowed grell totake the place of a certain type of octopoid-headed humanoid known for psionicallytenderizing and physically devouring the brains of its victims. Hidden domains of mad duergar. Isolated orders of psionic monks. Psionics that originated within the brain of the Dead God – emanating outward into the surrounding realms. I wanted a source that I could isolate and control – just in case.

Imports & Recycling
Honestly, I have a lot of ideas that just don’t suit my existing settings. Tons of stuff that don’t really fit within the established framework of Avremier. Concepts that aren’t funny enough for Duckin’ & Braggin’. That’s how the ‘Color-Titledsettingscame about. Each one embodies a distinct atmosphere or flavor that I’d like to explore in-depth.  Grayharrow’s signature flavor is something I sometimes struggle to describe in simple terms. It is built upon a solid foundation of psionic-based science-fantasy, with a pseudo-Victorian veneer. Not quite Steampunk. Gothic Gaslight, but not always traditional Gothic. There are a few strong literary influences, but I don’t really want to dwell on them. I’ve taken them in different directions and woven them into something more my own. There are other Avremier concepts that have been transplanted fully into Grayharrow – the pivotal city of Imharra being one. Then, there are concepts that were introduced in Avremier, but taken to different levels and in other directions for Grayharrow. Gargoyles, sphinxes, paladins, monks, arcane magic, nonhuman PC races, nonhuman domains, psionics-aided combat, other dimensions, undead, psidead, and more. Just a lot of standards or trappings that I wanted to twist or repurpose into something I found engaging.
Culture, Myth, History & Folklore
Quite a few real-world cultures manage to inspire and flavor the creation of my fantasy civilizations or concepts, but not always to their fullest extent. I’m not interested in creating a fantasy version of Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, or China – but I do like to take bits and pieces of the look or feel of older cultures for a foundation or framework. I like to give players something they can recognize, but not necessarily something they’ve seen before. I’m not re-creating cultures for use in my game. This is true of Grayharrow even more, perhaps, than Avremier.  
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

75th Anniversary of the Bulge - Peiper at the Gates!

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 12/24/2019 - 19:59
Updated version of the original published in 2009.
PEIPER AT THE GATES is a mini-campaign of branching linked scenarios set during the advance of Kampfgruppe Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division towards the Meuse River.

Smash through all opposition as the Germans, capturing the bridges at Trios Ponts and driving into the American far-rear.

Hold the Panzer advance at Stavelot, stopping them cold with a small rag-tag band of American fighting men.

Fight the climatic battle of a lone King Tiger against massed Sherman tanks as Task Force McGeorge attacks the La Gleize Cauldron from the north.

Play solo or with friends. Play the Germans. Play the Americans. But just play.

The fate of the Western Front is in your hands.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 3: Sketch Card Preview, Part 4

Cryptozoic - Tue, 12/24/2019 - 17:00

Please enjoy the fourth preview of Sketch Cards from Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 3!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Start Here: My Most Popular and Favorite Posts

DM David - Tue, 12/24/2019 - 12:15

This page list the most popular articles on DMDavid by category.

D&D History

Why Dungeon & Dragons Dropped Assassins and Renamed Thieves

How D&D Shed the Troubling Implications of Half -Orcs

The Threat that Nearly Killed Dungeons & Dragons—Twice

The Unintended Consequence That Ruined Fourth Edition D&D’s Chance of Success, But Proved Great for Gamers

When Megadungeons Ruled Dungeons & Dragons

The True Story of the Cthulhu and Elric Sections Removed from Deities & Demigods

Behind D&D’s Design

Spell Blow Back—How Part of D&D that Everyone Avoided Shaped the 5th-Edition Power Curve

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

Proficiency and Bounded Accuracy in D&D Next

The Dungeons & Dragons Books that Secretly Previewed Each New Edition

The Dungeons & Dragons Spells Gary Gygax Never Meant for Players

Character Building

7 Dungeons & Dragons Character Builds Absurdly Good at One Thing

7 Best Classes to Add to Multiclass a Dungeons & Dragons Character

The Two D&D Feats Everyone Loves (For Someone Else’s Character)

How to Build a Sharpshooter Who Wins D&D (If the Rest of Your Group Doesn’t Mind)

10 Ways to Build a Character That Will Earn the Love of Your Party

Dungeon Master Advice

In D&D, Letting Everyone Roll Certain Checks Guarantees Success, So Why Bother Rolling?

