Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Ballpoint Map

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 08/29/2020 - 21:38

It has been a very challenging couple of weeks here (and that is a bit of an understatement), so gaming stuff has been way off the priority list, but I've been tinkering with things in the background. Over the last few days, I wrote the first few pages of what could become a fantasy novel (never going to happen, but I can start one anyway) and today I made a map. I just took out my graph paper and a ball point pen and started drawing. 

I had an image of Tomb Raider style caverns in my head, and started doodling. I usually don't like symmetrical maps, and try to avoid them, but this one just kept demanding it. I decided it is in the depth of a swamp or jungle, an open, airy sort of dungeon at the edge of a small lake, with many openings for creatures to come and go. I also decided to explain the symmetry - it is the temple / followers' tomb for a two-headed snake deity where each of the heads has a unique identity. While the main statue in the south center is of the two together (as they are), the left side is dedicated to one aspect of the deity, and the right side is dedicated to the other. I just dropped two random tables on the side, and decided I could always just use the solitaire matrix to populate this thing and figure out more as I go.

Parenthetically, I used to spend hours and hours working up a dungeon for an evening of play. I spent about thirty minutes on this, and with the solitaire framework, this map, and a copy of Tales, I could run an adventure in here for hours. Parenthetically (part two), I like how organic the ballpoint pen makes the whole thing. I can feel the vines coming through the ceilings and smell the mist the lingers in these halls (often about mid-knee level, so you never really know what is slithering around at your feet)...

The Hidden Necropolis

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 08/29/2020 - 11:11
By Robert Nemeth Caulbearer Press Five Torches Deep/5e Levels 3-5

Miners at a copper mine in the foothills of a large mountain range have discovered the remains of an ancient civilization and something more mysterious. A lone survivor of the mine arrives at the nearby town, but is delirious from his experience. Will the adventurers sent to unravel the mystery find out what dark fate has befallen the mine?

This forty page digest adventure uses about nineteen pages to describe a thirteen room dungeon. It is, essentially, combat, with a terrain obstacle or two. The descriptions are boring. The read-aloud fumbling. Today, only wishes are peces. WHich has nothing to do with the adventure.

There’s a weird thing with electronic adventures: page count tends to be meaningless. Your appendix can be as long as you want. You can include as much supporting material as you want. Without limitations, the DM should be more capability supported. And yet … it STILl remains that that a high page count to room number ratio means, almost always, that the adventure will be a poor one. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is some overemphasis on the NOT the adventure that is indicative? When effort is put in to places other than the adventure it can pad out the page count AND the adventure encounter, proper, suffer, if only from an academic standpoint. In the best case, the thirty extra hours you put in to the appendix could have been used to make the A adventure an A+ adventure, maybe. More typically, though, the adventure text is of rather poor quality and the investment in the appendix, etc, tends to indicate an over-investment in “other areas” … either the designer thinks the adventure proper is good enough or they think that the other material is just as good. None of which means you can’t have a decent appendix, or supporting material, but, rather, are you SURE that the core adventure is as good as it reasonably can be? Or, at least, you are at the point where the law of diminishing returns means that you are really not returning much? 

In any event, even in a digest adventure, where the page count ratios can be appropriately off, a high page count to low room number means something is wrong. And it’s wrong here. The rooms are a little padded out with “direction text”, telling us where every passage goes, what it looks like, how wide it is, and, generally, repeating the EXACT same information that is shown on the map. Yeah yeah, you like to know the room dimensions. But do you like to be told, in the DM text, where that south door goes, when a glance at the map shows that? “The closed door on the southern wall opens to a 20’ hallway and to a second door to the mess hall, area 3.” I don’t get it. But, more importantly, the rooms are boring, from both a descriptive standpoint and from an interactivity standpoint. More time investment required.

The rumors are good; they are in voice. The wanderers are good, they are generally doing something, like a river troll who lures the party with the sounds of a drowning child. (I saw another adventure use a will o’ the wisp like this once, I find both cases interesting.) This is though, just about the end of what the adventure does well. Sure, the bolding and bullet points of the text work well from an organization standpoint, but , all you get from that is something akin to a minimally keyed adventure: you can actually run it. 

The read-aloud is in italics. It gives masic, fact-based descriptions of the rooms and can, therefore, be long. Long read-aloud is bad enough but when combined with italics it then gets hard to read. Hard to Read violates Rule 1: be useful to the DM at the table. Further, the read-aloud tends to place the party ‘in’ the action. “You stand before …” or “You come across …” This is just fumbling writing. That is then combined with the poor descriptive text to create boring scenes. There’s no joy or mystery or wonder in those descriptions. “Large’ is used as an adjective. Why do this? Why use one of the most boring descriptive words ever? I guess “big” was unavailable? “Cavernous” “titanic” “colossal”, or something else, you get the idea. When the adventure DOES resort to better words we get text like “Blank eyes within a pale lifeless face stare in your direction [as they move to attack you.]” Blank eyes. Lifeless faces. Good! But it doesn’t fucking do this. That line is the rare exception. And don’t give that fucking “it makes the text too long” bullshit. It’s your job as the writer to make it usable (which usually means short) AND evocative. 

Ok, so, most room are full of “You enter and then … THEY ATTACK” nonsense. Stab stab stab. There are a couple of obstacles in a few rooms; a cave in, a pit/depression to negotiate, but interactivity is quite limited. Some room text has notes for the entire dungeon; the best example being one of the rooms telling the DM how to handle stuck doors in the dungeon. That would be better served in another part of the adventure, like, before the dungeon proper, maybe? Or, of course, we could always flip back to that page to figure out how to open a door … assuming we could remember the page. Sometimes it makes sense to put information inline … and sometimes it don’t. 

The dungeon/hook exists to lure in fresh adventurers to kill. *sigh* When did this become a thing? Is that really as original as a designer can get? 

“Modify the read aloud” says the read aloud notes “based on which entrance the party arrives from, east to west and so on.” Or, don’t buy/run the adventure. That’s another option. Ok, so, that’s mean. But I grow weary of Execution Not Meeting Vision. I’m being overly harsh on this one, it does use section breaks, bolding and bullets effectively. It has an idea. I’m just in a shitty mood today

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You don’t get to see any of the encounter rooms, which is a miss. The preview should show you at least one room.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Sea-Changed (New Monster)

Zenopus Archives - Fri, 08/28/2020 - 13:28
Ariel's Song from the Tempest as illustrated by Virgil Finlay
A new monster for your Portown, Saltmarsh or other coastal D&D campaign, inspired by this thread on ODD74, which shows a photo of a skull undergoing a "sea change". As a bit of further explanation, the modern expression "sea change" originates in Shakespeare's The Tempest (click on the image above to enlarge it so you can read the full quote), which was memorably referenced by Gary Gygax in the Example of Play in the original AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I've taken it one step further by using it as the basis for a monster.

