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(5e) Heroes of Baldur’s Gate

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 05/04/2019 - 11:11
By James Ohlen, Jesse Sky
Self Published
Level 1

Hey, quick reminder that I have a Patreon. It helps offset the costs of the website and buying adventures. Unlike some, I don’t accept adventures to review; I buy everything I review.

The city of Baldur’s Gate is the pride of West Faerûn—a mercantile stronghold ruled by the famous Grand Dukes. One year ago, a powerful merchant leader named Sarevok nearly catapulted the city into war with the neighboring nation of Amn. This crisis was averted, and the remnants of the organization were scattered throughout the Sword Coast. Now, the city is threatened from within by agents of the nefarious Zhentarim, who seek to fill the power vacuum left behind in the wake of these events. Meanwhile, the Shadow Druids plot to destroy the city by performing terrible rituals, deep within the Cloakwood. Who will rise to oppose them?

This 162 page adventure (about half of which are “adventure” and half are appendices, etc) is set within the BG video games universe and includes all your favorite NPC’s from that series. It contains enough “free roaming” that MOST of it doesn’t feel like the typical plot-based railroad. Major portions “Feel” like the town exploration part of the BG videogame, which has good points (interesting stuff) and bad points (Let me just invite myself in …) It’s over-written and poorly designed for information transfer, as is usual for this type of adventure. It also has a TERRIBLE start.

Scene 1 – Quest Assignment. It’s in an inn. Full of soldiers to ensure everyone is good. And they take away everyone’s weapons upon entering. And tie spellcasters thumbs to their belts via string. Not the party. Everyone in the inn. Just to be clear: the designer has a story to tell and no “free will” from the party is gonna get in the way of that.

Scene 2 – You go to some gibberling mounds to rescue some incompetent Harpers SO. A forest area. Full of dirt mounds. Gibberling lairs. Four larger mounds, which could contain a body underneath (I guess we all know they are dormant and not dead. Anyway …) Digging up a mound requires stealth, and a roll. Noise triggers 3d4 gibberlings to burst forth from a mound. There are 250 mounds. Things could go very wrong as the party tried to find the missing person … but hey, don’t worry though! If the gibberlings awake then the NPC harper will IMMEDIATELY choose the correct mound his wife is under and untie her in a single round, screaming for everyone to run! Ought oh! Chase scene with gibberlings bursting out! Oh, no, don’t worry, they give up in 1d4 rounds. You get it right? There’s no adventure here. There’s suffering the plot and all the bullshit fake “tension” moments the designer has put in. But there’s no real tension because anything you do will be mitigated by the designer. They are trying to build tension through fake set-piece “tension scenes.” That’s not how it works. Consequence-free D&D is how boredom works though.

When you enter Baldurs Gate the read-aloud notes urchins grasping at coin purses and well-coordinated thugs skulking in alleys. Don’t worry though, this all just window-dressing, there are no actual thugs or urchins and no help for the DM if the party were to naturally follow up on those things mentioned in the read-aloud.

And the read-aloud IS extensive. It’s everywhere, long, monologue exposition. You will find no relief! No one listens past 2-3 sentences, remember? No, you don’t remember? That article WOTC posted? No? How about your own tables, the players it attentive while you read a page of read-aloud? Or they pull out their phones and/or daydream? That’s because it’s bad design and play.

Our city wanderer table is full of exciting things like “a cat is pursued by a pack of starving dogs” and other exciting encounters that are meaningless.

Things get better once the core of the adventure starts. There are 33 locations in town to explore. They have too much read-aloud and too much DM text, full of trivia and other meaningless information that doesn’t drive the adventure. This, of course, hides the real data in the location that the DM needs, like a brief personality, etc. But … it’s Baldurs Gate from the videogame. You explore the locations, from some initial clues, and widen your explorations of the other locations from the clues you uncover. This leads, probably, to the sewers  and tunnels. Sixty-ish locations under the town, leading to the basements of various buildings little mini-encounters/scenarios.

In this respect it’s the BG videogame. There’s a bunch of locations, you can wander in to them and find something happening. A little kid trapped in a cage in The Butchers meat market basement. A gambling ring with indigents facing off against gruesome challenges … that they are willing participants in, out of desperation for their circumstances. The world is brutal place. The interconnections and design, allowing the party to stumble on C which leads to D while trying to follow up A with B are done well. But it FEELS like a videogame. It feels like you are moving from A to B to C in the dungeons, busting in to basements to see what fresh hell is inside. Like you’re getting 100% by doing all the challenges in a videogame and/or exploring all of the areas. Will the party actually engage in this? Idk.

The “vignette” locations are good setups. Abstracted with detail more than I would like. Thugs guard basement doors to locations, instead of Pegleg Pete guarding the door. This abstraction garbage is a plague upon adventures. More words are not the solution but better words are. Trimming the trivia from the descriptions, read-aloud, and DM text and focusing on the evocative stuff relevant to actual play. This isn’t a call to minimalism. It’s not a call to describing everything. It’s a call to focus the writing efforts on what’s directly relevant and to make it evocative.

This thing has GREAT evocative monster art. I seldom mention art, because it’s so bad, but the monster art in this is top notch. Evocative. The rest os terrible, but the monster stuff is A+. It makes you FEEL the monster, and that’s what it should do to the DM, so they can better relate that vibe to the party. Everything should contribute to the DM running the adventure. Everything.

I’m also fond of some of the NPC descriptions. “Tharka (CG gnome acolyte) is an excitable young priest of Gond who is eager to impress Jaheira.” That’s a great description! It directly helps the DM both with her personality and what she does. It does it in one sentence. There’s not enough of this and the NPC summary sheet would better for it if if engaged in the same format/goals. Likewise, the rewards for accomplishing the quests are great. Medals, parades, people staring at you in disgust … there’s some effort made to make the players feels the consequences from the townfolk. Not enough story adventures do that. Of course, this relies, in no small part to the party following up on every quest lead they get, to solve not only the main quest but also the other two main side-quests.

There are also some epic backgrounds that the players can take at character creation. The Last Emperor, The Chosen One, etc. They DO feel epic, and yet not prescriptive, and the adventure text provides reference to how some of the locations in the adventure dovetail in to each individual one.

(And I would not that this is lacking in the main adventure. How the various quests interact with the locations and other locations is not detailed except through each individual location. This leaves you tracing breadcrumbs to understand how the adventure works. A little summary up front, with cross-references, would have gone a long way. As is, it FEEL like it’s randomly laid out and organized.)

I note also the maps are terrible. “Artistic”, they are hard to read. The map is a reference tool for the DM, first. If I can’t read the sewer map, or find the trails on the wilderness map, then you’ve done a bad job with the map.

So, lots of interesting things to stumble across. But abstracted text, and WAY too much of it to make running it at the table less than a huge effort. Lacks a GOOD summary, compounding an unfolding drama confused by too much text. The beginning, though, is DISASTROUSLY bad. Trimmed of about half its words, and being a little more specific and better summarized, it could be ok. Certainly, the originality and design is there, at least in most of the adventure, to a degree not usually seen in 5e adventures. The effort lacks the information-theory though. Improvements in that area could mean better things in the future.

This thing is $20 on DriveThru, for the PDF. The preview is garbage, showing you nothing of the actual adventure or encounters, which means you can’t make an informed purchasing decision. It’s a blind buy. This is why DriveThru needs a refund system.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Game of Thrones and Groans, part 1

Blog of Holding - Fri, 05/03/2019 - 18:19

I have to take a break from D&D content today to talk about what’s on all our minds in these dark times: Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3. That’s the one with the battle of Winterfell. You know, the episode that looks like they forgot to take the lens cap off. Lots of spoilers ahead.

Arya fighting undead

This episode was reasonably well-shot (despite being dark) and expensive-looking; it also had a number of good set pieces. Its only problem was that not a single DAMN thing made any DAMN sense.

That may sound like hyperbole. But if you are to understand me at all, you must know that I abhor hyperbole above all things. Please imagine me making earnest yet steely eye contact with you as I tell you, my voice quavering with sincerity, that I could spend a full and rewarding lifetime unpacking the preposterous things in GOTS03E08, and when I laid down my burden at the age of 95, I could still say, “There was so much more to do. If only I had more time…”

I never knew it before, but I’ve been training my whole life to be a S03E08 mocker, and I will give it my all. But the sheer weight of absurdity is too much for a single mortal to lift. That’s why I’m pulling in reinforcements. Like an army of implacable and unstoppable Dothraki warriors, Rory comes thundering to my rescue. Between the two of us, perhaps we can get through a recap of this episode.

Before we start: Some may object that the points we’ll make in this article are nitpicks. For the most part, I don’t think they are. I think that, from the point of view of in-world logic, the episode was incoherent. It only made sense as spectacle. Therefore, it was bad fantasy.

I believe that one of the attractions of good fantasy is that it rewards examination. A good fantasy text has a world of detail beneath the surface: fans can get lost in those details, inhabiting the world along with the author. You can have the highest budget, the best actors, the finest CGI, and the slickest production in the land, but a lack of reverence for the plausibility of your world is as intrusive as a boom mic in the shot.

Some may say, “Game of Thrones is popcorn fantasy, don’t sweat the small stuff!” But if you didn’t like excessive analysis, you probably wouldn’t be on this blog, right?

Let’s recap this episode, shall we, Rory?

0:00: The beginning of the episode is effective, tense, and absurdity-free. Nervous warriors await the coming of the undead army. Everyone heads to their posts: Bran to the godswood*, the army to the field*, the noncombatants to the crypt*, and Jon and Dany to a hill nearby*. We also get one shot of Jon’s wolf, Ghost. Cool, we haven’t seen Ghost in a while! Can’t wait to see him finally tear some undead dudes up!**

*Note: I said this part of the episode was absurdity-free, but technically, everything asterisked is pretty absurd. Which turns out to be be almost everything, actually. We’ll get into it later.

