Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Article in a New Cthulhu Zine

Zenopus Archives - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 13:37
The cover of Bayt al Azif issue #1. Art by Maria Nguyen. Click on picture for a larger view.
FYI, I have an article in the first issue of Bayt al Azif, a new magazine "for Cthulhu Mythos Roleplaying Games" (as stated on the cover), edited by Jared Smith. As Jared explains, "Al Azif" is one title Lovecraft used for the Necronomicon, perhaps referring to the howling of demons, and thus the full title of the new magazine can be interpreted as referring to the "House of the Necronomicon". It's available in both pdf and print versions, and can be previewed or purchased here at DrivethruRPG ---

Bayt al Azif issue 1
(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)
The magazine is 80 pages long and includes a variety of articles of interest, including three scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. See the DrivethruRPG page for more details. Here's a screenshot of the Table of Contents ---

My article is "Clerical Cosmic Horror: The Brief Era of the Cthulhu Mythos as Dungeons & Dragons Pantheon", which is a rewrite and expansion of a topic I discussed on this blog a number of years ago. Essentially on Holmes roll in bringing the Cthulhu Mythos into Dungeons & Dragons where it served as part of the line-up of pantheons for a few years.

The best part is that the article is accompanied by a fantastic new piece of art by Chris Holmes! It's a Mythos creature, but I will keep which one a surprise (hint: it's not Cthulhu).

Happy Cthulhuween!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Stjernheim – The Siege of Deepknell Hold

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:17

By Ben Dutter
Sigil Stone Publishing

This 42 page mess is an non-linear sandbox style adventure, or so the adventure tells us, repeatedly. Non-linear by the standards of Apocalypse Engine, maybe, but not when compared to anything above “dreck’ level adventures. A couple of faction camps outside of a linear dungeon that runs between them underground is all you get. It is the most basic of things, expanded to 42 pages.

Some giants are laying siege to a jarls fort. The fort guards one end of Moria. Out in the woods are some Freefolk in a camp that sits on another entrance to Moria. They have the giant chiefs daughter held hostage to get them to do the siege of the jarl fort. This COULD be a great gasoline storage facility for tossing in the molotov that is The Party. Instead it’s dull.

The fort and freefolks camp each get about two pages. It’s starts will some bullets. Great! The important bits! Oh, no, it’s just all trivia, expanded upon the main text that follows. It tells us the freefolk are descended from jormundt. It tells us the camp sits over the entrance to Moria. It tells us it holds the jotunns daughter. It’s fact based boring shit. Or it’s useless trivia shit that doesn’t contribute much to the actual play. A great gaping fetid maw that everyone avoids and the sun seems to shine a little dimmer … that’s a good bullet, but “Covers the entrance to Moria” is just boring. The difference should be obvious. One makes the DM feels a certain way (if done well) and they in turn communicate that vibe, and expand upon it effortlessly, to the players. Worse still is the trivia, like the jormundt thing. Ok. Jortmundt. Why the fuck does the party care? How does that lead to interactivity? Actual play? No, not implies x which implies y. Play. Now. It doesn’t.

Then the main text follows and it expands upon the uselessness. A column full of dull and useless trivia. The dungeon is sometimes worse, giving you lots of wasted rooms, text, and the like, combined with overly long and boring descriptions when you DO reach something interesting. And it’s essentially linear. Joy. Linear is useless. Passing by a dark side passage freaks the party the fuck out, and there’s value in that. Uncertainty is what the underworld is all about.

Look, I get it. Apocalypse is a different beast. It’s not D&D. Some people like it and that’s ok. But bad writing is not ok. Making us dig through text to find something useless. Trivia. Fact based descriptions that are not in the least evocative. Those should be common elements regardless of the system and how it plays. You want linear? Fine, you can enjoy that, I guess. But badly written? Nope.

I will say that there is something the rest of D&D could steal from Apocalypse: the creature blocks. Or, what’s in them anyway; the blocks themselves seems longly formatted. But, it uses those brief little bursts to communicate flavor. Creatures have Trail Tags, like “silent lurker, aquatic, slippery, surprisingly strong.” That’s GREAT. Less is more. It leaves you with impressions that you are free to riff on. THE SAME THING THE REST OF THE DESCRIPTIONS/ROOMS SHOULD ALSO BE DOING. Then there’s this little abilities section and some TINY comat notes, like leads tribe in to combat with shrieks, or some such. Again, GREAT. Cues for the DM when running them! They aren’t always done well, but other RPG’s could learn a lot from them. (The same could be said for 4e’s special monster abilities … assuming everyone had not memorized the MM.) This specialness and abstraction of mechanics, rather than focusing on the details, also applies to the magic items and, because of that, they have flavor and character. Which is what the fuck magic items SHOULD have.

You know, I had a feeling, based on the name, what this was going to be and I was right. I try not to prejudge adventure but, man, I wish authoris would pay more attention. I guess I blame T$S and WOTC. They have spent MANY years publishing shitty adventures and people have “learned” that is the correct way to do things. But, fuck man, look around at what people consider to be good outside of your echo chamber. Yeah, you have to put some work in. A lot of fuckwits (and there are A LOT, they drown out critical thought) will tell you that something is good that is not. You gotta put some effort in. But you’ll be a better writer.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is 19 pages long; and I applaud the authors for this, it gives you a real chance to see what the actual writing is like before purchase. Jumping to the last third or so will show you the bullets point summaries that begin each section (a great idea poorly implemented) and the expanded upon dullness.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Dynamte Flash Gordon

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:00
Last week, I talked about the original Flash Gordon comic strip and where it could be found in print. The last incarnation of the series is at Dynamite Entertainment. Dynamite produced a limited series in 2011 with designs by Alex Ross, then relaunched again with a limited series in 2014 written by Jeff Parker and drawn by Evan "Doc" Shaner. This series is available as an omnibus edition.

The basics are familiar to readers of the old strips and comics or viewers of the movie, cartoon, or serials. Flash, Dale, And Zarkov head to Mongo to save the Earth. Here Flash is a bit of an extreme sports enthusiast and son of a wealth. (If your keeping track, Flash as been a polo star, Olympic decathlon athlete, pro football player, and pro basketball player in previous incarnations). Parker characterizes him as personable, overconfident, and perhaps not terribly bright. It works pretty well. Dale has the biggest role she's probably had in any version, but that largely makes her into a no nonsense reporter a la Lois Lane, and straight man for Flash's antics. Zarkov is not totally unlike the 80s movie version, though perhaps with a hint of Tony Stark.

The various lands of the 30s Mongo, are now different worlds, having been conquered by Mingo via gates of some sort, one of which opened on Earth. The designs for various cultures seem a synthesis of the comic strip and the 80s film.

Overall, the series keeps the verve of the original version of the property, while updating it to a modern context. I'm not fond of all the choices they made, but in general it is well done. Dynamite had a 2015 series as well, which may well be a follow-up to the Parker/Shaner series, though neither of those creators were involved.

Halloween Hyperborea Hustle - A New Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Kickstarter

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 17:54
'As though a thousand vampires, from the day Fleeing unseen, oppressed that nightly deep, The straitening and darkened skies of sleep Closed on the dreamland dale in which I lay. Eternal tensions numbed the wings of time While through unending narrow ways I sought Awakening; up precipitous gloom I thought To reach the dawn, far-pinnacled sublime. Rejected at the closen gates of light I Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeon Masters, Instead of Plots, Prepare Secrets, Clues, and Leads

DM David - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 11:00

Planning a Dungeons & Dragons game around encounters and plots leads to trouble. In my last post, I explained how preparing encounters proves less flexible than preparing situations.

Situations can take dungeon masters far. Every D&D adventure published before 1982 presented a situation ripe for adventure. These early adventures might include broad goals, like destroy the evil behind raiding giants, but these modules mapped out situations and then set characters loose. Nothing broke this mold until N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God in 1982. Before N1, every published D&D adventure was site based. The choices that drove these adventures all amounted to a choice of doors or adjacent hexes. N1 paired an investigation with a scenario where events happened even if the characters did nothing. Since then, both features have appeared in countless adventures. (See How N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God Changed D&D Adventures for Good.)

Such features make adventures resemble plotted stories, so dungeon masters preparing for events and investigations often imagine plots for their scenarios. Then they contrive ways to make players follow the plot. When the players’ choices upset the plan, the DM feels tempted to invalidate the diversion. Sometimes, to avoid railroading, DMs work to build player-proof plots by including contingency plans for every choice and outcome. The preparation effort can swamp a DM.

