Tabletop Gaming Feeds

'Playing Out In The Rocks' Cepheus Engine Rpg DM Workshop & Session Report Four - The Wreck of the Ages

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 22:38
 Several cargo modules from the wreck last week look strangely familiar to the players in the session  today. The wreck is over a 175 years old and yet perfectly preserved. Silent Running film fans will know these cargo containers. This game campaign session  picks up right where last session left off. The wreck in question is a pulsed fission propulsion craft from someplace else with ANSA Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thinking about setting

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 16:59

One of the mistakes I make is in presuming that space is largely settled, mapped, and known. Some of the literature that I’ve been reviewing as I think about this game falls into swords and planet - explorers in strange lands that just happen to be planets they travel between. The whole things needs an air of the unknown.

  • Space is largely unexplored and uncharted. We don’t know most of what’s out there.

  • An ancient evil has been reborn. At one time, dark forces moved among the cosmos planting seeds and establishing footholds on a thousand worlds. Then, they disappeared. They have reawakened.

  • The ability to travel between worlds and between systems is a relatively new phenomenon. It is not stable and easy to use, but instead is unstable, unpredictable, and often dangerous to jump between systems.

  • More decadence, decay, and old stuff. Less new and shiny. 

  • Think of worlds as city-states, or as collections of city states.

I’m thinking that one of the major sources of junker ships is a junkyard moon where hundreds of thousands of old craft were sent to die. I think of the Ming Dynasty who sunk their own Armada to cut China off from the rest of the world. I can see a culture that assumed a high level of technological progress, and then intentionally cut themselves off from the rest of the galaxy and shut it all down. They are gone now, but there are thousands of working ships sitting in junk yards that can be grabbed. The society itself is also gone - but there may be clues as to what happened to them.

Roaring Engines Under A Dark Sun

Sorcerer's Skull - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 15:30
Art by Brendan McCarthy
The pulp story, "The Dead-Star Rover" (1949) by Robert Abernathy, presents a post-apocalyptic future Earth, where people are divided into tribes/cultures mostly based on the vehicles they employ: The Terrapin are nomads in armored cars, the Bird People fly fixed-wing aircraft, etc. Replacing human cultures with Athasian races would be, I think, a fine idea for a campaign on it's own, but I think there are some other things you could do to spice it up.
I figure the machines would be left over from some ancient war, perhaps shortly after humans partially terraformed and inhabited the planet. Something happened, and the machines have gone all Maximum Overdrive. Maybe its some sort of technological misunderstanding like in Shroeder's Ventus, or possibly a result of exposure to some Athasian exotic energy source ("magic," in other words). The various cultures would have learned to secret of taming one "species" of vehicle or another, though perhaps not all members of any given culture would be able to do it. There could be rituals involved, too. And taming is likely the wrong word, and the machines would most likely be viewed with as spirt totem or the like. The machine is the patron of the fragile, biologic entity.

On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Timed

Hack & Slash - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 14:30

Timed Triggers

This trigger just regularly springs the trap. Note that the trap may be set to use a timed trigger after the initial trigger is sprung.

Timed triggers are great obvious traps. This can be gouts of flame or swinging blades. They are buzzsaws, vines, and swinging logs. It is spinning pillars, anti-gravity platforms travelling up and down, and sections of floor that disappear or collapse after you step on them. They are rarely a danger themselves, but can make other situations more interesting. 

They are best used in situations where other objectives need to be met, rescuing hostages, defeating a bad guy, stealing an item, made all the more complicated by the regular changes in environment. 

Traditional use

S2 White Plume Mountain by Gary Gygax

7. The door opens onto a stone platform in a large natural cave. The ceiling averages 50´ above the level of the platform while the floor of the cave 50´ below is a deep pool of boiling mud. Points A and B mark the locations of geysers. Geyser A spouts once every five minutes. Geyser B spouts once every three minutes. Opposite the entrance platform is another stone platform, approximately 90´ away. Between them a series of wooden disks is suspended from the ceiling by massive steel changes. The disks are about four feet in diameter, and three feet apart. Each disk is attached to it’s chain by a giant staple fixed in its center. The disks swing freely and will tilt when weight is placed upon them. The disks and chains, as well as the walls of the cavern , are covered with a wet, slippery algal scum that lives on the water and nutrients spewed up from the geysers. This coating gives off a feeble phosphorescent glow.

When the geysers erupt, they reach nearly to the roof of the cavern, and creatures holding onto the disks or chains may be washed off to fall into the mud below (an almost instant death). Characters with 18 Strength, or better, have a 65% chance of holding onto a disk that is adjacent to an erupting geyser. For each point of strength less than 18, there is a 10% lesser chance of hanging onto the disks (i.e. 16 strength equals 45% chance.) However, for each disk the characters is located farther from the geyser, there is a cumulative chance 5% greater of holding on i.e. one farther away (from the adjacent disk) equals +5%, two away equals +10%, et. Damage varies as the distance from the geyser. Adjacent disk: 5-50 points; one away: 4-40, and so on: 3-30, 2-20, 1-10, 1-6 and 1-4 for anyone in the cavern. Characters who make their saving throw versus breath weapon will take only one-half damage.

