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[REVIEW] She Who is a Fortress in Dark Water

Beyond Fomalhaut - Wed, 07/21/2021 - 14:56

She Who is a Fortress
in Dark WaterShe Who is a Fortress in Dark Water (2021)

by Phillip Loe

Self-published on

Levels 5–10

Free modules with homemade charm rarely get the respect anymore in old-school gaming. The scene has commercialised, attention has become fixated on production values, glitz, and Kickstarter extras. More’s the pity, because there are still things out there which are not just free, but as good as anything released for money. She Who is a Fortress in Dark Water, a free wilderness and dungeon scenario, has action, whimsy, and a unique imaginative touch that puts commercial projects to shame.

The tone of the module is grotesque fantasy set in a swampland. Mother Cordelia, a now exiled member of a local monastic order, created a human child through alchemy, to eventually use his deformed spine as a key to the lock of a massive magical codex. Although her schemes were thwarted, now a different evil cult has kidnapped young Ignacio for their own nefarious plan, and are keeping him in an abandoned temple inhabited by lizardmen. Well, at least until the spine can be extracted and their evil plan meets with success (the mission is timed, precise movement rates apply, and STRICT TIME RECORDS MUST BE KEPT). The setup, while bizarre, does not lead to a grimdark module. The tone is more eccentric, with grotesque beings and events, and strongly original while staying comfortably within the boundaries of D&D gameplay. The locale, Theero Marsh has its own little ecology of denizens, from the unctuous oiltoads (human-faced toads whose gaze compels their victims to scarf down the poisonous critter there and then) to a local band of lizardmen, and a handful of weirdo NPCs. It plays effectively on disgust and decay, with a sense of humour to lighten the mood.

The first segment of the adventure is a swamp described as a pointcrawl (9 keyed areas), with rules for getting off track and getting lost (this chart is perhaps too punitive for the time limit) and a random encounter chart with entries that go well beyond “meet X monsters of Y type”. NPCs with their agendas or personal misfortunes, navigation hazards, and even a local petty god can appear before the party. A woman who asks the adventurers for all their food in exchange for a gift of gold thread and answers to three (but no more than three!) questions. A questing paladin with his retainers. Sunbathing crocodiles blocking the path. These chance meetings can greatly affect the rest of the module, adding or altering the way things proceed; or offer obstacles that require a bit of creative thinking to get through.

Free HugsThe keyed areas, likewise, are a good mixture of challenges, and each one has something that needs more than a standard fight/flight/loot reaction. There are hand-fruit trees, a giant crocodile called Cynthia, and the ghost of a saint. It is very visual stuff, with things that poke your brain and stay there. The final location, the temple, is a lizardman dungeon with 20 keyed areas. Once again, the random encounters offer good interaction/conflict potential – the giant rats are not just there, they are “rooting in the garbage”, and the four different lizardman encounters each have something specific going on (some guiding captives, some fomenting rebellion, and some just absorbed in an impromptu game of dice). The location key here is shorter, less setpiece-like, but the temple as a whole has superb flow, and there are many different ways things can go once the players get inside. Even throwaway places have details like the obligatory barracks room using once priceless tapestries as blankets, an organ room with “a curiously intelligent magpie”, or a barricaded room with a sign reading “BATS DO NOT ENTER” (with an invitation like that, who can resist?). It goes quite far with small, “inexpensive” details, and stays original throughout.

She Who is a Fortress in Dark Water is free, pedestrian in layout, and unapologetically homemade in its art and cartography. It is, I believe, just about right for a small one- or two-session adventure. In 16 pages total, you get a good background, adventure hooks, imaginative random encounter tables, new monsters, a wilderness and a dungeon. The writing is tight yet not underdeveloped; it is the sort of text that’s helpful and rich with flavour. Where appropriate, underlining calls attention to important room features. It is clean and effective. (As an anecdotal detail, you can also see the original sparse sketch/key it has developed from on the author’s blog, and make a comparison between raw notes and finished product.)

Overall, there is simply a good vibe and a sort of balance to this adventure. It is whimsical, fairy-taleish D&D with a strong element of grotesque. This is what module writing should be about. It could be an odd detour in a regular campaign, or a more permanent fixture in something like Dolmenwood. I can wholeheartedly recommend it, and hope there will be more in due time.

This publication does not credit its playtesters (it was apparently playtested at GaryCon).

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

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Gamma World 1st Edition & 2nd Edition PDF As Well As Gamma World Memories.

