Tabletop Gaming Feeds

From Bohemia To Zothique With B1 In Search of The Unknown By Mike Carr - A Massive Pulp Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 05/19/2018 - 14:05
  "Dire was the Silver Death; and none knew the secret of its contagion or the cure. Swift as the desert wind, it came into Yoros from the devastated realm of Tasuun, overtaking the very messengers who ran by night to give warning of its nearness. Those who were smitten felt an icy, freezing cold, an instant rigor, as if the outermost gulf had breathed upon them. Their faces and Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) The Tomb of Mercy

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 05/19/2018 - 11:14


Sersa Victory
Kobold Press
5e
Level 8

Humanity’s Last Hope Corrupted! The Tomb of Mercy was built centuries ago to house arks that would preserve the souls of humanity from an infernal invasion. Now you must travel to the Wasted West, unseal the Tomb, and send the last ark safely on its journey. Fail, and humanity faces extinction!

A DriveThru Hot Seller! Let’s see how much I regret the purchase …

This thirty page adventure is a linear crawl through a dungeon with twelve rooms. The core adventure appears on ten pages, leaving the other twenty pages to fluff, monsters, pregens, etc. This could be a cool one-shot con adventure, but is too limiting for anything else.

I have opinions on this one. I feel like I was ripped off; that the marketing doesn’t actually tell you what you’re buying. Given the rather niche corner this occupies it feels important that expectations are set pre-purchase. This doesn’t do that, not by a long shot.

Did you know you could win D&D? Yes! It’s true! In this adventure the DM and players compete with each other to draw Augury cards. At the end of the adventure they use what they’ve drawn to try to figure out which three random cards were sealed in an envelope at the start. Whoever guesses more wins the game!

And there are respawn rules! If a PC dies then they respawn the next round next to an ally. That’s nice, isn’t it? Oh, but if PC’s die six times then the DM wins automatically, so …

[The adventure commits two unforgivable sins, and this is one of them. D&D is not adversarial. Any hint that it is needs to be stamped out. There is no greater mindset of evil than “Adversarial D&D. Respawn? Ok. Die six times and the DM wins? No.]

I want to touch on two other issues before I get to my first bullet point. First, an emphasis is given to terrain that I don’t usually see, except in 4e adventures. Second, killing things/defeating challenges give you the key to get to the next room.

You now what this feels like? A boardgame. A scenario for Descent, or some Neverwinter Nights scenario. As a one shot con game that’s fine. Weird rules for three to four hours and then you’re out. No commitment beyond that; it’s fun. As a standard adventure… well … This is a one-trick pony.

Read-aloud is in light green italics, which makes it hard to read. In spite of there being twenty pages of support material, the map is all on one page, in some weird scale. It’s gorgeous, and clearly meant to be printed out, but is too small to do that. But, hey, they got it all on one page.

Magic items are good. Unique items like a shield you can feed monster bodies to in order to get a breathe weapon attack. They feel mythic.

On the monsters, well …

The first monster is a “conjoined bonewraith dust goblin spirit caller.” It’s hard to take that seriously. I’m guessing this is some templated build? I don’t understand that shit. Just slap some stats down; why do designers feel the need to use the rules to build a monster? And if it’s not a templated build, then why the fuck would you give it a six word name that seems like a template build? It’s hard to take seriously when adventures do this. Not to mention the monsters are long. Like, a page and half in one case. There’s this style of adventure that seems to take rules lawyering to a new heights, and this is one of them. Everything explained using current rules and two paragraph entries for new monsters. Didn’t the OD&D mind flayer just each brains on a 1-2 out of a d6? Seems easier to run than digging through 1.5 pages of stats to read two paragraphs while you’re trying to run a combat with six players.

The read-aloud is ok. It’s certainly evocative although it tends towards to the unnecessarily flowery novelist style. And while there’s a LOT of DM text it’s formatted rather well in most cases. Too long, way too long, with too much crap in it that doesn’t matter during the adventure. It does matter if you are reading the adventure for fun … nice fluff. Which, of course, is also a major sin of adventure writing. More is not more. More gets in the way of running the adventure at the table.

This thing is the definition of idiosyncratic. The “Winning”, respawn and six deaths things. The setting is a world overrun by hell with the PC’s launching an ark in to space with humanity’s last souls. The pregens are all female and named “Sister of Mercy” and “SIster of Judgement” and “SIster of Fury.” [Sadly, no one sang corrosion to me during the review.] This is hard to use during a normal game and probably a decent con game. But then, the pregens are not formatted for easy printing, running to multiple columns. And the monsters are hard to grasp. And the map is not optimized for a con print.

