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Dragon 53 & The Spreading Menace of John Wyndham's 'Day of the Triffids'

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 01/11/2020 - 19:15
The year is Nineteen Eighty One & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is at its height of popularity. Its September that September that my wizard is killed & poisoned by a horrid plant  monster.  Dragon issue 53 was released in September of 1981 within it was the article by Mark Nuiver 'The Ways of the Triffids'. Yup that's right my wizard was killed by the English science fiction author John Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) DDAL-EB-01 The Night Land

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 01/11/2020 - 12:17
By Shawn Merwin Self-published 5e Level 1

The brokers of Salvation pay good coin for artifacts scavenged from the haunted battlefields of the Mournland. In this nest of cutthroats, daring explorers gather to carve their destinies from the ruins of Cyre. They’ll need all the help they can get: it’s no secret that most scavengers don’t survive their first expedition in the Gray.

This 29 page adventure is a collection of three short “one encounter” adventures in sixteen pages. Set in a kind of post-apocalyptic “Bartertown”/salvage-town bordertown, it has you making trips in to a Forbidden Zone to do short missions. Nice concepts with the whole thing, but the actual implementation is boring. There’s little continuity and the “creative” part of evocative writing is missing.

Ok, so, evidently I’m an asshole. All this time I’ve thought of Eberron as a techno- fantasy setting, kind of RenFaire stuff, which has absolutely no appeal to me at all.  Magic railroads and Sphere of Annihilation toilets and the like. But this adventure seems to imply NOT. This is a kind of post-apocalyptic people living in Bartertown kind of vibe going on, or tries to anyway. A less gonzo Rifts or a Gamma World with some magic tossed in? Fuck yeah I’m in! Maybe it’s just this setting and I’ll gouge my eyes out later when magic Zeppelin races appear. Anyway, there’s this underlying vibe of a barely there town and people salvaging things from The Forbidden Zone.

A cloud bank straight out Fury Road, a little ways off from town. Screaming faces and buildings collapsing sometimes appear in the fog. Fuck Yeah! That’s what I want to see! Talk about a transition to the mythic underworld! The description for the threshold is pretty good and gives this great sense of impending danger and YOU ARE ELSEWHERE NOW. The whole town vibe is enhanced by a little newspaper handout with some decently Orwellian writing that again adds to the mood. “Remember: Sheriff is watching. So keep your troubles outside the outpost.” Orwellian inside but a free for all outside! I’m in! And the newspaper announcing 70% of people who go in don’t come back out? Uh huh uh huh. I’m in LUUUUUUV.

Substantial information is conveyed through bullets, with what you can learn from NPC’s being the primary usage of them. Bolding and section headings, indents and a summary table are all present. And, there’s job board handouts in addition to the newspaper. Very nice. And there’s this little NPC, the leader of a fellow salvage gang, with a great little table of how they know you/how you’re connected to you. “Saved from kneecapping” and the like; the table is full of flavour!

And the entire fucking thing is actually implemented lame as all fuck. 

That NPC reference table? Full of the wrong things. Instead of it being a table that helps you run the NPC’s it’s more a writers reference. “Chaotic Good Human Female Artificer.” Great. How about quirks? Goals? A train? Something to help me actually run the NPC? No. For that you need to reference the text and hope that the designer put in a little offset box for that NPC. The table is ineffectual for its intended purpose.

The three “missions” come from the job board in a tavern. There’s really nothing tying the three together at all … which may be ok, I think, if it’s serving as an introduction to the town and the salvage lifestyle. But then THAT becomes the theming and tie to hold them together, and it’s just not there. It feels like three changes of scenery rather than “my life as a salvage worker on the edge.” And that salvage board … a centerpiece of the adventure and the entire town built around salvage? A boring ass bulletin board in a tavern. No mementoes or shrines to the fallen salvagers, no rituals, nothing. This was a SUBSTANTIAL miss in adding to the “Salvage Life 4EVAR” thing that should be going on in this adventure.

Most of the writing it boring. A ghost train comes across as boring. The writing is just not evocative at all. Now, we should all know by now that I’m NOT looking for a lot of text, but I expect the text that IS present it be interesting and describe the scene/thing in a way that makes it comes alive. “The air around you suddenly fills with cracking, ringing noises. Some of the larger black glass shards twitch and fragment, reforming into lizard- like beasts with maws of razor-sharp glass teeth.” B O R I N G. Nice idea, ozone, crackling, maws of obsidian glass … but a “lizard like creature” is boring, as is anything with the fucking word “Suddenly.” This is poor writing. 

More than that though .. The Mournland, inside the fog cloud, is boring. The fog is a barrier. No dust storms. No 70% death rate. No littered landscape. Just more featureless plains. And no wanderers. No hint of danger. I was excited for this shit! “In the morning of the second day of travel …” It’s not even the slow burn of Stalker or Annihilation. Just nothing. No text to speak of and what there is “decrepit wood buildings.”  The whole place comes off as dumb and boring. Just Another Shitty Lame Ass Boring Generic D&D Setting. Go somewhere, have an encounter, mission over.

It tries. With that Mournland text. With a sculpture made out of corpses. But it fails. It feels thrown together and as if not much work in to it beyond a draft. Repetition of text, and not in a Salome way but in a Didn’t Think About It way. Some read-aloud gets long. There’s a section in the beginning, in which bar patrons gets hushed when an old salvager gets on top of a table to speak … a load of nonsense. I’d guess it has to do with the overall plot that will eventually show up in these, but it telegraphed HORRIBLY. Everyone should recognize “yeah, this is the evil cult thing we’ll eventually have to stop,” and, at the same time, it would have been MUCH more effective if introduced as a part of one of the other missions (NO! NOT A FUCKIGN DIARY!) or somehow his exposition had an impact. The hushed voices of the rowdy scavvers? Great! Just anti-climactic as fuck. “Oh, it’s a fucking monologue. Great.”

