Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Holmes Games at Pacificon

Zenopus Archives - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 15:33
"Tegel Manor mapping" by Guy Fullerton showing a marked 20-sider in use
Over at K&KA Alehouse and Dragonsfoot, Guy Fullerton has posted a con report from Pacificon Game Expo 41, which took place this past Labor Day weekend in Santa Clara, CA, which includes two different Holmes Basic games he played in.

These included Tegel Manor DM'd by Thom Hall:

Open Role Playing
Fri 7 PM
to 11 PM
(4 hrs)R-475: Tegel Manor
Presented by Thom HallHolmes Edition Basic D&D published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, New to gaming, Characters/Armies Supplied, All Ages
Location: Prospector 1 - ADescription:Bob Bledsaw's Tegel Manor published by Judges Guild in 1977. Tegel Manor, a great manor-fortress on the seacoast, is rumored to be left over from ancient days...

...and a Holmes + Greyhawk City State of the Invincible Overlord game DM'd by DF/ODD74 member peterlind, which I didn't see on the event listing.
Guy also ran two sessions of AD&D himself:
Open Role Playing
Sat 9 AM
to 3 PM
(6 hrs)R-321: The Mere Beneath
Presented by Guy FullertonAD&D 1st Ed. published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, General gaming experience, Characters/Armies Supplied, Thirteen and older
Location: Prospector 1 - ADescription:Descend a waterfall to explore the watery caverns, and plunder an ancient Hydromancer fortress. Exploration (no plot) and danger (no fudging). Lvl 4-5
Open Role Playing
Sun 9 AM
to 3 PM
(6 hrs)R-323: The Garden of al-Astorion
Presented by Guy FullertonAD&D 1st Ed. published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, General gaming experience, Characters/Armies Supplied, Thirteen and older
Location: Monterey - ADescription:Rumors say this secluded valley contains a garden of enchanted fruit trees, and gems the size of eggs. Your party surely has the strength to drive off the primitive beast-men within, and reap the rewards. Classic module by Gabor Lux, aka Melan. Exploration (no plot) and danger (no fudging). Lvl 6-9
Now that you've read the event descriptions, head over and read about how the games went.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bring on the Magic! (Part IV)

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 13:00
The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886

Hello friends!

I’ve got a couple more magic items for you this week. In D&D terms, the Pair Dadeni, in particular, is closer to an artifact than a magic item. Both are very powerful and adventures or even whole campaigns can hinge on them.

You can find items from past entries here:

If you use any of these items in your game, please tell us about it. Enjoy!

Myr’s Magnificent Manor

This exquisite puzzle box is crafted of linden and rosewood with inlays of walrus tusk and pewter. The priceless treasure was once the crowning achievement of the Enchanter Myr of Svanland. Slats, cunningly hidden hinges and pivots allow one to manipulate the box in a multitude of ways. If one can discern its secrets, it can unfold into a comfortable manor house complete with a hearth, a hall with trestle table and benches, a private chamber that can comfortably sleep three people, a study and storage.
Effect: Unfolding the puzzle box into a manor requires an Ob 3 Lore Master test, though it will refold itself without a test upon command. In Camp, the manor provides shelter from the elements, tools for Cook, +1D to recovery from Exhausted for those who sleep in the bed, space to keep one magician’s library and space to store 12 slots worth of inventory. There is room for others to sleep in the hall, but they do not get a bonus to recovery. The puzzle box will lose its  magic if damaged.
Inventory: Pack 2
Type: Magical container

Pair Dadeni

The legendary Pair Dadeni of Valland—the Cauldron of Rebirth—is much sought by adventurers and warlords. The legends say that any dead creature, be it human or beast, placed within the black cauldron returns to life. Crafted by giants, the vast iron cauldron is said to be as big as a lake, and perhaps it could masquerade as one if buried in the earth.
Effect: Anything dead placed within the cauldron returns to life on the following dawn. The resurrected being permanently loses one nature descriptor of the GM’s choice and erases the Dead condition. If a living being is forcibly placed in the cauldron, it arises as Deathless, slave to the will of the one who sacrificed it. If a living being willingly climbs into the cauldron, it will shatter. Its magic will be destroyed forever and those given new life by it, whether living or Deathless, will die.
Inventory: Special. The cauldron is so vast, only a team of giants could hope to move it.
Type: Magical container

Deathless Nature 4Might 5Guarding, Pursuing, SlayingInstinct: Obey the master.Type: Undead

Special Rules: Cauldron Born. Animated and enslaved by the magic of the cauldron, the Deathless are mute, undead horrors. They cannot speak and cannot be reasoned with. Nor will they flee (save from those invoking the Fury of the Lords of Life and Death). They never tire and they never stop when following their master’s orders. However, they will not act on their own accord. Without orders they are quiescent.

Hit Points Flee
9Kill
7Trick
4

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating. Note: Deathless will never engage in Convince or Drive Off conflicts. They cannot Riddle but they can be Tricked.

Armor: Whatever armor the Deathless wore in life. Chain, shield and helmet are common.

WeaponConflictADFMSwordKill
Capture(+1D)(+1D)(+1D)(+1D)ShieldKill
Capture — +2D — — Tireless
TreadFlee/
Pursue — — — +1s Deathless Description

A mockery of human form, the Deathless are mute, tireless, undying slaves to the will of the one that created them. Their mouths are sewn shut and their eyes burn like fiery coals.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The City at the Center, Reprise

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 11:00
Anton Furst"I live now, only with strangersI talk to only strangersI walk with angels that have no place"- Bruce Springsteen
It is the living (and dying and living again) embodiment of Reality 2.0. A ring and a promise. The strange loop that sustains itself and possibly the entire multiverse. Born out of the last war and the first cause (second iteration), it has no history and is nothing but history.

Its sights. Horizonless urban landscape, sprawling vertiginously upward in two directions to loom overhead, darkened narrow, cobblestone alleys feeding into modern thoroughfares awash in neon, lined with deco skyscrapers and gleaming glass spires, rooftop slums perched on skeletal high-rises, ramshackle mobile markets, the rusted out carapace of dead factories, dutch-angled slabs of never-finished freeway tagged in occult scripts, geodesic domes housing lush gardens, gargoyles that sometimes take flight, the sky gray with spasms of occasional pixelation, a sparking blue-white point instead of a proper sun.