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 07/20/2021 - 22:12
 "Gamma World Science Fantasy Role-Playing Game is a complete adventure game for 2 or more players and a Game Master set against the backdrop of an imaginary future America. Based on one of TSR's most popular games, this all new edition includes expanded mutation, equipment and NPC description, rewritten and reorganized basic rules and a full set of previously-unpublished campaign rules.Inside Needles
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Picking Your Battle Grounds - The Profane & The Hellish - Elf Lair Games Veterans of the Supernatural Wars Rpg By Jason Vey & Tomothy Brannan Session Report & Monster Workshop Now With More Kasimir Urbanski's "The Invisible College" rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 07/20/2021 - 17:08
" Do not imagine that art or anything else is other than high magic! - is a system of holy hieroglyph. The artist, the initiate, thus frames his mysteries. The rest of the world scoff, or seek to understand, or pretend to understand; some few obtain the truth."Aleister Crowleythe problem as its been seen by fellow DM's is the fact that we're so eager to believe in world grinding conspiracies Needles
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On Ecology, Cyclops

Hack & Slash - Tue, 07/20/2021 - 12:00

   "It's not an eye, it's a time-sphincter" -Olabuk, mad mage

Nomenclature: One Eye, Cyclops, Logos-bound, Tartaro, Siklops, psyclops, Kyklopes or Kuklopes

Description: Giant men with a singular eye
Things that are known:
  • Giants that have one eye
Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • Their primary food source is man
  • They forge bolts of lightning
  • They act as host to annelids, until their lifecycle advances enough to be able to feed from humans. At this point, the cyclops discharges them through their eye into unwilling human hosts
  • Cyclopes have vestigial eye sockets with their eye in the center of their head. This is because in order to become a cyclops, one must remove their eyes
  • Cyclopes have white marble orbs in place of eyes. These are quite valuable and stealing one from a living cyclops is a feat of great daring 
  • The eye of the cyclops is unique in that it isn't covered by a lid. It rests as a sphere in the center of the forehead, hence the meaning of the name 'round-eye'
  • Cyclops are excellent engineers, working and constructing factories which produce tekno-steam marvels. They name themselves after elements and machines: bright, thundering, forge, etc.
  • They build extremely sturdy walls alternating stacking bricks to produce solid, impenetrable barriers. This brick stacking method is known as cyclopean
  • Their creativity spills over into agricultural areas, cyclopes being the first beings to develop agriculture. Legend says that every time they taught it to men, the men slew them
  • Cyclops can control the weather causing winds to bring them ships and dash them against rocks below to feast on the human corpses
  • Cyclops are noted teetotalers, becoming enraged at the thought of drunkards or dipsomaniacs
  • Cyclops cleanse their lands of all other life, having firm and immutable borders that they defend vigorously
  • Cyclopes are, at best, as intelligent as a well-behaved dog
  • The single eye grants all cyclopes great mental powers, not the least of which is prognostication, allowing them to see and change the future.
  • The cyclops is no man-like creature, but instead manifests as a stormy sky, and when approached, it reveals a malign milky sphere, a great eye; to witness the destruction it brings
  • Cyclops are bound by sorceries of the Pythagoreans, doomed to live 216 years backwards

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Confidence game: Why Faking Confidence Makes You a Better Dungeon Master

DM David - Tue, 07/20/2021 - 11:50

Some dungeon masters boast unshakable confidence in their skill, even though their games only attract players because no one else wants the DM’s chair. Overconfidence leaves these DMs blind to their flaws. I should know. As a DM, I have been that overconfident, and it led me to run bad games.

Now I know that my skills can always stand improvement. That my next session could be a dud. That however well my last game went, I can find ways to do better. When I finish running a game, I reflect back on the session and wonder how I can recreate the moments that went well and fix any missteps.

My lesser confidence makes me a better dungeon master. Don’t tell my players. I need to seem confident.

When expert DMs name the qualities of a good DM, they often cite confidence. I agree with 100% certainty.

As a dungeon master, you channel an imaginary world to your players. When you seem uncertain about what happens in that world, it yanks the players out of their imagination and reminds them that you just make things up.

In a confidence game, a con man schemes to gain someone’s trust in order to rob them. As a dungeon master, you don’t chase anyone’s retirement savings, but your game still needs trust. If you speak of the game world with confidence, players trust you as their eyes into it. They throw their alter egos into an imaginary world and trust that it will react in ways the make sense.

For dungeon masters like me who sometimes lack confidence, this insight should feel encouraging.

If you lack confidence, you can fake it. No dungeon master always feels confident. You just need to pretend enough to show authority. No problem. As role players, we all practice pretending.

Even though you can fabricate confidence from pure bluster, I prefer to reach the table armed with the real thing. You do not need 10,000 hours of GM experience to build the sort of confidence that helps at the table. You just need to master the sliver of your game world that players will see. By doing the preparation you probably already do, you can reach the table with confidence.

As a dungeon master, you may worry that someone at your table will know the rules better than you do. Don’t let this shake your confidence. Someone usually knows more, and that doesn’t matter. In a prior Dungeon Master’s Guide, designer James Wyatt wrote, “When I started working at Wizards of the Coast, it took a long time before I felt comfortable running a game for any of my coworkers, even though I used to always DM for my friends back home. They all knew the rules better than I did, and I didn’t want to get caught in a stupid mistake. Eventually, I got over that.”

