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RPGs, science fiction, fantasy, gadgets, and anything else that comes up.Daniel Stacknoreply@blogger.comBlogger478125
Updated: 5 hours 49 min ago

What's Shiny? September 2017 Edition

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 02:21


Continuing the occasional series of shiny stuff that is capable of distracting me...

The fortunate thing is there's a new edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea that just came out. It's good when the shiny is actually what you are currently playing - and that it's backwards compatible.

We're going to be down to just three of us for a few games in late-September early-October so we might be doing a standalone adventure/two-parter. I've been giving some serious consideration to Cthulhu Dark as I'm curious how we'll find the extremely lean rules system.

I've been doing a lot of espionage viewing and reading over the past month or so. It's resulted in me flipping through Top Secret a lot - though I am finding the hand to hand combat rules a bit tough on the brain. I've also been thinking about Cthulhu and company in such a setting. There's a bunch of games and/or supplements designed just for that... I've been rereading Charles Stross's Laundry Files series, about a secret British spy agency dedicated to protecting the Earth from eldritch abominations - all while making certain they stay ISO 9001 certified. The novels have a dark humor to them, one Cubicle 7's RPG preserves. Getting a little (a lot) grittier, we have the Delta Green RPG. And finally I can think of the World War Cthulhu: Cold War RPG supplements from Cubicle 7.

Getting away from tentacles for a while, with a new Star Wars movie perpetually on the horizon, there is the eternal distraction of doing a Star Wars game... It's been a while since I thought about a Star Trek game, but with a new RPG just out and a new show about to begin...


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

First Impressions of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd Edition

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 01:50


I just received my backer PDF for the 2nd edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Often when a backer PDF is released I'm playing something else so sometimes it may take days or even weeks until I get around to downloading it. Since I'm actually GM-ing an AS&SH campaign currently, I actually downloaded it right away.

I've given the original version of the game a review as well as a more recent actual play impressions. This isn't a full review of the new edition - I've only had time for a quick skim. But from that skim it's worth noting that the game hasn't changed - there's some rearrangement here and there, some tweaks, and a bunch of additions. So it's important to note that my earlier reviews are still very much applicable. Indeed, unlike many games, the fact that this is a new edition isn't even advertised on the cover. This reminds me of the way revisions to the D&D Basic and Expert sets were released in the 1980s - new cover art, new contents, but no big banner proclaiming a new edition.

So what's changed? There's new art - a new cover and some full-color art at the start of each of the six "volumes" within the PDF. There's additionally a lot of new art, art which co-exists with the original art which reappears in this new edition. All of the classes are from the original edition are still here. Additionally, there are four new classes - a new subclass for each of the four main classes. The new classes are:

  • Huntsman - a fighter subclass, a wilderness warrior and hunter
  • Cyromancer - a magician subclass, specializing in ice magic (Fafhrd, your mom is looking for you...)
  • Runegraver - a cleric subclass who specializes in rune magic. This magic requires the expenditure of caster hit points to cast which seems in keeping with some of the sacrifices found in Norse mythology.
  • Purloiner - a thief subclass with some priestly abilities. Often serves the god of thieves...
A quick scan of the spell lists shows it has been expanded somewhat with new spells. The adventuring section looks pretty much unchanged from a quick scan.
As before, the referee's section covers monsters, magic items, and details of the world. The monsters section has some additions from the 1st edition as does the section on magic items. It's still the same world, though one addition I really appreciated was a series of random tables for generating weather. In a world with winters lasting for years (and dominated by a year of eternal darkness), weather is more than a background detail in Hyperborea and these tables (complete with game effects of certain weather conditions) make for a great addition. There is also an appendix with a starting village and nearby dungeon location.
In addition to the rulebook there is a PDF of a new color map of the setting - it's the same geography as the original map but much prettier.
It's worth noting that as a while the game looks much nicer. I found the layout enhanced in such a way to make for overall easier reading. The new art nicely complements the art from the 1st edition - and both styles of art evokes the setting - from elder things to laser-wielding zombies to orcs Atlantean spacemen. 
If you've the 1st edition, do you need to upgrade? Probably not. For the most part, the upgrade reminds me of the changes you'd find when going form one edition of Call of Cthulhu to another (though the 7th did make for a fairly major change, though even there backward compatibility was maintained). If you enjoy the game I think you'd like the improvements and would be happy you upgraded. If you don't like the game, I can't imagine any of the minor tweaks would change your mind. If you're curious about the game then the 2nd edition is a great starting point - there's no metaplot which has been advanced some years - it's the same setting as before. And as before, it's really well equipped for the insertion of most old school adventures you could think of, albeit with a tweak here and there for more of a swords and sorcery feel. 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Film Review: The Falcon and the Snowman

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 01:53

I was discussing grittier spy movies with a member of my gaming group and this film was recommended to me. It's one of those movies that I have a vague recollection of - it might be from hearing the basics of the events this film is based on or it might be from catching it on television. Released in 1985 it is based on events that happened in the 1970s (which is when it takes place).

Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn play Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee, young adults who have a friendship going back to childhood back when they were altar boys together. Boyce has just dropped out of the seminary and his father gets him a job at RTX, a government contractor. Despite having only a high school diploma, Boyce is very bright and does well at the company - and having an ex-FBI guy as father helps. He eventually gets assigned to the "Black Vault" stores top secret documents and receives secret transmissions. Boyce becomes very disillusioned as CIA teletype transmissions are occasionally erroneously sent to RTX and he learns of plots against foreign governments.

Daulton Lee is a drug smuggler, often brining drugs across the border from Mexico. He is extremely high strung, something which his growing dependency on cocaine and later heroin does not help with. Boyce, wanting to take some action against the CIA, enlists Lee's help, having him sell the information he has access to at RTX's Black Vault to the Soviet Union. Lee does this via the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City.

The film is an extremely engaging experience. It is not an action packed thriller. Boyce and Lee are kids from wealthy family who get in way over their heads. Lee is the only contact the Soviets have, Boyce not dealing with them directly. Their Soviet handler, Alex, is expertly played by David Suchet. He doesn't make appeals to doing the right thing, he doesn't praise communism or demonize the United States - he's a very practical man. It's a business transaction to him. But when he finally meets Boyce, Boyce is at the point he wants out. Boyce complains that he's not a professional, something Alex rebukes, telling him they became professionals the instant they took money in return for secrets.

We also see some exercises in tradecraft, something Lee is no good at all, sometimes messing up the signal for a meeting, frequently breaking protocol and going directly to the Soviet embassy. Alex and the embassy staff grow to quickly despise Lee.

Hutton and Penn give stellar performances. Hutton plays Boyce as a young American man who has brains, good looks, who seems to have everything going for him - despite his inability to really get his life going after high school. I greatly disliked Penn's Lee, but in a good way - I feel I was supposed to dislike him. He can't keep his mouth shut, jokes at parties that he's selling secrets to the KGB. He's extremely high strung with an elevated sense of his own performance.

It seems amazing that the pair would be motivated to sell secrets to the USSR - Boyce's frustration with the CIA and government is absolutely understandable, but he takes one hell of a leap to begin selling secrets. Not that is isn't believable in the context of the film - the film really sells the idea that the two made this decision - and it brutally shows the consequences of selling out your country.

From a gaming perspective, it gives a great view on the types of people who might sell out their country. From that perspective, the most sympathetic character is Alex, presented as a professional who wants to do his job but is forced having to deal with the high-strung and unreliable Lee.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Reflections on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:23


A few weeks ago, my older daughter Victoria and I paid a brief visit to Manhattan. Vicki's been giving some thought to going to New York's Fashion Institute of Technology (still a few years to go for that) but one thing we wanted to make certain of was that she'd be comfortable with the city itself - she'd only been there once before, and that almost ten years ago.

Overall it was a great trip. She fell in love with the city. I got to meet someone from my virtual gaming group for coffee - it's always nice to really meet with people I initially get to know via email, social media, and webcams. I'm looking forward to meeting a number of people next June at North Texas RPG Con.

One thing I wanted to make certain we did was spend some time at the World Trade Center. For Vicki  (and her younger sister, Jasmine, who chose to stay home in Massachusetts with mom), 9/11 will always be a matter of history. We first found out Vicki was on the way on the Saturday after 9/11.

I'm not going to make the offensive claim that 9/11 hit me harder than other people - thankfully I lost no one I knew on that awful day. But like pretty much every American who was old enough to be aware as to what was going on, it was a horrible day. I'm originally from New York City and my grandfather had taken me to the World Trade Center countless times. As I grew older I learned he didn't particularly care for the Twin Towers, an attitude shared by old timer New Yorkers. He loved the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building. But he loved his grandchildren. The last time he took me there I was around 15 and he tried to get me up to the observatory as 12 and under for a reduced rate - one of the more humiliating moments of my youth now that I think of it.


