Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Zines to Love

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 02/14/2021 - 15:30

 Zinequest 3 is upon us and several of blogging and gaming compatriots have some entries for your enjoyment:

GRIDSHOCK 20XX is the long-awaited (at least by me) totally 80s, post-apocalyptic superhero game by Paul Vermeren. GRIDSHOCK is a great concept, imminently gameable and fairly original (in its synthesis of its influences), and the art and design look gorgeous. 

The Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade by Tim Shorts is an old school adventure with art by Jason Sholtis. I did the cover design for this one. Tim's GM Games really cranks out really table-ready, classic-gaming stuff, and I expect this one to be no different.

Through Ultan's Door #3 will reveal more of Ben Laurence's dreamlands-type fantasy setting. It's already busted is initial goal and blazed through it's stretch goals, but there's still time to jump in. The previous issues are both great physical artifacts and chock full of content.

Lost Songs of the Nibelungs: Mission Statement 2021

The Disoriented Ranger - Sun, 02/14/2021 - 10:56

Time to tackle this beast again. While we work hard on getting my first take on a complete game published and distributed, it's always been my declared goal to make all this happen to allow Lost Songs to be my best effort. Because I care about it. I have been a bit silent about it on the blog, about where I am in that regard, but that's just me being busy and doing this on the side. As you will have noticed, my ramblings had gotten somewhat redundant and more and more, let's say, baroque in the last few months ... Most certainly because 2020 was a snail-suckling fuckfest of epic proportions. So now for something more productive.(Maybe, no promisses) 

That time again ... [source]
What you don't need ...

Here's one preconception that won't hold for Lost Songs: it needs to be a pastiche of some sort of existing game. If you want to trace the origins of this (and I make no effort to hide any of it here on the blog), you are free to go on a deep dive to find and see all of it. Or talk to me about it. I'll probably give you an ear full or two of half-assed theories about why Hit Points are Confidence and how that is actually psychologically sound, design-wise and in general. 

The truth is, you don't need another clone or re-hash or reiteration of games that already exist. Not from me, anyway. It's all out there, most of it for free, and if you by now aren't avoiding the sugar-coated money-milking machine that is corporate roleplaying, I don't know what to tell you other than that I have a bridge to sell for you ... Anyway, there is a world of games out there, catering to many of the same basic assumptions. There are bad takes and there are good takes. You are good in that department. Roam free, my friends ...

All I'm saying, is, that since all of that is out there, I feel no obligation what-so-ever to cater to that in any way shape or form. There is room for all kinds of experiements, and mainstream looks a bit too cozy and a bit too insane to me right now.

What to expect

As I said, I'm giving this my best effort. What this meant up to this point, was going as far as not only writing and testing and more writing about Lost Songs in the last, what, six years, going hard on seven? I also wrote and am about to publish a (completely different? to some extent different ...) roleplaying game, just to see what it takes. Just to be prepared. I'm not saying it to brag (there is nothing to brag about, tbh, it is what it is), I'm saying it to make a point: I want to publish a game, I need to see what it takes.

There is another dimension to this, and that would be the fact that it actually helps to have different projects at different stages in the air. The ideas hold each other in check, so to say (which means I will give The Grind some love as I go into the next stage with LSotN). All of this already took years and will take some more, if I keep the pace I'm having.

Many will have moved on by then, I presume (many already have). In a way, it's funny. If you go the distance, you don't care that much about the turnout. Attention in the age of the internet is fickle. If something can't be satisfyied within a forseeable future, people will move on. That's ok. I have made friends here and we keep in touch. The same will be true when I get Lost Songs out there. So I'm sure I can make someone happy when this becomes a reality.


There's also an extensive amount of research to this. For what I'm trying to do, it needs a exhaustive knowledge about history, psychology and game design. 'Exhaustive' means in this context, enough for me to be comfortable with the result. I actually want to have an inkling how people have lived 1500 years ago in Europe. What houses, what music, what food, what languages ... That's some dark history right there, with lots of unexplored areas, actually. Which is where psychology bridges the gap, I guess. And since I'm not writing a fricking novel here, game design is my form of expression.

That's what you can expect, then. If you care enough to stick around (or if the short attention span cycle brought you by in a couple of years from now). A game based on the potential exhibited so far here and with my other publications. Is that enough? I'd say, it's honest. Let's go from there.

What I aim for

It's not that there isn't any vision, and it might very well be out of my reach. Still, something to aspire to, so here it goes. I want players and DMs of this game to get an inkling what live had been like back then. To gain some insight into the kitchens of the old Germanic people. Playing Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, you should take away an idea how those legends of old came to pass and what they meant to the people telling them.

Not in the sense of a documentary, or anything like this. It'll still have zombies and tentacles and cosmic horror and Elves and Dwarves ... just through the lense of someone who lived 1500 years ago. See? That's the thing. It's not something the players need to bring to the table, it's something the game needs to evoke when it's played, not even when it's read. That's with the designer. If I'm not able to deliver that, I failed you when you actually decided to explore the game.

I keep saying that roleplaying games are a distinct form of medium, so this is what it takes to make that happen, imo. Player will be heroes, but they might die from the damage they received in a snow storm short before fulfilling their destiny. It should be a wild ride, the game should allow players to play the system to have their characters excell, but failing needs to be satisfying as well. The story told needs to be great, just from the system output alone. It needs to make the DM look good, offer a (plat)form of expession specially customized for this experience.

It all needs to come together, and I have a very specific idea about the layout, that will be very experimental (to say the least .. but it might just work). It needs to be complete, which might make another intensive play-testing campaign necessary .. In the end, I need to be happy with it. A good friend of mine said the game so far reinded him of a very complex clockwork of a system (a comment I still appreciate, after all those years). Problem with that is, that it takes little to go wrong with that big-time.

Either way, you probably guessed it by now, it will be very special interest :D

Goths, before it was cool [source]
Anyway, lets write this mother ...

You see, many, many construction sites. As it is, I can make that happen at the table, if I DM it. To some extent I can make it work if I'm accompanying a DM helming a game. It needs more than that, and if you actually read the above, you know I have set up some hard standards for this. So far it's a fun experience (and yes, I know I'm strange).

I'd love to see the following happen in 2021:

  • a complete collection of everything I did for the game so far (all 4 books)
  • collecting, expanding and summarizing my research into the Dark Ages
  • getting an idea what this should look like, as far as layout and artwork go (what can I do, what could I invest, how far can I push this) 

I expect this to keep me occupied for some time, with some fun projects on the side (we are play-testing/developing that module I have talked about, called THE RISE OF ROBO-HITLER, and it's a hoot). So I will keep you all informed (the three people reading the blog, ha!).

One last thing I have learned and will dare to share here: it doesn't matter as much how long it takes to get something finished, finishing it is what counts. That's what people need to have confidence in. I want this to exist, so it will exist. And as long as I have a say in how it will exist, it'll be something I will be proud of to have in the hands of others.

I wonder, of course, if anybody out there is still interested in seeing how this turn out. So if that's the case, it'd make me really, really happy to see a comment about that below. Show some love, if you feel like it. Gimme that vote of confidence. It goes a long way (as this might still go sideways, for some reason or another ...).

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Nod by Nod - September 2010 (#4)

Deep Sheep - Sun, 02/14/2021 - 02:11

Over at you can find posts by John Stater called Dragon by Dragon where he reads through an issue of Dragon Magazine and gives his thoughts about it. I recently bought a big pile of NOD Magazine and thought I would return the favor and go through each issue similarly.