I’m going to give the designer the benefit of the doubt. I think they wrote an ok convention game. And then the Kobolds got ahold of it and fucked it up by putting the map on one page, spreading the pregens over multiple columns/pages, and forcing a “standard monsters format” and mechanics bullshit. Then hey marketed it as an general purpose adventure instead of a one-shot … which I fucking HATE.

The preview s five pages. The last page shows you the map and the second to last shows you the first room. Nice imagery, and mechanics associated with it, but WAY too long.
This is $7 at DriveThru.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/240933/Tomb-of-Mercy-for-5th-Edition

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #4 - Fate

19th Level - Sat, 05/19/2018 - 02:25

Fate was a way harder game for me to "get" than I thought it would be. I suspect if I'd never gamed before it would have been a lot easier.

There's a ton of blogs and reviews that can give you all the details of Fate. I'm going to talk about the Fate Accelerated version where I finally grokked the game. Fate Accelerated and Fate Core are officially the same game, but there are some definite differences.

Fate uses Fate dice - six sided dice with two plusses, two minuses, and two blanks. You roll four of them and add them together - adding various modifiers as well, but the dice give a range of -4 to +4. You're trying to beat some difficulty. It sounds pretty traditional.

Here's where it diverges. Fate Core gives your character traditional skills like shooting, piloting, etc. Fate Accelerated goes for approaches - how you do something, Are you forceful? Are you sneaky? Both a wizard and a warrior can be forceful. But your aspects and stunts give more definition.

Aspects basically describe something. It can be as simple as "strong", but that's a pretty lousy aspect. "Strong and dumb as an ox" on the other hand works pretty well - a good aspect has positive and negative aspects and helps form the picture of who you are. It also can be something temporary - attached to a scene or a character. For example, "warehouse floor on fire" is an aspect. So is "I've got you covered". Aspects can also be a permission to take some action. For example, with the aspect "Dark Lord of the Sith" it would be reasonable to use the Forceful approach to yank blasters out of the hapless rebels' hands.

Stunts are mechanical exceptions - bonuses you get under certain circumstances being the most common.

When you pay you are throwing aspects, fate points, stunts, etc. all over the place. Invoking an aspect typically gives you a +2 bonus. But unless you create that aspect, something that takes an action, or have some other way to get a free use, you need to spend a fate point. Lousy stuff happening to you is a great way to get more fate points.

I've talked about the mechanics. They're pretty simple, but it took me a long while to get the hang of how best to use them. It's a very narrative system, designed to tell stories of exceptional people. I used it for a team of Star Wars rebels and it worked great. But I also had previous so-so attempts at using the rules. You really need to buy into the game. But when you do, it is fantastic at telling stories of exceptional people.

Like everything else on this list, I'd not use it for everything. But I did finally get to see how powerful a system it can be. Still got Dresden Files Accelerated on my bucket list....



Blog note - updates this month have been near-impossible. Lots of family activities, grad school, etc. I'd been planning on going to North Texas RPG Con next month but that's looking less and less likely as the semester progresses. Just one and a half classes left...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cryptozoic Will Show Games at ACD Gamesday 2018

Cryptozoic - Fri, 05/18/2018 - 13:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment today announced that it will showcase current and upcoming games at ACD Gamesday 2018 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Wisconsin, May 23-25. Cryptozoic will be at PSI’s booth displaying and demoing several tabletop games, including two new Rick and Morty games, Pantone™: The Game, and Million Dollars, But… The Game, which is being given a wide release in partnership with Rooster Teeth.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On OSR gaming releases 5/18/18

Hack & Slash - Fri, 05/18/2018 - 12:00
Welcome to gaming releases this week!

This is my first attempt at something like this, so feel free to give me comments and suggestions!

There were over 200 products released in the last 7 days, what follows are highlights only. If you'd like to be highlighted, get at me during your release week!


Steve Jackson released a large number of Car Wars .pdfs!

Pandius Provided the Poor Wizard's Almanac: The Year of Chaos
Popular threads on the vault include a civilization, wilderness and monsters density poll; and of course the Mystarn's community response to the denigration of the setting by Matt Sernett during a podcast and his subsequent apology, and their attempt to address the "endemic disrespect for Mystara [in] the community at Wizards of the Coast." Mystara is one of the most D&D-like settings ever created, with ancient human empires, magical flying cities, immortals and a hollow world.

Unearthed Arcana covers the new playtesting rules for centaurs and minotaurs leading to reddit postulating the infinite centaur because medium creatures can ride centaurs who are themselves medium size. It's centaurs all the way down!

