Friday, November 09, 2012

Wear it on your sleeve

In my welcome back post I asked folks for suggestions for future posts.  I'm going to start today with Ark's question "howsabout sharing something you've learned as a grad student and how it related to gaming?"

My first thought on that point was that people should really wholesale rip off Charles Dickens for locations, characters and plots to fill out their steampunk games.  But that's probably not a new idea.

But here's something I've been thinking about for a while.  When you're an undergrad on the first day of class the professor probably asks you to stand and say your name and what your major is.  As far as I can tell this serves no purpose other than to make the Undecideds feel bad, because it hardly ever comes up again.

In my grad classes though, we're all studying some form of English something or other so we dig deeper.  I introduce myself as being interested in English lit with a focus on literary hoaxes.  Sam tells us he's into how trauma theory can interrogate postcolonial literature.  Other Jeff says he's a creative writing dude really into hybrid texts.  Etc., etc.  Note that I'm also Other Jeff.  That's hilarious in a world where everyone reads Edward Said and/or Jacques Lacan, trust me.

What I dig about this is that we all get a good foothold up front about where we are coming from.  So like the other day in class I called out Sam on his insistence that pre-colonial texts are "authentic" cultural artifacts.  He knows I wasn't trying to harsh his groove, but that I'm the vaguely postmodern dude who insists that Fake Literature Is Real Literature.  We were able to have what I thought was a fruitful conversation and part of it was due to the fact that we both knew the other guy's priorities.

So you can probably see where I am going with this.  One thing I think good ol' Ron Edwards got right back in the day was the simple recognition that different gamers want different stuff and we should clearly articulate these differences.  I don't fully follow his next step, that we need to craft games to exaggerate certain priorities and minimize others.  Rather I think we can mostly all participate in the same sort of game and see what happens when these priorities push and pull each other during play.

Obviously this requires a little self-reflection on our parts.  When we give a table full of new people a line or two describing our interests, what should we say?  For example, "Hi, my name is Jeff and I'm here to get my PC into trouble" may really help the other players when my dude starts acting stupid.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

fine tuning your monsters

Most DMs I know like more monsters better than fewer monsters.  Monsters are lots of fun.  Writing new monsters can be a easy way to pretend you're working on your campaign.  Buying books jampacked with new monsters helps keep the hacks in the game industry fed.  It's all good.

But today I want to talk about how to turn the monster list you have into something peppier.  You don't need to write up some new monsters. or buy a new book or even drag an extra monster book to the game.  I'll walk you through three things you can do to make your players' lives hell in a fresh new way, using only the '81 Basic D&D rules as my example.

Step 1 - Throw Stuff Out
Take a look at your monster list and try to get a sense of it as a whole.  What parts of it can be easuly cut?  More monsters isn't better when trying to make a coherent campaign setting.  (Though if you are making an incoherent campaign setting maybe you should skip this step.)  For example, depending on how you slice it, there's maybe 100 monsters in the Basic rulebook.  That's not a lot compared to campaigns with Monster Manuals in play.  But even in this list there's fat to be cut.  Does my campaign world need both Giant Ferrets and Giant Shrews?  Hell, does it need either?

Then there are the broad categories with lots of individual monsters.  How many types of dragon do you need for this campaign?  In my Wessex campaign using not just one type of dragon but one single, individual dragon worked a hell of a lot better for me than any game I've run with lots of dragons.  And if I wanted to do something more Sword & Planet style, maybe I would cut the dragons altogether and prominently use the Draco Lizard (under Lizard, Giant, page B38) or the pterydactyls in the Expert set.

Similarly, not every campaign needs every kind of monster.  Does your campaign need kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls AND bugbears?  Do you need skeletons, zombies, ghouls, wights AND wraiths?  One or two humanoid races and one or two undead may be enough to get the job done.  Or look at the entry for Cat, Great (page B32).  Most campaigns probably can survive without Mountain Lions and regular type Lions and Tigers and Panthers and Sabre-Tooth Tigers.  Just pick the one that suits you and stick the rest on a shelf.

Special warning: Be careful about cutting both orcs and dragons.  Orcs carry a bunch of Tolkienian and Warhammery baggage, but that baggage is something players can easily tune in on.  Or to put it another way, who doesn't like beating the snot out of orcs?  Similarly, dragons occupy an import conceptual space in Dungeons & friggin' Dragons.  Cutting them could alienate a lot of players.  Dropping both orcs and dragons may make some people wonder what the hell kind of artsy fartsy crap you are trying to pull on them.