As an alternative to plotting adventures, DMs can turn to situations. Adventures designed around situations allow both investigations and events, but other techniques make preparing and running such scenarios easier.

Instead of preparing plots, prepare leads.

Leads go by other names. Some writers call them clues, secrets, or hooks. When they discuss clues and secrets, their terms cover scraps of information that may lead or may serve another purpose. I favor “leads” because the word matches my main purpose, but I’ll use the other terms too.

Suppose the characters investigate a string of bloody murders in a village, they might discover the following leads:

  • All the murders center on well, recently dug to replace one that went dry.
  • A farmer found blood on the clothes of family members, but believed their innocent explanations and hid the evidence.
  • Children have spotted parents wandering the woods at night and returning at dawn.
  • A forester who cared for the woods now spends days in a drunken stupor.

Clues like these leave many angles that invite investigation. Each could lead to more clues.

Leads serve as one way DMs direct players through a plot, so in a sense, planning leads instead of plots just represents a change of mindset. But leads encourage choices. When players find enough leads, they face choosing which one to follow. Making choices and seeing outcomes generates the fun of role-playing games. Leads also offer more flexibility than plots. DMs can reveal them whenever players need to find a direction or to face choices.

If situations form the obstacles in an adventure, then leads become the scraps of information that direct players through situations and from one situation to the next.

Most adventures begin with a lead that everybody calls a hook. The best adventures supply characters more hooks as they go.

Leads give players a sense of direction. They lure players through an arc that, looking back, will resemble a plot. Leads can guide characters to the locations that match their power. As clues, they help reveal a situation in an order that keeps players asking questions and craving answers.

Blogger and game designer Justin Alexander has a rule for giving clues:

For any conclusion you want the PCs to make, include at least three clues.

“Why three? Because the PCs will probably miss the first; ignore the second; and misinterpret the third before making some incredible leap of logic that gets them where you wanted them to go all along.”

By Justin’s three-clue rule, every step in the scenario needs three clues that lead to another step. The surplus clues make the scenario robust. In game, players never wind up so clueless that they lack direction. In life, they’re on their own.

The clues can lead in different directions. Such diversity gives options, breaks linear adventures, and sometimes creates tough choices for players. Justin builds on his three-clue rule to create a node-based system of scenario design.

Typically, I plan clues, planting them along the course of the adventure ahead of players. But Mike “Sly Flourish” Shea takes a looser approach. He calls his clues secrets. He prepares for each game by listing 10 secrets that the session could reveal. Some of his secrets reveal the game world, but others serve as leads for players. “Secrets and clues are the anchors of our games. They’re a simple way to build out an adventure, create meaning and story for the players, and connect people, places, and things. Secrets and clues are the connective tissue of an adventure—and, more often than not, a whole campaign”

Mike’s lazy technique skips planning where the clues lead or how players will find clues. “You know the characters will learn something interesting—but you don’t know how they will learn it. You get to figure that out as it happens at the table.” He prepares a list of evocative secrets, and then as he runs a game, he improvises ways to reveal the secrets. Mike’s secrets don’t even become real until the players discover them. After a session, he discards some unrevealed secrets, but revisits others for the next session. For example, in my game based on the murders, if I choose to reveal the secret of the well, then the well becomes important; otherwise, it’s nothing.

“Abstracting secrets and clues works particularly well with mysteries. You’ll have no idea how the characters might go about investigating a mystery. But as they do, you can drop in the right clues at the right time to help them solve it.” For more on secrets, consult The Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master.

The early fifth-edition hardcover adventures designed campaigns around situations that offered all the advantages of the situation mindset. The designs gave players maximum freedom and DMs the flexibility to cope. But these adventures tended to lack ready-made leads that helped players find direction and helped DMs anticipate and prepare for the players’ next destination. (For more, see Are the Authors of the Dungeon & Dragons Hardcover Adventures Blind to the Plight of DMs?)

Alone, situations can overwhelm DMs with information to remember. Campaign-sized situations make preparing for sessions hard on DMs because the scope of what players might do becomes vast. DMs who run published adventures suffer the worst of this problem. Chances for improvisation are more limited. And I can’t be the only DM who finds remembering lore from a fat adventure book harder than the product of my own imagination. Few DMs can master hundreds of pages of content that spans a region like the Underdark well enough to prepare for aimless wandering.

In my games, leads provided the secret ingredient that the campaign-sized situations lacked. They gave players clear options and narrowed their likely choices enough for me to focus my preparation.

Next: Instead of preparing events, prepare villains.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

I'm Bowing Out

Hack & Slash - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 08:01
Politics, Violence, Social Media, and Dungeons and Dragons

I've not written this post several times. It will be intensely personal, brutally honest, and not directly about gaming resources. It is likely something in this post might trigger you, regarding abuse, sexuality, or mental illness. It is filled with ups and downs, trials and travails, good and evil, hope and loss.

A) It is one year ago today I was fired, illegally, due to a medical condition. Soon after termination, I was diagnosed with an Apnea Hypopnea Index of 120+, breath stoppages of a maximum 35 seconds. An index of 30 is considered 'critical'. (That's code for deadly. The number is the number of times during an hour that breathing ceases. An exercise for the reader: Multiply 120 times an average of 30 seconds and see how many of the 3600 seconds an hour I didn't breathe while I slept. My AHI is now < 2.)

B) It is one year today that I've survived as a full-time working artist and writer! (hint: support me on Patreon!)

I'm not a smart person. Tests say I'm a smart person, but I don't think that's true. Not because of low self-esteem, but because I stop and think what someone smarter than me would do.

It is no great insight that those two statements of fact create different biases. A smart person would realize that and try to eliminate their biases. So that's what I did. I broke out of my filter bubble. I got in conservative groups, liberal groups, groups that claimed to be unbiased, reviled groups, secret groups, popular groups, and more, because I wanted to understand people who are not like me.

You know what I found out?

What I Found Out

I spent 20 years (1998-2017) working in mental health. That means psych wards, live-in home waiver services, drug and alcohol counseling, almost all with teenage youth. I've worked closely with schizophrenics, drug addicts, murderers, rapists and more. I was involved in violent confrontations multiple times a month.

A real life example, a 14 year old youth with fetal alcohol syndrome and developmental disability, watched his father murder his mother in front of him on a boat, then was sent by DHS/CPS to live with a family that repeated raped him until he came into our care.

Did you get empathy for him due to that description? It's probably because I didn't mention the rapes he committed against the female children under 10 in the home he was put in. He would scream and attack people so he could be restrained because he was touch starved.

I'm not doing that for the shock value. The above is hardly an unusual case. What I'm saying is that for 20 years, I worked with nothing but victims and criminal degenerate sacks of shit. Almost universally these were the same people.

Now, I've also run across evil; true, real human evil. It exists. But working with criminals and mental patients, the kind of place you're going to find true evil outside of a CEO conference, I can count the number of times I encountered true antithetical soulless broken evil humans without using all the fingers of one hand.

I can speak about this, because I spent 40,000 hours working with the mentally ill and in the medical sector. Here are things I learned that are the foundations for how I approach life.

+Arbitrarily deciding that people have infinite self-worth that is not based on externals (skin color, job, education, money, country of residence, political affiliation, personal beliefs) is a healthy way to approach life. Once someone's worth is based on externals, it immediately becomes possible for some people to be worth "more" than other people. For the last 40,000 years, this has resulted in enormity. From this week when a synagogue was attacked by a domestic terrorist, to early humans committing genocide against close relatives. Out of all the time we've had, that's been true for all of it.

+Everyone has a good reason when they commit a crime. A bank robber has a very good reason to rob a bank, or they wouldn't. Nearly everyone who commits crimes does so because of their own pain and suffering and they justify it because they don't understand the way things really are. In a surprisingly large number of cases, this is due to biological factors they have no control over that punish them with overwhelming pain and confusion. (e.g. pedophiles or people who have anger issues.)

+All actions people take are, to them, the most rational and logical course of action to take. If you or I were in their position, experiencing what they've experienced, and limited by their natural faculties, then you or I would make the same choices. Because it appears not rational to you, means you lack the perspective to understand why they view it as a rational action. This doesn't mean their action was rational—I'm fairly certain the bibles weren't shooting beams of light in an arc into each other.