The memorial itself is beautiful and painful - a pair of wounds where the Twin Towers used to be with the names of all the victims. On a victim's birthday, a white rose is placed next to his or her name. Looking up, one can see the new One World Trade Center. It really drove home to Vicki what was once there as I asked her to picture the two pools both rising nearly as high as 1 WTC.







The 9/11 Museum was another experience. It is located primarily under the Memorial, with remnants of the Twin Towers visible such as the "bathtub" walls. It memorializes those who died and the first responders. It brings back memories of that day, with news footage, people describing how they learned, etc. 






 There was also much to celebrate the Twin Towers - their construction, the "man on a wire" incident - Philippe Petit's tightrope crossing. I talked with a volunteer who told me how he witnessed it on just a normal workday, seeing Petit going back and forth. We got a laugh at my grandfather's proud disdain of the towers. Had he lived to 9/11, he'd've nevertheless been crushed to see them destroyed with so many innocent lives taken with them - they might have been in his view ugly towers, but they were his (and other New Yorkers') ugly towers.

There was also some beautiful, haunting, and horrifying artwork - most of it being all three at once. For whatever reason, Ejay Weiss's images of the sky through the towers stuck with me the most. The weather here near Boston was similar to that of New York City on September 11, 2001 - a beautiful day with a gorgeous blue sky.


It was a difficult trip for both of us. For me, it was a way to remember what was lost. For Vicki, it made it real for her in a way that all the school assemblies and videos never could.

Reading what I wrote, I see I focus a lot on both beauty and pain - which seems apt for the experience. The 9/11 attacks were horrible - 2,977 people were murdered that day by 19 terrorists who turned commercial airplanes into weapons. Many more were injured. In the years that followed, thousands fell victim to 9/11 related sicknesses, some fatally so. It's hard to find anything good from that day. But I think of people who when they saw burning buildings, chose to run into them in the hopes of saving people. I think of the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 who denied the terrorists a complete victory, with the plane crashing far short of its objective. On balance though, I'm still struck by what a horror that day was, with so many whose lives were cut tragically short.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Writeup: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh Part One

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 22:56


Based on the TSR adventure of the same name written by Dave J. Browne and Don Turnbull. Tweaked to fit in the Hyperborean setting.

Year 576 (Tempest), Month II, Day 26
Cast of characters:


  • Aaron Cèampach, Kelt Warlock
  • Hoom Feethos, Hyberbrean Thief
  • Morrow, Pict Druid
  • Saratos Ochôziakos, Ixian Fighter
  • Sarukê thugatêrOchôziakos, Ixian Witch
  • William "Billy" Welsh - Common Human Pyromancer
Henchmen hired by Saratos and Sarukê:
  • Tai, Medium Infantryman
  • Zell, Heavy Infantryman

Zell told his employers about the legend of a haunted house near his hometown of Saltmarsh, a fishing town located about.a day's sail from Kromarium. There might even be a reward from the town council.

Seeking adventure, the band traveled to Saltmarsh, a moderately sized town of approximately 2,000. To quote the original adventure...


Four miles east of Saltmarsh, just inland of the old coast road and looking out to sea, stands the Haunted House. Until twenty years ago it had been the residence of an aged alchemist/magician of sinister reputation, and even then had been shunned by reason of its owner's mysterious occupations. Now, two decades after the sudden and unexplained disappearance of its occupant, the house has acquired an even greater air of evil and mystery with the passing years.  Dilapidated and now long-abandoned, the house presents an unwholesome appearance to the eye. Those hardy souls who have on infrequent occasion sought entry to it (for rumours of a secret hoard of alchemical gold have persisted since the old man's disappearance) have all returned with naught save grim tales of decay presided over by monstrous perils. In more recent years there have been reports of fearsome hauntings —ghastly shrieks and eerie lights emanating from within the dismal place. Now not even the bravest dare so much as to approach the house, leave alone enter it. Indeed, such is the reputation of the house that the fields around it, though prime agricultural land, remain untended and rank with weeds.Some discussion with locals revealed a would-be adventurer who briefly visited it, going so far as the back door and kitchen/scullery area. However, noises frightened him away. The town council wasn't quite willing to give a reward for exploring the house, but they were willing to let the adventurers keep the house should they clear it of any menace (though it was clearly a fixer-upper).