Timed trigger design

Early timed triggers can be as simple as a swinging blade, something obviously and trivially avoided, at least until you get hit with a Fear effect or henchmen fail their morale rolls and run into it while fleeing.

Moderate timed triggers are an effective way to challenge mid-level parties with beginning challenges. Take an encounter for characters of 1st-3rd level and add gouts of fire that criss-cross the battlefield and it becomes an appropriate challenge for higher level characters. Another type of timed trigger is one where a normal activity is given a hard time limit, you must defeat the monster/pick the lock/disarm the trap before the room crushes you, the ceiling falls, the guards arrive, or your get cut apart my laser beams. 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

River of Frozen Souls, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 12:10
By Allen Farr WinterBlight's Challenge Generic Level ?

The River Of Frozen Souls has shattered. As the remnants of this once mighty frozen fortress drifts south on the Sea Of Broken Blades, it carries with it the Anvil of Ice, a powerful artefact capable of bringing eternal winter to the world. Will this winter be your last?

This 49 page adventure tries to describe a northern town in the middle of winter, along with a series of dungeons in iceberg fragments. It’s very creative and has all of the elements required for a good adventure, it’s just that the designer has absolutely no idea at all how to put them together in to a coherent package for use. And I mean that more than I usually mean that. 

You get hired on as town guards. You get sent to a northern town for a few months. Your first day you get assigned to a murder that is causing a gang war. That leads to a series of dungeon fragments contained in icebergs off the coast. 

There is a pattern to these. After mountains of text laid out in a near-incoherent paragraph form, with embedded encounters, there will be a period of more free form player action. These are supported by terrific little vignettes for the party to interact with. There is a surrounding world here, or at the feel of one, that is terrific. It’s alive and full of potential energy. This is augmented by “themes” for the various sections, which are usually just environments conditions or some such. This adds to moods trying to be created, like the hostility of the weather or the strangeness of the north. Evocative writing can be almost good in places, like “At the far end of the room is an ancient throne entwined by the dragon’s tail and bedecked by large luxurious furs.” 

As guardsmen some of the “one liner” encounter range from a group of children challenging the party to a snowball fight to a distraught woman begging the party for help, because a ship sailing out has her son on it as a stowaway. There’s nothing else, that’s it. And it’s clear that you mind can run away with these little things. They are full of energy. Likewise things like your sword freezing to its scabbard, or an increasing number of villagers found froze to death in their homes, to bring home the severity of the winter. A great job.

Of course, the formatting is atrocious and makes the entire thing almost incomprehensible.

Columns of information, combining backstory, justifications, multiple plot events, and the like are the normal course of business. It almost makes you think that you are reading a summary of whats to come, but, you soon find out, no, this is the actual adventure. Arriving in town, hired on, ambushed by thugs, trained by the guard sergeant, these get just a couple of words each, almost as much as I just typed about them, embedded in longer paragraphs. This is no way to run a railroad, or format an adventure for use. 

Bold italics for read-aloud sections making it hard to read. An appendix compsigin almost half the page count, subtracting from actual value. A generic adventure, with no stats, written in an almost abstracted way, making it hard to pick out traps and creatures and certainly no detail on what they could be. Just stat the fucking thing for D&D man! Any decent DM can convert it and the non-decent ones are not going to use it anyway, in its generic form.

“The entrance to this room is constructed from the open maw of Blizzard, an ancient dragon that pledged its services in death to the master of the fortress.” You can see, from this section, how we both get a nice little feature, an entrance from a dragon maw, and how its ruined by all the backstory. And this is one of the more terse backstory elements. They go on and on, adding depth that will never be encountered during play. “… his hand outstretched as if holding something defensively. That something was the Rod of Thunderous Upheaval. It was the Rod of Thunderous Upheaval used in the heat of combat that shattered the River of Frozen Souls and Fortress Frostfang, see Arcanum.” There we go, a load of backstory for a corpse that adds nothing to the adventure. The adventure does this time and time again. 

It’s a shame because there’s some interesting things going on in this. It needs a TOTAL rework, with a complete focus on running it at the table and the expansion of the section where the party investigates the murder and the factions in the town compete. Then this would be an adventure to write home about!

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and gives you a look at some of the seventeen “iceburg dungeon fragment” locations. These tend to tbe the shorter elements, with some decently evocative writing in places. It’s good for getting a eel for the generic nature of the adventure, as in system neutral, and how that detracts from the adventure overall.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Light

Hack & Slash - Sat, 01/30/2021 - 04:30
Light Detection: This trigger only functions in always lit or never lit areas. It works by using materials that react to the interruption or exposure to light. The source of light can be natural (sunlight/moonlight), magical (light, continual light), or man made (incandescent, torchlight, lasers). The trigger can be set to go off after the first interruption or detection of light, or it can be set to be triggered after a certain number of counted interruptions or time exposed to light.  This simplistic description of light detection neglects the various ways it can be used.

This is an effective trick or puzzle when the sensor responds only to a certain color of light.