And finally,
+People are different. liberals aren't weak 'cucks' trying to undermine civilised society and conservatives aren't malicious assholes trying oppress minorities. They are different kinds of people with honest, core, philosophical differences. This is true for a lot of good biological reasons, which is why it's so difficult for one to understand the other.

No, Really, Here's What I Found Out

This is really about Dungeons and Dragons I promise.

Expanding my filter bubble showed me a lot of things. I saw people accuse others without facts. I saw a lot of people who would just make things up because they weren't alive when things were different. I saw people organize to blacklist and slander people. I saw people taking joy in other people's suffering. I saw people engage in gatekeeping and kinkshaming. I was told that adults could not be held accountable for their actions, that influence overrides free will so what gets made needs to be controlled. I was blocked by people I still love to this day. I was accused of supporting national socialist racial genocide. I've seen people claim hate groups (al-qaeda, kkk, nazis) were fake news. I saw people who are ideologically possessed. I saw anger, and fear, and hate.

Don't get me wrong, I have an agenda for this post. It's pretty much centered around supporting my daughter and writing about gaming. Listen.

I accept you. Yes, you.

I'm not writing this to change your mind about anything. In the last five years, I've had a life threatening ischemia, had my father die, become a father, lost my career and started a whole new one from scratch, was diagnosed with a serious mental disorder, gotten divorced and moved twice. I am currently in a legal battle against the Mother of my child who is illegally denying me visitation for my daughter out of spite. That's a major life-altering event about every six months for the last half-decade. When you tell me it's evil or wrong to talk to whoever you've decided is bad, my scale for what's important might be calibrated a little differently than yours.

If a United States marine veteran who spent 20 years working in the public health sector helping disabled non-white youth overcome crisis and addition, often in rural areas only reachable by plane (I spent 5 years of that doing work in rural Alaska) is being accused of being a Nazi, something is a little wonky.

What's wonky is that we are in the middle of a culture war caused by a fundamental shift in the way humans interact as an organism. It's called the internet, and it's not going away, and we are going to have to adapt to this new form of communication and interaction.

Perhaps you are different then me. Perhaps you believe that if you interact, view, or talk with the wrong person, that the only solution is to make them verboten. *Perhaps you believe that when I draw a map of a dungeon and sell it that threatens your safety or causes harm to you.

Well, here's the thing. If you feel that way, you're really in the minority.

Most people are moderate and are exhausted by all these extremists [edit to clairify: Not Nazis, fuck those guys. There is no 'both sides'. Violence and the call for genocide is a crime. I explicitly mean 'extremists in the gaming community' I think everyone can immediately think of a name or two], Outrage peddlers living on the suffering of the left and right both, and their inability to get along. There is a whole job category of people who make their living by generating outrage. Those people, and the ones that support the outrage are a mind-boggling minority.

If everyone in america were 100 people. 8 would be in one corner, 25 in the other, and the rest of us just sick of listening to them yell at us, about each other. When this happened in England, they put all 30 of those folks on a boat and made them come build America.

One thing that extremists like to do is to respond as if I've typed (said) something I didn't actually type or say. So if I say "Extremists are minorities", extremists will view that as an attack—as if my failure to be an extremist will cause fungible harm in the world.

It won't and the extremism does.

This doesn't mean I'm a degenerate piece of shit. e.g. If a person is talking in my game, and another person talks over them, they get a warning the first time and a discussion where we process the behavior the second. (I was a counselor for 20 years, remember?). I recycle. I donate to CRI. I've served my country. I volunteer. I vote in every election. I am a citizen and I take my civic responsibility seriously. I'm a minimalist. I still eat meat, but not daily. I am the change I wish to see in the world.

And I wish to see less extremism.

Ok, holy shit I get it. Things are going to change. We are at a peak of human development. But it can't go up forever. Sooner or later it will come down. That could be Tuesday, or it could be the heat death of the universe. That creates a lot of anxiety. We don't know what will happen.

But you get wrapped up in that, you are just going to make yourself sick. They have a plan to make  sure everyone on the planet has water. Like life was a god-damned camping trip. If they don't have access to fresh water in second-world places like Iran, South Africa, or Flint Michigan, then they make sure they had access to potable water.

When I was born, there wasn't any hemisphere of the earth that didn't know war, now all outright war is limited to a small slice of the planet. I could post links all day to all the wonderful fantastic things the we are doing.

All I'm saying is that if you're not old enough to remember having to wait till Monday morning to call the Library of Congress to get the answer to a question then you don't have any idea what fake news is.

The Point

It's ok to enjoy games!
The majority of all people are not extremists.
You can play and talk about games anywhere you like with anyone you like and it doesn't make you a bad person.

I'm not scared about writing this, because anyone who's upset about what I said, is an extremist and statistically if everyone single one of them stopped following me, It would be a small enough number that I would not experience any significant threat or change.

So, for example, I'm on MeWe. There's a lot of people who are talking about how MeWe is going away, like Gab. It's a haven for the 'wrong people'. Yeah, the 1,000 contacts who are talking about gaming in my circle over there don't care. I don't want to make a political stance—I want to talk about Dungeons & Dragons. There's literally thousands of people over there doing that. We've known for more than 200 years that Free Speech is Important. I also think it's good hate crimes are illegal, and understand the difference between the two.

I get 100 new contacts a day on MeWe, ever since the G+ exodus began. I see people posting on facebook about terrible people on the platform. Of course, the same people on twitter or facebook don't seem to bother them. I've even seen some people hoping all those gamers have their space taken away.

That's cool! I accept them. They, like all people, are acting out of pain. But it won't stop me from talking to literally thousands of people about gaming. I post on Facebook and you know, some extremist acting like a violent asshole isn't going to get me off that platform. I broadcast on Twitch about 25-30 hours a week, and Twitch users commit violence against each other on the regular. What's that saying, no conscientious consumption under capitalism?

What can we do?

All hope is not lost. I too have been experiencing more frustration and anxiety from social media as this war between extremists goes on (as they all try desperately to convince us to not be calm, rational, and moderate). Mine was pretty severe because I changed my job to one that depends on media to survive. I see others hurting and suffering, so I'm walking the walk. This is  how my knowledge of mental health helps me cope with the aggression and social violence of extremists. So I've been building a playbook of strong mental defenses using psychological techniques as follows:

+Don't believe anything. Belief means you think a thing. It doesn't mean you know it or can prove it. It just means you think it. Belief in an infographic, in where a politician is born, in the weather, deities, anything. I mean, personally I've met Ganesh the deity twice in person. But I don't "believe" in him any more than I "believe" in my daughter.
I'm not saying you shouldn't listen to people, I'm saying you should listen to the right people. I've got 40,000 hours in the medical field. I don't know fuck all about climate change. I don't believe anything about climate change. But during a spirit gathering, I talked to Yu'pik elders who had seen over 80 winters and they said that the snow no longer squeaks, because now there is water when before it was too cold to have moisture in the air.
You know what I know about? Heath Care, Counseling, Art, Video Games and Dungeons and Dragons. Possibly an amature opinion on movies or series procedurals. Those are the topics I can give an informed opinion on. Why would you listen to anything I thought about politics? Or anything else? Perhaps take a minute to note the million words on this blog covering video games and Dungeons and Dragons.
It's the same with the outrage sycophants. If someone isn't discussing an area of their specialty, but rather a variety of rotating topics—that's a talking head. Their job isn't to share knowledge, it's to push an agenda. Rosanna Pansino talks about cooking. Reviewbrah reviews food. Scotty kilmer talks about cars. Hack and Slash talks about Dungeons and Dragons. Those are creators. Know the difference when you engage.

+ Cultivate your awareness like a garden. CPGrey has an excellent video explanation of the fact that outrage from extremists is ultimately reinforcing and self-destructive once it veers far enough away from reality. This video will make you angry.

+Investigate claims to the source. If I hear someone make a claim about someone, it's literally the future. I can have a face to face call with nearly every human being on the planet in a matter of seconds. When I wanted to know something, I directly reached out and asked the person and then used my own judgement to determine the truth of the situation.
It's the same about concerns about MeWe. What I did was investigate and make up my mind myself.  Here is a video where Matt Finch talks to a Jason Hardy the Project director of MeWe, and within 24 hours they responded more to our concerns then google+ did in total. MeWe is politically unaffiliated, but they have banned members for hate speech. Here is a conservative article bemoaning that they ban hate speech. We (G+ gamers) were welcomed to MeWe with a User Experience survey. A panel was held discussing the platform. Someone mentioned in a thread on MeWe that the pointed out the terms of service needed adjusting if they really claimed to be neutral and they adjusted the terms of service the next day.