The ground floor of the house didn't challenge our adventurers too much, giving them encounters such as:

  • A huge spider and a metal box, both in a chimney. The box contained a single ring, apparently enchanted...
  • A living room with some sort of enchantment causing a magical voice to cry "Welcome fools - welcome to your deaths!", followed by maniacal laughter. Investigating further they found a hidden trap-door to the basement. But they decided to continue exploring (plus having discovered another stairwell to the basement in the kitchen area).
  • A library with a number of valuable books by mages Tenser and Nystul.
  • A study with a locked desk. Later they made use of Ned Shakeshaft to force it open, finding it contained a rose-colored potion of neutralize poison (which proved handy).
Traveling upstairs they found a number weakened floors. In one bedroom they found a pair of large spiders, one of which poisoned Morrow. The poison wasn't extreme but it did render him ill and unable to do anything but curl into a ball and empty his insides. They left the henchmen with him as they continued on. In another room they found a man bound and gagged. Questioning him he told the his tale. Again quoting the original adventure...
He was simply that he is a thief from Seaton who entered the House under cover of darkness the previous night to find a place to sleep during his journey to Saltmarsh where, he had heard, there was possible work for adventurers. He entered through the back door and had only reached the kitchen when he was attacked from behind, overcome and knocked unconscious. He awoke some hours ago — bound, gagged and stripped of his possessions — in this room. He did not see his attackers nor, until the party came along, had he heard any sounds in the House. Now he would like to be released and to join the party in their adventure. Deciding to test him out, they brought him downstairs to open the locked desk - Hoom had been unable to. Ned wasn't able to either, though Hoom could tell he was indeed trained in the arts of subterfuge. Ned eventually opened the desk where they found the potion which they used to treat Morrow.

In another room they found Ned's gear which he was glad to get back. 

Having explored the ground and upper floors, the band debated whether to tackle the attic or the basement next...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Random Thoughts on Stale Beer Espionage Gaming

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 02:31


“Intelligence work has one moral law - it is justified by results.”
― John le Carré, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
With John le Carré's A Legacy of Spies coming out this week I've been rereading his George Smiley novels. Doing so has been getting me thinking about espionage RPGs.
I don't have a ton of experience running or playing in espionage RPGs. I've been involved in a number of one-offs using Top Secret, Top Secret S/I, and James Bond. Back in my middle school and high school days of the 1980s such games tended to emulate the James Bond movies - some investigation/information gathering, with a lot of thrilling chases. 
A lot of Call of Cthulhu gaming over the past several years has taught me that gaming can be quite exciting with a high degree of tension with minimal combat. In Call of Cthulhu combat is dangerous. If you need to fight someone, your best bet is to ambush. A fair fight is dangerous, even for someone with a high degree of military training.
I'd love to see an espionage game which gives very mortal characters. With characters of questionable moral character. With difficult decisions, abandoned agents, dead drops, double agents, betrayals, blackmail, etc. This has been referred to as the "Stale Beer" sub-genre. Examples of this include include Ian Fleming's James Bond novels as well as the first two Connery movies, Doctor No and From Russia with Love. John le Carré's novels fall into this. Tvtropes points out that Stephen Maturin of the Aubrey/Maturin Napoleonic Wars-era novels fits into this as well. So does FX's The Americans. If you are comfortable with a dose of the supernatural, Delta Green and Tim Powers would seem to fit in here as well.
How would I run such a game? I'm curious how the new Top Secret game will handle such gaming - my impression is it's a bit more action-oriented, but the original Top Secret was rather flexible. I think Chaosium's BRP engine is very well suited for such a game. The passions and traits from Pendragon would adapt well to such a game - they'd be a great way to see what would motivate a PC or NPC to betray their agency/country/allies/etc. PCs could use them on enemy agents to flip them and on foreign national to recruit them. Delta Green, which shares a ton of design pedigree with BRP and Call of Cthulhu would work incredibly well for this as well - the mechanics have ways for agents to fall apart as they get caught in a web of lies and betrayals, all for the "greater good".
My own inclination would be to do such a game before the fall of the Soviet Union. The historical aspect lessens the chances of real world politics causing trouble in a group. And I find the technology level of that period works better for maintaining suspense - no instant communication, no finding the answers on the internet...
When I began writing this my inclination was to say I'd stay clear of the supernatural. Giving it some more thought, I don't think I'd be totally against it actually. It would really depend on what the group is looking for. If I did use the supernatural, I'd probably stay clear of the idea that Nyarlathotep is responsible for the rise of the Nazis, the Soviet Union, the Viet Cong, and everything else that goes wrong. I don't think the Old Ones would care one bit about our politics... 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Use of Henchmen in OSR Games