Greg Gillespie has 5 days left for his funded Barrowmaze: Highfell - The Drifting Dungeon Megadungeon for Labyrinth Lord and other Old School Role-playing game.



Saturday May 12th
  • Corporatocracy: Company Rule in Fact & Fantasy, by WMB Saltworks
    • A quick perusal shows information about both historical cases as well as specific ideas for campaigns that can be caused by certain company interests. The text is excessively wordy, "Usually, of course, we refer to corporations in a business sense. It can be useful to remember, however, that not all companies are corporations." If you can take that sort of meandering well, this may be of some use to you.
Sunday May 13th
Monday May 14th
Tuesday May 15thWednesday May 16thThursday May 17th
If you find this post useful, and you'd like to see it every Friday, then now is the time to support my Patreon to make sure I can continue to afford housing and which totally enables putting this together every week. 
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: Malice in Slumberland

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 05/18/2018 - 11:00
This post originally appeared in June of 2010. It marked the first foray I believe of Weird Adventures material into more fantastic realms and other planes. This stuff would get brief mention in the book, but the planar stuff was never a big feature of my campaign, nor did it seem to garner as much interest with readers as other things.


All humans (and human-like beings) dream. Like "thought balloons" in a comic strip, clouds of dreamstuff float "upward" from the dreamer into the Astral Plane. There they form bubbles in the Astral substance, tethered to the dreamer until waking. These bubbles are permeable with, and ultimately dissolve into, the Dream Realm--more commonly called Slumberland or Dreamland, or sometimes the "Land of Nod" (but not this one, or this one ;) ). Given their nature, dreams represent the easiest portal for humans to cross the transitive plane of the Astral and move into the Outer Planes.

Slumberland is ruled--or perhaps merely managed--by a being known by many names, but often called the Dream Lord, or Dream King. He appears as a robed humanoid figure wearing a bronze, mirrored mask. He doesn't create dreams--these come from mortal (and perhaps immortal) minds, themselves--but monitors and maintains them. His castle, with its strangely-angled, dream-logic, expressionistic architecture, sits on the border between the material and immaterial worlds, existing both in Slumberland and on the dark side of the Moon. From there, he maintains the oneironic devices, and monitors the content of the flow of dreamstuff. He strives to ensure virulent nightmares don't readily infect other dreams, and that idle fantasies don't spoil and bloat to become perverse obsessions.

It's a big job, and the Dream Lord doesn't do it without help. Gnome-like creatures called "Sandmen" serve him. They carry pouches of silvery, glinting powder made from dessicated and alcehmically treated dreamstuff. They use this oneiric dust to induce sleep in a mortals, or cause waking dreams, or even to cause multiple beings to share the same dream. This is their primary tool for observing or even entering dreams--supposedly for the purposes of monitoring and testing.

"Supposedly" because there is some evidence for the existence rogue Sandmen, or at least breakdowns within their system. Regrettably common are the condensed nightmares called bugbears, or sometimes "bogies" or "bogeymen." These creatures emerge from dark, foreboding places--like "haunted" houses, abandoned subway tunnels, ancient ruins, or even children's closets! They're variable in size, but usually appear slightly larger than humans. Their bodies are described as "bear-like" or "ape-like", but their heads are something like deep-sea diving helmets, albeit with blank face-plates, and strange antennae. Bugbears, as nightmares given flesh, torment humans to feed off their fear. They then employ electronic devices or machinery--with an appearance both nonsensical and menacing--to siphon oneiric potential from the minds of their victims to incubate bugbear pups.

Bugbears aren't the only evidence of corruption in Slumberland. There are persist rumors of Sandmen on the take, selling blue dreams to Hell Syndicate incubi and succubi to slip to unsuspecting marks. There are also rumors of black-market Tijuana bibles produced from the concentrated salacious dreamings of certain celebrities being peddled on the streets of the City, and possibly elsewhere.
Thanks  to G. Benedicto at Eiglophian Press for suggesting a link between bugbears and nightmares.

Ch. 5, Page 16

Castle Greyhawk - Fri, 05/18/2018 - 05:06
Tenser turned and called to Robilar, waving at him frantically as the idea developed in his mind. "Come back here!"

Robilar did not plan to comply at first, but curiosity got the better of him and he walked back. "What? Why aren't we moving forward?"

"Because we have that!" Tenser said, pointing to Endelar's carriage.

Robilar mulled the idea around in his mind and came up with his own plan. "Are we commandeering it?"

"No, no!" Tenser said, suddenly having to correct Robilar and allay Endelar before she could get upset. "Just borrowing it."