Its sounds. The rattling rumble of an elevated train, the high-pitched invective of angry fairies, the beat drifting from open nightclub doors, the patter of street dealers, the nervous shifting of strange animals and the groan of heavy-laden carts, the growl of engines, the squeak and hiss of arthritic pneumatic joints, the distant crackles and pops of spells met with gunfire, the wail of sirens.

Its smells. Fast food thick with alien spices, stale alcohol and sweat, a hint of ozone, a stray whiff of expensive perfume, burning oil, cigarettes.

(sensory-based format borrowed from Jack Shear)

Review & Commentary on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - REF5 Lords of Darkness For Your Old School Campaign

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 09/04/2019 - 21:31
"The Undead. Denied the eternal rest of Death, cursed to wander the many planes and worlds forever, their very existence a mockery of life they constantly crave yet cannot have. Created by the foulest of magics, they have only one thought, on burning goal: revenge against the living. Or do they? "Back in Eighty Eight I received  REF5 Lords of Darkness (1e) as a gift one Christmas from my Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Darkland Moors

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 09/04/2019 - 11:18
By Jeff Dee UNIgames 1e Levels 3-5

A huge, monstrous presence rampages through the farms and villages of Darkland Moors, throwing the locals’ formerly peaceful lives into turmoil. What manner of giant is responsible, where is it taking its captives, and what is their fate? To restore peace, our heroes must scour the misty Moors and track the beast to its lair!

This ten page adventure fits 21 encounters in to four pages. A hexcrawl in search of a marauding giant, it does a decent job with hex rules. The encounters are more of a setup for the DM to fill in with a writing style that is not always consistent in how it conveys information, especially where enemies are involved. I respect the hex crawl stuff and think the format for the hex crawl has possabilities, but the details need work to make it worth something to check out.

This is a hex crawl, searching for a marauding giant in some fog-covered moors. Dee does a good job of summarizing some basic hexcrawl rules.  Movement is covered: 2 per day on foot or 4 by horse. Likewise he covers getting lost in a very simple manner, as well as basic “what you can see in the next hex” landmark details. Concise hexcrawl guidelines have always been lacking, IMO, but this is one of the best summaries of basic hex crawl rules I’ve seen. It’s not worth it just for this but it does show that Dee has pretty good understanding of how things are supposed to work, and the need to transfer that to the audience.

The encounters are presented as general situations which the DM is then left to expand upon. Recall the 21 encounters in four pages? That includes several ruins and village/towns. The ONLY way to do that is to present the general situation to the DM and let the DM fill in the details. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s the general manner of all hex crawls. 

The encounters, though, feel flat. The detail is, again, abstracted to a degree that it removes the life from the encounter. I think I can understand the why of this; you can’t fill in the details of these largish locations and still have a decently-sized product. Some of the hexes would easily be their own adventures if expanded upon in this way. 

I would suggest, though, that there is another path. Rather than writing a very generalized and generic abstracted description the encounter/situation could instead be imbued with brief bursts of color. “A local farmer blinded the giant before being eaten.” is one of the sentences. Better, I think, would be some local color for this farmer, his family, or something else. Picking out one thing per encounter, maybe the most significant part of the place, and adding/changing the wording for some better adjectives and adverbs or more color. I’m not arguing for a significant increase in word count but rather a better use of those words, targeting some aspect of the encounter. 

As always I’m looking for something that inspires the DM while they are running the encounter. Something that the DM’s own imagination can build upon and be leveraged by the designer to add more the encounter than what’s written. In this adventure, in particular, the page count could be about the same with some trimming. The map and hex crawl rules note what can be seen from each hex … and then each encounter ALSO notes what can be seen from this hex. Doubling down on the information is quite necessary and the word count could have been used to add some color, some building blocks, to the actual encounters.

The writing also, at times, feels tacked on, especially where enemies are concerned. You’ll get a paragraph description of a place and and then another paragraph description of enemies which can totally change the vibe and what’s going on in the first paragraph. This happens multiple times but the first encounter is a good example. A ruined farmhouse, as if a mighty blow had been dealt to an upper corner. All valuables looted. Just some broken simple furniture inside. And then the next paragraph tells us how 11 large spiders live inside, it’s got a web-festooned interior, and there’s treasure. All of which kind of contradicts a bunch of info in that first paragraph. Or, at a minimum, the first paragraph totally leads you down one path when the second one yanks you back a different direction. It’s almost as if they were written by different people who only knew “ruined farmhouse” and one write an empty farmhouse and one wrote a monster farmhouse and an editor just slapped them together. There’s no cohesiveness at all. 

The hex crawl summary is great. The terseness/length of the situations is about right, I think. The descriptions though are too generic and too disjointed. It needs work.

I also note that this is listed as being for “Advanced rpg games.” Man, T$R really did a number on the old employees. From the Eldritch ENterprises use of generic stats to the dancing around “1e” stuff. These people have WOUNDS.

This is $2.50 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. Good news, it shows the hexcrawl summary rules! Bad news, it doesn’t show you any of the encounters. A preview really needs to show you a few of the encounters so a potential purchaser can see what they are getting … or not.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/126811/JD2-Darkland-Moors?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Dreadstar and Grimjack

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 09/04/2019 - 11:00

Yesterday, in a post-holiday flurry of package deliveries, I got the first volume of Jim Starlin's Dreadstar Omnibus in hardcover. I already have the pdf, but it didn't prepare me for the gorgeousness of the actual book. Can't wait for the other volumes!

Oh, and hey kids, a comics podcast! The next episode of the Bronze Age Book Club by yours truly and some other Hydra notables dropped today:

Listen to "Episode 4: GRIMJACK #1" on Spreaker.

