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Review & Commentary On 20 Minor Magic Items by James & Jodi Moran Mishler For The Fifth Edition of the Worlds Most Popular Fantasy Rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 10/24/2021 - 17:43
"20 Minor Magic Items contains 20 items of lesser or least magical sort, designed to be given to lower-level characters. Most of the Minor Magic Items listed herein are common or very common items of minor, lesser, or petty sort.""One common or two very common items from this booklet can be substituted for any one common item from the standard treasure lists.The 20 items are:Adamantine-Chased Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Vancian Talislanta

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 10/24/2021 - 14:30

I've again been pondering running Talislanta in Pelgrane Press' Dying Earth rpg. Why this particular ruleset, which just happens to be based on the work of an author who was a big influence on Talislanta (particularly when there's another Dying Earth game on the way, after all)? Well, attempting to emulate its source material, it discourages combat and killing and encourages social interaction and trickery. While this isn't the only way to approach Talislanta, it is certainly a reasonable way to do it, and one supported by the example of the picaresque travels of Tamerlin through the land in The Chronicles of Talislanta.
Also, take a look at the key ingredients of a Dying Earth adventure the GM advice identifies:

  • Odd Customs
  • Crafty Swindles
  • Heated Protests and Presumptuous Claims
  • Casual Cruelty
  • Weird Magic
  • Strange Vistas
  • Ruined Wonders
  • Exotic Food
  • Foppish Apparel

I don't think all of those are essential for a good Talislanta adventure but Odd Customs, Weird Magic, Strange Vistas, and Ruined Wonders seem to me to be--and none of the others seems at all out of place.
The base level of the Dying Earth rpg is the "Cugel level" which seems to recreate the adventures of the knavish Cugel (hence the Crafty Swindles and Presumptuous Claims). The next level is that of Turjun (of Miir) and the earliest Dying Earth tales, which are a bit more standard Sword & Sorcery.  Turjun level protagonists are more competent and at least sometimes more moral, so the key adventure elements change somewhat:

Talislanta certainly leans "Turjun level" (with many an archetype based around combat), but I don't think it needs to abandon the swindles and verbal interplay of the Cugel level. My personal conception of Talislanta is that it would be best served by analogy to a Vance work that was written between the time of the early Dying Earth stories and the later ones (though Cugel's first appearance does predate it) and that's the planetary romance of the Planet of Adventure series. Tschai presents a sort of Turjun-level-esque hero, Adam Reith, in terms of competence--but he's less bloodthirsty than some other Turjun-level types--who is forced to deal with with verbose grifters at every turn and maneuver through oddball cultures.
Conceptual grounding aside, the ease of adaptation is always an issue with something like this. Completely remaking Talislanta in the Dying Earth system would daunting, even though Dying Earth is not terribly crunchy. I think though a complete adaptation might not be necessary; there may be a way to meld the sort of traditional Talislanta system with the DE mechanics, but I have only started thinking on this. Perhaps more on that in a later post.

Awake & Asleep - James Ward's Tainted Lands & Cultclassic Eighties Movie Mixed With Castles & Crusades A2 'Slag Heap' by Davis Chenault.

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 10/24/2021 - 06:24
" The Tainted Land's corruption & madness is no longer contained! The horror spreads into the world of the waking.""The hunt is on! Agents have hired out the infamous Redcaps to raid along the Hruesen River and Baron Botkin wants them brought to justice. A mad run by the goblins left a trail of ruin along the river road but the time to act is now, beforre the trail goes cold. the evil doers brokeNeedleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Darkest Cargo - Combining Troll Lords The Starship Warden & Empire of the Petal Throne With Gary Gygax's S3 Expedition To The Barrier Peaks

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 10/23/2021 - 17:32
 So last night I was messing around with Grey Elf's Classic Edition website, for our Halloween gam, The  Halloween game has been moved because of work scheduling. So let's talk about planar echoes & times from the Starship Warden which have allowed a number of alien races through the gates before they've collapsed. And its actually S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax that may hold Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On 10 Ways To Open A Chest

Hack & Slash - Fri, 10/22/2021 - 13:00
"But assuming it was a treasure hunting expedition (and the lower floors of the tower were reasonably cleared, with a path of escape blocked only by wandering monster rolls) what would a party need to do in one of your games to safely open a chest?"
Here are 10 ways to open a chest safely!

10. Pour acid in the lock.
9. Use a pick and chisel to break apart the lock mechanism.
8. Use a crowbar and specialized tools to pry the lock out of the chest.
7. Saws!
6. Carry the chest back to town and pay the thieves guild to open it.
5. Hammers!
4. Knock!
3. Unscrew the lid hinges.
2. Pry off the back of the lid!

And the number one way to open a chest safely?

1. Have the thief open it, there's always more where they came from!

Why don't they just do these things by default? They are time consuming, loud, or require heavy encumbrance penalties.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Minaria: Muetar

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 10/22/2021 - 11:00
 
Muetar is the largest kingdom of Minaria in land area and possessed of the largest army. Its rulers are the descendants of the Mueta horse lords who first harried the city-states of the Land of the Great Rivers, then were its foederates, until a chieftain general Oyaro (Old Meuta: Hoyaru), forced the Princes of Methluma to give him the title of Supreme General or Warlord. The word, as borrowed into the Muetarian tongue, eventually came to mean "emperor." Oyaro's line came to be the de facto rulers of the land in a military dictatorship that developed over generations into the current feudal state.