The Sea-changed

Move: 60 feet/turn
Hit Dice: 1 + 1
Armor Class: 5
Treasure Type: specialAlignment: lawful evil
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6
Sailors whisper that a corpse that comes to rest in the brine may undergo a mysterious and sinister transformation, rising again in a calcified skeletal form known as "the sea-changed". 
The sea-changed seek to spread their animating force to the living by touch of calciferous claws or an equally mineralized weapon or tool used during life such as a cutlass, harpoon or even anchor.
A hit with such will, in addition to inflicting damage, encrust the area of the wound with the sea-change unless a successful saving throw versus poison is made. Failure results results in the loss of one point of dexterity per day as the calcification spreads. Once dexterity reaches zero, the victim will be transformed into one of the sea-changed.

The spread can be kept at bay, but not cured, through daily application of vinegar. It is rumored among sailors that the merfolk know the secret of how to reverse the sea-change.
Each sea-changed has a 1 in 10 chance of having pearlescent eyes (roll on the gem table for value).
The sea-changed are subject to turning as zombies.
9/24 Update: Added an alignment, which I had inadvertently left out: Lawful Evil like mummies, wights, wraiths & spectres in Holmes. Thanks to Lore Suto on Twitter for pointing this out to me.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

D&D Setting + TSR Game Mashups

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 08/28/2020 - 11:00

 Here's an idea: Take a D&D (mostly 2e) setting and combine it with a non-D&D rpg also published by TSR. Here are a few:

Spelljammer XXVc (Spelljammer + Buck Rogers XXVc)

Buck Rogers is thrown into suspended animation and awakens in a world where magic is ascendant, and Earth is an occupied territory. This winds up being a bit like Shadowrun with rockets (XXVc already had a hint of cyberpunk to it), but the difference is genetic engineering and other high-tech feats would actually be accomplished via magic.

Another Spelljammer combo: Add the Buck Rogers Adventure Game for a pulpier approach.

All Alone in the Night (Ravenloft + Metamorphosis Alpha)

When the generation ship Warden left earth, the monsters went with it, and Dracula takes his real estate schemes to the stars! Like The Starlost, you would need isolated habitats, but here they would be ruled by various horrors. Vampire Hunter D could also be an influence here. 

Another Ravenloft option: Mix in Gangbusters with the monsters as mob bosses.

[STUFF] Gloomywood: One-Afternoon Micro-Setting

Beyond Fomalhaut - Thu, 08/27/2020 - 22:22

Fearful Pesunts FantasyHow much of a micro-setting can you do under an afternoon and evening? About this much. After getting myself worked up about the remarkably vacuous Vallakiazine, I decided on an experiment to see if I could make a playable, coherent mini-setting in a minimum amount of time. Thus is born Gloomywood, land of Ruritanian monster movie clichés. In truth, it could be longer, if not for some procrastination – I could have thrown in a dungeon or two. It is not the best thing I could do, but not bad for a day’s creative work either. There are ideas, springboards for action, agendas and connections, a rumours chart (most of it to inspire both GM and players). It is sandboxy. And it begs the real question: why isn’t something like this the minimum barrier for publishing something? Consider it.

Gloomywood 1.1 – PDF (3.8 MB PDF)


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Kung Fu Classics

Deep Sheep - Thu, 08/27/2020 - 15:36

Do you play the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG? Are you interested in playing in or running a wuxia campaign? Please take a look at this and please let me know any comments or criticisms you may have or if you would you like to collaborate to expand on these ideas! 

Kung Fu Classics

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] Vallakia

Beyond Fomalhaut - Thu, 08/27/2020 - 12:07

Vallakia (2020)

by William Cord

Published by Stronghold Press Games

Low levels

Hello, and welcome to part two of **ZINEMASSACRE*2020**! This year, Kickstarter ran Zinequest 2, their second zine writing promotion campaign. Despite my utter distaste for the idea of a major fundraising platform intruding on a publishing genre for people with more ideas than money, I have to admit Zinequest was successful in motivating a whole lot of gamersto launch their personal projects. While many of them were completely alien to my interests (“LARP for 2 players of Robot Girlfriends across the battlefield” and “An rpg zine about 3 sled dogs on a perilous trip home.” are probably for other people), I pitched in for fifteen which looked interesting. Here are the results.


Do you think “production values” are often a racket? Do you admire honest homespun values and the good old DIY spirit, even if it makes the best of public domain engravings and cheap layout done in Winword? I sure do, and I am all over these zines! I love them. Except... there is also an unspoken promise here that the content will be good, and it will somehow make up for the sparse exterior with unconstrained creativity and colourful ideas. Ho boy. Vallakia is not that zine.

Nooooo, don't make me go to Vallakia!What the zine promises is interesting: a micro-setting describing “a small province, underpopulated by humans and overpopulated by monsters”, isolated from the rest of the world by an “impenetrable fog (…) stopping the people from coming or going.” Yes, that is basically Ravenloft, or every other “here be vampires” fantasyland, but even so, micro-settings are a sound idea. The campaign mentions support for a West Marches-style game, with descriptions of the major settlements, a small adventure, and stretch goals – two of which were funded, one for villages, and one for manors. The results make for three 8-page pamphlets set in princely Arial, and illustrated with cheapo public domain art. This is, indeed, my thing, so I backed the zine with enthusiasm. The following review will chronicle the disappointment that followed.

Vallakia is an empty zine. It has virtually nothing in it, at least nothing that would prove useful in helping run a good game. It describes its mini-setting in the most elementary stereotypes of Vampire Country. That alone is no crime. Nobody was realistically expecting something inspired by the real Wallachia (a fairly interesting place, one which would coincidentally make for a cool campaign setting), but perhaps something beyond ideas found in every vampire movie? No chance. We get the fog; we get the small villages huddling in fear; we get the rapacious nobles and the small, brave military force trying to hold back the encroaching horrors. Vallakia is isolated, dark, backwards, and primitive (in a bizarre take, they do not even know blacksmithing, something even shockingly primitive cultures could figure out). Very well, that’s a Hollywood horror movie all right. But there is nothing beyond that. Vallakia commits the most heinous sin of fantasy supplements: it is boring.

The zine describes three towns and a dungeon, none of which have anything truly interesting or original going on. Pinehall has a military garrison and a small church (the church has an aging priest who can heal people), and a tavern with three rooms. Long Farm is a farming town providing “the majority of food for all of Vallakia”. Don’t the other places grow their food? Very peculiar indeed. Anyway, Long Farm has an abandoned Town Council building now used as a garrison, and a brewery. The townsfolk are harassed by creatures of chaos. Finally, in another example of specialisation, Priby supplies lumber for palisades, and operates a lumber mill. Are they not interested in farming? Don’t the other villages cut trees? Not to be a stickler for fantasy realism, but this is so bizarre it almost looks like there is an explanation behind it. Of course, there isn’t. Priby’s woods are terrorised by a necromancer, and the villagers lock their doors all day and night. So we have Soldiertown, Farmtown and Lumbertown, and that’s all there is to know about them: banal, insignificant, clichéd information that does not show any interesting engagement even with the Hollywood-style Vampire Country idea.There is a rule about investments which feels a bit like Darkest Dungeon (upgrading local places of interest can result in various boons), a lazy random quest table with 20 uninteresting results (“OGRE!!!”, “Mayor consorts with demons”, “Troll toll”), and a one-page dungeon. That means a zine-sized page, an unnumbered map, and a key with one-liners like “1 – 3 Kobolds arguing about the best way to cook a human. Gate west is locked and barred.” and “2 – 2 Gnolls laying down. Will join fight in 1 if it lasts 3+ rounds.” This is negligible even by the new fold-out microdungeon standard.