The default stance of the trick, is of course that once torch, lantern, or sun-rod light is shone on the trigger, the trap is set, but it is also a useful stance for constructing a puzzle.

Often the sensor will be visible as a colored opaque crystal sphere. This should be breakable of course but doing so should ruin the mechanism.

The trigger most certainly does not have to be binary. It can require a certain degree or configuration of light, or perhaps be part of a multi-part puzzle where the light that triggers the light detector also gives a clue to the next step in the process while allowing the puzzle to succeed (like opening a door or portal where something must be thrown).
Traditional Use
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax2. STRANGLE VINES: . . .These creepers are attracted to the strongest light source, i.e. Continual Light, bright ship’s light, light, lantern, magic sword glow, torch light.. . . If the ship’s lights are on the viewers will see various forms of large and small fish, and have a one in six chance of getting a glimpse of the “frog-thing”. . . Glints of gems will be seen from the lake bed! If they use lights in the observatory they absolutely will not only see that creature, but it will begin smashing at the plastiglass observation windows to get at the tender morsels within. The chance to break through is 5% per round. Attempts will cease as soon as the light is extinguished or the party is out of the monster’s sight.
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth by Gary Gygax1. SMALL CAVE WITH MANY TUNNELSThis low-domed chamber has its ceiling literally dripping with stalactites. . . A tribe of 18 troglodytes lairs in the five small tunnels which radiate from this cave. . . Unless the party is exceptionally quiet and shows no light, the trodlodytes will be lurking in ambush for them, and they will surprise the party on a 1-4 (d6) or a 1-2 if a ranger is leading the party.
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil by Gary Gygax339. HALL OF ELEMENTAL MAGICThis huge echoing hall is constructed of polished black stones, which give back odd reflections of your light. The most striking features here are the symbols set into the chamber floor. To the north is a triangle of dull ecru stone, outlined with some sort of gray metal; a throbbing radiance seems to spread in dun-colored pulses that wash over the area. To the east is a great 10’ square of translucent stone, blue at the edges and shading to a deep green at the center, bordered by a strip of pale green; the whole gives out undulating sheets of blue-green light. To the south is a circle of translucent crystal ringed by a silvery band; the whole sends forth slowly rising clouds of pale light, that spread and disappear. To the west is a long diamond shape with four points radiating from the sides of the lozenge. The whole is fashioned of translucent stone mottled red and amber, outlined in red gold. It sends up sudden tongues of brightness, planes of pale fiery light that vanish as quickly as they appear. All of these radiations gleam from the walls and floor of the hall. Any object in the center of the four symbols shows the four different illuminations, and the ghastly purple of their mix.. . . Any creature who steps into the area of an elemental symbol and stands there for 3 segments is transported to the corresponding Elemental Node: the Air Cavern (circle), the Earth Burrows (triangle), the Fire Pits (lozenge), or Water Maze (square). The only way to escape therefrom is to win through to another “gate” area or to possess the complete Orb of Golden Death, inset with all four proper gems.
Light detection design Early use can be situations in which characters must maneuver without light to avoid an enemy. Simple puzzles can differ based on the time of day or season. Mirrors to reflect light into certain spots (with multiple solutions so that players might discover one and not another). Later, more difficult puzzles can be avoiding light being used as a tripwire, or environments that change based on available light (such as a room that is different at night than during the day).

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary On T2000 Fanzine- You're On Your Own No. 1 From Game Designers' Workshop (GDW) For Twilight 2000 original edition

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/29/2021 - 23:02
 "The War has raged for years The high-tech ammo is almost gone. High-tech equipment is failing, piece by piece, with no spares to fix it. The front lines are held by a few grim, desperate soldiers.The US 5th Division holds the line in Poland. Now, a Soviet encirclement has cut it off in a province ruled by ambitious warlords, local militias, and bands of marauding deserters. HQ is 200 klicks to Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary On The Pay What You Want Adventure - 'Sleeping Giant' written by Joseph Mohr From Old School Role Playing For Cepheus Engine rpg & Old School Traveller rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/29/2021 - 16:59
"The travelers are offered a job with a substantial payday, The only problem is that the job is on a burned out radioactive world in the Sonora sector of space, An alien species, long dead and gone, once used robotic walkers to invade the planet Ceqal IV. The Olonsean Empire would like to have artifacts from these walkers. The patron, however, has other ideas." Joseph Mohr is an engine every Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thieves' Guild Built in the Subterranean Ruin of [Insert Generic Anthropomorphic Urban Rodent God Your Choice]'s Temple

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 01/29/2021 - 12:00

Billy Longino just can't take D&D seriously. Well, I can't say for certain that he's incapable, but I can say that he doesn't try very hard.

Which can make for some pretty fun game sessions, actually. He greatly enjoyed his Halfling police procedural Southfarthing Confidential back in 2017 (has it really been that long?) at NTrpgcon. I have not played this current adventure of his, but the name says it all really: Thieves' Guild Built in the Subterranean Ruin of [Insert Generic Anthropomorphic Urban Rodent God Your Choice]'s Temple.

