Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Critical Hit: Appendix N in Audiobook Format

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Mon, 02/05/2018 - 01:23

Judging by this review of the audiobook, all is proceeding as I have foreseen:

Fantastic. I’m a fantasy and science fiction fan and grew up playing AD&D in the 80’s (and still play). I never payed any attention to Appendix N (except, perhaps, to see if any of my favorites were on it). This book goes through the books that Gygax liked and found useful in his gaming and meta-gaming (Appendix N), explains what in the books shows up in AD&D (and related games, like Gamma World), and how the concepts can be used to improve our own gaming sessions. Along with that, you get the author’s own thoughts on the quality of the books and the changes in fantasy/scifi and gaming since that work and Appendix N came out. I listened to the audio book and it was like chilling out with an old friend who had the same tastes in gaming and books and the same thoughts about how many of the changes in both have been lamentable. I’ve recommended it to my gaming/sci-fi/fantasy friends. Plus, I’ve already started in on the reading list Johnson helped me create and have thought of ways I’m going to bring some of the concepts into current and future campaigns.

Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic!

The type of writing I was doing there is of course a distillation of what you’d find in the tabletop roleplaying game blog scene. Comparable books in the marketplace with similar subject matter were nothing like what I ended up delivering!

But the audience is there. And something happens when these people get the message: This book changes what people read. It changes how they game. And more than that, it gets so many gears turning and so many ideas reacting and interacting… people come away with an irrepressible desire to go create something.

It’s just plain awesome.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Grail Matters - The Other Arthurian Lore In Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 02/04/2018 - 19:50
Sometimes you've got to go back to basics to just keep perspective, in this case it was watching one of John Boorman's classics. Excalibur today isn't mentioned except within certain circles of old school gaming & by film fans. "Excalibur is a 1981 American epic fantasy film directed, produced, and co-written by John Boorman that retells the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Babylon Berlin

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 02/04/2018 - 15:00

I've been enjoying the German crime drama Babylon Berlin on Netflix. It's location and time period (the 1920s) is always one I've found interesting--and I have the old posts to prove it!

For some nonfiction recommends to make your cities even more decadent: Urban Decadence Made Easy.

Here's a post on the Weird Adventures analog of Weimar Berlin, Metropolis: Desolation Cabaret

Military Miniatures (Pathe 1966)

Greyhawk Grognard - Sun, 02/04/2018 - 03:19
This is a great video from the tail end of the era of the newsreel. And it's as old as I am!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

5150: Bugs - Into the Tunnels Overview - What's inside?

Two Hour Wargames - Sat, 02/03/2018 - 23:45

Here's an overview of the rules. Get them here and check out the Kickstarter.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

& Magazine #14 – Animal Companions – is published!

& Magazine - Sat, 02/03/2018 - 17:25

We are pleased to announce the publication of & Magazine issue #14!!!

Our dedication to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) continues! In this issue we feature: Animal Companions!

This issue’s featured articles are:
Included in this issue include feature articles:

  • Animal Amalgamations
  • Animal Companions …
  • Dogs of the Lakelands

Bonus articles:

  • Political Treasures in D&D
  • Ability Checks: Are You Doing It Wrong?
  • Making the ‘God Call’

and Regular Columns:

  • Town Maps: Library and Records Hall
  • Gilderlo Hippogriffs
  • Who Let The Dogs Out?
  • A Plethora of Ideas
  • New Weapons VIII – Siege Weaponry
  • Brewmaster: Extraordinary Holy Symbols

… plus more!

Note: We quickly discovered a problem in the first version of the published PDF, hyperlinks were broken on pages 30-32. A new PDF has been uploaded.

Download This Issue Who is the & Publishing Group

The & Publishing Group is a dedicated group of globally distributed volunteers whose goal is to promote and keep active old school games, especially Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). As part of the OSR — regardless if you call it “Old School Renaissance” or “Old School Revival” — the & Publishing Group publishes a variety of supplements useful for all TSR-era D&D games. This includes the flagship & Magazine, plus supplements and adventures.

As a zero revenue organization, all of our products are absolutely free! Our love of Dungeons & Dragons keeps us going!