Missed opportunities include a little construct Dog, which should have been called Timmy, or had a Timmy/well codeword/connotation/theming. And a goblin turned to stone with a ghost train hurtling down on her NEEDS to be her caught in the train tracks. No, I don’t know how it works … that’s the designers job. But fuck me if rescuing people from train tracks isn’t iconic.

And then again that scene shows the problems. The train arrives in five rounds to crush the little girl. How far away are you? Who the fuck knows, we’re never told. And this sort of Missing Information thing, critical information for a scene, is not  uncommon. The overall impact is that the 70% of people who die in the Mournlands do so of boredom. 

It’s so full of promise, you can see it in the edge. But the actual implementation, the writing, the “now the D&D encounter starts” format … it’s kills the thing. It should be enhancing that half-glimped themes and vibes. I’m not sure I’d tout my MFA in Creative Writing if I turned this out.

This is $5 at DmsGuild. The preview is four pages. The last page actually has something for you to look at. You can see a long/useless read-aloud for the tavern and then the little gnomes speech … that has no impact on the adventure. Bad preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Shadows of the Dragons - Godlike Dragon NPC's & Their Uses

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 01/11/2020 - 03:39
So I've been thinking about dragons for my Godbound/Cha'alt campaign. I'm talking about dragons with a capital 'D' & these are not your typical fire breathers. Basic & Expert Dungeons & Dragons & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons has a history of incredibly cool & detailed NPC  dragons. But I'm looking for something different & its been a few year since I broke out Rafael Chandler's Teratic Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Setting History Should Do Something

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 13:30
If setting books for rpgs sometimes get a bad wrap, history sections of setting books are probably even more widely reviled. There are reasons for this, but I don't think the solution is that history should be banned from rpg books entirely. I do think it's worth thinking about why we have history (particularly deep history) in rpg setting books, when it's useful and maybe when it isn't.

My thesis is that history in rpg books is most useful/good when it does something. Possible somethings are:

1. Helps to orient the reader (mostly the GM) to the themes/mood/flavor of the setting.
2. Directly establishes parameters that impact the player's adventures.
3. Provides "toys" or obstacles.

It is unhelpful when it does the following:

1. Describes events that have little to no impact on the present.
2. Describes events which are repetitive in nature or easy to confuse.
3. Provides few "toys," or ones that are not unique/distinctive.

Now, I am not talking specifically here about number of words or page counts, which I think a lot of people might feel is the main offender. Those are sort of dependent on the style/marketing position of the publication. Bona fide rpg company books tend to be written more densely and presumably read more straight for pleasure. DIY works are linear and more practical. My biases are toward the latter, but I am more concerned with content here. I do think in general that economy of words makes good things better, and verbosity exacerbates the bad things.

Let's get into an example from Jack Shear's Krevborna:

Gods were once reverenced throughout Krevborna, but in ages past they withdrew their influence from the world. Some say that the gods abandoned mankind to its dark fate due to unforgivable sins. Others believe that the gods retreated after they were betrayed by the rebellious angels who became demons and devils. Some even claim that the gods were killed and consumed by cosmic forces of darkness known as the Elder Evils.Looking at my list of "good things" it hits most of them. It helps orient to mood and theme (lack of gods, dark fate, unforgivable sins), it sets parameters for the adventurers (cosmic forces of darkness, no gods), and provides obstacles (demons and devils, rebellious angels, elder evils).

That's pretty brief, though. What about a wordier example? Indulge me in an example from my own stuff:

So, the good stuff: orienting to theme, mood. etc. (deep history, memeplexes, super-science, transcendence as old hat, names suggesting a multicultural melange), setting parameters (a fallen age compared to the past, psychic powers, vast distances), and toys and obstacles (psybernetics and a host of other advance tech, Zurr masks, Faceless Ones!)

But wait, have I done one of the "bad things?" I've got two fallen previous civilizations? Isn't that repetitive and potentially confusing? I would say no.  The Archaic Oikueme is the distant past (it's in the name!). It's the "a wizard did it" answer for any weird stuff the GM wishes to throw in, and the source of McGuffins aplenty. The Radiant Polity is the recent past. Its collapse is still reverberating. It is the shining example (again, in the name) that would-be civilizer (and tyrants) namecheck.

The Legacy Of Kalthalax... Slayer of Demons & Devils - Some Thoughts on Liberation of the Demon Slayer By Venger Satanis

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 06:59
"The stars are falling - which can only mean one thing. Your town is about to be invaded by demons! Unfortunately, the famed demon-slaying sword Kalthalax lies in the caves below, and all manner of dark and deadly fiends reside in those eldritch-haunted Nether Realms."So I got an update for the Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise kickstarter today even while everyone in my house is down with the flu/Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Some Thoughts On The Star Ship Warden Kickstarter By Troll Lords & The Star Seige Rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 01/09/2020 - 19:55
"Near the beginning of the 24th century, humans began the largest construction ever undertaken by their species. A mini-world designed to ply the deeps of space, providing safety and comfort for her many passengers. Less than two decades into her mission, she simply disappeared. There has now been no word of the Warden for more than 300 years...."So the Starship Warden kickstarter by TrollNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: The Planetary Picaresque

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 01/09/2020 - 12:00
This post is of relatively recent vintage (2017), but I've been thinking about this sort of thing again...