The Empire's current ruler is Herrott (Kheroth) of the Pirostar (Phiroshtar) Dynasty. sometimes called "Golden Helm" for brightly polished helmet he wears in battle. Herrott was the second son and given command of the elite guard of the Emperor, but ascended to the throne upon the death of his older brother in a riding accident. While his father's rule was occupied with internal struggles, Herrott turns his eyes toward expanding the empire, but he is cautious and not prone to rash action. He is an avid falconer as well as rider and pampers his prize animals.

Atata, his Empress, is descended form the old Oyarostar line. She has little taste for court gossip or petty intrigues and is judged as aloof and perhaps even severe by her ladies in waiting. Like all Muetarian elite she takes part in the rituals of the martial cult of Anshar (who has absorbed much of the folio and importance of the supreme god Taquamenau in the Muetarian ascendance), but supports a policy of religious tolerance in the Empire. She is an advocate for the poor and is said to use her influence to protect the more moderate clerics of Huisinga--this despite the peasant uprising blamed on radical members of the Sankari sect during the reign of Herrott's father, Maasa. 
Atata is also a patron of the arts and has even brought Ponian theater to the court of Muetar.

Coming Next Month to Kickstarter

Two Hour Wargames - Thu, 10/21/2021 - 15:12

 All good things must come to an end....



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Demon Driven to the Maw

Ten Foot Pole - Thu, 10/21/2021 - 12:52

Emergency Thursday Post!
Emergency Thursday Post!

By Brad Kerr Swordlords Publishing Cairn

SOMETHING IS WEIRD ABOUT THIS PARTY IN 16TH CENTURY SCOTLAND. A famous thief stole a magical jewel and hid inside a castle where a party is taking place. Enter the party, find the jewel, escape with your life.

FUCK! 

YES!

This sixteen page adventure details a nice party in a manor with about seventeen rooms … before things go to hell. It is everything an adventure like this (social/investigation) should be. Brad Kerr knows how to add flavour to a bit of scenery without bogging you down in useless crap. I want to have millions and millions of this adventures babies. I repeat …

FUCK!

YES!

Our pretext for this evenings adventure is “The thief Jougal stole the famed Sky Marble from the king’s bedside. It’s the talk of the town. A drunkard at the tavern swears he saw Jougal headed towards Firnhirst castle in Edburg, a forlorn neighboring hamlet. Following the drunkard’s tip, you find a full blown party at Firnhirst Castle. Two smiling servants hold the door and beckon you to enter…” Not bad, eh? Short. Its the talk of the town. A drunkard tells you. A full blown party. You could either use that text as read-aloud or roleplay it out; there’s enough there to get the gist of what’s going and add enough, as a DM, to fit it in to the game smoothly. My only complaint is the last line. Yes, that’s my only complaint IN THE ENTIRE ADVENTURE. As read-aloud that telegraphs to me, the player, to be on guard for More Than Meets The Eye. As the DM, it very successfully communicates the vibe of the adventure, but, perhaps, could inspire a bit more subtly. It’s almost a perfect set up.

So, fellow asshats on this journey we call life, SPOILERS. Yes, that’s right, I’m announcing spoilers. Don’t read further. I mean go right ahead and buy the thing so you can run it. You bought it? Ok, let’s talk …

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG! Cool, right? Ok, so, the local Baobhan Sith (deer-hooved vampires, with a delightful little art piece successfully conveying their nature. FUCK! Where’s my GURPS Vampires book when I need it?!) have come up from hell to throw a party for the Devil. And he’s shown up! Let’s see, they mostly look female, their skin is removable, sometimes swap identities for their own fun, and like to seduce weak-willed mortals and then slice their chests open to feed on their blood! (So, an older folklore vampire, not a D&D vampire.) And that’s what’s going on tonight. They’ve taken over the manor and are throwing a party for the local villagers. Shortly after the party arrive the doors get chained shut (windows are arrow slit windows, this being a former ‘working’ manor) At some point (in 4d4+1 turns) they are going to set the place on fire to burn it down and start their black mass feast. Inside is the thief, along with a host of locals and mostly disguised hell folks. Search around for the thief, talk to some folks, get creeped out by things, and then ABSOLUTE CHAOS starts. This is what SHOULD happen in an adventure like this. Oh, and as the vampire/sith are running around, after the fires have started, they are killing people, etc … they are yelling “Hail Satan!” Because everyone reading this INSTANTLY recognizes that is EXACTLY what SHOULD happen in this situation. I can’t think of anything else in life, ever, feeling more right than that. 

Excellent use of bullets points to highlight important information, but not an overuse of them. SOmethinglike “During the fire phase these things will happen” or some such. Offset boxes are used, along with selective building, to highlight important bits of reference data. NPC’s are generally found on one page. Maybe two sentences each, a general one and a “Wants.” Lum, a giant from the underworld, sad that her date ditched her. Wants a good time, a hot meal, and basic human kindness. Noice! I can run Lum. It’s quick, terse, and choked FULL of relatable human behaviour that I know how to run and is ACTIONABLE during the game. Hele, the Morning Star. Literally Satan. Doesn’t care about all this blood and sacrifice stuff as much as everything thinks he does, bu, a party’s a party. Fuck Yes! 

Supplementing this are a table full of random villagers at the party, along with another with some of their small talk, as well as a small table for the vampire sith. Both of these are ACTIONABLE. Their tables are focused on their interactions. It is GAMEABLE DATA. 