The post & Magazine #14 – Animal Companions – is published! appeared first on & Magazine.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

That Time Ursula Le Guin Was in Playboy

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sat, 02/03/2018 - 15:11

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And so it is that the women you’d least like to see in the centerfold of a girlie magazine often turn out to have the greatest amount of bile and resentment.

That’s perhaps the most ironic thing about Ursula Le Guin’s “Nine Lives”, which really was published in Playboy magazine: the contrast it provides when set against the inherent appeal of the young, the voluptuous, and the fertile:

He had to stand up then wearing only the shorts he slept in, and he felt like a plucked rooster, all white scrawn and pimples. He had seldom envied Martin’s compact brownness so much. The United Kingdom had come through the Great Famines well, losing less than half its population: a record achieved by rigorous food control. Black marketeers and hoarders had been executed. Crumbs had been shared. Where in richer lands most had died and a few had thriven, in Britain fewer died and none throve. They all got lean. Their sons were lean, their grandsons lean, small, brittle-boned, easily infected. When civilization became a matter of standing in lines, the British had kept queue, and so had replaced the survival of the fittest with the survival of the fair-minded. Owen Pugh was a scrawny little man.

There it is. An unattractive woman fantasizes about a future in which all the unattainable good looking men have simply ceased to exist. And to make it work, she’s willing to go so far as to repudiate Darwin in order to sustain that state of affairs.

(Where are the poindexters intent on playing the game when you need them?!)

The way she tells it, Communism over and above both human nature and the laws of nature is the inevitable outcome. But the communist propaganda of old at least took the time to paint the exemplars of the party as being healthy, strong, beautiful, and awash with plenty. Le Guin can’t be bothered to lie about the track record of the ideology she serves. She and her ilk are committed to a different method of forwarding her aims: that of destroying our capacity to even imagine wonder, heroism, truth, and beauty.

I suppose you can demonstrate a certain amount of technical proficiency in advancing such a ludicrous agenda. But the results cannot be good. They cannot thrill or inspire. And they cannot under any circumstances be considered to be a first class element of the science fiction and fantasy canon.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Oath of the Frozen King

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 02/03/2018 - 12:13

By Tim Kearney, Matt Click, Michael Barker, & James Kearney
Absolute Tabletop

The only review says this is a ground-breaking product. Let’s find out!

I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind. I’m keeping an open mind.

Fuck me. It’s an adventure toolkit rather than an adventure. 62 pages. The front half is six locations, six encounters, six NPC’s, and a bunch of tables (include die drops). The idea is that you can kind of mix them all together to get create an adventure. Then the back half of the book has even more tables; a kind of inspiration for further adventures to creature. The “adventure” is actually pretty good, even though it’s going to take work to put it together. The back half inspiration tables are just inspiration tables. They are nice, but I think it’s hard to justify the cost when there a billion online for free. This is a complicated product to review.

I’m going to cover the back half first. There is room in my life for something like this. Something LIKE this, but not this. It’s a bunch of tables that, using, you can generate an adventures, and its various elements, from. For example, the trap section has six tables that you can use to generate a trap. First, what kind of saving throw does it require. It’s its Charisma, then there is some kind of fear to overcome or someone to fool. Then, what are the consequences of the trap. This is what type of damage (cold, acid, fire, etc) and what it does (blind, charm, frighten, stune, prone, etc.) Then there’s the style. A fake trap, leftover creature trap, natural trap, etc. There’s a couple of “severity/damage” tables, purely mechanical. So, rolling we might get INT save, Psychic Damage, Exhaustion, creatures corpse rigged as a trap. What kind of trap does that spark in you? A mind flayers body falls when you fuck with something, his tentacles kering that trigger a psychic blast that exhausts people? Not bad, plus we’ve determined that you can weaponize a dead mind flayer, which I like also! I like this concept and there’s room in my life for it, but I don’t think the print element works well. I might pay $10 for website access for HUNDREDS of table entries for each element. For example, for encounter terrain there are 20 entries and one of them is “floor is littered with skull and bones.” I might instead like to see “X littered with Y.” More variety and possibilities. It’s just an idea generator, after all.