We're all familiar with the Planetary Romance or Sword and Planet stories of the Burroughsian ilk, where a stranger (typically a person of earth) has adventures of a lost world or derring-do sort of variety on an alien world. I'd like to suggest that their is a subgenre or closely related genre that could be termed the Planetary Picaresque.

The idea came to me while revisiting the novels in Vance's Planet of Adventure sequence. The first novel, City of the Chasch, is pretty typical of the Planetary Romance form, albeit more science fiction-ish than Burroughs and wittier than most of his imitators. By the second novel, Servant of the Wankh (or Wanek), however, Vance's hero is spending more time getting the better of would be swindlers or out maneuvering his social superiors amid the risible and baroque societies of Tschai than engaging in acts of swordplay or derring-do. One could argue the stalwart Adam Reith is not himself a picaro, but the ways he is forced to get by on Tschai certainly resemble the sort of situations a genuine picaro might get into.

These sort of elements are not wholly absent from Vance's sword and planet progenitors (Burroughs has some of that, probably borrowed from Dumas), but Vance makes it the centerpiece rather than the comedy relief. Some of L. Sprague de Camp's Krishna seem to be in a similar vein.

The roleplaying applications of this ought to be obvious. You get to combine the best parts of Burroughs with the best parts of Leiber. I think that's a pretty appealing combination.

Lovecraftian Serpentmen & Canyons - Cha'alt & Adventurer, Conqueror, King Rpg Adventure Encounter With OSR & Old School Systems

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 01/09/2020 - 00:28
With literal hours remaining in the Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise kickstarter. I wanted to turn my cold remedy soaked brain to Grand Canyon National Park . This works very well with my Cha'alt/Godbound campaign.  Not the real one but the 1903 serpent  men lost colony & city that exists within the Grand Canyon. The colony is the last place where a crop of 'white Zoth' exists. White Zoth allows Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Anthropophagi of Xambaala

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 01/08/2020 - 12:11
By Corey Walden North Wind Adventures AS&SH Levels 1-3

Furtive and odious tales circle through various Hyperborean ports of call. Rumours whisper of an ancient occult city, Xambaala, clinging to the edge of the Zakath Desert. Perhaps the hideous horrors said to assail the city in the darkest hours are exaggerated. Maybe too another explanation can be found for the foreigners who are said to have disappeared to some uncanny fate. But the whispering tongues also hint that gold glints in the shadows of Xambaala, ready to be taken by the bold.

This sixty page adventure details a desert trading city in about twenty pages, a couple of desert locales, and then a seventy-ish room three-level dungeon full of cannibals and snake-men. The primary adventure locale, the three level dungeon, is fairly interesting if a little heavy on the hack & trap side of the interactivity spectrum. While the writing is better than most North Wind adventures it is still burdened by the cramped layout and phrasing that plagues almost all of them. Do you like to READ adventures? Buy this.

It is pure speculation, but I suspect that the hand of Talanian and his editors are HEAVILY involved in the writing of these adventures. So many of them show the same issues that it’s hard to believe that the designers are all engaging in the same ponderous habits. As such the review becomes as much about the production style of North Wind as it does about what the designer has produced. How much is their work and how much is corruption by the snake-men?

What’s the purpose of an adventure? Is it to run a game at the table? That’s my take on them. And therefore I expect the adventure to facilitate that. But it is certainly the case that others, Paizo most notably, have deduced that most adventures purchased are never run. People buy them and read them and that’s the enjoyment they obtain. And thus the publisher is then working at a cross-purpose: to produce adventures that are enjoyable to read … and thus make money therein. They want to make money by writing something that appeals to the reader consumers. I want to have something to help me run it at the table. I guess it’s possible that the two are not mutually exclusive.Like, maybe, a quantum event suddenly turning my keyboard to old platinum is a possibility.  Possible & probable: different definitions. 

And I don’t give a FUCK about the readers. And I especially don’t give a MOTHER FUCK about the publishers who are writing for the readers. Fuck. You. You’re not producing adventures. You’re producing some fan service bullshit. Further, you’re producition of these fucking things is dragging the entire fucking hobby down because you insist of labeling them “adventures.” They are not adventures. Adventures are written to be used at the table. “It COULD be used at the table” is not a viable response. At this point I think it’s safe to say that North Wind is producing adventures meant to be consumed by reading. 

The primary issues, as with ALL North Wind adventures, is the ponderous writing and the layout. The fonts are less legible but evocative of the pulp fiction novels of old. The margins are wide to allow border art … reducing the overall space for text. And the writing is ponderous. “The iron door has yielded to rust and the force of grave robbers.” That’s not technical writing meant to help the DM. That’s fiction writing. “In some areas the exterior plaster still retains its

original decorations of monsters, warlords, and illustrious merchants.” Again, more fiction writing. This is not a phrasing or word choice that enables the running of the adventure. The phrasing and word choice gets in the way. It’s ponderous. You don’t have to appeal to lowest common denominator. That’s not what this is about. You have to target the writing so that it’s easy for a DM to run. Making them fight through illustrious merchants and yielding to rust is not in service to that. That sort of writing is fiction writing. Technical writing, for D&D adventure, is in service, in these examples, of creating an image in the DM’s mind. Yielding to rust and Illustrious merchants doesn’t do that. And no, it’s not just those phrases. It’s the entire sentences. Which are just examples of the problems inherent to ALL of the writing in this adventure.