**Note 2: Ghost never does anything at all in this episode.

0:09 Oh, cool, Melisandre the Red Woman arrives! Everyone looks surprised. She uses a magic spell! She sets the swords of all the Dothraki on fire! It’s really cool looking and still not absurd. Then she remarks to Davos, offhand, that she’ll be dead before the dawn. I guess she can see the future! And the future is grim!

0:14: The Dothraki, swords ablaze, ride off into the darkness, presumably to fight some wights they saw? Ser Jorah and Ghost go with them.

0:14:30: The distant fire-swords wink out one by one. The Dothraki are all dead. We get horrified reaction shots from everyone. No one, like, lifts a finger to help, though.

0:15: About 5 Dothraki run back on foot, along with Ser Jorah.

OK, let’s take a break and TALK ABOUT THE DOTHRAKI.

Paul: First let’s stop and go over what THE CHARACTERS know about the undead.

  1. The wights (low-level zombies) and white walkers (high-level zombies) can’t be effectively fought with regular weapons.

  2. They are only vulnerable to fire, dragonglass, and Valyrian steel.
  3. The Winter King can raise dead people as wights. So if you lose a battle with wights, your numbers decrease and their numbers increase. That’s one of the horrors of fighting the implacable dead.

Again, the characters on the show all know this. Jon, Samwell, and Tyrion have discussed it ad nauseam. So what was their plan with the Dothraki charge? “LET’S SEND THE DOTHRAKI OUT WITHOUT FIRE, DRAGONGLASS, OR VALYRIAN STEEL.” We, the audience, can clearly see that the dothraki are using their traditional curved swords, no dragonglass in sight. And that Melisandre fire spell was a happy surprise! That was not part of the plan! So apparently the plan was to send them out, effectively unarmed, to be slaughtered, for what – so they could be raised to bolster the undead army? Who signed off on this plan? The Night King?

Rory: Also, and this is a common criticism at this point, but the Dothraki are basically light cavalry, and NO ONE uses light cavalry this way. Light cavalry typically use their mobility to flank enemies after infantry have already engaged, to charge or run down ranks that have already been broken or retreating, and to attack vulnerable and exposed forces, such as archers. Attacking a nebulous mass of undead at the start of a battle is probably the stupidest use for light cavalry one can imagine. If they had been a typical force of mortal spearmen, we could expect a similar result. Anyone who has played Shogun Total War or any of its sequels knows this, and the fact that it’s such a common criticism should be a sign that this isn’t exactly advanced military tactics. It’s really insulting to the audience.

Paul: By the way, what was the point of Melisandre lighting the Dothraki swords on fire? It DIDN’T DO ANYTHING. Melisandre sees the future! Granted, all the action happened offscreen and in the dark: I can barely tell what’s happening in this battle in the present. So maybe her future-reception was a little unclear. But still: why did she even bother to burn what had to be a level 7 or so spell? I guess the Lord of Light was like, “This seems like a good use of my power. I know it won’t do anything. But it will look cinematic at least.”

And that’s really why this whole scene happened. It was glitz at the expense of logic. We’re expected to forget the rules of the show, and to accept the characters forgetting the rules of their own world, in exchange for a cool one-minute-long set piece. Fantasy storytelling at its best!

Here are three ways the show runners could have improved this scene 1000%.

  1. Show the Dothraki with dragonglass weapons.
  2. While the Dothraki charge, have one of them yell “LEEROY JENKINS!” Then Sansa yells, “Oh no, those undisciplined Dothraki deviated from our plan! Hold your ground, everybody!”
  3. Have Melisandre’s spell be part of the plan from the beginning.

Really, though, why were the Dothraki sent to the slaughter? Not for any really good in-world tactical reason. They were sacrificed for a dramatic reason: to demonstrate how scary the wights are. The triumph of dramatic logic over world logic is a theme in this episode that will return again and again and again and again. In fact, it may be the besetting sin of post-GRRM Game of Thrones.

Rory: I mean, the stated goal for all of this is not to win specifically, but to goad the Night King out of hiding. But you know what might actually do that? How about a force of highly mobile horse archers armed with Dragonglass arrows that could harry an army of undead who, for the most part, seem totally unequipped to deal with an enemy at range? That actually seems like the kind of thing that might annoy a white walker who is riding, literally, their only effective answer to a mobile force attacking at range. Like sure, the smart move is probably just to ignore the Dothraki anyway until they literally run out of ammo, but it does take a pretty disciplined commander to watch their forces torn apart with no repercussions and not wonder if there’s SOMETHING he could do. And you know what, if he has an answer I haven’t thought of or some hidden trick, that might actually be pretty satisfying.

Paul: So that’s why the Dothraki have to die. But why do the DOTHRAKI have to die? Well, here’s one ugly possibility. It’s a horror movie cliche to have the monster kill the people of color first. Usually it’s one or two individuals. But what about killing several THOUSAND people of color first? That’s not a cliche, right, and not weird at all? (by the way Ser Jorah and the albino wolf survive the charge). (Also these show runners wanted to make a show about what if the confederates had won)

Rory: Beyond the more generalized racism, I’m just pissed we’re seeing:

  • The destruction of more or less an entire culture here. Jesus Christ. Way to not give that the weight it deserves, guys.

  • Dropping the ball on literally years of build up for an INCREDIBLY throw away scene. When we first heard about the Dothraki in season 1, they’re painted as this unstoppable horde with only a narrow strip of sea between them and the domination of Westeros. King Robert literally said that if the Dothraki arrived in Westeros, all the nobility would wisely hide up in their castles since no one could face them in open battle while they ravaged the countryside and the people realized their leaders had forsaken them. Guess all that was just a set up for a scene where they fruitlessly charge some undead to set the stakes for the battle. Game of Thrones often plays with expectations, don’t get me wrong, but this wasn’t given the weight it deserve. It felt incredibly callous.

Paul: I agree, it feels callous. That seems like a weird word to use in the context of Ned Stark and the Red Wedding. I think the difference is that, in early Game of Thrones, you had the sense that anyone could die because that’s just how the world is, man. In late Game of Thrones, you get the sense that certain characters have plot immunity until the show has given them the sendoff due to their station. In fact, the show runners mention that in their commentary on this episode. When (spoilers ahead) some characters die later in this episode, the show runners describe how each is given a special moment. Therefore, the grandeur of your death is a direct indication of how much the show runners value you.

Rory: Also, the Red Wedding had a certain “you reap what you sow” feel to it. Robb Stark selfishly marries for love and suffers the consequences. Catelyn thinks she can depend on ancient tradition to protect them only to realize the Freys care more about a slight than they do about their own honor. There was build up to that moment. Not so with the fruitless Dothraki charge.

OK, that has to be enough about the Dothraki charge. Let’s move on to other things. After all, we’re only on minute 16 here.

Paul: Hold on. That’s another thing. The engagement between thousands of Dothraki and unknown numbers of wights seems to have taken about 30 seconds – a handful of D&D combat rounds. GIT ‘ER DONE, right?

You may argue: maybe time was compressed for the sake of the show. Maybe we are skipping over 10 minutes or so of horrified reaction shots as the rest of the army continues to not lift a finger to help.

OK, now let’s move on here, for serious.

0:16: Gray Worm demonstrates his resolve by putting on his helmet.

Paul: Wait, why wasn’t Gray Worm wearing his helmet?

Rory: Maybe he needed his peripheral vision to make sure none of his guys were helping the Dothraki.

0:17: The horde of undead arrive, racing silently, towards the serried armies of the North: Gray Worm, Jaime, Brienne, and the rest, who are all marshaled behind their catapults.

Paul: Wait, why are the catapults IN FRONT of the infantry?

0:18: Grisly battle follows. You can sort of see it if you turn up the brightness on your TV.

0:18: Suddenly, fire rains down on the undead. What?? Where did that fire come from? It can’t possibly be from the flaming-sphere-slinging catapults! Sure, if those had been BEHIND the infantry, they could still be operational and toasting undead hordes, but what genius could possibly have drawn that battle plan up? Since the catapults were in front of the infantry, they’re presumably destroyed now, or else in the hands of the undead.

So where’s the fire from? The Red Woman casting a spell? Nope, she already used up most of her mana points on the Dothraki gambit. So what is it?

It’s Dany riding her dragon! Hooray!

And now it’s time to TALK ABOUT DANY AND HER DRAGONS. Saddle up!

Paul: Hold on. I just thought of one more thing to say about the Dothraki.

Rory: Really? We’ve got to move things along here, it’s…

Paul: This is related to Dany and her dragons. But I can’t talk about it without talking more about the Dothraki.

Rory: Why didn’t the dragons help with the Dothraki charge, right?

Paul: Why didn’t the dragons help with the Dothraki charge?

Rory: Right. If you are going to send them right into the thick of things, maybe fly some of those dragons in to help? They’re not doing anything anyway. Having your best guys charge the enemy while you provide air cover with dragons is ALMOST a plan, but what we saw was pretty pathetic.

Paul: The show runners addressed these strategy issues in the behind-the-scenes segment after the show, which I watched with an ironic smirk plastered on my face. The plan, they said, was to keep the dragons out of the combat until the Night King’s ice dragon arrived, and then attack it two dragons to one.

Rory: Wouldn’t a good way to goad the Night King into showing himself be to kill a bunch of his undead army?

Paul: You’d think! If you want to draw out the enemy army’s reserves, you make it hard for the enemy army. If you make it easy, the reserves don’t need to be committed. That’s what reserves are for – helping out where they are needed!

If the wights alone can slaughter all the mortals, an intelligent Night King won’t join the fight, won’t unleash the White Walkers, and won’t get his dragon involved. He won’t need to.

If Dany and Jon really want to draw out the enemy dragon, they should fly overhead, roasting wights from the safety of the air. If the Dothraki are used at all, they should be used as mobile horse archers supporting the dragonfire attacks. In order to preserve his army, the Night King would be forced to deploy his dragon, or at least come out himself to throw his little ice javelins.