"But the inn is not that far..." Robilar protested.

"Endelar and I have catching up to do. We can do it right here and you can wait, or we can do it on the ride."

"I suppose..it would be more dramatic if we arrived by carriage," Robilar mused.

"Absolutely," Tenser agreed.

"What's going on?" Otto said, finally catching up to them.

"We're riding the rest of the way in the carriage," Robilar said.

"Oh lovely. I've always wanted to drive one of these things."

"The driver is driving it," Robilar countered. "Come to think of it, there won't be room for you inside. You'll have to stand on the side of it."

"I'll what now?"


Flip Through: Coalition Wars Final Siege

Gamer Goggles - Fri, 05/18/2018 - 02:08

Matt Reviews Coalition Wars Final Siege. Stop in and see how Tolkeen is fairing against the Coalition.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

This completes the Coalition Wars series. I hope you come back soon.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Night of the Bastards - Actual Pulp Era Campaign Event Eight

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 05/17/2018 - 22:55
Strange lights have been seen over one of the richest neighborhoods in Long Island, strange rumors abound of the weird creatures roaming local mansion grounds, & there are whispers of the missing Count Turck is somehow involved!? Last night's game got a bit more complicated as the player's PC's stumbled into the Long Island mansion/facility of Desmond Turck. Already outside the manor house Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 1 - Sketch Card Previews, Part 11

Cryptozoic - Thu, 05/17/2018 - 19:16

Please enjoy the eleventh installment of our Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 1 Sketch Card previews, hand-drawn by our talented artists. Set coming soon!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Let's read Mutant Crawl Classics!

Deep Sheep - Thu, 05/17/2018 - 18:06
Over at rpggeek.com I am reading through the new Mutant Crawl Classics RPG by posting a bit about each section and then saying what I think about it and inviting others to do the same.

Please take a look at https://rpggeek.com/thread/1994342/lets-read-mutant-crawl-classics and let me know what you think!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Gygax Design I

Hack & Slash - Thu, 05/17/2018 - 17:20
It's unspoken in the rulebooks all over the place.

You are just supposed to know certain things from the culture of wargaming. But it blew up way past that microculture.

The immediate casualty was the adventure. This has been my focus now for over a year. What went wrong? Why are the modules Gygax wrote good, while others that ape the style are so bad?

Keep on the BorderlandsLet's just start with the introductions. 
"You are not entering this world in the usual manner, for you are setting forth to be a Dungeon Master. Certainly there are stout fighters, mighty magic-users, wily thieves, and courageous clerics who will make their mark in the magical lands of D&D adventure. You, however, are above even the greatest of these, for as DM you are to become the Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to all the universe. You will breathe life into the stillness, giving meaning and purpose to all the actions which are to follow. The others in your group will assume the roles of individuals and play their parts, but each can only perform within the bounds you will set. It is now up to you to create a magical realm filled with danger, mystery, and excitement, complete with countless challenges. Though your role is the greatest, it is also the most difficult. You must now prepare to become all things to all people."-Gary Gygax, "Keep on the Borderlands"
Let's see.
"You are not entering this world in the usual manner" is literal. He presents this powerfully as descending not only personally into the realm of fantasy, but the, and I quote, "become[ing] the Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to all the universe."
Heady stuff. 
Let's look at the introduction of Return to Keep on the Borderlands by John D. Rateliff 1999, at the tail end of the dark ages of Dungeons & Dragons:
"Return to the Keep is an update of the classic adventure, detailing what has happened in the Caves of Chaos and the Keep itself in the two decades since brave adventurers cleaned out the monsters and departed for other challenges. The rules have been fully updated. . ., encounters have been fleshed out, and the section of advice to inexperienced Dungeon Masters expanded and rewritten. In the main, however, Keep on the Borderland remains what it has always been: A series of short adventures, distinct enough that player characters can catch their breath between each section, that smoothly segue together. Altogether, this adventure gives novice players and characters a chance to learn the ropes without getting in over their heads; characters who survive will have learned the basic tricks of their trade, just as players and Dungeon Masters will know the basics of good gaming."
What the f$% happened here? Do you see this shit? Apologies to Rateliff, but I try to edit my blog posts better then this introduction. There's just extra, redundant, words in excess of the words that are needed, for some reason that's a reason there's extra words for a reason. Right? 
"A series of short adventures." is the short description of "Adventures distinct enough that player characters can catch their breath between each section". How about "In the main, however". What purpose does that equivocation serve?
An example from one of the worst printed module of all time, N2, The Forest Oracle. Although terrible, it's common in quality to the vast majority of material on RPGnow and DM's Guild. But I'd rather not punch down on amature creator, so consider this a stand in for the type of dross you find on onebookshelf. 
"The Forest Oracle is an AD&D module for levels 2-4. It is an independent adventure, and not part of a series. It can be integrated into any existing campaign or played as a separate adventure to help initiate players into the world of AD&D." -Carl Smith Forest OracleEvery single word of the above introduction is patently obvious. The level range is on the cover. You can integrate any adventure into an existing campaign or play it as a separate adventure.  This is literal wasted space. Compare with original borderlands text.