Likewise the locations in the manor. They are all handled on, like three pages. Because the designer recognizes that this is NOT an exploratory adventure. What happens in THIS adventure is the party wanders around from room to room interacting with people, mostly.  The descriptions are generally focused on that. Again, generally interactive, with an NPC or something interesting, like a locked door (which no doubt the party will fixate on) or some such. 

There are little mechanics for redcaps, an increasing number over time, following you … waiting until their are enough of them to overpower you. Sweet! And a great table on “What atrocity is happening in this room?” after the fire/black mass/slaughter begins.  What happens when you go to hell? The adventure gives you advice! 

EVERYTHING here is SPOT on. It is exactly the correct amount of information. It is EXACTLY flavourful enough. It is formatted perfectly to do what it needs to do. It’s not following rules, for formatting, but flowing naturally, relying on evocative tersity to convey what it needs to.

You can run this. You instinctively know HOW to run this. The adventure supports you in running it. It is full of GLEE, or, perhaps, POTENTIAL glee. 

It is all I have ever wanted in a D&D game. WHich means it is all I have ever wanted in life.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview shows the entire thing. Because Brad is a classy guy. Try page 6, the NPC’s for a great example of flavour, tersity, and gameability. Absolute wonder in sixteen digest pages.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/372360/Demon-Driven-to-the-Maw?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Use a White Paint Pen to Label Miniatures

DM David - Thu, 10/21/2021 - 12:12

I suspect most folks organize their miniatures by category. Teos “Alphastream” Abadia explains this approach, along with recommendations for storage options. I organize by set, and then use a resource like MinisCollector to find the figures I need. But unlike the older Wizards of the Coast miniatures, the newer WizKids miniatures lack any label that reveals their set. To help organize these figures, I write the set’s initials on the bases using a white, fine-tipped Sharpie paint pen.

Bonus tips: Use a white paint pen to label your wall-wart power blocks so you know what device they power. Also, if you become a famous artist and need to sign your glossy prints, the paint pen works beautifully.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Hearing the Owls Hoot in the Day Time

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 10/21/2021 - 11:00

 


Owls Hoot in the Day Time & Other Omens was the title of the 2003 collection of Manly Wade Wellman's John the Balladeer/Silver John stories from Night Shade Books. I have long been a fine of these Appalachian-centered fantasy stories (they were an influence on Weird Adventures). Recently I bought the audiobook of this collection for a work trip. I probably have read these stories in nearly 20 years so it was fun to revisit them and the narrator is just right for the material.

The Deadly Mine of Pantanga

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 11:11
By Tim Shorts GM Games OSE Levels “I won’t bother with how many and what levels the party should be.”

I call this a found adventure. There are no hooks and motivations. The party is traveling and they find a cave. Adventurers love caves. Can you ever recall a time when an adventuring party didn’t enter a cave? I’ve decorated the cave with bones. They love that. Wish the party good luck, then smile.

This sixteen page digest adventure uses around nine pages to describe eleven rooms. It’s small, low on treasure, and feels more disconnected that I think it should. While the writing, and encounters, are decent, it feels a bit empty, like there’s no point to adventuring here.

The writing here is decent. It’s focused and provides a moderately evocative description of the various scenes encountered. The very first encounter, the entrance, is reenforced (sp) by thick wooden beams, with a cracked crossbeam, bones scattered around the entrance, and a handful of barrels that smell of sour ale, one cracked open and covered in big black flies. This is the best example in the adventure of a good description of a scene. It’s short, and yet does a great job painting a vivid picture of the scene before you. It’s not really read-aloud, and what I’m quoting isn’t an actual quote; it’s got a bit of DM commentary scattered through it. But it could ALMOST be read-aloud, and does what it needs to do: give the DM an image of what’s going down, inspiring them to then give that picture to the players. There are occasional smells listed, or lighting notes, in the descriptions all of which work to let the imagination of the DM and players fill in the rest. It’s not overly rigid, not all rooms mention lighting or smells, which goes a long way to helping it be terse and focused. Which, of course, in turn then helps the DM quickly scan the room and run it for the players. It’s just enough, allowing the DM to then riff on things and leveraging their abilities for the game. 

Treasure is quite light, but the magic items in particular get a decent enough description. What does that mean? A potion is in a silver vial. Not just a bottle. A vial. Not just a vial, a silver vial. That’s one extra word, silver, and using “vial” instead of “bottle”, but the effect is substantially better than “a potion of ESP.” Likewise a magic ring that is platinum with an onyx band. These little touches really ramp up the nature of the items. This is exactly the sort of thing I’m referring to but encouraging designers to go just a little beyond what they expect. There’s an abstracted genericism inherent in the word potion, at least as in how we use it in D&D for a treasure description. By just working the editing magic just a little bit more you give the imagination something solid to hold on to, just as with a good room description. Non-traditional items are present as well, like Dead Mans Fingers, a mushrooms that grows to look like … dead mans fingers! Putting on in your mouth delays poison/death for 1d6 days, as it slowly dissolves. It’s a nice item. A good description analogy, a good effect (not immediate) and the added time delay factor. Folk remedies at its finest folks! But, yeah, the treasure is otherwise light for an OPR game. We’re looking at about 4000 in loot, for an adventure that has a deadlier than average trolland several 3HD monsters. Yes, it’s a side-trek sort of thing, just a spot on the road to poke in to. But … why? And I’m not talking hook. I’m talking Compelling …

The cave complex is small, about 60×90 in total. This makes many of the encoutnters feel like they are on top of each other. There’s an occasional note of a sound or smell coming from a particular direction, but the guidance here is not strong, nor is creature reaction, for a complex that is so small. It FEELS larger, or perhaps I mean more complex, than a typical lair dungeon, but it also doesn’t feel fully formed. It’s occupying some middle ground of not a lair dungeon but also not a traditional site-based location. I’m not sure there are a lot of these out there. A dyson map in a sinkhole comes to mind. So, no unifying concept, like with a lair dungeon, slightly larger than a lair dungeon, a variety of encounters in the location as one might find a site-based dungeon, but substantially smaller and shorter than one of those would imply.