Welcome to Stamati. Population: turnips
Vallakia has two supplements, essentially tripling the page count. Villages describes two podunk villages. To quote the pamphlet, “Stamati is quite the bog-standard village, and I will include it here to remind you that not all villages need a unique twist. In fact, most villages are boring farming settlements until the PCs secure them and invest in their improvement.” True to the author’s word, the village does not have a unique twist, and it is, indeed, a boring farming settlement. Its inhabitants are mostly farmers. The other village, Vasilache (a common surname, this is a bit like naming an American village ‘Smith’, or ‘Johnson’) is more interesting, in that it has a holy woman who has a mysterious connection to the gods. This is, indeed, the only good idea I could find in the zine and its two supplements. There are random tables to create bog-standard villages and generate their bog-standard inhabitants; and they are basically (deliberately?) uninteresting. The second supplement, Manors, is slightly better, in that Vallakia’s noble families are a corrupt, cruel lot, and that’s always better adventure material than dirt farming villages. And yet, it does not offer more than cliché either: Juracken Manor is home to the proverbial vampire viscount who likes peasant-huning, and Karlbad manor is inhabited by a god-fearing frontiersman family. Not even the random tables and the investment ideas help this one.

Vallakia is bad. Not maliciously so, but credit where credit’s due, it is plainly bad. For a semi-commercial project, it feels like bad filler, stretched out with illustrations. The zine and its two supplements are 8 pages each, but only about 14-15 of the 24 pages are text – and it is text set in a remarkably large font to boot. What the adventure lacks in quantity, it also lacks in quality. It is banal and completely useless in either offering, or helping create an intriguing West Marches-style micro-setting. You, random reader, could do much better in a single afternoon.[1] Don’t venture to Vallakia; ‘tis a silly place.

No playtesters are credited in this publication.

Rating: * / *****


[1] I will hereby put this idea to the test. A post will follow later tonight.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Limited Time Special All 7 Talomir Tales Scenario Books, One Low Price. Only one set left!

Two Hour Wargames - Thu, 08/27/2020 - 02:52

 Talomir Tales Special

Talomir Tales Special.

Limited time Special. Only one set left, other two are gone!
Buy the Print copies, get the PDFs free.

$115 regular price, now only $55.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bat in the Attic Kickstarter, Backgrounds & Abilities

Bat in the Attic - Wed, 08/26/2020 - 13:21
This is the third in a series of posts about some of the design choices I made. In addition to explaining what the system is about, it will also help folks in deciding which elements are the most useful to them. One of the goals of this project is to support kitbashing.

Due to page count constraints, I focus only on racial backgrounds in the basic rules. I give a brief sketch of Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Half-Elves, and Humans. The few social details are a composite from the cultures that are part of the setting I use for my campaigns.

In later supplements I will be fleshing out this section by focusing on various cultures and subcultures within the different races. To be consistent with that I labeled this section Backgrounds.

by Rick Hershey/Fat Goblin Games

This section details how to adjudicate things that the character can do that doesn't involve combat or spellcasting. It also provides a system to allow characters to be better at things outside of combat spellcasting than other characters. Either through an attribute bonus representing raw talent, or an ability bonus gain from the character's class that represents training and experience.

The base mechanic is simple, in combat or when the consequence of failure is significant roll 1d20 if the players rolls a 15 or better (30%) they succeed at the attempt.  To this roll you can add the relevant attribute bonus (-3 to +3) and the relevant ability bonus. Abilities include Athletics, Climbing, Eavesdrop, Haggling, Herblore, History, Intimidation, Legerdemain, Locution, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Perception. Physician, Professional, Research, Stealth, Survival, Strategy, and Thaumatology.

Over the past decade this system has held up well. In general, I require that players to describe what they are doing as their character first then have them roll second. I explain more about this process in the section about rulings.

This system didn’t remain static. I used to have Accounting to represent knowledge about and negotiating large scale trade deals if the character was a merchant type. Then I used Locution for negotiating prices. Feedback from my players made me reconsider this and I folded accounting and that aspect of locution into a haggling ability. Another benefit is that the name fits better with the fantasy theme of the rules.

Another change was to how I granted modifiers. From reading the original rules, I figured the hardest thing that one could do is hit an invisible opponent. The traditional modifier for this was a -4 to your to-hit roll. If circumstance were very unfavorable to what the player wanted to do I would impose a -4 penalty. Conversely if the circumstances were very favorable, I would grant a +4 bonus. For slightly favorable and unfavorable circumstances I would give a +2 or -2.

Then came along Fifth Edition with the advantage and disadvantage mechanics. When you have an advantage, you roll two d20s and take the highest. When you have disadvantage, you roll two d20s and take the lowest. I some session using the fifth edition rules, and the players “got” advantage and disadvantage in a way I never seen with any other the system I used over the last forty years. I adopted this in lieu of the -4, -2, +2, +4 system I was using before. It has worked exceptionally well in the last few campaigns I ran.

The ability system forms a major part of how the Rogue classes work. For the remaining classes, the system is limited to handling things outside of combat and spellcasting. If you choose not to use this then replace the burglar with the classic edition thief and drop the notes on ability bonuses from the other classes.

Basic Rules for the Majestic Fantasy RPG Kickstarter
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sea Caves of Doom

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 08/26/2020 - 11:16
By James Abendroth Black Guard Press Trophy Level ?

Ruined lair of a bloodthirsty cult. Home to a pirate’s treasure. Anyone who dares explore these sea caves puts their life in Fate’s hands. Do your treasure hunters have what it takes to venture into the Sea Caves of Doom? Do they have what it takes to make it back out?

Look man, it’s in the OSR section DriveThru … what exactly am I supposed to do when indie games show up like that? I guess, maybe “Rooted in Trophy” or “A Trophy Incursion” is supposed to tell you what the system is? I guess I thought that was just the publishers “line” for these adventures. Meh.

This sixteen page adventure describes five rooms in a indie storygames system. At least I think it’s a story game. The system is in some $7 zine and the “adventure” has some notes that make it seem very scene based. That, plus, the sixteen pages for five rooms. Still, it has some decent ideas deriving, I think, from the story game concepts but relevant to evocative writing and interactive adventuring.

It’s a story game system and I don’t think I’m qualified to review a system that far away from B/X. And thus, how do I review this adventure, WHICH WAS IN THE FUCKING OSR SECTION OF DRIVETHRU!!!!   So … not super happy about that. I mean, I was looking for an OSR adventure to review. Is an indie game system an OSR adventure? Is it fucking compatiple IN ANY WAY with B/X? No? Not OSR sez I. Shouldn’t be in the OSR section sez I. Fucking rip off sez I. Not happy sez I. But, it’s got a few interesting things about it so I’m going to talk about that. If you like story games then, I don’t know, buy this? Most 3x/5x D&D is story game anyway, so scene based stuff isn’t really THAT far of a stretch. I suspect some enterprising young lad could convert this to a 5E adventure with various scenes, or at least “fake scenes” called “linear dungeon” pretty easily. Maybe I will? I don’t know, I’ll ad it to the fucking ToDo list.