You need to know enough of the rules to keep your game moving, but you do not need to match the rules lawyer. You can delegate mastery of the rules. Have someone look up that spell for you. Let the lawyers explain the corner case. They relish the chance.

“The DM is the person who prepares adventures, plans a campaign, and runs the monsters and NPCs,” Wyatt wrote. “I don’t want to be a referee or judge, and my players don’t expect me to.”

Of course, the rules leave many decisions to the DM’s judgement.

Confidence—or an imitation of it—lets you make these rulings with authority. If your rulings seem to rely on the players’ approval, you encourage them to quibble. They start to lobby for favorable rulings. I’ve sat at tables where players see the DM as unsure. They try to wheedle advantages and the game lurches along. Despite the merits of saying yes, compelling stories require obstacles. Immersion requires a game world that doesn’t change as the DM waffles. Listen to the players, make a confident ruling that seems fun and fair, and then move on.

The secret to projecting confidence at the table lies in role playing. Play the character of a confident, expert dungeon master. A dungeon master much like you. If you come prepared to bring a sliver of your game world to life, playing the role should come easy. You can run a great game. Your players sat to roll some dice and have fun. They want you to succeed.

This post originally appeared in October 2016.

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OSR Review & Commentary On Gregorius21778: 20 Sacred Sites For the Labyrinth Lord rpg or Your OSR Campaign

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 07/20/2021 - 06:44
" 20 Sacred Sites is a collection of special locations for high fantasy OSR RPG. They are places of magic or divine grace, and likely to be holy (or at least important) to the people in the area. Others are forgotten (or even shunned) remains of faith that is long past its peak of adherence. All of them offer a benefit to those who visit them, but some do not grant it without a ritual, test or...Needles
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The Declaration Class Enterprise Star Ship Updated For Stars With Number, Cepheus Engine rpg & The Hostile Rpg Setting

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 07/19/2021 - 19:40
 The "Other Enterprise" A contemporary of the ships  2153  the Declaration series of ion and hyperdrive ships were in service being used by the United Planets to ferry colonists to the Alpha Centuri colonies. The launch  of the NX-01 Enterprise spelled the end of the era for these ships. Even though they were contemporary with the NX-01 Star Fleet began to emerge as a well respected power within Needles
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The popularity of tabletop roleplaying and explosive growth in digital sales. Interesting DrivethruRPG numbers yet again.

Bat in the Attic - Mon, 07/19/2021 - 13:44

 So recently I visited a Barnes and Nobles for the first time in forever. While looking through the store I came across this.

and in a bit of a surprise there was a table full of merchandising much of it typical of folks trying to follow the latest fad. 

So DnD and roleplaying are a thing again not longer relegated (for now) to a single shelf in the back corner of the science fiction and fantasy section.

So this got me thinking about something I haven't done in a while. Crunching the order numbers from my sales to get a sense of how DriveThruRPG and other Onebookshelf sites are doing.

I posted on this back in February of 2014 and in May of 2015

So this weekend I went through my sales and pulled the numbers. Also I wanted to see what effect the pandemic had so I did a month by month starting in December of 2019.

It is rare that a day goes by that somebody doesn't download a copy of the free PDF of Blackmarsh. So for my data, I can get a order number on January 1st (or the first of the month) and produce the above. But keep in mind that this doesn't show absolute sales only relative sales. Many order numbers are probably internal orders used to manage OBS day to day business. And these order are across the various various OBS storefronts like Wargames Vault. 

So it looks like Covid pandemic had an effect as April of 2020 and May of 2020 showed sales well above the usual month to month growth.  With 1,086,556 orders processed in April and 828,972 orders processed in May. 

Year to year, digital sales have achieved phenomenal growth and has grown by an order of magnitude (10x) since 2008. 

If folks want to crunch the numbers for themselves I provided a link to the spreadsheet below.

Order Numbers for DriveThruRPG

Here what I see when I run a sales report. I blacked out the customer #. 

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On Strong & Weak Henchmen Forces

Hack & Slash - Mon, 07/19/2021 - 12:30
A house rule, to speed up play involving entourage or henchmen heavy play.

The Weak Henchmen Force
Each henchmen in combat with a player character raises that characters armor class by 1. When ever the player hits an opponent, the player does an extra point of damage for each henchmen involved in the melee.

The Strong Henchmen Force
As above, but the bonus is 1d4 damage when the player hits.
Note that this only applies to the player's henchmen in melee with the player. If your henchmen have ranged weapons, even if they are not the henchmen of the PC using ranged weapons, the ranged weapon using PC gains the benefit of the ranged henchmen for the duration of the missile fire. If no PC's are using ranged weapons, then the henchmen will not either due to fear of hitting their bosses.

