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Dungeon Master's Little Black Book Project is Live!

Oubliette - Sun, 02/28/2021 - 11:56

 I've just launched my Dungeon Master's Little Black Book project on Kickstarter. It's off to a flying start and funded in the first few minutes.

The aim of this project is to fund print runs of two versions of The Dungeon Master's Little Black Book. The first version will be crammed full of random tables, ideas and maps that can be used by a DM during a game without any preparation. The second version will be a blank version of the Little Black Book that a DM can add their own content to.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Maize & Monsters, Dungeons and Dragons adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 02/27/2021 - 12:38
By Tom Knauss Frog God Games S&W Levels 4-6

Maize and Monsters is an adventure, that exposes the adventurers to the grim reality that time sometimes exacerbates old wounds rather than healing them. A recent murder in the village of Pilhua proves to be far more than a simple crime of passion as the seeds for this killing were sown during a previous, unsolved mystery that still haunts some residents within the settlement. The characters must wade through a list of suspects and motives that lead them to discover the ugly truth about a heinous crime that spawned a greater evil than even its perpetrators could ever imagine.

This 27 page adventure uses about fourteen ages to describe an investigation, a couple of combats, and a small corn maze in a mesoamerican village. There is SOMETHING going on, but it is hidden behind so much Wall of Text as to be nigh incomprehensible. Combined with some “Now It Is Fight Time” logic, it screams j’accuse! at the Frogs. 

Good stuff: there’s a lot going on. Two dudes kill their skeezy drug peddler and bury him in a cornfield. Two teens, making, out see it, and get killed also. One Year Later (a magic number, to be sure, and thus I approve) you get an evil corn stalk monster killing someone in the night. That dudes wife is a little skeezy … a red herring. You get a widow making monsters attacking the mayor for not trying hard enough to find the murderers. You get the dead dealer causing problems as a wight, the two kids turning a corn field in to an evil corn maze … a fuck ton going on here. I’m not entirely sure it all fits together well, due to issues explained later, but it COULD. And an adventure with a lot going on can be a GREAT adventure. 

It also separates out just about every NPC you could talk to in their own little box, and tried to use some bullets or italics to draw attention to different facts and so on. Likewise, there’s an adventure synopsis right up front to help the DM get oriented … and without it I’d be even more lost than I already am. So, it’s got a good basic outline, and knows what to do. It just fails in doing any of it.

First, this is a Frog God adventure. That means that it is a disaster. While an “editor” is attached, it’s clear that person did close to nothing. There’ no level range on the cover or in the product description. They did nothing to catch the inconsistencies in format (more on that later) or evidently made any effort at all to clarify text. The Frogs are, as with nearly all multi-author publishers, incompetent. Your mileage with a multi-author publisher is going to come from the designer, with the publisher only detracting from value as a product. For the DESIGNER it probably means a wider audience, since there’s some staying power and name recognition in the publishers name. For the consumer, though, you’re only going to get the designers vision fucked with at worst and unguided at best. The larger the publisher the more evident the issue, it seems. We’d all like to THINK they provide value. But, the designers name holds more value, ultimately. And fifteen fucking dollers for a PDF? The chutzpah! (Thanks Paranoia! I owe my vocab to you and the orphan example!) 

The mesoamerican setting doesn’t help. Adding to the confusion is the proper noun and vocabulary issue. This isn’t unique to this adventure, but can be found in the bullshit proper names in Forgotten Realms or in Vengers Apostrophe-land setting. If you have to put the translation next to the noun, every time, in order for someone to follow the adventure then you’ve failed. It’s not that Different is Bad, but rather that you have to recognize that you’ve got a job to do to help people along, so the burden on design and organization is even greater. Further, there’s no real cultural issues in this adventure. There’s nothing to say “this is a mesoamerican adventure” other than the usage of the proper nouns and different weapon nakes, etc. 

The NPC’s are a nightmare to follow and therefore run. The entire first section is supposed to be talking with people to investigate the village issues. Each NPC gets a couple of paragraphs, at least, of small dense text follow by wither italics or bullet points. The italics is better done. A keyword or two in italics “Her affairs” followed by information she relates. This is good! Well, not the multi-paragraph intro. That’s terrible to scan and comprehend, but the italics keyword with follow up information is great! Other NPC’s though, get a bullet break out. With no keywords. Both formats are, inexplicably, used, with the bullets being far weaker because of the lack of a heading to let you know what that bullet is about.

And the wall of text. Oh my sweet Jesus, the wall of text. Small font, tight,  and MOUNTAINS of it with only paragraph breaks. This combined with the lack of a good “flow” in the adventure, particularly the investigation part, leads to you both WANTING to know what’s going on and how to run it as well as wanting to stab your own eyes out. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to follow. Information is hidden in there, information you need, but you’re not going to find it without taking multiple minutes to read it … while at the table.

And then there’s the D&D part. Or, rather, I should say, what modern designers seem to think of as the D&D part: the fighting. “NOW IT IS TIME TO HAVE AN ENCOUNTER SO YOU FIGHT NOW” Or , maybe it’s a Frog’s thing. I don’t know. It sucks. You’re doing this investigation. It’s got this creepy cornfield. There’s this element of horror implied. And then “Three zombies walk out of the cornfield and attack.” That’s it. That’s how the primary motivators of the adventure show up. “Animated goll corpses loiter” is the read-aloud, I think. Specifically “The stench of death accompanies a withering, desiccated corpse wielding a vicious macuahuitl wrapped in leathery, decaying flesh in its bony hands. A team of animated gnoll corpses loiter around him as the obviously undead abomination shambles forward to slay the living and add its victims to its swelling ranks.” This is supposed to be a highlight. No creepy village vibe at night. No slowly increasing terror. No. Just they walk out of the cornfield and attack. It’s fucking lame. It takes all of the atmosphere and just fucking tanks it. Huts ablaze? Shows everywhere? Screams? No. They just walk out and attack the party. 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Frogs are a rip off. I like reviewing new designers, but, fuck man. I guess, maybe, I expect more from a publisher? I don’t know why. I already know most adventure are crap. (By definition? If all adventures were The Best, would standards then be raised to make 90% of The Best crap? Hmmmm…)

Reviews of longer and multi-designer products coming soon … I think I’ve found a way to make them work.

This is $15 at DriveThru. The previews is three pages, showing you only one page of text, which is just background text. Shitty shitty preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[NEWS] From Baklin to the Black Soup: News Roundup

Beyond Fomalhaut - Sat, 02/27/2021 - 11:46

I have been flying under the radar for a while now, and haven’t had a news in a long time – so here it goes: what has EMDT been up to?


Baklin in PDF

Baklin: Jewel of the SeasFirst things first: Baklin: Jewel of the Seas is now published in PDF at DriveThruRPG. The proper thing to say on the se occasions is to note that the release was late, and that’s correct – Baklin took its time to emerge from campaign materials, session notes, and stuff that was just made up. How to translate a dynamic place like a city into a manageable, GM-friendly setting guide? Baklin’s answer is to focus on locations, personalities, and conflicts which can generate mini-adventures if the players choose to interact with them, and which are connected in a loose fashion: enough to get the sparks going, but not to entangle the poor GM and his players in a web of cross-references. And Baklin also has three dungeon levels; some of them explored, some never seen. Yes, cities with extensive dungeons beneath them are as sure to come up in my games as mysterious stone faces, eccentric mini-states, and giant frogs: they have continued to fascinate me through my life. This one is, I think, a locale that offers an interesting combination of the mundane and the fantastic – there is a bit of the criminal underworld down there, and a little bit of the proverbial mythical one (with a capital “U”).
Baklin also serves as the capstone of the Isle of Erillion mini-setting which has been serialised in various zine issues (mainly Echoes #02 to #05). That is not to say there are no more adventures from that campaign left (one is set for Echoes #08), but the main cornerstones of Erillion are all released: a primer, the wilderness hexes, and the main towns are all out there. From here, we will venture in different directions.
  • One will be the lands of Kassadia, a domain of colourful city states built on a Roman Empire that dwindled into irrelevance but never fell. Kassadia, once a label on the map of Erillion, was really co-created by Istvan Boldog-Bernad; first through Armand the Scumbag, his Assassin character, and then In the Shadow of the City-God, set in one of Kassadia’s ancient cities.
  • The other direction will go towards the northwest of Erillion, to the Twelve Kingdoms: a set of warring domains, neither twelve nor true kingdoms for the most part. This is a cold and unforgiving land, but also one of weird beauty and curious customs: it draws on sources like Lyonesse, The Lords of Midnight, Smith’s Hyperborea, and others.
  • And of course, the City of Vultures is not yet finished: its secret societies, its surroundings, and its strange Underworld realms shall be explored in due time.


Castle Xyntillan back in print

Castle Xyntillan ran out of stock sooner than expected as sales suddenly spiked after the Questing Beast review, but the book is back in print in a third printing, and available from my store. The module’s first printing consisted of 500 copies; the second, 400 – as numbers go, I am happy with them.


Das Froschgottkloster

Abenteuer #08The third thing concerns a most prestigious development (monocled parrots optional). Abenteuer #08, the German adventure gaming magazine, is set to feature my module, Cloister of the Frog-God; and more than that, it is set to be printed and distributed by EMDT.  For those not in the know, Abenteuer is an occasional magazine for and by German hobbyists hewing close to the “traditional”, or “old-school” side of the RPG world. Not unlike Hungary, the German role-playing hobby is centred around games focusing on detailed, quasi-realistic settings with a lot of historical and cultural detail, and the people around Abenteuer, like EMDT, represent a sort of counter-current to that. The current issue of the magazine is a guest issue, featuring international contributions: from Jeff Rients comes Dundagel – could this be one of the main dungeons from his Wessex campaign – and something about potion machines? That sounds utterly Rientsian. Likewise, Asen, from Bulgaria, brings an article titled “Melee” (or so I think). And then, the Cloister (also featured on the cover by Kelly Coleman).