NOD #4 is 106 pages and is almost entirely the hexcrawl. It begins with the Medieval Bestiary which is 10 pages of strange creatures from European folklore. My favorite is the Panthera, which is a feline the size of a leopard that can create a cloud of perfume that acts as a charm spell.
Eastern Venatia is the feature article, a 75 page hexcrawl that also talks about the larger area that includes this hexcrawl and the ones in NOD #1-3. 
The next two articles are adventures, more detail for two of the hexes detailed in Eastern Venatia. The first is The Pleasure Palace of Izrigul, a seven level dungeon that only has the first level detailed in this issue. The second is The Ruins of Timulus, which is a complete 8-page adventure for mid-level adventurers.
Next is Gods of the Golden Sea, which has the same format as the previous articles on gods. This one is based on the mythologies of the eastern Mediterranean. 
Lastly, we get Phantastes, Part 3. The game notes talk about the nature of Fairyland and shadows. 
NOD Magazine continues to be quality material. You can get the PDF of issue #4 at Lulu or in print at Lulu.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Barrow of Sorn, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 02/13/2021 - 12:11
By Mason Waaler Self Published OSR Levels 1-2

The final resting place of Sorn is a crumbling ruin; a barrow mound of piled stone and dirt. A forgotten tomb from a previous age. Locals are wary of it, their dreams haunted by a stone coffin and a skeletal king.

This twelve page adventure features a twenty room “tomb” dungeon. It’s got some decent writing in it which takes more of the more tried & true tropes and uses them in a decent way.It fumbles about from time to time but is, generally, a decent tomb dungeon. I generally start with the positive, but I’d like to start with the negatives on this one, understanding, that, I’m going to give this one a light recommendation. 

The read-aloud is in italics. I LOATHE long sections of italics. It’s hard to read. Also, I’m not sure it’s read-aloud. It’s formatted kind of like it’s read-aloud, but it might just be a DM overview of the room. I say this because many rooms start with “Dry, Cold, dusty” or “Empty & Cold” or some other really brief hit of an idea. This makes sense for DM information and is a little weird for read-aloud. So, I’m gonna call this “Read-aloud”, for convenience purposes, but I’m pretty sure it’s just an overview of the scene aimed at the DM.

So, anyway, italics. It also seems to be trying too hard in places. “Chiseled ruins mar the floor …” Ok, so, yeah, mar is a word and it is better than nothing. “Three pillars guiard the western wall and three guard the eastern.” Yeah, I get it. I get what the designer is trying to do, and I’m happy they are trying. I do, however, take exception with the specific word choices. It doesn’t look effortless. It instead looks contrived. “Loom over the western wall” or “tower” or something else would have probably been a better choice. This is a common problem in this adventure. Yeah, I’m a fucking asshole. But, it is absolutely coming across as contrived rather than evocativly imagined.  On the right track though, absolutely. DM text can also get a bit long in places and has bouts of “[the skeletons] are implacable, unfeeling, and dedi? cated in a way only the dead can be.” Which, to be fair, is true and cool, but I’m not sure adds a lot. An off hand comment here and there is fine though.

On the plus side, it gets most things right. For example, wanderers are doing something. A spider is dragging a corpse along in a web. A red wraith weeps smoke. Similarly, the monsters themselves get great little descriptions. A wraith made of crimson smoke and a shadowed cowl. Gleaming green-black glaives. Howling, whirling and quick. Or skeletons with red script spiraling across their brows. Spiraling, isn’t that a great word?And crimson? In contrast to the “Read aloud” the monster descriptions are great and don’t seem forced at all. And, the magic items are sufficiently different to be interesting!

Other details are great as well. Those dreams of a skeletal lord in a casket? The local “wearily remark …” when questioned. It’s fucking great! You IMMEDIATELY get the sense that they have lived through this shit forever and are both tired of it and tired of explaining it to n00bs. The crypt proper? It belongs to the King of Ghosts, from when the Last Lich ruled the world. Nifty mythology! Barely glowing runes CRACK when you kill something like skeletal guards, providing a nice cause/effect thing for the party to observe. Wraiths flows from ruins. A mosaic on a wall has an eye made of an emerald … with a button behind it. It’s this kind of stuff that really marks some high points of the adventure. Parts of it make sense and FEEL imagined rather than constructed. And that’s a sign of good design. Likewise the sulky ghost who refuses to talk to you if you break in to the room where his body is stored … that you should do in order to free his soul. (For certain definitions of “should.”) 

There’s a little too much “emerging from hidden alcoves” in parts of the adventure. There’s also some conclusions thrown about instead of descriptions, like a mural depicting a wight beheading a kneeling man. This should be a description, not a conclusion. 

A decent adventure. It’s not going to win any awards, I don’t think, but it does bring a certain competence to the table. There are things to improve upon, but there usually are. 

This s $1 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing, so, Nice Preview! You get to know exactly the sort of content you are buying! Check out the new magic items on the last page, like The Wraithstone. Or, check out page six of the preview, the first page of keyed entries, for a sample of the room. Nice job!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade and Zine Quest #3

Bat in the Attic - Sat, 02/13/2021 - 00:33


My good friend, Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor is in his last three days of his kickstarter, an adventure zine called the Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade. Written for Old School Essential it is a series of adventures around the various crypts of Lady Ingrade. It also part of Zine Quest, an effort by Kickstarter to promote various types of RPG zines. 

Tim has tapped me to do the maps. Here is a sample below.

It represents an evolution of my black and white style. I recently stumbled on a source for old screen tone, dry transfer sheets filled with patterns and symbol that were used prior to advent of illustration software and desktop publishing. I bought a few to fill in gaps in my collection and some of them are found in these maps. The ones below are scrubland, jungle, and tidal flats. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] Barrow of Sorn

Beyond Fomalhaut - Fri, 02/12/2021 - 22:47

Barrow of Sorn
Barrow of Sorn (2021)

by Mason Waaler


Levels 1–2

If you have been playing D&D for a while, you approximately know what kind of adventure Barrow of Sorn will be – this is one of those common mini-adventure subgenres which make up a lot of the cheaper DrivethruRPG releases. So, barrows. Every campaign setting can use them, you can put them anywhere (the barrow-building people are long dead), and they contain traps, treasure, and undead warlords. Barrowmaze, the king of barrow adventures, contains an entire megadungeon, but it is kind of an outlier, and not discussed here. This is the smaller kind that’s all plug and play, and suitable for about one evening’s worth of play.

Barrow of Sorn, originally written for a D&D-like system that is practically D&D, is short and decently made. It is a 20-room dungeon in a 12-page pamphlet, written in a to-the-point style that is unornamented but GM-friendly, with strategically used bolding to draw attention to the important stuff, and meticulously applied cross-references. The map, created with the excellent and free Dungeon Scrawl, is crisp and readable (the dungeon layout itself, a collection of rectangular rooms, is not too interesting). The dungeon has all the usual stuff of barrow exploration – six adventure hooks, an entrance section leading to a false tomb, subsequent traps, magical enigmas, puzzles, and an undead monarch.

There are a few aspects where this particular barrow stands out. Unlike the static tomb scenarios, this has a decent dynamic element with its simple but fun random encounter table. It is not just “a giant spider” or “warrior apparitions”, but a giant spider dragging a frozen body, and warrior apparitions still fighting some long-gone battle. There you have it – in a single step, we have gone from basic to inspired! Encounters with undead include a few intelligent denizens bound to the place, adding an element of interaction. Finally, there is a fun final hook of turning this beginner-level adventure into an exercise in unintended consequences, something I heartily approve of. There are a few weaknesses to note. The puzzles feel slightly artificial (the “keycard” approach, where you have to collect three gewgaws to open the way forward), there is way too much magical treasure (it is mostly low-level stuff, cheapening the thrill of finding something really good), and sometimes, the “monsters appear when the runes are disturbed” way of generating extra combat wears thin. It is a module looking for a missing "WOW" factor, perhaps, unless we count that final idea.

For a single buck, you get a beginner dungeon with a decent variety of encounters. Could you make up something similar yourself? Yes, most likely. Would it make for a good game if you ran this particular barrow module? Also yes. Does it slot easily into your campaign? Yes, as long as it is a D&D-like game, this will fit.

No playtesters are credited in this publication.

Rating: *** / *****

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: The Mighty

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 02/12/2021 - 12:00
This post originally appeared in 2018...
  Art by Jack Kirby
In the Country of Sang in the Land of Azurth, there are those born among the human tribes and city-states that have abilities beyond those of other mortals. These are the Mighty.

