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GM's Day Sale at DMs Guild

Zenopus Archives - Sat, 03/02/2024 - 22:34



DMs Guild and DrivethruRPG are running a GM's Day sale, with products up to 40% off.

This means that The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is on sale for $1.19 through March 10th.


Get it here:The Ruined Tower of Zenopus at DMs Guild

Most of the classic TSR titles are included in the sale. For example, the Rules Cyclopedia print print and pdf is $26 instead of $35. Find it here:


Basic/OD&D in PDF

Basic/OD&D in Print

AD&D 1E in PDF

AD&D 1E in Print

Gamma World 1E in Print

OSR Products


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dirge of the Forlorn Piscator

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 03/02/2024 - 12:11
By G.A. Mitchell Self Published Journeyman, Expert, Master Levels 1-3

A ghost is haunting the foreshores of a mountain lake, wailing despondently about his long-lost love. Eaten forty years ago by merrow, what has drawn this sad fisherman back from beyond the grave to bemoan his fate now? How will the party fare exploring a sunken fishing vessel and the labyrinthine lair of the water ogres? What is that dark, slithering doom that lies at the bottom of the cave?

This thirty page adventure presents a cave with twelve rooms. Stabbing and, potentially, talking are the orders of the day as you try to put a ghost to rest. Brief glimpses of what could be good a prevalent throughout. Expansive text for a small adventure pollutes the end result, but maybe you can ignore that?

This isn’t my style of D&D. I recognize that. It’s a kind of home-table plot D&D. You know, investigate something and end up in a lair assault killing shit. I don’t think any of it hits particularly well, in this adventure, but there are some glimpses of that OD&D style and some interesting writing here and there that I think are quite admirable and rise above the de riguour crap that floods the market today. It’s got some idea of what good is but it doesn’t really understand how to get there.

Fishing village on a BIG mountain lake. There’s a ghost been showing up lately, out on the lakeshore a bit away from town, causing some trouble. Go gettum tigers! Turns out some old lady in town is finally getting married and the ghost is the dude she loved, like sixty years earlier who died, getting eaten by merrow. Her getting married has brought him back as a ghost. That’s kind of nicely done, yeah? Oh, and now the merrow serve a dragon-thing. Oh, there’s this fucking hag in the caves also. And the shipwreck, of the ghost dudes boat, it’s got a gollum hanging out in it. Ok, I think I’ve covered everything. Go meet the ghost dude, he wants to give chickula the wedding ring he had planned for her. The merrow have it, except the dragon-thin now has it. Got it?

The first ten pages are pretty much a waste, covering the town/village. There’s a decent little timeline, of the ghost causing trouble, but that’s about it. “Townfolk drowning themselves in the lake” is a nice little bit of it. And the adventure pulls shit from time to time, really reveling in the naturalism or realism of the things going on. A lock of hair given to a ship captain, now dead, summoning a nereid, who is thankful to know what happened to her dead lover. And while this is the SECOND time this theme has happened in the adventure, it’s still nifty. When the adventure is pulling out this shit it’s doing a real good job. 

But when it’s telling us about mundane shit it’s terrible. “Heimdal is the barkeep and owner of the Black Hound [Bryce-the bar]. His family once ruled over all of this region before their almost total annihilation. Heimdal is unaware of his noble blood.” That’s fucking useless. We get mundane business descriptions and NPC descriptions that don’t matter. You could have done the entire thing on one page instead of ten. The wedding is supposed to be a big deal but that’s handled in one sentence “make the upcoming wedding a big deal in the town.” Well, fuck me, how about some help and ideas making the wedding a big deal? There’s a rumour table but the rumours are a little too direct and on the noose for my tastes. 

There are some really good descriptions, though, in the text. Or, close to really good anyway. The ghost is “ bloated, damp, ugly. While ethereal in nature and surrounded by a dull lambent glow, his form resembles that of a drowned corpse, and he speaks in wet, slurping tone” Not a bad monster description! Or, in a partially sunkn ship, knee-deep murky water in a bedroom with a few old bits of wood bobbing in the decaying mess. Bobbing is a great word there! A coppery stench of blood and buzzing of flies, in the cannibalistic merrows dining room. Or, in total, “The coppery stench of blood and the faint buzzing of flies conveys the ominous character of this chamber. This long room sports a sizable table atop which lay the discarded bones and scattered remains of the merrows’ previous victims” Great start to the description and a total train wreck to finish it off. Scattered remains of previous victims. Pffft. And this is what I mean when I say its got some kind of general understanding of what good is but little clue in how to get there. 

Long Italics read-aloud and half page room descriptions/DM text full of mechanics. I guess I’ll ignore that for the purposes of this review. 

But, the interactivity, I don’t think I can ignore. This is not a traditional dungeon. Most of the interactivity is either stabbing shit or, maybe, trying to talk to someone. Talk to gollum, maybe. Or talk to the merrow king, after hacking your way to him, so he can ask you to kill the dragon. Oh, and that fucking hag. SHe’s the dragons Mouth of Sauron. She’s got these scrolls of deals shes made with villagers. Pretty cool! She has traded shit for things like a pail full of breastmilk in return. Noice! She’ll trade with you also … which could help out with the dragon fight. Cover yourself in spikes to prevent the snake-like dragon from squeezing you, or cover yourself in milk to prevent his breath weapon (give yous a +4 to saves, not too shabby! Very folklore, and I love that! But, also, the merrow dude, the hag and the dragon are all withing earshot of each other. SO there’s no real room to breathe int he dungeon/lair. And no one really cares if the dudes next door are getting slaughtered, so no order of battle, and, worse, they explicitly DO NOT CARE if you are killing the others. That’s a little rough. 

So, a kind of plot, but the details of it, and the window dressing of the village and wedding are not covered well. Beefing that up, to cement a real vibe there, would have done wonders for motivations and grounding. The shipwreck and merrow caves are a little … mundane? Typical D&D? But there are brief glimpses of something deeper and hints of folklore scattered throughout. Again, not really enough to ground the adventure in that but enough to make you wish it HAD done that. 