There ARE bullet point summaries at the start of each room. This DOES help somewhat. There is a style of writing in which general overview concepts, or the room, are introduced and as the players are mucking about deciding what to do, the DM is reading further ahead and/or the follow-up information helps expand on that general overview. The bullets in this adventure serve much the same purpose. They introduce room concepts quickly and then the DM gets to … wade through the ponderous text that follows, digging for more information. There are a lot of decent styles to choose from to help the DM, this is one, and it DOES help. It’s just dragged down by the “DM text” in the usual North Wind style. 

It’s a shame. The core of the adventure isn’t bad. Cannibal slaves  with sharp pointy teeth “Uh, Sir, I recommend that we examine the mouth of each slave and kill all of the ones with pointy teethe.” A cult, duped by snake men. A nice ruined palace to explore. Evil norse dwarves. A toad-woman. It’s all pretty good, in theory. Heavy on the combat, I think (especially for level 1’s)  and on the trap side of interactivity. Some of the treasure is ok: a magic bow very briefly described to be of laminated white wood, or ion stones that “Once the gunk has been cleaned away, the stones will slip out and begin floating around the head of the investigating

Character.” That’s decent imagery, a little wondrous, which is what magic should be.

I don’t know man. I’ve always WANTED to like AS&SH. There are promises made by the setting that are great. But the execution of them is SO bad. I don’t see how this is usable at the table in any way that I would find meaningful to run. (Which is to say: easy.) It’s SO disappointing. And it seems so avoidable. There seems to be such a devotion to the style guide, over usability, and that’s what is making me question the actual intent of North Wind: playability vs just producing things to read. There has got to be some middle ground in which North Wind can still evoke the style they are going for while enhancing playability rather than detracting from it. 

Also, first level my ass. This is a hard ass adventure.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and shows you nothing of the adventure writing AT ALL. Just a map and the title pages. That’s a bad preview. For it’s faults, North Wind IS professional and I would expect a preview from them, on a $10 product, that actually shows us a few rooms and therefore the writing and content style of the adventure.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tabletop or Battle Board? Cover? What Cover?

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 01/07/2020 - 23:50
Saw a post on the web where someone said they thought THW was getting away from minis on the Tabletop with terrain. Well, that's not true and here's why.

Some rules will use the Battle Board - those with 4 or 5 man Bands in a skirmish setting. But for larger games with multiple larger units like NUTS and 5150 Star Army, you'll see that's for the tabletop.

Now just about all of the rules that use the Battle Board have Tabletop rules as well. If it doesn't, then download this freebie; a 4 page How to for Battle Board to Tabletop rules.

And Cover? Heck yeah, ALL rules use Cover; just check out the Shooting Tables; pass 1d6 or score a 8 or 9. 

Hope this helps.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 3: Sketch Card Preview, Part 6

Cryptozoic - Tue, 01/07/2020 - 17:00

Please enjoy the sixth and final preview of Sketch Cards from Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 3

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Concentration Frustrates D&D’s Rangers More than Paladins and Hexblades, but Unearthed Arcana Helps

DM David - Tue, 01/07/2020 - 11:58

Concentration rates as one of the best additions to the fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. In earlier editions, higher-level parties might enter a fight layered with spells like haste, invisibility, fly, blur, protection from energy, and on. Players needed spreadsheets to track their bonuses, while dungeon masters struggled to create any challenge. Concentration simplifies the game by limiting the magical effects in play.

In earlier editions, the same caster behind the buffs could also immobilize foes with Evard’s black tentacles, and then smother them with cloudkill. Now, the need for concentration limits the power of spellcasters, helping to eliminate D&D’s old problem of wizards who surged in power with every level until they overshadowed other classes. (See How fifth edition keeps familiar spells and a Vancian feel without breaking D&D.)

Plus, concentration enriches the game by adding a fresh, tactical element. Combatants can end spell effects by targeting casters and breaking their concentration.

While concentration improved D&D and put wizards in their place, the innovation proved mixed for class archetypes that cross swords and spells.

For exhibit A, see the paladin. In my last game, the party’s smite-happy paladin relished the chance to lock down a monster with compelled duel. This 1st-level spell boosts the paladin’s flavor of champion and protector. But compelled duel requires concentration, so while the paladin trades blows, every hit threatens to end the duel. Paladins want to bear the brunt of attacks, and they lack proficiency with Constitution saves, so their concentration is fragile. Why would a paladin ever cast shield of faith?

Worse, the paladin’s smite spells also require concentration, so even momentary attention to a smite spell ends the compelled duel. With smites serving as a cornerstone of the paladin’s offense, the need for concentration brings some frustration. Spells like magic weapon, heroism, and bless seem perfect for paladins, but all demand concentration.

In the D&D Next playtest, the paladins smite spells skipped the concentration requirement, but spells like banishing smite and blinding smite impose ongoing effects that merit concentration. The designers added concentration to add the tactical element where foes can break concentration to end punishing effects.

The same tension between concentration and a melee archetype hinders warlock hexblades and pact of the blade warlocks who aim to use their pact blade for more than posing. Hexblades gain smite spells that require concentration, yet the class also features spells like hex that demand attention.