Anyway, let’s look at room one. It starts as:

“Overview: The entrance to the sea caves is barely visible just above the waterline at the base of a crumbling seaside cliff. Large, jagged rocks thrust above the waves, hinting at even more flesh and boat rending stone below the surface.” Ok, that’s not a bad start, imagery wise. Barely visible just above a waterline on a crumbling seaside cliff? I’ll buy that. Up until this point it could almost be read-aloud but then switches to “The rocks attract fish trying to hide which attract seals which attract sharks, although the last don’t need such mundane reasons to haunt the area as ancient magics still linger and draw them close. The tide here is as vicious as the aquatic occupants and batter anything not accustomed to the currents against the rocks.” This is a switch to “explainer/god mode” description.From a design standpoint I suspect that, even in the story game system, one type or the other of description would be appropriate but not a mixture of both. But, let’s ignore that, and look at the scene the designer is trying to imagine.

Crumbling seaside cliffs. Seacaves barely visible above the waterline with water/wave lapping up against it. Jagged rocks in the water with seals on it … that alone would not be bad. Seeing seals, diving and eating fish, would normally be a good clue for the party to ask more questions … hinting at but not explicitly telling the party that there are seal predators on the loose. That’s exactly the kind of hint of a trap/monster that good adventures contain. It’s not exactly what the designer is doing here, with the mixed meta flat out stating sharks, but ignoring that then the “little vignette for the party to see” is pretty evocative. 

What follows is then a set of bullet points for “moments.” It feels like this means something in the system I know nothing about, but, let’s look at those moments anyway: “

• The entrance peeking above the surface for a moment before being submerged again.

• Water rushing toward the jagged, unyielding rocks.

• The boom of water violently smashing again stone.

• A triangular fin breaking the surface of the water nearby.

• Sea spray coating clothing and skin

You can see, from this, imagine if you will, a series of “events” in this room that are happening to the party. Or things for them to see. That lapping water at the cave entrance. A BOOM of water r someone getting splashed. As a series of little things the party could see or experience I’m a big fan of these moments. You can imagine what they might be like in a chasm room, or so on. A series of window dressing for the DM to toss in. Nice.

After this things get more boring with “props” just describing things in the room. Oyster shells on the jagged rocks a little rowboat, etc. Nothing much interesting there. Traps continues in the same vein, Sharks and Unpredictable currents. That’s ok, I guess, as an obstacle or challenge section for the room, but nothing that unusual. There’s a treasure section also, but, what I really want to focus on here are the descriptions of both the treasure and the monsters.

“An ancient amulet of a petrified sharks tooth the size of a dagger with the image of a single eye carved in to it.” Hey, that’s a pretty decent magic item description. Non traditional dagger. The single eye thing. Petrified. Nice! And then, for the monsters, a shark: “a stream-line fish as long as a man with sharp find and mouthful of jagged razor sharp teeth. A murderous hunger fills its otherwise dead, soulless eyes.” Good description! That’s full of shit I can steal as I describe combat with the shark to the party, from staring at it in its dead, soulless eyes, to the hunger thing, to the man-sized, to the jagged ror razor teeth. Those sorts of descriptions are very visceral and help me convey a vibe to the party. And that’s what the monster description is supposed to do. Nice!

So, as an adventure? Meh  … I don’t know. It’s for a story game I know nothing about. But I”M NOT HAPPY it’s in the OSR section. If you were looking for a B/X adventure then you just wasted your $3 … and no one feels good thinking they were tricked. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You can see that first sea cave/shark encounter. I’d encourage you to check out the preview for that reason alone. You can see how the moments and shark description and actions could be used/stolen for some kind of system for a real OSR game.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Protector

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 08/26/2020 - 11:00

The post-apocalyptic science fiction comic Protector recently concluded at Image. I've been told it's going to be renamed First Knife for the trade. I plugged this series by writers Simon Roy, Daniel Bensen and artist Artyom Trakhanov, previously. I thought it was worth mentioning again because the first issue is now available to read online for free on the Image Comics website.

D&D’s Best Multiclass Combinations With Paladin

DM David - Tue, 08/25/2020 - 11:20

More and more Dungeons & Dragons players keep learning a secret: The paladin class rates as one of the game’s strongest. In past editions, the paladin class weighed players with a need to play a faultless, lawful do-gooder who gave away most of their treasure, so the designers made paladins powerful to compensate. Fifth edition frees players of those old restrictions, but the class gets as many powerful features as ever.

As good as the class rates, players look to improve their paladins through multiclassing. The recipe seems strong. Combine the paladin’s martial prowess, armor, and divine smites with a Charisma-based spellcasting class that gains more spell slots to fuel extra smites. Compared to a level-10 paladin, a 10th-level character who mixes 2 levels of paladin with 8 levels of sorcerer or bard gains 1 level-3 slot, 3 level-4 slots, and 1 level-5 slot. The combination yields 24d8 extra total smite damage per day. Plus sorcerers gain sorcery points they can trade for even more slots. Of course, such combinations lack a bounty of paladin features. More on that at the end.

What multiclass combinations work best with paladin?

Paladin + Sorcerer

Multiclass paladin/sorcerers live their dreams by casting a quickened hold person or monster to paralyze a foe, and then following with paladin smites that automatically score criticals for twice the damage dice. Still, the combination suffers drawbacks that careful choices can help offset.

  • Sorcerers only gain d6 hit dice, so a lack of hit points limits characters who need to melee to smite. To compensate, pick the Draconic Bloodline origin for an extra hp per level. Prepare the shield spell and, later, mirror image, which rates as the best defense spell that works without concentration.

  • While paladins can cast their paladin spells using a holy symbol emblazoned on a shield as a focus, sorcerers need a free hand for the components of sorcerer spells. You can avoid this by focusing on the Great Weapon Fighting style, but the lack of a shield diminishes AC. To equip a shield, take the War Caster feat so that you can cast spells while holding it. This brings the added advantage of granting advantage on the Constitution saves needed to maintain concentration.

  • This class combination never gets an extra attack unless you invest five levels in paladin. To compensate, choose either the booming blade or green-flame blade cantrip to add extra damage to a single attack.

  • The class combination relies on multiple ability scores. Draconic Bloodline sorcerers gain in armor class if they focus on Dexterity over Strength, plus a high Dexterity offers more benefits than Strength, but these characters still need a 13 Strength to become a multiclass paladin. That hurts enough for most of these characters to opt for Strength over Dexterity. Half-elves work especially well with this class combination because of their choice of ability score increases.

Paladin + Bard

Multiclass paladin/bards boast one edge: When you join the bard’s College of Swords at 3rd level, you gain features that work in melee. Bards in the college gain an extra attack at level 6. These characters can start with 2 levels of paladin for Divine Smite, switch to bard, and still gain an extra attack at level 8. Plus, these sword bards can use their weapon as an arcane focus. The Defensive Flourish option lets you add a Bardic Inspiration die to AC. Combined with a paladin’s armor, this can yield an untouchable AC, at least for a turn.

For this combination, opt for the paladin’s Defense fighting style and choose the Dueling style available to the College of Swords. Half-Elves make a good choice of race.