Charioteer for Kickstarter

Two Hour Wargames - Wed, 09/04/2019 - 02:37
Here's a mock up of Charioteer, one of the games coming to the Kickstarter later this month Will have a 11 x 17 board (similar to this one), cards and counters. Streamlined version of the minis rules and more challenging. Totally playable solo


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Herbert Zamboni

The Viridian Scroll - Tue, 09/03/2019 - 15:25
TLDR: It's a monster, it's a puzzle, it's either one depending on how you approach it. Neat design.

This morning I played in an online game of Delving Deeper with Cody Mazza of the No Save for You podcast. (He and I talked about Delving Deeper recently in a two-part episode.) Cody was running Greg Gillespie's excellent megadungeon, Barrowmaze, so I don't know whether to credit him or Greg with this idea.

The party is following the tracks of a rival gang of explorers. (The Bogtown Bastards if you must know. Curse their rotten hides!) We came upon a room at the East end of a hall, with an exit to the North. In the middle of the room (and filling most of it) was a huge quivering mass of flesh and several dead bodies. We needed to get to the door on the other wall, but were understandably reluctant to try and pass this quivering mound. I suggested tossing in a body in the corner opposite the wall we wanted to get to. The mass grew legs, stood up, shambled over to the fresh corpse and then dropped down on it. While it was raised up, we saw faces of other dead people in its belly. Yikes!

I named it Herbert Zamboni – because we plan to come back with a monster charm spell and use it like a zamboni to clean out the hallways for us. Even this time around we used it to polish off dead bodies so that they wouldn't reanimate as zombies, which is something that seems to be happening in the Barrowmaze. After leaving the dungeon it occurred to me that it might actually BE the thing turning corpses into zombies. Like maybe it eats corpses and poops out zombies. We'll see.

Anyway, I liked the fact that this encounter was either a monster or a trap, depending on how you approached it. We could have tried to fight it or burn it, but instead we decided to trick it. (I only had 2 hit points, so you had better believe I wasn't going to try and fight this bugger.)

I drew a picture of Herbert later. At the last second I added some subtle/weird eyes. Or are they nipples? Or maybe both - eyples that lactate milky tears. Shrug.


Herbert Zamboni
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

10 Things in Pathfinder Second Edition I Like (and 1 I Don’t)

DM David - Tue, 09/03/2019 - 11:15

In 2008, Paizo sent designer Jason Buhlman to the Winter Fantasy convention to sample the upcoming fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons and report on the game. Paizo founder Lisa Stevens recalls the outcome. “From the moment that 4th Edition had been announced, we had trepidations about many of the changes we were hearing about. Jason’s report confirmed our fears—4th Edition didn’t look like the system we wanted to make products for. Whether a license for 4E was forthcoming or not, we were going to create our own game system based on the 3.5 System Reference Document: The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.” See The Unintended Consequence That Ruined Fourth Edition D&D’s Chance of Success, But Proved Great for Gamers.

While fourth edition featured a bold new design aimed at saving D&D, Pathfinder became an alternative that refined D&D’s 3.5 edition. For a time, sales of Pathfinder rivaled D&D. But after nearly 10 years, Pathfinder needed an update. So in August 2019, Paizo released a second edition. In a post, lead designer Jason Buhlman named the update’s number one goal: “Create a new edition of Pathfinder that’s much simpler to learn and play—a core system that’s easy to grasp but expandable—while remaining true to the spirit of what makes Pathfinder great: customization, flexibility of story, and rules that reward those who take the time to master them.” Even new, Pathfinder 2 offers more character options than fifth edition.

On reading the new rules and playing a short introduction, I can share 10 things I like in the new game, and 1 thing I don’t’.

1. “Ancestry” instead of “race.” In the The Hobbit, Tolkien calls hobbits a race, and started the custom of referring to elves, dwarves, and other fantastic kin to humans as races. But the term “race” has a common meaning different from the game meaning, which leads to confusion. Referring to even imaginary “races” as intrinsically talented, virtuous, or corrupt feels unsavory at best. “Species” makes a more accurate term, but its scientific flavor makes it jarring in fantasy. Pathfinder replaces “race” with the more agreeable term of “ancestry.” Unless Wizards of the Coast resists an innovation “not invented here,” expect to see “ancestry” in some future sixth edition.

2. Fewer action types. The Pathfinder team saw new players stumble over the original game’s zoo of swift, immediate, move, and standard actions. In a bid to simplify, this second edition consolidates the action types into a system that gives characters 3 actions and 1 reaction per turn. This means even new characters can attempt 3 attacks per turn, although the second strike suffers a -5 penalty and the third a -10 penalty. In practice, only more proficient attackers will land extra attacks. Most spells require 2 actions to cast. When I played a Pathfinder 2 demo, its simpler actions proved very playable, even elegant.

In a related refinement, Pathfinder adds clarity by calling a single attack a strike. This avoids the confusion that the D&D rules sometimes cause by using the same word for an attack and for an attack action that can include multiple attacks.

3. Animal companions level up. To many D&D players, animal companions offer a special appeal, but the game’s support for pets remains shaky. Pathfinder devotes an entire section to animal companions and familiars, showing pets the attention they deserve. Rather than keeping animal companions close to their natural abilities, pets improve in lockstep as characters level, making them capable of staying alive and relevant.

4. A manageable encumbrance system. D&D measures encumbrance by pound. While this system seems to add complicated bookkeeping, it proves simple in play because everyone ignores it. Pathfinder measures encumbrance by Bulk, a value representing an item’s size, weight, and general awkwardness. You can carry Bulk equal to 5 plus your strength bonus. Bulk streamlines encumbrance enough to make tracking playable. (Plus, the system charms the grognard in me by recalling a similar rule in Runequest (1978) that tracked encumbrance by “Things.”)

5. User-friendly books. Paizo devoted extra attention to making the core rulebook into an easy reference. For instance, the book includes bleed tabs, and I love them. These bleed tabs don’t show how to play a metal song on guitar; they make finding chapters easy. Unlike typical tabs that jut from the page, bleed tabs show as printed labels on the page that go to the edge and appear as bands of color. The book combines an index and glossary into a section that defines game terms, and also leads readers to pages containing more information. Every game rulebook should include these features.