+I engage in social media less. I read it, but now the only time I actually engage is to talk to artists or other creators. I'm tired of being sick to my stomach over stupid discussions online about shit people don't have the first clue over anyway. I'm tired of the never ending rant of just a few people who desperately want someone else to take their side or back their cause. Have you noticed I'm more quiet on social media? It's because I'm bowing out of the arguments online. That's not the fight. That's people trying to profit from the fight. I win the fight when I vote, volunteer, and fulfill my role to my community, family, and planet. Not when I'm pushing an agenda.

+Beware of totality in speech, be skeptical of fear mongering, and think about what might motivate someone to do a thing. When Rome fell, people still got up in the morning and went to work. The course of life is natural.

+Finally, holy shit guys, can I get a break. Just go another six months without a death, lawsuit, alien invasion? One stable year? So much crazy crazy cool stuff is coming!

For a little levity after all that, watch my daughter draw a D&D monster.

If you'd like to talk to me about any of this, you can have a direct conversation with me online on twitch when I broadcast, or you can write or verbally chat with me on discord (Agonarch#0828). When you visit me on twitch, it's just like television, except it's me drawing one of my maps! I won't be talking about any of this on social media, but I'd love to have an in person, voice or face conversation with anyone who wants to.

There's a lot of good gaming coming, I hope to see you there!
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**[Edit 2 the original text that was replaced: Perhaps you believe your safety is threatened and actions I take by listening to people or writing only about games is harming you.]
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

25% Off _ Last sale of the year - last 2 days!

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 00:46
Distant Shores Fantasy Core Rules with 12 Battle Boards.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

hags: the missing monster manual page

Blog of Holding - Mon, 10/29/2018 - 16:14

I’m working on an ambitious D&D project – something that I’m putting more time into than the Random Dungeon Generator or Dungeon Robber – and today I want to share a particularly Halloweeny piece of it.

Here’s an extra page of the hag entry from some imaginary Monster Manual. What’s this hag’s name? motivation? What creepy activity are you interrupting when you walk into her hut?

click to enlarge


I think it would be cool if every D&D monster had random story prompts like this. I’d like to be able to flip open the Monster Manual to any entry and have everything I need to generate a completely unique, no-prep encounter. Depending on the monster, it could include specifics about the monster’s activities and goals, and perhaps some plausible names and encounter locations as well – a different set of encounter locations for each terrain type, of course. An extra page or so for each monster would do a lot towards making D&D encounters come alive.

It would also bring the Monster Manual up to an unpublishable 800 pages.

By the way, the D&D project I’m working on is NOT an 800-page Monster Manual. My ambitions are grander than that!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Through Ultan’s Door #1

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 10/29/2018 - 11:14

By Ben Laurence
Through Ultan’s Door

Go through Ultan’s door in this inaugural issue into the Ruins of the Inquisitor’s Theater, a 30 room dungeon replete with oneiric puddings, delicate shadow puppets, giggling white swine, and much more. This 36 page zine contains everything you need to launch a D&D campaign in the Zyan, flying city of the dreamlands.

This forty page “zine” contains a thirty page dungeon and the supporting monsters, spells, etc. Lush, rich prose, the ruins of a decadent empire, and heavy opium clouds bring the OD&D HARD. Digest format is as digest format does. It’s good. I’m also predisposed to this kind of shit.

I didn’t think people still used opium in the US. This adventure proves me wrongs. Yes, that’s a compliment. It’s important, I think, that I communicate the vibe of this adventure. There’s this thing that some of the Psychedelic Fantasy adventures fell in to, and some of the Calithena/Bowman Darkness Beneath adventure briefly hit upon. It’s also present in in some of the pointcrawl work of Slumbering Ursine and those world weary decadent elves of that setting. From the Vats, Operation Unfathomable, Blue Medusa and some other Patrick shit, the city from ASE1, a touch of Tekumel, and Lapis Observatory. There’s this lush, sometimes lurid, velvety decadance … sometimes in the writing, sometimes in the environment, sometimes in the imagination behind the encounters. There’s this intro to a Frankie Goes to Hollywood mix, cribbed from Nietzsche I think, that gives me a certain feeling when I listen to it and this adventure reminds me of that feeling.

A part of this is the OD&D thing it’s got going. By that I mean, in part, the monsters are new. You don’t know what a new monsters will do. It’s powers are unknown. That creates apprehension in the players and that’s usually a great thing for an adventure to do. Not only are the monsters new, the descriptions focus entirely on the actual play of the creatures. Descriptions are: Sinuous white swine, with children’s hands, and mischievous human eyes, or Each is a tangle of raven’s wings with no body or head, flitting erratically like a quick moving bat. In the center of the conjoined wings is a single staring eye that gives baleful glares like cutting knives or worse. That’s what the characters encounter so that’s what the description says. The only addition to that description is their spoor (hints to come) and the monster stats. No bullshit history or crap to clog up the adventure … just pure impact for the players. Fucking. Perfect.

There’s another part of the OD&D vibe that tends to concentrate on the non-standard encounter. I’m not saying it well, but there tends to be this de rigeur way of writing encounters. It almost seems like there’s this hidden formula that people follow to create a boring encounter thats the same as every other boring encounter. Tolkien genericism. I’m not bitching about orcs, I’m bitching that they always appear the same way, as do pit traps, etc. There’s this emphasis on mechanics, as if they come first “a 100’ pit trap”, and then the rest follows. When I talk about OD&D encounters/imagination I’m then I’m talking about that being flipped There’s some weird ass scene imagined … that’s the focus, and then some mechanics are are lightly bolted on. There’s this room, smelling of decay, with a straw floor, and a balcony up above, and three bodies hanging from it with hoods over their heads … and a bear trap in straw under each body. Balcony with hanging bodies and bear trap … just a little twist that keeps it fresh. And this adventure does that over and over again.

The descriptions are lush and rich with great imagery. A door of cerulean blue and gold leaf glittering in the candlelight. Or, to directly quote: “The statue at the end of the room is made of basalt. It depicts a robed figure, with a long beaked mask. She pulls apart her robes, and dozens of small- er beaked masks peer forth form the darkness beneath, pressing out. Lapis Lazuli borders her robes, and the eyes of the masks sparkle with polished carnelians and peridots.” That’s a pretty cool thing that I’m DYING to run! Which is exactly what I’m looking for. I want to be excited. Ben jabbed an idea in to my head and I can fill in the rest effortlessly because of his ability to communicate the seed to me, the DM. WHich I can them have a much better chance of doing the same for my players … and communicate my enthusiasm to them. Nd, as an aside, much of the treasure is great also. A necklace of bismuth stones strung on a chain of platinum, each stone a miniature rainbow labyrinth. Fuck Yeah I want that thing man! If you have treasure that the players want to keep, wear, and use, instead of just abstracting away in to gp, then you’ve done a good job and this is a good job.

Twenty-ish rooms means the map isn’t too large, but it’s good enough, and it appears that the next “issue” will be the next level of the dungeon. My only major complaint is that the room numbering is not as trivially legible as I would prefer.

Ben’s got an overview of the game world this comes from, a kind of Dreamlands-ish thing, on his blog. That should give you an idea of what you are getting yourself in to. These days Dreamlands makes me think “arbitrary”, but that’s not the case here. This is a concrete, real adventure.

Another great example of a “going to a freaky place” adventure … with the door signaling that the rules are all wrong and every perversion is justified in the mythic underworld … communicated via the door transition.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is ok. Showing some of the rooms, or wandering table, would have been better. The general fluff stuff is ok, amd gives you a view in to the writing style, but the actual rooms and wanders give you and better view in to the FOCUS that the actual rooms give, and encounter types. As is, what’s previewed seems to imply a longer writing style than is actually encountered and not as much of the OD&D style. It’s more setting than adventure in the preview.

It is, of course, Frankie, and Frankie only …

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Zarthoonian City-States

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 10/29/2018 - 11:00
After the z-bombs dropped in the Great War, civilization on the planet Zarthoon was cast into ruin. Only the small continent of Azot, not the home of any of the super-power blocs, had any cities left intact. These became the city-states of the modern era.