And somehow this is all throwing me off of wanting to run this. If this were one zone of a larger complex, perhaps with a little more space in it, I think I would be more interested in it. It’s also got a few rooms that are crystal themed that come off pretty flat … a killer in a dungeon this small. They don’t FEEL like crystal rooms. It could be that I’m TOTALLY over the idea of just throwing in a couple of living crystal statues and saying “crystals in a room” being a good room concept. Or it could be that those are the weakest rooms in the dungeon and it’s no amount of leaping troll or “three pillar sized colonies of yellow mold” is going to save it from that. But man, it gets close … that leaping troll is a good one. And while the yellow mold room is a good anchoring concept, there’s no real reason to hang around.

The adventure explicitly has no hook. And that’s ok. But, there also doesn’t seem to be any reason to adventure here. Poke around. Find some things. Find a TERRIBLE thing in the yellow mold and just get the fuck out. It all feels so … unsatisfying. Isn’t there some german or french word that? When you anticipate something are are not really disappointed, but unsatisfied?

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You get to see the first rooms, which is representative of the writing. Good preview.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/372871/The-Deadly-Mine-of-Pantanga?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1980 (wk 2, pt 1)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 11:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around October 23, 1980.


Action Comics #515: Wolfman's story here is an interesting alternate history of the sort the X-Men would do a lot in the 80s (in fact, X-Men #141, "Days of Future Past" is out this same week!). We see a world where Vandal Savage is the absolute ruler and Superman is his dedicated enforcer, completely convinced of Savage's beneficence, until undercover rebel agents Lois Lane and Perry White make him see the light. The issue ends with Superman vowing to make Savage pay. It's odd seeing the very Silver Age Curt Swan drawing this sort of "modern" story.
In the Atom backup by Rozakis and Saviuk, an agent of cosmic balance named Mallo (who is drawn so mundanely and specifically, I feel like he has to be a reference to someone but I don't know who) is worried that having an Earth-1 and Earth-2 Atom without the same powers will somehow cause a problematic imbalance. So he switches the Atoms' powers, and Ray Palmer has to go through the issue just being tough and not having shrinking powers. At the end of the issue, Mallo restores Palmer's usual powers and plugs the upcoming "Whatever Happened to the Earth-Two Atom?" feature. This story is logically flawed and a bit silly, but it didn't bore me, which is a win for a backup.


Brave & the Bold #170: Burkett and Aparo bring Batman together with Nemesis, probably to try to build interest in the character who's going to return to the backup feature after this. Nemesis and Batman get to the top of the organization that killed his friend and brainwashed his brother to do the killing. It turns out Head is a guy in an iron lung. Nemesis wants to kill him, but Batman convinces him not to. Still, a dying Nazi scientist does the the job. The story has a nice moment where Batman is examining with professional admiration the quality of one of the masks Nemesis uses as a disguise.

Detective Comics #498: The Conway and Newton/Adkins main story starts out a little confusingly as it is a direct sequel to story from 1979, but they don't tell you that until a few pages in. After his last encounter with Batman, Blockbuster falls into the ocean and is presumed dead.  After washing up on a beach, he walks to Bleak Rock, West Virginia, for some reason where he gets involved in the struggle of miners against a corrupt union boss. Batman has been looking for Blockbuster to show up (perhaps a bit guilty over his death) and flies to West Virginia. He is promptly hit in the back of the head by a goon and thrown into a mine. He's found there by Blockbuster who starts to get enraged and wants to kill him. To be continued!
The backup continues the "Barbara Gordon--Murderer" storyline by Burkett, Delbo and Giella. Commissioner Gordon is back to bail Barbara out of jail and the lawyer she's friendly with agrees to represent her, but she doesn't have much time to clear her name--unless she wants to reveal that she's Batgirl. The prosecution has an invoice signed by her for the poison that killed the Congressman, so Barbara knows her administrative assistant must be in on it. She visits her as Batgirl, and the woman admits the part she played, but she didn't want Barbara to go to jail, only to leverage Commissioner Gordon into letting her brother out of jail. She now knows she was duped. Before Barbara can do anything with this information, thugs bust in, and she in knocked out in the ensuing fight. This continues to be a decent storyline.

