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Anti-femininity, Achievement, Eschewal of the Appearance of Weakness, and Adventure, Risk, and Violence

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 21:28

The American Psychological Association knows what men like! To tell you the truth, I haven’t seen the precepts of traditional masculinity articulated so concisely anywhere else. Seriously, dig this litany of masculine virtues from their recently released “guidelines to help clinicians improve the health of boys and men”:

Anti-femininity, Achievement, Eschewal of the Appearance of Weakness, and Adventure, Risk, and Violence

Inspiring! Truly it is a shortlist of awesome, capturing everything I aspire to, everything I admire. And not incidentally, everything I look for in a tale of thrills and wonder.

Just going through the opening chapter of A. Merritt’s Seven Footprints to Satan, you can see nearly every one of these notes hit in rapid succession.

For achievement, we are introduced to a protagonist that has just made a fortune selling some Yunnan jades to a wealthy philanthropist. This guy is like Indiana Jones– but minus the archaeological rival taking away his find in the opening scenes. An epic achievement by any standard!

Our hero is no bungler– except in matters of high finance. The brokers have burned through all of his assets! And note how he handles his misfortune:

“Bit jerky, aren’t you, Jim?” he asked. “What’s the matter? Been on a bender?”

“Nothing like it, Lars,” I answered. “Too much city, I guess. Too much continual noise and motion. And too many people,” I added with a real candor he could not suspect.

“God!” he exclaimed. “It all looks good to me. I’m eating it up— after those two years. But I suppose in a month or two I’ll be feeling the same way about it. I hear you’re going away again soon. Where this time? Back to China?”

I shook my head. I did not feel like telling Lars that my destination was entirely controlled by whatever might turn up before I had spent the sixty-five dollars in my wallet and the seven quarters and two dimes in my pocket.

“Not in trouble, are you, Jim?” he looked at me more keenly. “If you are, I’d be glad to—help you.”

I shook my head. Everybody knew that old Rockbilt had been unusually generous about those infernal jades. I had my pride, and staggered though I was by that amazingly rapid melting-away of a golden deposit I had confidently expected to grow into a barrier against care for the rest of my life, make me, as a matter of fact, independent of all chance, I did not feel like telling even Lars of my folly. Besides, I was not yet that hopeless of all things, a beachcomber in New York. Something would turn up.

“Eschewal of the appearance of weakness”? Check!

And for the trifecta of “adventure, violence, and risk”, try this on for size:

There had been that mock arrest in Paris, designed to get me quickly out of the way for a few hours, as the ransacked condition of my room and baggage showed when I returned. A return undoubtedly much earlier than the thieves had planned, due to my discovery of the ruse and my surprise sally which left me with an uncomfortable knife slash under an arm but, I afterwards reflected pleasantly, had undoubtedly left one of my guards with a broken neck and another with a head that would not do much thinking for another month or so. Then there had been the second attempt when the auto in which I was rushing to the steamer had been held up between Paris and the Havre. That might have been successful had not the plaques been tucked among the baggage of an acquaintance who was going to the boat by the regular train, thinking, by the way, that he was carrying for me some moderately rare old dishes that I did not want to trust to the possible shocks of fast automobile travel, to which the mythical engagement on the day of sailing had condemned me.


Notice that by clearly establishing this character’s bona fides in the realm of traditional masculine virtues, A. Merritt automatically secures his likability as a person and a character. You actually care about his predicaments… and want to see him wield his creativity, cunning, and strength in overcoming them.

Authors bred in the ethos of cultural suicide that has given rise to the American Psychological Association’s recent bizarre pronouncements typically lack the imagination to craft such a sequence. For instance, books like The Man in High Castle (1962) and Beserker’s Planet (1975) highlight the push to repudiate heroic characters and replace them with attempts at giving cowards and dweebs their moment in the spotlight, which supposedly right the literary wrongs of the supposedly less sophisticated pulp era.

But I see we have overlooked one more virtue here: anti-femininity. And I have to admit, this one does not explicitly appear in the pages of this tale because it is indeed a sort of a special case.

What is it exactly?

“Anti-femininity” means the male characters do nothing to demonstrate that their creators have submitted to the relentless propaganda directing them portray men indulging in feminine traits and virtues a la the 1972 Free to be You and Me campaign.

Such a thing was unheard of in 1927 when A. Merritt was writing this novel. As such, there is no such Satanic force for him to bow the knee to in that respect. Which means his story is about whatever that independently wealthy author wanted it to be about– and not what it could have been meant to do to you by people that hate you.

One more reason not to read anything after 1940!

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Snow, Appendix N With Clark Ashton Smith & Castanamir - OSR Commentary - C3 The Lost Island of Castanamir By Ken Rolston

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 20:08
"It is terribly cold. You swam for your life to this mysterious island, losing most of your provisions in the process, only to find it barren of all but grass. A biting wind from the north drives through your wet clothes, chilling you to the bone. Night is falling and promises even colder temperatures; you wish this place had even a bush to burn as firewood. Your stomach has just begun to Needles
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Abhumans: Kobold [ICONS]

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 15:00
Art by Agus CalcagnoThis is a continuation of this post.