Compared to the sorcerer combination, the bard multiclass lacks spells that complement the fighting style. You want spells like shield, but you have to wait for the 10th-level bard’s Magical Secrets feature to gain them.

Paladin + Warlock

The hexblade patron makes warlock a strong combination with paladin for several reasons:

  • Warlocks who choose the Pact of the Blade feature and the Improved Pact Weapon invocation can use their pact weapon as a spellcasting focus.

  • Warlocks who choose the Pact of the Blade feature and the 5th-level Thirsting Blade invocation can attack with their pact weapon twice whenever they take an attack action.

  • Most paladins need a high Strength to power their attack and damage rolls. For a pact weapon or for any weapon that lacks the two-handed property, a hexblade warlock can use Charisma instead. This frees the character from needing a strength higher than 13, the prerequisite for multiclassing. You can focus ability score improvements on Charisma, Constitution, and the Resilient (Constitution) feat that you want to improve concentration.

  • Hexblades get spells like shield that prove particularly useful.

  • The hexblade curse enables critical hits on 19-20, which doubles your chance of getting to roll twice as many damage dice on a divine smite. Plus you gain a damage bonus equal to your proficiency bonus. Plus when you kill your target, you regain hit points.

  • Warlocks regain spell slots after short rests. Often this provides more fuel for smites than comes from a full caster like a bard or sorcerer.

Warlock/paladin multiclass characters divide their loyalties between a sacred oath and, likely, a mysterious entity from the Shadowfell that manifests in sentient magic weapons carved from the stuff of shadow. To some players this presents a roleplaying challenge they feel eager to embrace.

Paladin + More Paladin

Paladin multiclass characters gain attention for racking heaps of smite damage and sometimes beating encounters single handed. A pure paladin can’t flash as often or as bright. Nonetheless, a pure paladin may lift a party’s strength more, creating a more powerful group.

Look at all the goodies a multi-class paladin may lose.

  • Characters who opt for just 2 levels of paladin never reach the ability score enhancement at level 4.

  • Those taking fewer than 5 levels never gain Extra Attack.

  • Quit before level 6 and you never gain that sweet, wonderful Aura of Protection that gives you and every ally within 10 feet a bonus to saving throws equal to your charisma bonus. That aura will make your paladin the party’s MVP of every single session.

The paladin’s benefits at level 7 and higher feel less essential, but multiclassers still miss some compelling features. At level 10, allies within 10 feet can’t be frightened. At level 11, all your melee attacks deal an extra 1d8 of damage. At 14, you can touch yourself and alies to remove spells. At 18, the range of your auras increases to 30 feet. Plus at level 7, if you follow the Path of the Ancients, you and allies in your aura gain resistance to spell damage.

All that, and unlike a 1st-edition paladin, you can keep all your magic items.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Two old friends get interviewed

Bat in the Attic - Mon, 08/24/2020 - 16:23

My friend Tim Shorts and I have been gaming together for a long time starting around 1984 or so. Since then both of us have published works, me with Bat in the Attic Games, and Tim with Gothridge Manor. Because of Roll20 and on-line tabletop gaming, Tim and I have played with a lot of folks around the hobby and invariably they hear stories about what we did from Tim or myself.

Joethelawyer is a long time blogger and podcaster as well as playing in some of Tim's campaign. A while ago he wanted me and Tim to appear together on his Not So Wondrous Imagining podcast. It finally happened on Sunday.

We talked about our project, about our campaigns, and about we did as players along with some stories about our mutual friends. It was a lot of fun and I hope you enjoy it as much as Joe, Tim, and I did.

You can hear the podcast at Not So Wondrous Imagining
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Down and Out in Dredgeburg

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 08/24/2020 - 11:25
By Skullfungus? Self Published World of Dungeons Level: Any

Welcome to Dredgeburg! You have died and woken up in the city of Dredgeburg, a dark oasis of sorts, wedged in between the many hells of the Underworld. Dredgeburg is a massive city, located deep within the Underworld where it sits in the middle of a fetid swamp. It’s a strange and often dangerous place where anything can happen and where much adventure is to be had.

This twenty page supplement sets the scene for a wicked city and has a brief adventure generator. It’s flavorful, even if a little low on specifics and deserving of more “city” rather than “city generator.” 

I don’t know. I like city adventures. Some of the most funnest-est-est games I’ve run have been city campaigns. They are near and dear to my heart. The party has a connections to things, or builds one anyway. Recurring content. And all the wackiness that a big city can generate, fantasy world or no. “New Greyhawks hottest club is Bzoing-a-gong!” So, I’m reviewing this.

It’s got three sections. There’s a short section on how to make a character and level them. You can ignore this. It’s got another section that is a kind of adventure generator. Roll on a bunch of tables to get inspiration and use your brain to glue it all together. Then, the longest section at about half the book, describes the city proper. Let’s say, six districts. Each one with three or so NPC’s and two or so places. And then a long list of one sentences “scenes” that kind of describe the tone of the place. Drunk people outside of a trendy nightclub in the Throne district and and old blind woman smoking a pipe in a rocking chair in The Gutter. A mad scream in the distance, and then a laugh. And so on.

The NPC’s and businesses are both in the same format. A name, filled by a couple of adjectives/adverbs “Small Imp, Big Ambitions”. There is then a brief description, one sentence long  Wears oversized jumpsuit, breathe stinks of smoke, stubby tail wags when excited.” Then a Wnts section “Help with extending his drug running operation, “Just have to get rid of the competition” Then a small sentence on mannerisms. It works well for both the NPC’s and the businesses. It’s short enough to scan quickly and they are iconic and specific enough to cement them in your head. The last thing in each section is: Ask. This is supposed to be something the DM asks the players for each thing. For the imp it’s “What is something truly terrifying about him?” 

Clearly, this is story game related, where the players get some control over the situation. The “Ask” thing appears repeatedly in the adventure, in just about every section/specific part of it. It’s the only story game aspect and is easy enough to ignore if you want. It’s pretty innocuous though, and a decent way to get the players engaged more without handing over full control to them. Your mileage on this may vary.

So, that’s the town. About six quarters and two or three NPC’s and two or three places in each, along with a short list of 10-15 “vignette” things, like the old women in the chair smoking a pipe. The end of the booklet has a section on creating adventures. Let’s see, my adventure inspiration is “In the Judgement district, a retired pit fighter. My mission is to disguise, An expensive pet ot beast, there’s a hunger motivation, the complication is the target/client is missing, There’s a tower rooftop in the market district thats important, with the risk being high and the reward being a power relic or spellbook. Mist Tentacle is my two words for further inspiration. I’ll combine this with something from the Judgement district table, “Line of miserable people waiting to be processed.” Now … create an adventure from that! Seems do-able. 

As a city supplement and idea generator I don’t think that there’s anything necessarily wrong with it. The location impressions are specific and interesting, as are the sample NPC’s and buildings/businesses/events. The idea generator is good enough. Combined you could come up with some good ideas. And the setting, a city in hell, could certainly be replaced with any evil city, from the Draw Meznobalahblahblah to Iuz to whatever. 