Maybe next time?

This is $5 at DriveThru. The eleven page preview shows you town and the overview of the shipwreck. You can see some glimpses of the folklore-ish naturalism, but a page of the merrow caves, or shipwreck interior, should have been included as well to get a vibe for how the actual room encounters were handled.

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/471069/dirge-of-the-forlorn-piscator-cam1?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Encounters at Thono; Our Heroes Don't Get Baths

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 03/01/2024 - 12:00

Bao dwek Thabub (art by Steven de Waele)
Our Gnydrion game in Grok?! continued last Sunday. The group was all there:

  • Antor Hogus (Paul) - Vagabond on holiday. He wants to use that stun wand.
  • Jerfus Grek (Jason) - Also a vagabond. Here, a large man at spycraft.
  • Nortin Tauss (Aaron) - Dabbler in the arcane. He wears a star in the center of his tunic.
  • Yzma Vekna (Andrea) - Teamster out of her element.

Ensconced in a suite in the Thono Inn, expensed to the Eminent Compulsor, the group enjoys a nice dinner and a bit of rest. The next morning finds them beginning their investigations to uncover the identity of Wol Zunderbast. In doing so they encounter (and are distracted by) some of the other guests: Bao dwek Thabub, typically pungent hwaopt scholar studying something called "fey vortices" in the area; Sula Av and Tharom Welk an overly friendly couple on holiday from Ascolanth.

Finally, after leaving a message at the desk in a failed stratagem to find Zunderbast's room, they encounter the man himself:

He's intense and no nonsense but arranges a meeting later that evening with Nortin to discuss the "item" further. He also invites in the game in the casino (five frond hokus or thari or even quorn lancets) but Nortin declines.

With the meeting set, the group decides to take advantage of the famous gas bathes fed by the eldritch substance of the Lake of Vermilion Mists. They head to the bathhouse, but they are told its out of order by the inebriated engineer, Ormuz Halx, who raves at them briefly about something in caves that wants to kill everyone. Before they can dig into these remarkable claims, Gris Samber shows up to usher Halx away apologetically, citing his drunkenness as the source of his odd behavior.

Leap Day: Giant Zenopus (New Monster)

Zenopus Archives - Fri, 03/01/2024 - 02:07

 

 
Xenopus laevis from Amphibia and Reptiles by Hans Gadow (1901).
Source: Wikimedia Commons 


Giant Zenopus

Move: 30 feet/turn land; 180 feet/turn swimming
Hit Dice: 4
Armor Class: 5
Treasure Type: incidentalAlignment: neutralAttacks: 1 rake with hindclaws
Damage: 2d4
The giant zenopus, an entirely aquatic frog, can grow to enormous proportions given a sufficiently nutritious diet, with specimens up to ten feet long having been reported. A ravenous scavenger, it will eat anything, locating and shoveling food into its tongueless mouth with strangely sensitive and prehensile hands. A strong swimmer, the zenopus is known to float motionless with its unblinking eyes just above the water, waiting for the opportunity to leap and grab its prey, raking with the large claws on its hindfeet as it pulls them under.
For defense, the skin of the zenopus exudes a slime that makes them extremely slippery (AC 5). Even worse, the slime of 1 in 10 frogs carries a parasitic aquatic chytrid fungus, and anyone scratched by the claws of such a frog must Save vs Poison or have their skin become infected. After 1 week, infection will cause loss of 1d4 hp per day due to the sloughing of skin, unless a Cure Disease or an anti-fungal poultice (consult a herbalist) is administered.
The eggs of the giant zenopus are prized by wizards for use in magical research due to their size (6" diameter), fetching 1,000 GP in larger cities. The eggs must be kept wet at all times or will perish. There are rumors that there are secret alchemical methods of cloning the eggs, and even darker tales speak of ways of transforming the egg into a frog that walks upright like a man.
The only other treasure that might be found is incidental to their behavior; i.e., that which was possessed by their prey.
Notes:---Based on the real world Xenopus, a frog long used in biological research, and which was presumably J. Eric Holmes' inspiration for the name of Zenopus. The name "Xenopus" means "strange foot" in Greek. The 94th anniversary of Holmes' birth was just a few weeks ago, on February 16th (Holmes Day).

---The concept of breeding frogmen from giant frogs goes back to Dave Arneson's Temple of the Frog adventure found in the Blackmoor OD&D supplement
"He has genetically modified the killer frogs to begin breeding frogmen..." --- the Temple of the Frog by Dave Arneson
And of course frogmen tie-in nicely to Holmes' Dagonites, who as described are more froggy than than fishy. 
"...surely your recent encounter with the frog-man should have convinced you of the reality of the Dagonites"  --- Murray the Mage, The Maze of Peril
---I originally drafted this in 2019 in comments to a post made to the late lamented Holmes Basic G+ group, just before G+ was shut down. While I transferred most of the posts from that group to an archive blog, this one didn't make it for unknown reasons. But I found it in an XML file I had downloaded and recovered the comments and revised them into this post.
Happy Leap Day!
See also:Leap Day: Giant Toads in the Blue BookShadow Over Portown
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Red Death - Worlds Without Number Session One

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 03/01/2024 - 01:19
 Note that this is DM Peter's Worlds Without Number rpg has been in play for the past two years. So my character the wizard Anteres is a part of a party of explorers who are adventuring to find out what is doing the extinction of the lands surrounding the campaign world.  Tonight's World's Without Number rpg session saw me in DM Peter's game & us fighting a swarm Xiticix! Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Review & Commentary On WAR of the WORLDS (Pay What You Want) By Paul Elliot From Zozer Games For The Cepheus Universal Rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 02/29/2024 - 06:54
 "WAR of the WORLDS (Pay What You Want) 30 pages"With the release of Cepheus Universal in January 2024, Zozer Games wanted to illustrate its versatility in recreating many different styles of science fiction roleplaying. Why not start at the beginning, in the 19th century, with H.G. Wells’ influential science fiction novel The War of the Worlds?""This short book provides Cepheus Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Dice and Mechanics

Hack & Slash - Wed, 02/28/2024 - 13:00

 

So, obviously a D&D clone uses a d20 right?