The point I'm driving at here, is Gygax used every word of the introduction to drive home a mind-blowing idea, the introduction was copied for the sequel by a writer who writes as if he gets paid by the word, and the worst adventure writers don't even understand the point of the introduction so they just say truistic generic comments. "This is a module." or one of my personal favorites "This module is for X level characters, but you can run it with higher or lower characters if you increase or decrease the difficulty."

No shit?

Why did I pay? How does this help me? What does this do for me?

Dungeon Master TextThis text varies between each individual module.

Let's look at the original keep:
This module is another tool. It is a scenario or setting which will help you to understand the fine art of being a Dungeon Master as you introduce your group of players to your own fantasy world, your interpretation of the many worlds of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Adventure. THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS is simply offered for your use as a way to move smoothly and rapidly into your own special continuing adventures or campaigns. Read the module thoroughly; you will notice that the details are left in your hands. This allows you to personalize the scenario, and suit it to what you and your players will find most enjoyable.Which commits the sin of being obvious, but considering the dearth of modules at the time, this was good advice then. Is the pass I'm giving the above text unfair?

The DM should be careful to give the player characters a reasonable chance to survive.Hopefully, they will quickly learn that the monsters here will work together and attack intelligently, if able. If this lesson is not learned, all that can be done is to allow the chips to fall where they may. Dead characters cannot be brought back to life here! Then, Gygax lines out his conception of Dungeons & Dragons:
The KEEP is a microcosm, a world in miniature. Within its walls your players will find what is basically a small village with a social order, and will meet opponents of a sort. Outside lies the way to the Caves of Chaos where monsters abound. As you build the campaign setting, you can use this module as a guide. Humankind and its allies have established strongholds—whether fortresses or organized countries—where the players’ characters will base themselves, interact with the society, and occasionally encounter foes of one sort or another. Surrounding these strongholds are lands which may be hostile to the bold adventurers. Perhaps there are areas of wilderness filled with dangerous creatures, or maybe the neighboring area is a land where chaos and evil rule (for wilderness adventures, see DUNGEONS & DRAGONS@ EXPERT SET). There are natural obstacles to consider, such as mountains, marshes, deserts, and seas. There can also be magical barriers, protections, and portals. Anything you can imagine could be part of your world if you so desire. The challenge to your imagination is to make a world which will bring the ultimate in fabulous and fantastic adventure to your players. A world which they may believe in.He is a priest, his sermon dense with meaning. Note particularly "will meet opponents of a sort" and "hostile foes of one sort or another".

Jeff Dee's art is a treasureThis is the first module, a teaching module, the first time many of these things had ever been seen. Yet the form of treating it as the first-ish publication anyone may ever see, is not something that other and later modules needed to copy. A lot of the text in the original B2 is almost an errata—a detailed description of procedures in play for lost or confused Dungeon Masters. Other then a few pointed notes, I'm going to excise this from the analysis, due to the singular artifact of "being first".  A rules addendum is tangential to our examination of Gygax's content versus the imitators of form.

Of particular note:
To defeat monsters and overcome problems, the DM must be a dispenser of information. Again, he or she must be fair - telling the party what it can see, but not what it cannot. Questions will be asked by players, either of the DM or of some character the party has encountered, and the DM must decide what to say. Information should never be given away that the characters have not found out - secret doors may be missed, treasure or magic items overlooked, or the wrong question asked of a townsperson. The players must be allowed to make their own choices. Therefore, it is important that the DM give accurate information, but the choice of action is the players’ decision.It's bolded like that in the original text.

In Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, the text and advice is largely similar and fascinating. Perhaps Ratcliffe was just warming up earlier and needed a sharper editor for that paragraph. I'd like to quote  things that indicate people carried true knowledge always with them, even as those who claimed to be kings had lost that knowledge. To wit:
"Boxed text can either be read out loud by the Dungeon Master, or simply paraphrased in his or her own words. Paraphrasing is often preferred by experienced Dungeon Masters. . ." "Players have a habit of doing the unexpected; resist the temptation to force them to follow a particular track." "For purposes of this adventure, the Dungeon Master is strongly urged to use the optional rule that grants experience points for treasure (at the rate of 1 XP per 1 gp value); this sends the message to the players that there are a multitude of right approaches to take (combat, stealth, negotiation), not a single preferred method of play."This was in 1999, before the release of 3rd edition, where traditional games of Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire were advising Dungeon Masters to invalidate their players choices, and modules consisted of badly constructed railroads of the sort a grade schooler might create. In the darkest moment the hobby of Dungeons & Dragons has experienced, light still shone.