This provides a reason for the monsters to go after henchmen (they have become ablative armor and damage bonuses).

If your loyalty is high enough (Fanatical) , you may also use henchmen as shields as in 'All Shields Must be Splintered!"

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The Bishop’s Staff

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:11
By Michael de Vertueil Atlas Games Ars Magica

Your group will be drawn into a dangerous entanglement between the mundanes and the Church. They will find a missing wizard, prevent the destruction of innocents, and investigate a saintly visitation. Multiple mysteries await inside this complete adventure.

This 48 page adventure ises 21 pages to describe seven chapters/events in a mystery. It is an epic shit show the likes of which only 2002 could have produced. Bad D&D adventures can only DREAM, during most fevered opium fits, of being this bad.

Hey kids, wanna game tonight?! I’ve got this great adventure that involves the african slave trade with some some brutal slave punishments, and, fuck it, why not, I’ll throw some rape in also! Who’s up for a game?!

I’ve always loved Ars Magica. I mean, in concept. I’ve never been able to keep a game of it running. There’s always the issue of the knights and followers and power levels and what “adventure” looks like. It’s always seemed a little slow to me. But, in theory, Fascinating! Maybe if it was run more like a LotFP game?

Anyway, back to this shitshow. No, it’s not about the african slave trade I made that up. It’s about jewish wizards. They are moneylenders, of course. Oh, the main guy REALLY loves  money and is miserly. No physical attribute notes, so we don’t  know if he has a big nose. (Ok, I thought to myself, no fucking way they left that out, so I went back. Sure enough, the artwork that is presumably of him has him with a big nose.)  Ok ok, so, the edgelords at Atlas have an adventure his Jerish wizards, who are greedy moneylenders with big noses. Oh, and then there’s the pogrom of the jews in the adventure. I mean, that’s the word that the designers uses. And, to be fair, the action does involve a good riot with burning down jerish peoples homes and killing them, so … yeah, Jewish pogrom! Who’s up for a fun night of gaming?!! I don’t know, maybe I’m just old fashioned, but it I’m not too certain that The Jewish Pogrom playset for Fiasco would go over too well. Who the fuck greenlit this in 2002 and who the fuck greenlit putting it on DriveThru recently? “Well, kids, you see, it was 2002, and all the publishers were edgelords producing crap. And that’s why we have the OSR.”

This is a thing of its time, I guess. The darkest hours before the dawn.

But wait, there’s more!

It is roughly scene based, as was everything at the time. Scene one is a page ong, with another couple of pages of supporting information, about the characters getting an invite to come visit another covenant in another city. Yup, a whole fucking page on what to do if the party feels insulted, what the deliveryman tells them and so on. I weep. Scene 2, a crazy woman yells things at you as you enter the town where the covenant is. This shit is esoteric beyond belief, no three clue stuff here. Scene 3, you have dinner with the other covenant, their greedy big-nosed jewish leader wont give you anything decent to trade with you and a dude in the garden tells you one of their order is missing. FOR TWO FUCKING YEARS NOW. (There is significant crossover to my next rant, so be patient, please.) Scene 4, dude pays for you to stay the night … at the cheapest filthiest place in town … which he owns. On the way you see a hut burning and two kids running away … who are found dead. Let the Jewish scapegoating begin! Cene 5 is the next morning, the mob growing, going back to the compound where youre told that they wish The Missing Guy was here. Scene 6, in the one room basement of the local church, maybe finding the missing guy. Scene 7, assault on the Jewish wizards compound by the mob and/or he general Jewish pogrom in action and wrapping things up. A fun couple of nights of gaming! Oh, did I mention that you will get no help from the local authorities, unless you are heavy handed with the mob, in which case 30 knights show up. Yes, please, quantum those fucking knights in. 

The organization is a shit show also. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Call of Cthulhu is the banner bearer here; just throwing words down on a page with little regard to how they need to be used by a DM. This is worse. Lots of NPC’s a SIX FUCKING PAGE LONG stat block for th head of the order, who doesn’t do anything in the adventure. Background sections that overly verbose and bury any roleplaying notes or important information in MOUNTAINS of irrelevance. The same goes for the main text of the adventure (which, of course, starts with a piece of fiction. 2002, gotta have the fiction piece!) Just mountains of words, which will give you a hardon if you are in to historical accuracy with regard to minor jewish sects but are useless for running an adventure. Which of course means that the sideline action, with your knights and servants, is going nowhere productive since they typically gather information and the fucking information is impossible to find. 

The very first words of the adventure are: Good published adventures are meant to be played and to this end should provide prospective storyguides with all the elements they need to offer their players a challenging and fun time.” Hey! That’s great! It’s then followed with: “This particular adventure, however, is also meant to be a good read. Thereader will share some of the initial confusion, puzzlement and sense of mystery which would confront a group of players.” Ah, so, it’s written to be read, and not played, after all. 