Cloister of the Frog God is kind of a patchwork module that came together from the bits and pieces of my unpublished 2006 Tegel Manor manuscript. Since Tegel was quite dead at the time, I started thinking about reusing my original contributions to the module for something new – maybe as articles for Knockspell or Fight On! magazine. At the same time, Bill Webb was starting on a new edition of Rappan Athuk, and asked me if I wanted to contribute something to it, perhaps using these materials. This was a start. I took the figurative scissors to my room key, and reversing my usual development process, drew a dungeon around the existing encounters. A once mighty, now partially ruined and semi-abandoned cloister complex came from two mini-dungeons once located in the wilderness around Tegel; the three-level catacomb complex underneath came from the manor’s dungeons (the original module treats these as very simple monster listings, so I had quite a lot of original stuff to work with).

Tumula the Marshman,
Proud (?) FatherThe finished dungeon is a long ridge with two intact parts of the original cloister complex; one inhabited by a much diminished but still terribly dangerous group of frog-worshippers, and another one where a great evil has been set loose to cause terrible devastation. The ridge itself is crisscrossed with tunnels, forming what may be called an “inverse B2” – several alternative entrances leading inwards towards a set of core areas, making the dungeon generally accessible, but some sections still out of the way due to the multi-level maze of the rooms and passages. The dungeon provided a good opportunity to create a collection of strange tombs, each with different tricks, monsters, and furnishings. Memorably, the test party spent a lot of time climbing the outside walls and rooftops to “hack” the structure they were infiltrating without having to fight its guardians, and they eventually succeeded in triggering a localised Frogocalypse, which served as a good conclusion to wrap things up.

So Cloister shipped, got published as a chapter of the big 2012 Rappan Athuk book (where few people have found it among the mountains of other stuff), but this was not yet the end of the story. Something about the frog theme was still kicking around in my head, and in 2016, I ran the adventure in a form that was half Frogocalypse Now-style boat ride through the surrounding marshlands, and half dungeon crawl in the Cloister ruins, culminating in a deadly battle with a procession of frog-cultists, and the assassination of their leader, Abbot Grosso. Then, the wilderness section was reused again in 2018 as a standalone game for the original Cloister team (still following?), resulting in Against the Frog, the eccentric swamp crawling scenario finally published in Echoes #04. Rotar the Raftsman (a haf-orc) was reunited with his incredulous and ancient father, Tumula the Marshman (the same player’s old character from the earlier adventure), and a new plague of frogs was prevented from devastating the nearby lands.

The storied life of the module now enters another chapter: after Rappan Athuk (dungeons), the Hungarian edition (dungeons and wilderness), and Revenge of the Frogs (wilderness only, different scenario), Das Froschgottkloster is set for imminent release, featuring more frogs than you can shake a stick at. How many frogs? At least 666 frogs, but potentially even more. And that’s a lot of frogs.

The 2018 Hungarian edition


Echoes From Fomalhaut #08

The Sullogh are Coming!Yes, almost a year has passed since Echoes #07, and this is the kind of occasion when it is time to check if the body still has a pulse. It does! Other projects have demanded their due while this was sitting on a back burner, but it is now fairly safe to say Echoes #04 will be a mid-March release. This zine will feature Castle Sullogh, the penultimate adventure from our Erillion campaign, and one that tested the resourcefulness of a powerful group of 7th to 9th level characters. It is a place that may be accessible – and its treasures and secrets most attractive! – to less powerful PCs as well. You place the bait, and get to watch them reach for it. You will also get to meet the charming Sullogh and their masters, who will all be happy to have you for dinner.

Where some things end, some are set to begin: Yrrtwano’s Repose, the first adventure drawn from the cold lands of the Twelve Kindoms will be included here. And from the City of Vultures, the fantastic wilderlands around the sinful city-state – detailing the hex map whose player version was included in Echoes #06. The eighth issue will also be the first to feature two map sheets, and I hope that, seeing them, you will agree it should not be the last one.



Not the Helvéczia Boxed setMy picaresque fantasy RPG is proceeding towards a Spring release. The rulebook is complete and almost ready to print, with all indices, tables and illustrations in place, multiple rounds of proofreading (for which I am very grateful – it is the kind of work that is invisible if done well), and only waiting for the endpapers. The cover – and what a cover! – is in. The supplement still needs translation for one of the adventures. The hex maps are done; a players’ overview map is being worked on. The boxes for the boxed version have been designed, but not yet manufactured. It will come in a heavy-duty box that will stand up to prolonged use, and inflict 1d6 damage if used as a mêlée weapon. For Christmas, I released Casemates and Companies, a Hungarian B/X-based game, and we used this opportunity with my printer to do a smaller test run with boxes. It all worked out well, so we are going in.

This is a project with a lot of moving parts, but every so often, another part is locked in its place, and the working bench gets less cluttered. Now it is close to empty. April? Could be April. A more detailed preview will follow in March.


Shipping increases

“Last comes the black soup.” This is a saying in Hungary, originally referring to coffee, and meaning “bad news last”. Last year, postage increased slightly, in a way I didn’t feel like annoying customers with. This year, the increase, while not radical, is a bit steeper, and comes with added paperwork on non-EU orders – or you can let the Post do it, and increase postage further. I decided to do the paperwork – electronic data entry stuff, not too bad – and go with a smaller shipping price increase. So here is how it is going to look from now:

  • Any quantity of zines, Europe (incl. UK): $6.00 to $6.50
  • Any quantity of zines, worldwide: $7.00 to $8.00
  • Hardcovers and boxed sets, Europe (incl. UK): $20.00 to $23.00
  • Hardcovers and boxed sets, worldwide: $25.00 to $28.00

Let There be OrderThese are still flat rates, so ordering one zine will set you back as much as ordering ALL zines and pamphlet-sized modules (they may ship in multiple envelopes, but a large order deserves a discount). There will be one exception: the Helvéczia boxed set is going to ship alone, because it will weigh right below the 2 kg (4.4 pounds) postal weight limit after packaging, and if you add just one zine, shipping suddenly jumps from $28 to $60 or so.

In summary, I will go with a small price increase, you will start seeing custom form stickers on your envelopes, large and heavy supplements will be a bit pricier to order (but hopefully well worth the price). Death and taxes, ladies and gentlemen!

These changes will come into effect after the first week of March, so if you'd like to buy something with the lower shipping rates, there is still a week for that.

The Fruits of Endeavour

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Omniverse: Fear Itself

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 12:00
This Omniversal speculation originally appeared on Google+ in January of 2018. 

Scarecrows will be a recurring motif, and the first of those is one of the Fear Lords, a group of mysterious gods or demons, who (as the Book of Vishanti states): “are not motivated by base cravings for human worship or for dominion over lowly creatures, but by the desire for greatest, purest fear-which is sustenance and life itself to them.” Until Dream was freed from his prison and reined in his subordinate, Nightmare had a place among them. So does that renegade protector of humankind known as the Straw Man or Scarecrow, the demon patron of the fear of the numinous.

When psychology professor Jonathan Crane first decided to strike a blow against the society he hated via extortion and murder, he relied on his scarecrow costume alone to create fear. He confronted Batman only twice during the 1940s. By the time he resurfaces in 1955, he is making use of a powerfully hallucinogenic fear chemical.

Crane didn’t have the scientific background to synthesize the chemical. Somehow, he must have acquired it from Hugo Strange, who had employed a much weaker version in the 40s. Crane’s experimentation may well have been responsible for the increased potency of the drug, however.

Almost a decade later, wax museum owner Zoltan Drago donned a frightful costume and begins a criminal career as Mr. Fear. He employs a fear gas not dissimilar in effects to Strange’s original compound. Drago’s story was that he intended to make a chemical to bring his wax statues to life as a criminal army, but accidentally made the fear gas instead. It seems clear that Drago was mentally ill, but whether he was a mentally ill genius or liar is unknown. It has been suggested that psychic contact with the Fear Lord known as the Dweller in Darkness influenced Drago’s costume design, so perhaps it also led to his madness? Such things have certainly happened before.

After Drago’s death, at least 3 other individuals took on the Mr. Fear identity and employed the fear gas. Ariel Tremmore, the daughter of the last one, injected herself with a formula made from the fear chemical residue extracted from a sample of her father’s skin. It turned her into a monster, or perhaps made a certain inner monstrousness manifest. In any case, she too gained the ability to cause fear.

But back to scarecrows, again. Ebenezer Laughton was the second costumed criminal to take up the name and costume of the Scarecrow. He was a former sideshow contortionist (perhaps the illegitimate son of the the original Flash’s foe, the Rag Doll). Like Crane, he originally relied on the costume and his natural abilities alone, initially, to commit his crimes. He went insane, or more insane, and became a serial killer. Even serial killers have their uses, it seems, as a shadowy organization had him surgically altered to be able to produce pheromones which caused a panic reaction in those exposed.

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1980 (part 2)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 02/24/2021 - 12:00
I'm continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis. This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around October 25,1979.
Action Comics #503: I struggle to see where Cary Bates was going with this story of a fake TV psychic using stolen technology, time travel, and a giant, upright vacuum cleaner from the future. Well, it isn't really a vacuum cleaner, but Curt Swan draws it to look one. This is no doubt the worst Superman story this month, and that is saying something. Interestingly, there is no Lois Lane here; Lana Lang is the snooping the tv reporter in this era with Kent on the nightly news.