Step 2 - Reprioritize
Now look at what you have left on your monster list.  What critters have you relied on in past campaigns?  What monsters have you not used yet at all?  As you situate your monsters into your campaign, consider a light touch with monsters you've already used and emphasize the stuff you have yet to take full advantage of.  Looking through the Basic rules I've never or only rarely used Sprites, Weretiger and Rock Living Statues.  Surely there's some great material waiting to be written about those creatures.  Sprites are "very curious".  What sort of trouble could they get into?  Maybe you could write a fairly standard Things Man Was Not Meant to Know adventure, only the trouble is the mad scientist type is actually a gang of magical tinkerbells. Weretigers are neutral lycanthropes.  That says to me you could write an adventure around needing to bring a band of those guys over to your side.  Or maybe you could do something with a Were- version of a white tiger being mistaken by locals as a ghost tiger.  And Rock Living Statues shoot lava from their fingers.  How come I don't use them all the time?

(Seriously, if either weretiger scenario or the sprite idea does anything for you, please steal it.  Every once in a while I get emails from folks "Hey, you mind if I use so-and-so in my game?  I think a lot of gaming bloggers would agree with me that we want you to use this stuff, otherwise we wouldn't share it.)

If you reprioritize your monsters, make sure you think through how this affects other mechanical elements in the game.  If you don't use dragons and focus on Rock Living Statues, maybe you should replace that sword +1, +3 vs dragons with something that beats up lava jerks.  Similarly, making undead less ubiquitous means you need to think about how that pimps over clerics.  Maybe you should allow them to turn something else or *gasp* grant them spells at first level.  Who charm person affects is another issue.

Step 3 - Repurpose
This is where you take the monsters as written and screw with them in some way to make them unique to your campaign.  Not every monster should be an exercise in "Oh, in Jeff's extremely hip campaign orcs are actually corssdressing timetravellers..."  Too much of that robs D&D of the lingu franca status that allows things like FLAILSNAILS to really work.  But a little such monkey business can really give you some neat material to work with.  You can start with little cosmetic things, like making Giant Tiger Beetles literally half beetle, half tiger (or half Beatle, half tiger).  Or making lizard men into full on Sleestaks.  I like giving Giant Crab Spiders big pinchy claws.

You can also think in terms of what ISN'T included in the monster descriptions.  The BX rules don't tell you that Skeletons are unintelligent undead robots or that Owlbears are no smatter than the average bear.  Maybe the skeletons in your campaign can be reasoned with, if you can get them to shut up about how much they miss being alive.  Whiny bastards.  And maybe owlbears actually have mythical owl wisdom and the PCs accidentally murder the Helpful Forest Oracle they were looking for.

And don't hesitate to just flat out steal stat blocks.  Maybe you campaign world doesn't need ogres as such, but if you want to quickly stat up some sort of big angry gronk, there's four hit dice of grumpy waiting to be used.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


Howdy, folks!  I'm not dead and neither is this blog.  My first semester as a fulltime grad student has been kicking my ass.  I haven't even had a chance to play any D&D since friggin' August.  But I did get a draft of my Lamentations of the Flame Princess module to Jim Raggi, though I still need to redraw the maps and maybe take one more quick pass on the text.  But it's written.

Anyway, I'm going to try to get back in the saddle with regular updates here.  Either later today or tomorrow I'm going to try to work up something on the canonical monster list in B/X D&D.  Past that, I'm not sure what I'm going to write about next.  Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Short Life & Stupid Death of Chester of the Pointy Hat

Back in high school I managed to play, as opposed to DMing, a lot more than I do nowadays.  Quite a bit of this play was in the one Killer DM game I've ever really encountered.  This is the DM that started one fighter of mine pre-raped and who colluded with the players to pull all sorts of shenanigans on each other.  We put up with a lot from that guy (though sometimes we pushed back, too) but he also was an adult running games for schookids, so he probably put up with a lot from us as well.

Anyway, although it wasn't a conscious design process I'm pretty sure that the concept for Chester of the Pointy Hat came from two sources.  First, H.P. Lovecraft's works and Call of Cthulhu were new and exciting to us back then.  I was (and still am) in love with the concept that reading musty old spellbooks drives you mad.  Second, I'm pretty sure that around the time Chester was rolled up and played that I saw on something like 20/20 or 60 Minutes a report on the effects of the defunding of the mental health care system under the Reagan administration.  [Please no politics in the comments.]  As is typical of this sort of reporting, the tone was "Holy crap!  Homeless schizophrenics wander our streets!  They are going to break into your house and molest your blender!"