Green Lantern #136: There's a lot going on in this Wolfman/Staton yarn. Trying to find out what happened to Carol Ferris, Green Lantern and Tom seek out Bruce Gordon who was at Ferris Aircraft the day of the bombing. Bruce Gordon is Eclipso, though, so a fight breaks out that leads to the collapse of the building. As GL flies to save Tom, he is transported away to a future Earth under siege by the Gordanians. The time jump has left him without his memory. The Space Ranger breaks him out of the hospital to enlist his further aid against the invaders. They manage to find a green lantern in an old weapon cache, so Jordan can recharge. Unfortunately, the Gordanians defeat them all and take them captive. While (well, not really since she's in the past, but you know what I mean) all this is going on, Carol is being hunted Most Dangerous Game-style.
Unsurprisingly, the Adam Strange backup by Sutton and Rodriguez is less interesting than the main feature. There's a sort of planetary Olympics going on on Rann. Strange is competing, but the contests keep getting won by the same stranger in suspicious circumstances. Strange figures out the guy is somehow solar powered and confronts him. It turns out he's a shape-shifted alien who for some reason thinks he will conquer Rann by winning the contest, but when Adam Strange defeats him in one on one combat his species gives up the attempted conquest.

House of Mystery #288: The "cover story" hear is a riff on "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by DeMatteis and Speigle. A skeleton in a top hat playing a bone flute shows up in an idyllic town once a year to lead away some mentally challenged townsperson. A young man is determined to get his friend back and tracks the Piper to a cave where he is torturing the man he took away. The Piper shows the young hero the River of Souls, where the dark elements of human nature are held--and kept away from the town--so long as they give up one innocent soul a year to be tortured and corrupted by the Piper. Our hero attacks the Piper to free his friend, then the River of Souls is released. The town begins to destroy itself in a frenzy of concentrated badness. Our hero's uncle joins him and the former victim in leaving town. He explains as they go that he had once confronted the Piper over the hero's father but had been too frightened to do anything after seeing the River.
The other stories aren't as good. Barr and Jodloman deliver a short story about a big game hunter shooting a guide in an argument over shooting an endanger wolf, but then it turns out the guide is a werewolf. "Blood in Sand" is a weird story by Gwyon and Redondo about a young matador who wants to win enough to pay the rent on his mother's grave, but his girl's unhappy with the dangerousness of his chosen profession. She's also being pursued by the wealth bull breeder. An old wise woman warns the matador that the next bull he fights will not be as normal bulls, but doesn't quite believe her. In the arena though, he realizes his rival's spirit is somehow guiding the bull. He manages to kill it but dies in the process. No one pays the rent on his mom's grave or his grave, Cain helpfully informs us. The last story by Kanigher and Cruz  is a tale of doomed love and jealous in an Irish fishing community, and is the sort of bland stuff I expect from Ghosts.

Unknown Solider #247: Haney and Ayers and Tlaloc have the Solider infiltrating the Warsaw Ghetto to get information from a Jewish scientist whose "gas diffusion" work will aid the development of the atomic bomb. The old man is dying, but he will only give up the information if the Soldier takes his granddaughter out of the Ghetto. They are on their way out, but they're captured by Jewish resistance fighters who at first thinks the Soldier is a Nazi spy, but won't let them go even after they find out otherwise, fearing that under torture the girl would give away their hiding place. One of the fighters helps them escape into the sewers for the promise of a lot of money, but a German patrol nabs them. The cowardly fighter turns traitor, but the Solider stuffs a cyanide pill in the guy's mouth! He and the girl get away, hiding in a wagon of corpses being removed from the ghetto. Outside, they are again caught by German troops, but the Soldier fakes a heart attack to grab a soldier's rifle. With help from the resistance fighters on the walls, they kill the squad, and he the girl make good their escape. 
Kanigher and Mandrake follow that up with a tale of ancient Greece. After the Battle of  Thermopylae,  a brave shepherd boy kills a Persian commander. The coda remarks that the Persians are now called Iranians and suggests the possibility that their "fanatical leader" might fall to a single blow from a defiant boy. The last story by Burkett and Ayers/Celardo continues the travails of the "Ruptured Duck" from last issue, where the old, worn out plane keeps somehow saving folks' lives--and still breaking down a lot. Part one seemed kind of pointless and part two definitely was.

Tasha’s Rules for Custom Origins Make Pencil-Necked Mountain Dwarves Overly Good

DM David - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 12:17

I played Rime of the Frostmaiden in a party that included the sort of armored dwarven wizard empowered by two features: (1) a weak dwarf’s ability to wear stout armor without a speed penalty and (2) the customized origins from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which let players assign their race’s ability score bonuses to any ability score. This dwarf started with a Strength of 8 and level of fighter for heavy armor proficiency, but some characters gain similar benefits by opting for a mountain dwarf and gaining proficiency with medium armor.

We both played wizards who boasted similar offensive power, except his wizard never got hit. When the character returned at high levels for my D&D weekend, a shield spell routinely boosted his AC into the 30s.

Aside from a monk with high-wisdom and Stunning Strike, I suspect the character type that dungeon masters find most tiresome combines high AC and the ability to cast shield. We DMs can be fans of the characters and want to land an occasional attack. I love Superman, but I also love the threat of a robot powered by a kryptonite heart.

Tasha’s custom origins improve D&D by giving players freedom to play the character they want without choosing ability scores that make the character less effective than others. In an appearance on Dragon Talk, lead D&D designer Jeremey Crawford says, “All games are about making choices and making meaningful choices, but we want the choices to be between things that are all fun and interesting. What we don’t want is a choice where just hiding inside it is some kind of trap. And that’s what the traditional ability score bonuses often feel like to people.