Adventure Comics #467
: delivers the adventures of Plastic Man and Starman III (depending on who you count; it's Prince Gavyn). Neither story is particularly substantial, but the Plastic Man story written by Wein and charmingly cartoony art by Joe Staton and Robert Allen Smith. The Levitz Starman story is clunkier, but has Steve Ditko art.
Brave & the Bold #158: Conway's second team-up book this month has a one off, gimmick villain that the cover tries to sell as a big deal. The art by Aparo is good, and I like comradery Conway puts in Batman's and Wonder Woman's relationship. It wouldn't be done that way these days! By the standards of team-up books at the Big Two, this is a solid, if in no way noteworthy, issue.
Green Lantern #124: by O'Neil and Staton was one of my favorite titles of the month, though I can't say it lacks in a bit of goofiness. Sinestro attacks some aviation event for no reason, Green Arrow is mad at Green Lantern and they aren't talking about it. What works, though, is Jordan's journey to Korugar (Sinestro's homeworld) and the discovery that Sinestro's old man is a drug peddler, essentially, operating a Null Chamber that allows death by yellow ray, then resurrection, for the thrills. It's the kind of throwaway idea Morrison could do something with in his run. 
House of Mystery #276: Better than the two horror anthologies earlier in the month, it's still not great. It's got a Blue Beard retread by Wein and Ditko, a sword & sorcery yarn that isn't horror by Mannart and Nasser, and one decent "ghost story" by Joe Gill and Nestor Malgapo.

Legion of Super-Heroes #259
: Conway (again) and Staton (again) deliver a story whose primary purpose seems to be having Superboy leave the Legion so they can finally have the book to themselves, and Superboy can move to a solo this month. The villain has a weak reason for attacking them, and is perhaps offensive to the mentally ill by modern standards (he's called "psycho"-warrior through out, and the issue is cringingly titled "Psycho War") but Conway does seem to be groping toward saying something about trauma and survivor guilt.
New Adventures of Superboy #1: Bates and Schaffenberger deliver another one of those stories that will seem quaint in just a few years, but it may actually be the best non-team-up Superman story of the month, which doesn't say much. From a continuity standpoint, it shows Clark's 16th birthday, and suggests he debuted as Superboy as age 8. Eight year-old Superboy manages to trick some immortal aliens, so he's precocious.
Sgt. Rock #336: Kanigher and Frank Redondo (Nestor's brother) have the Joes from Easy meeting up with a brave, but doomed contingent of Canadian hockey players turned soldiers. In the second story, Kanigher and Estrada churn out a really generic war comic meditation on heroism. Standard DC war comics stuff, but unremarkable.
Superfriends #28: The forerunner of the animation style comics DC would do in the 90s following BTAS. This may not be as good as those, but its fun and has nice Ramona Fradon art to go with its Nelson Bridwell story.

The Unexpected #195
: This anthology has stories under the banner of other (now defunct) DC horror books: Doorway to Nightmare, The Witching Hour and House of Secrets. It's the best horror anthology of the month. Kashdan's and Jodloman's "Weave A Tangled Skein of Death" feels like it could have been a Warren feature. O'Neil's Craig's "Deadly Homecoming!" is gratifyingly nasty (within a Comics Code approved context) and mildly surprising.
Unknown Soldier #235: I don't know why, but this one was disappointing. The Unknown Soldier covers always looked cool to me as a kid, but this issue isn't great, other than the unintentionally on the nose plot point of having a Nazi war criminal hiding out as a drill instructor of a Southern military academy near a Civil War battlefield. The second story is a better than it ought to be allegory for the lasting effects of trauma.
Warlord #29: I talked about in detail here.
Scalphunter #63: Conway and Ayers have Brian Savage looking to rescue his friend Bat Lash, but falling into a trap at the hands of Confederates, with the cliffhanger of Bat Lash denouncing him as a murderer in court. It's got me interested enough that I want to see how part 2 plays out.
And that's DC Comics for a January 1980 cover date! Fourteen of the 29 publications are non-superhero, which is a contrast with Marvel this same month that has only 9 non-superhero (if Master of Kung-Fu isn't a superhero) publications out of 37. Marvel has no war or western titles and only Man-Thing to represent horror, whereas DC has 13.

9 Facts About the First D&D Module, Palace of the Vampire Queen

DM David - Tue, 02/23/2021 - 12:54

Before Curse of Strahd and Ravenloft came Palace of the Vampire Queen, a dungeon written by California gamers Pete and Judy Kerestan and distributed by TSR Hobbies.

1. Palace of the Vampire Queen may count as the first Dungeons & Dragons adventure module published, but only after a few disqualifications.

Book 3 of the original D&D game devoted two pages to a dungeon level, but the sample falls short of a complete dungeon. Supplement II Blackmoor (1975) includes Temple of the Frog, but that location plays as a Chainmail scenario rather than a dungeon. As Palace reached print in June 1976, Jennell Jaquays published Dungeoneer issue 1. The magazine including a dungeon called F’Chelrak’s Tomb. So Palace of the Vampire Queen rates as the first standalone D&D adventure in print.

2. D&D co-creator Gary Gygax thought no one would buy published dungeons, because dungeon masters could easily create their own.

The key to Palace makes dungeon creation seem trivial, so you can see Gary’s point. Each room appears as a row on a table with a monster quantity, a list of hit points, and a line describing the room’s contents. Anyone with enough imagination to play D&D could create similar content as quickly as they could type.

3. TSR Hobbies distributed Palace because they found success reselling blank character sheets from the same authors.

In February 1976, Strategic Review announced the Character Archaic, a set of character sheets for D&D and Empire of the Petal Throne.

4. Palace came as a collection of loose 8½ by 11 pages tucked into a black folder with a copyright notice taped inside the cover.

Adding to the low-budget feel, TSR fixed missing pages in some kits by adding Xerox-streaked duplicates from the office machine.

5. Most of the adventure’s text comes in a 1-page background.

The page tells of a beloved queen, slain by a vampire, and entombed on the dwarvish island of Baylor. She rises to bring terror to the night.

In addition to launching the standalone adventure, Palace gives D&D players their first shot at rescuing the princess. The vampire queen has abducted the king’s only daughter. “The people wait in fear at night. The king wanders his royal palace, so empty now without his only child. Neither the king nor his people have hope left that a hero or group of heroes will come to rid them of the Vampire Queen. For surely the Vampire Queen lies deep within the forbidding mountains, protected by her subjects, vengeful with hate for all truly living things and constantly thirsting for human blood on which to feed.

In the early days of the game, when players raided dungeons for treasure and the experience points it brought, this qualified as an unprecedented dose of plot.

6. Palace shows a dungeon designed before anyone worried about making things plausible.

Even though the dungeon’s background presents it as a tomb for a queen-turned-vampire, it features assorted monsters waiting in rooms to be killed. In any natural underground, the creatures would wander away for a meal. And the bandits in room 23 would search for a safer hideout near easier marks. And the Wizard selling magic items in room 10 would find a store with foot traffic that doesn’t creep or slither.

7. In 1976, nobody worried about dead characters much.

When someone opens a chest on level 2, a block drops and kills the PC and anyone else in a 3×6’ space. No damage rolls, no save—just dead. The dungeon’s threats escalate quickly. Level 2 includes orcs and a giant slug; level 5 includes 35 vampires and a balrog.

Despite these menaces, players in 1976 stood a better chance than they would now. The balrog was just a brute with 2 attacks and 41 hit points, not the modern balor with 262 hit points and a fire aura. Vampires suffered significant disadvantages: “Vampires cannot abide the smell of garlic, the face of a mirror, or the sight of cross. They will fall back from these if strongly presented.” Level 4 even includes a Garlic Garden so players can stock up.

When the players reach the vampire queen’s tomb, she flees their garlic and crosses, and tries to take the dwarf princess hostage.

8. In 1976, no one knew how to present a dungeon—or agreed on how to play the game.

The key sketches just the most essential information: a quantity of monsters, their treasure, and an occasional trick or trap. The text lists no stats other than hit points, but lists them as Max Damage. Apparently, D&D’s terminology remained unsettled. Back then, DMs rolled hit points, so pre-rolling counted as a time saver.

In one room, a PC can adopt a lynx kitten as a pet, which lets him “add 3 to his morale score.” D&D lacked morale rules for player characters, but in those days popular house rules spread though regions. Folks writing about D&D regularly confused their regional practices for canon.

Each level of the dungeon includes a keyed and unkeyed map. “The Dungeon Master may give or sell the player map to the players to speed game play.” Even in 1976, players saw mapping as a chore.

9. The dungeon master needed to work to bring the Palace to life.

Palace of the Vampire Queen isn’t called a “module” or “dungeon adventure,” but a “Dungeon Masters Kit.”

The authors realized that dungeon’s brief descriptions fell short of adventure. “Feel free to use your imagination for dialog or any extra details you feel would add to more exciting play. The kit itself is only a basic outline—you can make it a dramatic adventure.

The kit uses fewer words to describe 5 levels than some modern adventures lavish on a single room. Nevertheless, it presents some charming bits. On level 4, PCs find a petrified lammasu missing a jewel eye. Replacing the eye causes the creature to come to life as an ally.

On level 3, room 24 holds 3 sacks of sand. Room 25 says, “Sand alarm rings in room 26 when door is opened.” I searched the web for “sand alarm” to determine if it were some kind of widely-known trick, perhaps requiring a supply of sandbags. Finally, I realized room 26 holds a sound-making alarm.

One room holds an Invisible Chime of Opening. I have no clue how the PCs might find the thing unless they literally sweep the floor. Just for kicks, I would have put a broom in the room.

Just a couple of years after Palace of the Vampire Queen reached gamers, the D&D community forgot about it. But this first adventure showed Gary that adventure modules could attract buyers, so he rushed to publish the giant series.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Down and Out in a Schleswig Sanatorium, Mork Borg adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 02/22/2021 - 12:22
By Rugose Kohn Self Published OSR/Mork Borg Level 1?

The Schleswig Sanatorium; home to members of the criminally insane, the disturbed, and the wretched of Schleswig. King Fathmu is fond of stocking its beds with rivals, family members, and rival family members. A place of utter despair, anyone unlucky enough to find themselves a guest, the gods have certainly deserted them. The outside is unassuming enough. A three story brick building. Leaded windows with ornate wrought iron bars. A stout solid-wood door. The inside is another matter entirely. Recently the staff has all been murdered by a patient gone rogue. That suits the King’s ends well enough, so no one has bothered to check on things recently.  That brings us to you. What exactly ARE you doing here? 11 pages of mayhem to help you figure it all out…

This fourteen page adventure is for Mork Borg. That’s all you really need to know. 