Ultimately, your value here is going to be derived from how much you want to do yourself and be inspired vs how much you want spelled out for you ahead of time. Are you looking for a book of NPC’s, events, and places, or are you looking for something to help you inspire your own? This is inspiration. 

And now you know why I don’t review fluff products, in general. I don’t know how to review “inspiration” products. Yeah, it’s ok, if you’re in to that. Ok, MORE than ok, if you’re in to that. I think, though, this will take a place in my city toolkit. That’s the rough collection of just about every city/own supplement every published, with parts jerked out and combined, From The Butcher Baker Candlestick maker stuff to Lankhmar (multiple versions) to every other city supplement every published. What’s that orc bar again? The one with the troughs of slop? That one also.

This is $6.66 at Itch.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Star Trek Endeavour: The Savage Syndrome (Part 2)

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 08/24/2020 - 11:00

Episode 1.5:
"SAVAGE SYNDROME"Player Characters: The Crew of the USS Endeavour, NCC-1895, Constitution Class Starship (refit):
Andrea as Lt. Ona Greer, Ops Officer
Bob as Capt. Robert Locke
Gina as Cmdr. Isabella Hale, Helm Chief
Jason as Lt. Francisco Otomo, Chief Security OfficerEric As Lt.Cmdr. Tavek, Science Officer
Tug as Dr. Azala Vex, Trill Chief Medical Officer

Synposis: After traveling to the research station on L-373-IV, the crew of Endeavour races against time to repair their shuttle craft and recover specimens that may hold a cure for a devastating neurologic illness, before an ion storm arrives--or the de-evolved former science team kills them.

Commentary: As mentioned in the first post, this adventure is a modified version of the introductory adventure "The Rescue At Xerxes IV," with an episode name borrowed from a story synopsis submitted for the aborted Star Trek Phase II series with a similar conceit.

The science team (as in the published adventure), felt they had discovered a possible treatment, maybe a cure, for Irumodic Syndrome. With time against them, the Endeavour crew were unsuccessful in getting all the samples they needed. The last one eluded their grasp. Still, they hoped some of it was a step ahead of none. 
Tavek, the Vulcan science officer debuting this adventure, wanted to find a cure for the atavism effecting the science team, and indeed all animal life on the planet. He at least succeeded in determining the cause was some ancient, biotechnological entity, activated by the ion storm. Who or what left it behind is a mystery.
Biotechnology (by that name) is perhaps not the go to explanation of Original Series mimicking Trek, but it made more sense to be than the "weird energy" explanation.

Bat in the Attic Kickstarter, Classes in the Basic Rules

Bat in the Attic - Sun, 08/23/2020 - 16:37

This is the second in a series of posts about some of the design choices I made. In addition to explaining what the system is about, it will also help folks in deciding which elements are the most useful to them as one of my overall goals is to support kitbashing.

The basic rules are meant to be a complete system supporting players and referees. But given the page count (140 to 160 pages) I had to pick and choose what elements to include from the larger system. For classes this meant sticking to the traditional four: Burglar, Cleric, Fighter, and Magic User and detailing levels 1 to 5.

When I started blogging, I stated the following:

To me the Old School Renaissance is not about playing a particular set of rules in a particular way, the dungeon crawl. It is about going back to the roots of our hobby and seeing what we could do differently. What avenues were not explored because of the commercial and personal interests of the game designers of the time.

With my Majestic Wilderlands supplement and later with these rules, I started with Swords & Wizardy, Core that uses the 3 Little Brown Books (LBBs) of the original edition plus selected element from later supplements as a foundation. I didn't stop there. I tweaked, and altered things to better suit the campaigns I was running. Still I wanted to easily use to all the great material the OSR was producing so that acted as a limit as to how far I would change things. Among the things that got modified and altered were the basic four classes. The reason I altered these classes was to reflect some of the specific details that were present in previous campaigns.

It is possible as a author to design a system in a way that at certain points the character have a 50-50 chance of defeating certain opponent and overcoming specific challenge. This is not what I do. Instead I define how the setting works  first and then see to the rules. While I switched away from the advanced system in the mid 1980s, I still keep the basic idea that there were fighters, priests, mages, and thieves. Then fleshed out from there. So when I returned to using the original edition in the form of Swords & Wizardry, I was able to use the existing classes as a starting point but made changes due how these different character types developed in the intervening years  As a result the "balance' within these rules reflect the settings I used rather than strictly sticking to the original edition.

Basic Rules for the Majestic Fantasy RPG Kickstarter

To be blunt, the thief didn't make the cut. Thus in its place I created a new Burglar class. From the days of using the advanced edition in the early 80s the thief always felt a little off to me. A 1st level thief felt way under powered compared to the other classes because of the low percentages of success for their thieving abilities. Many of these abilities covered things that even then I felt other character can do like hide in shadows, or move silently.

Later as I was fleshing out the Majestic Wilderlands supplement, I read about how the thief came to be in the first supplement to the original edition. Along with of some of the controversy around who created the class. I was already trying out my first pass of the ability system so I decided to jettison the thief and make a new set of Rogue classes that were better at doing things outside of combat and spellcasting. Among them was the Burglar.

What distinguishes the Burglar and the other rogue classes is that they have a lot more ability bonuses compared to other classes. Any character can use any ability but the rogues are generally the best. The Burglar class focuses on burglar abilities: Climbing, Eavesdrop, Legerdemain, Perception, and Stealth. At 1st level a burglar gets +8 bonuses to distribute among these abilities with no more than half going to any one ability. This means a 1st lever burglar can be competent at one or two abilities especially after you add in the relevant attribute bonus.

Not in the section on rulings, I talk about what I assume about character competence. In short I view 1st level not as a complete novice but somebody who has their initial round of training.

Compared to the thief, another major difference is the lack of an explicit backstab ability. This reflects what I read about campaigns when they only had the 3 LBBs to use. Any character was able to sneak around, and if they had a good plan had a chance to knock out a guard.

But the various accounts varied greatly as to how each referee came up with their own ruling on this and other things that character can do. When we talk about the combat rules, you will see that while any character can try to knock the guard, but the burglar has the best odds of being able to sneak behind an unsuspecting enemy and thus have the best opportunity to knock them out cold with a single blow.

If you like how the original thief was presented but still want to use my ability system, what I recommend is to give the Thief class a reduced number of ability bonuses comparable to what the cleric, fighter, and magic-user get ( +4 to +6 total). Make the the thief skills like move silently, pick locks, etc. represent an extraordinary use of that skill. With ordinary use handled by the ability system.

Clerics in the Majestic Fantasy RPG  have some additions that reflect my view of the role of religion in a fantasy setting and campaign. First they get a small amount of ability bonuses: Theology and +2 (or 2 +1s) that they can use on any other ability. At 3rd level they get the use of a specific spell once a day (typically a spell of 3rd to 4th level). This spell reflects the nature of their deity and religion. For the basic rules this spell is Prayer. The last is the ability to cast rituals which I will cover when I talk about the magic users.

An important new feature is the Shield of Faith. In my campaign divine power is superior to anything arcane (or mundane). I portray clerics as divine agents of their deity. As their understanding of their faith deepens so does their ability to resist various supernatural effects. By the time they reach 5th level, a cleric's faith makes them completely immune to spells like charm person. However this shield only works against certain spells that effect the character directly with magic. So while the shield protects against spells like sleep, charm person but doesn't protect against spells that create something else that does the damage or causes an effect like cloudkill, fireball or wall of stone. Each spells has a note stating whether it is effected by magical immunity or not.