The adventure, proper, is decent. I suspect it’s meant to be an example of how to use the tables, and it has some modular aspects to it that I think make it weak for “on the fly” use. Being modular, you need to do some rolling on tables then then some thinking to put the whole thing together to have it make sense before you run it. Yes, it IS a toolkit, and I guess that’s the difference between that and an “adventure.”

The hook generator, character motivations, and adventure twists, all tables, are pretty decent. But, I really want to touch on the Locations, encounters, and NPC’s. These fit three or so to a page, in a shaded box, and after about two sentences of read-aloud they are presented in bullet point form. A little verbose by good OSR standards but it does a great job in being easy to scan and providing impressions for the DM to work from. “The Altar of Sorrow” has the following read-aloud “A simple slab of rough-hewn stone dominates an alcove in this entrance chamber. A stone stairway leads deeper into the keep.” Short. A little generic, but good enough. The bullets though, in the DM text/bullet points, are pretty good.
A simple stone dais, cluttered with worn copper coins.
Yellowed bones of various shapes, sizes, and sources.
Scraps of parchment with words denouncing the Frozen King and his reign.

There are some sounds and sensations also, which get a little melodramatic, especially given that there are multiple sounds and sensations presented for each room. Pick one and go.
The locations are augmented by the Encounters, which the random element helps you place in the room. Again, about three or so per page and well formatted, using bolding, to help separate information. And, again, too long, dwelling too much on each aspect, but the core concept is a decent one.

Even the setting background is interesting, presented in about one page, in bullet points, detailing the world ala a Campaign Questionqire aka “The powerful wizard in the world is X” It’s not in that format, but give you an idea of the organization. I liked it, and might even pay for a booklet of one page campaign worlds in this format.

I liked just about everything in this, in their component parts. The location and encounter text does get a bit long, beating a dead horse instead of getting and out quick. If the publisher could learn from that then their actual adventures would be pretty good.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview shows you the die drop section and the last two pages of it show you the Midnight-ish campaign world. Alas, nothing of the core table elements or adventure pages though.–Adventure-Kit

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Cursed & Lost Halls of X2 Castle Amber By By Tom Moldvay For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 02/03/2018 - 07:13
"Trapped in the mysterious Castle Amber. you find yourselves cut off from the world you know. The castle is fraught with peril. Members of the strange Amber family, some insane, some merely deadly, lurk around every corner. Somewhere in the castle is the key to your escape, but can you survive long enough to find it?" X2 Castle Amber is a beloved B/X Dungeons  & Dragons classic adventure. SoNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

5150: Bugs - Bad Decision AAR

Two Hour Wargames - Sat, 02/03/2018 - 04:52
Here's a step by step AAR for 5150: Bugs - Into the Tunnels.  

Billy Pink is a recurring Character in THW stories over a variety of genres. 

"Cestus V.  Ever heard anything about it?" Sooze asked. Motioning to the waiter for  more drinks, she continued. "I heard it's pretty nice. About time we get a gravy deployment."
Billy Pink downed the shot and smiled, shaking his head. "Have we ever had a gravy deployment?"
*************************************5150: Bugs - Into the Tunnels has quick and easy Campaign rules. Let's get started.
1 - Choose the Time in the Campaign. Not concerned about the year (we use 2220 in the rules) just the month, because you get two  Missions per month. I'm going to use February.
2 - Campaign Morale for both sides. that's an easy one. Looking at the Campaign Morale Table we see the Bugs are a 5 and Gaea Prime Star Army is a 4.
3 - Now to see who Controls the planet and who is Contesting it. Roll 1d6 for each side and add it to their Campaign Morale. Bug total is 9 (5 + 4) and the Star Army is 7 (4 +3). Bugs are invading Cestus V. 
4 - First Campaign Mission is a Patrol. By the book the 1st Mission takes place at the Space Port. 
5 - Set up the table into the normal 3 x 3 foot configuration. I choose to have Billy's Squad enter section 7, the left-hand side of the table edge.
6 - Possible Enemy Force markers are rolled for and appear in sections 2, 3 and 6.
That's it - five minutes and two dice rolls and we're good to go.
**********************************************Activation Dice are rolled and a SA 2 and Bug 5 are rolled. Bugs win but cannot move as their Rep is 4. As the 3 is equal or less than Billy's Rep (5), the unit can move. I choose to move the Squad into section 4. I pick them up and place them in cover. No measuring required.