Well, I didn’t shoot a man in Reno just to see him die, but I did buy this when I saw it pop in my feed … and that it was for Mork Borg. “What a train wreck this will be!” I thought. I was not disappointed. Mork Borg. Mork Borg is that neighbor you have in your lower middle class neighborhood, the one that is a working artist. Nice guy, sits in their garage all day painting/using their pneumatic hammer to sculpt stone statues out of giant limestone blocks. Clearly gonna die of heart disease in a few years. But, hey, cool dude! It feels like DCC and Mork Borg are kissing cousins. Where DCC is very artist forward across most aspects of the game ecosystem, it still has a nice retirement fund socked away. Mork Borg feels like its artist led and it blew its retirement fund on hookers & blow … not for it, but for a community project. I love our art punk friends. I just wish to fuck they would follow through. And that is the problem here.

This is fourteen pages. fourteen digest pages, so they are small. Last page and first two are the cover nonsense stuff. That leaves us thirteen. One for the map. That’s twelve. Five pages for the monsters stats/appendix, about one per page. Three pages of hooks and random tables. That leave us three for the actual adventure. About eleven rooms. So we aee, already, that the content to bullshit ratio is skewed. Yes, digital pages are free and so it should mean that you can pump out as many appendix pages as you want. In theory. In practice, a low adventure to bullshit ratio means the content is generally lacking. 

We get a point crawl map here for the hospital. Each room, laid out in effective bullet point manner, generally has a few patients in it as well as a gruesomely killed staff member. That’s about it. One room has a washing machine monster. Another has a dude trying to sacrifice a small child, that might open a portal to the land of the dead. Oh, and the records room has d3 scrolls in it. You can now run the adventure because that’s all there is.

It’s using random tables to generate dormitory rooms and the patients. What they are doing and how crazy they are. This is, I think, a bad use of tables. “Tables are retro man! They are cool!” Yes, both are true, and tables can be put to good use. But, not for generating static content. Just create the damn rooms and stick them in. There’s no reason here for the rooms and patients to be random other than because the designer thought a table would be cool. It’s not. It’s lame when they are used like this.

The hooks are the usual nonsense. You woke up here. You are hired to go find someone. You heard there is treasure in the basement. Nothing of consequence, no specificity to hang your hat on.

The gruesomeness here is the selling point. “Edgy, man!” Dude with a table leg stuck through his head. Dead orderlies with their intestines intertwined. Patient hacking a dead orderly in to mincemeat long after they are dead. The specificity is good here even if it is tropy.

The main issue is … so what? The adventure doesn’t really have a purpose. “Go find treasure” or “Get my kid/your friend/whoever out” Meh. You walk in to a room, see crazy people, not the person you are looking for, and go to the next room. Nothing really interesting happens … aside from the crazy people interactions. And they don’t really have a purpose behind them. Not a part of the whole, so to speak, and so they are trivialities. I guess you’re meant to stumble on the Land of the Dead thing and do something about it. Yawn. Ok. I guess so. Why, again? It just feels empty. There’s nothing in it for the party, either in terms of loot or … development? It’s just some task to mindlessly perform. 

Someone had an idea. They write up a bunch of content around a washing machine monster and the land of the dead stuff in an insane asylum. But it never went beyond that initial concept. It was never fleshed out in a whole idea, put together, in a meaningful way. Oh, the adventure is coherent, all right. Most art punk stuff is. But it doesn’t FIT. It’s like the last step, the context for the players, if never completed. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. You get to see the map (note the stairs up/down label paradox), the intro, and the edgy “what are the patients doing” table. A page of encounters would have been nice also.

Finally, a note about hypocrisy. We are all hypocrites. You cannot survive in the world without being one. Our designer notes “While I support making this your own at the table, don’t use this content for racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or discriminatory games of any kind. I ain’t down with that.” Then, proceeding to make an adventure that leverages caricatures of mental illness? Touché sir! I salute you! Still, better than that adventure with the halfling plantation owners and the “indentured servants.”

Speaking of hypocrites, I’m now attending several old man meetups, in a socially distanced manner of course. Full of old white dudes, just like me! My new t-short came in today, that I’m wearing to all of our future “JACKED UP TRUCCCKKKSSS!!” and HAMM meetups:

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Superhero Concepts

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 02/22/2021 - 12:00

Superhero characters in rpgs that feel like characters from comics (and now probably film) can be tough for players, in my experience. Most supers rpgs try to make this easier by suggesting archetypes, but these archetypes are typically based on power types (blaster, elementalist) or role (brick). 

I think the best way to construct authentic feeling superhero characters (This is always assuming emulating comics in this fashion is the goal. If you want to just play people with powers, well that's cool. too.) is to construct them from parts of familiar characters. Here's a couple of examples:

The Atom: This character was part of a series where I imagined how Stan Lee and 60s Marvel staff would have revamped DC's Golden Age characters, like a Mighty Marvel version of DC's Silver Age. This Atom was a socially awkward, 98-lbs. weakling (Peter Parker like), who got transformed in an experiment into a green monster at first (like the Hulk) but later was able to contain his power is a special suit and control it (Captain Atom and Solar have had this aspect at times).

Damselfly: Is half of an alien cop duo who came to Earth chasing a criminal (like the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl/woman). She broke with her partner and has a power set more like the Wasp. She has an African American appearing civilian identity and is a empowered female character in the 70s mold (both aspects of Bronze Age social relevance.) 

So for both of these Power, Origin, Motivation/Background come from different places. Many of these traits could be genericized, to be sure: "accident" is the origin of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain Atom, and Solar, for instance. But I think pulling details and instances from actual characters provides a richer substrata perhaps than reductive llists.

But what if someone isn't a comics reader? Well, in 2020, more people have probably developed an interest in superheroes and superhero gaming through movies. I don't think this sort of "cannibalizing for parts" is limited to comics--or even necessarily superhero media.

Another exorcism of thoughts: Who are the Nibelungs, Part 3 (final word on culture? magic?)

The Disoriented Ranger - Sun, 02/21/2021 - 18:03

I should be doing something else, but I felt the urgency to at least make an attempt to put those ideas down before they are lost in the bliss of a Sunday in the sun. It connects to a serie of posts I started 6 years ago about what understanding of the "Nibelungs" I want to evoke in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs. We had the base assumption in Part 1, going something like this:

Historically speaking it would be the children of those desperate and armed refugees that settled among the ruins left by the Romans. They are to explore the deep forests and dark valleys, following whispered rumors of treasure, secrets and sorcery. They will leave their mark on the world, as it is their time.

The game is about their lost songs.

 And then we talked a bit about difficult topics of the past and future in Part 2, concluding like this:

It's a harsh world the Nibelungs live in, haunted by the evils of a lost civilization. But it's also a world of opportunity for man and woman alike to claim a part of and become legends if it is their fate. Within this legendary realm everything is possible and a Nibelung could rise from slave to king.
It is a semi-historical setting they live in, with the pagan believes of the old world struggling and fighting the rise of a new religion that threatens the very fabric of magic itself. The Nibelungs are all the Germanic tribes and their lost songs.

This leaves a couple of questions open, all of them are about getting an idea how those tribal people mapped the world around them. What patterns did they see? How did they explain the world and why? This is an exorcism of thought and not yet fully fleshed out. You have been warned.

A world without reason?

Culture is a collective mental state ... let's begin with that. It's also dynamic. My understanding of how that dynamic might work, is (among other things) derived from what I could gather in the (great and highly recommended!) book Authors of the Impossible by Jeffrey J. Kripal (a book that'd be featured in the research list I plan to include in Lost Songs).

So the firt step would be to get an understanding how our culture works, then extrapolate towards 550 AD, right? Bridging this cultural gap would make the past playable while adding the extra value of gaining a deeper understanding of that Germanic mindframe back then. In a sense, they already did all the work for us in the stories they told (or what we know of them), so there is that. However, reading those stories today (like, say, the Edda), always seems like it needs a whole lot of extra knowledge to get the references, the subtext ... all the symbolic stuff that you'd read in those stories that, by our understanding, comes down to magic.

There's no bridge. You see: reading those stories is like seeing an island in the distance, obscured by mist. What you deinitely can't do in a roleplaying book is make it an excursion into history and demanding of the reader to catch up to "get it right". No, nothing of that sounds right to me. And what would knowing the history more than, say, superficially actually bring to the table?

See? Like that. No bridge at all ... [source]

I've talked at length about how language should be used in the game (and you can start falling into that specific rabbit hole here). It's also easy enough to get an idea what clothes they wore or how they fought, what they paid with, all that good stuff, for sure worthy. What all the trivia doesn't do, though, is giving you a mindmap, of sorts, that brings to live what made those people tick. That a day started for them with the sun going up, not in the middle of the day, like it does for us now, gives you an inkling of an idea what I'm talking about.

But I digress. My goal would be to cook all of the above down to an abstract level where that other culture transcends 'just' by playing the game and without using any visual material other than description. The Narrative Generator is the biggest tool in this, but just one side of the coin.

However, to do this examination proper justice (to build that bridge), or so I've learned, we need to understand that culture is the collective decision to interprete the world as concluded by an intellectual elite, with what is negelected making a comeback in popular culture. In other words, if your world is run by reason and science, the spiritual will be popular in the stories we tell. That's the premise, that's the material for the bridge laid out..

People in the past didn't have it good ...

There is a popular understanding that life was hard in the past and people just didn't have the richness of experiences and safety we indulge in today in huge parts of the world. Stuff like "I wouldn't want to live in the 18th century ... all that misery, the health issues, the harsh living conditions. Horrible, horrible stuff." or some tune like that. I'm of two minds with this: for one, I agree. If someone growing up in our cultural environment would be transferred a couple of hundred years into the past, they'd most likely die fast. That doesn't mean, however, that the people living back then felt the same about their lives.