6. Degrees of success. Roleplaying games often include core mechanics that determine degrees of success or failure, but D&D only offers one extra degree: a 5% chance of a critical on attack rolls. The Pathfinder 2 system delivers a critical success on a 20 and a critical failure on a 1. Also, a check that exceeds the DC by 10 or more brings a critical success and a check 10 or more less than the DC brings critical failure. Pathfinder avoids the punishing effects that make some fumble systems too swingy. For instance, a critical failure on a strike just counts as a miss. Sorry, no fumble tables that lead characters to put their eye out. Where natural, fumbles and criticals affect spell saves. For example, a successful save against Gust of Wind lets you stand your ground, and a critical save leaves you unaffected.

7. The Incapacitation trait of spells. Save-or-die spells have proved troublesome in high-level D&D play. Campaigns that build to an epic clash with a fearsome dragon instead end with the beast helpless in a force cage and stabbed to death in a dreary series of damage rolls. Pathfinder gives spells like Force Cage and Banishment the Incapacitation trait. Creatures twice or more the level of the spell typically need to fumble their save to fall under its effect. To me, this beats D&D’s solution to the same problem, legendary resistance.

8. Character customization without decision paralysis. Fourth edition D&D focused on offering players vast numbers of character options. Players uninterested in the solitary hobby of character tinkering soon found the options overwhelming. For my characters, I turned to the Internet to find character optimizers who sifted through countless options and helped me choose. Pathfinder aims to give players room for character customization without forcing a bewildering number of choices. The system works by presenting character options as feats. At each level, players make selections from small menus of feats. Even first level characters of the same class can play differently, and they grow more distinct as they advance.

9. Skill DCs replace passive checks. Pathfinder dispenses with passive perception and passive insight in favor of Skill DCs, “When someone or something tests your skill, they attempt a check against your skill DC, which is equal to 10 plus your skill modifiers.” Often skill DCs work just like passive abilities, like when a stealthy character attempts to beat someone’s perception score. In the most common use of skill DCs, a sneaking creature would roll against a character’s perception skill DC.

Without passive perception, a game master must roll secret perception checks to learn if exploring characters spot traps. Passive perception aims to eliminate such die rolls, but I consider rolls to find hidden traps useful. Without a roll, DMs just compare set DCs verses passive scores. DMs who know their players’ scores decide in advance what traps get found, with no luck of the roll to make the game surprising. Skill DCs also replace opposed ability checks—a second core mechanic with skewed odds that clutters the D&D rules.

10. Limited opportunity attacks. To encourage more movement in combat, Pathfinder 2 limits the characters and creatures capable of making opportunity attacks. At first level, only fighters start with the capability. Opportunity attacks mainly existed to help front-line characters protect the unarmored magic users in the back, but D&D and Pathfinder make once-fragile character types more robust now. Opportunity attacks make sense as a fighter specialty, especially if that encourages more dynamic battles.

That makes 10 things I like. What do I dislike?

Pathfinder 2 features a proficiency system that leads to the sort of double-digit bonuses that D&D players last saw in fourth edition.

In trained skills, every Pathfinder 2 character gets a bonus equal to at least 2 plus their level. This steady advance makes characters feel more capable as they level and rewards players with a sense of accomplishment as their characters improve. “The best part about proficiencies is the way they push the boundaries for non-magical characters, particularly those with a legendary rank,” writes designer Mark Seifter. “Masters and especially legends break all those rules. Want your fighter to leap 20 feet straight up and smash a chimera down to the ground? You can do that (eventually)!”

As in fourth edition, Pathfinder game masters can justify the sky-high DCs needed to challenge high-level characters by describing obstacles of legendary proportions. At first level, the rogue must climb a rough dungeon wall; by 20th level, she must climb a glass-smooth wall covered in wet slime—in an earthquake. At first level, you must negotiate with the mayor; by twentieth level, he’s king. And you killed his dog.

At least as often as fourth-edition dungeon masters flavored higher DCs as bigger challenges, they just paired routine challenges with higher numbers. That tendency leads to the downside of such steep increases in proficiency. In practice, characters usually just advance to face higher and higher numbers for the same challenges. In fourth edition, a steady rise in attack bonuses and armor classes meant that monsters only made suitable challenges for a narrow band of levels. This may also apply to Pathfinder 2.

I favor fifth edition’s bounded accuracy over the steep increases in proficiency bonuses featured in Pathfinder 2. For more, see Two Problems that Provoked Bounded Accuracy.

Aside from these 11 things, how does Pathfinder differ from its sibling Dungeons & Dragons?

Gamers often describe Pathfinder as more crunchy—more rules heavy—than fifth edition. After all, the core rulebook spans 638 pages! But that book includes content that D&D splits between the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, and those books include almost exactly the same number of pages. In some ways, Pathfinder proves simpler. For instance, its system actions and reactions simplifies D&D’s action types. Still, Pathfinder devotes more crunch to describing outcomes and conditions. For example, in D&D, characters make a Strength (Athletics) check to climb, but the DM gets no help determining the outcome of a failure. Pathfinder describes outcomes: A climb failure stops movement; a critical failure leads to a fall. D&D describes 14 conditions; Pathfinder describes 42.

Without playing more Pathfinder 2, I feel unready to label this post as a review. Nonetheless, I like most of what I see and I’m eager to play the game more.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Some thoughts on Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax Part II

Bat in the Attic - Mon, 09/02/2019 - 22:52
This is the second in my series post about the legacy of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax.

 

I consider myself informed on the legacy of the two men and the history of DnD and tabletop roleplaying. There are other that have spent far more time, and money on the subject than I. Sharing what they learned in formal films and books.

However for each of us to come to our own conclusion on the topic we need a path to get there. The sources I have used were the following

Playing at the World by Jon Peterson
The Hawk and Moor series by Kent David Kelly
The First Fantasy Campaign by Dave Arneson and the Judges Guild Staff
Dave Arneson's True Genius by Rob Kuntz

Gygax Q and A series on various Forums
Dragonsfoot
Enworld

The TSR Q and A series on Dragonsfoot

Old school forums such as
The Comeback Inn
The ODnD discussion forum.
Knights and Knaves

Recently there an another new source of information the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary which I haven't gotten completely through yet.