Except the Activation dice coming up  7 with the Bugs scoring higher means a possible Bug Hole. 1d6 versus their Campaign Morale and a 3 means the hole appears. Not good!

Rolling for How Many gives me 12 Bugs plus a Puker.

As both sides have finished moving Activation Dice are rolled again.  Bugs 2 Star Army 4 and here's where the bad decision happens. With the Star Army moving first, I could withdraw one section away from the Bugs and probably exit the table next turn. Except that means I've failed the Mission and Star Army Campaign Morale could go down to 3. When a side reaches "0", it loses the Campaign. I decide to stand and fight.

The Bugs activate and they move into the section occupied by the Star Army. The Puker is allowed to fire first and luckily it misses.

Now it's time for the Star Army to fire. 4 Bugs are Out of the Fight or Obviously Dead and one Halts in place.
They continue into melee and it gets real ugly fast. in fact, only Billy survives (being a Star has its benefits) but the other 5 Squadies go Obviously Dead or Out of the Fight.

Now that the shooting and melee is finished, both sides take the Will to Fight Test. The Bugs stay and Billy leaves - he was going to anyway as 5:1 in melee with Bugs...well, there's not enough Star Power to save him.

*******************************************************I underestimated how tough the Bugs were plus, after playing the game, I went to check the Campaign Morale and read...
Take this test only if you were on an Attack or Defend Mission; skip this if you were on a Patrol.
Guess two bad decisions were made.
Check out the 5150: Bugs - Into the Tunnels Kickstarter. 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ch. 5, Page 11

Castle Greyhawk - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 20:45
Tenser was getting impatient waiting outside, and more than just because he wanted to get back to his inn for his spellbook. All the offal had just recently been shoveled out of the stables into the gutter of the street for the dung collectors to pick up. It smelled worse out here than it probably did in the stables. Tenser scowled at the open entrance to Lucien's, half-expecting this delay inside to be some cruel trick on Robilar's part to make him suffer.

Of course, inside, this was furthest from Robilar's mind, since he now believed the invisible stalker was inside the stables with them...

Livestreaming the Majestic Wilderlands

Bat in the Attic - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 18:45

Just a heads up that I will be refereeing tonight a one shot adventure and it will be livestream.

The link

The adventure will be Deceits of the Russet Lord, an original adventure I been working on as the follow up to the Scourge of the Demon Wolf.

It will be run using my Majestic Wilderlands rules which are a combination of my supplement and Swords and Wizardry.

Nestled in the western eaves of Dearthwood is the Shrine of Saint Caelam the Dragonrider a popular pilgrimage destination. The monastery that runs the shrine are habitually late on delivering their tithe to the Bishop. This time are even later than usual. His excellency is fed up with the continual delays an is sending the player characters to resolve the issue and collect this season's due.

But meanwhile others feel their due is owed as well and their payment is far bloodier.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Gloomuim Laden OSR Commentary On The Demon Stones Adventure By Monkey Blood Design For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 17:15
So while I'm having a beer last night & I'm on the phone with a friend speaking at length about his Midderlands campaign.  The following statement  came up during the conversation, "Unfortunately there's no real adventures available for the OSR setting? "  This gets into one of the actual problems that I've had with OSR bloggers over the years and we'll get to that adventure in a moment. Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Unfathomable Azurth

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 12:00
Following up on my Operation Unfathomable in other genres post, this was to be about how I would adapt Jason Sholtis' awesome adventure to my current setting, the Land of Azurth. But busy work week, baby, and all that... So instead, this is my brainstorming for what I what things the adventure makes me think would be good Azurth tweaks. I am thinking mostly of how I responded to it in play, which was a version in length like the Knockspell original, but with some elements closer to their final concept in the Hydra edition.