Next time we're going to look at the background section of the adventures and dig into things both nitty and gritty.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cryptozoic and Rooster Teeth Announce Partnership to Release Million Dollars, But... The Game

Cryptozoic - Thu, 05/17/2018 - 13:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment and Rooster Teeth today announced a partnership to release Million Dollars, But... The Game in July. Based on Rooster Teeth’s wildly popular series Million Dollars, But…, the addictive, easy-to-learn game has players put their morals and imagination to the test, posing the question, “What would you do for a million dollars?” The partnership between Cryptozoic and Rooster Teeth will result in a much wider release for Million Dollars, But… The Game, making it available at hobby stores and other retailers nationwide. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] The Arwich Grinder

Beyond Fomalhaut - Wed, 05/16/2018 - 17:34

The Arwich Grinder (2014)by Daniel J. BishopPublished in Crawl! #9 by Straycouches Press0-level funnel
Something has gone terribly wrong up in them hills where the Curwen family has lived in their homestead for several generations, and young Bessie Curwen’s bonnet has been found in the possession of an odd beast that lumbers into the village inn and drops dead before the assembled patrons. The reclusive and tight-knit Curwens had saved the village from starvation two winters ago, so it’s time to return the favour. A group of brave volunteers is assembled to venture up into the dark woods and see what’s up at the Curwens’ lucrative pig farm.
To everybody’s surprise, it wasn’t pig after all.

Warning: cover spoils module theme and final encounter

This funnel adventure – filling a full issue of Crawl! fanzine – is a gruesome one-shot combining Lovecraftian themes with a hilarious amount of gore. There are no surprises as far as the module’s themes are concerned – yup, the backwoods rustics are up to no good, and they are right in the middle of doing something really bad when the adventurers show up. However, as something you get into with full foreknowledge of walking into the jaws of a deadly trap, it is remarkably well made. Perhaps the horror does not lie in the familiar (and by now almost cozy) horror trappings, but in the vulnerability and disposability of 0-level characters. When you are at three hit points, the axe maniac coming at you suddenly takes on a more grave than usual significance.
This is something The Arwich Grinder shines at. Low-level D&D’s lethality makes it hard to design for, since an unlucky hit can kill a character, and a few unlucky hits can decimate a party and either stop their progress outright or trap them in hostile territory. However, if you softball it, you kind of lose the excitement of rolling that d20. This module is somewhere in that middle spot, even if a few of the encounters end up under-statted (including the bad guys right at the end).
Something else that works well here is the way the scenario builds towards its conclusion. It is not a railroad, and you can actually get around the Curwens’ place in multiple different ways, but any way you go, you will start from smaller hints of something being dreadfully wrong to very obvious signs of something, indeed, being gosh-darned wrong. There is a clear element of progression from the family homestead (exploration-oriented, few encounters, not terribly dangerous as long as you don’t disregard obvious hints) through the Curwens’ underground tunnels (a combination of exploration and action, multiple instances of combat and traps) to even deeper caverns (where things turn nasty). This is what makes the scenario nicely Lovecraftian. You know you are getting into something bad, and lo, you are getting into something bad. There are big, dark things lurking under the earth. Old families conceal terrible secrets. If you look too closely at things, you might find more than you’d bargained for. Never trust people of inferior racial stock. That’s Lovecraft. The rest is equally good, including one of the best GM takedowns of meta-gaming players, a few suitably dark magic items, and the Curwens, who are fun to take down, and have a few tricks up their sleeves.
The encounters are short and essential. The entire module is well-written, and fits the 27-area farmstead and 15-area dungeon into a 24-page booklet (set in a generous font size). It is right at the level where bits of descriptive detail carry the tone, without suffering from under- or overwriting. The illustrations are cool (and the cover is great great GREAT, one of the best I have seen in recent years). This is a good adventure.
The module credits its playtesters.
Rating: **** / *****
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Echoes from Fomalhaut #1

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 05/16/2018 - 11:13


The Singing Caverns
First Hungarian d20 Society
Gabor Lux
Levels 2-4

This is a 44 page zine from Gabor Lux containing a variety of higher quality D&D-ish material. It includes a two level cave complex with fifty rooms, over fifteen pages, called “The Singing Caverns”, which this review will be concentrating on … since I only review adventures. Terse writing, interesting encounters and a good map all combine to create a delightful little complex to explore … reminding me more than a bit of Thracia. Could there be a higher compliment?