Abilities:Prowess: 5Coordination: 4Strength: 7Intellect: 3Awareness: 4Willpower: 5
Stamina: 12Determination: 2Specialties: Wrestling
Qualities:The only giant gnome
Steadfast as rock
Powers:  Blend into Rock (Transformation Rock, Disguise Only) 7
Rocky Integument (Damage Resistance) 7
Rock Phasing (Burrowing, Rock Only) 6

Kobold is unusual among his kind (the Abhuman subrace known as gnomes) for his large size. He is a staunch supporter of the royal family in exile and an opponent of the Abhumans supporting the Frozen Führer.

(5e) Quest for the Demon Slayer

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 19:17
by Ed Shatto Self Published 5e Levels 3-5

For levels 3-5. This is the first of four modules in a series. In this module we learn of an impending demon war, and go in search of a magical sword. Full of battles, riddles and puzzles.

Hey, it’s Saturday, that means non-OSR stuff, in general. I’m going to try something new and repeat myself more/rehash old dead topics, since they will be less familiar to the 5e crowd. We’ll see how long this lasts.

This 31 page adventure features a twenty room nearly entirely “text/challenge” dungeon. It is, essentially, just a series of linear combats interspaced with linear riddles. I’m at a loss to find something positive to say. I guess … it’s coherent?

We start with a two page backstory. Yes, I’m kinder about those things these days (unless important things are in it) but in this case it’s a taste of what’s to come. The 2 and half page read-aloud that begins the adventure. Yup. 2.5 pages. Players don’t listen to long backstory. Did you know that WOTC did an informal study and found that players stop listening two to three sentences in to read-aloud? That’s a lot less than 2.5 pages. It is far FAR better to provide a few keywords that describe the personality and then do something like bullet-point paraphrase the salient issues. Then the DM can do a little more back and forth with the players and it comes across more natural and is interactive. D&D is supposed to be interactive, between the players and the DM. A long monologue has NO place in D&D.

It takes a week for the party to sail to some old ruins, wherein they are looking for a sword. The sea voyage has four entries. “Pirate, mermen, dinosaur, sahuagin.” Just a 1-4 and those four names, nothing else. It’s up to the designer to add value to the adventure in order to assist the DM in running it. “THEY ATTACK” is boring. The pirates need some character, the sahuagin some mechanism of attack. Each entry deserves a few words, no more than a sentence, to give the encounter some character. Then the DM has something to work with during the game.

Arriving at the ruined city the party is presented with a map. The only encounter is the tower at the center. What happens if you search? Do you have random encounters? Is there ANY guidelines for the ruined city at all? No. “The party should go to the tower, it is the next stop,” Linear adventure design is BAD adventure design.

The rooms in the tower either have a monster that attacks or a fey that gives you a riddle/challenge. This is what I would expect from this, and it is boring. Again, D&D is an interactive game. You need to give the party something to do besides fight. And no, solving a riddle aint it. The purpose of the room is not to have a combat or to solve a riddle. That’s the height of bad design. Something else should be going on, something more, and the combat and/or riddle should be a part of that, but not the sole reason for the room existing.

The final room is the old “12 foot pit and 11.5 foot board” thing, and you’re not allowed to bring anything in to the room, says the fey who meets you outside, because the door won’t open otherwise. IE: do what the designer says you should do and don’t be original. Look at the D&D spell list. Imagine the very first time, back in 1971, that a player encountered the 12 foot/11,5 foot thing. Look at the spell list. Know why dimension door exists? So the players could skip that puzzle. At the cost of a spell splot, a precious resource. Someone at the table said “fuck this shit, I’m researching a new spell: dimension door” and thus it became part of the list. When there is only one solution allowed then the players are not playing D&D, they are just doing what the designer/DM wants.

And, and that book title trap? I couldn’t read it on my copy of the adventure. Since the titles only exist in the picture I can’t really figure it out. Was it meant to be a handout?

Also, there’s a line in the backstory about a wizard who attempts to control an archdemon. It goes something like “Only a fool would attempt to control such a Being…” Hey! Yo! Prejudicial much? You never hear about all of the time a wizard controlling an archdemon turns out well, only the bad stuff. I think our nameless narrator suffers from a lack of archwizard vision!

You don’t want to get anywhere near this adventure.

This is $2.50 at DMSGuild. The preview is six pages. You get to the the two page backstory and the 2.5 page read-aloud, and that most excellent wandering monster table. The preview should show you a couple of rooms/encounters, so you can get a feel for the types of writing and encounters to be expected in the product.