This is certainly the sort of thing I could run in my Azurth game, at least in broadstrokes, but I'm no real critic of adventure design. Bryce Lynch and Gus L have opined, so there you go.

Anyway, it's now available in print on demand.

Cha'alt Three Kickstarter 'Dancing in the Streets' or Saving Cha'alt - Cha'alt/Godbound Campaign Update

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 01/28/2021 - 19:40
 So there hasn't been a lot of movement on the Cha'alt/Godbound campaign front for a few weeks now. Mostly because of scheduling & Covid related player issues. Then a barrage of emais came in from players, 'Have you seen Venger's new Cha'alt kickstarter?' or 'Did you know about what's happening to Cha'alt?' Cha'alt has been a major NPC player in my campaigns ever since the first book came out Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

"D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth": a talk by John Rateliff

Zenopus Archives - Thu, 01/28/2021 - 14:36

On 1/28/21 there was a online talk, open to the public, titled "D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth", given by John D. Rateliff, who is both a Tolkien scholar (author of the History of the Hobbit) & a former TSR employee (author of the Return to the Keep on the Borderlands module among others). The talk was recorded and is now available here:

I watched the talk & enjoyed it, particularly Rateliff's concluding "fantasy crossroads" image  from the last issue of the Strategic Review. Knowing that Rateliff had written his doctoral dissertation on Lord Dunsany, I asked a question about his influence on D&D, having been listed in Appendix N of the Dungeon Masters Guide.
The talk was co-hosted by the University of Glasgow Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic , which has a page for the talk here:

Rateliff blogs regularly at Sacnoth's Scriptorium:

(Updated 1/29)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ootherion Logos

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 01/28/2021 - 12:00

 Jason Sholtis is working a comic set in the world Operation Unfathomable called Ootherion: Ape Myrmidon. He asked me to come up for a logo for the comic. I did several iterations, not because Jason is demanding but because I wasn't satisfied. Here are the last two I did:

I don't know which will appear on the comic, but I'm relatively satisfied with both of these.

Shards of Tomorrow 2 Design Goals

The Splintered Realm - Wed, 01/27/2021 - 21:21

 Let’s set up some design goals.

  • It’s a game - it’s not a movie or novel; the setting is not about telling a great story, but about equipping the players to tell their own stories. It should be open-ended and diverse; there isn’t one central story, but a series of interconnected stories that allow the player to jump into it anywhere. It’s not about the humans defeating the bad guys. It’s about an ongoing, unending series of conflicts that the player characters find a way to navigate within.

  • Use the system as presented in Tales of the Splintered Realm, but not be beholden to it. Freedom to manipulate the system to better fit the narrative. For example, I’m thinking of bringing in some elements from Sentinels of Echo City; I am thinking also of bringing in some things from Army Ants (getting more actions per round; weapon tinkering rules). It’s going to be a ‘greatest hits’ collection of the other games I’ve done.

  • Maximize value. In reviewing the first edition of Shards of Tomorrow, I noticed that I created new mechanics for different situations; just looking at spacecraft, there are different ways to resolve hit dice, values, upgrade costs, and maintenance costs. Since we already have one random element (hit dice), this same value can be applied in different ways; weekly maintenance can be hit dice in credits; upgrade costs can be hit dice x10.

  • Maximize space. I want this to be 64 pages, and formatted as Tales of the Splintered Realm, but have EVERYTHING for the full game. Rules for character creation, advancement, technology, creatures, vehicles, setting, and a solid starting adventure. 

  • Art. I have to accept that art matters. Presentation matters. The visuals matter. More illustrations, and of the highest quality I can muster.

  • Take my time. There is no hurry to get this done. I want to take my time with it. If it takes six months, no matter. It’s about the process, not the product. I like tinkering with systems and writing rules. I may as well spend time doing that.

[REVIEW] The Palace of Unquiet Repose

Beyond Fomalhaut - Wed, 01/27/2021 - 20:05

The Palace of Unquiet ReposeThe Palace of Unquiet Repose (2020)

by Prince of Nothing

Published by The Merciless Merchants

Levels 3-5 (HAH!)

Know, oh Prince, that good sword & sorcery adventures in old-school gaming are still hard to come by; and for all the talk of the mouldering tomes of Appendix N, few have struck the right balance between the imagery and spirit of S&S, and the playability of old-school D&D. Most old-school adventures do not reach deep into the pulp tradition, or fail to grasp what is in there; and most S&S adventures remain semi-interactive railroads, failing on the game level. Indeed, one of the most credible efforts in the last few years has been The Red Prophet Rises, by Malrex and Prince of Nothing; and furthermore, Tar Pits of the Bone Toilers by Malrex was pretty good too. So here is another adventure written by the Prince – and by the gods, he gets it right once again!