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 03:37


When I first starting playing D&D in the 1980s, Charisma was the most common dump stat. We pretty much ignored the rules on hirelings and henchmen.
From what I've read online, our experience was not unique. However, I've also seen for many groups henchmen were an important component of the early game and the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide bears this out, with considerable space dedicated to the acquisition and loyalty of henchmen.
In our AS&SH game, one of the players had two characters, both of whom had high Charisma scores. He decided to use some of his starting cash to hire some mercenaries. It wound up being an extremely good investment - giving the party additional firepower while at the same time giving the monsters additional targets to aim for. I suspect should the henchmen survive up to the point where the characters make it to second level, I might allow the henchmen to gain a little bit of experience and reach 1st level, with an eye towards allowing them to lag behind the main characters but be available as standby PCs should some of them meet unfortunate ends. And of course, that assumes the henchmen survive as well, something that is not a given.
One thing I'm a little curious about is what the inspiration for henchmen in the original game was. Having descended from wargaming, I can imagine part of it is a leftover from that. In fiction, I can't think of many scenarios where henchmen played an important role for the protagonists - I do seem to recall some Lankhmar stories where Fafhrd and Grey Mouser had some mercenaries but I can't think of much else - though I've also not read the entire Appendix N canon...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

RPG Review: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

Sun, 09/03/2017 - 03:05

We're currently working our way through The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh in our AS&SH game. It adapts pretty well and at a later point I might write up about adapting the series. This post however is simply a brief review of the adventure itself. If you're in my group it's probably best to hold off in reading this until we're done, though I'd not be surprised if some or all of you have played or run this in the past, as it is a fairly common adventure from the 1st edition...

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is an adventure from the UK branch of TSR, copyrighted to 1981. It has a bit of a different feel from most adventures of the period. It has a bit of a heavier plot than most adventures back then - it's not like later adventures which sometimes go so far as to render player decisions moot. Rather it has a set of NPCs with their own agenda who aren't likely to sit waiting for the PCs to arrive.

Saltmarsh is a two-part adventure as well as being the first adventure of a trilogy. In it, the adventures visit the town of Saltmarsh. It is designed to be a fishing town like that of 14th century south-coast England. Near the town is a "haunted house", once the home of a sinister alchemist.

As it turns out, the haunting is a sham. The ill reputation of the house is being used by a band of smugglers who mainly operate out of the basement and cave system under the house. The house itself is poor condition, with creepy giant spiders living in chimneys and stirges in the attic. The illusionist leader of the smugglers has used magic to reinforce the reputation of the house.

The second half of the adventures deals with the PCs investigating a sailing ship which transports cargo to and from the smugglers in the house. There's a crew of nasty smugglers, some lizard men passengers receiving a weapons shipment, and an imprisoned aquatic elf. In previous play the second half can be rather dangerous - the boat is small and once the smugglers become aware of the PCs it can prove a very dangerous environment.

For the most part I like this adventure. Nominally set in the World of Greyhawk setting, it is easily adaptable to other settings. I like the fact that the NPCs all have their own agendas - for example, a member of the town council, upon learning that the adventurers are planning on investigating the house, quickly puts together a plan to hinder them, as he is doing business with the smugglers.

I did find the links between adventures to be a bit rough. The only real clue that the PCs receive about the smuggling ship is a scrap of paper with shorthand for light signals to communicate with the ship. It's very tenuous and in actual play I've found it an easy clue to miss. Typically, I've found it works better to have a logbook the smugglers use to record their meetings as well as the possibility of interrogating prisoners. Similarly, the next adventure deals with the fact that the lizard men on the ship are arranging a weapons shipment to their nearby lair. I've often found players miss this clue, just figuring the lizard men are part of the crew. I've found it best to add extra evidence in the form of logs as well as the aquatic elf prisoner being able to provide additional information.

With those caveats, I've found Saltmarsh to be a good low-level adventure. In our game, the characters are 1st level, albeit with a single prior adventure that didn't quite get them to second level. I'm guessing it will be threes sessions to complete - two to cover the haunted house and a third to handle the smugglers' ship.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea: Actual Play Impressions

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 01:36


Including a character generation session, we had our third session of AS&SH last night. I reviewed it over four years ago but sometimes there's a world of difference between reading a game and playing it. So how does it play?

As I've mentioned, as far as the rules go it is in many ways a cleaned up version of AD&D. A bit more complicated than Swords & Wizardry but nothing anyone with gaming experience would have trouble with.