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Fire & Lightning - Using May Fair Games Role Aids - Wizards by Bill Fawcett (Editor) For Campaign Construction

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 18:58
"For sheer power, originality, & cunning, no other group approaches Wizards. Collected here are original articles written by the creators of some of the most famous magicians in history."Quite the tagline from the back of the Mayfair Games Role Aids Wizard's book. And yet I went into this book back in '83 thinking that this was going to be a PC class book. Boy was I wrong!? Well, yes & Needles
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Tainted Words, Wounds, & Mayfair Games Demons II Box Set By Kevin Hassall - Campaign Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 18:50
"In Demons, you met the lords of the Infernus. now learn the dark secrets of these evil fiends, their methods most foul and how they taint the world of mortals. Learn too, how they might be sought out and destroyed. The world has faced no greater threat than the palpable evil that is... Demons! ~ The Demons II source pack includes: * An 80 page game master's book detailing how demons act and Needles
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Tholian Web

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 12:00
This is a follow-up to this post.

The Tholians are a group claiming much of the orbit of Mercury with bases on Mercury itself. The beings have offered no name nor communicated more than their willingness to defend what they view as their territory. Their Federation designation is derived from tholos, the Ancient Greek world for "dome," due to the appearance of their clustered structures observed in the rim-shadow of North Polar craters.

The Tholians came to Federation attention in 2263, due to their construction of solar energy collector arrays in the orbit of Mercury. Defiant was sent to investigate and either by accident or Tholian aggression became tangled in the semi-elastic diamondoid filaments the Tholians use to string the arrays together. Her distress call was answered by Enterprise, who was warned off by the Tholians, then attacked by what appeared to be autonomous vehicles that "spun" the filaments in an attempt to form a web around the vessel. Enterprise was able to escape before the web was completed, and Federation vessels have been advised to avoid the region since.

It is unclear if the Tholians are biological beings or robots of some sort. As individuals they appear crystalline and vaguely mantid in form. They are either able to withstand Mercurian conditions unsupported or these bodies are environmental suits. A paper from the Martian Science Academy has put forward the theory that the Tholians are actually either non-sophont or (more intriguingly) post-sophont. The paper points out that their observed movements on Mercury's surface resemble the probabilistic movement of ants. Their communications with Enterprise are not necessarily indicative of any more intelligence than the expert systems frequently used as digital assistants.

Dungeons & Demons - Mayfair Games Demons Box Set One - OSR Campaign Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 07:38
So today was a flurry of phone calls & emails. I got a chance to grill DM Steve on what exactly he's gotten me into. I spoke with him about using Mayfair games Demons box set one to create our demon hit squad. Already in the works is another player's paladin to head off said squad of demons from prematurely ending the player's PC's. What is Demons?!  "Demons is an supplement source book Needles
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It's 25% off Sale Time!

Two Hour Wargames - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 22:29


It's time for the 25% off sale. Use the coupon code


and get 25% off of your entire order. Good through January 31st!

Good on all THW titles on the site including

 5150: No Limits, Talomir Tales, or All Things Zombie - Evolution.

THW Store

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Matters of Cosmic Power! Monsters, Minions, Pawns, Or The Management of Evil On The Table Top

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 18:24
I'm a bit late to the table with this blog entry but the last twenty four hours have been interesting to say the least. The fall out from Steve's phone call is still echoing across the table here. I've been on the phone with two of my players who may be co opted into becoming co dungeon masters for this new campaign. The problem remains with the scheduling on my end. Work has had me on the Needles
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Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part V)

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 14:00
Robber’s Bridge Concept Map (v3) by D. Koch

Hello friends!

If you’re new to this series, we’re collaboratively developing a short Torchbearer adventure.

If you need to catch up:

Last week we took a look at a concept map from Mordite Press developer D. Koch. Above Koch has provided an updated map adjusted for many of the things we discussed. You’ll note that the break in the bridge has been enlarged and the Middle Tower now has a portcullis on either side with murder holes that could be used against attackers trying to pass through. There’s also a stairway on the southern side of the Middle Tower that grants access to the upper levels of the tower.

There are still a few issues that I need your help to address, but first I want to circle back to some of the questions raised in Part III. The suggestions are below. What do you think about them? Which ones do you like or not like? Do they suggest any additional ideas to you?

How have the inhabitants altered the location to serve their needs?

A shrine to the Lords of Valor and Terror. The Bjorning cleric and wizard have affixed an idol of their Lords to the fireplace mantel of the top-most room in the tower. They have built up this elaborate ceremonial chamber. It would be where the buckle1See Part III for more on the buckle. is kept hidden (separate from the other loot). The irony would be this idol is very valuable and could serve to turn the tables or provide an additional bargaining chip for cut-throat hobo parties.

What traps or terrain features make navigating the adventure location difficult?