No one knows why the Mighty are so gifted. Some believe they bear the blood of the Ancients, who had mastered mastered sorcery and science to make themselves superhuman, while others think that they are specially chosen by forgotten gods. Often Mighty individuals will appear as normal humans until some sort of fateful trial or challenge, but these experiences are merely the catalysts of change not the source of their power.

Mighty Traits:

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Age. The Mighty live somewhat longer lifespans as mundane humanity, perhaps a bit over a century, but the mature at the same rate.
Alignment. The Mighty may be of any alignment.
Size. The Mighty are powerfully built and generally tall (6 to 7 feet, or sometimes more). Your size is Medium.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Athletic Prowess. You have proficiency in the Athletics skill.
Superhuman Endurance. You can focus your will to occasionally shrug off injury. When you take damage, you can use your reaction to roll a d12. Add your Constitution modifier to the number rolled, and reduce the damage by that total. After you use this trait, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Strength Beyond Mortals. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
Fearlessness. You have advantage on saves against fear.

Art by Bruce Timm

The Palace of Unquiet Repose, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 02/10/2021 - 12:11
By Prince of Nothing The Merciless Merchants Labyrinth Lord, OSR, etc Levels 3-5

Uyu-Yadmogh. Prince of Princes. Archmage. Devourer of Children. Under the earth he built himself a palace in which he could abide eternity. Now he is only half-remembered legend. The ground trembles, the earth is split asunder. In the sunken depths of the earth, the Palace awaits. An adventure for those who dare.

This 50 page adventure details a funerary complex dungeon, and the ruined city and environs around it. It is rare to encounter something that FEELS like it should. This FEELS like the funerary complex of a mighty evil magical empire. It oozes a kind of baroque evil. And it’s not just stuffed full of undead. They are there, but it doesn’t FEEL like this is an adventure full of undead. It feels … mythic? Nice job.

Tomb of Horrors delivered a trap filled vaguely vanilla dungeon with a demi-lich at the end to stab. The mausoleum in Rappan Athuk wanted to deliver a mournful kind of place that served as the threshold for parties to enter the Dungeon of Graves. Various other dungeons have tried, and generally failed, to evoke a kind of quiet horror that comes from graveyards. Many adventures speak of long-dead empires of evil magic users and attempt to transport you there, in spirit, through the dungeon that is related to them. This, though, does a great job of conveying the vibe that those adventures are trying for. This is this sense, in almost every encounter, that this place IS the legacy of a long dead empire of evil magic. The sense of dread is never very fall way. A sense of the cyclopean. Of ennui. Of forgotten things. It’s all in there.

A statuary garden on the shores of a mist-covered lake of mercury, great figures with great urns, as if they are pouring things out of them, in a semi-circle. Anointing yourself with dist from the urns makes things happens … Baroque armor, inhabited by te souls of long-dead generals. “Two chimeras of god, scorpion and lion carved from gleaming black stone flank the stair entrance of this oppressive shrine. Five statues bearing great urns upon their shoulders surround a circular podium. A hundred carved faces stare dolorously from walls of ash-grey stone.” Holy fuck, what the fuck did your party just sign themselves up for!

[Special note: the art in this compliments the text very well, helping to convey the atmosphere and tone of the locations. Perfect!]

Back in town, before the adventure, youtube a host of NPC’s you can hire, each with memorable quirks. Some of the hooks are decent, like a sage who “offers his weight in gold and three of his daughters to anyone who can bring him the grimoire of Uyu-Yadmogh.” I’m generally not a fan of “someone hired you” but I am a fan of weights of gold and three of his daughters, as well as bounty hunters, mercenaries pursuing jobs. 

“The dusk stalkers prowl the wastes, leaving behind no trace, shrieking for blood and souls.” one of the monster descriptions tells us. From that the mind races. You can imagine an encounter. The creatures howling in the distance, building tension in the party. Keeping them on edge. And that’s what so much of this adventure does. It builds tension through it’s art, use of writing, and interactive encounters. A room has a basin on the opposite wall. The basin is obviously full of gold coins. The walls of the room are decorated with carvings f faces, all of their mouths open. Oh come on, EVERYONE knows that will happen! And that’s what makes this a great encounter. It’s a classic, lure, trap, mouths pouring forth something. 

Factions run through the ruins around the ancient tomb. They are in conflict with each other. They might be in conflict with the party. Some of the factions have internal rifts within them that can be exploited. That’s the way you do a faction. Give them a goal, give them relationships with those both internal and external to the faction, and then let the party stumble and bumble their way through things. 

I can’t say enough about the writing, the sense of baroque dread. You come upon a camp. There are bodies laying down in a circle, as if asleep. Their throats slit, no sign of violence otherwise. Forboding. 

And the sense … the head of the dead god of dreams mumbles almost incoherent prophecy. The demi-god of strength is chained to a throne with an adamantine chain, roaming in search of killing you. He, and a mist that animates the dead, roam about, always serving as an adversary to be avoided by the party. Something to use cunning to avoid, overcome, or use to your advantage.

Captain Sarakur, leader of a faction of warriors without peer “… cares nothing for his men and doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice them if it means survival or reaching the palace.” Sweet! Khabareth Who Comes Before “attempts to seduce one of the PCs with the aim of feeding him to The Wolf of Final Night.” How the fuck can you not love that? The specificity! The detail! And yet it’s done without droning on and on and on. The imagination runs wild with these half fainted things!

At one point there’s this bit of treasure “a tarnished silver circlet shaped like a snake devouring its own tail with an empty eye socket.” Wanna wear it? Normally I’d jump at the chance to do so, but after being in this place a little … you’re scared to! Not because magic items are death to touch, the mistake so many adventures make, but because of the atmosphere of dread and foreboding that relentlessly works upon you!

Formatting it great. Cross references, bolded keywords followed up with indents and bullets to explain more of those topics. It gets a little long in places, but this is because the rooms are stuffed full of things. It never feels like too much to run, although it feels like its close … which is probably a good thing.

Great formatting. Great writing. Great encounters. Great world building. Great adventure. Easily on the The Best.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages and shows you one of the cave complex entrances to the valley/cave that the Palace resides in. As such it’s a good introduction to the writing style, formatting, and interactivity of the adventure. Good preview, although, I might put the level range in the product description addition to on the cover.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

To Run a Great Dungeon, Write All Over the Map

DM David - Tue, 02/09/2021 - 12:10

For running a dungeon, the familiar map with numbers sets dungeon masters up for trouble. Many times when characters enter a dungeon room, I turn to a room’s key, and then learn that the party just passed a trapped door. “Wait! You can’t go in yet because…no particular reason.” Other times, when dungeon expeditions recklessly make noise, I want to find any monsters that hear. After all, dungeons should feel like active places where dangers lurk and where actions bring consequences. I check the map, spot 10 or so nearby room numbers, and realize that paging through the adventure text would stall the game for minutes. So I wind up supposing the werebats next door failed to hear the thunderwave. I guess monsters can wear headphones. Meanwhile, a dog in the yard hears a bag of chips opening in the attic.

Really, as a tool for running a dungeon, the typical map with just numbered locations sucks. But DMs can easily improve maps and the process leaves you better prepared for adventure.

Annotated dungeon map for CORE 2-1

My best tip for running a great dungeon: Write all over the map.

This tradition of minimally-useful maps dates to the publication of Palace of the Vampire Queen and F’Chelrak’s Tomb. For 40-some years published adventures almost always include maps that suck. Designers should stop following a bad example. For a better example of useful dungeon maps, look to entries in the one-page-dungeon contest.

Meanwhile, few DMs considered improving their maps by marking up a brand new copy of, say, G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. In 1978 its $4.49 price amounted to $18 today. You couldn’t even mark a copy of the maps, which TSR printed in blue to thwart Xerox.

For published adventures, make a copy of dungeon map pages. For your own maps, either write on your original or save a clean copy. Then get out your colored pens and highlighters and mark the maps with the notes you need to run.