How to Run Better D&D Games By Doing Less

The Best Ways to Track Initiative in Dungeons & Dragons

You Roll for Random Encounters Wrong (and So Do I)

Turning Character Deaths in D&D Into Deals that Benefit Game and Story

5 Tricks for Creating Brilliant Dungeon Maps From Will Doyle

How to Use Scenes and Summaries to Focus on the Best Parts of a Role-Playing Adventure

Reference and Play Aids

A Complete List and Gallery of Dungeon Tiles Sets

New Photo Guide to Dungeon Master’s Tools

Print My Custom D&D DM Screen to Defeat the Basilisk

What Is the Typical Amount of Treasure Awarded in a Fifth-Edition Dungeons & Dragons Campaign?

Gallery of poster battle maps published for Dungeons & Dragons

How to Print Map Graphics As Battle Maps Using Free Software

Great Adventures

Why Did So Many Classic Adventures Come From 7 Years of D&D’s 45-Year History?

The 10 Greatest Dungeons & Dragons Adventures Since 1985

How N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God Changed D&D Adventures for Good

How Running Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan Reversed My Opinion of It

Queen of the Demonweb Pits Opened Dungeons & Dragons to the Planes


Sharpshooters Are the Worst Thing in D&D, but That Speaks Well of Fifth Edition

How New Changes Created the 4 Most Annoying Spells in Dungeons & Dragons

Why Dungeons & Dragons Players Don’t Love Sandboxes As Much as They Think

Are the Authors of the Dungeon & Dragons Hardcover Adventures Blind to the Plight of DMs?

If D&D Play Styles Could Talk, the One I Hate Would Say, “I Won D&D for You. You’re Welcome.”

Dungeon Masters: Why Your Players Might Not Love Theater of the Mind As Much as You Do

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mothshade Underworld - Part Three

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Mon, 12/23/2019 - 21:03

Continued from previous entry.

Naming Names: Just to immerse myself a little in the ambiance of the place, I’ve been jotting down some names for rooms and encounter areas. Descriptive bookmarks designed to prompt my weary mind when it comes time to assign and describe these places. In some cases, the names are evocative of the atmosphere of the area. In other cases, the name may give some hint as to the nature of any danger or reward to be had. On any official map or floorplan, these are the assigned designations.
·         Stormsong Hall·         The Angled Hall·         The Black Solarium·         The Bloody Cubiculum·         The Broken Gallery·         The Clockwork Ballroom·         The Cursed Cloister·         The Crystalline Atrium·         The Hall of Scroll Columns·         The Haunted Apodyterium·         The Indigo Sleeping Porch·         The Ivory Vestibule·         The Ivy-Bound Cryptoporticus·         The Jasmine Boudoir·         The Lost Attic·         The Mossy Den·         The Old Inglenook·         The Owl Parlor·         The Scorched Counting-House·         The Sealed Library·         The Shield Wall·         The Silent Antechamber·         The Silver Scriptorium·         The Stygian Undercroft·         The Sunken Calderium·         The Wasp Loft·         The Waterfall Rotunda·         The Willow Cloakroom

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Against the Weasels

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 12/23/2019 - 12:00

The occupation of Toad Hall in Wind in the Willows by the weasels, ferrets, and stoats would make a good setup for an adventure of anthropomorphic animal characters in a low-level D&Dish fashion. In fact, if you make Toad Hall more of a castle and put a village around it, you'd have a nice setting for a Beyond the Wall sort of things focused on exploring the dangers of the Wild Wood.

5e Santa Claus

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 12/22/2019 - 15:00

'Tis the season for 5e interpretations of that jolly old elf, Saint Nick. Several different versions are already wrapped and under the tree:



Subscribe to Furiously Eclectic People aggregator - Tabletop Gaming Blogs