So when Dany and Jon are sitting on a hill watching their troops be slaughtered, they’re not only sacrificing their troops’ lives, they’re accomplishing the opposite of what they intend.

What bothers me is not just that Dany is being dumb by staying out of the fight. Plenty of people make mistakes in battle. What bothers me is that Dany is doing something that Dany would never do.

So Dany is in charge here, right? She’s the Queen, and her dragons roast traitors. Presumably she gets the final say in the battle plan. Here’s what we know about Dany.

  1. She’s incredibly loyal to those who are loyal to her.

  2. She really wants the Iron Throne, and she’s willing to play the Game to get it. She’s ruthless.

Imagine that such a ruler comes across the sea with two incredibly powerful and loyal armies: the Dothraki and the Unsullied. She joins together with a ragtag army of Northerners to make a final stand against a fierce opponent.

For some reason (or for no reason at all), her advisors say, “We need you to sit on your dragon doing nothing. To lure out the bad dragon, sure. In the meantime, we think it would be fun to piss away one of our three armies by sending them off in an unsupported charge. Their sacrifice will not be in vain, since this will kill 30 seconds or so of otherwise tedious waiting.”

If, for some reason, Dany agrees to this plan, which army do you think she is going to put on the front line to attack alone? The Dothraki, fiercely loyal to her alone? The Unsullied, fiercely loyal to her alone? Or the Northerners, who are loyal to uppity and borderline-treasonous Jon and Sansa; who don’t really want her here; and who are always shooting evil looks at Gray Worm? You know who she’d put in the very frontest of front lines? Not the Dothraki, whom she needs to conquer Westeros. The Damn Yankees.

Having Dany agree to send in her cavalry isn’t just a betrayal of the Dothraki, it’s a misreading of Dany’s character.

Rory: Let’s see… anything else to say about the dragons before we move on?

Paul: Oh yeah. Finally, Dany has had enough of watching troops get slaughtered. Against Jon’s advice, she hops on a dragon and swoops down to provide air support for the army. For the army of the NORTH. That first burst of dragonfire is frying wights near Ser Jaime and the rest, not near Gray Worm and the Unsullied. Why is Dany consistently protecting Jon Snow’s power base at the cost of her own? Only because the show runners like those guys better.


Paul: Ok, one more thing. Jon gets a dragon? Why? He’s had one riding lesson ever. Is the dragon more formidable with Jon aboard? Can Jon give it orders? Is Jon’s judgement any better than the dragon’s? What exactly is Jon bringing to the table here?

OK, I think that covers most of the major problems with the dragons through the first 20 minutes. Let’s get back to recap.

0:20: So everything starts out fine, guys. Lots of undead dying, then a creepy frozen mist mixing everything up and sowing confusion. A battle filled with chaotic fighting. People cowering in the crypt. Totally fine.

0:24: Things seem to not be going great, so the order is sent to fall back.

Rory: What were they doing outside the gate to begin with? This fallback order really sends that home. Guys, you could have done such a more effective stand if you’d had your full forces guarding the castle walls. You knew they were going to attack anyway, right? Now, in history, occasionally when there was a siege, the army would march out to meet their enemy in battle. But that’s usually because they had some belief they could win, and also, sieges kind of suck. Like if you don’t expect reinforcements, a siege is just a slow death so you might as well fight it out. But if you KNOW your enemy is going to storm the castle, just go to the most defensible spot possible!

Paul: Sure, you might want to avoid being starved out in a typical siege. In a typical siege, your supply lines are cut so you can’t get food.

This is not a typical siege. This is a siege in the North, in winter, on Westeros. There are no supply lines. There’s no food anywhere, and there won’t be any more grown for like 10 years or whatever! The food in Winterfell is all the food that the good guys are going to get. In a northern Westeros winter, everyone holes up in their castles and they don’t come out till spring. Winter itself is already besieging them.

Now, it may be that the human forces have more mouths to feed than Winterfell can support, and they need to get some of their troops slaughtered so that they can feed the rest. That may be. But that’s a pretty cold-blooded calculation, and a brutal reason to send thousands of troops to their deaths. Do you think Jon or Dany would make that call?

Paul: Also, why were the walls not manned from the beginning? You know who would have been great up on the castle walls? DOTHRAKI ARCHERS. I’m sorry, I just can’t let this go. According to the Game of Thrones wiki, Dothraki bows are really good. Sounds like that would be useful, especially if they were firing flaming or dragonglass arrows.

0:27: The order is given to “light the trench”

Rory: So I guess the dragons are supposed to light the firewood-filled trench around the castle, and they had no back up plan? Shouldn’t this thing be covered in pitch and super easy to light? This shouldn’t be a thing where if your primary asset in the battle is busy (hopefully fighting the Night King, which is PLAN A), you have no effective way to light a stupid trench. If your fallback plan involves shooting flaming arrows at something and half heartedly grabbing a couple torches, that’s pretty grim.

Paul: I thought that they were having trouble lighting the trench because of the white walkers’ cold magic, which they didn’t anticipate. I’m not going to come down hard on anybody for that. Sure, I’m sure that someone might have known that the white walkers have special magical cold abilities, but I can excuse them for not knowing exactly how much extra kindling they needed. Sometimes when your enemy uses magic on you, you just have to take it on the chin. Game of Thrones, you get a pass. FOR THIS.

0:30: Yay, Melisandre lights the trench JUST IN TIME.

Rory: Golly, that took a while. I mean, objectively, lighting a giant fire is pretty impressive, I guess, but using magic to act as a glorified torch just feels a little uninspired. That flaming trench did look pretty cool though.

Paul: Great, now there’s a wall of fire around Winterfell! THE CASTLE IS SAVED!

Wait, what is this wall of fire supposed to do, anyway? There’s maybe enough fuel to burn for, what, two hours? What’s the point of a two-hour delay before the fire goes out? If there were an objective to survive till dawn, this might make sense. No one has mentioned any such goal. In this battle, I don’t think that a few hours makes a difference one way or another. In fact, the Westeronians seem to be trying to accelerate their demise in any way they can.

Rory: Why were there no traps? In a previous episode, we saw people preparing these trenches and fire pits and stuff, and I thought, oh great, traps. Hidden pit filled with oil, wights fall in, humans light it on fire.

Paul: Why did they light the wall BEFORE the wights arrived? A flaming obstacle like this can have a few uses:

  1. Burn zombies alive: Wait till the first undead guys are clambering over the barricade, and THEN light it on fire. That way, you inflict a bunch of casualties.
  2. Divide and conquer: Wait till a significant number of zombies are over the barricade, and THEN light it on fire. As above, a bunch of zombies are killed. Furthermore, a manageable number of zombies are now trapped inside the barricade. Then the Unsullied can venture out and slaughter all of these guys without having to face the infinite legions of undead.
  3. Choke point: Have the flaming wall circle the castle except at one well-defended point. Have your best troops there. As the undead shuffle into your kill zone, the Unsullied hold the line while Dothraki on the walls pepper the back ranks with burning dragonglass arrows. Meanwhile, your catapults can be throwing flaming pitch into the rear portion of the wight army. Your catapults are inside the castle, right? You didn’t put them on the front lines or anything?

Instead of doing any of these, the Northerners used the flaming wall in a way that didn’t kill any wights, and even if it delays the wights, that delay isn’t to any purpose.

AND, as it turns out, Melisandre has to use up more mana to get the barrier alight. There goes another of her spell slots used to set something on fire, and once again, it doesn’t appear to do anything useful. Listen, Melisandre, what if you just cast Fireball every round?

0:33: Sansa and Tyrion trade some snark, and Sansa says “you were the best of them” to which Tyrion replies, “what a terrifying thought”. Lol.

0:34: Theon gives a stuttering apology to Bran. Bran says something like “Everything you did was necessary because it led you back home.” And then he wargs into some ravens.

Rory: So this is minor, but I’m kind of tired of people apologizing to Bran. Sometimes I think when you’ve done something that has hit a certain level of fucked up, it’s best just not to talk about it too much. Just kind of decide you’re going to die for that person and let THAT be your apology, you know?

Paul: So Bran wargs into the ravens. Spoilers ahead! The ravens do not do anything in this episode.

From somewhere – maybe from a previous episode, or the after-show commentary, I’ve gotten the idea that Bran needed to warg in order to properly lure the Night King. The Night King detects his magic, or something. So it’s not entirely wasted for Bran to warg into the ravens, even if they don’t do anything.

But why not kill two birds with one stone and do something useful while warging? Here are some things Bran could have done in this episode instead of jack shit, which is what he did.

  1. Warg into the ravens, spy on the enemy troops, report his findings to someone. Bran could have a few messengers who he sends to Sansa with information about enemy tactics. “The wights are approaching the north tower! Send the wildlings to the walls!” “The wights are massing before the gates! Use the catapu–” oh right.
  2. Warg into the dragon Jon is riding. We can be 100% certain that Bran will be more effective than Jon.
  3. Can Bran warg into a wight or white walker? Really, the only way that Bran’s warging really pays off is if he warged into the ravens, found the Night King, jumped into the Night King, and then marched him into the Weirwood to enact Bran’s ridiculous plan.

Rory: Gosh, I just have to cut in here. Have Bran warg into the dragon was something I haven’t thought of and would be legitimately pretty badass. Like maybe the dragon is afraid for some reason, or Jon fell off and can’t do his masterful dragon flying.

0:36: The undead fall on the fire to create a bridge for the rest of them to walk over. The humans decide to man the walls!

Rory: Gosh, these have to be the least flammable undead yet. I thought flame was their key weakness, guys! But I guess they are just SORT OF flammable. Or maybe they burn less when they are lying down?


Also, who would have guessed that the circle of fire would not stymie the undead forever? I mean, it seems like the undead crossed it sooner than they expected, but who even cares? The army of the living wasn’t using the time bought by the barrier for any purpose. They weren’t using the time to put the last touches on a trap, or kill any undead. They weren’t even using the time to man the walls, apparently, saving that job for the last minute.