The Palace of Unquiet Repose, an expedition into a dead city serving as the tomb and prison of a haughty demi-god, is a monster of a module, a blood-and-guts nightmare in under 60 pages (a further ten or so are dedicated to The Screaming Caverns, an extra dungeon scenario). Those pages are not wasted. The substance – the information to help you run the module – is present, while padding is excluded. Everything serves a purpose, and the text is highly polished. No, it is not an exercise in layout-as-avantgarde-art. The maps are simple, plain-looking, highly readable affairs. The text is ultra-orthodox two-column century gothic, occasionally broken up by mini-maps showing the present area, and pieces of inky-looking art that do not really add much. Bullet points and bolding are used in appropriate places for structure and emphasis. Important details in the text are cross-referenced with the appendices and other parts of the module. It looks as adventurous as Swiss technical documentation, and it all works as unobtrusively and efficiently as Swiss technical documentation – in the background.

The writing is the heart of the monstrosity. It has power, menace, and gloomy pomp; expressive terseness. Opening it up at random points: “The double door is set in the naked rock, man-high, of tarnished, ancient bronze. Faded imagery can barely be made out on the surface.” Or: “These Sial-Atun have been led to the Palace by Captain Sarakhar with promises of infinite riches and godlike might. Instead they find only ennui and ancient horror while they wait for their comrades to return.” Or: “A great marble hall contains rows of carved sepulchers of worked obsidian, edges sharp like razors, gleaming from the light source. Alcoves on both sides of the room stretch off into darkness. Faint glimmers can be discerned within.” It earns its barbarian chops, although the appendices wander into purple prose. Where it matters most, though, the lean-and-mean writing succeeds on the technical level, as a mood-setter, and as a scenario rife with potential for conflict, exploration, and off-the-wall ideas. There are great names. Diorag the Breaker. Uyu-Yadmogh. The Children of the Tree. Gate of the Host Incarnadine. Chamber of Tribute by Conquest.

Leading to a land of dead empires, the Palace beckons. A hazardous wilderness trek is followed by two entrance levels, leading into a vast subterranean necropolis surrounded by a lake of liquid mercury, and then the titular Palace, a 26-area dungeon serving as the resting place of Uyu-Yadmogh, accursed sorcerer king, and his vast treasury. You are not alone: three factions, two coming from outside and one established inside, contend for the ultimate prize (whatever that may be). Death and horror will follow.

Mr. Thing, He Who Must Be
Fun at PartiesThe genre is high-magic sword & sorcery turned up to 11. It is not for everyone. It is macabre, loud, album cover art S&S, set to metal riffs. (Or so I think, since this is a musical genre that goes right over my head, and feels pretty much like random environmental noise to my ears.) It is a lot more baroque and grandiose than even most S&S fare, a bit in the manner of Diablo and a bit in the manner of the Final Fantasy series, and I have to confess that it feels rather over the top. Grimdark easily becomes its own parody, and The Palace of Unquiet Repose is on the borderline, because it has no “normal” to fall back on, no section that is just a modest “/11”, and no counterpoints to its sensory assault. Here is a grand grimdark dungeon-palace “dotted with all manner of hideous gargoyles”, and haunted by tattooed, cannibalistic, insane, deformed, gem-studded things. That eat souls. The writhing souls of the eternally damned. Here are the grimmest motherfuckers of a rival NPC party, one “a beautiful golden, hairless child, one of its eyes (…) an orb of absolute blackness”, another one “a monstrous silhouette etched in absolute blackness”, and he is called “An Unbearable Thing, Drawn From The End of Time, Given Hatred and Substance (Wolf of Final Night)”. The leader of the other guys wears “the gilded skulls of lords and generals (500 gp total)” on his plate mail. The leader of the third faction has “a single wild green eye staring out of a skull-like face”. Sometimes, you can’t catch a break. After a while, “Fred the Fighter” starts to look like an appealing concept.

This is not a Palace of honour. Indeed, the wasteland hellhole is more containment zone for a grand sort of evil than convenient treasure-hole, and those who disturb it mostly go here to die. Yes, the cover indicates a 3–5th-level range, but it is the sort of 3–5th-level adventure which will kill off entire parties of characters, starting before the dungeon entrance. Everything here is dead, dangerous, insane, or cursed (sometimes all four). It does not quite become what the loud kids call a “negadungeon” (a punishing killer dungeon where you are much better off backing out and not adventuring), but it is a dungeon where you have to bet with dear stuff to start rolling, and the odds are stacked in favour of the house. It is also a fundamentally static setting even with the rival factions, and in this respect, it is less successful than the lively Red Prophet Rises. “Do you touch the horrible soul-devouring trap for its fabled treasures?” This is the central premise, and it shall determine whether you and your group will like the module. If you like poking bear traps (and the sleeping bears trapped therein), this module has a lot of exciting things to poke, and princely prices to extract. Break off chunks of a massive golden idol. Pry blasphemous death masks off of a mindless golem-thing. Rouse a reanimated demi-god chained with adamantium chains to “a monstrous throne of jagged glass” and find out what happens. You know you want to.