This is $8 at DriveThru.

Because it was on my Wishlist, that’s why. There’s a reason some of shit hasn’t made it off before now.

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Random Dying Earths

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:00

Here are a few random tables to create the barebones of your own Dying Earth setting.
What's happening?1 The Sun is going dark2 The Sun is becoming a red giant3 The Earth is just worn out4 The universe is ending (the Big Crunch)5 The universe is just worn out6 Reality has changed in some way
What's the environment like on Earth?1 Ok for now2 Desert or becoming desert3 Frozen over in ice4 Dark and mostly barren of life5 heavily polluted6 overrun by some new/mutant lifeform
Art by Darrell Sweet
Earthly civilization is:1 Dependent on magic2 Post-technological and primitive3 Primitive4 Utterly reliant on machines they don't understand
Prevailing mindset?1-2 Decadent and cruel3-4 Fatalistic and world-weary5-6 Innocent and ignorant

'Kevin' Supernatual Assassin & Serial Killer Adapted From Cabin In The Woods film 2012 & Sin City 2005 for Hostile, Cepheus Atom, & The Cepheus Engine rpg.

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 07/19/2021 - 06:05
 Powerful, deadly, & unatural are some of the words used to desrcribe the 'Kevin' entity. First discovered in the Black Forrest of Germany in 1945. This entity is a blank spot on the face of the world. The creature has no actual name itself & rarely speaks. What is known is that first circle demon possesses the body of a twenty something young man & its kept him young since some have speculated Needles
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OSR Commentary The Philosophy of Play & Learning - Cepheus Engine & Original Traveller rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 07/18/2021 - 17:20
 Learning to say,' I don't know everything as a dungeon master' is OK & important. There are still system kinks & ideas that even after all this time I've learned from fellow dungeon masters or even non gamers. I think that the most important thing in gaming is being able to say, 'I'm still learning & that I don't know everything'. Being open to others & new ideas is as important as actual play. Needles
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[REVIEW] Roman Silver, Saxon Greed

Beyond Fomalhaut - Sun, 07/18/2021 - 08:50

Authentic Staple Rust Not Included
(in the DTRPG version)Roman Silver, Saxon Greed (2021)

by James & Robyn George

Olde House Rules

Low-level (Barons of Braunstein)

This adventure module is an odd beast: an attempt at a historically accurate dungeon crawl, presented as the sort of DIY product you might find distributed by Judges Guild, set in the most “points of light” setting you can imagine. This is fascinating, although it does not quite work.

The setting and context of the adventure place it in Saxon England, a few centuries after the Roman collapse. The empire has long fallen, and what we are left with is a grubby setting where what remains of the monetary system is copper-based, but people mostly use barter. Luxuries we take for granted (swords, ten foot poles, ubiquitous lantern oil, rope) are just that  valuable rarities. Communities are small, and the wilderness is howling. This setting (also explored in the great Wolves of God, which might be used to run this adventure if you are not a dyed-in-the-wool BoB player) is built for adventurers!

What Roman Silver, Saxon Greed gives you is a dungeon in the buried cellars of an old Roman villa, a treasure map, and the description of Stânweall, a nearby village. Much of the introductory material – the setup – is conceptually interesting, but lacks the density of great, off-the-wall ideas which make early RPG materials so interesting. A lot is restating the obvious: perhaps the treasure map is found on a fallen traveller, recovered from a slain enemy, won in a game of dice, or even “anything else the Judge can think of”. This is the kind of material that does not get you a single step closer to actually running a good adventure with the booklet’s materials. A map of England is provided, without apparent added value (full page). A wilderness map shows nothing that could not be stated in a sentence, or which isn’t resolved by the half-page random encounter section covering the journey to the villa proper. The rumours chart is functional but generic – it is not something you would not improvise without prompting when the players started asking around in Stânweall (“Wolves prowl in the woods, and have become bolder”).

Maps of Questionable Utility

The adventure site – built around an authentic villa floor plan – is a 24-room dungeon. The intended tone is to make it a grimy, low-powered murder hole, and it is certainly realistic as the authors intended. However, this precise quality is what makes it a lot less interesting than a dungeon crawl. The villa basement is a relatively compact, cramped space without much in the way of doors (only one single room is blocked by one), where light and sound can travel freely. The brigands who lair down there, meanwhile, are alert and organised. This would in most cases result in a short stealth attempt followed by a siege situation, with more and more brigands emerging to join a mass fray. This promises a deadly fracas, followed (if victorious) by largely uneventful picking through the remains, as the dungeon becomes emptied of the inhabitants who make the place useful.