We know there are certain expectations for certain types of games. Cyberpunk uses a d6/d10 system with edge case weirdness. Shadowrun uses giant pools of d6's.  Blades in the dark, old savage worlds, d6. 

But there are problems with those systems. For me; I mean, knock yourself out. 

Cyberpunk uses exploding dice which create weird dead zones in success chances. This is not a big deal. Shadowrun had this cycle of design, where huge pools always succeed -> add limits -> limits are dull ->add edge, and now you're using hero points. Which again, ok, fine.

I mean, they are fine. But I felt memories of when I enjoyed d6's. Original Shadowrun picking up a ton of dice. Song of Blades and Heroes where every choice is a tactical risk. Warhammer 40k, when saving on a 2+. 

I'm not a statistician. I had too many semesters of calculus at 6:30 in the morning in a basement to want to love number play-doh. I'm not afraid of math. But, you know, it's not particularly intuitive for me. I wasn't setting out to create some radical new design. I wanted something understandable, scalable, and most of all fun. I wanted it to work during play.

The normal process of seeing Sinless
and then opening and reading Sinless.This system was playtested and iterated. I started with the idea of attribute 'pools' that drain during combat. When you use a die from your pool, you lose access until the next round. You also used these pools to defend. Reasonably quickly it got wonky. So we condensed the pools to four, four types of attacks, four types of defenses. Pools built from attributes.

Understandable: I ran a lot of 3e Shadowrun. I have an A4 sized page that is separated into three sections: All of the target number combat modifiers, all of the target number matrix modifiers, and all the target number magic modifiers. In tiny-teensy print. Front and back. It's in a box right now, but I'll gladly take pictures next time I run across it. 

So variable target numbers are right out. 

Gear is a huge, part of the fun is the shopping! Cyberpunk character creation is a shopping spree for gamers. It's fun!

I wanted gear to be involved in the core of play. This would be twofold: mitigating the mechanical importance of gear to the game, and involving gear in the core mechanic.

Players roll a number of dice equal to their skill plus the relevant gear feature.

Just in the realm of guns, that's some great design space. Guns with similar accuracies can vary the other features an—oh, got excited there for a second. Did you know I'm a game designer?

So let's talk about the scope of the mechanics. We don't want something that caps out. I like to run and design games that can last for 100+ sessions. I want solid feeling of advancement without it growing out of control. 

So the player gets to distribute both their expertise and money across the desired features.

They roll dice versus a static target number, more successes is more good.

About that target number though.

Stable Targets

Look, I ran Shadowrun for a decade. It was a lot of work. So I took every step possible to reduce the work on the Agonarch (the person running the game) in Sinless.

Operations are organized into tiers. Veteran runs have a target number of 4+. Professional runs have better trained opponents and more expensive  security measures with a target number of 5+, and Prime runs have military security and the highest levels of response and training for a difficulty of 6+. 

This caused more than one person pause during development. But keep in mind

we're developing a game. If you can suspend your disbelief about the uplifts, magic particle, spirits, and cybertechtronics, but "things are harder when opponent is more powerful" is the straw, then I got nothing for you.

Look at how it works for the Agonarch. It decouples length and opposition from difficulty. Players don't have to slow down to recalculate target numbers. Agonarchs can use the same statistic block and the opponent will be challenging to the players. And it works remarkable well with rolling between 1-XX d6's to accomplish a task. 

Your average uplifted bear mercenary after character creation should get 1ish successes on a prime run on a roll with 8 or 9 dice, or 4ish on a veteran run. (I did a bunch of math, but we don't need to get too far into that now).

That's for the things they do. You know the Punching guy is going to take Cybertechtronic Combat at 6, the Shooting are going to take Firearms 6, hackers will have Computer: Hacking at 6. You want them to be competent. 

But you don't get tested on only the things you do well on an operation. 

Characters improve by spending experience to boost attributes to increase pool sizes, and increase skills up to 6.

Once you reach certain kismet (experience) thresholds (10/20) they can select boons. Boons like, Raise a skill from 6 to 7. Or raise a skill from 7 to 8. Or gain pool resilience.

Oh, right, let's talk about the pools.

Going for a Swim


What I really like about Song and Blades of Heroes is that you decide your relative power and risk. Each unit has an activation threshold. You can roll between 1 to 3 dice, and if you have 2 failures on a roll your turn ends. Look at that decision tree! Do I roll three dice and activate my easy to activate unit and risk a turn end, or do I make some 1 die rolls to activate some non important units. 

So the same pools the characters use during combat to attack are the same pools they use to defend. They spend as many dice from their pools as they wish up to the limit of their skill ranking + gear. 

This is an engaging decision: how far will I extend myself? what are the relevant threats to my pools? Can we focus certain types of attacks to drain prime opponent pools? How many dice can I penalize an opponent with my actions? It creates a constant variable player controlled risk/reward mechanic in combat.

E.g. You can charge to allow you to spend Brawn pool dice to add additional distance to a double move, which allows you to neutralize their firearms advantage if you get within range of the opposition. This is the same resource that allows you to soak damage. 

There are not many modifiers, but you can get bonus and penalty dice rather than numbers, leading to contests over  battlefield resources (Cover, network access nodes, and ley lines).

The combat cadence is similar to Warhammer 40k. Attacks hit, successes are added to weapon damage, target chooses to dodge and soak. Resolution is quick.

Pool resilience are dice that never get exhausted from the pool. This tiered system of acquiring mutually exclusive rewards at these at thresholds and certain mutually exclusive choices during character creation means we avoid the GURPS problem of point based character improvement all ultimately converging at high enough power levels. 

Certain effects and tech can grant rerolls, and mechanically there's a rock/paper/scissors going on between magic/electronic/physical attacks and targets and their respective pools/vulnerabilities.

Beyond the fight 

That just creates a bunch of interesting choices in combat, but that's not all. 