While a bit one-note in its themes, the Palace is very open-ended. This is a place to develop bold plans and win big or lose big. There are useful suggestions in the text to run the scenario and resolve some of the encounters, but there are so many ways you could exploit the Palace and its moving parts (not to mention the rival NPCs) to “break the bank” that it would be folly to list them all. You can sic the proverbial irresistible force against the proverbial immovable object. You can build yourself an invincible army, or a Rube Goldberg contraption to entrap soul-eating 15 HD monstrosities. You can become just a bit too powerful. The resourceful will thrive, and the weak shall be weeded out. Kill or be killed.

In summary, The Palace of Unquiet Repose is a grand module of a very specific sort – one maniacal and meticulously perfected note played very loudly by people who know exactly what they are doing. It is exemplary as a “GM-friendly” module, and it has splendid imagination. All of it, or most of it is brand new – aside from scorpions, the monsters, magic, and NPCs are original creations. And it goes up to 11. Yes, it is very good, if you like this kind of fringe thing.

No playtesters are credited in this publication.

Rating: ***** / *****

Mouths. Why did it have to be mouths?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

'Playing Out In The Rocks' Cepheus Engine Rpg DM Workshop & Session Report Three

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 01/27/2021 - 14:08
 This session report picks right up where last session  left off. Some healing was done via Aesculaptor Mark III unit ( medical/cyber unit via classic Traveller Cepheus Engine rules )  & her synethic operator. The synethic cyber medi surgeon was quite kind & engaging but a bit too percise for the players. Basically this was an excuse to re equip & upstock on personl items lost during the PC's Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Clock Strike Zero, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 01/27/2021 - 12:11
By Bill Petrosky, Matt Sisk, JP Fridy Minor Realm Games OSRIC/5e Levels 2-4

Join a cast of ambitious, fledgling adventurers as they stop if in the bucolic backwater of Blackwyrm on the road to the capital of Herlivik. Intending to make a quick stop to rest at the local inn before resuming their journey, the intrepid travelers realize that things are not what they seem in this odd little town, and their pit stop spirals into a full-blown adventure as they’re drawn in to investigate a growing peril threatening Blackwyrm’s people.

This 45 page adventure describes a few combats in a town. Railroad plot in dysfunctional wall of text with emphasis on A Reader rather than play. Yet more meat for the grinder that is the modern adventure market. If only there were a way for the general populace to not suffer through first efforts.

An adventure made to be read and not played. But first, one nice thing.

At one point you are exploring an old church, rumored to be haunted. A tapestry can kind of fold back upon itself and a spectre emerges from it. Or … “then the tapestry will mystically form fit to the shape of a body, at once, emanating a chilling green ghastly glow from underneath of it.” This is a pretty decent way to handle the appearance of the undead, especially a spectre. When I talk about inspiring the DM to greatness then this is one of the elements I am referring to. It’s about putting an image in their mind and then letting them leverage that to greater effect. This isn’t a great example, but it’s on the right track, certainly. It’s also a rather isolated case from an otherwise poor adventure.

The first encounter of the adventure is a good example of what’s wrong in the adventure, and most adventures. It’s five long paragraphs. The first one reads “The party hikes the rustic byway of Roland Pass in the center of Western Zearus. A crisp autumn air chills them as boots meet the firming soil, with the smell of the pine and the sycamore setting a fragrant, comforting tone for what could be the most exciting time for a new unofficial clan of young adventurers.” This isn’t read-aloud, but DM text. It is clearly written as a novel. It’s using crisp autumn air and so on to create a novelization of an adventure rather than an adventure. The other paragraphs go on and on this way. “The party walks this trail as modest adventurers seeking acclaim in the north and a bit of coin in a journey filled with both heroism and self-exploration. But of course, they’ll also be seeking some fine ale and good times along the way!” This is text without purpose. It’s background information. It’s the writers guide for a Tv series or shared world. It’s not writing that is directed at a DM to help them run an adventure. It’s just allpadding, irrelevant. The last paragraph describes three hooded individuals coming out of the forest and coming straight for the party! All of this lead up. All of this build up. All of those irrelevant words … and the one part that SHOULD get a few notes is nothing more then three people in hoods walking out of the forest and attacking. Where is your spectre tapestry now? Now nuance. No build up. No tension. Just They Attack! 

And this is the commonality to the adventure. There is all of this build up, background, motivation, related in the text. And then the actual encounter is just an afterthought. This is not the way an adventure is to be written. It should be written to be run at the table, not to be read. I know, I know, all adventures are written to be read. The industry has done a poor job of providing examples.

Ignoring this, and ignoring the long sections of italics (which are hard to read and should never be done), ignoring the first quarter of the page count which is a travelogue,  ignoring the long read-aloud, and ignoring the fact that a major town with a 500 foot tall clocktower is called a bucolic backwater … 

There are at least two major adventuring sites with multiple locations. Neither gets a map. This modern design trend to not include maps is crazy. You have to fight the fucking text to try and figure out where things are in relation to each other. I THINK it’s all just a linear thing (but not the haunted church?) but a fucking map would have dispelled all of this. It’s NOT designed for ease of use. It’s not designed to make the DM’s life easier. I don’t know what the fuck it was designed for.