There is a reason OD&D’s dungeon doors restrict sight, noise, and above all movement through the Underworld, and this is it: you can enjoy every hand-crafted encounter on its merits, instead of getting rushed by the equivalent of 20 goblins. Roman Silver, Saxon Greed is that goblin encounter area, occupying a series of small rooms. There are prisoners, potential hiding places, side-passages with prowling beasts and potential allies. Most of it will not come into play, or come into play way too late to matter. The brigands are given interesting personalities (one is a former monk; another is a big man called “OXA” [the Ox] with a dog called “HUNDR” [dog]), and interesting situations – which would be useful if this wasn’t a scenario where you either have to fight, or stay very, very quiet to avoid fighting. The “feel” of the villa cellars are adept, and the slightly fantastic elements blend in well with the archaeology and the grubby dog-eat-dog shitfarmer milieu.

Roman Silver, Saxon Greed is an obvious labour of love. You can see that the cover has been scanned in with staples through the paper visible. It looks and feels like a lost 1970s relic. But as an adventure, it is bare-bones where it should be substantial, and its attempts at realism come at the cost of missed opportunities in gameplay. Perhaps more could be done in this area.

This publication credits its playtesters – a pleasant note!

Rating: ** / *****

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Against All Odds - Can Dragon magazine #18 Help With The Cepheus Engine rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 07/18/2021 - 06:22
 If you've played original Traveller for as long as I have then something really becomes evident. Traveller & to certain extent Cepheus Engine is a game of survival against the odds. This brings us to 'The Dragon Magazine issue #18 & Edward J Cooper's 'The Strategy of Survival'. At its core the Traveller game is partially one of exploration but as my uncle's belief that it was the survival aspectNeedles
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Desert Ruins & Abandoned Sectors - Science Fantasy The OSR Way Using The OSR Game Hulks & Horrors rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 07/18/2021 - 03:28
 "We are not alone in the Universe, but we have few friends. As we emerged on the galactic stage, we found a universe stripped bare of sentient life by a great Plague, leaving only the wild beasts and twisted plague horrors wandering the ruined hulks of lost civilizations."Artwork for Hulks & Horrors Indie 2012  Indie Go Go campaign used without Peremisson. "We are the Surveyors. We explore the Needles
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How do you do Patron style play in D&D?

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sat, 07/17/2021 - 18:43

You knew it was coming and you know that it’s true:

I’ll tell you why it’s a fair comparison. Somehow, some way… no one is playing D&D the way that either Gygax or Arneson did in the bad old days. They are playing some other type of game, really. They have no idea that they are taking on assumptions about how the game is played that prevent them from playing anything remotely like what the creators of D&D understood to be normal about its gameplay.

At any rate, when we talk bout Patron play and how great it is, most people have no idea what we are talking about. Further, we are generally talking about three or four different things under the same banner. So I am going to break this down in such a way that you begin your own journey into experiencing the D&D game as it was intended to be played.

  1. If you are playing 1:1 time, then monster lairs that the players encounter will generally have a week to prepare for the players’ return when they come back to try again in their (typically) weekly game session. Now… Gygax gives advice in the DMG on pages 104 and 105 on how to do this. You can use your imagination and decide what to do based on what you know about the monsters involved… or… you can hand over this monster group to a friend that can’t join your usual sessions and then see what he can come up with. This is the easiest way to begin playing patron style D&D right here. Your friend will imagine himself as the monsters and come up with all kinds of details and tactics that you would never think of– and his input will be way more interesting than anything anyone ever put into some kind of game book. You get a hyper-specific monster tribe for the low low price of allowing a friend who wants to play join the campaign even though they can’t be present for the actual sessions!
  2. If you look at most “old school” dungeon levels or even classic adventure modules like Isle of Dread, you often get situations where there are three or four different monster groups in the same area. A big part of your adventure can end up being a group of players getting involved with one of these factions, forming and alliance, and then using them to kill off the odd man out. This can be really hard to adjudicate fairly and consistently. Sure, people do it all the time. If you would like to create a simulation of a weird fantasy situation rather than merely handwaving all this… just get one friend for each faction, tell them what they would know as that faction, and then use their advice to determine how to play each one when the player characters show up. You can chose to be either session-oriented in how you play this or campaign-oriented. In session-oriented gaming, enhancing your players’ adventure sessions is the goal, so you use your outside friends’ input to create a richer game world for your regular players to engage with. In a campaign-oriented approach, the interactions between these faction players becomes the primary focus of play as they each engage independently in a sort of weird ad hoc 4X strategy game with a tremendous fog of war element.
  3. Now, every D&D game has a town to go with their dungeon environment. Sometimes it’s a full fledged city. These places are definitely going to gain various groups and personages and factions over time that the players will either contend with or else work for as patrons. Determining the behavior of these various groups can be made up in the heat of play to serve the ultimate goal of facilitating the adventure at hand. I know I did it that way! But after a while, these groups begin to take on a life of their own. At some point you may not be able to run them intelligently when your campaign grows beyond certain point. One way to handle this is what I call the Runequest method. When there are large scale unresolved political issues in your campaign city, simply do a Braunstein session in place of your usual adventuring. Turn over a major patron or faction of the town over to each player in your campaign to run just for the session. See the original Braunstein for how to do this. (Watch the Blackmoor film if you haven’t already, it explains everything!) This will be very free form and much will depend on how the players ally with each other and betray each other behind the scenes. Once you have sorted out the major large scale issues facing your campaign (and generated a good idea of how some significant upcoming events will be colored) you can revert back to normal adventure sessions.
  4. Another way to run your fantasy city is to stat out these factions as high level characters and/or Chainmail armies and then just giving them total autonomy to do what they want in a weird play-by-Twitter “always on” campaign that runs in the background of your players’ adventures. As a guide on how to do this, look no further than the AD&D rules. The Monster Manual explains how to set up monster armies with clear descriptions of their Chainmail-scale assets and also gives details on all their leveled characters. Alternately you can use the descriptions given of the large organizations described in the players handbook– the assassins, druids, monks, and so on. Note: this type of gameplay is so fun in and of itself, I don’t really care if we have “normal” rpg-type adventures happening in the campaign world that all of this produces.