  • List monsters in their locations.
  • Mark traps and locked doors.
  • Circle areas where characters may hear or smell things in the dungeon like waterfalls, forges, unholy rituals, and so on.
  • If guards might call for reinforcements, mark the travel times between key locations.
  • Circle areas controlled by factions.

Time spent writing on the map doubles as preparation for running the adventure. If you mark enough, you can run direcly from the map.

Smaller map marked for adventure

Lacking a copier, I used sticky notes

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

D&D’s Advice for Dungeon Masters Offers Nothing on Running Dungeons

DM David - Tue, 02/09/2021 - 11:01

Even as a game with dungeons in the title, Dungeons & Dragons offers zero advice for dungeon masters aiming to run dungeons. The game provides plenty of help for the solo fun of sitting with a blank sheet of graph paper and designing dungeons, but nothing for sitting behind a DM screen across from players entering the underworld.

Seeking to fill this gap, I paged through a stack of guides and volumes of advice, many with titles like Dungeonscape and even just Dungeons. The dungeon-related content breaks down like this:

65% designing dungeons
35% exploring dungeons
0% running dungeons

To be fair, the 0% appears because I never counted D&D’s original volume 3, Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. That book includes Gary Gygax’s attempt to describe dungeon crawls in terms familiar to miniature-wargame grognards. So the explanation has parties taking turns marking inches of movement. Today, only groups seeking D&D’s roots attempt such formality.

Why so few tips for running the dungeon part of a dungeon adventure?

Partly, we givers of advice tend to suppose that dungeon masters already know how to master dungeons. After all, the game’s 3-step loop works underground. (1) Describe the situation. (2) Ask what the players want to do. (3) Resolve the action. Newcomers easily learn these 3 steps at the heart of roleplaying games, becoming players and potentially DMs. Beyond that, most advice for game masters works perfectly well underground.

Also, dungeon advice can prove situational. That original procedure with turns and movement works fine in a mythic underworld, but in other locations it amounts to tedium.

Still, when I started writing tips for running dungeons, and then asked for help from D&D fans on Twitter, I uncovered plenty of help specific to running secrets and challenges mapped on a sheet of graph paper. In a follow-up post, I reveal my favorite tip.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dread on Demon Crown Hill, DCC adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 02/08/2021 - 12:28
By Michael Curtis Goodman Games DCC Level 2

Long ago, Frygorix of the Thousand Lies, a foul demon, ruled with fear from atop a lonely tor, spreading death and plague across the land. Two brave siblings, one bearing an enchanted shield of great power, challenged the demon, vowing to slay it and free the land. In their climactic battle, black towers of six-sided stone arose from the hilltop, an eerie outcropping called the Demon Crown by some. Stories hold that the shield lies untouched within the Demon Crown, but who knows what else might dwell within those weird, dark pillars of unearthly rock?

This twenty page digest adventure details a dungeon with about thirteen rooms in it. Workmanlike, it feels constructed rather than imagined. 

You hear about a magic shield in a cliffside area similar to the Devils Postpile/Giants Causeway, etc. IE: a bunch of hexagon stone “tubes” all mashed together. You wander about inside of them until you fight a demon and some rock monsters. 

Goodman does a good job with their DriveThru descriptions, noting page count, levels, and so on. Further, they don’t fuck around in the adventure with a long boring backstory and a lot of meaningless drivel about making it your own game, how to roll dice, etc. It is, essentially, unpadded. Just like that short and sweet into to G1, there IS a little backstory, but it’s not excessive and it doesn’t get in the way of running the adventure.

Curtis understands the genre and his events and scenes fit in well stylistically. At one point you (could be) meeting with a trog queen sitting on a throne of skulls. The skulls speak in unison and translate her speech to common. There are multiple classic elements there, from the throne of skulls to them speaking in unison to the translation. In other places a sword can be imbued with the spirit of a long dead warrior. Things are embedded in walls (which seems to be a favorite of Curtis …) and sometimes pull themselves free. The elements are there.

But, I also find Curtis to be one of the more inconsistent DCC writers. While he understands the material, whatever it is, is doesn’t always get translated on to the page well. Some adventures, like the Chained Coffin, really translate the style well from Curtis, to the page, and back to the DM. Others don’t. Still others feel more constructed than imagined. And that’s the case with this one.

It feels more like a series a rooms each with something in them. It doesn’t feel like a whole but rather separate parts. The setting location should be fantastic, but it comes off as a little dry and boring, not interesting to explore. (Which could be writing or the design, this is the old “the dwarves are stoic builders” trap; they then come off as boring Brutalist. Looking good from the outside, but that’s all they got.)

Woven bags, not of human skin but just woven. Rock monsters pulling themselves out of the rock walls … who just do slam attacks. That’s boring. (As opposed to the fire harpies in another area that breathe fire gouts. That’s cool!) There’s just not a lot going on, and that leads to a kind of matter of fact nature of the rooms and their contents. Not exactly bad, but not really something to recommend it either. Also ran, as it were.

Dovetailing in to this are the Mighty Deeds. You need an interesting room to do these well. Something to work with. The brutalist architecture just doesn’t really you with anything much to work with. It’s an empty room. Try and do something.

One of the weaker, but not the weakest, of the Curtis adventures. 

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. You DO get a chance to see some of the adventure. Note the boring rock people art, and the last page of the preview, with its read-aloud and descriptive text.

Bonus blog feature: Tower of the Hanged Men. This is a one pager that uses the art on the map to good effect. It’s a hard adventure to puzzle out, but, it DOES use the map art to help augment the adventure text to bring more than the sum of its parts to the adventure. Looks like maybe there’s some English as a Second Language issues. Remember one page designers … you also get the back of that page, if it’s printed two-sided!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #7: Dry Storage

Zenopus Archives - Sun, 02/07/2021 - 16:53

This is an installment of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts at Area 1.

Area X Area 5
The squares show the niches described below

A large cavern, and very dark; entering from the west with a light source will reveal a circular space with irregular walls, a dry stone floor, and scattered rubble, the largest of which is an immense fallen stalactite in the center of the room. No other exits are clearly visible, although the rough walls create many shadowed areas (which hide a number of niches; see below). Rusted torch sconces are attached to the wall on each side of the entrance to the room.