Browsing through the above when you have the time and interest will lead you to other sources that I haven't mentioned.

The reason I haven't given you my opinion yet is that throughout the recent round of discussion there are lot of editorializing and opinion given but nobody is explaining how you can form your own opinion. Especially in a way that is compatible with the time and budget you have for a hobby. Everything that list except for the First Fantasy Campaign should be readily accessible to anybody reading this. You don't have to digest it all at once. Just read (or watch) through what you can when you can.

Eventually you get to a point where you have your own answer to the questions I posted in Part 1.

And no I am not going to make you wait for a Part III for my answer.

So what does Rob think?

  • Would have Dungeons & Dragons be written without Dave's help or Dave running the Lake Geneva session?

My conclusion is no. In the absence of that session happening in Lake Geneva maybe Gygax would have followed up man to man section of chainmail with a Metagaming Melee type wargame or some other type of wargame that had the players playing individual characters (like Gladiators). But it is Dave Arneson who the first to put all the element that we know as tabletop roleplaying. And more important did the work to figure out how to make it fun and interesting.


  • What was involved in developing the idea of a tabletop roleplaying campaign in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign.

Blackmoor started out as a miniature wargame campaign. Not a traditional one where the players were in essence the armies on board. In Blackmoor, like in the various Braunsteins being run, the players played the actual commanders and other important characters. Not just the good guys but the baddies as well. 
Dave's role was that of a neutral arbiter. He created the setting, drew up the rules to resolve battle, logistics, and prices list. Within those constraints the players were free to do anything that they would as if they were there. In short a wargame campaign but a very sophiscated one.
What turned Blackmoor into the first tabletop roleplaying was Dave's willingness to say yes. When Peter Gaylord wanted to play a wizard, he said yes. When Dave Fant figured out how to transform into a vampire, he said yes. And so forth and so on. Week by week the focus of the Blackmoor campaign shifted from a struggle between good guys versus bad guys to the individual exploits of the players as their characters.

My opinion that it is the introduction of Blackmoor dungeons the defines the clear line between two phases of the campaign. Prior the dungeon Blackmoor was mostly a wargame campaign, afterwards it was mostly about the exploits of the individual characters.

The reason I picked the dungeons, because the First Fantasy Fantasy campaign and other anecdotes clearly state that the good guys players were punished with exile because they lost Castle Blackmoor to the baddies by spending too much time exploring the dungeon. Instead of learning their lesson when they arrived at Lake Gloomy they went off to explore new dungeons.

I know my statement makes it sound like a AHA! moment. But I can't stress enough that this developed over weeks and months. With Dave and his players constantly trying things out.

When Dave goes down to Lake Geneva to run that fateful adventure. He has nearly two years of running Blackmoor under his belt. The same amount of time Gygax used from the writing his first manuscript and running the Greyhawk campaign, to the publication of Dungeons & Dragons.

Also keep in mind as Gygax ran Greyhawk, Dave continued to run Blackmoor that the two corresponded frequently.


  • What would have happened to Dave Arneson innovations if Gygax never had written Dungeons & Dragons?

So here the thing, Dave does not have a lot of published works to his name. Nearly all of the anecdotes paints Dave as a genius at running campaigns, making wargames.  But shined when it was face to face not words on paper. But Gary Gygax was able to see a project through publications and did so a number of time prior and after Dungeons & Dragons.

So what would have happened if Gygax never had written Dungeons & Dragons. We would have seen Megarry's Dungeon boardgame at some point. We would also probably seen wargames where the players played individual characters. Probably something like GDW's Engarde, the first Boot Hill, or the later Metagaming's Melee and Wizard by Steve Jackson. We would have probably seen some Braunstein scenarios published.

But without that Lake Geneva session run by Dave inspiring Gygax, we would have not have tabletop roleplaying. When I read through First Fantasy Campaign and the various accounts, I notices there is a lot of focus on the wargame side of the campaign. In terms of rules, scenarios, the miniatures, and the props being made.

But because Dave had to travel to Lake Geneva, he couldn't bring all that so brought the part of the campaign that was easier to transport (and popular in its own right) the dungeons. Hence Gygax was inspired to run his own dungeon campaign, Greyhawk.

My opinion that the dungeon was the perfect setting to convey how different this game was. Compared to other type of adventure locales, the dungeon is clearly focused on players acting as individual characters. In this case exploring the monster filled maze.

Gygax contribution to the development of tabletop roleplaying was to take what Dave did and figure out to make it work for himself. Then write it in a way that was understandable for everybody else to learn for themselves.

In my view that was as an impressive feat as Dave developing the concept of tabletop roleplaying. Is why I view that there is no path to what we have as a hobby and industry that doesn't run through the two of them.

Wrapping it up
There are people who wrote whole books about the subject (and filmed documentaries to boot). I can't encompass all that into two post. What I can do is outline for you the path I took to reach the basic conclusions I reached above. Hope this help.

In the meantime
Fight On!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mothshade Concepts Patreon

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Mon, 09/02/2019 - 20:29
Now that there is a Patreon for the Avremier project, this blog will no longer contain much Avremier content. Changes are nigh. Worlds are shifting. There is no slowing down.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Island of Blight

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 09/02/2019 - 11:15
By Thom Wilson Throwi Games 1e/5e Levels 3-5

The Red Priests of the Snake God suffered a crushing blow to their plans when they failed to take the small town of Thuil. Reeling from their defeat, they have returned to the deep jungles of Nolgur-Wul to regroup. The human villages outside the jungles know that it is only a matter of time before the Red Priests and their minions return. Now is the time to take the fight to them, deep within the jungles! The characters are urged to delve into the depths of Nolgur-Wul to track the Red Priests back to their clandestine temple where it is said a serpent queen, maiden of the Snake God himself, leads the growing cult. On the trail of the fleeing Red Priests, the adventurers find that a mysterious blight has recently begun to destroy the western jungles, villages, and all life within. What starts as a quick investigation becomes an unusual and deadly puzzle. More importantly, is this blight the Snake God’s doing or something completely separate?