So, the Azurth version will muddy Jason's conception with Oz, Fleischer Studios cartoons (and possibly Cuphead), and different comic books than the ones that likely inspired Jason. The Operation Unfathomable Underworld will be a dangerous "wildernes" region of Subazurth.

First, off "Worm Sultan" makes me think of this guy from the The Yellow Knight of Oz, so he's in:

The final version has several types of dwarfs...

Then, there are some religious factions:

That's all I've got for now.

Ursula Le Guin Did Not Write Fantasy

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 04:09

Maybe you read Earthsea and couldn’t quite put your finger on just why it was so underwhelming, so flat. I know that happened to me!

Ursula Le Guin explains that this was entirely by design:

But there are no wars in Earthsea. No soldiers, no armies, no battles. None of the militarism that came from the Arthurian saga and other sources and that by now, under the influence of fantasy war games, has become almost obligatory.

I didn’t and don’t think this way; my mind doesn’t work in terms of war. My imagination refuses to limit all the elements that make an adventure story and make it exciting—danger, risk, challenge, courage—to battlefields. A hero whose heroism consists of killing people is uninteresting to me, And I detest the hormonal war orgies of our visual media, the mechanical slaughter of endless battalions of black-clad, yellow-toothed, red-eyed demons.

War as a moral metaphor is limited, limiting, and dangerous. By reducing the choices of action to “a war against” whatever-it-is, you divide the world into Me or Us (good) and Them or It (bad) and reduce the ethical complexity and moral richness of our life to Yes/No, On/Off. This is puerile, misleading, and degrading. In stories, it evades any solution but violence and offers the reader mere infantile reassurance. All too often the heroes of such fantasies behave exactly as the villains do, acting with mindless violence, but the hero is on the “right” side and therefore will win. Right makes might.

Or does might make right?

Now, once and for all this settles the fact that Le Guin’s exclusion from Appendix N in the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was entirely appropriate and natural. D&D sprang directly from the miniatures gaming of Chainmail and the early Braunteins. A fantasy series predicated on the arbitrary elimination of war and borders and nations is simply not going to offer a great deal to a game system that took for granted that players would progress to the point where they would establish kingdoms and wield armies in addition to henchmen and magical artifacts.

Not that subversion is foreign to the literary inspirations of the D&D game system. Michael Moorcock produced the anti-Conan, a demon worshiping drug addict albino hemophiliac by the name of Elric– whose series attempted to demonstrate even such an unlikely and unlikable anti-hero could nevertheless attain the same sort of heroic stature as Roland. That even a terribly flawed and untrustworthy agent of chaos could nevertheless find himself fighting for good and even the very cohesion of reality is certainly something D&D players find themselves recapitulating regardless of whether they’ve read Stealer of Souls! Its hardwired into the DNA of the game.

But Le Guin doesn’t just repudiate the epic battles of Barsoom, Cad Camlan, and the Pelennor Fields. She also dispenses with the tension between good and evil, law and chaos that makes them necessary, inevitable, and meaningful. And mark this well: she did not produce a different take on heroism. She didn’t offer a new and improved approach to heroism. She hated heroism pure and simple.

And she hated fantasy. Her work was something else entirely, though it was packaged into the same sort of dime store paperbacks as A. Merritt and Robert E. Howard stories were peddled in. It looked like fantasy novels, sure. But it was just another delivery mechanism for the exact same message baked into everything from John Lennon’s Imagine to The Fifth Dimension’s Age of Aquarius. That’s tacky, not timeless.

She didn’t write about human beings at all. She wrote about a people with nervous systems that are less developed than those found in lobsters. There’s nothing fantastic or mythical about that. Indeed, the correct term for it would be nonsense.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

New "secret" Pledge for Bugs - into the Tunnels

Two Hour Wargames - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 20:43
Here's the new pledge for the 5150 Kickstarter.