Rory: They seem to be having trouble manning the walls. Kind of undermanned. A shame the Unsullied took so many casualties standing IN FRONT of the walls since a bunch of disciplined spearmen seem like kind of the perfect force to keep an enemy from scaling your defenses.

Paul: Don’t forget the Dothraki! I’ve heard they have bows. But no, I’m sure that that one blacksmith will do a great job stemming the swarm of undead wall-climbers.

Rory: Also, shouldn’t the walls be the kind of thing you stick a bunch of flaming Valyrian dragonglass in to make them harder to climb? They look totally smooth and, frankly, a joy to climb.

Paul: A+++! Would scale again!

OK, we’re about a third through, and this is basically the end of the “battle tactics” section of the episode. There is a LOT of dumbness to cover in the rest of this episode. So what do you think? Were we too hard on this poor TV show? Not hard enough? I’m extremely interested to hear from the one person in the world who thinks we weren’t hard enough. Either way, let us know if there is anything we missed.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: Anti-Elves

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 05/03/2019 - 11:00
This post first appeared in 2017...

Drow as "elves but evil" has been done. Let's take a cue from Otus's ink-blot, living shadow rendition, and say that they are the arcane Evil Twins of elves. Maybe not quite Bizarro World duplicates, but close. They look like photographic negatives of some elf, somewhere, sometime. (It is quite possible that if a specific elf and anti-elf come into contact there will be an explosion, Or, they will untie into a single, transcendent being and leave this plane. In an explosion.)

Anti-elves live underground in ultra-controlled, industrial, technolgical environments because they hate nature. They want replace it all with a machinery hellscape like Apokolips. The only reason they haven't yet is because they hate the sun, too, and are forced to live underground. They're working on that one.

Anti-elves are profoundly unmagical. All those magical abilities listed in a drow stat block have a technological basis. No surface creature can steal a anti-elf device and make it work because their bio-energy polarity will just disrupt it and make it nonfunctional after a use or two.

Ant-elves don't believe in gods, meaning they accept the existence of tiresome things other races call gods, but they think them ridiculous impediments to their own purposes and would never worship them. All sacrifices you might see them make are strictly translactional. Any temples are really just fanclubs--an anti-elves are the sort of crazy, obsessive fans that are very likely to progress to stalking and murder.

The Drow Option - OSR Campaign Commentary On Castles & Crusades

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 05/03/2019 - 06:43
Yesterday I wrote about the events in Manchuria as the world of 2100 explodes as Japanese forces defend themselves against the rise of the  Thulean megapolis war machine.  One of the options that I've been looking to employ are Drow mercenary forces in the world of 2100. The undead kings of Russia have been employing these assassins & commando forces for centuries. Castles & Crusades The Codex Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Flip Through Review 86: Heroes of Humanity for Rifts

Gamer Goggles - Fri, 05/03/2019 - 04:32

In this Flip Through Matt takes a look Heroes of Humanity for Rifts from Palladium. Books. Heroes for Humanity is a source book for the Coalition Wars Campaign that crosses over with the Minion War and Megaverse in Flames. Since it is a Coalition War campaign book it has a lot of information building up the Coalition army, but it does have a different pitch than “destroy” Tolkeen

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

This is probably the best source book in the Coalition Wars.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh Stroll

Hack & Slash - Fri, 05/03/2019 - 03:30
I've played a lot of adventures. I've never been able to easily find out what happens in an adventure without playing it. I've always wished someone talked about the adventures that they've been through, not so much a review, but a commentary. This. . . is that.

The secret really is sinister.

It's the first Dungeons & Dragons adventure I ever played. My father ran it for me, my mother, and my brother. I've run it a dozen times myself, and found myself again among the halls of the alchemists house in my adult life more than a time or two.

It's one of the great reasons for its ubiquity. It's easy to put a 'haunted' house on a map. Let's take a stroll through the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.

Sinister!This module is notable for being from "TSRUK", and contains a personal message from Don Turnbull.
So, American readers—if you find the text too flowery and florid or too plain and stilted, the structure of the language slightly unusual, the use of certain words apparently slightly offbeat, these are the reasons. Perhaps you will take solace in knowing that UK readers of all the other TSRª modules have the same reaction in reverse!Is it an essential British trait that they would take a game about dungeons, and write an adventure about an old house up on a hill? The United States has no ancient buildings looming for a thousand years.

The Dungeon Master is instructed on personalizing the town, making it a base of operations for the players. Name the council, develop them as individuals, draw a map, design an inn, create local gods.

Then, there's the legend. The decrepit house sits up on the hill, once owned by an old alchemist around which nefarious rumors swirled. Now it's haunted—dilapidated and unwholesome. Ghastly shrieks and eerie lights emanate from within the dismal lesion marring the purview.

Spoilers for a thirty year old module, but hey, right? The house is a base of smugglers, led by an illusionist. It has a remarkable clear description of how to present the module and the core mysteries, without giving away too much.
It is paramount that the players are given no obvious clues, which would lead them to believe the house is not haunted; they must deduce the truth for themselves or simply stumble upon it. They might even wander around the house, finding a little treasure but never discovering what actually takes place there.
This module and the other two in the series are designed for thinking players. Those who tackle the adventures imaginatively and thoughtfully will not only obtain good rewards for their characters but will derive the satisfaction of seeing the various layers of the plot peel away as the real meaning of each clue is discovered. On the other hand, those who regard the House as nothing but monsterslaying territory will not only fail to unravel the secrets but will find their adventure dull and unsatisfactory; they may even lose their characters, for the smugglers, in the hands of a competent DM, should be more than a match for an unwary, careless party.
No munchkin hack & slash here! Only real role-playing.

In all seriousness, This is a well designed module. There are multiple layers to this mystery and it relies on player choice and initiative to assess what is actually going on, instead of just killing stuff because it's there. It's the kind of adventure where combat (should) happen(s) because there's an actual conflict, not just because you see something to kill. It clearly supports all the choices, with outcomes noted in the finale.

But that's not what you're here for.

What you are here for
You show up in town, ready for adventure. After taking lodging and shopping for a bit, you hear a legend about a haunted house up on the hill. If you decide to investigate, then you get introduced to a member of the town council, who has an interest in your decision to 'stamp out a local menace'. The council member makes no specific promises, but mentioned rewards—perhaps, say, something for doing a public service.

When the party sets out, they are accompanied by a slew of townsfolk, urchins, and hangers on. Amusingly, they retire shortly after the house pulls into view.

It sits atop a cliff, behind a 6' high stone wall, with a heavy ornate great. To the east is a well.with a softball pitch of a snake that has sleeping venom.

The house is obviously two stories, although there is a secret third underground "level", leading down to the coast at the bottom of the cliff. The house is laid out in a chunky upside down T. The front door opens into a big central room, with a staircase going up to a balcony you can see, with hallways leading to the west, east, and north wings.  It's a great vertical and non-linear space!

While exploring, you'll find rats, goblins, and other vermin as you would expect in any kind of standing structure. Tracks for observant players show some frequent foot traffic. Let's explore!

The stairs to the second floor hang over a passage to the east. These leads to empty and dilapidated rooms.  To the west lies the library of the alchemist, a study, and a trapdoor leading to the basement trapped with a magic mouth that says:
"Welcome, fools -- welcome to your deaths!" followed by a prolonged burst of insane and fiendish laughter.The passageway to the north contains two events of note, there's a beat up "withdrawing room" which I assume is british for lounge. In addition to detritus there is a chimney. If examined, you find a loose brick, concealing a small chest, along with a spider that sets down beside you. The default poison causing 'enfeebling' for 1-4 days, rather than any authentic risk.

The other event of note is that when you take the first step to descend into the basement, there's a wicked howl of shrieking pain, triggered by a magic mouth.

The upper floor is unstable, and more than one player character has died by falling to his death through unstable flooring. Another deadly chamber lies to the west, with an unassuming closet, filled with a cloak covered in deadly yellow mold.

Upstairs to the east, lies unstable flooring and a very subtle clue, that I think frequently goes missed until later in the module. This is the room where the smugglers can see the approach of the ship and signal it. More interesting is Ned Shakeshaft, a prisoner who is actually an assassin. He's supposed to mislead them, in the interest of a merchant who profits from the smuggling operation.

You can reach the attic, and get attacked by stirges as your reward.

The Main Event

Eventually the characters man up and brave the depths beyond the magic mouth spells, and head down into the basement.

This leads to a very memorable encounter. There's a corpse on the floor in a suit of FULL PLATE MAIL! This is a great moment for your fighters, immediately before they die from the rot grubs infesting the body.

There's a secret door in the wine cellar, and sooner or later the party will encounter the smugglers, which include their illusionist leader, along with several gnolls. There's a great illustration of the illusionist, hitting a party with the color spray spell.

Having discovered the smuggling operation, the town council conceives of a plan, where you assault the Sea Ghost and end the smuggling operation once and for all.

The party has a number of options for assault, giving them the opportunity to strike in the dark, or engage in open combat aboard the floating vessel. A terse, exciting, and possibly deadly battle occurs on the deck of the sea ghost. Looting the vessel lets them discover a slew of prizes, not the least of which is a pseudo-dragon looking for a Wizard to bond with, and the fighter thief aquatic elf "Oceanus".

Once complete, a few days pass, until the council becomes curious why such primitive creatures as lizard men would seek the arms and armor from the forges of men? Is the town of Saltmarsh at risk of attack?