Surely rangers suffer the most friction between concentration and the class’s featured abilities. The hunter’s mark spell underpins the ranger’s flavor as someone who targets prey and pursues it to the finish. With a duration marked in hours, hunter’s mark seems meant to last through a ranger’s daily adventures. But the spell requires concentration, so rangers who need another spell lose their mark and what feels like a key feature. Also, rangers who aim to enter melee with say, a sword in each hand, suffer an outsized risk of losing their mark. (This exposes another spot where fifth edition punishes melee archetypes, but I’ve written about that already.)

The D&D design team uses their Unearthed Arcana series to test player reaction to potential game additions. A collection of class feature variants reveals one feature intended to smooth the rough spots from hunter’s mark. Read my annotated description.

Favored Foe
1st-level ranger feature (replaces Favored Enemy)¹
You can call on your bond with nature² to mark a creature as your favored enemy for a time: You know the hunter’s mark spell, and Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for it.³ You can use4 it a certain number of of times without expending a spell slot5 and without requiring concentration6—a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

When you gain the Spellcasting feature at 2nd level, hunter’s mark doesn’t count against the number of ranger spells you know7.

1. Instead of changing the base ranger class by adding a new feature missing from the Player’s Handbook, this variant adds an option that replaces a weak class feature. Most players would opt for Favored Foe, but rangers built from the core book keep a unique feature. The D&D design team has chosen not to make changes to the game that supplant anything in the published books. New players should never join a game and then learn that their Player’s Handbook character fails to match the latest rules.

2. The hunter’s mark spell implements a 4th-edition power called Hunter’s Quarry, a non-magical exploit that seemed to behave in some magical ways because the rules said so. Now, the replacement works like magic because it is.

3. First-level rangers can’t normally cast spells, but this feature needs the hunter’s mark spell. This line adds the one spell to a 1st-level ranger’s knowledge.

4. Oddly, the description says “use” rather than “cast”. This shows the designer thinking of this feature as an ability more than a spell. The whole feature description reads like something written by committee, but surely a final version will show more polish.

5. Because hunter’s mark implements a marquee ranger class feature, having to spend a spell slot on it feels like a tax. Here the ability goes tax free.

6. This waives the concentration requirement. Dual-wielding Drizzt admirers everywhere can cheer.

7. Hunter’s mark no longer taxes a ranger’s list of known spells either.

Favored Foe offers a good way eliminate a frustrating edge in the ranger class. I predict we’ll see it in a class options book toward the end of 2020.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Using & Expanding UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave (1e) By Dave J. Browne, Tom Kirby, & Graeme Morris

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 01/07/2020 - 07:21
Fleeing the rage that consumed their feuding families, Juliana and Orlando fled to the Cave of Echoes, where it is said every wish is granted. Two years have passed, and all attempts to return the lovers to their parents have failed, though some believe them lost in the enchanted garden beyond the cave.Many are the rescuers who have entered that enchanted park; a few have returned after long Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Warrens of Zagash

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 01/06/2020 - 12:20
By Keith Sloan XRP OSRIC Levels 6-8

[…] A recently acquired treasure map points to an ancient dwarven tunnel complex. Could this be the place? Are these the dangerous halls that were once the home for a dwarven cult worshipping an entity they called the Earth Dragon?

This sixteen page adventure details a two level dungeon with about a hundred rooms. Themed to “evil dwarf cult” it comes across as stoic and stuffy. Writing is typical for XRP, being denser than it needs to be for whatever reasons. And treasure is generally boring old book stuff, although a dwarven ring of power is present. Weaker than Forgotten Grottoes of the Sea Lords.

Dwarf themed areas have some major hurdles to overcome. Given the stoic stereotype, an area trying to evoke a dwarf theme tends to come across stoic. Imagine, for example, exploring the one hundred room dungeon of the cult of nothing … which contains 99 rooms that are empty and dusty, each in their own way. Maybe the cult of nothing wasn’t a good choice for a dungeon, for while an excellent designer can evoke the cults asthetic it’s not wise to do so since it’s boring as all fuck. While that’s a hyperbolic example, the same issue exists in this adventure.

The chambers come across as empty. The creatures a mix of undead dwarves and “stone guardian” statues with a few others tossed in. A lot of empty rooms with dust. Geometric designs and feelings of uneasiness in a alot of/most temple rooms. So, yes, excellent ability to invoke evil stoic dwarf cult. Maybe not a good choice though. Another room with geometric designs. Hmmm. Another temple room where we feel uneasy. Hmmm.

Combine this with OSRIC being OSRIC. Another _2 dagger. Another potion of x, another +1 sword. Another boring old gold bowl worth x amount. It’s flat. It’s abstracted. It’s generic. Not vanilla. Generic. Is that really a design ethos to embrace? To be generic? Abstracted descriptions? 

This is then combined with the abstracted writing style. GREATER TOMB: This room is filled with 30 low biers each containing the long desiccated body of a dwarf, among the leaders of this cult.” Not exactly awe-inspiring or evocative. Just facts. And then the writing is muddled up with ineffective phrasing and techniques. There’s a lot of “What appears to be …” and “… but it is simply a painting”  (Another person needing Ray’s books on editing) Geometric carving after geometric carving. And I really mean “geometric carving.” That’s the text used. A little more theming would be in order. 

Speaking of. “Stone statue attacks” will be a common DM phrase. Other than that, there are some undead dwarves and just a small smattering of something else. This is the “tomb” problem. Tomb adventures require a tomb layout and some guardians that are, all, essentially the sam. Abandoned dwarf cult halls means some undead dwarves and stone statues and maybe a few vermin with little else. It’s hard to justify more in these circumstances … but the end goal is a fun adventure, right, not an accurate one? Only enough simulation to be in service of fun, not the end all be all?