The game contains a series of frameworks that provide a structure for the players to gather information and plan out a heist in whatever way they wish. 

There's a reason Leverage and Blades in the Dark use 'flashbacks' to handle jobs. That is entirely too narrative for me. The joy is sitting there watching the players plan the operation for 3 hours. I didn't want to address the problem by ignoring it.

The problem in those old games was I had to do all the work to set the parameters and scope.  Well, the frameworks do that for you. They are descriptive, not prescriptive. They are tool, not a directive. There is information about the target site. Players have a limited opportunity to gather information from their assets and skills, and then can use that information while they plan. The process is explicit, their use manifold, and most importantly, fun in play. 

That's not the only way frameworks are used: how to handle character infiltration before/without triggering a fight, Information about how to price contracts the players sign to do operations, how to neutrally arbitrate the players getting targeted by opponents for kidnapping or capture, an entire exciting method of resolving car chases, bricolage to upgrade the van to make a plan come together and more!

Memento Mori

Is it perfect? Almost certainly not. I'm sure someone will rapidly find Sinless's Peasant Rail Gun, but it meets all my criteria. It's fast in play, encourages tactical as well as strategic thinking, and is rich in design space and character growth and development potential. It's also pretty stable, easy for people to understand what their chances are, and the mechanic can be extended to resolve situations that aren't covered by the rules. (You got a lotta nice pools over there buddy. Shame if something would happen to those. Yeah, a real shame.)

I wasn't setting out to reinvent the wheel. I'm not claiming anything in this mechanical system is particularly novel. You get two actions and a reflex action on your turn, for crying out loud. It's pretty straightforward stuff. But it's fun as hell. 

People think it's pretty cool! 

Hack & Slash 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Ruins of Quinstead

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 02/28/2024 - 12:11
By Roland O’Connell Gamer's Group Publications 1e Levels 1-12

Gordax “The Terrible” is gone but, the ruins of his cursed castle remain. The last band of adventurers to enter the ruins met a horrible fate. Can you discover the truth of the ruins? Can you discover the treasure of Gordax?

This 46 page adventure, from … 1989? Features 76 rooms in a three level dungeon. You got nostalgia for older adventures? This will cure it. Almost exclusively stabbin with interactivity essentially “find the blue key” spread out in padded text. 

Well, back in 89 SOMEONE didn’t like T$R very much! According to the adventure intro “As an avid supporter of the fantasy role playing games, I became discouraged by the lack of quality in the modules I was purchasing.” Ha! So dude went all Role Aids and did a whole “Zealots and damage points” reskin of AD&D and published this thing. A glorious mess of a thing, with the emphasis on mess rather than glorious. I salute you, Roland O’Connell, for bringing your vision to life and publishing! A fine example of Direct Action! If you want better D&D adventures then write a good D&D adventure! But, also, sometimes you want to go to a doctor who graduated from a real medical school …

“Can you discover the treasure of Gordaz?” I swear to fucking god, if its friendship or his wifes love or some ass I’m gonna loose my shit. Ok, so, Gordax the barbituate needs some help killing shit and summons Garznik the demon then fucks him over. Garznik kills his wife so Gordax kills himself, but wishes beforehand so he can come back to life and kill Garznik. That leaves us with a three level castle dungeon to explore. With “an arena where the servants of good are forced to do battle” Jesus H Christ. What is it with tests and arenas? Is this another one of those bs fantasy novel series from the 70’s that I ignored while reading Gerrold? Anyway … away we go! And no, I will not be bitching about the single column text or the weird room summary is not boxed by the DM text is boxed oh and also lets include space for notes. We’re just gonna assume everything before today is formatted terribly and everything after today is a paragon of formatting for ease of use and comprehension. 

I will be complaining about the interactivity and writing. It is written casually with little focus. Some rooms get the victorian list of pantry contents. Others are full of “appears to be”. Appears to be a barracks. Appears the rooms hasn’t been entered in a long time. Just padding, with little notion how it plays out. And, backstory. “The pillars are a special type of guardian created for Gordax by the mage Septor. Their purpose here is not to keep creatures out, but rather to keep creatures in” Great. No purpose at all in the adventure though. And it’s all mixed in in a kind of conversational way “As the party enters this room they will notice that it is inhabited by several small humanoid creatures.” Just a lack of focus. A room that is all burnt up has a great detail that the party smells smoke when they approach … but then all we get is that the room has been gutted by flames long ago. Nothing more. An opportunity lost to really hammer home a vibe. And that goes for most of the descriptions. The room environments are just not present or only in a perfunctory This Is Whats In The Room way. Which was the style at the time.

“As the party traverses this hallway, they notice four bodies laying on the floor of a room ahead.”or “As the party cautiously advances they find themselves standing at the entrance of a room.”

Interactivity is mostly confined to combat. Like 95% confined to combat. A few traps (deadly as all fuck) and a hole lot of Find The Blue Key To Open The Blue Door. Or, maybe, Find the Blue, Red, Yellow, Orange, Magenta, Fuschia, Mustard, White, Bone White, and Antique White key to open the Blue door. One side effect of this is the map. While the map has some interesting features on it, it doesn’t really serve as a exploratory map because of the key thing. The party is going to have to pretty much systematically explore the dungeon to gather all of the keys. And if you have to go somewhere then its much the same as a linear dungeon: you have to go there. A little better, sure, but the outcome is the same.

And the dungeon is weird. The first level is pretty humanoid centric and pretty open to low level play. But, notice the adventure goes to level 12? The lower two levels get pretty damn fucking tough. Some nice themed areas to go with it, like an undead zone and so on, but still pretty fucking rough. This makes it almost megadungeon like. (I’m thinking of my own megadungeon world, Dungeonworld, where all of the  megadungeons exist close-ish to each other.) You’re gonna explore the first level of this dungeon and then go do other things and then come back to the second level when you can and so on. There’s no explicit notice of this anywhere, but there’s no other way to tackle something like this. Which is fine, but a little support in this area, or being upfront with it as a campaign centerpiece, would have been nice.