I guess if you want to find out, you'd have to play Danger at Dunwater, but that is a different tale.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Thulean - Japanese War & The Riccian Crossfire - Actual Play Session Report

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 05/02/2019 - 20:18
The P.C. have free some slaves from Ricca  there's some massive events going on in Manchuria as the world of 2100 explodes as Japanese forces defend themselves against the rise of the  Thulean megapolis forces! Air ships & other military forces are moving in!  One of the death lords of  the Euro- Russian Empire have military designs &  ambitions in Manchuria and Korea! The PC's have been Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

PREORDER: Vinyl Terrorz: Freddy Krueger Shadow Edition Vinyl Figure

Cryptozoic - Thu, 05/02/2019 - 17:00

From the shadows of your worst nightmares, Freddy’s coming for you! Freddy Krueger Shadow Edition is a variant of the figure from Cryptozoic’s new horror-inspired Vinyl TerrorzTM line. This limited edition collectible is a Cryptozoic Exclusive, only available on the Cryptozoic eStore while supplies last!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Town Is Where the Alchemy Is

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 05/02/2019 - 13:00
Morgan le Fay by Frederick Sandys (between 1863 and 1864)

Hello friends!

We all know you go to the tavern for drinks and rumors, the shrine for omens and the temple for prayers. But where do you go for your more esoteric needs? Why, the hedge witch of course! Check out this new town location for your game.

Hedge Witch

Some settlements boast a local magician who has retired from adventuring and set up shop out near the hedges. They sell balms, concoctions and admixtures to the needy and the desperate. Hedge wizards and witches will never cast a spell for money. Never. It is prohibited by their guild, from the highest lich to the lowliest apprentice. If they should be caught, they will be run out of town (and forced back into the wretched life of an adventurer) and, worse, shunned by their friends and mentors. Selling alchemical concoctions to needy adventurers is another matter entirely. Consult the Alchemical Agents table. Roll 1d3 to determine how many items are available. The GM may choose specific items.

Alchemical Agents Table (not available in the Market) CostNameEffectInventoryOb 3Elixir of Reluctant but
Instant BraveryRemoves afraid conditionVial: Pack 1Ob 2Calming Scalp BalmRemoves angry conditionVial: Pack 1Ob 3Enhancing Broth Against
EnervationRemoves exhausted
conditionVial: Pack 1Ob 3Incense of the Hair of
the Dogs of the Wild HuntVapor: Impose afraid
condition if inhaled, 1 chargeIncense sticks:
Pack 1Ob 3Hermetically Sealed
Bottle of Hellish VaporVapor: Impose exhausted
condition if inhaled, 1 chargeBottle: Pack 2Ob 4Waxed Jar of Noxious
FumesVapor: Impose sick
condition if inhaled, 1 chargeJar: Pack 2Ob 2Vial of Purifying Heavy
WaterIncendiary: Supplies for
fire building, fire starting,
burning, 3 chargesVial: Pack 1Ob 2Bilous Smoke PotSmoke: Supplies for hiding,
fleeing and battle, 2 chargesJar: Pack 2Ob 3PetardExplosive: +1s Attack
weapon in kill, capture and
drive off conflictsBox: Pack 3Ob 1Fire FlowersFireworks (skill supplies)Bundle: Pack 1Ob 5Fire BelcherIncendiary Device: +1 Might in
kill and drive off conflicts,
-1s Maneuver Pack 8 Alchemical Art!

Alchemy is more of a science than an art. Therefore there is a slight chance that each concoction differs slightly from the desired effect. After purchase, the GM should roll a d6. On a roll of a 1, the alchemical mixture is not as it seems. The GM chooses one of the following effects:

  • Recover tax and increase cap of one ability by one
  • Ignites on contact (burns, Ob 6 Health test)
  • Acts as poison
  • Turns skin blue until cured
  • Unintended euphoria: remove angry, but cannot fight or argue for remainder of phase
  • Turns to acid, pitting, dissolving and ruining gear
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Azurth Mailbag: Are the PCs the Straight Men?

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 05/02/2019 - 11:00
When I said this might be a recurring feature, I didn't think it would be so soon, but Jack Shear of New York asked an interesting question as follow-up to a comment I made on social media: "What does it look like when Azurth PCs are playing the straight man to the setting's fancifulness?"

My comment about "the PCs as straight men" was a reference to an idea that gets bandied about from time to time that originated with this blog post, I believe. Now, I sort of like this idea for a lot of settings. But the Land of Azurth is different.

Different does not mean my Azurth campaign is comedy game, though like any D&D game, it has its share of comedic moments. Rather, it is a world that is very serious in its unseriousness, even its ridiculousness.  Pun names for characters (like the perpetually throat-clearing mayor of one small hamlet, Effluvia Flimm) are common, and "joke" monsters or treasures are not unheard (though they aren't particularly common).

I'm not looking to get a laugh of the players with all this, though it's fine if I do on occasion. Rather, I'm trying to present a certain of world like Oz or Ooo, and these are just the sort of things these kind of worlds have. In this context, I hope that this sort of playfulness aids immersion instead of harming it.

So, anyway, the world as presented sort of puts the player in the roll of straight man in a couple of ways. One, they must stay goal-oriented and aware of potential danger (even death), despite the occurrence of odd, perhaps even ridiculous things: A dwarf polymorphed into a horse has disguised itself among hippogriffs in a sub-grade-school costume. You make landfall on an island populated by living candy. A court of talking animals puts you on trial for the slaughter of their kind. None of these things are the stuff of "serious" fantasy, at least of the action-oriented sort, yet here they are. The DM presents them seriously, with ne'er a nudge or wink, and the characters had better deal with them as such, even as the players may note their ridiculousness. And it keeps coming.

The second way is perhaps more common to certain sorts of adventure fantasy, specifically the works of Jack Vance. The PCs are adventurers of competence, even heroism, in a world where those traits may be uncommon. Like Vance's Adam Reith in the Planet of Adventure series, the PCs must contend with venal, self-absorbed, conniving, hidebound, and eccentric NPCs quite frequently. Some of these NPCs are also dangerous in the usual D&D sense, but most of them are just somewhat unhelpful. The PCs can only shake their head in frustration and press on.

This latter bit could probably get annoying to players if overdone, but I seem to have kept it in bounds, because the players actually seem to have some affection for a few of the recurring NPCs, even if they roll their eyes at them. It tends to be clear who is a villain and who is just an everyday rogue, and they reserve their hatred for that second bunch. Also, having distinctive characteristics for the NPCs seems to to keep them entertained.

So that's how Azurth is often the Costello to the PCs Abbot.

Got a question on the Land of Azurth or the campaign? Leave it in the comments or email me.

Dungeoneers Syndicate: Sutherland Dragon Mini

Zenopus Archives - Thu, 05/02/2019 - 02:43
Where's my humongous pile of gold?
The latest post at the Dungeoneers Syndicate blog showcases a number of photos of the author's newly painted Sutherland Dragon, posing with the Holmes Basic rulebook and a bunch of '70s rulebooks and dice:

My David C. Sutherland III inspired Dragon miniatureI happened upon this Reaper Bones "Great Dragon" a while looking mini! Then the wheels started turning...I could paint this dragon to look like the one on the Holmes Blue Basic Box set cover! I had to hone my painting skills first...bought a bunch of smaller minis & studied the interwebs for tips & "how to" videos on Youtube.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rebel Minis’ 15th Anniversary Extravaganza!

Rebel Minis - Thu, 05/02/2019 - 00:33

To celebrate our 15th Anniversary we are pulling out all the stops! All products on the site will be 20% off! Even the PDF Rulebooks! And orders over $30 will get a 28mm Goblin Jester for Free! All you need to do at checkout is use code PARTY. We want to thank everyone for their support these last 15 years and let you know, We Appreciate You!

The sale will last until May 15th and remember, some things will sell out of stock quickly… so this year, we will be taking orders and making the packs as quickly as possible, to keep them in stock during sale. Some items may be back-ordered during the sale, but if you order them during the sale, you will still get the sale price, no matter when they ship (which should not be that long of a delay). You can see everything here

Thank you for 15 great years!

The Rebel Crew
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Where Credit is Due

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Thu, 05/02/2019 - 00:32


I would like to officially thank David C. Sutherland III for the yalkhoi.
That was long overdue. By almost forty years. Though I first encountered the hobgoblin in the Moldvay edit of the Basic Rules, there were no illustrations to be found. Seriously? You provide illustrations of the White Ape, Sabre-Tooth Tiger, Killer Bee, Giant Lizard, Skeleton and Giant Spider? As if no one has an idea of what those look like! But you can’t be bothered to depict any of the goblinoids. I think the thoul would’ve been a good choice for a picture as well. Imagine my excitement when I found the Monster Manual.
So, hobgoblins were Asian. Huh. Neat! Hey – according to the Sutherland illustrations (two of them!), hobgoblins wore distinctly samurai-inspired armor into battle. You know who else had the same kind of look? The ogre mage (oni). And another Sutherland illustration, no-less. My wheels immediately started to spin. I liked the hobgoblin. The hobgoblin was (stat-wise) better than the orc (also illustrated by DCS). Orcs seemed like nothing more than hobgoblins with pig heads to me. It was at that point that I decided never to use orcs in my games – I was Team Hobgoblin right from the start. Once that was decided, my mind connected the hobgoblin and the ogre mage as the representatives of Asian culture in my fantasy setting.
Hobgoblins went through a few iterations during the development of the Avremier setting. There were essentially two castes, the samurai (noble) and the steppe-riders (commoners modeled after Mongols). Over the years, I merged the two castes, but split the hobgoblin into two distinct evolutionary paths. Replacing the half-orc PC race with the hobgoblin (yalkhoi), I developed the “monster” version of the hobgoblin (yarcha) as another branch. The ogre mage started as the overlords (shogun) of the hobgoblins, and slowly evolved into a higher evolutionary form to which an honorable yalkhoi might aspire.
All from a few David C. Sutherland III black-and-white line drawings. That’s what I call Old-School.