Having played it a few sessions there's a few things that I've noticed in play. First, despite being based on AD&D, the lack of demi-humans makes a big difference, even when you aren't going for deep immersion characterization. It definitely gives off the swords & sorcery vibe that the game is going for. While it lacks multi-classing, it does give some sub-classes that represent a number of fantasy and swords & sorcery tropes. For example, it is possible to play the traditional fighter/magic-user as a warlock. They favor the fighter side but make for reasonably effective magic-users. There is also a thief with some magical ability, feeling much like the Grey Mouser of the Lankhmar tales.

I am still coming to grips with the combat system - I excerpt the sequence below...

The idea is tour break down a combat round into two phases with characters who do not move being able to act in the first phase. So as I read it, a character who lost initiative but is stationary will act before a character who won initiative but is moving. I'm unclear if the intent is also within a side's phase if the sequence is melee, missiles, magic, then movement. That's how we played it but I've found that to be a touch awkward. I might give it a good rereading prior to our next game before I make any tweaks.

We've just begun playing through the classic AD&D Saltmarsh series. I'll likely do a full writeup on adaptation but for the most part it's been pretty smooth adapting it. There's certain creatures that don't feel quite right for the Hyperborean setting but for the most part I've found adaptation to be quite smooth. I suspect most classic adventures would port pretty easily which is quite handy for those of us in grad school part-time...

Overall I've been enjoying the game quite a bit. Like many old school games, the game rewards careful planning - the players quite value the henchmen they've hired to go into the adventure with them. I think the cosmic horror stories of HP Lovecraft remain my first love for gaming inspiration, but when it comes to fantasy, the Swords & Sorcery genre shares much in common with Lovecraft (indeed, many of the creatures in the setting are straight from Lovecraft).
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Writeup: Rats in the Walls

Sun, 08/27/2017 - 22:15

This writeup isn't designed to be a work of fiction, it's primarily an aid to my group to summarize what transpired in our adventure. Based on Jeffrey Talanian's adventure of the same name, which was in turn inspired by HP Lovecraft's short story "The Rats in the Walls".

Year 576 (Tempest), Month II, Day 4
Cast of characters:

  • Aaron Cèampach, Kelt Warlock
  • Hoom Feethos, Hyberbrean Thief
  • Morrow, Pict Druid
  • Saratos Ochôziakos, Ixian Fighter
  • Sarukê thugatêrOchôziakos, Ixian Witch
  • William "Billy" Welsh - Common Human Pyromancer
Henchmen hired by Saratos and Sarukê:
  • Tai, Medium Infantryman
  • Zell, Heavy Infantryman

Our bold adventurers had paid a visit to the dockside tavern of the Silvery Eel in Hyperborea's greatest city, Khromarium. They'd heard it was a place to find adventure - even that the tavern keeper might have work he needed doing.
They learned that Xill Vuntos, tavern keeper, was dealing with an unusual rat problem. Rats, many of these rodents being of unusual size, had infested his tavern. His young daughter was killed by one and his wife killed herself shortly thereafter. He and his older daughter Annesta were the only ones left - the serving wenches he had hired were gone - two dead from rat bites, one had quit. He constantly patched holes in the walls but to no avail, they kept returning. Now he had no customers left. He was prepared to reward them with a magical shield and a pearl necklace should they prove able to resolve his problem.
Xill had told them a Hyperborean customer had hinted at some evil past to his tavern. Xill knew that the previous owner of the building, a spice importer, had killed himself after falling in debt to the city. Going to the docks the adventurers found the Hyperborean - Kiloplo Vheez, first mate of the Berg Braker, told them how his father, a great sorcerer, had told him that once there was a sorcerer's tower at the place of the Silvery Eel. It was burnt to the ground after the Green Death.
The basement of the tavern was filled with boxes, sacks, etc. Some searching revealed an iron trap door under a flagstone. It proved difficult to open and attracted a swarm of giant rats which the adventurers and their henchmen dealt with.
After collecting some shiny coins the rats had collected the adventurers went down the spiral staircase hidden by the trap door. It eventually led to a sacrificial temple to Aurorus. They find a pair of secret rooms. One was filled with animated skeletons which they were able to deal with - Zell putting up a surprisingly good showing, resulting in them awarding him an enchanted halberd from one of the skeletons (a +1 halberd). They also found a variety of potions - healing, invisibility, and cure disease. They used some of the healing potion on the badly injured Zell.
The other secret chamber was a summoning chamber with a cage containing the skeletal remains of some form of swine daemon and a protective circle with a silver dagger at the center. Nervous to disturb the circle they let it be and descended stairs beneath the temple.
Beneath the temple was a dungeon with a giant daemon rat and a number of suckling rats on it - the source of the infestation. After a glorious battle (helped by a sleep spell taking out many rats) they dispatched the daemon rat. As it died all of the other giant rats died - hooray!