The only domed city-state, Azmaron is ruled by triune Zodaracy*. All Azmaronians encountered outside their city are women, indeed no men have every been seen within the city itself by visitors, though the Azmaronians tightly restrict the movement of foreigners. There are persistent rumors that the Azmaronians retain a functional doomsday device of former age, but Azmaron is silent on this point. They do possess greater technological knowledge than their neighbors.

Ptaarna is a city of tall spires built atop a large mesa in the midst of Azot's central desert. The city is only accessible from the air. The city maintains an impressive fleet of fliers, though mostly they are smaller in size. It's pilots are known as daredevils. The city sponsors a race every year through the desert, and it's pilot's typically take home the Uldran Prize. Ptaarna's sky gardens are considered one of the modern wonders of Zarthoom, but they are not merely decorative. Many rare medicinals derived from their bounty.

The people of Zinjaro enjoy a life of leisure to a degree not afforded other city-states. This is the happy result of still-functional food and manufacturing automation in the ruins beneath the city. The Zinjaro work in service or entertainment occupations, and the city is very hospitable to visitors, at least in part because they hire from among these visitors to fill their armed forces and some administrated functions. Their zodak (largely a ceremonial post) is even of foreign derivation.

All is not idyllic in Zinjaro, however. It's people are something stricken by a fits of violent madness known as plak omok. This is at least somewhat contagious among the Zinjar, and so one case emerging can lead to widespread outbreak of mayhem. Visitors should beware.

*Zodak/Zodara: the Zarthoonian word for ruler.

Summary of my 1920s Call of Cthulhu Campaign

19th Level - Mon, 10/29/2018 - 00:31

Going over my notes I'm a little surprised to discover I've had a Call of Cthulhu campaign that's reached a decent length. It seemed reasonable for my own purposes to summarize and it might be of interest to others... The more recent adventures have writeups at this site, the older ones have rougher writeups I might post at some point.

No Man's Land Parts 1-2Setting: October 2-4, 1918; Argonne ForestInvestigators:  Radford Brown, Jonathan Clark, Eli Cornish, Antonio Manzi, Fredrick Tardiff 
American soldiers vs. Illoigor
Under the BlackSetting: January 19-20, 1919; Boston and ArkhamInvestigators: Radford Brown, Jonathan Clark, Eli Cornish, Pietro Gorgonza, Antonio Manzi, Kirk Schroeder (RIP), Fredrick Tardiff
The Great Molasses Flood provides slays a cultist and unleashes out of control Dark Spawn.
The House on the EdgeSetting: March 21-24, 1919; KingsportInvestigators: Radford Brown (RIP), Eli Cornish, Pietro Gorgonza, Antonio Manzi, Fredrick Tardiff
A mystical house is occasionally on the edge of the bluff over Kingsport.

The Trail of Zhothaqquah Parts 1-2Setting: April 1-May 5, 1919; GreenlandInvestigators: Bjorn Ericsson (RIP), Pietro Gorgonza (Retired), Antonio Manzi (Retired), Grant Oil, Fredrick Tardiff 
A sanity-blasting adventure in Greenland tracking an ancient civilization.
The Haunted Landscape of Ka'toriSetting: June 15-20, 1920; Kingsport and the planet Ka'toriInvestigators: Grant Oil (Retired), Fredrick Tardiff
A painting contains a gate leading to another planet.
The Art of Madness Parts 1-2Setting: December 1, 1920; BostonInvestigators: Earl Crowley, Jordaine Furst, Fredrick Tardiff
Students and a professor go missing from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts leading to the discovery of a city of ghouls beneath Boston.
Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign Parts 1-3Setting: January 28 - February 5, 1921; Boston, New Orleans, and surrounding areasInvestigators: Earl Crowley, Jordaine Furst, Fredrick Tardiff
The investigators confront a cult dedicated to bringing the King in Yellow to our world.
One in Darkness Parts 1 - 2Setting: April 20-21, 1921; BostonInvestigators: Earl Crowley (Retired), Jordaine Furst, Fredrick Tardiff (Retired)
The investigators help the police dealing with the Crimson Gang

The Spawn Parts 1 - 2
Setting: June 20 - July 2, 1921; Copperstown, New MexicoCharacters: Jordaine Furst, Dora Martin (RIP), Liam Maguire
A labor dispute in Copperstown is revealed to conceal underground horrors. Note - I've not had an opportunity to do the writeup for part 2. In brief, they escaped from the mansion with the help of servants. Professor Freeborn took them to a dig which revealed the threat - underground beings (known as Cthonians in the literature but never referred to as such in the adventure). They also learned of the need to use water to defeat them. They were able to do this but in the process Dora and Jose fell in battle.

Cast of CharactersWe've been playing for a while, with some characters who were only in one or two adventures. Going as far back as 1920 they are:
  • Earl Crowley - Antiquarian from Arkham. Retired after nearly going insane upon meeting a minor avatar of Nyarlathotep.
  • Jordaine Furst - Young woman from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. Spy during the Great War against the German Empire.
  • Liam Maguire - Former Boston police officer turned private detective after losing his job when all striking police officers were fired in 1919. 
  • Dora Martin - Investigative reporter. Died in battle with Cthonians.
  • Grant Oil - Low-level troublemaker from Harlem. Served in the Great War. Showed talent as a librarian and researcher. Spent some time as a librarian in Arkham. Returned home to Harlem with his sanity intact.
  • Fredrick Tardiff - Artist. Longest survivor of the original group which assembled in France during the Great War. Has settled in Boston after initial residence in Kingsport. His studio serves as an unofficial headquarters. Retired after sensing his luck had just about run out after encountering a minor avatar of Nyarlathotep.
ThoughtsLooking at this summary, that's about sixteen sessions of play, plus some time for character generation and other tasks. It certainly pales in comparison to eight decade long Pendragon epics but I'm pleased with how it's gone. We've done other games - including other Cthulhu campaigns - thrown in with this but the classic era does seem always fun to come back to.
It's interesting to see how deadly a game Call of Cthulhu is - a lot of fatalities and a lot of characters forced to retire. Most of our adventures have been either in Lovecraft Country or Boston, with occasional sojourns to New Mexico, France, and Greenland.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

What Ho, Frog Demons!

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 10/28/2018 - 14:00

I mentioned the impending release of What Ho, Frog Demons! the fourth of Chris Kutalik's Hill Cantons adventure supplements Friday, not knowing it was so close at hand. Surprise! It's now available on drivethru/rpgnow.

What Ho has two shorter adventure sites, an overview of Marlinko Canton where this and the other publications have take place, and supporting tools like random village and frog demon generators. The text is written in Chris's engaging style, festooned with humor sometimes Vancian, sometimes old school D&Dish. (It isn't comedy, however, so if your D&D is a more somber affair, it's easy to disregard.) The art by Luka Rejec flows from illustratorly to cartoony and back again. It encompasses everything from pieces that look like sketches from life to anachronistc near one panel comics. Whatever it's style, it is always interesting and well done.

Maps are in the flavorful style of Karl Stjernberg, and I designed the cover in reference to German Expressionist movie posters, but it also kind of resembles the work of Ralph Steadman with Luka's wild-eyed illustration ensconced.

So I did some small work on the project and it came out from a co-op of which I am a partner, so my bias is there for all to see. Still, I think I can honestly say this a flavorful work that could only possibly have come from the DIY Gaming seen, but it is not meant to merely be the subject of gaming "shelfies," sitting with uncrack'd spine among other luminaries of the OSR Pantheon. It's meant to be played and enjoyed.

Get it now!

(5e) A Night in Seyvoth manor

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 10/27/2018 - 11:14

By David Flor
By Darklight Interactive
Level 6

…Throughout the years, the village has had its share of disappearances; most of them had been blamed on the harsh environment of the surrounding forest and the natural dangers of the world we live in, but recent evidence leads to the doorstep of the Seyvoth estate. And when the two young daughters of a prominent noble go missing and the village sends out search parties to the surrounding area, two separate search parties passed through the iron gate at the entrance to the estate and have yet to return….

This 44 page adventure describes a an evil/vampire manor with about eighteen rooms. Realizing the promise of the 4e adventure… but written in 5e, this thing is essentially eighteen set pieces strung together. It attempts to marry the more open ended styles of play with the rich room encounters that were a hallmark of the 4e style. If you can accept that, and its implications, then the amount of odiousness it engages in is minimal. Maybe. I can’t decide if its arbitrary. Or, rather, if the arbitrariness it engages in is any different than normal D&D arbitrariness.