This 28 page adventure describes a little overland journey and about forty indoor locations in three locations on a small island. Generic writing, generalized abstractions. In short: it’s boring.

Ok, so, there’s a bunch of vegetation dying in an ever increasing area. You find some abandoned villages, maybe. You find an island with some ruined buildings on it. There’s a bunch of notes and zombies scattered around. In the basement in a machine that’s generating the blight and the notes, deciphered correctly, help you set the levers to turn it off.

It’s got some monsters reference sheets. It’s got some cross-references. Ultimately though it’s boring. There’s a kind of generalized abstractaction that ribs the adventure of anything interesting. Instead, there’s an emphasis on history and explaining why the way things are. “This rock is here because someone kicked it down the stairs three hundred years ago.” That sort of thing does not create interesting play opportunities. That sort of thing does not inspire the DM to run a fantastic room or encounter. It’s boring.

“Wonderfully decorated doors lead to areas B8 and B10”, the text tells us. The second part is clearly just telling us what we can see from the map. The first part “wonderfully decorated” is a great example of that abstraction. It’s a conclusion someone might draw rather than what someone might observe. This is TELLING instead of SHOWING. Lapis & amber inlaid bronze doors with minurettes and palms … that’s showing instead of telling. That text inspires the DM and then leverages the DM to add more while the previous text instead burdens the DM to come up with it all from scratch. 

The text must inspire the DM, that’s what I generally mean when I’m talking about evocative text. Text that shows instead of tells. Text that enables the DM to add more rather than requires them to add more.

On top of this the text is padded out with trivia. A secret door is easy to find because it was left partially open when some residents of the temple fled from a blah blah blah. Or, “This escape passage provided Kahleemar with a way to leave his bedchamber quickly or hide from unwanted visitors. The escape tunnel is completely dark” Well that’s all fucking great. By which of course I mean, completely useless at a gaming table. There’s no furniture because cultists stole it. A rich and deep history of a location is not the same as a location that’s evocative, interactive, and easy to use. It’s maddening to see all of the trivia included while being faced with the abstracted descriptions. 

And then the monsters and other important facts are buried deep in room text. First things first: it’s there’s a giant flaming eye of sauron (lower case) in the middle of the fucking room then fucking lead with that in your description. THATS what is going to stand out. Burying it in the second paragraph is dumb. “Oh, uh, sorry gang, there’s actually a giant flaming sauron eye in the room” or a long pregnant pause while you read three paragraphs of room text in order to give a description to the players? Neither you say? Damn fucking right. Obvious things should come first. 

Oh, I could go on and on. Maybe five or six thousand in treasure for a 1e adventure at levels 3-5? This is a do-gooder adventure, light on treasure. The villages you find along the way are boring abstractions. There are lots and lots and LOTS of notes lying around fr the party to find, in order to solve the final puzzle. The titular blighted island has three primary exploration areas on it … and the main one comes before the two minor ones. There’s not real explanation of the slight spread or “the blight line”, crossing over it, etc. Just a note, buried in a later sidebar, on how to apply disease rolls. 

JABA – Just ANother Boring Adventure.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview iw four pages. It shows you four pages of a monster reference sheet. This is a bad preview. Show us some room encounters for Vecna’s sake so we know the quality of the writing we’re fucking buying!


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/259774/Island-of-Blight–TG2202?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

City At the Center

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 09/02/2019 - 11:00

Reading Grimjack for our comics podcast and a friend's work on a vaguely Rifts-like superhero setting, got me thinking about a sort of gonzo cross-genre setting for 5e. I'd freely draw from things like Planescape, Eberron, and a host of genres like cyberpunk and sci-fi, and whatever I decided to borrow from things like the Marvel Micronauts series, TORG, Mayfair's Demons, and Rolemaster's Dark Space. There would a gigantic ring megapolis in the center of the multiverse, part Sigil, part Ringworld.

The "standard" D&D races would represent various alternate universe hominids, so one could play a dwarf from a standard D&D world, one from a more technological background, a Steampunk world, or what have you. Warforged would probably be living robots of some sort.

Jean Pierre Targete

Strategic Review 102 Summer 1975

The Viridian Scroll - Sat, 08/31/2019 - 23:24


Contents:
  • Expanded to 8 pages 
  • An opening memorium to Don Kaye
  • Editorial from Brian Blume to assure everyone that TSR is not in it for the money 
  • Survey for the Strategists Club awards banquet 
  • Cavaliers and Roundheads rules additions
  • News from around the Wargaming World
  • Q&A about D&D rules
  • New Ranger class
  • Creature Feature: the Roper
  • A treatise on Medieval Pole Arms (as promised)
  • Additional unit organizations for Panzer Warfare
  • Ads for Origins I (Baltimore, MD), Gen Con VIII, a game by TSR called War of Wizards, and the Tactical Studies Rules catalog: Cavaliers and Roundheads, D&D, Greyhawk, Tricolor, Warriors of Mars, Star Probe, Chainmail, Tractics, Panzer Warfare, Boot Hill, Classic Warfare, dice and miniatures

Items of  Interest:
The loss of lifelong friend Don Kaye was a huge blow for Gary, just as the business is really taking off. Gary and Don needed capitol to start TSR and Brian Blume bought in for 2k, each partner owning a third of the company. Don was fairly reluctant to partner with Blume at first. Don died of a heart attack shortly before a surgery scheduled to correct it, and his third of the business went to his wife. She didn't want to have anything to do with it, so Brian persuaded his father to buy out Don's share, making the Blumes a 2/3 controlling interest in TSR. This would cause problems later.