Only $100 for 20 tiles and all the minis you'll need to play. Already bought the rules? Let me know after the KS closes and I'll replace it with one of your choice instead.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Clark Ashton Smith, Old School Adventure, & That Old Time Religion For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 16:12
In a lost land, that only dreams have known, Where flaming suns walk naked and alone; Among horizons bright as molten brass, And glowing heavens like furnaces of glass, It rears with dome and tower manifold, Rich as a dawn of amarant and gold, Or gorgeous as the Phoenix, born of fire, And soaring from an opalescent pyre Sheer to the zenith. Like some anademe Of Titan jewels turned to flame Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the So-Called Wilderness

Hack & Slash - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 13:00
The seminal work on this topic is done by
Victor Raymond in Fight On #2 & #3It's Citizen Kane all over again.

It says it right on the cover of Dungeons and Dragons Volume 3 of Three Booklets: "The underworld and wilderness adventures."

"The Wilderness:
The so-called Wilderness"

Those are the first five words Gygax wrote on the subject. Victor Raymond makes it clear that the phrase "The Wilderness" doesn't mean the actual wild, but all non-dungeon content—dangerous wilds and other civilizations and civilized areas—that the players might encounter.

But what about the wild? The planes of fairy and the unknown? The mythical wood? The archetypical wilderness that threatens civilization? The line beyond which the cartographer writes, "Here, there be dragons."

Nearly every adventure published for Dungeons & Dragons follows these hidden and archetypal guidelines in design, here we are just going to uncover them and make them explicit. Strap in.

AwarenessPeople are breathing all the time, yet aren't really aware of it. There's this fundamental underlying structure to role-playing games, an archetypical truth, that we all know about yet remain unaware about.

Dungeons and Dragons is literally about taming the unknown. There's this central idea of a human narrative, where a person goes out into the unknown and retrieves knowledge and then returns. It's pretty central to the idea of us as a species, showing up again and again in psychology and fiction.

The basic structure of any role-playing game, is that players have a character. That character exists in a literal limbo, until the Dungeon Master utters a setting. Once within that setting (right after play starts) areas are delineated as adventure locations. I am speaking in categorical terms. An adventure location may be a scene, a conversation with a non-player character, or a cave entrance.

You are, sitting at the table, in possession a character, and several adventure options. You have an idea of your current (safe) location, which you leave to engage with the adventure option.

The adventure is fundamentally about exploring these unknown spaces. What's in the cave? What does this person think? You uncover the unknown. Literally. The majority of Dungeons and Dragons play is exploring dungeons, which are represented as darkness or blankness and then are filled in as we explore. What's more, you are given a score for this activity; (or alternately the activity allows you to acquire a score). When you return successful, this score allows you to become a better explorer of the unknown.

This is a fundamental human instinct.  We go absolutely bonkers for frontiers. How exciting is the boundary between what is known and unknown! And here's a whole game where the entire structure of play is focused on rolling back the frontier!

If you're wondering, that is why 95% of role-players are playing Dungeons and Dragons or some derivative thereof.

Hell, Gygax figured it out, wrote down his excellent system of handling this from his seat of understanding, and then it was immediately misconstrued and lost, ignored by almost all, leaving us to discuss endlessly what's going on with hexes, and coming up with iterations like pointcrawls.

Archetypal Assumptions
A lot of this work proceeds from the excellent guidelines and overview provided by Victor Raymond. I encourage you to read his articles in Fight On #2 and #3 on this topic. For now, let's have an overview of his key points.

First, the wilderness doesn't refer to the mythical wild, but rather all uncivilized AND civilized areas that are unknown to the players.

Second, barring travel through the wilderness, a topic well covered in AD&D, other styles of wilderness adventure mentioned by Gygax include "Exploratory Adventures" and "Clearing the countryside of monsters"

Third, 20 miles is given as the amount of territory a stronghold can keep clear of monstrous influence.

Fourth, don't treat the wilderness as generic. Think of it as a collection of places and conditions. No terrain is "Forest" or "Hills" It's old rotted oaks, with a matting of decaying leaves, or mostly bare hills, with steep sides covered in grass and moss.

This is the core of his analysis that we are going to build off of.

The first thing to note is that the idea of wilderness is adjacent to chaos. The original game had three alignments, because the original game was about the conflict between law, and the rise of civilization, versus chaos, the wilderness and the unknown. The players are almost universally lawful, because their very actions involve imposing order upon the world (by discovering new territory and killing monsters).