“As the game continues to evolve, and also as the different types of characters people make proliferate and become wonderfully diverse, it’s time for a bit more of those old assumptions to, if not pass away, to be something that a person can set aside if it’s not of interest for them and their character.” The Tasha’s rules create a game that helps gamers imagine and create a broader spectrum of viable characters. “You can play the dwarf you want to play. You can play the elf you want to play. You can play the halfling you want to play.”

Does the new freedom fuel more powerful characters? Jeremey says no. “Contrary to what many people might think, those ability score increases that are in those different options, they are not there for game balance purposes. They are there strictly to reinforce the different archetypes that have been in D&D going back all the way to the 70s.”

The game’s design gives smaller ability score bonuses to races with more potent racial features. Jeremey contends that where players put the ability score bonuses doesn’t matter.

Except the placement matters. Before custom origins, mountain dwarves gained a +2 Strength along with medium armor proficiency—a feature that rarely benefits characters who gain from a +2 strength. Fighters and paladins get armor proficiency anyway; barbarians and monks avoid armor. For wizards and other classes that actually need armor, that +2 Strength offers nothing. To the Player’s Handbook designers, this combination of strength and armor proficiency seemed like such useless fluff that mountain dwarves gained +2 in two ability scores rather than just one. Besides, Strength is a roleplaying choice for sub-optimal characters..

I suspect that if Jeremey failed to save against a suggestion that forced the whole story, he would admit that the placement of modifiers does matter, but not enough to derail adding the simple and flexible custom origins in Tasha’s. Mountain dwarves rank as strong, but not overpowered.

Still, if the designers gained a redo on the dwarf, surely the race’s mechanics would change. In the case of dwarves, the custom origin rules go beyond enabling unique characters who defy class archetypes. The rules encourage pencil-necked dwarf wizards able to wear half-plate. I’ve learned to accept characters who sell out to seldom get hit, but acceptance comes easier when the price isn’t a bargain. Nonetheless, if I were king of D&D, custom origins and their flexibility would stay despite the adventuring parties suddenly filled with clanking dwarven wizards.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Beneath Bernhold

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 10/18/2021 - 11:11
By Louis Kahn Starry Knight Press OSRIC Levels 8-10

Hidden in a wooded vale lie the remains of Bernhold Keep. Beneath this ancient fastness dwell the spirits of its original inhabitants, betrayers who turned away from the Light and embraced Chaos in a climactic battle that rent this land asunder. Cursed to everlasting unlife, they wait below, ready to claim the lives of all those foolish enough to venture into their demesne. Are you brave enough to delve Beneath Bernhold?

This 54 page digest adventure uses 24 pages to describe a dungeon with fourteen rooms. Yes, as that page count would suggest, it’s padded to fuck and back with conversational writing, background data, and myriad other issues. The text is hiding a mostly linear dungeon with traps and undead. *sigh*

Your level 8-10 party is hired by some sage for 4000gp to go explore some ruins. Why you’re doing this at level ten I don’t know. I guess you’re suckers. On the way you meet a wandering monster table that takes multiple lines for each entry because each entry starts with what is essentially “it comes out from behind a tree and attacks.” Oh, and the treasure? The DM is left to determine appropriate treasure for the party.

This hints at the major issue of the adventure (beyond dungeon design choices) : the padding. Meaningless padding. It feels like every sentence, every phrase, every room is padded out. Every little thing needs the DMs hand held. “If the players search then they find …” we are told. This is the classic quantum padding I’ve referenced so many times in the past. An if/then statement that should be reworded to just explicitly state what is going on. Or “The treasure found is as follows …” This is just pure padding, having no use at all in making the adventure clearer. “If the players are not carrying illumination …” the adventure tells us, then they can’t see. Well no fucking shit. That IS how fucking D&D works, isn’t it? Or, rather, how LIGHT works? If there’s no light you can’t see? “If the players don’t breathe then they die of suffocation” is, thankfully left out of the room description for each room. 

The adventure goes on and on in this conversations style. Room backgrounds and histories that have no purpose in the adventure. “Lord Bob had a sliding floor trap placed to foil prisoner escapes.” You can’t even argue that this might, in some way, cause the DM to put in some extra feature or be able to answer some player inquiry, like “this room used to be a kitchen” sort of thing might be, in some possible, arguable. On and on and on it goes, every sentence in a conversation style. 

This leads to, of course, a wall of text issue where all of the text runs together and the DM can’t actually use the adventure for its main purpose: as a reference tool to run the adventure. This is, of course, one of the main conceits of this blog. The Adventure is a reference tool for the DM running it. The DM uses it to run the adventure, and thus it must be formatted, and the writing put down on the page, in such a way that facilitates the DM running it. Spending minutes reading a room description, and fumbling through it during play in order to pull out the details you need to run the room, is not a reference tool. It’s something to be read, perhaps. The greatest sin an adventure can make.

And the gimping. *sigh*. Undead cannot be turned. No commune spells work. A trap “cannot be detected as a trap because it is not one.” You put a fucking needle inside of a mouth in which you put your hand in to. Sure, it may be a door lock, pricking you to get blood so the fucking door will open, but, that CANT be detected as a trap? Seriously? 

I don’t know what else to say. Sticking your monsters in the second paragraph, or deeper, so the DM will overlook them? “Oh, uh, wait, sorry, there’s actually eight skeletons in this rooms glowing with unholy fire.” 

The text, padded as it is, is devoid of actual descriptions of things. Just plain jane words with few adjectives and adverbs, much less evocative ones. 