I will say it’s nice to see a dwarf ring of power, good effects and bad effects both present. There’s also a nice wasting curse that, if you choose to die rather than submit to the god (who’s causing you worship him or else waste away) then you get to heal fully when you would die. That’s good design. Keith can design well, but the writing is flat and the setting boring, with to many stone statues and chilling room effects. Too much abstraction.

I shall also mention my new pet peeve: if you’re going to tell me about constant dungeon effects then it needs to go on the map, or someplace else that it’s always available to me. 

How much of this is Keith’s writing style is Keiths, How much is OSRIC-enforced genericism, How much is the selected locale, and How much is XRP’s style bringing to the table? Yes, it’s 100 room dungeon in the old style. Yes, it has a theme and executes it. But that doesn’t mean it was the right decision.

This is $14 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Naughty Joe! Go stick in a preview!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: Map of the Azuran System

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 01/06/2020 - 12:00
This post is from 2015. I revisited in in 2018, but with the demise of G+ the image is now gone, so it bore reposting...

This is a "work in progress map of the Azuran System, location of the Star Warriors setting I've done a couple of posts about. Some of these worlds have been mentioned in other posts, but here are the thumbnail descriptions of the others:

Yvern: Humans share this tropical world with sauroid giants! They have learned how to domestic these creatures as beasts of burdens and engines of feudal warfare. Some Yvernians are able to telepathically communicate with their beasts.

Vrume: The desert hardpan and canyons of Vrume wouldn’t attract many visitors if it weren’t for the races—the most famous of these being the annual Draco Canyon Rally.

Zephyrado: Isolated by its “cactus patch” of killer satellites, Zephyrado is home to hard-bitten ranchers and homesteader colonists—and the desperadoes that prey on them!
Geludon: A windswept, frozen world, Geludon is home to mysterious “ice castles” built by a long vanished civilization and the shaggy, antennaed, anthropoid Meego.

Robomachia: A world at war! An all-female civilization is under constant assault from robots that carry captives away to hidden, underground bases--never to be seen again.
Darrklon: Covered by jagged peaks and volcanic badlands shrouded in perpetual twilight, Darrklon is a forbidding place, made even more so by its history as the power base of the Demons of the Dark. Few of the Demons remain, though their fane to Anti-Source of the Abyss still stands, and through it, they direct the Dark Star Knights and other cultists.

Computronia: A gigantic computer that managed the bureaucracy of the Old Alliance and served as its headquarters. It is now under the control of the Authority, and its vast computational powers are used to surveil the system.
Elysia: Elysia was once a near paradise. Technology and nature were held in balance, and its gleaming cities are as beautiful as its unspoiled wilderness. Elysia’s highest mountain was site of the training center of the Star Knights. Now, the Star Knights have been outlawed and the people of Elysia live in a police state imposed by the Authority.
Authority Prime: This hollowed out asteroid holds not only the central headquarters of Authority High Command, but its training academy and interrogation and detention center, as well. 

An update to the Majestic Fantasy rules

Bat in the Attic - Mon, 01/06/2020 - 01:16
I hope everybody had a good holiday. To start the new year off, I am posting a small update of the Majestic Fantasy RPG rules which are based on and compatible with Frog God Games' Swords and Wizardry RPG.

I added some missing spells notably Magic Missile, but it left me with three blank pages. After looking through my draft of the full rules I added sections on Horses, and Dogs. Along with selected hirelings useful for level 6 or lower, Animal Trainer, Man-at-arms, Porter, and Servant.

You can download Revision 10 from here.

Bat in the Attic News
I am still at work on the draft of the Wild North. Currently I am finishing up the terrain notes. After that is finished, I will draw some maps of the main settlements along with some notes similar to Castle Blackmarsh in Blackmarsh. I am shooting for a first quarter release.

This will include a separate poster map option so you don't have to hunt down a printer to print the maps. I can't combine them as DriveThruRPG keeps their card ordering system (which posters use) separate from their book ordering system. The maps will be grayscale similar to those in Blackmarsh.

Remember this version of the Wild North will adjoin the northern edge of Blackmarsh as shown below.

Click you will see the full size map.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Saucer Slaughter - An Adventurer, Conqueror, King, & Cha'alt - Adventure Encounter One

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 01/05/2020 - 23:03
Had an email request asking what was going on back in Nevada with my Cha'alt/Godbound campaign. For the last four days I've been fighting a nasty cold or something worse so its put me on my behind. But I've been thinking about something that I said back on December 29 & the fact that run my games as 'Epic Weird Fantasy'. The Cha'alt warp right around Las Vegas  has been causing all Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Blacksmith’s Folly

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 01/04/2020 - 12:11
By Brett Bloczynski Encoded Designs 5e Low levels

… With this hope Marion searched the dusty library in her home and found the long-forgotten diaries of Samuel. Marion learned that Samuel did indeed imprison a Lamplighter with the intention of forcing it to grant him a wish. Unfortunately, the final pages of the journal were blank, and Marion never learned if Samuel got his wish fulfilled. Grief-stricken Marion, however, is certain it happened. It must have happened. She would MAKE it happen… and her daughter would live again.

This twenty digest page city adventure is a short investigation in to a murder and a couple of combats along the way. Simple, but with some unexpected flavor, it does an ok job with a short one-night adventure format. A little more work on it and it could be a decent short little adventure. Also, remember, I like adventures. 