Here are the ideas you suggested:

  1. Boiling oil tripwire trap above the stairs and main entrance.
  2. A magical rune ward on the treasure vault.
  3. A covered-up Pit trap. Thin stone, like shale, cover up a pit that falls into the river or into the lower levels.
  4. Not a “trap” per se, but I had an idea for a possible twist for when the adventurers try and access the secret passage. The idea of the captive nykr immediately made me wonder what’s moved into the river since the nykr has gone missing: After years of the nykr’s absence, those souls that it lured to watery graves with its enchanting melodies have grown restless and long for the nykr’s song to soothe them back to slumber. They are cursed to not be able to leave their river tomb, but will grab at anyone they find within the water, moaning horrifying atonal dirges to try and get their victim to restart the song.
Additional Thoughts
  1. What if the nykr is not trapped? What if, through its shapeshifting powers, it is actually running the show with the Bjornings. The nykr enchanted and entranced the raiders with its music and they are doing its bidding.
  2. Or another idea, and perhaps better yet, maybe the raiders know about it but have not contacted it yet. They are digging it out and trying to get to it (this could explain why they are distracted when the party enters). The have heard its haunting music and want a favor for freeing it. The Bjorning raider cleric believes that if they can offer a sacrifice to it, they can learn its power and its songs — which might give them more motivation to stick around the tower.
Why is the tollgate in ruins?

Now on to some questions from last week’s post. Here’s what you suggested:

  1. Can we connect it to the Bjornings and the nykr somehow? There could be clues that the tower fell recently (the raiders are still clearing away the debris, townsfolk along the road talking about the tower falling). All of this could have happened within the last few months, but it had something to do with the Bjornings and the Nykr. Perhaps there was a group of Bjornings that came out here first, but they mysteriously disappeared. This second group of raiders is continuing the mission against the Gott and also trying to discover what happened to the other group (thinking them killed by the Gotts). This would play off the theme of “power.”
  2. On the other hand, I do like the idea of the Black Wyrm. I can imagine it swooping down and pushing on the tower with its hind legs. This would connect the theme of history repeating itself (the conquerors become the conquered).
What is the state of the tollgate now?

The Bjornings have cleared away enough of the debris to salvage the lower gatehouse of the southern hightower. They have a makeshift roof of tied-together blankets that keeps the snow off of the supplies inside the room. They use it for extra storage and non-essential items.

How do the Bjorning raiders cross to the north bank?

The Bjornings have created a crude rope bridge to cross the gap caused by the ruined bridge that serves as a secondary defense mechanism of sorts. A detail known to the Bjornings, the bridge can hold no more than two men at a time, or little more than one man with a full pack. To help with the burden of more successful raids, the bandits have installed a net on a secondary rope line above the bridge, which can be pulled to either side of the bridge with pulleys hooked to the wooden pillars the rope is bolted to. The line is able to hold significantly more weight than the bridge itself.

The bridge is firmly staked on the northern side of the gap, but on the opposite end is only knotted to a wooden beam at two points to allow for quick collapse in case of emergencies. Easily missed is a smaller, thinner cord attached to the last board on the southern side of the bridge that serves as a means to pull the bridge back up after it has been disconnected rather than having to rebuild the bridge from scratch. This has lead to many a Bjorning to return from a raid on the northern bank only to find themselves offering trinkets or an extra turn fetching firewood to a watchman who has disconnected the bridge on the other side.

The Secret Bit

One thing we haven’t figured out yet is the hidden entrance in the Middle Tower that leads to the lower part of the tower and the underwater passage to the nykr’s prison (area 9). Where is it? What does it look like? How is it hidden? How does it work?

Provide feedback

So what do you think? What works for you? What doesn’t? Give me your suggestions and critiques. New ideas are welcome too! In the next Robber’s Bridge installment we’re going to nail these details down and start thinking about what the various players want.

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On Early Tropes, Eggs and Raising Young Monsters

Hack & Slash - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 13:00
From the very beginning of Dungeons and Dragons, Pokemon was a thing. Not only was Charm Person and Monster often used to fill out ranks for henchmen, many beasts were found and raised. You can see early thoughts on this from Gygax, on Page 50 of the Dungeon Masters Guide.

"Griffons are often nasty and bad-tempered. If captured when very young and trained, however, they can become fiercely loyal mounts. Their loyalty is non-transferable once fixed, so they must be disciplined and trained solely by the intended rider. The griffon must be trained and exercised by its owner on a fairly regular basis while it is a fledgling (up to age six months) in order to accustom it to his or her presence and the bridle, blanket, saddle, etc. When the griffon is half-grown a period of intensive training must begin, which will last at least four months. The daily routine must never be broken for more than two days, or the griffon's wild nature will assert itself and all progress will be lost. After two months of this intensive training, it will be possible to begin to fly the griffon. This will be a period of training for mount and owner alike, as the rider must learn how to deal with a new dimension, And he will probably have no teacher but himself. Imagine the confusing tumult of giant wings, the rush of air, the sudden changes in altitude, and you will realize why an inexperienced rider absolutely cannot handle a flying mount.
Griffons, like all large flying creatures, eat enormous amounts of food, especially after prolonged aviation. Moreover, they are carnivores, and thus very expensive to feed. Care and keeping of a griffon will be a constant strain on the largest treasure hoard. Costs will probably run in the area of 300-600 g.p. per month. It will require special quarters, at least three grooms and keepers, and occasionally an entire horse for dinner (diet will differ, but similar arrangements must be made for all flying mounts).
Hippogriffs are not so difficult to train os griffons, but neither are they as dependable in a pinch. A  training process basically similar to that previously described will be necessary, though occasionally an animal trainer con substitute for the master for short periods if he or she is tied up elsewhere. Once broken, hippogriffs may possibly serve more than one master. They are omnivores, and thus somewhat less expensive to
feed thon griffons.
Pegasi are greatly valued for their speed, which makes them virtually the fastest things in the air. Their training is o long process similar in many respects to thot of griffons." -Gary Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide
Obviously this was an issue that came up repeatedly, and Gygax developed the following procedures to train animals.