XP Total: 8132, assuming all magic treasure is kept and not sold for gold
Gold Total: 2000 gp necklace, 50 gp gold chain, 1250 gp jeweled ceremonial gowns100 gp pearl ring, 242 gp, 78 ep, 102 sp
Magic Items: +1 Small Shield (light 50' radius when held), +1 Halberd, Potion Of Healing (half used), Potion of Invisibility, Potion of Cure Disease, Periapt of Health
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

#RPGaDay 2017 Instrument of Surrender

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 00:11

I thought I'd be able to catch up on this year's RPGaDay upon my return from Manhattan but I've come down with a cold that I'm fairly certain is Captain Trips from The Stand. I've been alternating between sleeping and painful coughing. This has also caused me to miss out on some grad school work. Once I'm feeling a bit better that will need to be my priority. 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Star Wars D6 Lives

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 02:19

On August 11, when describing the Dead Game I'd Most Like to Return I nominated the original D6 Star Wars. Yesterday, just five days later, while waiting for a subway train I received an email from a player in our gaming group sharing with me the news that Fantasy Flight Games had just announced a limited edition reprint of the original D6 Star Wars game and its first sourcebook.
I'm going to live with the illusion that someone at Fantasy Flight Games read my post and made the arrangements in record time.
In all seriousness, I'm quite happy with this news. I've played D6 Star Wars recently and it has aged remarkably well. 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

#RPGaDay 2017 Days 14-17 - Catching Up From Vacation

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 02:04


I just spent a few days with my eldest daughter in New York City and was way too exhausted to write at night... So here goes a super-quick catch-up...

Day 14 - RPG For Open-Ended Campaign PlayI like Call of Cthulhu for an open-ended campaign. While characters do advance, they tend not to ever get so powerful that they have nothing to fear. Indeed, as characters learn more magics they may find themselves close to insanity. Death, insanity, and retirement take many characters out of play but it is possible to add replacement characters to a group, to the point where there may be no original characters yet the campaign continues.
Day 15 - RPG I Enjoy Adapting the MostI've done well using Fate for Star Wars and I've begun thinking of other ways it could be adapted.
Day 16 - RPG I Enjoy Using As-IsI've found Call of Cthulhu works incredibly well as it is. It fits its genre well and has begun adding dials to make for pulp style experiences.

Day 17 - RPG I've Had the Longest Without PlayingWhile there's a few I can think of, the two main ones I can think of are Mage: The Ascension and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. I've had some Vampire: The Masquerade game play but I've never gotten around to a Werewolf or Mage game.
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#RPGaDay Day 13 - A Game Experience That Changed How I Play

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 02:47


For me, possibly the most transformative experience was shifting from a physical to virtual table. It's something we did in stages, but the first stage was probably the most important - a simple webcam connecting us with a player who moved away but wanted to keep gaming.

Over time we added bells and whistles - discovering tools like Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 but the actual act of managing a remote game for the first opened a doorway for me and my group - a group which has people scattered east of the Mississippi River now...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 12 - RPG With Most Inspiring Interior Art

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 02:41

This is more of a "show, don't tell". For me, the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide has the most inspiring interior art. From dramatic to goofy it sets the stage for an AD&D game. An almost-but-not-quite medieval society, with the influence of magic and monsters clearly evident.




Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 11 - Dead Game I'd Like to See Return

Sat, 08/12/2017 - 01:49

There is still a Star Wars RPG being published - three actually, by Fantasy Flight Games. I ran a campaign with Edge of the Empire and found it to be a perfectly enjoyable game. But for my money the incarnation I've the fondest memories of is the D6-based RPG put out by West End Games in the 1980s and 1990s. I literally played my first game of it the day I got it. It was so easy to play and so easy to GM - and it felt like Star Wars.

The system wasn't perfect - I can see areas where a 3rd edition might have cleaned some things up. The Force rules worked well for wanna be Jedi type characters like Rey and Luke prior to being trained by Yoda. It required a bit too much dice rolling in combat. I found the stats for major film characters to be a bit over the top.