I was predisposed to not like this adventure. It’s got a project manager attached. And two art directors, and someone in charge of development. I see that and I think “ought oh!” Further, it’s about a woman trying to bring her kid back. That’s another warning sign: treating your D&D game with modern morality. What was the child mortality rate back then? Like 30%-50%, I think? Actually, that gives me an idea. People MOB the party for cash and raise dead. The entire campaign. Talk about high level world problems! Actually, that doesn’t sound like fun for more than a session or two. But, anyway, predisposed thanks to the marketing and the ilk to not like it.

But imagine my surprise! The woman “Once the work was done, Marion drugged Horace, chained him to his anvil, and cut off his hands while collecting his blood in a copper

bowl. Horace died as a result of this process.” Well no fucking shit he died! Brutal! That was unexpected! And then the city portion comes in to play “The Griffins were called and, after a hasty investigation, labeled the tragedy as a “robbery gone wrong.” WooHoo! Police procedural callback where they are all incompetent! God I love city adventures!

So, that got me interested in this adventure in a hurry …

In short, you’re at a wake for the dead smith. There are some people to talk to. You investigate his shop, find some clues, go to the womans house, and find her in the basement torturing a lamplighter to get a wish to bring her kid back to life. Along the way are some shadows to fight, attracted to the evil. (The lamplights are some kind of a Charon-like entity/group, I gather. No much info on them, I assume it’s in some setting book. A couple of words on adapting this adventure to a non-lamplighter world, or a bit more info would have useful for those of us blind buying without the setting book.)

The Lamplighter is weird and cool. It’s a mystery Charlie Brown! She’s torturing this THING for a wish. They are some kind of weird hive mind entity that lights the lamps I guess. But the imagery … There’s only one lamp lit on the characters street, in front of the smiths, with a lamplighter solo in front of it/under it. It talks in archaic form. At the end a bunch fo them gather in a circle around the building and take the woman away to deal with. Creepy fucking imagery! Good Job! And an excellent example of why less is more when it comes to mystery. Explaining things ruins the magic. 

The NPC’s in the tavern/wake are presented on pne page per, with personalities and quirks easily summarized at top and clue/info to relate in bullet form. This makes it pretty easy to run them. Likewise the clues in the two other locations (the smithy, womans house) and other important points are also bullet related. 

The shadows, a “normal” book monster, are handled … ok. A little creepy, but it could have been handled better with their sliding under doors, attacks, etc. There’s been a small attempt at more flavour, but more in this area would have really heightened the adventure. 

On the down side …

The location descriptions don’t work well. Yes, the clue data is done well, but the general descriptions, etc. are not done very well. I feel like this a formatting/[resentatin decision, since the floors of the buildings ares summarized. That might be an ok way to do it but I would suggest it wad not done very well. It’s not easy to scan at the table and relate. Somehow concentrating more on the environs and less on the commentary, while keeping the flavour, is needed.

A lot of information is also presented in italics. I like to beat this point to death, but let me try again: large sections of italics are not easy to read. More than a word or two is bad. You need to find another way. Shaded background, something, but don’t use italics for large sections of text: it’s hard to read and makes eyes tired. Some brief research indicates that this is a well known fact in the editing/typeface world. 

It’s also the case that the digest format is a little limiting in this case. One page per NPC in the tavern meet & greet is ok, but the ability to summarize them on a one page would have been even better. Digest is a fine format … but not for all adventures. If you need to REFERENCE things then digest can be challenging and requires some extra effort to help usability at the table.

Finally, and I can’t believe I’m saying this … some of the descriptions are not adequate and don’t have enough detail. Quick! Think of a forge! Because that’s the description of the Forge area of the blacksmiths shop. IE: it’s a forge. That’s about it. Now … how many of you thought about a quenching bucket/tub? I didn’t, and was surprised to find one in the text. Likewise the coals. Yes, in retrospect, once mentioned, they are obvious. But when the party first comes in and I describe it … I didn’t think of either and the text doesn’t mention it … the description overview is non-traditional and therefore leaves that out in it’s more “overview than description” format. Normally, I would suggest that a bedroom or kitchen doesn’t need a contents list. And that remains true. But if an element is a key point of an adventure then it should be mentioned. And both the tub and coals are key points in this. Key elements should be noted previously. 

But, hey, still a workable adventure and much  better than almost every other 5e adventure I’ve seen! Good Job! And I applaud the designer for avoiding the DMs Guild nonsense!

This is $3 at DriveThru.The preview is the first four pages. The last two kind of give you an idea of the organization of the text with bullets, heading, indents and the like. Including a page that shows an encounter would have been much better, but the preview DOES give you an idea of what to expect.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Blog Watch: Defining Aesthetics, Blatant Hatred, the Dead-Egg Division, and Midlist Diaspora

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 12:53

Realism Isn’t (Ben Cheah) Going Bright — “In the name of realism, many artists today chase the darkness. Every vice is elevated, every taboo broken, every blasphemy committed. Nothing is sacred, everything is false. There are no heroes, only degrees of evil. No saviours, only monsters wearing the masks of men. No virtue, only the will to power. The intelligentsia claim this is ‘dark’, ‘gritty’, ‘realistic’. It is the defining aesthetic of our times, a relentless march towards deeper depths of degradation and desecration.”

Game Over (Wasteland and Sky) End of the ’10s — “But things have change a lot in such a short time. I can’t imagine going back twenty, or even ten, years and telling myself that just about every piece of art worth engaging in would be independent while corporations cratered due to outright, and blatant, hatred of their audience. This is how they’re dealing with the death of the old paradigm. It’s a glorified temper tantrum.”