That is the Terminus Est. Dungeons are pockets of chaos that exist within civilized lands (usually close enough to be within the 20 mile range of safety). The Wilderness is the chaos beyond.

The third Original Dungeons and Dragons book outlines the entirety of adventure. You can adventure in the Underworld or the Wilderness.*

ApotheosisSo, what use is this?

Concretely, D&D is a game, organized as a collection of procedures.

Designing a wilderness: This is covered in the article by Victor, but needs little description. You can generate a wilderness yourself, or use phenomenal online tools, or use pre-existing maps. This topic is extensively covered.

Travel to a destination: This is also very explicitly covered. This is where the wilderness rules for getting lost apply, wilderness encounter tables are used, and where hexmaps at a scale of 25-60 miles are useful.

An Aside:This journey should often be structured as a resource management exercisein food, lives, and loss.Having unique systems for unique terrain greatly enhances this mode of play.(That link leads to the marvelous wilderness mini-games by Telecanter)

Exploratory Adventures: This is the process of discovering the lay of the land. This procedure is outlined in Volume 3.

"When players venture into this area they should have a blank hexagon map, and as they move over each hex the referee will inform them as to what kind of terrain is in that hex. This form of exploring will eventually enable players to know the lay of the land in their immediate area. . .  Scale: Assume the greatest distance across a hex is about 5 miles. Turn: Each move will constitute one day. Each day is considered a turn. At the end of each day, the referee will check to see if a monster has been encountered. "

This assumes, of course, that the Dungeon Master is using a map with already labeled castles/strongholds. If that's not the case, the essential CDD #4 Old School Encounters Reference places fortresses at about a 1 in 20 chance per hex.

Essentially this exploration allows the players to both identify the terrain of the hex and informs them as to an outstanding features of the hex—is there a castle? a lair? a tribe of humanoids? It seems like the type of adventure for 7th-8th level players to engage in.

Clearing a hex: This process is clarified on page 24 of ODD.
"Clearing the countryside of monsters is the first requirement. The player/character moves a force to the hex, the referee rolls a die to determine if there is a monster encountered, and if there is one the player/character's force must remove it. If no monster is encountered the hex is already cleared. Territory up to 20 miles distant from a stronghold must be kept clear of monsters once cleared—the inhibition of the stronghold being considered as sufficient to maintain the monster-free status."

What does this mean logistically? You have to clear the site of your castle, and out to four hexes in every direction (at 5 miles a hex). That's 95 hexes, for an average of 16 encounters. Here are the 8 encounter options presented for a forest hex:
1. Men (30-300)
2. Flyer (Ex. Rocs 1-20)
3. Giant (Ex. Orcs (30-300)
4. Lycs (2-20 werewolves)
5. Lycs. (2-20)
6. Men (30-300)
7. Anmls. (Ex. 10-100 pixes)
8. Dragon

So, you can see that clearing 20 miles may present a bit of a challenge.

This provides a core of wilderness play. It covers design, travel, discovery, and taming. A process for pushing back the frontier. acquiring territory, and moving into conflict with other fortresses and lords.

As complete as this is, there is still something missing.

AvidityWhat we have is not enough. We need more. What of the mythical unknown?

One of the stipulations that Victor notes in his search for when the wilderness encounter table is used is that even though those 20 miles may be cleared, the wilderness always encroaches. So from 0-5 miles you roll city encounters. From 6-10 miles you might have level 1 dungeon encounters on the list. From 11-15 miles you might have level 2 dungeon encounters on the list, and from 16-20 miles you might have level 3 encounters.

The other thing he notes is that dungeons, often, lie within civilized lands.

So what we are left with is the idea that "exploring" and "clearing" the hexes just addresses the proud nails. What's left is suitably wild, though perhaps not of particular interest to name level characters.

So in addition to having unexplored dungeons in civilized lands, and somewhat more controlled groups of monsters (maybe a gnoll raiding party numbering 20, versus the 220 gnolls the lords killed), you can also have pockets of mythical wilderness!