David A. Hill
Mothshade Concepts Editor
1 May 2019

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Steven Universe Trading Cards: An Introduction to the World of Non-Sport Trading Cards

Cryptozoic - Wed, 05/01/2019 - 19:10

What Are Non-Sport Trading Cards? Although trading cards are traditionally associated with athletes from the world of professional sports, non-sport trading cards—as the name implies—put the attention on anything but sports! Embracing pop culture, these cards have opened up an exciting world for collectors who are passionate about movies, comics, and TV shows.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Using The Demon Hunter's Handbook From Goodman Games For Old School Campaign Construction

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 05/01/2019 - 18:15
"No campaign theme is more gripping than a battle against the minions of hell! This jam-packed sourcebook brings to the table everything you'll need to run a fantasy campaign centered around demon hunters. From puritanical holy men fighting for their gods to crazed warriors only one step away from damnation themselves"Demon hunters are always one problem that I've had with the traditional Sword Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Eyrie of the Dread Eye

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 05/01/2019 - 11:18
By Courtney Campbell
Levels 6-8

… Now the Awakening is near, the Spheres are coming into alignment, and the Oculus is beginning to open. The dark power is reaching out and for the first time in an age the Eyrie of the Dread Eye is accessible again. As the Eye opens, reality itself comes under further and further  strain. And as rumors of a new valley containing an underground forgotten city filled with untold riches spread out from the Dark Wall, the Oculus continues to open ever wider.

This 59 page adventure describes a ruined city. There are about sixteen encounter areas prior to the city, and about eight “faction headquarters” in the city. This description, though, trivializes the emergent play sections of the city, a major part of the adventure, as well as the ever-present danger of the “minigames” that the locale proper provides. One of the better Lost Cities adventures, combined with a great example of pull-no-punches DM’ing that DOESN’T feel adversarial. Its complexity is its downfall and it could be organized better, going a little too far over the line of emergent play. But that don’t mean it ain’t a treasure, cause it is.

This isn’t a dungeon. It’s not even an adventure. It’s an adventure site location. The title, EofDE, makes it sound like a dungeon or adventure. It says “site-based adventure” somewhere in some description, but that shit gets thrown around like a marketing term. But this thing ain’t fucking around: it’s a site-based adventure location. And it’s gonna fuck up every party that meets it in a non-adversarial DM’ing manner, unless they are EXPERT players making multiple forays.

Rappan Athuk did something interesting: it highlighted threats outside of the dungeon. Bandit groups, with hundreds of members, preyed on you. This sort of thing is generally abstracted ot skipped over in adventures. What if, in X1, you came back to find your ship destroyed because it was continually attacked by large monster groups? And how many adventures deal with the consequences of the wandering monster table with respect to the hirelings & henchmen & horses you leave camped outside of the dungeon? This is an adventure for levels 6-8, which Courtney describes as “high level.” And that’s been my experience as well; Level 6+ B/X characters can be monsters. Lots of magic, both in spell and item form. A player with any sort of creativity can overcome A LOT. As a high-level adventure it does not abstract.

So you’ve got the 20 on a lost city rumored to be full of loot and off you head. Getting close you encounter the Argonath, in the form of a giant snake man statues, broken, behind it the path to the lost city. [IE: you are entering the mythic underworld and shit is about to get real.] From this point on wyverns are a constant threat. There’s a lot of wyverns in the cliffs and if you wipe them all out then more will show up eventually, in restocking the dungeon format. Thus we have an ever-present environmental danger to the party in the form of wyverns. Who are guaranteed to show up and assault stragglers and whenever the party is weakened or vulnerable. Like during a partial cave in. Or while climbing cliffs. And they HATE flyers. And thus the designer takes care of both “why fly spell doesn’t work” as well as causing trouble for Ye Olde high level party.

It’s a constant threat. Rappen kind of did something similar with that bandit/wilderness stuff, and a couple of adventures have tried to intimate something similar, but not like this. This is the sort of difficulty modifier that high level play should expect. It’s not those bullshit cold/heat/humidity rules that lots of “exotic” adventures turn to that cause so much logistical trouble and get in the way of fun. Of no, the party knows about this threat, will be aware of it, and will have to deal with it. They can always nuke the wyverns to buy some time (yeah! Party choice!) but they WILL come back.

It’s hard for me to write this review. I like to focus on the positives before moving to the negatives, but this adventure feels different. The encounters tend to be interactive. The boxed text, what there is, is short and evocative. But unlike most adventures, the traditional format is left behind. All adventures are emergent play adventures but this one is more so than others. Sandboxy? Emergent Play focused? Toolkit? There’s some element of truth to all of those descriptions, but never in a bad way. “Toolkit” doesn’t even go over the line the way it usually does.

There’s a cliff face 400’ with some caves/edifices that the party will confront after the giant snake-man statue. It has about eight locations, three of which lead to an dinner chamber which leads to the lost city. You need to get up the cliffside and explore the holes. Also, don’t forget the ever-present wyverns to deal with. Once inside the inner-chamber there are, again, about eight more things described, including the centerpiece giant multi-armed statue who’s hands/arms can act like an elevator. Cool! Then, you reach the lost city …

It’s large. It has several groups within it. There are eight locations described in about a half page to page each. There’s a wandering monster chart in which each monster is given a number of different things they could be doing/engaged in, as well as a “random ruins generator” for exploring the various ruined buildings around town.

You made it all the way to this point in the review. Do you know yet what the adventure is about? It’s about that last part, the random ruins. Courtney never explicitly states it, I think, but the goal of every page of this adventure is to focus on the play around the looting the ruins. Stealing every fucking thing you can. Explore every nook and loot every last dime. (ok, it could be “make a daring dash in and steal some shit without getting gacked, but it’s the same thing in my mind, just different degrees of willpower and success.) “Hey, giant lost city form a fallen civ full of gold and magic. Lots of monsters also. Want some loot/xp? Go get it!” That’s the adventure.

Now the wyverns make a lot more sense. Now the cliff makes more sense. It’s all there to make looting that fucking city more complicated.

The emergent play is looting the rando sites in the city. While dealing with the wanderers. While dealing with the factions inside the city. While dealing with getting it out/down the cliff. While dealing with those fucking wyverns outside.  

To a certain extent this is the same thing that happens in all OSR adventures. The difference is that those have a more finite environment, representing the dungeon, with an abstracted “outside.” This doesn’t. Hence the description of it being pull no punches DM’ing. The DM has set up a series of harsh game-world rules and put the potential of a FUCKTON of treasure in front of you. It’s up to you, high level adventurers, to figure out how to extract it, and to what degree.

Courtney understand this and the adventure is focused on it, almost every choice in the design being oriented towards that. But, given the rarity of this sort of thing and the degree to which Courtney is focused on it, it could have used a one paragraph designers note section explicitly stating that’s what it is and how it works together.

Fuck if I know what else to say about this. Good rumors, good wanderers doing things. The wanderers are also VERY opportunistic, almost every last one of them, picking off strays and wounded and running away. There’s a section in which you can encounter an NPC party, but you’re told to roll one up on your own; a half page of pre-rolled ones would have been nice.

There’s a couple of party gimps with spell levels and undead turning and scry scrolls. They mostly feel out of place. I get the undead thing, lost cities should have undead and undead should be a threat but high level clerics fuck off with undead. The options to just make them tougher seeming to be its own issue. I don’t understand the spell level gimps the other prohibition against scrying, it doesn’t make sense to me. Calling the main opponents “the optics” I guess you could make the case that it fits in that, as well as the usual pretext of “a place of great evil.” I’d probably just not mess with the spell levels or the scrying thing. The undead thing is a major old school issue, but again I’d probably just let it be without a gimp. The turn rules in older D&D need to be better without the BS in modern D&D. Then it becomes closer to a resource game mechanic.

I have trouble with one of the main maps, the cliff map. I can’t make out some of the features on it, or what they are supposed to represent. Stairs? Just art to spruce up the map? The “climb the cliffs” minigame also takes up a little more than column and could be better organized as well. It feels a little free-form and could use better organization, bolding, headings, etc. Climbing information feels buried in a wall of text of rules dictating climbing that seems hard to follow during play. The city map though, being isometric, is great, allowing the DM to describe landmarks seen at a distance, etc.

The factions are not what I would consider factions. They are more “the major people/organizations present in the city.” While not all hostile and the designer mentions to ensure reaction rolls and even hostile doesn’t mean combat, , they don’t seem to have needs & wants, at least in a traditional way that you can bargain with. Even the “enemy of my enemy” stuff is not really present. This is a miss. It doesn’t feel like there’s a place/way to find common ground, because they have no ground mentioned.

What is not said is that this adventure will dominate play for several months for expert PLAYERS. This isn’t a quick in and out, probabally. The party will go back, to a location 70 miles away, several times. They’ll get their asses kicked. They organize logistics. Hire mercenaries. Hunters to feed the merc. Elite guards to watch the loot they bring out and protect it from the mercs and hunters they brought out. There’s a “loot extraction logistics” mini-game implicit in this adventure, that will take a long time, game time, to execute. You could write a page or two of NPC’s and adventure/complications ideas and include it in this adventure and it would only make it stronger. (Good advice. Should have been done.)

This is a good example of high level play and one of the few “loot extraction” adventures written. It could be better with organization in several parts, and some summaries of how thing works, better faction play, and maybe some logistics help. But that don’t mean it’s not good enough to be centerpiece of a campaign for months.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t work. Not that I think any preview of this could relate the adventure.

I see a 5e version is available. I have no idea how that would work in this environment.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Superheroes at Archie

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 05/01/2019 - 11:00
Archie Comics is best known as the publisher of the teen humor character whose name it bears, but the company has also produced superheroes throughout much of its history, since its inception as MLJ Comics in 1939, in fact. They've never had the profile of DC's or Marvel's characters, but the MLJ/Archie characters are perhaps first among also-rans. It was the MLJ characters, after all, that Moore used in his original pitch that became Watchmen.

To get the low-down on these "Ultra-Heroes" (The term used in the Mighty Comics of the 60s. Presumably a reaction to Marvel and DC trademarking "Super Hero.") you could do a lot worse than the MLJ Companion from TwoMorrows.

The history of the characters can be divided into publication eras. The Golden Age started with Pep Comics in 1940. The Shield would appear there, America's first flag-clad hero, 15 months before Captain America. The Comet was there, too, unusually violent, and ultimately the first superhero to die. The Hang Man and Black Hood followed, but all the superheroes ultimately gave way to Archie Andrews and the Riverdale gang.