One account I read said that Don worked on Boot Hill before he died, but credit on the 1st edition is reserved for Blume and Gygax.
The Wargaming World news is varied but mentions an early zine by Flying Buffalo and the ongoing shift in wargames to sword & sorcery and science fiction themes. 
The D&D Q&A is probably the most valuable and interesting part of this circular. It opens with an explanation that Chainmail is for large-scale battles (1:20) and that the "alternate system in D & D be used to resolve the important melees where principal figures are concerned." It then goes on to say: 
When fantastic combat is taking place there is normally only one exchange of attacks per round, and unless the rules state otherwise, a six-sided die is used to determine how many hit points damage is sustained when an attack succeeds. Weapon type is not considered, save where magical weapons are concerned. A super hero, for example, would attack eight times only if he were fighting normal men (or creatures basically that strength, i.e., kobolds, goblins, gnomes, dwarves, and so on).Considerations such as weapon-type, damage by weapon-type, and damage by monster attack tables appear in the first booklet to be added to the D & D series -- SUPPLEMENT I, GREYHAWK, which should be available about the time this publication is, or shortly thereafter.Initiative is always checked. Surprise naturally allows first attack in many cases. Initiative thereafter is simply a matter of rolling two dice (assuming that is the number of combatants) with the higher score gaining first attack that round. Dice scores are adjusted for dexterity and so on.
After this is an example combat between a single hero and a bunch of orcs, who swarm the hero and try to grapple him! Two hit, but when they roll the grapple check the hero shrugs them off. There are lots of little interesting notes, like how many orcs can attack at a time and that the one who attack from behind get +2.

How to do saves and morale for monsters is clarified. Experience for magic items discussed. And the fire-and-forget spell system is rehashed, noting that wizards can only cast a memorized spell once but can memorize the same spell multiple times.

The most important thing here is to see what parts of the rather fuzzy rules set confused people the most (or mattered to them the most).

The Roper and Ranger are cool additions. Oddly enough the illustration above the roper is a dragon and purple worm. Huh. I would think a roper would be pretty easy to draw – easier than a dragon anyway. Joe Fischer, a name you see a lot in early Dragon articles, wrote up the ranger. The emphasis is on traveling light and operating alone at low levels; they can only own what they carry, can't hire men at arms or servants, and can't work with more than one other ranger. They do, however, get tracking and some followers and spells at later levels. The followers table opens up the idea of unusual companions (e.g. lawful werebear, pegasus, hill giant, etc.).

The Pole Arm article is about as tedious as expected. Stats and special notes are given for 12 different pole arms. Several others are mentioned as variants.

In TSR news we find out that price of dice is rising!
Finally, be prepared for an increase in the price of multi-sided dice sets. The volume of business we do in dice is increasing, and what has been carried as an accommodation has reached the point where it is barely breaking even; then the manufacturer upped our price by some 35%. The cost will go to $2.50/set immediately.
According to an inflation calculator, that's about $12.10 in 2019. So it was fairly high; given that you can buy a basic set of dice for around $9 or less.

I wondered if War of Wizards was any good. The advertisement promised $5 pre-release rules sets for a game that would cost at least $7 on release. Heading off to Boardgamegeek, I found some pictures and discovered that it was written by M.A.R. Barker of Empire of the Petal Throne fame. Players over at the geek rated the game a measly 4.7. The games counters (cardboard chits) are horrendously bland, but everything else looks pretty good. The battle takes place on a 20-space track, and there are 71 different spells to choose from. There were two editions published back in the day, '77 ad '79. And Tita's House of Games published an edition in 1999. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Descent into Mirefen

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 08/31/2019 - 11:15
By William Murakami-Brundage Menagerie Press 5e Levels 5-7

Within Mirefen’s bog is a ruined temple. This edifice is now home to a tribe of toad folk, who have defiled the holy site with strange effigies to their squat, bestial gods. Can the adventurers wrest magic and treasure from the swamp?

This 44 page adventure details a not-bullywug tribe in some swamp ruins and is a kind of base assault on a 35-ish room area. They’ve got a magic gem and someone with ill-intent wants it. The intent, outline, and framing of this are good with the execution sucking. The usual poor read-aloud and trivia DM text is to blame. There are some nits also but, this ain’t no railroad. 

Toak people in a swamp live in some ruins. In the ruins is also a magic gem that they like a lot. In town you meet a drunk guy in a bar who is supposed to guide a diplomatic mission to the toad-people pretty soon, when the mission arrives in a day or so. The mission wants to bring the toad-people under their allied umbrella and get the gem. Their from a god of strength and war, all Might Makes Right. The guide is LE and it’s pretty strongly implied the mission is also. It’s all “no hesitation in destroying people who disrespect them”, as well as the tribe etc.

The tone is interesting for 5e. Usually it’ raving maniacal evil cultists and the like. You can negotiate with the drunk guy and join up with the mission. And while they have evil alignment it’s not really displayed much more than any PC party would be. “Yeah, we’re going to these ruins full of bullwugs to get a magic gem … they better not try and stop us.” It’s a much better approach and it open up the adventure to a lot more possibilities.

And that’s what I mean by the framing, outline, and intent of the adventure. It takes a more neutral approach to the design. That drunk guy? The LE guide? You can pickpocket him. You can break in to his room at night. You can join up with him, either for realisies or as a deception. The high paladin that leads the mission? Essentially the same thing. She’ll bring the party along as she negotiates … and potentially slaughters, the toad people. And they might even be good allies that don’t backstab the party if the bullywugs ambush the mission. Or you can try and beat the mission to the ruins. And then you could try and fool the toad-people. Open. Ended. It is SO much more fucking refreshing to see an adventure written this way. There are suggestions on how to handle common things that might happen, the various situations, and that’s exactly what an adventure should do: support the DM

So, an adventure written in an open-ended way that doesn’t force the party down a narrow path. Great! There’s even a kind of reaction matrix for the village on what they do when folks attack.

There could be another table, I think, noting day/night cycle movements and so on, to help support a stakeout and stealth mission, but I’ll take what I can.

On the downside, well, there’s a lot. 

Most importantly, the designer doesn’t know how to write an encounter decently. Read-aloud, while generally the correct length (thank Vecna …) is the same boring generic stuff that appears in every adventure. It’s not evocative at all. Although, interesting enough, each major area (the swamp, the ruins, the dungeon) has a little section that describes conditions and those ARE evocative. Rank sweat, herbal smoke and old ale. Yum!