This is where pointcrawls and zones (to avoid the genericness of area) come into play. The general idea is, much like the dungeon is an area of high resistance, so is the mythical wilderness.

In each hex are four possible kinds of areas. Bastions of civilization, rolling terrain covered with wandering monsters—the local ecology—not power groups that are rolled for and cleared when clearing or exploring, point crawls which are mythical wilderness-style areas that are treated as areas of ineradicable wildness and magic. And finally zones, (usually at the many points of a pointcrawl) which are simply small maps (like dungeons and ruins) that are uncovered and cleared (though the possibility of restocking always exists). Zones are usually dungeons, but treating ruins, abandoned keeps, and small clearings, caves, and lairs as alternate zone types provides a lot of variety on the players end. Reference the video games Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 (or any of it's many spiritual descendents) for exceptional and creative use of zone wilderness design.

Hexes fail when applied to finer terrain. This is the key insight behind the development of pointcrawls as a middle point between Zone style play and hexploration. It is simple. The 6 mile-hex is our minimum structure. Our atom. You can't subdivide it into further atoms without serious issues. So instead, we deal with the hex as having an interior structure made up of structures, people, and sites. ("Citadels & Castles”, “Ruins & Relics”, “Idyllic Islands” and “Lurid Lairs”.) Once located within the hex, each represents a point, with the distance between covered by wandering monster checks, weather, and a specific one-line description of the terrain. Voilà! It's game structures all the way down.

But how to maintain that sense of discovery? Where is the wonder and awe in exploring the wilderness. This idea must feed back into design.

We must assume that even though the hex is cleared, that this has only eliminated major threats. Smaller, hidden threats, can still be present. Secondly, in addition to many landmarks being visible on the hypothetical pointcrawl, many should not be, and should only be locatable by actually visiting the location. The fact that the landmarks visible are not sequential (they have more to do with their location and visibility in the hex) means the path through the pointcrawl to them, as well as other features remain hidden to be discovered by the players during exploration. Finally, there can be both obvious and unobvious paths, much like secret doors, requiring either foreknowledge or wilderness expertise to locate.

Further, this is what differentiates wilderness exploration from dungeon exploration. When you begin wilderness exploration, many landmarks are already visible, as opposed to all being obscured by the dungeon.

The above outlines the core of the adventure within wilderness exploration.
The following amazing resources are some of what I use in play and design.

CDD#4 Old School Encounters Reference
Telecanter's Wilderness Travel Mini-games and challenges
Telecanter's list of Geographic Wonders

*It's important to note here, that by no means did Gygax exclude the idea of chaos being iminical to civilization. He also postulated exploring cities as adventure, because there are types of chaos that can lie beneath a veneer of civilization. As noted in the possible city and castle encounters, he included the unknown city interior as wilderness. 

Also, I'm able to spend time working on these topics thanks to your support. If you liked this article and want to see me continue to produce content, please support me on Patreon! Thanks for keeping me from starving to death!
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Operation Unfathomable Cover Aprocrypha

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:00
During the Operation Unfathomable Kickstarter and run-up to publication, I did a number of cover mockups, as brainstorming and placeholder images. Here are some of those, most of which are unlikely to grace a product. 
Remember these are mockups, not finished products. They were not complete in some cases.
First up, here's the Jason Sholtis artbook that was one of the stretch goals we didn't reach:

We thought about blacklight covers (or covers with the black vibe) for the DCC conversions:

Finally, here's an unused design for the Player's Guide recalling old Boy Scout merit badge pamphlets:

Game Room Giveaway

Greyhawk Grognard - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 23:15
Hey all!

Wayfair is having a Game Room Giveaway sweepstakes from now through February 14th. It's free to enter (you do have to give them your email address), but there's some really great stuff to be had that would let you really kit out a gaming room. A huge dining room set, a special DM's chair, medieval and fantasy themed decorations; check out the link to see the whole list.

And by the way, please do vote for me ("Greyhawk G") on the leaderboard to give me an extra entry. (Clicking the link gives me a vote, too, I think.)

There's some rules, too, also at that link. I'm sure they're very important, and should be read before you enter.

Good luck!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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