Off to the Dark Ages ... to DIE! [source]

There is that joke where one doctor tells another how he stopped drinking and smoking and eating unhealthy so he had a chance of a longer life, and the other doc just looks at him puzzled and asks: why would you want to live longer, if you had to live like that?! I always found this 'joke' stupid and unfunny, for the simple reason that it puts consumerism on a pedestal it doesn't belong. If you just live to consume, well, you don't live at all, imo. There is more, for sure, if you care to look.

Anyway, it all connects. I'll even raise you one: the neuroscientist Andrew Huberman had a great talk in a podcast the other day (see it here, it's worth your time), and he talked about the plasticity of the brain and how we can rewire ourselves to receiving dopamine awards for things we did rather than for things we consumed. Turns out (or so is my understanding), people that manage to do that, will need nothing else to thrive and be happy.

No need for expensive cars or meals or holidays or houses or whatever, just reading that one book, a page at a time, just doing that sport routine, doing the things that help you grow, is not only 'enough' to be content, it'll give you the energy to push harder, to go further. People producing material like crazy have unlocked that for themselves, one way or another. As a matter of fact, the best way to make this happen is pushing through stress. Do what you feel resistance against, and the brain will award you for it. Crazy (I'm still mulling over that, as a matter of fact).

Well, you are probably guessing what I'm hinting at. We are not wired to live like fat cats in comfy chairs, we are wired to do stuff. Our brains and bodies actually help us doing more than we would think we are able to achieve ...and to get by with way less than we actually have. Our genes haven't changed much in the last, what, 300.000 years? Assuming that we are just now able to live properly is preposterous.Commmon sense will tell you that, and science is right there with it, nodding wisely.

So there's no reason to believe that people weren't living fullfilled lives in 550 AD if the basic needs were met. There genes weren't different, the dynamics, generally speaking, would be the same as today or a couple of thousand years before that. They would laugh and love and sing and grieve and hate. kids would play, and have toys to do so. That said, they'd also live in very, very different surroundings than we do. Here is a little bridge to build up to that big bridge we are talking about: the dynamics apply, just on different surroundings, because it needs to work in the environment to allow survival and even growth.

I'd even submit that they didn't know less than we do, they just had different explanations and methods to get by (broadly speaking ... I'd fight you on this, though). That's the bridgehead.

Building a bridge across cultures, time and space ...

... with just some dice in hand. Wouldn't that be nice? Anyway, let's talk UFOs, because that's the logical next step. Why is it that we have more than 80.000 witness reports of encounters like that, all over the globe, and no proof? How is it that a lot associated with the UFO phenomenon relates so closely to religious experiences? It maps nicely (again, Kripal, quoting others). So nicely, in fact, that we can see the same dynamics between religious hagiography (basically stories what saints experienced) and UFO abductions ... or our ideas what those abductions are like.

I won't (can't!) go much into detail, but let's assume, just for the game's sake, that those phenoma are ... similar, only their interpretation in a different cultural environment will just turn up differently. Angels, fairies or aliens, all follow the same principle (abstractly speaking). I hope you see that bridge shaping up at this point. We can now conclude from our culture, to some extent, what that culture 1500 years ago might have set as priorities compared to us. There's the map, there's the pattern, if you will.

Not that I have done that yet to any reasonable degree. This is me playing around with some fresh impulses, so to say. But we know we can take the Enlightenment out of the equation. We can assume that life back then was way more spiritual than our lives today are. And going by the little I know about the paranormal and the unconscious and the idea of how all is connected, it is by no means said that we are entirely on the right track in our completely reason based cultural assumptions. So they might have compensated some of our advantages with knowledge now lost to us (as a matter of fact, that rising religion back in the day did their damnest to assimilate or kill that cultural heritage off). 

Who are the Nibelungs? (Part 3)

From what we can tell, it's been a very dynamic mix of different cultures settling down. In a way, the people starting their new lives in what would become Europe had their own intense culture war going. We know who lost, in hindsight. But how that war was fought is a different story. We also know of the tribal nature of those settlers, how they travelled a lot, and how they took impulses from everywhere. In that particular time, we can say we have lots of leeway to be creative within the imaginable. The smaller, the more isolated a tribe is, the more strange it could be.

Other than that, the Nibelungs are a spiritual people. How else could they have lived meaningful lives back then? Tapping into the (collective?) unconscious like that should offer some alleviation, help and even healing, but it also (for sure) brings our heroes a lot closer to things we'd love to keep in the dark nowadays. Those struggles back then were as real as today. Them going out to fight dragons or haggle with the gods should tap into the same sphere as us getting hunted or abducted by aliens. And just like we will find traces but no proof, because we tend to ignore those things in general, they might have encountered and fought those things for real (which is a leap I'll allow myself, since this is a game, after all).

What exactly that might mean and which symbols and systems to use to express it all in the game will be for me to explore in the future. A lot of it is already there. If you take a look at character creation (which is pretty much the same after all those years ...), you can end up with an elf, a dwarf or a troll. The sleight of hand here is that I'd argue that it is still as historically accurate as history can be. Ha!

Representing history accurately. Ha! [source]

One last thing. You might ask yourself, why go through all that to write a game, to which I have to say: it's fun, what else is there to know :) If there's value beyond that, we'll find out, I guess.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: Alternate Prime Material Planes

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 02/21/2021 - 15:30
The original version of this post appeared in 2015...
One of the complaints against the standard D&D Planes is that, while conceptually interesting perhaps, its hard to know what to do with them as adventuring sites. One solution would be to borrow a page from science fiction and comic books and replace them with a mutliverse of alternate worlds. These would be easy to use for adventuring purposes and could put an additional genre spin on the proceedings. Here are a few examples:

Anti-World: An alignment reversed version of the campaign setting. Perhaps humanoids are in ascendance and human and demihumans are marauding killers living underground.

Dark Sun World: In this world, the setting underwent a magical cataclysm in the past and is now a desert  beneath a dying sun.

Dinosauria: Mammalian humanoids are replaced by dinosaurian humanoids.
Lycanthropia: The world is cloaked in eternal night and lycanthrope has spread to most of the population.

Modern World: This version has a technology level equal to our own (or at least the 1970s) and the PCs have counterparts who play adventurers in some sort of game.

Spelljammer World: A crashed spacecraft led to a magictech revolution and space colonization.

Western World: Try a little sixguns and sorcery and replace standard setting trappings with something more like the Old West.

Tower to the Abyss, Dungeons & Dragons adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 02/20/2021 - 12:07
By Tyler Lee Self published 5e Level 3

Players take on the roll of adventurers hired by the nearby village to investigate the recent disapearances and monster sightings around the nearby military outpost. Reckless magical research has thrown Kalem’s Tower into chaos as demons and devils pour out from the abyss. Players must use their wits, their skills, and every magical item at their disposal to survive the tower and close the portal to the chaotic hellscape.

This thiry page adventure adventure uses ten pages to describe a wizards tower with, I don’t know, twenty rooms? It’s the usual 5e fare; I’m only reviewing it because someone requested it.

Some VERY VERY BAD PERSON asked that I review this. I had turned a corner. No longer reviewing 5e shovelware. Just reviewing OSR and DCC shovelware. I was there man! Happy! And then someone says “Hey, it’s just one drink man.” … that’s how EVerything’s Gone Green (Cicada Mix) gets put on repeat for four or five days. Seems like I’ve been here before.

In this adventure you start at Level 3. By the end you are level 8. In, I don’t know, three hours or so? Mearls once said that people should level, like, every session. I got his logic in what he was saying for that playstyle, but this seems fucking excessive. You reach level four after fighting like four bandits and two imps. Yeah! Level!

The things a mess. A month ago people in the village stopped hearing from the tower nearby that guards their village. It’s mile away. A FUCKING MILE AWAY. No one has gone there for a month. It’s mile away. What the fuck man? I get it, it’s just the fucking fluff, but, still, put some fucking effort in! 

Besides which this whole “we haven’t heard from X in awhile, go investigate” is the new fucking caravan guards. It’s fucking everywhere. Jesus H Fucking Christ make a fucking effort people! At least the caravan guard thing was just to get to the village and then you could go fuck up the dungeon. This whole “go investigate” shit is boring.  I’m hesitant to assign blame, but this whole thing FEELS like a computer RPG close. Questgiver tells you to go do something and then you collect the keys (literally in this case) to close the portals, fighting the bosses as you go. This is just about the lowest effort you canmake in designing an adventure. I don’t know, maybe one of those fucking Trtaining Grounds adventure also. I loaaaathe life. This is how NE starts out. Every NE lich you meet was a fucking optimist worn down by life.

To get to the tower you need to wander through the forest. There’s a map, but as far as I can tell  there is not path/road, etc. Or hexes, etc. Just numbers thrown out in the “map.” The first is with some dead villagers in the forest. Dead bodies. Except you have to roll to see/find them. What the fuck is the point of this? Why would you hide this content? The entire encounter is meant to foreshadow, to raise tension, to put a feeling in to the players. But not if you don’t make the skill check! You just wander on by if you don’t, missing all of that. BAD DESIGN. The entire fucking point is to make things serious to the players, to let them know what is goingon, to set the scene for THE FEELS later. But not if you don’t make your fucking roll. I fucking swear. It’s the same with spotting some dretch on a ridgeline. The fucking purpose is to scare the fuckers … to what end does NOT scaring the fuckers work? 

There’s an encounter with bandits. The leader pretends to be camping waiting for friends. Then 1d6 bandits walk out of the woods and attack. It takes two fucking paragrapghs to describe this. Two. For something that is, literally, “she pretends to be camping and waiting for her friends.” That’s what, ten words? THATS THE FUCKING ADVENTURE! That’s the part you should be spending your fucking word count on. But no, not here. 