It makes my heart yearn for what it was meant to be. Not the garbage thats in front of me, but what the vision was. The art is there, you can see it on the cover, and on a few pieces inside. It was clearly an act of effort to do layout. To use the formatting that was used. And yet the editing is not there, in any way shape or form. And then, the actual DESIGN of the adventure? The traps and encounters and how they work together? No. This kind of product just hurts my soul and makes me wonder why I do this shit. To be reminded, every day, or the meaningless of it all? And yet, we must imagine Sisyphus as happy …

“If the players don’t remember when you described the green mist going through the fireplace then remind them so that the adventure can continue. 

*sigh*

I thought, maybe, that Starry Knight had improved. Maybe I’ll try again next year.

This is $6.50 at DriveThru. There is no real preview. 


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/370241/SOS9-Beneath-Bernhold?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dark Sun: The Bandits of the Crimson Oasis

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 10/18/2021 - 11:00


The last two sessions of our Forbidden Lands Dark Sun campaign saw the party (now having made the acquaintance of the dune peddler Egon the Honest) taking yet another job from the dwarf merchant Urum ath Wo. Urum believes he has reliable information regarding the rumored treasure of the merchant prince Darom Madar said to be hidden in the remote Canyon of Golothlay.

Urum plans to do this deal separate from his work for House Zawir, hoping to strike out on his own. Egon negotiates the party not just decent pay, but a share in future profits.

The arrangements made, the small caravan heads out for the Silver Springs Oasis with the party acting as guards and scouts. At Silver Springs they plan to palaver with Chief Toramundi of the Silver Hands, the elven tribe that holds the Springs. Urum believes he has specific knowledge of the desert that might be helpful.

Along the way, they avoid an erupting swam of baazrag, and notice a halfling spying on them. Eowen the Elf tracks the halfling back to a small oasis, but finds whoever was there has already left. Fearing an attack, she heads back to the caravan, but is waylaid by the halfling. She kills the halfling, but hears that a fight has begun in the arroyo the canyon the caravan was passing through. 

The others are set upon by a dwarf ornamented like a sun priest, and three human bandits. After a short battle, the dwarf and one of the humans are dead. The other two surrender. Looting the bodies, they take studded leather armor and find a pouch with two potion fruit.

Putting some distance between themselves and the canyon, they decide to stop for the the night and make camp.

Doc Stalwart Issue 258

The Splintered Realm - Mon, 10/18/2021 - 00:55

 I had a little trouble getting this one right; it's a transitional issue, and I didn't want it to fall flat. I'm happy with how it turned out, even though it is far more character development and setting things up than it is straight-up adventure. I figure there's a lot of straight-up adventure I'm setting up...

Doc Stalwart 258

The Sword & Sorcery Paperback Renaissance

Sorcerer's Skull - Sat, 10/16/2021 - 14:00

 Likely touched off by the success of the Lancer (and Ace) Conan paperbacks, the '70s was a Golden Age of Sword & Sorcery paperback fiction. Okay, most weren't that good, admittedly--but there was stuff like Karl Edward Wagner's Kane, Charles Saunders' Imaro, and a number of works by Tanith Lee that were good, just to name a few. Also, even books that weren't all that great were often graced with Frazetta covers.

These gradually disappeared in the 80s. Sword & Sorcery was a genre born in short fiction, and while perhaps workable in slimmer novels, the multi-volume, thick fantasy series was ill-suited to telling tales of wandering swordsmen or rogues. The small press magazines that published this sort of fiction were already rare and soon disappeared entirely.

Amazon and ebooks have provided an avenue for the genre's return in something resembling its 70s glory. A number of small presses (and self-publishers) put out this sort of material with suitable, throwback covers. I confess to not having read many (well, any) of these volumes yet, though I do have a couple on my list. What's more exciting, though, is some new collections of stuff I already like.

Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories collects all of Richard Tierney's Sword & Sorcery tales of his version of Simon Magus of New Testament fame. He mostly fights Lovecraftian menaces cloaked in pseudo-historic references. Chaosium had a collection a couple of decades ago, but there's wasn't complete.

Charles Saunders has passed on, but his Imaro novels are back in print, and then there's Nyumbani Tales, a collection of non-Imaro stories in the same setting.



the FOREST that KNOWS your NAME

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 10/16/2021 - 11:18
By N. Masyk Monkey's PPaw Games OSR/Pinkhack Level? Fuck your and your concept of “levels”, just buy my product!

The sun is out. Smoke drifts from cookfires. Loggers nap in the shade, or dice beneath awnings on ramshackle yurts. Nearby, raised voices. One petulant: “This path was to be cleared weeks ago!” Another, defiant: “You ask the impossible. I need more soldiers!”

This 31 page booklet is not an adventure but rather some ideas for a setting in a weird haunted forest. Atmospheric, the way inspiring content in a setting guide should be. Also, falsely advertised and not an adventure.

fuck you.

its not an adventure

it says its a pointcrawl forest adventure. twice.

its in the adventure category

its not a pointcrawl

its not an adventure

It’s a collection of rando evocative tables and descriptions for a weird insular/haunted/bloody forest. Dark ancient forest, make some blood sacrifice to get the paths to open up, even just a drop of blood. Weird forest people living inside, farmers and the like. Loggers who want to log. Ancient ruins. Weirdo “formians”, no two alike. 