This does makes clerics more powerful in terms of class abilities. Keep in mind that a cleric character is not a free agent, they are a representative of their religion and deity. If they do not uphold their religion's tenets they will lose their ability to cast divine magic, and their shield of faith. I realize that not all campaigns are interested in this type of roleplaying, so dropping the Shield of the Faith is fine.

In addition for the basic rules, I decided to attach a specific deity for flavor, Delaquain, the Goddess of Honor and Justice. This can be changed to suit your campaign along with the third level spell that is granted. In addition, because Delaquain is a war goddess, her clerics are trained to use any armor, and all weapons. This can also be tweaked depending on your campaign.

Clerics in the basic rules still have the ability to turn undead, and still have the same spell progression as found in Swords and Wizardry..

Fighters have two important addition in these rules.

First they can add their to-hit bonus to their initiative roll. This change came about in the campaigns I ran after the release of the Majestic Wilderlands. Later editions pad out the fighter with extra abilities to use in combat. I resisted doing this as it didn't feel to be in the spirit of Swords and Wizardry and the other classic editions. But the issue kept coming up. So one session, I suggested adding the to-hit bonus and we tried it. It proved to be a winner among the players playing fighters. Now they generally went first in a combat round. It also felt right in that it was something that ought to happen when a character is a fighter.

The another tweak I made is to give monsters an initiative bonus equal to 1/2 of their hit dice. I initially did this because it made sense for certain monster they also got a bonus as well. But I soon found out that it also made the rest of the party appreciate the fighters even more as the fighters were the only ones that had a chance of going first before a high hit dice monster.

Second and more recent, I experimented with extending the multiple attack ability that fighter get against 1 HD foes. It can now be applied against higher HD creatures but only in proportion. A 6th level fighter can attack 6 1 HD enemies, 3 2 HD enemies or 1 foe that is 6 HD or higher. I found players learning the exact hit dice or level of their foe to be a non-issue as most of the time they generally had a rough idea what hit dice range their enemies fell into. This also reflects my  experience fighting reenactments that I could get a sense of the skill level of my opponent after the first series of exchanges.

Magic Users
Like fighters magic users have two important additions in these rules.

First they have a set of ability bonuses: +1 to Thaumatology, +1 to Research, and +2 that they can split between two other abilities.

The more significant addition is the ability to cast rituals. Magic User in the Majestic Fantasy RPG can cast spells without memorization. But they  have to have the spell in their spell book, it take a 10 minute ritual (and a wandering monster check) plus an expenditure of ritual components. To keep it simple the ritual component are only the total value of the components are track. A 1st level ritual takes 10d or 10 silver pieces to cast. While a second level ritual will take 40d.

Other details are that 250d worth of ritual components equal 1 lb of weight. And the higher level that a magic user can cast is equal to half (rounded down) of the higher level of spell they can cast. So magic users can only cast 1st level rituals when they reach 3rd level in their class. Clerics can also cast rituals except they can cast any cleric spell as a ritual although they are still limited to half of the highest level spell they can cast.

This reflect that the magic level of my setting went up a notch since the early 80s when I ran my campaigns with the advanced edition. I switched to other RPGs where spellcasters were more flexible But oddly despite the flexibility they never were quite as spectacular as they are in the original and advanced edition.

More importantly the ritual allowed me to come up with other types of spellcasters that dovetailed nicely into the original edition without overshadowing the magic user.

If you use rituals in your campaign, I recommend that you require players keep strict track of the value of ritual components on hand. That in most cases they will have to return to a shop in the town or city to buy more if they run out. This makes ritual a limited resource just like memorized spells. Also if you feel a base of 10d is too low. Then translate 1d = 1gp instead of 1d = 1sp.

5th level ability
In my campaigns, players just don't suddenly become a lord, high priest, boss, etc. Like in life, they start by acquiring allies and friend. Cultivating relationships with patrons. By 5th level, this has developed to a point where the players now have a small group of followers of their own. Fifth level is around the time where character undertake their first command. So in the basic rules I summarize this with a 5th level class ability. For example 5th level is around the time a magic user attracts their first apprentices or aides.

Hit Dice
I started these rules with the 2nd printing of Swords and Wizardry. At that time each classes hit points were rolled as increments of 1d6 +/- a modifier. I opted to retain this. However substituting variable hit dice (d8, d6, d4) is fine if that your preference.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bonepicker’s Tower

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 08/22/2020 - 11:11
By WR Beatty Rosethorn Publishing S&W Levels 2-4

They say the old baron went mad. They say he killed his lover. They say those ruins where once stood his opulent castle are haunted. Most people avoid the Broken Tower high on Eagle Peak, haunted or not. Bad things have happened up there. But some winged demon has been terrorizing Glynn Rock and something has to be done. They say the demon has been seen roosting on the crumbling crenelations of the Mad Baron’s Tower. And then there’s the bones…

This 34 page adventure describes a small region with about eleven locations and two small dungeons, including the titular one. Great interactivity and a relatively easy to scan format are augments by good treasure, magic, and decent descriptions. This entire thing FEELS like a place of mystery you want to explore.

The woodcutters boy is sick. You know this because there’s a merchant selling a magi dagger that he bought at a cut rate from the woodcutter. Get it? A round about hook. Nice! Or, Baron Wyrmslayer wants you to go kill the Bonepicker, the flying beast demon that lairs in the old ruined tower. Nice one that also. That drips with imagery … the flying wyvern lairing in the tower. Note how it’s not a Wyvern. It is, in fact THE BONEPICKER. Monsters gets names. That brings a mythic vibe. Also, the wyvern has pus nodules all over it because its suffering from a curse … the same one laying over the tower. The same one impacting the woodcutters son. A small village, not described much at all, just enough, with GREAT supporting in voice rumors, to give you what you need to run the adventure. A wilderness with eleven or so areas, a few decently expanded upon. There’s an ancient fey giant in the forest, dressed in bearskins and wearing a woven hat of leaves. There’s also that woodcutter, desperate for a cure for his son … and his QUITE alluring wife … give her a kiss? Ancient ruined gates stand in the wilderness. The Green Stone waits in the forest for the party. Then there’s that band of 64 gnoles, replete with human slaves, waiting to bring down the wrath of the gnoles on the villages in the area. And the goblin band. And that giant … he’s looking for the gnoles … him and his buddies got a score to settle. And, of course, then there’s those trees. The ones with circular areas of their bark removed. And some sigil cut in to them. Beyond, a dense green mist hangs in the forest. Uh … it’s a shortcut? This fucking things BRINGS IT. Augmented by EXCELLENT art choices (and you know how seldom I mention art …) all of those locations spring to mind instantly. Just the idea. Just the set up. Right outside of the village, right outside of the reach of civilization, just beyond the boundary of the forest … the world is magic again. The grass a little greener. Mist hangs in the vales. The sun shines a little brighter. Interconnected, fully realized (for whatever that means …) the place FEELS real like the MERP products felt like real places. This is a very, very good accomplishment.