Ok, so, you can go to the courtyard to start the adventure or to the battlements to start the adventure. You’re never given the choice. I guess you just wander to one or the other. Again, bad design. CHoices only matter is they are meaningful and the players know they are making them. Then they can be DELICIOUS. But if you DONT KNOW you are making the choice then its the same as not having a choice. 

I don’t know. The read-aloud runs in to the DM text. Or it’s not boxed properly, only partially boxed. Whatever the cause, there is read-aloud masquerading as DM text or DM text in the voice of read-aloud. “People here would do the player harm …” I think you mean the characters. 

The actual text of the adventure is just paragraph after paragraph of infor dump with little fucking formatting. IE: the WOTC way. You can’t follow it, it’s hard to scan and look things up, it’s full of extraneous things. The usual bad writing. In the actual tower you get to fight monsters to get the keys to unlock the next section to fight more monsters to get the yellow key so you can unlock the yellow door and fight more monsters to get the red key to …. You get it. 

Who the fuck wanted me to review this?

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and doesn’t really show you any of the adventure, just the summary. You do get to see, on the last page, an example of the read-aloud and DM text in the same voice. Weird. Formatting fuck up, I guess? Not proof read?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Six More Days to Get Gridschocked

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 02/19/2021 - 13:13

Paul Vermeren's 80s-chromed post-apocalyptic, superhero setting Kickstarter has just 6 more days for you to jump in. While it hasn't funded yet, it's getting close. You can help it reach it's goal.

At the base level you get all 4 32 page zines in pdf for $19, which is a pretty good deal given what I've seen in Zinequest as a whole.

This setting is really a labor of love for Paul (some might say an obsession!), and having be privy to much of the design discussion over the years, I can say it is unique, while at the same time being completely accessible due to a lot of familiar tropes.

It's got great 80s invoking design by Paul's brother Chris and awesome art by Steven de Waele, too!

Knacks or Gifts

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 12:00

I haven't done the work, but it seems like to me that it would be fairly easy, using one or another of the available 5e "race creation" rules sets to essentially make super-powered humans. I don't mean in the costumed adventure sense necessarily but it terms of that branch of fantasy where a lot of people are born with some sort of singular, inherent gift or power.

This sort of thing isn't uncommon in fantasy literature, but is less common, I think, in rpgs. In fantasy novels that utilize this trope (much like in superhero or psychic hero media) gifts didn't to get categorized, and maybe these types of gifts would run in families, creating lineages or ancestries. 

This sort of setup would allow you to get rid of the standard D&D idea of "race" with all its baggage and potentially suggest a bit of a weirder world where magic caused mutations or individuals with these magical gifts became sort of a society set apart (not unlike mutants in marvel, but also not unlike adventurers in D&D).

The Laboratory of Melifex the Mad, DCC adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 02/17/2021 - 12:12
By Stuart C Killian FSH Professional Ltd. DCC Level 2

The city of Pinecliffe has tolerated the presence of Melifex the Mage for years, but his corruption and increasingly unusual experiments eventually had him driven out of town and to a secluded tower on the ridge overlooking the city. Now, no one has heard from Melifex “the Mad” for two months, and the city is becoming worried. Did Melifex die from his corruption or has he unleashed a sinister force that could destroy the land! Answers, adventure, and priceless magical treasure await the party brave enough to find out.

This thirty seven page adventure uses twelve pages to describe an eight room dungeon. It makes me loathe my life. 

This is my usual “oh my god why do I do this. Hey, I’ve got a Pateron, why not drop me some cash so my life can be a little less meaningless and I can buy some whiskey and cigars.” section.

“Hey, Bryce, you should review more DCC adventures!” they said cheerfully. “That 5e stuff is garbage” they said. “I can sometimes salvage stuff from DCC adventures” they said. Yeah. You people know who you are. I’m looking at you. Glaring, actually. 

“You know, they’re right!” I said to myself. I was just talking to someone about how I’m a sucker for marketing, reveling in it. Swallowing wholesale the constructed reality I quickly assemble in order to justify the asserted reality that the marketing vomits up. I mean, I basically sopped reviewing DCC because they *tend* to be linear. Look, I know this is the way people play D&D. I’m ok with people playing D&D like that. They’ve been playing stuff like this, in home games, forever. Very loose plot, a little lair dungeon. Since the 80’s at least. *I* think it can be a substandard experience to a more free form game, but, I’m not gonna shit on someone elses fun. I mean, drinking pretzels and eating beer with a little escapism is the ultimate point of it all, right? I do, however, find the more free form stuff more satisfying, and encourage people to go down that path when they are ready and want to. But, I digress. I stopped reviewing DCC because the adventures were linear. “Hypocrite!” my own inner judge says. “5e adventures tend to be linear as all fuck and you review them all the fucking time!” Hmmm, inner judge is correct. A little brutal in its assessments sometimes, but ultimately correct. And, these other folks want me to review more DCC. I DO like DCC. I think it’s the perfect system for that linear beer & pretzels D&D experience that 99% of the people on the planet want. It encourages the stupid shit happening at the table that makes for an enjoyable time and the inevoatable boring-to-everyone-else “let me tell you what happened last night at D&D!” stories. So. More DCC reviews.

Yeah, yeah, I’m getting to the review. 

And, you know, I AM a sucker for small press and indie works. It’s the romantic idealist in me. A small designer, slaving away, creating an uncompromising product that adheres to their own vision. None of this corporate garbage. None of this publishing guidelines. None of this THE MAN telling you what to do and the money men ruining Don Quixote! Hmmm, I may be projecting there. 

Oh course, none of this is true. Well, ok, it COULD be true and there are examples of it being true. In reality its just someone sitting around pounding out something. Hopefully because they are excited about it and not because of money. I WANT them to be excited and to share their vision with us. I want to be excited with them.

Instead I get The Laboratory of Melifex the Mad.

So, I’m trying to cut 80/20 aluminum for my truck camper build. And I’m programming my Baofeng, amused at the antics of the virtual Hardees coffee club on the airwaves. Maybe I should do forty spanish lessons today instead of twenty? That would let me put off writing about Melifex some more. Downtown, the Air War over Hanoi is a nightmare. I could read those rules. And there’s always Federation and Empire. Maybe a computer game? Hitman 3? Dark Souls? Nuclear Throne or Crossroads inn? Crusader Kings? WW2 squad tactics running on WIn95? Staring out the window drooling mindlessly for hours on end? ANYTHING to keep from writing this “review.” 

That’s what this did to me. ALl I want to do is ANYTHING other than write this review. It’s just another crap product. It doesn’t matter if it’s DCC, or 5e, or OSR. It’s just another crap product. And I get to find something to say about it. I could rant at it. Let The Feels out all stream of consciousness style. But it has sapped all of my energy. My will to live. And yet, I must. I must, I must. I must increase my bust. And, I can’t do what what I really want. I really just want to say “it sucks.” A two word review and leave it at that and move the fuck on with my life. But oh no, mr inner judge is back. “You need to write more asshole. Writing more is training. Also, you feel obligated to [I fucking HATE feeling obligated] This is only review this product is likely to get. The designer deserves some feedback. What the fuck, you have something actually MEANINGUL to do? You know that’s not true, Mr Camus.” And do, instead, I go to the store and make Rio Grande Egg Puffs so I don’t have to say the same shit I always say. [Whipping meringue and deep frying at 7am in the morning for breakfast is not something I can get into.  The onion & adobo sauce is great but, again, not something to be cooking this early. Tomorrow I’ll be making home made cottage cheese on the stove for breakfast, because I never learn.]

The read aloud is in italics. There are COLUMNS of it. Routinely, column of read aloud. Now I get to explain why both of those are bad. For, like, the three thousandth time. But it doesn’t matter. THIS designer hasn’t read those three thousand explanations. This is the first time they are reading about it. AAnd, no, I won’t take a shortcut and link to  an article explaining why. That is pragmatism and pragmatism seldom leads to anything interesting. Ug, there’s mr inner judge again, noting that this Life Less Ordinary shit is what leads to this and mr I don’t define myself with labels, aren’t you just doing that with your turn left when everyone else turns right identity? Self reinforcing bullshit.

So, italics are bad because they are hard to read. Long sections of italics I mean. And read-aloud should be kept to a couple of sentences, if you choose to use it. Players generally don’t pay attention after that. There have been a couple of studies on both topics, so it’s not me spouting off. 

The adventure is clearly meant to go a certain way. You have the plot imagioned in your head and, the final fight/encounter with the dragon, reinforces that. You have these cool moments in your head, both with the setup and with the conclusion of the adventure. That is wrong. This indicates an over-investment in the adventure on your part. You’re trying to force outcomes. Instead of this just write it in such a way that an adventure can flow from it, rather than trying to force an outcome to the adventure that you think will be cool, or result in a cool moment, etc. The DM text is too long also. It shouldn’t take a column to explain a room. You don’t need to tell us that the +1 Gallant Longsword is described later on in the adventure in the appendix. You don’t need to tell us that the +1 shield is undamaged. That’s like saying that the air in your house right now is breathable. Yes, of course, we assume that. This pads out your word count and a padded DM text makes it harder for the DM to find the information that IS important to running the room. 

That’s enough. That’s all I can muster. The usual stuff. My will to live is gone. I’m off to take twenty spanish lessons and a couple of HAM practice tests. I will now be flooded with messages from HAMs telling me that my Baofeng sucks and I should …. You should prepare yourselves, though, as I will then thoroughly, and quite undeservedly, destroy you with Socratic methods around Use Cases. If I’m bored and drunk. Or, I will politely ask for more information and engage you in conversation. Am I just humoring you to be polite, or am I actually interested? Can both be true at the same time? Everyone is self-centered. It is the acknowledgement of that basic fact and the attempt to move beyond it that defines not being self-centered, not actually not being self-centered. At least, that’s the lies I’m framing for myself to live with my hypocrisy today.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. There are no encounters shown, so It’s a bad preview. You do get to see some of the italics read-aloud, and DM text, so, just pretend that all of the pages for the preview are the text for one of the rooms. That’s hyperbolic, but it will still leave you will the feelings of …despair? Ennui? Resignment? That I got from the room encounters.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1980 (part 1)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 02/17/2021 - 12:00

October 11, 1979, was (according to Mike's Amazing World of Comics) was likely the date that the first batch of DC Comics cover dated January 1980 appeared on the racks. 