Fallen Stalactite. Lying on its side in a northwest (base, 5 feet wide) to southeast (tip, 3 feet wide) direction, this massive cylindrical rock is roughly 10 feet long. The chamber is sufficiently large to walk all of the away around it. On the far side from the entrance, a pair of skeletal legs wearing cavalier boots protrude from beneath the stalactite --- apparently those of someone who was caught underneath when it fell. The legs point out toward the shadowed niche in the northeast corner (see below).
The stalactite can be lifted just enough to pull the skeleton out by several characters with a combined strength of 60 (e.g., four each with 15 or greater strength), or by any two characters of average strength (11 or greater), each using a lever (see the north niche below) placed on a suitable fulcrum (e.g., a piece of rubble). The upper torso of the skeleton remains somewhat intact due to a slight depression in the floor, and looped around the neck is a silver chain (value 100 gp) with an iron key that will open a chest in Area ? (to be updated).
Niches. Closer examination of the walls will reveal a number of niches, which were used by the smugglers to store supplies. There are a total of seven large niches (marked by squares on the map above) in locations roughly corresponding to the following compass points: 
NW, N, NE, E, SE, S, SW(click to jump to the description of each below)
    a. Northwest. The niche in this direction is at floor level and large enough to walk into, but after five feet the back slopes down for about ten more feet before ending, and this area is filled with the discarded remains of crates, bins, jars and jugs, which once held various supplies of food and drink. A search of the junk for one turn will yield one intact and tightly-sealed jug of vinegar (formerly apple cider).
    b. North. This shelf-like niche is about two feet off the ground, and on the shelf lies a row of iron tools, all rusty but usable, including an adze (for shaping wood), an auger (for drilling holes), two hammers, a maul and three 5' long digging bars, which could be used for levering up the fallen stalactite (see above).
        Beyond the tools, the niche continues for 5 feet and then narrows to a tunnel large enough for a human to crawl through, one person at a time, but ending in rubble after 15 feet. The rubble can be cleared out in 1d4 turns, but doing so will only reveal a dead end of solid rock.
    c. Northeast. This large niche is just a few inches above floor-level, and holds large pile of mouldering ropes and a bunched-up canvas sail. Hiding in the folds of the sail is a Giant Centipede. If disturbed, the centipede will attempt to scurry to the back of the niche, where it will hide among the rubble ten feet back (see below), and then bite at anyone who bothers it there.
        Giant Centipede: DX 15, AC 9, HD 1/4, hp 1, AT 1 poisonous bite, save at +4
        Beneath the sail are a ladle and four sealed clay pots, each filled with pine pitch. There is sufficient pitch to re-waterproof the old rowboat in Area 3 (this will take two pots) and/or the four barrels in the southwest niche (this will take one pot). The pitch must be heated over a fire before application; any character familiar with ships, or even having lived near a coast, will know this.
        Past the piles, the niche narrows as above for the north niche, and reaches rubble after 10 feet, but here there is just enough space for an unarmored human to squeeze past, and each turn spent clearing has a 2 in 6 chance of enlarging the tunnel enough for an armored character. Beyond this, the tunnel soon turns east and continues to Area X (to be updated). 
    d. East. In this direction, the niche is about fifteen feet above the floor, and the wall leading up to it is smooth and not easily climbed by non-thieves (normal chance for thieves). The niche is only about 5 feet tall and deep, and is empty with several cracks in the back wall. Deep in one crack is wedged a flat unholy symbol of Dagon depicting a humanoid shark, and made of mother-of-pearl (worth 500 gp):
Holy Symbol of Dagon by Lore Suto
    e. Southeast. This is the largest niche, located at floor level and 10 feet high and deep. A low moaning sound will be heard by anyone standing at the mouth. If a light is shone towards the back, it will reveal that the moaning is emanating from a ten-foot tall figure in a dark grey robe wrapped in ropes, arms raised, standing against the back wall. However, this figure is unmoving, and closer inspection will reveal it to be a statue wrapped in an oilskin canvas, and the moaning to be a trick of wind filtering through tiny cracks in the back of the niche.
        The statue is a warrior sea goddess, made of a finely carved and exquisitely painted wood (cedar), worth 10,000 GP to the right buyer in Portown. The statue is too large to fit through the sea cave entrance (Area 1) or even up the chimney in Area 5. However, being made of cedar means that it is buoyant, and thus could be floated through Areas 8 and 9 and then hauled the rest of the way through the caves to Portown.
    f. South. Another shelf-like niche, similar to the north niche, but about 3 feet off the ground and with a horizontal cast-iron rack lying on it, holding six rusted cutlasses. Five are usable but have a 1 in 6 chance of breaking with each successful hit. The sixth appears similar to the others, but on closer inspection the grip will be noted to be engraved with a pattern of waves. This cutlass of the high tide has magical powers that are activated by immersing it in, or anointing it with, fresh sea water. If such is done, it will become a +1 weapon, +3 versus sea creatures, as well as functioning as a +1 ring of protection. These powers will last for one day, after which it must be dowsed with fresh sea water to activate it again. 
    The back of this niche narrows to a blocked tunnel, similar to the north niche (see above).

    g. Southwest. Another large niche at floor level containing four empty barrels (once holding water, long since evaporated), a few wooden cups, and a rusted ladle. The barrels remain in fair shape and could be used to float through Areas 8 and 9; each will hold a single person.
The only apparent exit from this room is back to the west (the northeast niche conceals a crawlable tunnel that heads east). Follow the links on the above map; if there is no link, the area is not yet posted.

To be continued...

Chronologically on this blog, the previous posted installment was Area 6 and the next posted installment was Area 8.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] Beyond the Borderlands

Beyond Fomalhaut - Fri, 02/05/2021 - 20:40

Beyond the Borderlands (2020)

by Alex Damaceno

Published by Jacob Hurst & Swordfish Island LLC.

Level 1

Ah, Keep on the Borderlands! Beginner of a million campaigns, grave for a dumpster’s worth of character sheets, and template for a host of followers, imitators, and heartfelt homages! The most meat-and-potatoes D&D fare, so influential that the original template now seems nothing special! The Keep, however, bears an unholy curse: those who seek to recreate it, are cursed to frustration and failure. Such are the bewitchments of Gary Gygax. And it is so: all B2 homages invariably lack something from the original’s greatness. Perhaps their “Caves of Chaos” lack a convincing “Keep” to serve as a counterpoint to dungeon-delving, or they are missing B2’s killer wilderness encounters to drive home how this is a dangerous world.* Perhaps their Caves are not a panorama of immediately available, secretly interconnected lairs making for a surprisingly complex environment built from the most simple of micro-adventures. Perhaps the adventure locations are not given the context of the wild frontier, beset by the forces of Chaos. For such a straightforward scenario – I think it has been revealed that Gary penned it in just a few days – it has a mystery that has not been broken, a secret ingredient that has been left out in the imitators. The closest contender and B2’s meaner, weirder cousin, Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor (“the Keep on the Borderland for assholes”), is the only legitimate rival, and it actually predates B2 by a year. The borderlands have some sort of terrible secret. And so we come to this module.

Beyond the Borderlands
(Image courtesy of Swordfish Islands LLC)

Beyond the Borderlands #1 is the first part of a three-part zine aiming to provide a reimagination of the original module. The first issue – the only one published so far – covers the keep and the wilderness, but not the Bloody Ravine, with the six dungeons of this take on the Caves of Chaos. This obviously limits the scope of this review, but with 20 pages of material to go by, it is about sufficient to form an impression, doubly so because the zine uses a hyper-condensed style to present information – even the most complex areas are covered by a few short sentences.

This is a Borderlands imagined in bold colours, the unnatural hues of some forgotten early 1990s JRPG-meets-LEGO-set. My reviews do not dwell much on artwork – they are an aspect of imagining something, but text is still the main course – yet here, the artwork is the centrepiece, and the text the afterthought. What you will get is two very colourful main maps, one for the keep and one for the 36 hexes of the surrounding wilderness. The wilderness map is also broken up so its “regions” form two-page spreads with the map and descriptions both at your fingertips. As quality of life features go, this is decent, but it will in fact be this module’s limitation, the source of downfall. Having to fit the text produces the same issue you see elsewhere in ultra-minimalist design, and limits both style and meaning to miniature snippets. You have to be a very good writer to convey meaning in short work – poetry works this way, and so does the terse, weird JG classic, Huberic of Haghill – and you have to be precise, essential. But the author is not at this stage of his craft.

Stronglaw Keep

The resulting Borderlands is one that has everything a good B2-inspired adventure should formally have, but none of it is consequential. You have Stronglaw Keep, a home base that’s a fairly close replica of the original (down to the nameless Castellan), but does not suggest ideas beyond a cursory reading of the location names. The stables have horses, and the warehouse is used to store heavy goods. The hidden skulduggery and intrigue of B2’s outpost, however elementary, are not in evidence. A noticeboard’s random proclamations are perhaps the best part, although even here, what we have is the elementary fetch quest (“Looking for fresh blue mushrooms. Bring them to the tavern!”), the rescue mission (“Merchant kidnapped by ravine monsters. Reward if returned alive.”), and the odd detail that’s kinda fun (“The scarlet night is coming. Be ready.”) Consider the cryptic rumours from gaming’s early master of terseness, Bob Bledsaw (from City State of the Invincible Overlord): “A Basilisk has wrecked havoc [sic] in Naughty Nannies, 400 GP offered.”; or “A knight of the Inner-Circle to be Yellow-Striped in the Plaza of Profuse Pleasures.”; or “Rumor of retaliation by Clan of the Venerate against the Clan of the Host on Caravan Street tonight.” Here are rumours – and they are just those, without context or detail – which sparkle, and pack a punch in a single line. “The ruins have buried treasure” is not much of a rumour. B2’s “Bree-Yark!” is simple but memorable with its in-game consequences – no wonder everyone remembers it (not to mention the one with the imprisoned fair maiden).