There’s a tournament component of this that is … strange. The party is given four hours to complete the mission to find the girls in the manor. You can keep playing, but after that they turn in to a werewolf and vampire. There’s also a scoring system. Fifty points for this and ten points for this other thing. And if you die you start back at the front doors with scoring penalty. It just comes out of nowhere, with no explanation. “If you die you start back at the front door with a scoring penalty.” Huh? Like I said, out of nowhere. It’s more than a little disconcerting, as if you’ve missed something. If I digress here, to talk about this adventure as a tournament adventure, I’d say it’s one of the best. Most tourney adventures tend to be rather linear, in fact, the most linear. This isn’t that. It’s a real deal “explore the house as you will” adventure, up to and including reasons to revists certain areas. And it’s completely usable as a non-tournament adventure also. David has done a good job at duel use.

It can be a more traditional “explore” adventure and a tournament adventure because, more than almost any other adventure I’ve seen, this thing is CONSTRUCTED. Getting to the secret room requires you place a necklace on a statue. But first it has to be “blessed” by the ghost it belonged to. And you have to find it first. And if you give the WRONG thing to the ghost lady, like the jewelry of the maid her husband has been fooling around with, well .. you can imagine. And that’s but one of the interconnected things. A ghost girl wants her dolly. There are a lot of dolls around the house … and she’s not going to be happy if you give her the wrong one. But there are pictures, etc around the house that provide clues. And there’s a ghost composer who’s like his sheet music back … getting him all of it distracts some of the ghosts as he plays, providing some assistance later on. This doesn’t FEEL like a fetch quest. It feels more like “Oh! This is related to that other thing we saw!” That’s the sort of discovery that always good for a D&D adventure.

The rooms, proper, are RICH. They are LONG, with multiple elements in each room. We’re talking at least a page per room. It manages to put multiple elements in the room, some of which have no relation to each other, and make each room a place where the players can explore quite a bit. I note that this can be difficult to achieve and still be scannable … but this adventure manages to mainly accomplish that. It starts with bullets that give an overview, and then sections that are, essentially, tied to each bullet. These have good use of bolding and whitespace to make finding those sections easier. The individual sections DO get a bit long, but I think it’s manageable. The Graveyard, for example, has a cliff edge, graves, a fountain, sarcophagi, a gazebo (with ghost), and statues. Then there’s a long multi-paragraph section on the main event, the ghost, and another long section on “Encounter” which means potential combat with some of the previous room elements. THEN column long stat blocks. It’s a lot, but manageable. The formatting, as well as the emphasis on playable content, rather than mentioning trivia. Keeps it on track. The long text in the individual elements is related to the EXPANSIVE hand holding. Lots of text on opening doors, disarming traps, and so on. Almost a defined template/schema that is being followed, that is closer to the SPI end of the spectrum than I can comfortable with,

There is definitely some abstracted D&D here, from the 3e/4e era, that shows and stands out as being crappy. There’s an emphasis on skill checks to discover things. If you have a DC13 per check you can see that the statues arm is hinged at the elbow. This is SUBSTANTIALLY different than telling the party that the elbow is hinged in response to them saying they are examining the statue, or looking closely, or something. That’s shitty D&D. I know people like skill checks these dys to tie your shoes, but they are overused. Unless it’s really hard/hidden, and even then, if they ask you should be telling them. The answer is not in the build on your character sheet. The adventure relies on this shit over and over again. It’s easy enough to ignore and play the right way. (That’s right, I said THE RIGHT WAY.)

It can also be arbitrary at times. All D&D is arbitrary, to a certain extent. It’s a part of the game. You don’t know what’s behind the door. There are parts of this though that seem a little more than that. If you give the ghost the wrong thing she freaks the fuck out. She doesn’t actually tell you that she’s looking for a necklace … and I’m not real sure that the maid/infidelity thing is related very strongly. This allows the party to engage in what they think is the right thing, but are then punished for. It’s important to not set up a situation in which the party just never tries because it’s not worth it, based on past experiences. Sometimes warnings about what will happen this is done with foreshadowing, or warnings from others. A pile of dead bodies holding shitty jewelry, around the ghost, for example. From that we can learn of the horrible consequences. There’s another part, in this same thread, where another ghost tries to trick the party in to taking the wrong necklace, it pretends to look like the ghost in question. (In a mirror, ghostly pointing. Really well done.) But at this point it’s hard to tell that you are doing the wrong thing. In fact, you’re being told it IS the right thing … and it’s not clear to me that there are cues you are on the wrong path to success. Wizards and Clerics have “are we doing the right thing” spells, but without a strong history of the party using them that’s not really the way a lot of modern D&D is played. (Shame!)

You know, there’s also not an actual map. Oh, there are lots of tactical battle maps, one for each room in fact, in order to solve the “I see a map! That means combat!” metagaming from the party. But there’s not an overall map. That’s bullshit, and by far the most impactful issue when trying to play this.

There’s also this weird emphasis on handing out cards that represent treasure. Everything together (that long text, remember?) gives this a very boardgamey vibe. There’s a clear lineage to 4e … but lets say 4e done right … but written for 5e.

I’m a fan of this. I’m surprised myself to say this. I think it’s an interesting approach to writing an adventure. I find it interesting for that reason alone, but I also think you can actually run it easily. Is it The Best? Sure, why not, if we’re grading on the 5e curve.

This is $10 at DriveThru. There’s no preview? Really? That’s kind of toolish.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR & Campaign Commentary On The O edition version of Tomb of the Iron God for Swords & Wizardry By Matt Finch

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 10/27/2018 - 04:08
"A temple destroyed by divine wrath... An ancient, imprisoned evil and a powerful idol. Mysteries abound in the tombs below the temple of the Iron God, protector of the dead. Discover the dreadful fate of the Iron God's priesthood and the reasons behind their downfall in this intriguing adventure designed for low-level characters. Tomb of the Iron God covers a large catacomb area on two Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Locations for the Tomb of Horrors on the Great Kingdom Map

Zenopus Archives - Fri, 10/26/2018 - 15:33
Promo image of the deluxe Art & Arcana from Amazon

Possible locations:
The highest hill in the Egg of CootAn island lying 100 miles east of BlackmoorIn the great desert west of the Wild CoastOn the border between the Paynim Kingdom and PerrunlandAt the Eastern edge of the Duchy of GeoffIn a swamp somewhere in the Wild Coast
These suggested locations for the Tomb of Horrors come from the original version of the adventure — not the 1978 monochrome-colored module — but an even earlier iteration that was produced in 1975 for running as a tournament at Origins I in Baltimore, Maryland. This version is finally available as an extra included with the "special edition" of the new D&D art book Art & Arcana. You can see its cover in the promo image above; it's the small beige booklet featuring the original artwork by Tracy Lesch of the infamous Green Devil Face, which was later memorably rendered in color on the back of the 1981 reprint. Given its early date, it's a purely OD&D version of the tomb and is a great addition to the meager assortment of "TSR" adventures for OD&D.

These original suggested locations fit well with the "Great Kingdom" (early World of Greyhawk) map that I've discussed in previous posts such as Megarry's copy of the Great Kingdom Map, and suggest that Gygax may have been using this map for Greyhawk at the time. For reference, here is the map image —

On this map, the Egg of Coot lies in the center north, with hills in the northern region of the realm to possibly house "the highest hill". Blackmoor is to the south on the coast of the Great Bay, with plenty of space for an island "lying 100 miles east" in the bay, or depending on the scale, past the island kingdoms of the "Sea". To the west and southwest of Blackmoor, the Paynim Kingdom borders on Perrunland. Much further to the south lies the Duchy of Geoff, the eastern edge of which borders on the Kingdom of Faraz (not mentioned in the Tomb). Only the twice-mentioned Wild Coast is missing from this map, but the "great desert west of the Wild Coast" may be the Sea of Dust, suggesting the Wild Coast is to the south where the coast past of Keoland.

In the published version of Tomb of Horrors, the suggested locations were changed to:

The highest hill on the Plains of luzAn island (unmapped) In the Nyr DyvIn the Bright DesertAt the western border of the Duchy of GeoffSomewhere in the Vast Swamp south of SundiOn an island beyond the realm of the Sea Barons
These revised locations correspond more closely to the published World of Greyhawk, although note that they were suggested in 1978, which was still several years before the World of Greyhawk Folio was first published in 1980.