I’m really down, though, on the lack of interactivity and exploratory elements. I don’t know what to think here. I guess I should mention one of my favorite features, which appears right in the beginning: “ About five feet inside the room lie the dead bodies. Hanging from the ceiling are three wooden bird cages with large crows in them.” That’s their alarm system, some crows in cages. Pretty sweet. Exactly the kind of naturalism I like in my dungeons. But, otherwise? An interesting footnote in history, I guess, much like Vampire Queen.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages. You get to see several rooms on the first level. While the rooms get a bit more complex the deeper you go, I think they are pretty representative of the style of the adventure. So, good preview!

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/264093/ruins-of-quinstead?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: DC, May 1983 (week 4)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 02/28/2024 - 12:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, we look at the comics hitting the newsstand on February 24, 1983.
This is a big week with 10 comics.


Weird War Tales #123: There is no G.I. Robot or Creature Commandos this issue, which turns out to be an ominous sign. This is the penultimate issue of Weird War Tales as I discovered in (of all places) the letter column of this week's Arion. The cover story by Mishkin/Cohn and Buckler/Giacoia is an homage to the Captain Video tv show (1949-1955) and perhaps to fandom in general. It ends with a thanks to Frank Hodge who played Captain Video from 1950-55 and who passed away in 1979. In the story, Earth is defenseless before an alien invasion, its secret protector who was more than a TV actor having passed away. It's up to the now adult fans of the show with their secret away equipment to rise up and save the day.
Next up, there's a one-pager about dolphins inheriting the Earth after doomsday. Kanigher/Estrada daring present a tale of the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs that seems to question just whose "Savage Gods Remain." Finally, a star Hitler youth kid grows up to a SS officer adult and gets what he deserves when a statue of Moses holding all the commandments the young sociopath has broken, falls and traps him, leading to his death. 

Green Arrow #1: Barr and von Eeden/Giordano get Ollie out of the backups and into his own, admittedly limited, series. Oliver Queen inherits a fortune from a deceased friend, and elderly woman he had developed an unlikely friendship with in his younger days, but her other would-be heirs aren't happy. Someone is unhappy enough to target him for murder. Much of this issue is given to retelling Green Arrow's origin, which I haven't reviewed for consistence with the standard take, but I wouldn't be surprised if there is at least some streamlining from what was presented before. The next tweaking, I'd guess, would be post-Crisis. Von Eeden pencils under Giordano's inks look nice here and seem a good fit for the character.

Action Comics #543: Wolfman and Swan continue the Vandal Savage storyline, but with Savage being the manipulator of events. Neutron is released from prison, over the objections of the Man of Steel who sounds more like the Dark Knight with his skepticism about Neutron's reform. Then, Savage has set up frankly a really contrived context that manipulates Superman into fighting him when Neutron is not actually committing a crime, making Superman look bad in front of the people of Metropolis. I feel like this is the sort of arc that would be handled better today, but here it's a bit silly.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #7: Moench and Duursema/Mandrake pick up where last issue left off. After a battle with a demon, Arion and Chian have been transported to the Darkworld to the citadel of Caculha. Arion uses his magic to free Grondar from the demon's control. The three adventurers then enter the stronghold to take on the demon that controls it and find a mystic key.
Meanwhile, Wyynde discovers that Mara is a shapeshifter. When she turns into a winged dragon, the two enter the portal to the Darkworld to help Arion.
Ultimately, our heroes are victorious, and Arion then turns the citadel into a giant ship to sail back to Atlantis.  They may have found the weapon they need to defeat Garn.

All-Star Squadron #21: Thomas and Ordway/Machlan bring in the Earth-2 Superman who has the Powerstone with him he has recently taken from Alexei Luthor. He suggests the team makes the Perisphere their new headquarters. Not long after the team votes in Wonder Woman as their newest full member (redressing some Golden Age sexism), they are attacked by two new super-villains, Deathbolt and Cyclotron, and Superman's old foe the Ultra-Humanite (now in a woman's body).

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #15: The JLA and Zoo Crew team up continues, we the teams trapped in limbo. Alley-Kat-Abra gets them out, but theen they have to do the "split into smaller teams" thing to take on villains gathered by Feline Faust and Doctor Hoot who are currently striking in different parts of the world. Captain Carrot, Wonder Wabbit and Rubber Duck travel to Sowdi Arabia where Digger O'Doom is draining all the oil into diversion tunnels. Yankee Poodle, Fastback and Aquaduck go to the Palomino Canal to stop Armordillo. Batmouse, Green Lambkin and Alley-Kat-Abra head to Cape Carnivore to tangle with Amazoo. Crash, Super-Squirrel and Pig-Iron travel to Mosscow where the Shaggy Dawg is rampaging through the Gremlin.
I felt like whole list was necessary so you could all share in the puns. Anyway, the heroes are victorious, and everybody gets back to their own Earth.

Detective Comics #526: This is an anniversary issue (the 500th appearance of Batman in this magazine) with 56 pages, and Conway, Newton, and Alcala craft a story worthy of the expanded length. Joker has carried together a number of Batman's rogue gallery (including a number of now fairly obscure characters including Captain Stingaree, Signalman, and the Spook). with a plan to kill Batman and check the growing threat of Killer Croc. Catwoman, uninvited, eavesdrops on the proceedings and plans to stop them, while Talia (who was invited) wants no part of killing Batman and fights her way out.
After taking Jason Todd to Wayne Manor, Batgirl and Robin are trying to find the missing Todds. The GCPD bit them to it, discovering their gruesome remains in the reptile area of the Gotham Zoo where Croc had apparently been hiding out.
The Joker contacts Croc, offering a deal to help Croc kill Batman. Is he just double-crossing Croc or Croc and the villains he's supposedly teamed up with?
Anyway, the Bat Family, with the help of Catwoman and Talia, split up and take out the assembled villain before going after Croc and his men and the Joker. After a fight, Croc seems about to beat Batman again, but Robin jumps in at the last second and Croc is knocked unconscious. Jason Todd, who had hidden in the batmobile's trunk, emerges and stars beating the unconscious Croc, but he's restrained by the Bats.
Back at Wayne Manor, Dick takes responsibility for the death of the Todds and wants to adopt Jason.  Bruce doesn't like the idea. Instead, he decides to look after the young orphan, like he did years ago with another kid acrobat whose parents were killed by criminals.