One of the formative experiences of Dungeons and Dragons are the challenges with taking a monster, enemy or opponent, and turning them to your ends. As with most challenges to get creatures to change their inner nature, it is astoundingly difficult, and requires a bond on top of the serious commitment maintained above. The animal must be socialized till adolescence, and then intensively trained for months.

The general consensus about Animal Friendship and the limits of animal training are subjective and should be worked out between the Dungeon Master and the player, keeping in mind the animals intelligence and alignment. And it will come up, with unicorns, flying creatures as above, or even minanimals from the Monster Manual II.
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Abhumans [ICONS]

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 12:00
Art by Agus CalcagnoABHUMANS
First Appearance: FANTASTIC TALES #56

The Abhumans are a hidden human subspecies created around two hundred thousand years ago as a result of exposure to an accidental dumping of Otherworldly toxic waste. An archaic human tribe was genetically altered by the wastes, developing superhuman abilities and extended lifespans.  Certain traits common among them—such as severe allergies to iron and silver and sunlight sensitivity—led them to a more nocturnal and subterranean lifestyle, further separating them from the rest of humanity. Brief encounters with these hidden folk gave rise to legends of fairies, trolls, dwarfs and the like among primitive humans.

By the end of the European Middle Ages, a group of Abhumans decided to withdraw as far as possible from human civilization. They trekked into the Arctic where they discovered an abandoned city that appeared to be made of ice. This was the former domain of another offshoot of humanity, the Hyperboreans, whose civilization had fallen into decadence, then died out. The Abhumans took refuge in the abandoned city and made it their own.

In 1950, the Abhumans discovered young Arno Kaltmann (see Frozen Führer) in the Arctic after his escape from the custody of the United States government. Kaltmann had been genetically modified through use of Hyperborean technology and was adapted to extreme cold. Curious, the Abhumans took him back to their city and nursed him back to health.

When Kaltmann’s link to the Hyperboreans was discovered, a group of disaffected Abhumans (who believed they were heirs to the Hyperboreans and destined to plunge the world into a new Ice Age) came to view him as a messiah-like figure. Aided by power-hungry members of the Abhuman elite, the cultists staged a coup and installed Kaltmann as their ruler, though in fact, he was mostly a figurehead.

The previous monarchs, King Oberon and Queen Titania were forced to flee with their close allies the trickster Hobgoblin, the dwarf engineer Brokk, and the lumbering gnome, Kobold. Later, with the help of the Kingdom of Sub-Atlan the exiles were able to establish an underground community beneath the British Isles with other Abhuman refugees. Though Kaltmann, as the Frozen Führer, has been defeated and imprisoned at various times, his adherents still maintain power over the Hyperborean Abhumans.

KING OBERONAbilities:Prowess: 3Coordination: 4Strength: 4Intellect: 6Awareness: 7Willpower: 7
Stamina: 11Determination: 1Specialties: Leadership, Occult Expert, Magic Expert
Qualities:Abhuman Leader in ExileMore Scholar than Warrior
Powers:Magic (Extras: Blast, Force Field, Illusions, Phasing): 7
Telepathy: 6
Nullification (Magic Only): 7

The Darkest Magic Play Session Report - The Use & Abuse of Mayfair Games Role Aids Arch Magic Box Set

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 17:53
We've gone from doing campaign notes to a quick update on Steve's AD&D/BX/OSR game latest play session report! So I've been getting it right in the neck. Steve's game ended with Apocalypse right now because of yesterday's blog entry.Mostly  because I've been using a variety of old school sources & combining them with OSR resources to create the type of super hero & pulp campaign that my Needles
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On Brothers of Battle

Hack & Slash - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 13:00
It's so good, it's like a snow globe made of murder hobos and horrific violence. It's an abstract tactical puzzle, where if you are smart, tactics will beat numbers and arms.

After a short tutorial battle, you are set loose upon a randomly generated world and can do what you want. Ally with a noble house, rob caravans, explore the unknown.

Your troops gain levels, and you improve them selectively. After the first hours of play you start to realize you can build them for specific roles—dagger assassin stabbing men to death in their heavy armor, nimble duelists moving first and darting between targets taking out back rank archers, bowmen raining down arrows, arbalisters knocking people off hills, heavy tanks taunting and drawing attention. From the palette of abilities they give you, you can make countless roles.