Similar concerns emerge in the Wicked Palovalley, the zine’s primary adventure location. This is a hex-crawl with every hex keyed, plus region-based random encounter/rumour rolls, simple travelling and weather rules, the works. Six regions of the valley, individually six hexes each, are described on the basis of the isometric illustrations. There are many mysterious sites deep in the Palovalley, and the rumours link this up in a decent fashion. It almost, almost works. But, once again, the text is inadequate to carry the vision. There is no other way of saying this. There are interesting kernels of ideas, like a mushroom grove with strange magical mushroom effects, a lost magic sword, and a few NPCs with potential, but they are mostly fairly underdeveloped, lacking a punch or clever twist. Some hidden beauty lurks in the art that depicts this improbably coloured piece of wilderness, and combining the text with the imagery may improve the module, somewhat. But the well does not run as deep as the art suggests.


Beyond the Borderlands #1 seems to be a perfect example of the art-above-writing trend that’s everywhere in the brand of old-school products. Its never-ever retrogame aesthetics may suggest something, a vague sense of strangeness that seems to be deeper than the zine’s reality, but the aesthetics are thin, and there is really very little underneath that is not blatantly obvious. The module comes with two cool frogman stickers. These are pretty neat.

No playtesters are credited in this publication.

Rating: ** / *****


* Fun note: when running B2 about 15 years ago for my then local group – none of them D&D vets – they headed out from the keep armed with backstories and elaborate “character goals” that had disappointingly little with killing goblinoids, and all of them were killed by the black widow spiders lurking in the forest. They never came near the Caves of Chaos.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Chainmail Announcement from Domesday Book #9

Zenopus Archives - Thu, 02/04/2021 - 14:56

Above is an early (perhaps the first) announcement for Chainmail, from the Domesday Book periodical, issue #9. While referred to simply as "Medieval Miniatures rules", they are by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren, include a Fantasy Supplement, and are sold by Lowrys Hobbies, so there's no mistaking what it is for.
This excerpted image was posted by Rob Kuntz here on EnWorld in 2019, and its existence was earlier noted in Playing at the World, both the book (page 42) and the blog ("this issue contains the first notice of the publication of Chainmail in the Domesday Book"). I'd thought I'd share it here because I don't think a lot of folks have seen it.
For search-engine posterity, here is the transcribed text:
"Announcing a completely revised set of Medieval Miniatures rules, with a large         fantasy suppliment for fighting Tolkien-type battles, by Gary Gygax and Jeff                   Perren (of course!). For this and your wargaming needs it's                                     LOWRYS HOBBIES, Box 1123, Evansville, Indiana 47713 Giant Catalog - 50¢"
Lowrys Hobbies was the previously established Evansville-based mail-order business of Don Lowry, who in 1971 founded Guidon Games to publish Chainmail and other games; in 1972 he moved both to Belfast, Maine. Here's the cover of a 1972 Lowrys catalog still showing the Evansville address:

The "(of course!)" aside presumably refers to the fact that Perren & Gygax had published their medieval rules in an earlier issue of the Domesday Book (#4, July 1970), titled "The LGTSA Miniatures Rules". You can read more about these rules, which did not yet include a Fantasy Supplement, here on the Playing at the World blog.
The Acaeum page for the Domesday Book has issue #9 as "Date Unknown" (indicated here as "undated"), but dates the next issue as "April 1971", which would place issue #9 as earlier that that. However, this April date seems to be taken from the date of the one of the articles ("Ancients Society Report, Last Issue, 4/30/71"), which since this is at the very end of April might mean that #10 was actually published later. Playing at the World indicates that issues #8-11 came out "roughly quarterly" (page 634).
Over on the mostly defunct but still useful Tome of Treasures forum, poster scribe wrote that the April 1971 issue of International Wargamer has a full-page advertisement for Guidon Games that includes Chainmail: International Wargamer April 1971 listing at ToT.
Domesday Book #9 also contained the first map of the Great Kingdom, which eventually led to the settings for both Arneson's Blackmoor and Gygax's Greyhawk campaign. An auspicious publication!

The cover of Domesday Book #9 as shown on the Acaeum

(The above material is revised from my posts on the EnWorld thread link above).
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Den of Iron Pearl, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 02/03/2021 - 14:25
By Andrzej Son of Jerzy ASJ 5e Levels 1-3

Iron Pearl is a legend to treasure seekers. She discovered many flooded

cities and extracted various treasures from them. Often working on the

order of the world’s most powerful people. She was equally known for her

love for the pearls as well as her toughness. She had an aversion to society,

few people that knew her used to say that she felt more comfortable being in

the water than attending feasts. One day she disappeared without a trace,

what enticed rumors to spread like wildfire. Sitting by the bonfire,

adventurers and bounty hunters of every race and age told stories about

wealth she kept. They speculated that Iron Pearl hid all of her treasures in

several secret vaults, but no one has ever found any of them. This is about

to change.

This eight page adventure uses four pages to describe six rooms in a linear dungeon. A weird mix of decent formatting, shitty decisions, and a lack of design understanding makes this a frustrating one to review. It’s opposite day!

Good things the adventure does: it puts its clues/important elements in to bullet points for easy reference during play. This is a combination of traditional DM text, read-aloud and then the bullets that expand upon the information. That’s great! It totally helps run the room!

It does, at times, encourage en interactive play style through hints in the read-aloud. For example, the read-aloud in one room mentions a banner. Examining the banner (noted in a bullet) reveals that it is fluttering slightly. This leads to the secret revelation. Perfect! That’s exactly what a room description and further elements should be doing. It leads the players in to deeper examination, the observant ones anyway, end encourages an interactivity play style between the DM and the players … which is the soul of D&D. 

Otherwise, it’s pretty shit.

We get read-aloud in italics which is hard to read. Long sections of text should NOT be in italics. Further, it uses single word italics in places to call attention to certain keywords, mostly in the bullet point items. That’s great! That can be a proper use of italics! But it also uses a fucking fancy ass font which hinders legability. Boo! Boo I say sir! The DM text needs to be pretty trivial to read and comprehend and this fancy font shit don’t help that. 

The read-aloud is also a mixture of styles that switches up. In one place it is in the correct tense. In another it says things like “you arrive” and “you don’t see Arno here”, incorrectly using terse to address the players and their characters instead of just describing a scene. (Yes, that’s wrong. No, there’s not room for opinion.) In other places it changes audience yet again and says things like “ … that the players can see”, addressing the DM in the read-loud? Weird as all fuck. Further, the read-aloud draws conclusions. “This table must be a work bench judging by the …” NO! No! Stop! Don’t fucking do that! Just describe the fucking scene and let the players draw their own conclusions. Describe the crushed shells on top and the tools hanging from it, or its scarred surface, and ket THEM make the conclusion that its a work table. Remember, interactivity!

The front door to the dungeon is a puzzle. You need to roll a DC10 to understand its a puzzle. That’s depressing. Why do this? What if they fail? No adventure tonight? They won’t fail 10? Then why put in a roll at all? The DM will fudge it? Why put in a roll at all? This is NOT how you use a skill check in D&D.

Oh, yeah, that table I mentioned earlier? It’s in an empty room. A room with a table in it. And an ambush from four bandits. How do they hide and ambush the party in a nearly empty room? Who the fuck knows. Just shut the fuck up and roll for initiative, its combat time now. 