Jonah Hex #71: At the end of last issue, things looked pretty bad for Jonah who had been forced to commit a crime dressed as Papagayo in order to get Emmy Lou back and wound up under the guns of the federales. He gets shot to hell before he can escape--or does he? Obviously, he does not. When Papagayo's thugs go to exhume Jonah's body and get the necklace, the very much alive Jonah ambushes them. It seems he and Col. Sanchez cooked up a little sting operation. Still, Papagayo's got Emmy Lou, so things don't go smooth. Our hero and his girl get tossed into a pit with a basket of tarantulas. 
Still, in the end, Jonah and Emmy Lou and reunited and Papagayo is breaking the fourth wall promising his return from a prison cell.

New Adventures of Superboy #41: Kupperberg and Schaffenberger continue the story from last issue and it's a really convoluted plot with Superboy quitting, Ma Kent blabbing his secret, and an alien invasion that in the end doesn't add up to much, and I honestly can't remember how it all fits together a week after I read it. It turns out the aliens are trying to transform Superboy into a living robot to control him (so none of that other stuff was even in their plan), but naturally Superboy is one step ahead. Aliens are defeated, status quo is restored.
In the Dial H backup by Bridwell and Bender/McLaughlin, the Silhouette takes control of billionaire Hubert Hess’s fortune and incriminates Chris' dad, but Chris and Vicki dial up justice as Glassman and Ms. Muscle.

World's Finest Comics #291: Simonson provides the cover this issue. Superman and Batman are at the mercy of Stalagron, who reveals his secret origin to them (he's a mutated spelunker) and tells them about his plan to revitalize his source of power: a hunk of green kryptonite, responsible for creating him and all his minions. His plan is to create a volcano, which will spew the kryptonite radiation all over, turning a lot more people into creatures like him and his goons. 
They plan to make Yumiko the first female of their kind, but she escapes and helps Batman and Superman to break free before she is recaptured. Stalagron and his crew succeed in creating the volcano and are placing the kryptonite in it, when the heroes arrive for another round. While Batman uses explosives to divert the lava, Superman fight Stalagron. The combatants fall into the lava, but Superman's strength carries the day.
With the kryptonite destroyed, the rest of the stalagmen are destroyed and the volcano collapses. Back at Wayne Manor, Batman and Superman play the switch identities thing once again to throw off Yumiko's suspicions about Bruce being Batman.

OSR Application of Wretched Verses Issue 23: Gangs of Avalidad For The Wretched New Flesh 1st or 2nd Edition Rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 02/28/2024 - 06:30
 "Gangs of Avalidad is your guide to the underbelly of a city caught between the dazzling heights of technological advancement and the depths of ancient vices. This Wretched Verse presents a glimpse into the urban fauna that operates in the crevices of Wretched New Flesh’s society. Avalidad is more than just a city; it’s a living entity, a melting pot of cultures, ideologies, and, most Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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We're on Patreon! Check it out.

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 02/27/2024 - 23:45

 Why Patreon? Simple. The products on Patreon will be available online for sale soon, but you can get them at a much, much cheaper price as a subscriber and ahead of time. Our way of saying thanks.

Posting in March. Download from one to three games each month!








Two Hour Wargames | Two Hour Wargames - Your games, Your way! | Patreon

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5150 Star Army Total War 40% off the Rest of the Month

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 02/27/2024 - 23:31

 Deal of the Day? Nope, deal of the month. Get 40% off of 5150 Star Army Total War the rest of the month on Wargames Vault.

https://www.wargamevault.com/product/404626/5150-Star-Army-Total-War



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Chance & Circumstance blog: On locating a copy of the 1973 Draft of D&D

Zenopus Archives - Tue, 02/27/2024 - 14:40


Cover of the 1973 draft shared previously on Playing at the World

As posted here previously, the forthcoming book The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons (which can be pre-ordered here) is set to include a copy of the 1973 draft of original D&D, also known informally as Guidon D&D. 

However, in the meantime researcher Michael Calleia has independently discovered a copy of this draft among the court records of the 1979 Arneson vs. Gygax lawsuit. Head over to his blog, Chance & Circumstance, to read more about this find:

Unveiling the Past: A Journey Through the July 1973 Draft and D&D’s Foundational Saga

Stay tuned for more from Michael, as he promises a series looking at the draft.

See also:

A Draft of OD&D (earlier post here)

For discussion of the draft see:

OD&D Discussion thread (requires membership to view)

EnWorld Discussion thread


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Walmart Peeper Toucher and the arrival of Cyberpunk

Hack & Slash - Tue, 02/27/2024 - 14:00

 

I watched a video where a Walmart peeper toucher was chased through the store and shot with an electric gun. The body-cam showed the officer take the Walmart peeper toucher to the police station jail cell inside the Walmart.

Inside the municipal police station cell located inside Walmart ("save money, live better"), the subject refused to identify himself. He was forcibly restrained and has his face scanned, after which he was identified and charged.

I watched this body-cam footage last Tuesday.

Cyberpunk isn't about the future any more.

So how the hell do you write a cyberpunk game in the age of cyberpunk?

Cyberpunk in the age of Cyberpunk

First, I looked at the history of using 1d6 in board games, tabletop games, and wargames. I looked at the ones that worked, and took lessons from the problems of the ones that didn't. 

I then developed a simple, scalable, core mechanic that creates lots of interesting choices in play. I'll be sure to talk about that, the math, the design, and more in the coming days. But you can't make a good game if you don't have a solid foundation.

Next, I wanted to make a game I wanted to play. Chrome & Sorcery games have (and continue to have) a very traditional "Narrative Driven" Mid-90's Storytelling style. Adventures contain characters watching key players perform important actions while they follow a relatively linear and strict plot. The setting and presentation allow gamemasters to run games that tell 'stories' by funneling characters through missions.