Gabor Lux/Melan has created some interesting material that seems to appeal to a wide variety of folks. When Guy Fullerton creates a bibliography of your works AND Kent likes you, well … you’re doing something right. Note also that my review standards link to his great article on dungeon map design. Echoes From Formalhaught is a zine he is putting out, with issue one just dropping in print ind and PDF. It’s got a lot of good content, and starts strong is a great random merchant generator. “A distracted farmer selling haircuts drawing a small crowd.” Note how it both creates a memorable NPC quality “distracted farmer” and creates some potential energy “drawing a small crowd.” That’s a great example of a perfect NPC encounter. That table alone is good enough to go on my binder … and I’d put it on my screen if I had room.

But … we’re talking about adventures.

The Singing Caverns is a two level cave system with about fifty rooms spread out over fifteen pages (maps and full page artwork taking up four or five, so ten pages of text,) Fifty rooms in ten pages … and single column wide wide margins to boot!

These encounters are packed. The wanderers are up to something. Giant rats are cowardly stragglers that try to drag down stragglers or rip open food bags.” Perfect! You’ve got your encounter right there. When the rats show up they are doing something. Drunk exploring bandits? Great! Now you’ve got a little NPC interaction before they get a bit belligerent, and an obvious way for the party to appeal to them. These things are done in a short sentence, or maybe two. You don’t have to drone on and on while writing a description. You just need to set it up, as is done here. The goal of writing in an adventure is to inspire the DM in order to leverage their ability to take something and run with it. In order to do that you need to give them a shove. And that’s what these encounters do.

Looking at room one, “Water trickles from the mouth of a grinning long-nosed strong-chinned stone head into a dented brass basin. Several footprints in the mud.” After that is a short sentence saying the wind wails through the passage, blowing out torches on a 1-2, and there’s a crude tripwire a few steps in knowing down a support beam with stone for 2d6hp.

The initial description is short. The important stuff is bolded to draw the eye. The second paragraph contains DM information, again short and bolded. This isn’t the ONLY way to write effectively, but I do think it’s one of the most straightforward ways. The adventure does this over and over again. It’s like terse little jabs to your imagination in every room.

The maps good. Same level stairs, multiple ways between levels, loops, features drawn in on the map like ledges, etc. The keying is clear and legible.It’s what you want a map to be to encourage great exploration play in the dungeon..

This is $6 at DriveThru. You get to see the merchant table and, at the end of the preview, the first few rooms of the dungeon. They are representative of the entire thing.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/241136/Echoes-From-Fomalhaut-01-Beware-the-Beekeeper

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Living Planet

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 05/16/2018 - 11:00
My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.


Storm: The Living Planet (1986) 
(Dutch: De Levende Planeet)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Storm and friends have been flying above the clouds in the aircraft they commandeered last adventure for over a day. Storm has been reticent to descend through the cloud cover and attempt a landing as he isn't really familiar with the aircraft or how to read its instruments.

Nomad suggests the blinking light on the console might be a low fuel indicator. He's right. They are forced to descend rapidly through the clouds:


The thermal updraft from the lava provides a little extra lift, enabling Storm to pull out of the nosedive. Still, they have to find a place to land, and the air is difficult to breath. Storm manages to put the plane into a gentle climb to cooler altitudes before passing out.

They awaken to a surprise:


Gnomish men are disassembling their aircraft as salvage! Their foreman makes comments about "making quota" and "tight schedules." Storm protests and tries to stop them:


The little men keep dismantling the plane, unconcerned when Storm points out it will drop his friends and him into the lava below. "What do you expect me to do about it?" the foreman asks nonchalantly.