One difference between DC's output his this period and the latter half of the 80s is readily apparent: There are a lot more nonsuperhero titles being published. Only fifteen (if we don't count Swamp Thing) of 29 titles published with this cover date are superhero titles; The rest are war, horror, western, and one sword & sorcery.

Anyway, let's look at this first batch of issues:

All-Out War #3
: This is a Dollar Comic format war anthology, fronted by Kanigher's Viking Commando, who I always found conceptually dubious. Here he has a forgettable adventure, working for the Allies and calling the Germans "Huns," because that's his thing. The other recurring characters in this issue, I had never heard of before. They didn't make the Who's Who even. Black Eagle is the titular leader of a group of Tuskegee Airmen Blackhawk-types. "Guerilla War staring Force 3" is but an American, a Pole, and a Greek resisting Nazis in the Mediterranean. Both of these stories are perfunctory, but the art by Jerry Grandinetti on the Force 3 piece, "Dominoes of Death," is off-beat--thick-lined and a bit Toth-y, perhaps--and interesting. I barely remember anything about the other two stories here, and I read it last week.

Batman #319: Wein and Novick give pit Batman against the Gentleman Ghost. Nothing special, but it hits the right marks, so I don't think any Bat-fan who bought it off a spinner rack (this ain't a library, kid!) in '79 was unsatisfied. I wonder if we ever found out if the Gentleman Ghost was really a ghost or not? Catwoman is apparently reformed (and retired from costumed stuff) at this time, but has some sort of beef with Lucius Fox. Bruce is still living in town, not in (stately) Wayne Manor, though Alfred's there.

DC Comics Presents #17: Conway brings back Firestorm about a year after his short series dying in the Implosion to team up with Superman against Killer Frost who, as is often in the case with villains in team-ups, becomes powerful enough to give them both trouble. The artist here is the always great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Superman offers Firestorm JLA membership at the end.

Flash #281:
Cary Bates has Barry Allen in the middle of the length storyline about the murder of Iris. There are corrupt cops and Professor Zoom. This issues really drives home the transitional nature of this era at DC. The Don Heck cover could easily be on a Silver Age Comic, but the story itself is more gritty and 80s-like.

Ghosts #84: Bland horror analogy. One of the stories didn't even have a ghost, I don't think.

Jonah Hex #32: Long-time JH scribe Michael Fleischer and Garcia-Lopez deliver a decent but unspectacular tale of Hex going to confront a bounty hunter who had humiliated him when he was starting out, only to have a different sort of reckoning than he was imagining.

Justice League of America #174: This Conway and Dillin joint seems a bit like a Marvel story in the socially relevant (and blaxploitation) 70s. Green Arrow thinks the way the League treated Black Lightning (who GA wanted to join the team) last issue was basically racist, so he and so others go to try to track him down, but everybody gets sidetracked by an African American scientist in Suicide Slum using a device he control rats and giant rats into rampaging to get back at the Man. When the villain is defeated, Black Lightning still doesn't want to join the League, because he likes to play by his own rules.

Men of War #24: Gravedigger is a badass, black commando in World War II, dealing with racism on both sides of the conflict. His story here by Harris and Ayers is pretty good for a war anthology of the era, which may be damning with faint praise. Rosa by Kupperberg and Grandinetti (again with his unique style) is another character I'd never heard of: a mid-19th Century adventurer with a vaguely Dumas vibe. This story feels like there show be more too it, being more serial. 

Secret of Haunted House #20:
Better than Ghosts, this at least has one decent (for this sort of thing) yarn, then another where a couple of criminals are tricked by their own reflections. Destiny (later of the Endless) hosts.

Superman #343: Is a goofy, Silver Agey tale by O'Neil and Curt Swan about a wizard/seer from ancient Pompeii who keeps interpreting his visions wrong and messing things up. but ultimately Superman saves the day and teaches the wizard not to jump to conclusions. Of course, Pompeii is long destroyed, so lesson learned at last, I guess? This story buys into the conceit that Superman is not merely as vulnerable to magic as any normal person, but is specifically susceptible to it. Every Superman story published this month outside of the team-ups feels like a throwback compared to almost any Marvel title published this same month.

Superman Family #199: These stories feel less like throwbacks (well, except the "Mr. and Mrs. Superman" story, which does) and more like episodes of tv series that never existed. Supergirl takes on a guy who steals her (invulnerable) cape to sell to a crime boss, Lois Lane busts a sinister corporation testing mind control drugs on inner city school kids, and Jimmy Olsen foils a blackmail plot against one of his journalistic mentors who's harboring secret. All of these stories are pretty good in basic storytelling ways (baring in mind it's 1979 and a comic), but are utterly without the color and bombast one typically associates with superhero comics.

Weird War Tales #83: Doesn't have much to recommend it. Of note, however, is that only one of the three weird war tales in the issue takes place in World War II (Nazis versus vampires). The others are in the Syrian-Israel conflict and British Rhodesia, respectively. I guess eventually you can get too much WWII in comics!

Wonder Woman #263: I talked about a bit here

Also on your local grocery magazine aisle at this time, two DC digests: Best of DC #3 (Superfriends) and Jonah Hex and Other Western Tales #3, and a Dollar Comic reprint issue, DC Special Series #20, featuring three Wein and Wrightson Swamp Thing tales.

Holmes Day 2021

Zenopus Archives - Tue, 02/16/2021 - 19:47

Today marks the 91st anniversary of the birth of J. Eric Holmes in 1930. Above is a picture that Chris Holmes sent me a while back for the J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery, which I will be adding to it shortly. Chris doesn't have a specific date but thinks it is from the late '50s or early '60s.

Some "Holmesian Highlights" of the past year for me, in roughly chronological order:

Scrum Con 2020 program page featuring my game
Layout and art by 1000 Foot General

On Leap Day, just before the pandemic hit, helping the Scrum Club put on its second Scrum Con, including running a session In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus. A bit of new news: Scrum Con may return later this year in virtual form!

Being a guest on the Wandering DMs Chat show on YT, talking about the original Sample Dungeon and my 5E conversion.

Releasing three new reference sheets for Holmes Ref, including an Equipment Sheet, "Rolling Up An Adventurer" and a Dungeoneering Reference Sheet.

Chris Holmes being a guest on the Appendix N podcast and being interviewed by the newly resurgent Grognardia.

In the summer, running an all too brief series of D&D games for my kids, exploring B1. To be continued?

The publisher of The Maze of Peril starting to sell copies from the original 1986 printing on Amazon, making it much easier to obtain a copy.

Holmes Basic in Sunny Rolls the Dice

Reviewing Sunny Rolls the Dice
 by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (no relation to J. Eric Holmes), the most recent installment in a coming-of-age series of graphic novels, and one that prominently features D&D and Holmes Basic.

Discovering that an audio recording of "Frontiers in Brain Research", a lecture that Holmes gave at Worldcon 36 in 1978 (aka IguanaCon) was available for download on the internet. This is a real treat if you missed it at the time!

Watching the success of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus, my first "commercial" project, on DMs Guild over the year, as it earned a Platinum badge. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to review it

"Octopus Attack" by Chris Holmes for The Ruined Tower of Zenopus

Updating the RTOZ adventure twice during the year, first to add a map file for Roll20/VTT (essential during the pandemic), and then to add a printer-friendly map, and best of all, a commissioned illustration by Chris Holmes.

Being interviewed by Bart Carroll for the D&D Classics Column in issue #32 of Dragon+, the on-line successor to Dragon Magazine!

The Lurker in the Grotto by 
Lore Suto

Trying something new on the blog: writing an adventure, The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, in installments, area-by-area. I've been lucky to have a talented artist, Lore Suto, volunteer to provide art for the series. This is still in the progress, with Area #7 being posted last week, and the next one coming soon!

Please leave comments below on anything of interest from the past year or that you are looking forward to: Holmesian games you've run or played in, or are planning to; stories of starting D&D with Holmes Basic; etc

See also: Holmes Day 2020

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Stop Favoring Perception for Searches in D&D

DM David - Tue, 02/16/2021 - 13:08

When Dungeons & Dragons characters search, what check should players make? Based on my experience playing with a hundred or so fifth-edition dungeon masters, most answer Wisdom (Perception). Nonetheless, many DMs ask for Intelligence (Investigation) checks instead.

So what character should search a door for traps? Based on the Dungeon Master’s Guide, pick the wise cleric. Based on the skill descriptions, pick the clever wizard. Based on tradition, pick the thief and—if you play fifth edition—run for cover because they can’t spot anything. Besides initiative checks, search checks rate as the second most common in the game, so you would think everyone would agree. We don’t.

All this uncertainty means that as a DM making a call for your table, you decide. I’m here to help.

Some players like to call for their own checks. A character enters a room and the player announces something like, “I use perception and roll a 17. What do I find?” Rolling a check that the DM didn’t request counts as a small lapse of table decorum. Only the DM decides whether a situation merits a check, whether the character can succeed, what check suits the circumstances, and which characters deserve the roll. If a player just announces such a check, say “First, tell me what you’re examining. Do you touch it?” That question grabs attention.

To complement Perception, D&D’s fifth-edition playtest included a Search skill. So during exploration, PCs “make a Wisdom (Perception) check to detect hidden creatures and an Intelligence (Search) check to detect hidden objects (such as traps and secret doors)”. This makes the difference between Perception and Search seem like noticing creatures versus spotting objects—surely not the intended distinction, and perhaps one source of confusion that led the designers to drop Search in favor of Investigation. At least everyone could agree to use Search for searching.