Let's talk about Battle Brothers!

The BasicsYou manage a mercenary company. You must have gold and food for daily wages. You can visit different cities, recruit and train new men, slay brigands, orcs, the dead in the wilds, and horrors even worse.

Here I have taken the high groundCombat is turn based on a hex map with height levels, obstacles and terrain. The graphics are of your men and monsters as game pieces—they are busts that display all necessary information visibility, the condition of your helmet, armor, weapon, and man.

You must manage your funds, via victories and trade, to bring in enough income to cover medical supplies, ammunition, tools to repair armor and weapons, food and wages.

Over time your brothers grow increasing both 3 of their 8 stats and picking a new 'perk' which changes certain aspects of how they interact on the field. One might allow you to step away from an engagement, another might increase damage after you get a kill, a third by increase one of your stats by a %. Each different brother develops like a plant, where you guide their organic growth.

Death comes quickly, along with permanent injuries, failure, and loss. But each choice, from where you move your piece on the battlefield, to what rolls you select when your brother levels, has ramifications that change the course of your game.

I don't know the devs. No one is paying me. But when you find yourself staring into the facets of a diamond for untold hours (301 hours as of this post. Well, I guess it's told now.), you kind of want to share. Why is it so engaging?

The FacetsBecause the differences are significant, and create different kinds of emergent play. When the world
is generated, cities have attached sites that determine their character, the spawns and arrangement of towns is always different, along with the distribution of lairs and dens of evil. The way the game works changes dramatically from these differing starting states. There are really strong parallels to sandboxes in Dungeons & Dragons here.

I was very far into the game before I realized that each of those buildings adjacent to the city, changed not only the characteristics of that city, but how it interacts with the rest of the map. Those goat farms mean affordable goat cheese for your men. These building and even cities can be destroyed and rebuilt over the course of the campaign.  Because this town has both an ore smelter and blast furnace, it produces high quality armor and weapons in the stores. But the regiments it produces are also extremely well armored and it has vision to the sea, meaning that it's hard for lairs to fester.

Which, they do you know. Nits make lice. A goblin city will produce goblin patrols. As it grows, it will eventually send out a patrol that sets up a camp. Go in and clear out all the greenskins and it will take them a long time to repopulate. So each map is strongly different based on its random starting arrangement. Sometimes there's a forest town in the frontier assaulted constantly by enemies. Get dogs and birds from cities with kennels, and use them to hunt down nightmares and archers.

It's often unclear how things affect other things, and I'm still discovering new nuances. Each nobel house has a personality, and I'm not certain, but it seems to affect which quests you get from it. Is this true? Only a lot more testing and play will tell. But everytime I reroll I find or see something new.

The MenYour first games end in brutal destruction, without even understanding why. But as you play you begin to understand, these aren't individual men, they are part of a squad that works together.

Each man has a head and body. Those who don't wear a cover are corpses, yeah? Each is covered in armor. Better armor is not always 'better', some men go heavy armor and some go light, depending on their role. You take wounds in combat (which always heal, depending on severity in 1-6 days) based on the % of your hit points taken, meaning tougher brothers take fewer wounds. If killed, there's even a chance they survive with a permanent wound. And while some are. . .untenable, some people consider a boost (it's harder for witches to charm or giests to scare a brain damaged brother).

Each man has eight statistics, and they increase by a random roll at every level. So you want to increase what he needs when the roll is high, and skip low rolls, but it's important to know what role they have so you can assign the stats correctly. The statistics are Hit points, Fatigue, Resolve, Initative, Melee Attack, Ranged Attack, Melee Defense, and Ranged Defense.

When you hire a brother they may have traits, like iron lungs, or athletic, which positively or negative affect their stats. The following brother is Huge (+10% damage -5 Ranged Defense, -5 Melee Defense) and Paranoid (-40% initiative,  +5 Ranged Defense, +5 Melee Defense) meaning he does +10% damage in exchange for going later in the round. So I gave him a cleaver, and made it reduce the damage he needs to do to wound, and gave him duelist so that more damage penetrates armor. So he cripples and bleeds anyone he strikes. This causes morale checks, which reduce the combat ability of your opponents.

If you're reading this, you probably like the same things I like, and this sounds awesome, right? It is. You can name and go to the barber to change the look of your brothers. It's like controlling a team of bonsai trees that you have very carefully cultivated to mercilessly slaughter any who stand against you!

The difficulty curve is very clear, with several different stages. When you start out, you aren't prepared for this. You generally end up destroying equipment you must salvage from your opponents. Striking someone in the head will leave their fancy armor untouched, or you can surround or dagger opponents to death.

Every 100 in game days, a crisis occurs, either greenskins invade, the undead, rise, or there is a war among the noble houses. There are certain thresholds where the base difficulty increases. You have a range of danger options on the contracts you can take, as well as creatures in the wild getting more dangerous as you venture away from civilization.