Now… this really is rather simple when you explain it like this. But there are reasons why nobody spontaneously recapitulates the style of play that Gygax and Arneson took for granted.

  1. People think classic D&D characters are too simple to be worth playing and then come up with systems where it takes hours to develop them and then want to play in campaigns where they can’t die because making characters is such an investment. Then they start campaigns with a session zero where they sort out everybody’s characters that are surely going to stay alive forever and then the DM decides what the campaign “story” will more or less be in advance.
  2. People hack the D&D combat system so that it no longer scales up. They want to have a rich tactical gameplay where every single character gets their “spotlight time” during every danged combat round. This is not D&D, sorry. D&D combat is weird and stupid and is done with initiative by side where each side will commit to a specific plan AS A TEAM before the dice are rolled.
  3. People DON’T want to run henchmen even though they really really need them in order to survive real D&D sessions where there is a strong chance that one or more of the players’ characters will die every session.
  4. People are AFRAID to run mass combat scale interactions where there are hundreds of character on each side. Note that real D&D scales up to this level EASILY because its combat rules are all ripped off from chainmail. You can run huge battles theater of the mind style if you just steal couple of tricks from Chainmail and Swords & Spells: 1:10 scaling, average hit points for mass combat figures, and average damage for mass combat figures… with individual monsters interacting with the mass ones by dividing their damage by 10 unless they are using area effect attacks.
  5. People are REFUSING to run multiple characters within the same campaign. I dunno why this is so hard for some people, but obviously… you can create a much richer fantasy world if your best players are running different PC’s who have different power levels and different alignments and which are operating in different places on the map.
  6. People ADD dumb skill systems to the classic D&D game when it really never needed them in the first place. Want to know how the high level patron reacts to your dumb plan? You don’t need a diplomacy check when you can just ask the patron player what he thinks of it. Most of the game mechanics added to D&D really are there because the game has ceased to be played in its assumed context! Real D&D can go on non-stop for weeks without needing any sort of skill or attribute check.


So let this be a lesson to you. When you altered the D&D game to suit your idea of how it could “obviously” be more fun… you unknowingly cut yourself off from the kind of legendary gaming experiences that Gygax was actually setting you up to experience. It didn’t have to be that way, though.

Begin your path to gaming greatness today! Allow TOTAL PLAYER AUTONOMY in your game. Use 1:1 time. Encourage multiple characters per player, both henchmen and multiple independent “backup” characters. Embrace the mass combat possibilities inherent to the AD&D rule system. Add in patron players to your existing campaign when you get to the point where they can enhance your game.

It’s gonna be awesome!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Profane & The Hellish - Elf Lair Games Veterans of the Supernatural Wars Rpg By Jason Vey & Tomothy Brannan Session Report & Monster Workshop Now With More Kasimir Urbanski's "The Invisible College" rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 07/17/2021 - 16:08
" If you examine the highest poetry in the light of common sense, you can only say that it is rubbish; and in actual fact you cannot so examine it at all, because there is something in poetry which is not in the words themselves, which is not in the images suggested by the words 'O windy star blown sideways up the sky!' True poetry is itself a magic spell which is a key to the ineffable."AleisterNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tessek Lives!