The Egg of Coot was changed to "the Plain of Iuz"; Iuz occupies a somewhat similar north-central location in published Greyhawk and has "the Howling Hills" to the north.

The second entry, the island, was relocated to an unmapped island in Nyr Dyv, and second island was added "beyond the realms of the Sea Barons", which is closer in spirit to the island to the east of Blackmoor, particularly if the islands shown on the Great Kingdom map were an early version of the Sea Barons.

The desert was changed to "the Bright Desert", which on the published Greyhawk map is to to the east, rather than west, of the Wild Coast across the Woolly Bay. The "great" bit is dropped, presumably because the Bright Desert is much smaller than the Sea of Dust.

The eastern border of Geoff was changed to the western, presumably because that borders the great Crystalmist mountain range.

The swamp location was changed to "south of the Sundi", which means the Vast Swamp south of the County of Sunndi (member of the Iron League) on the Darlene map.

Finally, the suggestion of the border of Paynim/Perrenland was completely removed. In the Darlene map, the Plains of the Paynims no longer directly borders Perrenland; there are several new kingdoms between — Tusmit, Ket.

When the World of Greyhawk folio was finally published in 1980, the true location of the Tomb was finally revealed as being in the Vast Swamp:

There are many tales and legends concerning this area, but the most likely is that of the TOMB OF HORRORS (ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAONGS MODULE S1), the lost burial place of a lich who once ruled the morass and beyond into the cockscomb of Tilvanot. (a peninsula in the shape of a rooster's comb).

And then the expanded 1983 Word of Greyhawk boxed set further fixed the location as "probably" in "the heart of the Vast Swamp, in hex K2-97".
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

What's New at Hydra

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 10/26/2018 - 11:00
It's Friday and it's a good time for some shameless Hydra Cooperative plugging. For no particular reason, I'm going to adopt a Marvel Comics Bullpen Bulletins style for that--but not alliterative nicknames.

ITEM! The hardest working man in Hydra, Luka Rejec, has released Witchburner just in time for your Halloween adventuring. Luka says: "an intimate, tragic adventure of witch hunting in a town huddled between rivers and mountains and forests one wet and cold October." So there you go. Witchburner is available in a free burner edition and in the full edition for a very reasonable price.

ITEM! The long wait is nearly over for the Hill Cantons faithful! Chris Kutalik's What Ho, Frog Demons! is being released to Kickstarter backers and soon to every one else. It features art by the aforementioned dynamo Luka Rejec and maps by Karl Stjernberg. It will be on the holiday gift list of every geek in the know, so make sure you can show your superiority by getting your copy first!

OSR & Campaign Commentary On World of Jordoba Player Guide by Matt Finch

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 10/25/2018 - 21:35
"The World of Jordoba is the masterpiece swords & sorcery campaign setting written by ENNIE award-winning author Matt Finch. Jordoba is an ancient world populated by strange peoples and stranger monsters, physically fraying into the depths of the oceanic multiverse. Ruination has spread across the world, and the civilizations of the Sea of Khoramandu are pushed back to the very coasts.Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Starting Fresh

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 10/25/2018 - 13:54

Hello friends!

As I noted in my last post, I started a new Torchbearer game a few weeks ago. I’ve subjected this particular group to a number of playtests of new adventures recently, all of which have ended in TPKs. They’ve been good sports, but they were ready to commit to something longer term (with the hopes of actually surviving a dungeon or two).

For my part, I wanted to get back to Torchbearer’s roots. One of the key ideas in my head when I first started working on the game was the idea of a map that would start with just a few locations and then grow over time as the group explored it and new details were added. That’s the core idea behind the Prepare Thyself chapter in the book.

I decided that we would start the game in the Middarmark, specifically in the Gottmark of the far north because it’s been unexplored territory in our games so far. I went to my Middarmark map and selected the boxed part of the map below. Specifically, I think it’s the little saddle between the mountain in the southwest portion of the map and the hills above it.

For me, the hardest part of making any map is where to start. I often find that picking an anchor geography point or points helps get me going. Part of what drew me to the section of the Middarmark map I chose is that big mountain at the top of the box. I chose that as my anchor point. I also know that I want to include Highwater (the port city from The Secret Vault of the Queen of Thieves). We’ll put it somewhere on the coast, though probably not on the initial map. That’s my second anchor point.

Water Is the Driving Force of All Nature

The other thing that really helps me figure out a map is water. Bodies of water make excellent boundaries, but they also connect people. Settlements tend to spring up along coasts and river systems, especially river systems that are navigable. The section of the map I chose is south of the Vanskr River, which runs east out of the Nidfjolls into the Skyet Sea. That river is a little too far north for my initial setting, so I’m going to add a new river and tributaries that flow south and east out of our little valley to the coast.

So that’s where I started: I penciled in some mountains in the northeast of my map and a river with tributaries.

With that done, I named the rivers. The primary river, flowing out of the mountains to the north, is the Hrada, a play on the Old Norse for ‘swift.’ The tributary that originates to the west is the Kaldrelva (Cold River). The southern tributary is the Sylfelva (Silver River). I’m not terribly concerned about linguistic fidelity, I just want the sound of it to feel right when spoken. By the same token, I decided to call the mountains the Silfjalls (Silver Mountains).

Names have a kind of magic. When you name something in a role-playing game, whether a character, a house or inn, a city, or a sword, you make it just a little more real, more substantial, to everyone else. A sword found in a tomb? Big deal. The Sword of Seven Shadows found in the tomb of Aras-Ekbar? That’s something special. Give things names!

At BWHQ, we like to keep foreign language dictionaries handy when we play for just this purpose. And I should note that when I run games in the Middarmark, I probably reference the names lists on pages 52-53 more than anything else in the book.

The Journey Itself Is Home

With the backbone of my map done, it was time to place some settlements. I needed a starting base for the PCs — not necessarily a hometown, but a place that doesn’t have any adventures attached to it (at least at the beginning) that the characters will be able to return to and spend their spoils.

For that purpose, I created Asktoft, a somewhat prosperous town that serves as the seat of a Gott ridder (a knight of the Gott tribe) named Gry. If you’ve run or played The Dread Crypt of Skogenby, you might recognize Lady Gry as the absentee lord of that benighted village. And, in fact, I decided that Skogenby is just to the east of Asktoft. There’s a natural ford of the Hrada right there.

I decided to put a wealthy crossroads town in the north. That’s Holtburg. And I knew that none of my players had actually played the Under the House of the Three Squires adventure from the core book, so I decided to put that in the south. It’s on the way to the port city of Highwater.

There are almost certainly more remote villages and steadings located on this map, but we’ll discover them later. And that’s an important point, actually. You don’t need a ton of detail to start. You just need enough to give your players a sense of place and maybe inspire some curiosity. My friends Adam and Sage nailed this concept in DungeonWorld with the game’s GM Principles: The very first one on the list is, “Draw maps, leave blanks.”

“Dungeon World exists mostly in the imaginations of the people playing it; maps help everyone stay on the same page. You won’t always be drawing them yourself, but any time there’s a new location described make sure it gets added to the map.“When you draw a map don’t try to make it complete. Leave room for the unknown. As you play you’ll get more ideas and the players will give you inspiration to work with. Let the maps expand and change.”

DungeonWorld, page 162

Your map doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be complete. Leave plenty of room for your map to grow and evolve. Discovering and defining what’s in those blank spaces through play is a ton of fun.

On that Path Lies Danger

Like rivers, roads and paths are important to defining a map. The Under the House of the Three Squires adventure says the titular House is situated on the Post Road. I decided that would be the backbone connecting the House to Asktoft, Holtburg and even Highwater.

I imagine Holtburg has become as wealthy as it has because it sits between two dwarven cities: Frostfast Hall in the west and another outpost in the Silfjalls in the east. I settled on Frarborgen as the name of that city. The Tradeway is the road that connects the two dwarven citadels. Holtburg sits on the crossroads of the Post Road and the Tradeway.

I think the Tradeway between Holtburg and Frarborgen runs mostly through foothills, so I added some just west of Frarborgen. They probably run most of the length of that route, but for the moment I just put in a hint of them.