And the adventure design, proper, is a confusing mess. A woman wants you to find her missing son. But, just as with the bandit attack, the ACTUAL thrist here is handled as an afterthought. You’re supposed to go to the church to search for him. There’s no tips on other places, or running the search. There’s no how to get the players in to the church that is handled in any meaningful way, just a “get the players to the church” note. That’s the fucking adventure! The search and hunt for the kid! But it’s handled as an afterthought. Not to mention why a local is turning to strangers to find her kid …

At one point the adventure presents “Adventure Path A” and then later “Adventure Path B” … without any idea of how or why one would go down one path instead of another. Where is the turning point? Is it meant to be a turning point? Who knows.

In another place you’re meant to follow a group of town guards taking a dude to jail. AT least, that’s how the linear adventure is written, as if you sneak follow them. But there’s no hint that this is the case, or that’s what you should do, or what happens if you DONT do that. 

There’s no support for the DM, just endless text for a person who buys it and reads it, never to play it.

This is $10 at DriveThru. There’s no preview available. There should always be a preview, showing the potential buyer a few meaty parts of the adventure, so they can make n informed decision about to buy it or now.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Lulu Mail Call - Hostile rpg Campaign Thoughts

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 01/26/2021 - 19:09
 Mail call & some Cepheus Engine Hostile rpg thoughts today & how to really dig into the reality of some campaign choices. Today was spent recovering from last night's game cus it went till about five A.M. & then staggering out the mail box what do we  see but a package from Federal Express!? Awesomely this came out far faster then was expected. What was ordered was a copy of the following: Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Last Five GM’s Commandments Updated for Today

DM David - Tue, 01/26/2021 - 12:30

Back in 1987, Dragon magazine issue 122 published “The GM’s Ten Commandments: Ten dos and don’ts for game masters everywhere,” a list of tips that author Rig Volný likely wrote 35 years ago. In my last post, I updated the first 5 commandments into 5 tips for today. Can I update commandments 6-10 into exactly 5 more tips for a nice, round 10? That depends on they style of game you want, so don’t get the stone tablets yet. Roman numerals count off the original commandments; my updates appear in boxes.

VI. Try for consistency and realism.

The author of the 10 commandments writes, “If a fictional work has inconsistencies or is unrealistic, then it does not entertain the reader.”

If your magical Dungeons & Dragons world seems realistic, you might want to dial back the rats in basements in favor of fairies, giants, and vampires. Instead, game worlds aim for verisimilitude, the appearance of being true or real. Often this includes genre emulation where the game tries to stay true to its source material. So a comic book superhero game might include unrealistic rules that ensure heroes never die and villains always escape until a future issue. D&D aims to evoke the fantasy yarns from authors listed in the game’s Appendix N.

Verisimilitude makes suspension of disbelief easier and immersion deeper. Dungeon Mastering 4th Edition for Dummies (p.121) advises, “Imagination is fabrication, and like any good fabrication, it should be grounded in truth. The more things from the normal, mundane, everyday world are true in in your game world, the easier it is for your players to imagine.”

“Anything that doesn’t fit expectations and forces the players to reevaluate what they know about the game—or the setting where the game takes place—drags the players out of active visualization and lets their natural disbelief come rushing back in.”

Still, this commandment aims for another sort of realism.

6. Make the characters’ actions in the game world result in plausible effects.

This sort of realism lets players make decisions based on a shared understanding of the game world and feel confidence that the outcomes will make sense. Dungeon Mastering 4th Edition for Dummies (p.131) explains, “Players expect that their actions in the world result in logical consequences. DMs sometimes fall into the illogical consequences trap by sticking too closely to the script. If the person who designed the adventure had no idea that the characters might figure out a way to get into the vault right at the beginning, it’s tempting to just say ‘you can’t get in,’ or ‘the treasure isn’t here.’ But the better answer is to reward the player ingenuity and resourcefulness with the success they earned, even if that ‘breaks’ the adventure and causes you to do some fast thinking.”

Much of the shared understanding that leads to plausible outcomes stems more from genre emulation than from realism.

VII. Don’t let the players argue with the GM.

This commandment comes from an era when the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules lacked ability checks and many other tools that gamers now use to decide between success and failure. Instead, game masters relied on judging the odds and rolling a die, a loose process that left room for arguments.

The article suggests a way to avoid debate. “Explain why a decision is made. When the situation has been discussed and weighed out carefully, stick to it.”

This recommendation remains sound, though today, most disputes focus on rules rather than a GM’s rulings.

7. Never slow the action to quibble over the rules.

The Pathfinder second edition Gamemastery Guide (p.28) puts this best. “Often the best ruling is the one that keeps the game moving. Avoid getting so bogged down that it takes you several minutes to decide what ruling you’ll proceed with. Take what’s close enough and keep playing. If necessary, you can tell your group ‘This is how we’re playing it now, but we can have more discussion between sessions.’ This gets you back in the action, puts a clear stamp on the fact that this is your decision in the moment, and empowers you players with permission to express their opinions on the ruling at a later time. When in doubt, rule in favor of the player’s request and then review the situation later.”