This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview is three pages. The last page shows you the first room, so you get to see the formatting, read-aloud etc, and gives you a good impression of what you will be facing in the adventure, as a DM.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Improve Roleplaying Investigation Scenes With These 23 Reasons an NPC Won’t Cooperate

DM David - Tue, 02/02/2021 - 12:00

Roleplaying scenes prove most compelling when players start with a goal and face an obstacle to overcome. Even encounters with the most vivid and fascinating non-player characters fall flat without these two essential elements. When characters lack a goal and a dungeon master launches a role-playing scene anyway, players wind up wondering they are supposed to do. When a scene lacks an obstacle, it bores. (See How to Use Scenes and Summaries to Focus on the Best Parts of a Role-Playing Adventure and Avoiding the Awkward D&D Moment When a Priest, a Wizard, and a Dwarf Enter a Bar and Nothing Happens.) So as a DM, when a roleplaying scene lacks a goal and an obstacle, either summarize the scene and move on, or add the goal or obstacle that the scene needs.

Typically, roleplaying encounters combine an objective of gaining information or help, with the obstacle of an uncooperative non-player character.

Sometimes the players simply try to persuade the NPC, succeed at a diplomacy check, and move on, but if every interaction amounts to a skill roll, the game loses interest. At times the bard’s honeyed words may overcome any objections; at times an NPC faces conflicts or repercussions that require action.

Just as the puzzles in a Dungeons & Dragons game have solutions, and locked doors have keys, NPCs can have keys of a sort too. Every NPC who stands unwilling to cooperate must have a reason for it. To unlock the NPC’s help, players must find ways to defuse or overcome the NPC’s objections.

If an NPC enters an interaction with a reason not to help the players, you should ultimately give the players enough clues to find a way past the objection.

The NPC may reveal the reason, but sometimes the players may need to figure it out for themselves. The key might not even be apparent on first meeting. If players learn something about a character that helps in a later meeting, then the world feels richer, the NPCs more vibrant, and the players cleverer.

To spark ideas and aid with improvisation, I created a list of potential reasons an NPC might have for refusing to cooperate with the player characters. Low-numbered items work best for ad-libbed objections from walk-on characters; they require less planning and fewer details about the NPC. Higher-numbered items work better when you have time to plan for your adventure’s most important NPCs.

Reasons non-player characters refuse to cooperate.

d100 Reason 01-05 Doesn’t want to get involved. 06-08 Doesn’t like your type. I recommend avoiding racism analogs in D&D games, so don’t select even a fantasy race or lineage as a type. Instead, choose a role like bards, adventurers, or meddling kids. 09-13 Doesn’t believe anyone can help. 14-19 Thinks the players will only make things worse and should leave well enough alone. 20-27 Wants something: a bribe, an errand done, or to be convinced that they stand to gain if the players succeed. 28-31 Was paid to keep silent or to stay out. 32-36 Insulted or offended by the players. 37-40 Thinks the players efforts are dangerous because they don’t understand what’s really going on. The NPC might know something the players don’t. 41-43 The players have unwittingly caused the NPC to suffer a loss. 44-46 Feels that helping the players will betray the NPC’s duties or obligations. 47-51 Needs more information to support the players case. 52-54 Knows or suspects that either the NPC or the players are watched. 55-57 Told not to help by someone the the NPC loves or respects. 58-60 Told not to cooperate by an authority. 61-65 Secretly involved with the other side. 66-70 The situation benefits the NPC, for example, by raising the value of the NPC’s trade goods, or by hurting competitors or rivals. 71-74 Fears the players might claim a treasure or reward that the NPC expects to get. 75-77 Is allied with rivals or competitors to the party. 78-82 Has been threatened. 83-87 Someone the NPC loves is threatened. 88-92 Someone the NPC loves is involved with the other side. 93-97 Not involved but might be implicated, perhaps for doing things that once seemed innocent. 98-00 Blackmailed for a misdeed unrelated to the players’ concerns.

When you play an uncooperative NPC, remember that the NPC may seem helpful. An uncooperative NPC can say all the right things while they lie or let the players down.

Still, I suggest feeding the players lies only when the deception leads to a new development. Lies that lead to false leads and dead ends will prove frustrating and un-fun. For example, the countess can lie and say than her hated rival stole the broach, but then the rival must reveal a new piece to a puzzle, perhaps a secret that the countess fought to hide.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Evils of Illmire, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 02/01/2021 - 12:11
By Zack Wolf Spellsword Studios B/X Levels 1-2

A whole classic campaign in your pocket! The Evils of Illmire is a “mini-mega” hexcrawl adventure module designed to provide dozens of sessions of perilous wilderness exploration and dungeon crawling. It features an evil cult, a doomed town, a dangerous wilderness, and a variety of vile monsters. The zine aims to provide plenty of free-roaming adventure content, but with an over-arching threat that looms over the entire region.

This seventy page digest “zine” adventure contains nineteen hexes, a town, and a fuck ton of lair dungeons scattered throughout a region. The designer knows what makes for a good regional area: a lot going on. It is pushing hard up against the limitations of the format, being as big as it is, but is not so off the rails, in verbosity, format or design, as to make it unusable. A de-light-ful little region to toss some PC’s in to!

Rarely do I find myself saying to myself “Holy fuck I want to run this thing!” … but that was the case with this adventure. And it was the case from the very first real page, the adventure synopsis. Illmire is a town that the party ends up at, rumors of treasure in dungeons in the surrounding region. (There are some “investigation” hooks also, but those are as crappy as one line investigation hooks always are. GOLD always works well.) So what you have are the towns hex and the eighteen hexes nearby that make up the region. Each of the hexes has something going on in it, at least one thing (6 mile hexes), and generally a lair dungeon or two … a designer finally figuring out how to make good adventure of the smaller Dyson maps. So the party comes to town and explores the surrounding hexes and dungeon, rumors abound, etc.

But that shits not in the synopsis. Oh no! Kidnappings in town. Bandits on the road that now pose as militia. A cult in town, spreading paranoi and fear-mongering. The temple boarded up, an abomination hidden underneath it. Pod people villagers, the town watch and militia under control, a cult assassin on the prowl, a new priest full of hellfire and brimstone extoling people to confess on themselves and their neighbors to be saved … and blackmailing them while sowing fear and paranoi in town. The town well poisoned, giving the villagers nightmares. A sickness in town, afflicting the elderly and children .. .the mayor on his deathbed. People dying a slow miserable death. And, out in the swamps, THE OVERSEER, a root cause of problems who, academically, doesn’t really care what happens. 

Oh, I was so stoked to run it from that description! And then the hexes start in. SOmething going on in each one, at least one thing. And multiple dungeons, usually, in them. Chances to talk and make friends. Climb the highest mountain to the crystal palace of the mountain giant who feasts you and hears your tales of bravery! And challenges you to quests! The lumberjacks with their boss, in the forest, plagued by fishmen. A floating tower. Sylvan glades. Mushroom forests. This fucking thing is PACKED.

And that is fucking great. A homebase SHOULD have a fuck ton going on. I love that the town, the home base, is a center of evil, and related to some sites out in the hexes, but is, also, an opportunity for downtime fun … getting involved in local affairs, brining the town to life and sucking the party in to its drama while they want some phat l00t out in the wilderness. It’s fucking great!

And its greatness is pushing up against usage. 

The adventure is generally devoid of summaries, except, perhaps, that synopsis at the beginning that mostly covers the cult in the town. This is rough, because there is so much going on that its hard to keep track of. If would really benefit from a page with the major NPC’s and factions on it and a page of summary for the major things in each hex. You need SOMETHING to be able to integrate the adventure as well as its MEANT to be integrated. This is exacerbated by the scattered way in which the places are described. Each hex is described and then the dungeons are described. And they are in some weird fucked up order. SO the hexes are not numerically arranged or alpha arranged, but something else. And it looks like the dungeons are also. This means a hunt for information. The result is everything scattered throughout the books. The town has the overview cult in one place, the town hex in another, the town “dungeons” in another, a town map in another. I don’t want to hunt the wumpus! Other areas, like the militia/bandit fortress, loose their meaning when the context of the fortress is not found on its page but rather earlier in the book, leaving it in isolate and in danger of not getting the full impact out of it. The entire book doesn’t seem to be arranged to play it as an adventure. It seems more like … the things were developed in isolation. And, this is in spite of the areas ll being pretty tightly integrated with each other! And yet they don’t feel DESIGNED to be used together, at all. 