The original section of the Middarmark map that I chose shows a thick section of the Ironwold forest blanketing the course of the Vanskr River. I wanted to include that, so I added a hint of forest south of Frarborgen. Skogenby is named for the spruce forest that borders it, so I added some trees north of it as well. I think the forest actually spans the distance between Frarborgen and Skogenby, but no need to fill it all in at this point.

I like the idea of a mist-cloaked marsh that could be home to witches and other spooky things, so I added the Illmyr in the south. It’s the wetlands that gives birth to the Sylfelva and the Post Road runs right through it.

There Are Dark Shadows on the Earth

According to Prepare Thyself, I still needed an elven settlement. I decided there’s a hidden elven settlement called Eldheim in the trackless forest south of Frarborgen. It’s hidden, so I’m not going to put it on the map just yet, but I decided that this part of the Ironwold is called the Eldmork.

South and east, at the terminus of the Post Road, is the bustling metropolis of Highwater. Somewhere on the map, I haven’t quite decided where yet, is the Gott temple-complex of Helglund. I also haven’t decided on a wizard’s tower yet. To begin, players could come from Svartårn if they wanted to hail from a wizard’s tower, even though it’s a long, long way to the southwest.

Perhaps most importantly, I needed to place some dungeons and ruins on the map. I want to give my players some rumors about what’s going on in the area and let them choose where to go, what to explore and which dungeons to tackle. I’ve already got the House of the Three Squires on the map. And since I have Skogenby, I needed to add the Dread Crypt. I put another dungeon called Thelon’s Rift outside Holtburg.

There are a few other unlabeled locations on the map between Asktoft and Holtburg — probably abandoned wayhouses (similar to the House of the Three Squires) that have become havens for bandits or worse, but I’ll decide for certain when they come into play.

The map is roughly 10 miles to a hex.

At that point I had all the starting elements of the map. I was satisfied, so I went over the pencil in ink.

And then I added just a little bit of color, which I like to do to help the map ‘pop.’

In all, this process took me an afternoon. I can’t wait to fill in the blanks on this map with my friends.

I want to hear your prep stories! What’s gotten you excited to play? What have you struggled with?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 10/25/2018 - 11:00

In moments stolen from other projects (or day jobs), Jason Sholtis and I have been bandying about ideas for a Sword & Planet setting for some future publication. It's still taking form, but here are some facts about Zarthoon as we currently know them:

  • It is a planet orbiting a G-type star, 66 G. Centauri, some 30 light-years from Earth. It is about one and a half times larger than Earth, but is less dense, so it has a similar gravity. It has one moon, but also a glittering band of dust, where perhaps another moon once orbited.
  • Some people of Earth have come to Zarthoon in the past, by mysterious means. Indeed, the primary intelligent species seems to identical to Terran humanity in all respects.
  • There was a nuclear war centuries ago. Zarthoon's advanced civilization was mostly destroyed, only ruins remain of once advanced cities on most continents, though there are a few cities, including the domed city of Azmaron, which hold on to a bit of their former glory. In most places it is a "points of light" setting where city-states are isolated and surrounded by monster and mutant-infested wilderness.
  • Much of Zarthoonian technology is based around the radioactive mineral called zuranite. Its radiation is focused to provide beam weapons of deadly force, used to power the buckler-like hand-shields that are the only protection against those beams, and to power the anti-gravity engines of fliers.
  • Most disputes aren't settled with zuranite ray guns, but instead with swords, graceful rapiers edged with crystalline adamant so that no metal armor can resist them.
  • Not everyone has access to fliers and so many rely on beasts of burden, including the swift, flightless avian zurch, and the beaked and elephantine vastidars.

Size comparison of a vastidar and a human

The Sunken Fort

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 10/24/2018 - 11:10

Nickolas Z Brown
Five Cataclysms
Levels 1-4

On the edge of a swamp beneath an old forest lay an even older fort, constructed for some ancient and unknowable purpose. The shadows are stronger here, and the scent of madness lingers in the air. The fort may seem mundane at first glance, but you will learn soon enough that something is not quite right…

This 27 page funhouse dungeon has eighty rooms. Imaginative, terse and well organized it brings the OD&D vibe with unique monsters and a metric fuckton of shit to get in to trouble with. Your enjoyment of this is going to be directly related to your view of funhouses. I like funhouses, they are just not the easiest to use sometimes.

This thing knows what it is doing. Funhouses are not set piece dungeons, even though they have lots (and LOTS) of little self-contained rooms. They are not challenge dungeons where some higher power is testing the mettle of the party. They are not riddle dungeons or trap dungeons. They are a curious mix of things that make sense and not. Most of all, I think they are tend to be Push Your Luck dungeons, or Temptation dungeons.

There is a certain type of … Gleeful D&D. In this style everyone is grinning and everyone is on on the secret. Imagine a room empty but for a skeleton on a throne .. and it’s holding a big fat ruby in its hands. Fuck it, maybe you even have to put your hand in a mouth of something to reach it. The DM knows that the room is a set up. The players all know that the room is a setup. The DM knows that the players know … and the players know this also. And everyone is sitting around grinning at each other. “Well, You wanna stick your hand in and grab it?” says the DM. “Looks like it might give you enough XP to … Level.” This isn’t really adversarial D&D, but really everyone kind of knows what’s gonna go down. That mouth is gonna close and that skeleton WILL be animating. Push your luck, take a chance, there’s not really hidden information. That’s a good dungeon room. And a good funhouse dungeon is stuffed full of them. And this is a good funhouse.

There’s an art to writing them to get them right. Imaginative situations, clear setups and consequences pretty clearly implied. These are done right. They are mostly pretty simple. Open a door, set a gold statues with ruby eyes floating towards you. Oh course, it’s got a floating clear ooze surrounding it that’s initially hard to see … but, of course, everyone knows SOMETHING is up with it. It’s just a matter of what. This dungeon executes over and over again. Big big fan.

OD&D style has a strong element of the new and interesting for monsters and treasure, and this is most definitely OD&D. No orcs but lots of new monsters with new gimmicks. I love that because the players have to figure out new things to do to defeat them. They instill apprehension, if not outright fear, in the party. And those fuckers always need a bit of fear to keep them in line. OD&D thrives on the non-traditional. It’s the anti-Tolkein. Or. maybe, thrives closer to Bill & Berts issues with sunlight. Talk to the monsters, and get the KICK ASS magic item when you get them turned to stone.

The map is nice and large. Eighty rooms in 27 pages means a terse writing style. There’s enough text to get the DM going and it’s organized well, with bolding and paragraph breaks and general text leading to more specific. It’s RIGHT on the (wrong) side of providing GREAT room descriptions. So close to being really magnificent … but still very good and NOT falling in to the verbosity trap. The monsters, in particular, have great descriptions that take a heartbeat longer than “perfect 10” to get the DM’s imagination going. Exploding Ethereal Skull. A lizard of scrap metal that reeks of machine oil. Bloated firebats are “A fat winged creature that has gorged itself on fire oil and transformed into a flying orange blob.” Imagine it barely able to fly, dripping big flaming globs of oil. That’s where my imagination went.

It’s even got a GREAT hook, with villagers getting their shadows ripped from their bodies by some pale creature with a description straight out of a nightmare. It’s fucking WONDERFUL.

It could be better. The descriptions are about a heartbeat behind perfect. Some of the rooms are not perfectly organized. Room two is an example, with statues being missed in the initial description … and then the “a,b,c” elements of room not standing out as well as they could in the text. A lot of the mundane treasure is “a pile of 1200gp and 80 gems worth 800 gp” … not the soul of evocativeness. It also lacks a certain … theming? Both players and DM need theming to put certain logic to use (for differing purposes) in the dungeon. There’s a lack of a cohesive story in a funhouse dungeon. Now, I’m talking 5e story, but more a many Gates of the Gann story. An element of the entire dungeon kind of working together. That is, I think, what separate this from, say, The Upper Caves of the Darkness Beneath. (Well, that element and a few other things.)

This thing is fun. It can work as a one-shot, for beer & pretzels, or at a con. It can also ABSOLUTELY work in a normal campaign. There’s not a lot of “modern” puzzles, etc that break immersion. Yeah, not everything makes sense to be in a dungeon .. but it’s not some fucked up mish-mash of an elevator puzzle either.

This is $5 at DriveThru. You get to see the map (yeah!) the wander monster table/descriptions (yeah!) and the first page of rooms (yeah!) It does whata preview needs to do.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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