Everything in this is very well described. It’s evocative. The writing is descriptive, generally without not overstaying its welcome, although it does tend to the longer side. Which, is ok in something that is not an adventure. If I’m looking at a setting guide, or regional guide, some kind of thing to help inspire me to create a game or an adventure in that setting, then longer form writing, and even paragraph-style writing, is ok. It’s not an adventure, it’s something else, and it doesn’t need to follow the technical writing/usage conventions of an adventure. A bureaucrat is described as portly, brittle, slick-backed hair. Always glancing from side to side. Rarely leaves the city, eager to get back to it. “You there! You look a warlike lot. Indulge these local louts’ superstitious nature and the nawab will shower gratitude upon you!” That’s a great description. It’s specific. It’s sticky; it stays with you after you finish it. You instantly know how to run him. A brief conversation snippet, related to the adventure, provides more than the mere number of words would indicate. 

And the booklet does this time and time again. The formian table creates weird giants: a hobbled left leg, bound in chains, with a pair of ravens perched on their shoulder croaking words of prophecy, with a voice like a golden trumpet that ruptures eardrums in fountains of blood. That’s a pretty good set of random things to build a legendary creature out of! Magic items. Farmer descriptions. Things found in the forest. All of the descriptions hit and hit and hit. Who’s hungry for some blood figs?! The juice is a bright arterial crimson! They fall to the ground with a wet sound, SPLORCH. Sweet! 

But, that’s all the fuck it is. A series of random tables with some other descriptive elements, like creatures and so on. This is a booklet that you can use to inspire you to create a setting. There is no adventure. I’m not even sure that there’s a hint of an adventure. There’s some kind of implied “loggers need protection” thing at the beginning, but there’s not even enough there to go forward on. There’s no goal. There’s nothing to solve. There’s no places to plunder, no ruins to explore, no mystery to uncover. Not even a Big Loot to plunder. WHich is weird. There’s this section in the back that looks like it MIGHT be locations. It says things like “a break in the trees” and then gives some kind of a description. But there’s no map. And they don’t really DO anything. I mean, hey, some weird description and a monster that attacks. Yeah!

IF this were an adventure, then there would be some great evocative writing, but I’d ding it for a lack of interactivity. Writing a good location description, or an interesting NPC, is useless without something going on IN that space. You need some potential energy. In the example NPC, I quoted above, he’s at least sending the party on a mission/hiring them. But, beyond three “hook” NPC’s you don’t get anything like that in any of the locations or with any of the tables. They are just static random elements. It reminds me a lot of Isle of Unknown where you’d just encounter some bizarre creature.  For no reason. And, while some of that it perfectly fine in an adventure, if the ENTIRE adventure is nothing but that then you have a very dull boy. 

And that’s what you have here. A dull boy. No potential energy because nothing is actually going on in the forest.

Well, I mean, IF it were an adventure. Which it is not. It’s just another filler product masquerading as an adventure in order to snag your filthy lucre.

This is $5 at DriveThru.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/366945/The-Forest-That-Knows-Your-Name?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Westernesse

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 11:00

While traveling some for work, I listened to Vance's Suldrun's Garden as an audiobook. It gave me an idea for a setting:
Westernesse (the historical place, not the one in Tolkien's legendarium) is first mentioned by that name in the 13th Century chivalric romance, King Horn, though there is little truth of the place in that work. The Greeks knew the isles by many names: the Hesperides and the Fortunate Isles chief among them. The unusual apples, tended by priestesses of such power they were believed by the Greeks to be goddesses, were known to the Celts as well. The Irish spoke of their source as Emain Ablach. Geoffrey of Monmouth would call it Insula Avallonis and noted that Arthur's half-sister Morgan was one of nine sisters who ruled there, though Geoffrey's information is a distorted echo of past political arrangements, not the status quo of the 12th Century.
Homer knew it as Scheria or Phaeacia. The Phaeacians were perhaps the isles' original inhabitants, besides the fairy, and were themselves of part fairy ancestry. They would later be called elves, and perhaps still later be mistaken for extraterrestrials, if what is said about the abilities of Phaeacian ships is to be credited.
Greek, Celtic, and Phoenician peoples and religions found the islands at some point and left their mark. Brendan of Clonfert introduced Christianity to them, though only heretical forms chased out of Europe have ever had any real purchase, and they always existed side by side with paganism in a pragmatic pluralism.

Merlin is said to be entombed there, somewhere in the ancient forest of Broceliande, home to fairy creatures and prehistoric animals long extinct elsewhere in the world--though there were persistent accounts of encounters with a living, and mad Merlin in those woods. A certain Duke of Milan was shipwrecked on a smaller island of the archipelago and managed to make of himself a great wizard with the aid of a trove of Merlin's lore.
What became of these wondrous islands in the mid-Atlantic? Certainly they appear on some old maps, though their multitude of names make their identification uncertain and their placement on these charts often fanciful. Irish legends of Hy-Brasil (yet another name for Westernesse) suggests that they are cloaked in a strange mist save for one day every seven years. Stories of the Bermuda Triangle (not the islands location most likely, but not far off either) are full of strange appearances and disappearances. Eventually, like so many other Phantom Islands, Westernesse was merely dropped from the map entirely.

Watch Me Talk D&D on the Designer’s Den With Ginny Loveday

DM David - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 12:28

Watch my appearance on the Designer’s Den with Ginny Loveday. We talk Queen of the Demonweb Pits and Dead in Thay, and how they fit Dungeons & Dragons history. Plus, why designers should DM for strangers, my most popular posts, and much more.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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