The recent expansion turned it from a good game into a great one. There are a selection of new enemies, creating different and dangerous tactical challenges both apart and with other groups. The enemy variety is very high and differs significantly between campaigns. It's like a good movie. Every part of the journey is fun.

In the End
It's written by two brothers, not a big game studio. The soundtrack is amazing. There's a growing community of people who stream and play this game, that has significant overlap with interests in Dungeons and Dragons sandbox play. The actual game design is rock solid. It's amazing how neatly the different parts of the game interact with each other. You only have 9 action points a turn, but depending on the weapon, traits, and skills, you can turn that into two or three attacks each round. Once you see how the pieces fit together, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to turn that to your advantage, often only coming to the correct conclusion after a lot of testing or tries.

It's good and I needed to tell people about it. Don't complain to me about missed sleep.
Battle Brothers is $30 on Steam.
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Martian Manhunter #2

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 12:00
The first thing you might notice  about Martian Manhunter #2 (in a 12 issue maxi-series, a name I have not heard in a long time) is the word balloons on the cover. This bit of retro contrasts with the art itself that is slightly cartoon and tinged with some photoshoppy sort of effects. I don't know how this relates to the books contents other than it suggests you ought to expect something different.
The first issue intrigued me with its imagining of Mars as a place familiar enough, but very alien. Though it synthesized elements of J'onn Jonzz Silver Age origin, the 1988 DeMatteis/Badger "most everything you know is a lie" limited series, and the Ostrander/Mandrake ongoing from 1998, it add new stuff to it, and looked it the old continuity from a new angle. It also revealed that J'onn J'onzz on Mars was a dirty cop.

I am happy to report the first issue was not a fluke. The second continues to be just as interesting with its parallel stories on a murder investigation on Earth and J'onzz's life on a doomed Mars. As life continues mostly as normal for the "manhunter" and is family, tension has begun to creep in. The deadly Curse of H'ronmeer is spreading. Rossmo's art really adds to the alien sequences, but is adequate in the more True Detective Earth-bound portion of the story. The coloring style seems to shift a bit between the two sections as well.
It gets bonus points for providing an explanation for J'onzz's bettlebrow: a brief Martian Neanderthal-mania.

The Things Lost to Time

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 07:11
By James Andrews Stormforge Productions LotFP/OSR Levels 1-3

Deep in a mine is an ancient vessel. Something so ancient, it sunk under the stone like mud. A vessel alien to this world, yet here longer than most of human history. Can the players harvest its strange technological bits before being disintegrated by deadly lasers? Or will they be enslaved by the odd pink aliens which have been unleashed on the world?

This 22 page adventure details a 22 room spaceship buried in a mine. The miners are now undead cyber-zombies, the aliens floating balls of tentacles, and there’s a crazed robot to avoid. But, treasure is abstracted, the rooms all need a second pass for logic and to clean up unneeded text. Still, there’s a good cat and mouse idea here.

The (rather loose) hook has some miners having disappeared and not come back, except for one with tales of a metal demon and hellfire. The actual mines are quite small, just a couple of room, before the spaceship begins. It’s a collection of obvious obstacles, like a laser screen doorway to be crawled between, alien tentacle blobs, abstracted treasure, and a killer robot to be avoided.

The patrol bot is the most interesting part. It roams about the hallways, on a loop. If it catches someone it most likely kills them, then takes them to medbay to convert to a cyber zombie. There are guidelines for hiding form it, how hard is searches, vents on the map to crawl through to avoid it, and how it escalates its searches over time in response to interactions with the party. It’s an interesting aspect of the adventure to put on some pressure AND it supports the DM with the maps, guidelines, etc to help them accomplish it.

The rest of the adventure is uninspiring.

There are annotations missing form the map. The robot does something at points A and B, but they are not on the map. Some of the traps are Bad Traps. While searching the lockers in a room one explodes and you take damage. It’s kind of the same as a rando pit in a corridor … just take damage and move on with the adventure. There’s no interactivity with that.

Each room starts with a DM overview and then some bad read-aloud. The overviews are mostly not needed at ALL . The room titled “4. Medical Room” tells us that “this room is the equivalent of an alien medical bay.” Well, yes, could have guessed that. It’s almost all unneeded text. The read aloud if overblown imagery at times, and leaves out details at others. It’s not really evocative at all. The med bay, for example, have absolutely no mention of creatures, until you get far down in the room description where it say “Creatures: 4 cyber-zombies.” Wouldn’t that be mentioned in the read aloud? What are they doing? Just standing there? Do they attack? Whatever the designer was going for doesn’t really come across.

For those in search of tech, you shall despair. It’s all abstracted in to “bits” worth 1sp each.

It comes off as just a generic, abstracted spaceship. IN fact, the surviving miner even calls it a ship. I managed to run S3 once for three sessions and the party still hadn’t figured out it was a ship. This aint that, and not even a glowing red laser fence can save it.