Women Ruin Everything (Kairos) Fempub — “At first blush, it’s not unreasonable to look at these numbers and conclude that oldpub’s catering to female readers is just a common sense reaction to market forces. After all, if most of your customers are women, your products should target them. With all respect to Ben, this explanation puts the cart before the horse. It’s not that men don’t like to read. We know they love to read. Male-targeted fiction dominated pop culture during the reign of the pulps. It took frustrated lit fic authors-turned-editors at NYC houses to suppress men’s adventure fiction and usher in the pink revolt.”

There’s Always a Woman (DMR Books) Sword & Planet: A Genre of Mashups — “Speaking of natives, the protagonist encounters a lovely female who has a big problem. Whether it be an unwanted marriage arrangement, a hostile city about to declare war, or simply being lost / stranded in the wilderness, this problem is serious enough that she could use some help. The protagonist, being usually an honorable sort (or at least wanting to impress the lady), volunteers to give assistance. There is almost always a woman involved in a pulp Western story, even if only as a background element. Whether a good woman or a bad one, she offers obvious motivations and complications to the protagonist’s life.”

Something Happened (Walker’s Retreat) My Life As A Writer: Brian & David Talk Mecha On “NewPub Talk” — “In short, the Dead Egg Division of frustrated Bitch Lit authors turned their pity positions in OldPub into power positions by 1980. During this time the malaise of misery porn in the West that polluted popular science fiction got stymied only due to Star Trek and Star Wars, with some off-brand examples getting some traction because of this (e.g. The Black Hole, released to theaters in 1979). ‘Respectable’ opinion shat on them and the tradition of the Pulps they–Star Wars in particular– represented.”

Bro, Do You Even Regress? (Breitbart) 11 Ways Kathleen Kennedy Killed the Star Wars Golden Goose — “Hey, I’m someone who believes Hollywood should make movies for everyone, including the alphabet people. But just like people don’t want to be told Jesus Is Lord in a Star Wars movie,  they don’t want to see a lesbian kiss. That’s why Christian movies are their own genre, and that’s why gay should be its own genre…”

Wind is Changing! (Jon Mollison) Stopped Clocks and the Midlist Midwit Diaspora — “We’re talking about guys who are very online and very dialed into the culture of the SJWs. They have contacts and ‘ins’ and rumor-mills at their disposal that we plucky underdogs do not. So their change in attitude from as recently as a few months ago means something big is in the wind.”

Get with It, Y’all (Effective Nerd) An Interview with P. Alexander of Cirsova Publishing — “There are more tools and resources for authors and publishers than ever before. What’s out there may not be perfect, and sometimes changes (like Amazon folding Createspace into KDP) aren’t always for the better, there has still never been a better time to get into publishing. Anyone with a finished book waiting for a golden ticket from tradpub is wasting valuable time that they could be spending getting their work out there and in front of readers.”

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

More on Clerics

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 12:00
It is no secret that clerics have always held a bit of an uneasy place in D&D. They were supposedly inspired by the vampire hunters of Hammer Horror with some further borrowings from Crusader orders. Even if later editions with variable domains, weapons, and powers have ameliorated there implicitly Christian, monotheistic origins, we are still left with them serving pantheons drawn from modern imposed-systemization on characters from later versions of myth, a systemization alien to actually polytheistic religions. But still, it's only a game, we can run with that, right?

Well, we're still left with unanswered questions regarding how the cleric class fits into the structure of religious organizations. Do all priests have spells? If so, where do they get the experience to go up in level?

Here are some possibilities drawn from real world examples that are potential answers, though of course not the only answers, to these questions. Most of these assume clerics adventure because they are "called" to in some way. Whether this is a legitimate belief on the part of the cleric and society or a mistaken one would depend on the setting.

Lay Brothers 
Clerics are not ordained priests but warrior lay brethren, like the sohei of Japan or the military orders of Europe. They would overlap a bit with paladins, but that's real just a matter of whether they were stronger in faith or battle. In this version, priests might or might not have spells, but if they did it would strictly be at the dispensation of their deity.

This is more or less the idea I proposed in this post. Clerics are outside the church hierarchy, though they may or may not have started there. They were chosen by their deity for a special purpose. They may be reformers of a church that has been corrupted or lost it's way, founders of a heretical sect with a new interpretation, or the first in ages to hear the voice of a new god. Priests here may have no magic or may be powerful indeed but false in their theology.

Similar to my "Saints and Madmen" ideas before, mystics are either heretics or at the very least esotericists with a different take on their religion than the mainstream one. The difference between this and the Prophet above is that they have no interest in reforming the church or overturning it, they are either hermits or cult leaders who isolate themselves from the wider world to pursue their revelations. John the Baptist as portrayed in The Last Temptation of Christ would fit here, as would perhaps the Yamabushi of Japan, or certain Daoist sects/practitioners in China. They might be not at all scholarly (with all spells/powers being "gifts of grace" unavailable to less fanatical priests) or very scholarly with powers/spells coming from intense study or mediation which even more mainstream priests cannot master.

Special Orders
Clerics are members of special orders within the church hierarchy dedicated to recovering the wealth and lost knowledge of dungeons for the the glory of their deity and the betterment of their church. Not all  priests have spells. Clerics are priests chosen for their aptitude or particular relationship with the divine or whatever. These orders may be quite influential within the church hierarchy, but their mission thin their ranks and keeps them in the wilderness and away from centers of power--perhaps by divine will or by design of church leaders.


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