I’m not saying this is adeal killer. THis thing is good enough that I would maybe put in an hour or two to prep my own summary and NPC sheets, with a highlighter in hand. And we all know how fucking much I loathe doing that. But this is GUUUUUDDDDDD. 

I note, in passing there is also some confusing word order in use, mainly in the dungeon keyed encounters.  A barrel has 50 gold nuggets, hidden under rubble in the NE corner. Compare that to Rubble in the NE corner hides a barrel with 50 gold nuggets. This word ordering exacerbates the already large problem of holding this thing in your head. Add to that a little TOO much backstory in some of the descriptions. I’m all for an occasional few extra words to add some context, but when it gets too lengthy, or too often, then these asides to the DM start to detract from comprehension.

Still, this designer knows how to design. Now they just need to learn how to layout and edit in order to pull the entire thing together. It’s not that it’s a mess, and it would probably have worked fine for a smaller volume. But, as adventures get longer and longer then the effort required, and focus required, to keep them coherent increases to need levels. This needed a little extra bit of love in that area. 

This is $5 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. That’s too fucking bad. It needs a preview, as well as the level range in the product description.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bots and Junkers

The Splintered Realm - Mon, 02/01/2021 - 01:18
 I really like the rules for junkers from the first edition - they are one of my favorite things from that game. So, I'm keeping those largely intact, although I'm streamlining some of the mechanics around them. I'm also changing the basic idea of how a junker is found; in the first edition, you had to have a character who got a junker to get one. Now, every team will start with a junker (or make their first adventure about getting one- the default game assumption). However, the junker is ultimately 'owned' by the whole team; the same is going to be true of a bot. The team will have one bot that follows them around on their adventures; it might be connected to the junker, or find some way to happen along with the crew. The purpose of the bot is to be a GM-played character in the group who doesn't do much except provide comic relief, act as a sounding board, and give strategic clues at key moments. It's a non-living but still somewhat self-aware plot mover!
Your bot has the following stats:

AC 1d4+12; HD 2d6+6; Feat +8; MV 1d4+1; no attacks

Bots have impervious 1d4 from their metal shells

Bots have 1d4 talents

Roll 1d6 to see how much the bot resembles a terran;

1 = nearly a synthezoid; 6 = completely mechanical.

On this scale, C-3PO is at 2, R2-D2 is at maybe 4 (still has ‘legs’),

and BB8 is 5 (I man, he kinda has a head and a body I guess).

Roll 1d6 for Communicates: 1-3 = mechanical sounds/code; 4-6 = via speech

The bot’s original purpose

  1. Butler. Open doors, fetch slippers. 

  2. Culinary. Make delicious meals.

  3. Librarian. Maintain records, organize, 

  4. Logistics. Shipping and receiving, processing.

  5. Medicine. Medical procedures and technologies.

  6. Pilot. Operate vehicles (generally in non-combat situations).

  7. Science. Assist with research and data processing.

  8. Technology. Interfacing with other technological systems.

I’m rolling up a bot. This is a science bot, which is designed to assist with research and data processing. Makes sense. It is somewhat human. I’m thinking of Twiki from Buck Rogers. He is bashful; this is a very shy bot who is a total nerd and gets nervous around living creatures (especially female ones). His name is K1RB, or Kirby.  I roll randomly for stats, and end up with:

K-1RB (Kirby), K-Series Research Companion Data Bot

AC 16; HD 2d6+6 (hp 15); Feat +8; MV 2 

Communicates via Speech

Impervious 3; Science Talent 

Kirby is 1 meter tall.

'The White Ship Has Come' Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Session Report #1

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 01/31/2021 - 14:58
"Out of the South it was that the White Ship used to come when the moon was full and high in the heavens. Out of the South it would glide very smoothly and silently over the sea. And whether the sea was rough or calm, and whether the wind was friendly or adverse, it would always glide smoothly and silently, its sails distant and its long strange tiers of oars moving rhythmically. One night I Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Play Testing Begins

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 01/31/2021 - 01:09

I'm ready to roll up a character... characters don't have a 'class' per se. They start with a lineage (where they came from - maybe a species, but it might be something else)... then you focus your character as you go. I like the idea that character creation in Sentinels is something of a game within a game, so I'm trying to replicate that here with the swords and planets vibe...

1. Roll for Lineage. The first step is to determine what talents are possessed by the species that is your ancestry. You are basically creating a species as you go… there is no ‘default’ species. There are Terrans, but they have been exposed to cosmic radiation that has caused any number of changes, so all bets are off. I start by rolling 1d6 to see how ‘close’ I am to human; I roll 1. This guy is identical to a human; he is a Terran, albeit one who may have been exposed to radiation. I roll 4 traits; I roll 18, 10, 88, 57. These (for now) are elemental resistance (cold), regenerate 1 hp per round; poison breath; emotion control. I’m thinking that he was a Terran who was part of a cryo project to equip terrans for mining work on Banquo’s Maw. This would mean that he would have a reason to find a junker, and to be on the moon in the first place. That’s a win. His power even lets him ‘cool’ the emotions of those around him. This will be a limitation of his emotion control power; he can only de-escalate heightened emotions. 

2. Roll for limitations. There is a 2 in 6 chance of a limitation. I already took one to one of my abilities, but I roll 1. I select susceptible to heat damage, since it makes the most sense. Any time he suffers heat damage, he sustains an additional +1d6 damage.

3. Roll for attributes. Now I’m ready to decide on my attributes. I roll 2d6 for each, rerolling 1s, and get: 6, 8, 8, 10, 7, 6. Nothing too great, but it’s fine.

I know that the 10 is going to improve (it will be the favored attribute), so it will be pretty good. While CON makes the most sense, it is the least fun… I’m thinking either DEX or INT, but CHA would be okay too. I am curious what a random roll would give me (but I’m not locking in to it), and I get INT. Hmmm. So he’s a thinker more than a fighter. That’s okay. Scientist. Explorer. Okay. INT it is. I’m starting to think of him as a kinder version of Mr. Freeze. Like if Mr. Freeze was a Vulcan. I’m going with low WIS because he is quite practical and has little patience for such things as yoga or vegan dieting. That poison breath is actually frost breath, of course. I think this guy is actually bio-engineered and not actually a terran at all.

STR 7 (-); INT 11 (+2); WIS 6 (-); DEX 8 (+1); CON 8 (+1); CHA 6 (-)

4. Roll for starting credits. I roll 80 starting credits. He takes a blast pistol (30 credits), a starter pack (20 credits), and a stun rod (10 credits). He has 20 credits remaining.

5. For talents, I get to start with three. I will take science (specialize in cryogenics), mechanic, and fortitude (+5 hit points). I know that he will need pilot, but I can wait until level 2 for that. 

6. Stats: I start with 2d6+1 hit points (roll 11), +7 Feat, Move 4 (I am changing up movement rules to get them to work in meters and km; so 3 is number of meters he can travel in one action while doing other things with no penalty; 5x this is his run speed in one round doing nothing else; this is also the km he can walk in an hour at a comfortable pace). Blast weapons are relatively cheap, but they are relatively weak and are only good at short ranges. 

My character is ready to go...     

Cryos Panek, Genetically-Engineered Proto-Terran Frost Trader

AC 12; HD 2d6+6 (16 hit points); FEAT +7; Move 3; Blast Pistol (+2/2d6/5) or Stun Rod (+1/Feat or stunned for 1d6 rounds)

STR 7 (-); INT 11 (+2); WIS 6 (-); 

DEX 8 (+1); CON 8 (+1); CHA 6 (-)

Talents: Science (cryogenics), mechanic, fortitude

Cold breath (once per turn, 3 meter cloud; 2d6+1 damage); Cold resistance (1d6 less damage from cold); Empathy Control, ‘cool’ (10 meters); Regenerate 1 hp per round 

Limitation: Heat susceptibility (+1d6 damage from heat) 

Next time we talk about bots and junkers!


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