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 07/17/2021 - 13:47

This week's update is all about a certain mummy. Tessek the Terrible has ended up being a more powerful foe than I first conceived him; he starts pretty powerful, but he gets increasingly powerful as he gathers his artifacts. He could work as a big bad for a campaign, since hunting down his relics and fighting him with different power levels is on the table. Each encounter with him can be a little different. The Stalwart Age databases have been updated; his character profile is in the characters tab, and the summary of his first appearance is in the comics tab. Head over and take a look.
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Sword in the Jungle Deep

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 07/17/2021 - 11:11
By Francisco Duarte The Keep Studios DCC Level 0

South of the famed city of Caster’s Crossing lies a jungle rife with dreadful perils and savage predators, known by the locals as Erset La Tari. Adventurers crave the bounty of treasure and powerful artifacts said to be lost in the depths of this treacherous place; many have lost their lives trying to uncover them. Now a band of conscripted prisoners are forced to best the horrors lurking in this dark place. Will they be able survive and perhaps unearth the prodigious power said to be hidden in the depths of the jungle deep?

This sixteen page adventure details twelve encounters in a jungle. Without much of a jungle vibe. Linear is what you get with a DCC adventure, with fighting and traps and an obstacle or two thrown in. The read-aloud and DM is terrible. Surprise. Not Interesting.

You’re the Last Hope, condemned prisoners sent on a mission and if you succeed you gain your freedom. That’s the last bit of interesting this adventure will have. You walk down a jungle path to the end, having you’re linear encounters, with the exception of a small clearing where you could also go right or left to have a single encounter each. I don’t know what I’m complaining about this; it’s what DCC is. It does get a bit tiresome though. Especially when it’s vanilla.

And vanilla is mostly is. Stray off the path and get eaten by a dog/tiger thing. Fight some snakes. How can giant cobra snakes be boring? Read on! Fight some things. Fight some more things. Jump over a sludge stream. Maybe go down to the bottom of a sinkhole. Can you tell my heart is not in this? It’s just … boring. De rigueur. 

The read-aloud is LONG. Long paragraph long. And in the hated italics. If I accomplish one thing before I die (I just did a few life expectancy calculators, I have 40-43 more years; I clearly need to drink more) it will be to drive the hated italics from read-aloud in adventures. I know, it’s my own windmill to battle. Ok, so, Long read-aloud to bore the players to death. It’s in italics so it’s hard to read. And it uses second person. I fucking hate second person read-aloud. It’s just garbage. “As you walk along the path it gets narrower …” Is it really that hard to say that “The path gets narrower?” is that really that fucking difficult? Do people not realize the issue with second person in read-aloud? Is it not the obvious fucking sin that I think it is? “As you gaze in to the muck of the stream.” No. NO! I do not gaze, at anything, EVAR! I want to fucking make it through the adventure and “Don’t gaze at things” is like rule number three for adventurers.” It does NOT create an immersive environment. It does the exact opposite and breaks immersion. 

The DM text is long. REALLY long. Like, at least a column if not three quarters of a page in most cases. And it’s just simple paragraphs, with no bolding or underlining r highlights or anything to help parse whats going. Oh, there is a “TLDR” section, which is a nice touch, but it’s not really meaningful to running the adventure. “The stream blocks the way and kills anyone who touches it.” Great! Where are the stream details? Buried somewhere in the following page of text.. *sigh*

How does it get this way? I think the first encounter has an entire long paragraph of text that tells of the ecology of the place, how the canyon was formed by the running stream. That has no impact on the adventure. It’s the Ecology of the Piercer, embedded in an adventure. It’s fucking padded out in the most annoying ways. “Although most local fauna will try to avoid the party, the Shardian Grass Cobras that flourish here are another matter entirely.” That sentence says nothing. “Should the characters decide to inspect the surround- ings they will notice two interesting elements, previously …” That entire clause has nothing to do. It’s just padding, obfuscating the meat of what’s to come. 

Ok, I lied, there is a bright point. When the party emerges from the jungle in to the clearing the read-aloud DOES tell them what they see in clearing, ahead, and off to the right and left. This is a good example of what I like to call The Vista Overlook. When you can see a decent distance that encounter should tell you something of what you can see, to lure the party off track and provide assistance to the DM for the inevitable party question of “What do we see?” 

There’s just nothing here. It should be a steaming jungle vibe, but that isn’t communicated at all, either in the read-aloud or the DM text. I now, evocative writing is hard. I know. I empathize. But a jungle adventure should FEEL like a jungle adventure, and not just walking down a long hallway killing a snake.  In the end, I’m using this as a textbook to pull examples from for my book on how to NOT write something. Not, let’s go see if I can lower my expectancy a bit more …

This is $7 at DriveThru.The preview is seven pages, the first seven. Fortunately, the last page of the preview shows two encounters. Note the padded out text. The first real encounter, with the snakes, is one of the more evocative in the text. I think the read-aloud ruins it, as does the second person, but hip-deep brown grass under a blazing sun has something going for it.

Because it was on my Wishlist, that’s why. Yes, I’m still working through my Wishlist. Because STUPID, that’s why.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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