DM text also has the usual issues. It’s conversational, writing in a style that is more at home in a novelization (without the purple prose) then it is to what the DM text should be: a reference document. As always, this makes scanning for information hard.  There’s also a substantial number of suggested skill checks that are essentially meaningless to the adventure. “Make a DC 15 to figure out this meaningless trivia!” 

I might note also that I mentioned a base assault in the intro paragraph. There’s not much weird in this, or things to play with, but there is a lot of combat. It’s not entirely devoid of more interesting options, there’s an alter here or there, but it generally restricts itself to “boring old base” more than crumbling ruins to explore and get in trouble with. Of course, stealth, combat, and talking to the toad-people are all included, but some other things would have been good idea. In particular, a more complex map, for better sneaking/pushing ruins over on people.

The “evil” mission is also a little generic. The members don’t really ge personalities or quirks at all. A few of those, even if just for the leadership, would have made a roleplay with them as allies more interesting. Imagine hooking up with them in town and watching their movements. That’s all for the DM. 

 And it’s gone ape-fucking shit with the name. Sha Halthas, Mirefen, Shigguk village, Dhrnu alliance, Dannt and Besharas. At least it not that 20-sylabyl Forgotten Realms shit or Venger’s can’t-hav’e-to’o-man’y-apostriphe’s. Seriously, make the adventure approachable. 

Finally, just some weird shit left out. The starting town is known for its fine almost-magical horsies that they sell. But there are no horsie details. Uncool dude. There’s also a potential wandering encounter with a black dragon, flying overhead and not fucking with the party unless they fuck with it. My OSR mind immediatly went to “Fuck that magic gem. Let’s follow it to the lair! Dragon Hoard!” Ok, so that last one is not really related to the adventure. 

If the designer can get their writing game pumped up then maybe future projects will be worthwhile. It’s gonna take a lot of a delete key, though, and some agonzining writing.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. Good try, but it doesn’t actually show you any of the encounter writing. A decent preview should show some of that. The ninth page does show some of that “atmosphere” text block that I think is a little better than most of the writing.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/281980/Descent-into-Mirefen?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Strategic Review 101 Spring 1975

The Viridian Scroll - Sat, 08/31/2019 - 03:57


This TSR house engine began as a six-page, two-column circular with clean, sans-serif fonts. Printed before the Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements, it provides an interesting look at D&D in diapers.

Contents included:
  • News – primarily plans for future publications 
  • A "Creature Feature" in which the Mind Flayer made its first appearance
  • A summary of changes to the new printing of Tractics
  • A discussion of spears in Chainmail, which ends in a promise to really do pole-arms justice in the future (which had me snickering, knowing just how much space they got in AD&D)
  • Two and a half pages on "Solo Dungeon Adventures" 
This last article and largest feature of SR101 was penned by Gary Gygax, with thanks to George A. Lord and play testing credit to Rob Kuntz and Ernie Gygax. Most of the three pages consisted of random dungeon generation tables that would later appear in the AD&D DMG, roughly three years later.

Some of my own earliest solo explorations used these tables and I found them to be quite workable. I was using the DMG versions, but I may have to give these precursors a whirl.

One thing I have to say, I love the look of this zine. I wish that Dragon had adopted some of the same no-nonsense styling. But I realize I may be in the minority in that wish.

Look for more of these posts as I continue my forensics into early D&D. It's, quite frankly, fascinating to see the ideas come together.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Some thoughts on Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson Part I

Bat in the Attic - Fri, 08/30/2019 - 17:04
A recent article that was published has ignited discussion, some heated, about the legacy of Dave Arneson relative to Gary Gygax. I have my opinions which I will explain in part 2. But the process I went through involved me answering three questions for myself.

  • Would have Dungeons & Dragons be written without Dave's help or Dave running the Lake Geneva session?
  • What was involved in developing the idea of a tabletop roleplaying campaign in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign.
  • What would have happened to Dave Arneson innovations if Gygax never had written Dungeons & Dragons?


Link to Part IIIn other news
Sorry for the light blogging this month. The time I have for this was mostly consumed by two major projects. Drawing maps for Gabor Lux's upcoming Castle Xyntillan, and the Wilderlands of the Fantastic Reaches. I am happy to say that the guidebooks are going through the print approval process. So release should be in two to three weeks.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mail Call!

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 08/30/2019 - 12:24
I got several gaming related packages this week. The biggest was probably the chairs I have been waiting on for a nearly a year from Table of Ultimate Gaming to go with our sweet gaming table. The other two were the first in the series of Dungeons & Dragons cartoon character statues, Shelia the Thief:


The other was the physical copy of Aquelarre (which I had forgotten I had gotten from the Kickstarter!)


Great stuff!

Kickstarter Update

Two Hour Wargames - Thu, 08/29/2019 - 23:56
Spoke to the printer today. He said he will send me completed games next week or week after. Cards, counters, game board and boxes.
This means I will have completed game components in my hands ready to go to fulfill the Kickstarter. No excuses for not full filling the order on time. 

On time...what a concept!

More coming soon.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Philippe Druillet Is a Genius

The Viridian Scroll - Thu, 08/29/2019 - 19:35
TLDR: Druillet's Lone Sloan is all about the drawings, and the drawings are INCREDIBLE.

This isn't really RPG related, and yet it seems like something I want to talk about in this space.





Let me talk about the story first. An interstellar rogue is approached by some red priests to rip off the emperor of a pleasure planet. It gets messy. Despite all the high action, the story is a bit plodding at times, but by the end it all kind of comes together in something pretty cool. And, honestly, it read like an RPG session!





The drawings have that kind of greebly-vastness that only certain artists can pull off. Every panel is packed with squiggly details that suggest as much as delineate, but are nonetheless exact in their own way. Not just noise in the same way that the best punk music or stoner rock isn't just noise.





The panel layouts are incredible. They have a kaleidoscopic symmetry that reminds me of the work of Joseph Stella.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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