TO BE CONTINUED

Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 1 - Sketch Card Previews, Part 10

Cryptozoic - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 21:57

Please enjoy the tenth installment of our Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 1 Sketch Card previews, hand-drawn by our talented artists. Set coming soon!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

PRESALE: Metallic Green Cammy Street Fighter Lil Knockouts Vinyl Figure (San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive)

Cryptozoic - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 21:22

Your friends will be green with envy! Here’s your chance to own the Metallic Green Cammy vinyl figure created exclusively for San Diego Comic-Con 2018! You can avoid missing out on this extremely limited figure by purchasing it now and then picking it up at Cryptozoic’s Booth #115 during Comic-Con.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

PRESALE: Metallic Green Blanka Street Fighter Lil Knockouts Vinyl Figure (San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive)

Cryptozoic - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 21:18

It’s not easy being green, but it really does suit him! Here’s your chance to own the Metallic Green Blanka vinyl figure created exclusively for San Diego Comic-Con 2018! You can avoid missing out on this extremely limited figure by purchasing it now and then picking it up at Cryptozoic’s Booth #115 during Comic-Con.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Alternate Win Conditions in D&D

Ultanya - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 16:57
After playing D&D for nearly four decades I have developed some habits as a Dungeon Master. One of them is using alternate win conditions for battles with boss level monsters and villains. Some while back I really became numb to the concept of hit points, especially in high level play. Far to often the battles felt like the players were just chopping down a tree...with a dull axe. Before going any further, I understand that style of play still appeals to some people. I’m not saying there's anything wrong with it. I just do not prefer it any longer.

I used the chess image to the right on purpose. There are countless possible games which eventually lead to a victory in chess. With that foundation in mind, let's explore how alternate win conditions can be used in D&D.

Hit points are not cinematic. Hit points are something the players can meta game as damage is dealt. Hit points are just a piece of the puzzle for me, not the whole thing. A well placed critical hit could potentially one shot an important story boss. The rest of the players are left with dice in hand, bummed how anti-climatic the battle was. Sure, sometimes as a DM you NEED to let that happen. Especially if everyone is cheering and excited at the result. After all, you’re the casino with endless resources to throw against the players. Those are game day calls and only you can decide what is best for your group and story.

So what are alternate win conditions? Well if you’ve ever played a video game you have seen them. They are best defined as a series of tasks which must be completed BEFORE you can defeat the boss. This defeat could be directly or indirectly, the latter being my favorite. I think the best way to show this is by example:

Alternate Win Condition (Direct)

For this scenario I will detail what a boss fight typically looks like versus one updated with alternate win conditions.

Final Room A: When the PCs enter this chamber the Goblin King will be seated on his throne comprised of yellowed bone. To his left and right are two Hobgoblin Guards. He will yell out in the blackened tongue, “Destroy the interlopers!” Note: The Goblin King counts as a hobgoblin with maximum hit points. In addition, he has two attacks per round.

Final Room B: When the PCs enter this chamber the Goblin King will be seated on his throne comprised of yellowed bone. Upon seeing the PCs he will cackle evilly and vanish into wispy smoke. If the PCs advance on the throne they hear a series of clicks. Two pieces of rune covered obsidian rise from the floor on either side of the room.

These stones will summon 1d4+1 Goblin Skeletons every round until disarmed (DC15 Sleight of Hand), disenchanted (DC15 Arcana), or destroyed (DC15 Athletics check). Any summoned goblin skeletons will defend the stones if necessary, using their reaction to impose disadvantage on a PC rolls.

In addition, the Goblin King is considered ethereal while the stones remain active. A DC15 Arcana check will reveal creatures that aren't on the Ethereal Plane can't interact with him, unless they have an ability or magic that allows this. That said, his awful cackle somehow reverberates throughout the chamber. Once the stones are deactivated the cowardly Goblin King will reappear, groveling for his life.

Goblin King - Aradia Miniatures
In the above example the players have to work more as a team to defeat this boss. The Goblin King is not just a bag of Hit Points. Since the stones work as monster generators, there is still a combat aspect to the encounter. This keeps the players who enjoy that style of play happy. Finally, the Goblin King could escape to menace the players another day if you so choose. Either way, the PCs have defeated him this time!

Alternate Win Condition (Indirect)

This style of win condition works better in campaigns that are more story based. It’s usually a gradual thing as the PCs slowly chip away at the villain and foil plans. In one of my current campaigns the main villain doesn't even have stats written to a character sheet. He has carefully worked his machinations throughout the realm causing all sorts of chaos. NO, this villain is far too intelligent to risk direct confrontation! The players have been defeating his plans and lieutenants along the way. With each of their victories his power lessons and his plots and allies are exposed. That said, the constant threat of this villain hangs like a dark cloud over them. He strikes back whenever he can...but may be weakening.

I encourage you to find ways to incorporate alternate win conditions into your sessions when dealing with boss level encounters. Even though D&D finds its foundation in war games not every battle needs to be decided with hit points. I think by mixing it up once in a while you will keep the sessions fresh for your players and have them thinking of new ways to use their character abilities. Even better, occasionally a player will dream up an alternate win condition on the spot. This is the stuff of legends! Embrace it and create a story your group will talk about for years to come.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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