With the dawn of the Silver Age, the MLJ superheroes were revived first in the Archie Adventure Series and then Mighty Comics. Joe Simon created the Fly, who was likely inspired by Captain Marvel (Shazam to kids today) and was perhaps one of the inspirations for Spider-Man. DC's success was the impetus for the revival, but Marvel's success guided its development. Jerry Seigel was brought in as main writer and either was trying to do a burlesque of the Marvel style or was unable to take it seriously. Either way, the Mighty Crusaders (as the new team was called) were "High Camp" a year before the Batman TV show made it the hip way to handle superheroes.

The campy 60s titles died away, but the heroes wouldn't stay down. They were brought back in the late 70s in reprints as part of the Red Circle line. The early 80s saw new stories produced, masterminded by Rich Buckler, with a grittier tone in keeping with the times and in some ways anticipating what was to come. Archie backed off from this pretty quickly, rebranding the line as the Archie Adventure Series again and making them more kid-friendly. They even got a toyline.

They were revived by DC under the !mpact imprint in the 90s, then again in an attempt to add them to the DC Universe in the 2008, but DC lost the rights in 2011.

Archie Comics have been publishing the superheroes themselves since 2012, but it doesn't look like they've published anything since 2018. Given the Mighty Crusaders history, I suspect they'll be back. You can't keep the ultra-heroes down.

On the Hateful Campaign

Hack & Slash - Wed, 05/01/2019 - 02:09
Bryce Lynch wrote a review of my module, Eyrie of the Dread Eye. He tagged it as "The Best" which I am honored and humbled by.

Sadly, wherever I stand to gain some ground so I can continue to produce works, all of which I hope are high quality, there are people who are engaged in a campaign of harassment against me. They show up wherever I am mentioned and spread lies about me, calling me alt-right, implying I'm a racist, and other hateful extremest rhetoric.

I have a million+ words on this blog that anyone who takes the time to check, would find it's not the case. You could check out my inclusive art broadcasts on twitch where I share about my mental illness and decades of service to my country and community.

Below is my reply to the harassment from the review. I'm doing this because there are people engaged in an active campaign of harassment and slander anywhere I attempt to create and share to the community. I would ask that they please stop. This is me publicly asking people to stop harassing and libeling me. It is very important that we do not respond to extremism, hate, and harassment in kind. Please do not—I don't share too much of my personal beliefs and politics on my blog, because that's private. If I believe differently then you, well, I served my country so you could. We don't have to share political views for me to produce great gaming content. I am only sharing here to refute the lies.

The important thing here, is that the toughest reviewer on the internet thinks what I wrote stands among the best work produced. . . and it's only my first. Wait for the next couple of things I have coming out and I'll try and top what I've already done.

Here was my response.

"Hi! I’m the author!

My name is Courtney Campbell. I vote democrat, have donated to both Yang and Warren so far in the coming election. I’m a veteran of the USMC. I’ve spent 20 years doing social work with disadvantaged youth, including 5 years in alaska working with native youth.

I’m an independent creator. I’m sad that people feel the need to harass me and punch down at people who struggle with mental illness (I have a class A personality disorder that causes me significant issues with, well, life). I’ve spent my whole life working at near minimum wage to help disadvantaged youth, mostly of color. When I worked downstates it was mostly adolescents who were victims of family abuse.

I’m horrified there’s people who show up wherever I am being discussed to spread lies about me. I honestly don’t have any idea what to do about it.

I’m shocked and honored brice took the time to review my module and considered it one of the best. I worked very hard on it, and as noted, it isn’t designed to be read, it’s designed to be played.

I am certain if you read my blog or check out my twitch channel or come on to my discord, you’ll find a welcoming inclusive place where we talk about gaming, support other low income people who suffer from mental illness, and share support for each other.

I’m incredibly thankful I can eek out an existence publishing game materials. The fact that someone I respect as much as Bryce likes my work makes me feel like perhaps I can continue to be of service to society.

I don’t have any hate in my heart, and I’m sad people choose to engage in this campaign of hateful attacks.

Bryce, Thank you. To answer your question, I rewrote the 5th edition version of the adventure extensively to fit the style of superheroic play that 5th edition expects. It should work for 5th edition the same way it works for the best version of Basic/Expert in print, Adventure, Conqueror, King."

Stop the hate. Let's do better.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mysterious Islands, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, & the Original Adventures Reincarnated #2: The Isle of Dread By Goodman Games .

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 18:05
I keep a careful eye on the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea rpg system  & one of the pieces that caught my eye was this artwork for an upcoming Viking & AS&SH style adventure. The Kickstarter is coming up soon.  The artwork got me thinking about the seas around Hyperborea & my own Castles & Crusades on going campaign. But it also got me thinking about the Original Adventures Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wigurd's Tragic Fall (LSotN Play Report, updated)

The Disoriented Ranger - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 12:44
Third post in April. BAMMM! There is a twist in the rules for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs where characters, true to the classic inspiration, can meet "an end far worse than death" instead of dying. It's when the norns get really nasty and the dice betray a character in a way most DMs would shy away from. I know there's folks out there eager to get an idea how Lost Songs plays out at the table. Here's an exemplary play report of our last session to give you all an idea where the game's at. This is a session in which all the boxes got ticked ...
The campaign so far
I'll keep this short, but you should know a bit of what had happened so far to see how it all ties together. Lost Songs of the Nibelungs is a game of Dark Fantasy in a time right after the decline of the Roman Empire. The setting had been established some time ago. However, time has past since that last foray and this is a new start (different set of play-tests, different things to test, all that jazz).

It is idyllic like that [source]This (for now) is the tale of Wigurd the Entertainer and Sylis "Beastsmell", two young men eager to become full members of their tribe with the coming easter festival. However, the gods play their first evil trick at them when the tribe's holy man announces that there are bad omens if the two of them were to stay with the tribe the coming winter. 
The chief decides with a heavy heart that they have to be sent away. However, not without support and as the tribe held council about the issue, a traveling merchant visiting the tribe for business offers a quest for the young men: he owns a cottage in the woods, a couple of days north, just behind the holy mountain. A place used for charcoal burning. Some evil befell it and the family living there had to flee because of it. If our two young boys were able to free the place of said evil, they could use the cottage to stay the winter.
The chief and the holy man liked the idea and add that if they succeed to prove their meddle, they could return to the tribe as men. Wigurd the Entertainer held a great speech that day, convincing the tribe to support them even more by throwing in some horses and equipment.
They left the tribe the next day. A nice day in September to travel an old Roman road leading North. They started their journey in good spirits as well as accompanied by good omens. And their luck held up, although it really got tested: they escaped ghosts luring them into doom (twice), got beaten half to death while attempting to revenge a killed cousin, but got rescued and cleared of any charge held against them for the murder they did.
Then, their quest got taken away from them as a political decision from another tribe up North, but not without acknowledging the importance it had for the travelers and a promise of reparation after they had healed their wounds. Time passes and they proof capable guests to their new hosts up North. Capable enough to get a new chance to gain a safe haven for the coming winter and proof themselves as adult members of their tribe. The village elder that hosts them welcomed two mysterious hunters that brought not only an opportunity for our heroes to stay as honored guests, the elder would also provide witnesses of their deeds to their tribe if they decided to help and succeeded.

Two mysterious hunters arrive. [source]So a deal was made. A couple of slaves had fled their master and were crafty enough to avoid their hunters so far, even came as far as seeking shelter down south. Unfortunately, with some of the character's clansmen, so the whole thing ended up having a political dimension and they couldn't just force it, fearing it would ruffle some feathers. In come the characters: if they can extract the slaves for the village elder and his mysterious visitors, they'd have earned their stay and their witness.
It was October by then, the first snow had fallen early this year, but it wasn't winter just yet. All the Omens had been good, so they took the offer and after a small feast in their honor they saddled their horses to travel south again.

A long and arduous road

They weren't lucky that first day, or rather lucky enough to stay alive, but not lucky enough to stay unscathed. Before they reached shelter, they ended up in snow storm. Wigurd managed to reach the homestead they'd been told to look for, but Sylis got disoriented in the snow storm and was left behind. Wigurd realized only then that he's lost his friend and headed straight back into the storm, hero that he was. Nearly died with the attempt, too, and had to head back empty handed fearing he'd die of exposure himself.

Both survived the night as their dice turned lucky in the end, but a heavy toll was payed and they really didn't have the time to heal it all at once. They'd already seen ill omens for their next encounter and were wary of it. They had a couple of days to heal, but then misfortune hit the family that gave them shelter: their son had been kidnapped by goblins.

Snow and the Holy Mountain in the distance [source]The bad omens they'd received hanging heavily on them, they nonetheless agreed without hesitation to accompany a rescue party composed of the father, the oldest son and a couple of neighbors. The goblins met them in a fair fight and had been overcome easily, saving the lost child in the process. The father and the oldest son, however, did not survive the encounter.

It was with a heavy heart and two corpses that they came back to the homestead. Funeral preparations were in order and the characters were asked to watch over the dead bodies barred on pyres stacked on a holy hill until the Valkyires got hold of them. So they stood guard with their backs to the corpses and were warned to under no circumstances turn around during their watch.

The cold and the luring temptation to turn around to the melodious voices behind them offering them peace took its toll as well, but they weathered that and lived the night to see the procession come up the hill with the dawning sun to burn the pyres as the sunlight touched them.

They dared not taking more than another night's rest before traveling onward, injured or not. After all, they only had time until the next full moon to solve their quest.

Their first day travel after leaving the homestead went almost without problems. The weather had been nice for a change and they made good progress. It was the gods smiling on them that they realized that someone was following them. From what they could glean, it was another group of goblins circling in on their position. They made a run for it and got away clean, but it was a close call.