This is free at DriveThru. There’s no preview (although I guess you don’t need one if its free) and the level isn’t included in the text description, although it is on the cover if you blow it up to look at.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Outlander Trading Cards Season 3: Sketch Card Previews

Cryptozoic - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 02:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment is excited to reveal that our upcoming Outlander Trading Cards Season 3 will include 1-of-1, original Sketch Cards! In anticipation of the set's official release on February 15, we are thrilled to present our amazing collection of Sketch Card previews! For those new to the trading card hobby, you may be asking, "What are Sketch Cards?" Sketch Cards are original artwork, hand-drawn by artists onto standard-size trading cards (2.5” x 3.5”), which are then randomly inserted into various trading card packs.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Great Molasses Flood in Call of Cthulhu

19th Level - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 01:37

Today, January 15, 2019, marks the 100th anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood in Boston. On that day, around noon, a massive tidal wave of molasses flooded the North End neighborhood. Supports for elevated trains were damaged, buildings toppled. Twenty one people died and around 150 were injured. I've written of this before in my review of Stephen Puleo's Dark Tide, the best (and one of the only) source of information for this disaster.

I find Boston of the 1910s to be a fascinating period in history and have been running a Call of Cthulhu campaign set in 1914 - it's about to reach 1915. They might eventually merge with a previous campaign, one that began in France at the end of World War One - but whose second adventure was about the Molasses Flood.

What makes the era so fascinating? It was a time of extreme tension. Immigrants were pouring into cities and traditional power bases were being disrupted as the immigrants found their voices. It was also a time of extreme hardship, with brutal work conditions and few worker protections. When examining old Boston Globe archives from that period I found an advertisement for Grape Nuts Cereal - and it suggested eating them would keep you healthy, helping you avoid missing work and losing your job due to illness.

In this period were a number of new movements - in the United States these included communism and anarchism - often linked together though they had very different desires. Anarchists were quite terrifying to Americans of the day - and understandably so. There was reason for the caricature of the bomb-throwing anarchist. Many heads of state were killed by anarchists, including US President McKinley. Anarchists blew up a Boston Police Station. They made use of mail bombs.

When a great tank of molasses spilled 2.3 million gallons of molasses onto the city streets, the initial assumption was it was done by anarchists. This isn't surprising. Anarchists had threatened the tank as it was used in the production of industrial alcohol, essential for the munitions of the Great War. It was built in a hurry to take advantage of the economic opportunity provided by the war - with poor quality. It often leaked onto the streets.

One of the things I dislike in my own Call of Cthulhu games is having the Mythos responsible for events in human history. It's something that can work if used sparingly but it is very easy to overdo - and can get very tasteless. For example, I would consider it offensive to say "the Holocaust was all for a magic spell that Hitler was casting that required the deaths of millions". However, if one's group were comfortable with the subject matter (and I'm not certain I would be), I could see having an individual Nazi sorcerer taking advantage of the horrid circumstances.

For the Great Molasses Flood, it was such a major event that it would seem a great opportunity for inclusion in a historic game. When I ran an adventure during the Flood, I had it kill a cultist of Tsathoggua in his basement shrine- which unleashed a Formless Spawn no longer under his control. This Spawn was able to easily conceal itself in the molasses that covered everything in the area for days after.

Should our current game reach this point, I'd probably not repeat the same adventure - unless something happens to force a divergence, I consider them taking place in the same universe, so I'd say that was happening in the background. However, there are a number of other possibilities that come to mind. I've taken advantage of the criminal connections that anarchists of the era had and have had cultists often integrate with such groups - some as true believers, some just taking advantage of them.

It is quite likely that some cultists will be displaced by the Flood. The North End was a crowded immigrant neighborhood. One might have been killed by the Flood, leaving his trove of artifacts unprotected - causing a cultist war, if one supposes multiple sorcerous factions in the city. One can easily imagine the early investigation centering around known anarchists, possibly causing a cultist to accelerate his or her plans. One might be arrested, causing followers to attempt a break-out.

Also consider the possibility of using the Flood as a great opportunity to bring investigators together. People struggled to survive and help with rescue efforts. They might even wind up rescuing a cultist...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

5150 Bugs Outbreak - Call in the Militia!

Two Hour Wargames - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 00:19
Part 3

“You have a choice of course,” the Gaea Prime Diplomat said semi-insincerely. “If you want our aid, give us the rights to build an orbital Space Station, solely under our control, overNew Hope.”

“That violates the Halverson Accord,” the City Mayor said. “Perhaps there’s an alternative?”
“Yes, yes there is,” the Diplomat replied. “You can all die from the Bugs; your choice.”

The City Mayor shook his head. and replied "We'll mobilize the Planetary Militia first. They'll handle it."
"Do what you want, just know it's your neck the people of New Hope will want when you fail."

Two days later, the City Mayor's body was found on the streets of  the Downtown Area, dead from a "self-inflicted wound". Next day, the first elements of Gaea Prime Star Marines landed in NHC.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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