Now, it's not that I don't like narratives. It's that I like them to be emergent, not dictated. I want to find out the story when running a game, and let dice tell stories. 

So very explicitly, Sinless is a different 'style' of game with a familiar form.

I like base builders and tactical combat, and must have spent about, I dunno 4,000 hours playing chaos wars on my Powerbook 420c. Taking over a city, building up a base, and carving out sections of a map as a tactical role-playing game works for me. 

So we developed and expanded this gameplay loop. 


Sinless is a very focused game.

The core rules contain only the information (and world-building) you need to complete and repeat this loop in the year 2090. 

You are sitting down to play a game with your friends, I wanted there to be an explicit game there.

But mr. game designer, you just made a beep-boop computer board game.

Yeah, I was here for 4e, man. I've been working and thinking about this stuff for almost 40 years now. 

The game explicitly provide players agency to affect situations while their (mechanical) resources are under threat. This is really engaging for my playtest group. It creates emergent characters, drama, motivations. 

In acquiring operations, they cannot help but be aware that if they are delivering guns somewhere, someone is going to use those guns. They are always being placed in situations where they have to decide to do something, even if that something is delivering the guns and getting paid. 

There's a whole section of the gameplay loop devoted to the consequences of the choices they make during operations. These consequences and their direct impact mean that their choices are meaningful. To the players. It affects their characters irrevocably going forward. 

I didn't leave people running games out of the loop. It has blown my mind after trying to run these things for twenty years, there isn't ever a simple and clear way to calculate mission payouts. That isn't a problem I'm going to hand someone who wants to run Sinless. The game provides all the tools GMs need to resolve situations that come up during the course of play. (Because I needed those tools, dig?)

People who run Chrome & Sorcery games want to make interesting choices about how to set up the game; not feel adrift, like they have to design a whole 'mission payout economy'.

And because players are running a brand, and engaging in liberating people from oppression while trying not to become oppressors themselves, there's a use for all that money. After all, there's a whole section of the game devoted to upgrading, attacking, subverting, building, and destroying resources in a city. 

And of course those resources tie into how powerful the brand is which ties into how powerful the characters are, which ties into how effective they can be.

In practice it has proven quite compelling.

How is this game Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk isn't retrofuturism and chrome and pink and purple neon. Those are the trappings because Cyberpunk as a genera was created in the 80's. Sinless, the word, as in the idea of people without a system identification number, is pure William Gibson. The city on the cover of the Sinless RPG is tuned to the color of a dead channel. Dead channels don't even exist anymore. I literally grew up- it doesn't matter.

Cyberpunk is about fucking late stage capitalism. It took the trends of the world, wall street, America, technologic advancement and posited, what's the worst it could get?

And, you know, corporations took that personally.

So like all cyberpunk it's about the intersection of technology and humanity and how that changes us. The same technology used to enslave us will be the same power that can set us free. And like all good science-fiction the world of Sinless mirrors the issues of our current world through a hypothetical future.

All in the context of an engaging gameplay loop.

If you'd like to know more, there's a 190 page preview on DTRPG.



Hack & Slash 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Sinless Released!

Hack & Slash - Mon, 02/26/2024 - 14:00


Get the PDF here on DTRPG: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/472142/Sinless

Print on DTRPG and Amazon coming shortly.

Sinless is an original human-written and human-illustrated cyber sorcery table-top role playing game.

Magic has reentered the world. Some humans have been changed by these magical energies gaining new powers and strange inhuman fae-like features. Humans share this world with Synths and Uplifts. Synths are synthetic AI in "living" forms and Uplifts are animals given intelligence, mobility, and opposable thumbs by cybertechtronics and biogenetics. 

Sinless takes place in 2090, a possible dystopian future, but not one without hope! Given enough time, ingenuity, and planning, characters can use their brand to help make a better world. Once they accumulate 1 billion Zuzu's (a secure crypto-currency controlled by the corporate court, based on the popularity of a posh dog) they will be recognized by the international corporate court and can found their own future, free of interference. 

What will your players sacrifice to achieve their goals?

Sinless was designed to be played in sessions lasting four to six hours by 4-6 human beings.

Sinless is a true cyberpunk game about the sacrifices necessary to end human enormity, not military industrial complex propaganda in a coat of retro-futuristic paint. 

Hack & Slash 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Tower of Sovergauth

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 02/26/2024 - 12:17
By DiegoZap and AndreaZap Dungeonismylab OSE Levels 4-7

Only recovering the ancient crown of the lands of Stakbourg will allow the legitimate heir to return to the throne: will the adventurers be able to steal the crown from the dark lord of shadows who has taken possession of it in his tower?

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This 66 page adventure features a dungeon with about 45 rooms. Rigged combat after rigged combat. A mass of text rarely seen in the world today. The intentionality in the face of wisdom is mind boggling.

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I come to you this morning a broken man. Once, full of delight and wonder at the world around me. Reveling in the joys of existence and all it contains. Now, an empty husk. A shell, contemplating the futility to our existence and the lack of meaning in the eternal march towards entropy.Pages of read-aloud. A first person narrative. Creatures that attack immediately upon entry … in the read-aloud. A near total emphasis on combat in a mostly linear dungeon. I shall let the adventure speak …

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“All DungeonisM Labs modules have a dual artistic channel available: black and white illustrations with a nineties style and the new avant-garde minimalist fantasy style of Dungeonism.”

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“Wandering monsters have been omitted as the creatures that inhabit the tower and dungeon are mostly charmed or trained to protect an area, or to have no choice in their actions due to the way the rooms are designed or how escape routes are structured.”

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“The creatures of the tower are also enchanted to resist hunger and have no desire to leave the dungeon due to the magic of Sovergauth: because of this all monsters radiate magic if it is detected through spells.”