The game rules for Investigation explain, “When you look around for clues and make deductions based on those clues, you make an Intelligence (Investigation) check.” The bit about looking around for clues makes Investigation seem like a more useful superset of Search. Aside from treasure, clues rank as the most common thing for a search to uncover. Even traps only prove fun when players find clues to their presence. Falling down a pit: no fun. Investigating a puddle and finding an edge where the liquid meets a seam in the floor: fun.

For searches, opt for Intelligence (Investigation) checks. Investigators notice clues and uncover things outside of plain sight. Investigators know where to look, so they check under a drawer to find the envelope tucked in the joint. Most characters ignore the scuffs on a stone floor, but an investigator notices them because the marks show where the statue slides to reveal a trap door. Someone skilled at Investigation spots the ordinary but significant details that the keen-sensed barbarian overlooks because such details seem insignificant. Sometimes players know where to look too, so if a player asks to peer under drawers, they spot that letter.

In contrast, perception enables characters to notice things that simply require keen senses, for example the sounds of an invisible creature, the master rogue Waldo in a crowd, or the cat obscured by shadows. “Your Wisdom (Perception) check lets you spot, hear, or otherwise detect the presence of something. It measures your general awareness of your surroundings and the keenness of your senses.” Perception can reveal the obscure, but it can’t expose something hidden from all the senses.

Many D&D fans, including me, tend to think of Investigation and searching as active in contrast to passive Perception. While this pattern frequently holds, don’t rely on it to distinguish the skills.

Such thinking leads players to make two checks to look around, one for percieving and one for investigating. Better to avoid such repetition. See How to Avoid Boring Rerolls of D&D’s Ability Checks. Players who make one check to find nothing in an empty room feel disappointed. Why invite a second, time-wasting check?

Freelance designer Teos “Alphasteam” Abadia explains how a distinction between active and inactive skills leads players to game the system. “Spycraft did that, with one skill for actively looking and another for possible noticing. It led to absurd behavior. You would enter an enemy camp, but state you were not looking around. That way, your better Notice skill would kick in.”

Sometimes the difference between Investigation and Perception blurs. Typically, when characters pause to examine and interact as they look, call for an Investigation check. This tends to reinforce the distinction of an investigator noticing the details in the mundane, plus it balances the value of the overvalued Wisdom (Perception) check with the undervalued Intelligence ability and Investigation skill.

D&D is a team game and when different character architypes skills and abilities contribute to a group’s success. By using the Intelligence ability and the Investigation skill, players who excel at those less pervasive knacks gain a chance to shine.

This approach amplifies the importance of not completely blocking a group’s progress with an Intelligence (Investigation) check. Fifth edition minimizes the value of the Intelligence ability so much that unless a party includes a Wizard, then no character may have a score higher than 10. In an essential investigation, give any required information, and then reward the sleuths with additional insights.

As for all those 8 and 10 Intelligence characters played by smart D&D players, they show the changing fashions of tabletop roleplaying. In the hobby’s early days of random ability scores, players who valued character immersion often felt obligated to play a low intelligence character as a knucklehead, complete with dangerously foolish decisions. Now, I rarely see such a commitment.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

ATZ Risk and Reward Deck now on sale!

Two Hour Wargames - Mon, 02/15/2021 - 21:30


Risk and Reward Deck for ATZ now on sale.

Risks and Rewards is a game aid for All Things Zombie: all the different versions, old or new. With this deck we've simplified how to search buildings. Now when you enter a building, instead of rolling dice, you simply draw a card.

The card will tell you how many zombies there may be, how many humans there may be, their Type, Rep, Weapon and what you have found once you've cleared and searched the building.

The 54 card deck comes with Survivors, Military, Gangers, Razors, Vampires, Werewolves, and Casters. All the different Classes.

Available with or without a tuck box. PDF included! View Insights0 Post ReachLikeCommentShare
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Inverted Pyramid, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 02/15/2021 - 12:11
By Gustavo Tertoleone Black Dog OSR Level ?

The Inverted Pyramid, a dungeon located in Thebes, Egypt. The place was built as a gigantic tomb to hide secrets and technologies from the Ancient race who had enslaved humanity millenia ago.

This 35 page adventure uses nineteen pages to detail a four level twenty room egyptian themed dungeon … with grey alien/ancient astronaut themes. It’s definitely not dry, with decent, if predictable, interactivity. Language use and organization though suffer. 

This could be thought of as just another egyptian temple themed adventure. But, then, there’s the grey aliens aspect to it. That makes things … strange. Interactivity in this one tends to the better side of the spectrum and that is, in part, thanks to the presence of the alien theming. There are alien devices and pools and statues to mess with, things to open up and puzzles to solve. Oh so many puzzles to solve.

That is a good thing and a bad thing. These sorts of tomb adventure, especially egyptian ones, seem to be trap and puzzle heavy and this one is no exception. Most traps are hallway ones, which I have an aversion to. I think they slow down the game. But, whatever, you’re free to your own (wrong) opinion. But, when too many puzzles and traps are in an adventure then I think the adventure suffers. “Oh, it’s one of THOSE adventures …” IN particular, there are riddle puzzles in this thing. Riddle puzzles that I would say are out of place and break the tone of the adventure. It makes it seem more like a published adventure than an adventure locale to explore. The very first room is a  door with a picture of Ra and Amon on it. Where their staves meet there is an indentation. There is a riddle present. “Feed me and I live. water me and I die. what am I”. You put some fire in the alcove, 5th element style, and the doors open. It’s not bad. But, also, it IS bad. The riddle explicit aspect, here and in other places, is more in place in a fun house dungeon rather than … whatever this is. It’s the explicitness of it. The funhouse nature and the mismatch in tones.

But in other places things fit in well, well, as well as a spaceship egyptian themed adventure can. Pools to play with. A monster, a kind of mashup of body parts from different creatures (what’s that called again?) is in a room. It has a monstrous number of hit points. The wall of the room are covered with tiny little bits of papyrus, with writing on them. Hitting the monster causes some of the runes to flash or glow. It’s a puzzle that just LOOKS like a fight!

There was a little intro that was nice also, describing (if it can be called that) the area above the dungeon. It’s devoid of physical description, but it does have some notes about potentially putting in bandits or grave robbers or something. Which got me thinking. What about grave robbers. Kind of friendly. Kind of rivals. More opportunistic than anything else. That could have been a fun little thing to have. 

Other areas have a room with mummies hung upside down, hung in chains. Freeing them causes them to return to life … rejuvenate, and potentially be longer term campaign enemies. Nice! Likewise a room full of mummies. Just normal ummies. But you FEEL like they are all watching you as you move about. Paranoia! I love it!

But …

The writing can be, let us say, overwrought. 

“The forgotten chambers resting below the desert were kept in the dark for millennia, glancing the light only when groups of brave thieves dared to enter this place in search for treasures.” Is this Poe, or a Hammer production of Poe? Likewise “so macabre that any heart will start racing as soon as the characters’ eyes meet the gaze of the monster.” Uh huh. Padding. Commentary. Writing for the DM as reader rather than the DM as DM.

In other places the writing can be downright confusing, like “[the dungeon is] accessed by moving the three main stone pillars in the center of the ruins closer to each other, uniting them as one single pillar.” You move a pillar? That’s all there is, no map, no better description. I’m not really sure what I should be putting in there. In other places there’s a kind of shorthand used that does the DM no favors “This room has the exactly same details as the room 9 and its entrance can be found in the exact same way, “ 

These issues hint at the issue of organization of the text which, as is usual, is present. It looks like this is a English as a Second Language design, but, I don’t really think that’s the cause of the confusion. The designer is imagining the fuck out of things, they just don’t know how to get it down on paper correctly and are, in places, a little too hackney for the adventures own good.

Also, you can get five spaceships, that fully recharge in sunlight and shoot 3 times a round for 2d10 damage and move at 300 miles per hour and … you get the idea. 

This is $5 at DriveThru.The preview is four pages, all actual dungeon rooms. That’s great! Good preview!  That first page of it is a good example of the rather lengthy DM text that is all over the adventure.–Adventure-1?1892600

The same designer has a zine: “Vomitations of the Grotesque Princess is an infamous zine from Brazil” says the author. It is 11 pages, costs $5, and its lead article is “A Brief Text on Existentialism.” I admire this persons moxie!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bronze Age of Comics Counterfactual

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 02/15/2021 - 12:00

What if somehow the deal that saw Marvel sold to Cadence and (eventually) Martin Goodman out of the company had gone wrong in some way? I don't have a single pivot point to make this an honest to goodness alternate history, but let's just assume Marvel was crippled sometime in the early 70s, and DC was the beneficiary of an influx of young talent needing jobs. This talent glut may have also weakened the hold of DC's old guard editorial, opening up DC to innovation that were definitely needed.

In one sentence: What if 70s Marvel had basically happened at DC?

Now, since this is ostensibly a gaming blog, I am more focused on how certain storylines or character intros might have transpired at the Distinguished Competition more than "wouldn't Batman have been great under creator [x]?" mainly because I think that focus is no less interesting, and more supers rpg gameable.

Here are some highlights:

Starlin takes over Green Lantern after the commercial failure of "Hard Traveling Heroes" and goes cosmic. GL battles a new assault by Darkseid (Starlin becomes the first writer to tackle the Fourth World after Kirby's series ended) and eventually even gains cosmic awareness through an encounter with the being that first set the Guardians on their path.

Steve Gerber brings his off-beat style to a revival of the Doom Patrol, and makes the adventures of the Swamp Thing even stranger.

Len Wein and Dave Cockrum bring some new members to the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Claremont follows for a long run. He also pens the limited series, drawn by Frank Miller, that makes Timber Wolf a star.

That's just for starters, but you get the idea.


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