VIII. Enforce statements.

This serves as the GM’s “no backsies” commandment. “When a player says his character tries something, that character tries it.” In 1987, many game tables enforced similar rules, mainly to get more thoughtful play from players who blurt out reckless or outrageous actions, before seeing horror in the other players’ faces and attempting to rewind. In those days, D&D tended toward a more lethal style. Rash actions could get imaginary people killed. Plus, the no-takebacks policy leads to faster, more intense games. It leads to a particular style of play.

An opposite extreme allows timeouts for side conversations and rewinds for better ideas. This leads to looser style where players aim to spin a yarn for some laughs. With this free style the potential for stalling and flip-flopping may frustrate players who just want to get on with the game.

Even for groups seeking and intense, immediate game, the “enforce statements” commandment suffers two faults: (1) the wording is unclear and (2) sometimes players ask for rash actions because they misunderstand the situation. Enforcing a no-takebacks rule means letting a character attempt something risky without knowing the odds, and that defies tip number 2.

Instead, for a similar game style, follow two guidelines.

8. Run the game as if what the players say in the real world reflects into the game world.

When players talk at the table, their characters in the game world communicate basically the same messages, though perhaps in different words. See How Much Talk at Your Game Table Reaches Into the Game World?. When a player blurts out, “He’s lying,” the character voices something similar. When players at the table exchange jokes and banter, characters in the game joke and banter.

9. Limit discussion on each player’s turn to questions for the game master and resolution of the character’s actions.

Players can still talk tactics between turns. Perhaps they can even call out things like, “Don’t stand there! I’m casting fireball.” (Although their foes will hear the same shouts.) This guideline leads players to focus on playing their own characters without telling the other players what to do. It limits the ability of players to suspend instants of combat to workshop tactics.

These two guidelines hardly rate as commandments. Game masters can treat them as dials and decide how much enforcement suits the moment. For example, before a particularly intense negotiation scene or dangerous showdown, allow planning, and then tell the players when the action goes live and table chatter ends.

IX. Encourage the players to play their characters.

“Roleplaying is acting. The GM is most successful when the players are the characters. Give out experience points for good roleplaying and let the other players know why that character is getting extra points.”

Acting the part of characters heightens the immediacy of roleplaying games. It leads players to immerse themselves to the game world. It dramatizes relationships between characters. For good roleplaying, fifth edition encourages DMs to award inspiration rather than XP. In my experience, inspiration alone seldom encourages acting, but I’ve heard tales of players who make a scene whenever they need fresh inspiration. Top that, Shamu!

To encourage players to act in character, demonstrate that style of interaction using tip number 5: Roleplay your supporting cast as if you are a player and each NPC is your character. Make your non-player characters come alive by portraying their tone, mannerism, and speaking patterns.

For more help promoting roleplaying, see Most Advice for Encouraging Role-playing Stinks, But I Found the Good Stuff.

X. Reward wit, quick thinking, and consistency.

“Experience points should be awarded whenever a player has successfully exercised his gray matter. Both rapid thinking and long-term strategy should be rewarded.”

Today, fewer game masters opt to award and have players track experience points. Even the game’s designers fail to see the point. In games that do feature XP, I recommend awarding points for overcoming obstacles, without judging ingenuity. (See Using Experience Points To Make D&D More Compelling.) Instead, many DMs award inspiration for clever thinking, and that gives players a good feeling.

But rewarding wit and quick thinking goes beyond inspiration.

10. Welcome inventive solutions to problems, even when they don’t match the solutions you expected.

In Your Best Game Ever (p.161), Monte Cook writes, “When resolving actions, reward ingenuity even more than good die rolls or efficiently created characters. This means that for every challenge, there should be a straightforward solution and a not-so-straightforward one. It’s not your responsibility as the GM to come up with both. The players will come up with the not-so-straightforward solutions. You just have to be willing to go with their ideas.

“This doesn’t mean you have to let them succeed just because they try something you hadn’t thought of. On the contrary, the not-so-straightforward solution might end up being as hard or harder than the straightforward one. But you have to be ready to adjudicate the idea no matter what. If you don’t, and you shut down the players’ outside-the-box ideas, they will learn that the obvious solution is the only possible solution. Eventually, this will make for boring play because things will seem repetitive and too tightly structured.”

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Vampires, Ghouls, Undead Plagues, & More Horrors For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 18:26
 "filling up a bag with stakes] How many more of these will I have to make before they're all destroyed? They want my blood. It's their lives or mine. I still get squeamish." Someone behind the scenes today forced my hand when it came to Richard Matheson's 1954 novel "I'm Legend""Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013) was an American author and screenwriter, primarily in the Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The War of the Worlds Godzilla 1898! - A Troll Lord Games Victorious rpg Hybrid Campaign - The Maple White Land - DM Work Shop & Session report # 13

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 17:31
 Welcome to Maple White land folks & its battle royal central! A day ago on Sunday the Godzilla vs. King Kong trailer broke. And the G fans around my table top went nuts. What's this mean for our Victorious rpg heroes!?! A lot folks! The original concept for this campaign came from this Dangerville video here. A bit of background here, the Martians have got more then a foot hold within Maple Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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