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“When a weight exceeding 90 kg is exerted on one of the wooden protrusions the wooden beam must make a saving throw of 10 or more on a 20 dice with a penalty of -1 applied for every 5 kg more: for example if a warrior which weighs 100 kg with his equipment is on the beam the saving throw for it will be 12 or more on 1d20. Note that if a 70 kg warrior stands on one of the beams and tries to pull up a halfing, for example that weighs 30 kg, the weight exerted will actually be 100 kg. If one of the beams fails the saving throw it collapses, falling with everything on it and inflicting 1d6 hit points for every 3 meters of cumulative fall [text continues for  what seems like almost a page more]”

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“A pang of unease passes through you when the self-propelled and frenetic pupil of one of those gestation cockpits freezes in your direction and without further movement, stares at you”

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“As you make your way through the window two squat humanoids burst out of the darkness lunging at you”

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“Immediately, part of the rock wall suddenly moves, forming a gigantic fist-shaped protuberance that crashes with all its force against the character! “

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“30. Orcs lair. Each orc in this area is armed with a long sword and a short bow with 24 arrows in a large quiver, all have Thac0 19 and are of Chaotic (Chaotic Evil) alignment. The armor class and hit points of each orc are detailed below. All orcs are evilly trained and move 30 feet each round. This is a key area for the defense of the dungeon, and due to the strategic placement of the cracks, the orcs are never caught by surprise by a visible enemy. Thanks to the sound emitted by the mushroom mass, they are also not surprised at all. Orcs cannot use shields while shooting arrows, characters attacking from room 29 suffer a -10 penalty to hit orcs due to the 90% cover granted by the loopholes.”

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I truly cannot accurately relate to you the depth of the issues here. As if every bad design choice in history was followed through on. The MASSIVE read-aloud. The first person narrative. The monsters that attack immediately. Explaining the simplest concepts ad-nauseum. Massive backstory text in the descriptions. 

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This is $4 at DriveThru.There’s no preview. Suckaaaa!

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https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/470083/the-tower-of-sovergauth-for-old-school-essentials?1892600

Is this the kind of work you’d like to do?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The War for Earth

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 02/26/2024 - 12:00


Thinking about Armageddon 2419 A.D. (Nowlan's 1928 novel that introduced the world to the character later known as Buck Rogers) while listening to the audiobook of the first novel in The Expanse series, I think it would be cool to run a rpg campaign in a sort of updated version of Nowlan's world. Of course, TSR helpfully already updated that world in Buck Rogers XXVc in the late 80s, so that's a resource, but I think I would tweak things in a slightly different direction.

The basic idea is the same, though. Civilization on Earth is pushed to the brink in the 22nd century by climate change and the political and social upheaval that follows it. Eventually war breaks up, and the Western world essentially collapses.

While all this was going down Silicon Valley and other wealthy futurist types had been developing their exit strategy by pushing space colonization through private companies to orbit, the Moon, Mars, and Venus. The forward-thinking government of China gets in on these efforts, and eventually a hybrid, corporate culture emerges on Mars.

So we fast forward a bit to a time where Mars has colonies established in Earth-Luna Lagrange points and is the colonial power seeking to rebuild (and exploit) the backward Earth. Martian colonial types and the Earthers that get with the program live in arcologies (like the Plexmalls of American Flagg!), but outside of those it's all warlords, mutants, and dangerous left-over bio- and cyber-weaponry from any number of wars.

There are also rebels out there. Earthers, sure, but also bioroid and cyber beings trying to escape exploitation by the rapacious Corporation of Mars. The Earth independence forces have secret bases in orbit and if not friends, at least allies on other worlds who would like to check Martian power--through proxies, naturally.

Anyway, beyond the influences mentioned about, others might be film/tv like Andor and Rogue One, Blakes 7The Creator, Elysium, and games like Transhuman Space and Jovian Chronicles.

Artists I Like Pt. 1

Doomslakers! - Sun, 02/25/2024 - 14:52

I'll do a few posts rounding up artists whose work I really enjoy. I'll present a few examples and talk about why I like them. I'll link to their pages and other ways to find out more, if such exists. These are presented in no deliberate order other than the order in which I thought of them and did the work of posting about them.

INSPIRATION

There's something remotely cannibalistic about being an artist. I "consume" art, process it inside my mind, then things come out the other end that include bits of the art I consumed. It's a lovely analogy, right? But that's how it is for me. I often say I don't have any original ideas. It's true. Nothing I've ever came up with was cut from whole cloth, as they say. It's patchwork, at best. Sure, sometimes it's novel and maybe you haven't seen anything quite like what I do. But believe me: what I do is riff on what I've seen. That's all I can do.

Art inspires more art. It's a continuous cycle of creation from some ancient beginning to some unforeseen ending. All we are doing is riding that ride, trying to make something beautiful to keep all this beauty alive.

RUNE RYBERG


Rune Ryberg is an artist whose work I discovered randomly on Instagram. As soon as I saw it the first time I thought it was magical. To describe it is hard. To my eyes it's a dose of Richard Sala and a dash of Ed, Edd n Eddy filtered through a classic European comics vibe. Rune is Danish and I honestly don't know much more about him than that. I'm not even sure you can get his comics in English, though I've seen them online in English. The website only lists Danish and French language comics.


His drawings are wiggly wobbly, and definitely feel inspired by the 2000s Cartoon Network era (though that's just a hunch and might not be true). His drawings flow and move. They are kinetic as hell. His comic pages are smooth, constantly in motion, and tell us as much about the character's inner worlds as their outer worlds.

I stared at some of these pages trying to figure out what tools Rune uses. My guess was traditional drawings with dip pen, then digital colors. Turns out I was right about the drawings but he seems to be using Micron pens for inks, at least for his main lines. But the colors... in some works, such as Death Save, they are very flat and I thought digital. But other works are clearly some kind of watercolor or markers. So I'm not sure.

He has a kind of drybrush effect in some of the shading and I'm not sure what he's using there.

Notice how his lines vary in weight a little bit, but not much. Under that, he's often using flat colors to great effect. Vibrant, rich colors that also convey simple depth.

Wonderful stuff. I would pay a handsome price for a big, fat coffee table book of Rune Ryberg art.






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