But I played a game a few years back and it still played just fine. I know sometimes licensees get permission to republish old versions of products that they didn't make. For example, Marvel has republished Star Wars comics originally made by Dark Horse Comics. And Cubicle 7 has been digitally making available the Green Ronin version of Warhammer. If Fantasy Flight Games were ever to republish West End Games Star Wars products I'd grab them in a second.

A quick honorable mention - another old favorite of mine is TSR's old Marvel Superheroes game. Like the WEG Star Wars, it wasn't perfect but it was incredibly playable.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 10 - Where to go for RPG Reviews

Sat, 08/12/2017 - 01:39


Well in the 1980s I was fond of Dragon Magainze's RPG Reviews column. In the 1990s and early 2000s I often went to rpg.net. I still pop in to rpg.net every once in a while but I tend to get a lot of my opinions off of Google+. Often there will be links to blogs and other websites for more details. Yog-Sothoth is a pretty handy source of reviews and opinions for Cthulhu. You can decide if I mean the god or the website...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 9 - Good RPG For Around Ten Sessions

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 02:19

Ten sessions isn't a bad length for some campaigns. But from my recent experience Fate Accelerated works really well for something around ten sessions. The characters are pretty competent to start with - if you wanted to you could pretty much ignore advancement. If you do go for advancement your characters will advance pretty quickly, a nice way to model Luke Skywalker going from a farm boy to a Jedi Knight in a few sessions.
I think Fate Accelerated would work fine for something a bit longer, though you'd want to slow down the default advancement. Dresden Files Accelerated gives some options on how this might be done.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 8 - Best RPG For Quick Sessions

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 02:12

I've managed to play in a game or two of No Country For Old Kobolds, based on the Apocalypse World engine. It was a fast-paced game - we made our setting, characters, and played a quick scenario in under an hour. I died a horrible death. It's fun being the little guy.
It's probably worth noting that nowadays most of my sessions are around 2.5 hours long...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Film Review: The Dark Tower

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 02:31

I liked it.
I have to be honest, I wasn't expecting to. The reviews and word of mouth for the film adaption of Stephen King's The Dark Tower were not just bad, they were awful. But King' Dark Tower series is one of my favorite reads of all time - I was going to see it for myself.
I was feeling rather under the weather on Saturday, still getting over some nasty head congestion, but with such awful reviews I was a bit concerned the film would be in for a very brief engagement. My 12-year old, Jasmine, was very interested in seeing it. She's just about finished reading The Gunslinger. Of my two daughters, she's the geeky one, the one into comics, the one who has already read some Jack Williamson. 
Much to my surprise, I really liked it. Idris Elba made for a great Roland and Matthew McConaughey was a villainous delight as Walter/The Man in Black. It was critical to get someone good for Jake Chambers and Tom Taylor did a fine job.
These were not quite the characters we know from the novels and the storyline is not quite the same. It felt like another level of the Tower. Not one far from the one encountered in the novels, but definitely different. This Roland is one who has given up on saving the Tower, much less on climbing it. He wants revenge on Walter before darkness falls. The film took elements from all of the books. Like in the final book, telepaths are being used to help bring the Tower down - here they are children, gifted with "the shining" (yes, a reference to the King novel). Like in the novel The Wastelands, it features a Jake dreaming of Roland and the Tower - and questioning his own sanity. Everyone else thinks he's crazy. 
The running time of little more than 90 minutes greatly surprised me. However, it actually didn't seem rushed, something I was certain it would. It definitely felt tight. I know there's the hope of having a television series as well, but it didn't feel like a film whose purpose was to launch other projects (by way of comparison, Amazing Spider-Man 2 seemed to dedicate far too much time to possible sequels). The film told its story. Jake shines brightly. Walter wants him as the final telepath to bring the tower down. And Roland must find something to live for beyond vengeance.
I also get why people might not care for it. It definitely wasn't a retelling of the novels. Truthfully, my own preference would have been to see the series adapted slowly, building up. I'd love to see a straight-up adaptation of The Gunslinger, one of my favorite novels. So while it's not the way I would have gone, it is a way I enjoyed. For what it's worth, Jasmine, who is making her first trip through the novels, enjoyed it as well. She debating whether to read The Drawing of the Three next or go for something a little different. But she definitely wants to read all of the novels. It's neat to share with her my 1980s copy of The Drawing of the Three...
For what it's worth, there were gazillions of Easter eggs for readers of the novels - the Dixie Pig, the Tet Corporation, the names of some minor characters, many plot elements, etc. While the creators didn't go for a straight adaptation, they definitely knew the source material. 
I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye. I do not shoot with my hand; he who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind. I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
I kill with my heart.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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