Interactivity is high. From the wanderers, always up to something, to the various NPC’s to talk to and the things to play with and investigate. And it’s not just the same old same old shit either. A body at the bottom of a well, a bag of rocks tied to his waist.  The Black Pudding in this FEELS not like a black pudding but like a nameless horror of a blob. Ghosts and Spirits abound, looking for weal or woe. The BEST fucking doppleganger I have ever fucking seen in any fucking adventure. Why? Because the entire place FEELS real. You’re invested. Because this thing has that most elusive of design principles. That thing I seldom mention. DESIGN. 

And yet … I have three specific criticisms. 

First, the monsters are … weird? I mean, I like unique monsters. I love them, in fact. But in this case we get a monster name and no/little description … with “no” being the most common. Thus the Crawling Horrors, the Skin Spirits, the Hostile Spirit etc, get no description. This is a serious miss. Maybe they are the S&W book, and are just rethemed for copyright purposes, from OFFICIAL d&d? Or in some supplement? Or in a Rosethorn campaign guide? I don’t know. But, even if they were, cross-references would have been nice. I do like a description for a creature, like the Firbolg giant with the hat of woven leaves that I mentioned earlier. Even a brown bear, in context. This don’t do that. Again, open to being wrong, if these are in a book somewhere.

Descriptions are likewise somewhat lacking. “…ragged sheets of some translucent material hang from the wall […] Skin Spirits re-possess their physical remains and tear themselves from the hooks anchoring them to the ceiling.”  This is not a tour-de-force of evocative writing. Which is weird because the IDEAS in this are QUITE striking. They recall those ancestral/cultural memory imprints we all have, which should lead to STELLAR outcomes for the DM … but the descriptions just don’t make it there.  

Finally, there’s a format used. The designer notes that they are experimenting with a new format to help with scanability and usage at the table. Yeah! Groove On! I applaud you! They note they are trying something from Castle Thadrian for Engines & Empires. (A brief interweb perusal indicates this is a physical product from 2009, and I see no copies readily available to consult in my library in the Volcano Lair.) I assume, though, I get what’s been taken. Rooms start with a box of text divided in to at least two sections: First Impressions and What Happens. From there the rest of the room is described outside of the boxed text, in a more traditional format. I get what’s being tried here. The first part, in particular, of First Impressions, is more like what the party sees when they enter the room and the second What Happens, a summary of the rooms deal-e-o. I’m not sure though that the format used is more effective than a more traditional Summary Paragraph (with bolded words) and the bolded words followed up on in subsequent paragraphs. I said I’m Not Sure and I mean that. I’m not sure. It seems weaker in this particular implementation, but there could be other things going on and it could be tweaked, I think, to provide a decent organization system. More evocative writing and those bolded words in the First/What sections followed by those bolds being expanded upon, or something like that? I don’t know. I can say, though, that it doesn’t feel more effective or better in this implementation. 

The Crooked Dwarf is catatonic. If engaged in combat there is a 50% chance he will turn in to an albino fish for d4 rounds, otherwise he will fight with long sharp claws. In his mouth is a single gold tooth. Magic, of course, when placed in a toothless gap. Good stuff.

This is not a home run. More evocative descriptions may have made it so. But it is still a solid solid adventure. It is immersive and brings magical wonder, mystery, and a kind of realism … without becoming simulationist. Design is nailed. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is 18 pages, which is more than enough to get a good look at the wilderness and dungeon encounters and see how they are written and get a sense of the adventure. It’s a great preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Developing for a Wide Open AD&D Campaign

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sat, 08/22/2020 - 02:19

After running the absolutely tremendous AD&D campaign for eighteen sessions with a criminally small amount of prep, I sat down and developed a devious little dungeon. A masterpiece of dungeon design that is PERFECTLY BALANCED for parties levels 1-3. (There is NO WAY that this thing can be a death trap, I assure you.)

It took hours to work it out, though I could have run the gist of it with just the initial sketch. The game session run off that sketch would have inevitably included something phenomenally stupid made up on the spot, but there you go!

Now, if the players go there they could conceivably spend many sessions unlocking its secrets. If they make multiple visits to this place spread out over enough time, a minimal amount of restocking and re-envisioning aspects of it can potentially stretch out its utility by many orders of magnitude.

By the same token the players can elect never to go there at all. Or they could visit it once and then never return. How do I know this? Experience!

Here’s the complete list of my campaign’s adventuring locations:

  • The Sewers of Trollopulous — A single lair there has been visited many times by the party and seen battles with pug men, crystal men, and wererats.
  • The Underground Lake — Players visited once and fought spiders on the way out. Never went back because it was too dangerous.
  • The Sinkhole Area — The players lowered somebody down to the first room one time but never went any further. Why?
  • The Huge Ruined Pile — Home of the psychedelic teleport trap with the bizarre organ puzzle. The session was so weird and the threat of mushroom men so ominous, the players have never returned.
  • The Undead Quarter — The party met their necromancer neighbors and spent the night, but did NOT enjoy the experience. Some daylight exploration and tracking was done by a couple of player characters during their down time, but none of the resulting leads were followed up on.
  • Mount Glovermore — Featuring both “The Woman in Ice” and “The Boobs of Opar”, this is easily the greatest dungeon in D&D history. Multiple return visits to this one, but limited exploration due to the early discovery of a high value / high risk treasure.
  • The Tower of Ultimate Evil — You didn’t think the game could get any dumber, but with an elevator that leads directly to challenges that vary in difficulty directly to the floor level, I really would be shocked if the players never went back. They just won’t start at the tenth floor next time.
  • The Man in the Mountain — This thing was mentioned once by a gypsy woman and the players still threaten to go there sometime.

Now, reviewing that I have to say that I am not sure I have ever heard of a D&D game where the party ranged around this much. What are the players looking for? Well it’s simple, really. They are looking for the most amount of treasure with the least amount of risk. With the ranger dead, the obvious treasures all taken, and both a six-armed demon woman and a sorceress on the loose, the players are not going to be heading back to Mount Glovermore any time soon!

But where will they go? No telling!

That’s why I’m going to need several adventure areas fleshed out. Multiple one page dungeons in the sewers, the Tower, the Undead Quarter, and then places relatively nearby to Trollopulous.

Utterly insane. And completely unlike the format of any adventure module I have ever seen. Which is of course a clue as to why adventure modules are intrinsically terrible. They don’t solve the problems that people running real D&D campaigns have. They produce a fundamentally different style of play altogether!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tehuatl a Lost Lands Setting by Tom Knauss

Bat in the Attic - Fri, 08/21/2020 - 14:49

Tehuatl is a Lost Land setting by Tom Knauss. The Lost Land setting is published by Frog God Games and they opened it up to other authors to play around with.

Tom draws on Mesoamerican mythology to create an exciting setting to explore and adventure in. Along with Tom, several other authors are contributing adventures. In addition Frog God Games is assembling an international team of artists to illustrate the product.

You can check it out for yourself on kickstarter at this link. 5th edition, Pathfinder 1st, and Swords & Wizardry are supported.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Islands IV

Hack & Slash - Fri, 08/21/2020 - 12:30
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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