When deciding whether to push forward or seek secure shelter, they opted for the second and found a nice little spot with a good view over the white forest below them and only two points of entry. The weather was on their side again that night, as snowfall set in so heavy, they got isolated by a wall of rustling snowflakes illuminated in the warm orange of their fire. They kept watch, but it ended up being a quiet night without incident.

The next day started nice again, good traveling weather and they had hopes to reach their clan territory that day. However, their route took them around their holy mountain and bad weather was bound to get caught on the snowy peaks, as the dice would tell me later. It was around midday that they become aware of a storm brewing up north and closing in. Losing another day wouldn't do them any good and they were pretty sure that their followers from yesterday were still around, so they decided to push their luck and their horses to keep ahead of the storm.

Another snow storm ... [source]It ended up being another close call. Sylis - again - just wasn't fast enough and they got caught in the outliers of the storm. They even saw the silhouettes of their hunters close by, but they managed to pull through, with the goblins left behind in the storm.

Which is where we left it before that last session.

Wigurd's Tragic Fall

They got away from the storm and managed to make some way as well, although their horses definitely felt that one. Anyway, they knew of a nearby homestead and made it there just before the sun had vanished behind the snow-covered firs. At that point they hadn't been sure if they should play it straight and make themselves known or if they kept it incognito.

They knew some of the residents from fairs and Things and such, this already being border territory to their tribe's land, and Wigurd was a famous entertainer within the tribe. A true natural and a real wunderkind, so it stood to reason that someone would at least recognize him. That, and their exile from the tribe was quite the story, sure to be known by the locals.

But they didn't get recognized, probably because they'd changed quite a lot since they'd left their home. New clothes, new scars, longer hair, and the farmer was a known drunk, never sober when Wigurd  was to perform, so who was to say why they didn't get recognized ... Either way, they decided to keep it that way.

It was only when Wigurd sat down with the farmer and offered his name, that they learned why they didn't get recognized immediately: the farmer tells them that his name is good fortune, as they only recently had another guest going by this name, and a famous entertainer at that. They shared a roof for a couple of days and it was something the farmer remembered fondly, so he took it as a good sign that another Wigurd came to visit so shortly after.

However, the revelation shook Wigurd to the core as the dice betrayed him for the first time that session. Not quite a botch, but he had already received severe permanent damage when he had tried to rescue Sylis in that snow storm a week ago and he had rolled bad enough to get to a point where any further damage would result in his demise.

Not right then and there, though. They kept to themselves after that and made it an early night, telling their hosts that their journey here had been quite strenuous. Early next morning they bid their farewell and were on the road again. They knew this area already and if they made good way, they could reach their home town the next day. The story of the imposter had been troubling, though, and they mused about making a detour to hunt the fucker and that troupe down who so shamelessly made a living from their renown.

At least they'd inquire at their next stop, a family of devote Christians living a somewhat isolated life out here. If that would turn up anything, they'd follow up on it, or so they planned.

And while they were heading further south, following an old Roman road leading from the abandoned mines in the mountains now to their left, a weary wanderer crossed their path. An old man, with a staff and a beard and lots of little pouches on his belt. They stop for a chat.

I described him to look like Moondog [source]He introduced himself as a wandering scholar, fallen into disgrace among his fellow disciples for a wrong-doing long past. He was well versed in the art of herbalism, among other, more mystical arts. Or so he told them. However, now he wandered from homestead to homestead, soothing sick cows.

He was reading the bones this morning and deduced from them that he'd meet some friendly travelers down this road that might be able to help him with his troubles. Something that might help him repairing his reputation.

It was just a short little thing, wouldn't bother them at all.

A side-quest! they thought, and asked for details. There was a legend in this region, he told them, about a man made of stone with a magical crystal in his chest animating his evil deeds. It took a circle of holy women to bind the stoneman into an earthen prison, stopping him from terrorizing the area. As the old man traveled from farm to farm, he had pieced the whole story together and even found out where that grave is.

However, the place is protected by wind and earth magic and his old body wasn't able to overcome the resistance. A task the heroes young bodies should be easily able to withstand, on the other hand. Now, if they where to enter the place and retrieve the magical crystal, they'd be well compensated for it. The place was a little down the hill, hidden in a depression just out of sight.

They agreed to the short detour and left the road toward the magical place, not questioning the old man any further. It really wasn't far away. The entrance to the enclosed hollow was marked by two small obelisks that showed traces of strange runes. The old man explained that those are magical runes, binding earth and wind to the place. Then he sat down and told them that this is as far as he dared to go.

Wigurd, on the other hand, stepped forward without hesitation. A strong unnatural wind rose from the hollow and twisted his mantle, but he prevailed and pushed forward. Sylis tried to follow, but the dice decided that the magic was too strong for him. The character had been struggling with his sanity ever since he had fallen for the seduction of a ghost only to be confronted with her mummified corpse early in the campaign. He decided that this was not for him and backed away.

Wigurd, however, was already approaching the obelisks, but stopped as he saw movement below the snow covering the path down the hollow. A strange creature made from roots lifted itself from the path and warned him that if he wanted to enter this place, he had to overcome it.
Something like this, really [source]They engaged in melee and it looked for some time as if Wigurd might be able to overwhelm the beast. However, he fought alone and fate can be fickle in situations like this. He had dealt the creature a fatal blow, but it withstood the damage and kept fighting.

The battle really was on a blades edge, as Wigurd's Wyrd was still hurt pretty badly. There were no favors to be expected from the gods. If not his wounds would kill him, he might meet a fate worse than death. He was just one roll of the dice away from that ending ... and he failed it. He had nothing to defend against a quite effective attack by the guardian.

But it wasn't his wounds that ended him. You might remember me mentioning this in the beginning: there is a rule in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, a homage, really, to the classic tale of Siegfried's betrayal, by which damage that would end up being permanent will be channeled into Wyrd instead (another attribute). Ideally, this means a character will avoid harm while at the same time risking to offend the gods. However, if a character ends up receiving enough damage to reduce his Wyrd permanently to zero, he'd be finished all the same. Just differently.

So there he was, deadly wounded yet still alive. With his Wyrd already severely hurt, the damage he received from that last blow goes straight through the remaining points and beyond. There's no way out and the table realizes: this is final.

As Wigurd falls to his knees, the creature moves forward to engulf him, whispering in a voice only he can hear about how the gods abandoned him and what eternal torture awaits him when the meat rots from his bones. Although fallen in combat, he will never see Valhalla. The terror overwhelming him makes him going down screaming until the earth swallowed him whole.

And that was the tragic end of Wigurd the Entertainer. His soul will never find rest.[source]ADDENDUM: We began our next session with Sylis seeing his friend die as described above. The screams, the horror of it ... it had to force some dice rolling to see if the character is affected. This was a delicate situation, as the character struggled to keep it together already. One bad roll and he'd be gone as well. I offered him two chances to get out of this: a Stress save to see if he could just shrug it now to digest it later and if that failed, if he was to confront this face on, he'd get one last save to keep his fragile Sanity intact.

It was intense. My girlfriend stopped working on her master thesis to witness the potential end of a campaign.

The first save was difficult. Sylis' Stress value was 8, target was 25, the roll came up with an 11 ... a miss. Nothing tragic and it was a difficult roll. Now all depended on that last roll. A genuine Save or Die moment. The group discussed how to proceed, if a dice cup was to be used and which die to use. Players are a superstitious lot. They decided to use the dice cup, something the player hadn't done for the entirety of the campaign.

That second save was a Sanity value of 12 with a -3 from the damage he had received facing the magic protecting the hollow. Target was a 20. He had a good chance pulling that one off. He shook the cup, everyone was looking in anticipation when the die hit the table, still hidden by the leathery shaker. He lifted it and revealed ... a 1!!! I kid you not. A roll as crucial as it gets and it turns up the worst possible result.

Damn, we play for moments like this, don't we?

Witnessing the horrifying death of his best friend was too much for poor Sylis' mind. He went insane right there on the spot. He rushed forward and tried to claw his way to his friend until his fingers ended up torn bloody. He was denied. After hours of howling, clawing and hysterical laughter, he vanished into the forest ...

Aftermath: this had dire consequences for the tribe. Winter came and both characters where within clan territory, so the bad omens had to come true. An avalanche destroyed most of the village built at the bottom of the mountain, killing almost all denizens and all of the tribes winter stock. The remaining tribesmen and -women had to seek shelter with their neighbors. Many more died. With the end of winter, the tribe was no more.

The End


There weren't many compromises possible after those last rolls. Nothing short of deciding against doing the damage or ignoring those last saves, all of which would have rung false, I think. However, that's the game we play and although it was a great campaign with a nicely developing narrative gathering around the characters, it's also a memorable end, underlining the hard truth that we might not end up realizing our full potential. That's a good end to have and true to the Dark Fantasy aspect of the game.

I'm really, completely content with that part of the rules right now. The stories we are able to weave out of the interplay between the sandbox, the narrative generator and the system-feedback from the character's interaction with their surroundings, have a nice epic and magical tone to them without even trying that hard and although it's all random.

Nothing of this had been prepared or planned, it all happened organically from what the game provided and our interaction with that. I hope some of it shines through in my retelling of the parts above. So much more had happened.

What I need to implement with more rigor, though, is the more detailed weather rules I wrote for the game, but actually neglected using, which actually led to characters experiencing two snow storms in short order. I mean, that is why we are play-testing the game and it wasn't that far fetched, but weather carries lots of meaning in the game and should be taken more seriously. It is, after all, nuance that gives a narrative depth. Seasons and Magic need to be done, too.

We had only 3 fights over the course of 12 sessions, yet the game never lacked tension. I'm not sure how much of an audience Lost Songs of the Nibelungs will be able to gather once I get it out there, but I can say in confidence that it'll offer an unique experience to those who'll give it a shot. It's approach is not so much cinematic as it is literary, it's more about immersion and exploration of the human condition as it is about make-believe. It's also as intense, complex and challenging as it is rewarding.

Well, there's still some ways to go before I can call it done. But I'm getting there, ever so slowly. Thanks for reading.

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