So thus was born Chester's personality.  He was driven mad by his arcane researches, but not in the cool, Gothic, brooding, cackling sense you'd expect, but rather as a smelly, pathetic, muttering bum.  I refused to sleep in inns, opting to hunker down in rain barrels.  (The DM obligingly rolled to see if I caught pneumonia.)  I ended up getting kicked out of and barred from most taverns the party frequented, for being noticeably more unhinged than a standard PC.  Johnny Law got involved when in revenge I lit one tavern on fire.  Not with burning hands or fireball, mind you.  I just stone cold walked up to the exterior wall of the joint and assembled some kindling and got out my tinderbox, right in front of everyone on a main street in broad daylight  All in all, I thought it was an interesting character to play.

Of course he died.  Like I said, it was a campaign with a Killer DM.  And playing my MU as mentally ill wasn't exactly going to do the poor sap any favors.  Still, this death is one of those incidents that, in retrospect, makes me question whether Jim was a Killer DM at all.  Maybe he was just playing fair and we were all idiots.  He was our first DM outside of my original game group.  The lot of us were self-trained; we started with my Basic Set and had no clue what we were doing.  Maybe it was just a School of Hard Knocks campaign.

Anyway, we were going after a dragon.  This was super exciting for us.  There had been a few dragons in our previous games, but this was our first time that A) we knew that a dragon was in the dungeon and B) we had made a conscious decision to go after that lizard and take his loot.  We started out doing everything right.  I think we had just acquired a Dragon back issue with an article on successful tournament play and we were making a bit of an effort to use the guidelines therein to be more professional in our dungeon pillaging.  So as stealthily as possible we scouted out the whole dungeon level in advance and ended up with a graph paper masterpiece with a big blank spot behind a pair of big double doors.  That had to be the dragon's lair.  Even better, we located it with the minimal possible resources expended and no casualties.

This is when our new professionalism all went to crap.  We started arguing, loudly, in the middle of the freakin' dungeon, about the best plan to kill that dragon.  I'm pretty sure that after a few minutes of name-calling the DM started casually flipping through his copy of the Monster Manual, but we were too dumb to realize that meant he probably was looking up a wandering monster attracted by all our shouting.

In fact, he was double checking the range of a dragon's senses, which I'm pretty sure in the original MM is duly noted in inches.  So when my crazy hobo MU5 declared angrily "FINE!  I don't care what you assholes do!  I'm going to open those damn doors, throw my fireball and you can clean up whatever is left!!!" what I didn't know was that the dragon heard the whole thing.  Out of 'kindness' the DM didn't make me roll to open the doors.  I flung them open and promptly melted under a torrent of acid.  Black dragon.

As I recall, the rest of the party ran like hell.  And like so many sessions before and after that one, I started a new character.

At this remote point I can't recall much else of Chester's career save for a random encounter in a forest.  The DM rolled up gnolls on his wandering monster matrix and looked up the number appearing in the MM, which is something like 30-300.  The dude literally rolls every d10 on the table and declares "You round a corner and approximately 200 gnolls attack.  Roll for initiative."  We took the bastards in the longest single fight of that campaign.  We used every attack spell, sleeping and fireballing and Melf's acid arrowing as many as possible, but they still kept on coming.  The archers in the party shot until they were all out of arrows.  They still kept on coming.  My puny dagger-wielding magic-user spent more rounds in melee combat with those bastards than some MUs will melee over their entire career.  It was incredibly stupid ("We come round a corner, in a forest?"  "I set 35 of them on fire with magic and the rest just keep coming?") but also one of the damnedest damn fights I've ever played out.

The PC casualties in that campaign were ridiculously high.  Just getting from the beginning to the end of the session with the same PC was an exhilarating victory.  That's why I'm all for save-or-die, level drain, zero level funnels and balanced-dungeons-my-ass.  Not because I'm enjoy forcing players to suffer the same way I did, but because I want them to experience the high of just escaping the session with your life.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hulks & Horrors

I've been busy as heck lately moving to a new town (good-bye Champaign-Urbana, hellow Bloomington-Normal!), packing and unpacking and getting ready for grad school (I've got a teaching gig this semester!  yay!).  Things may start to return to normal around here soon.

In the meantime, I would be remiss if I didn't share a link to the Hulks & Horrors fundraiser, as today is the last day to get in on this bad boy.  H&H is a game of sci-fi dungeoneering that's radically compatible with older versions of everyone's favorite game of smelly underground locales and angry fire-belching lizards.  I've seen a very thorough playtest draft that looks hella sweet.

Even if you don't want to pitch in some dough, click through that link just to check out the cool illo of the hoversquid wielding two rayguns.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Star Frontiers and Space Elitism

Nice custom paint job on that outer space van.
Star Frontiers was the first sci-fi roleplaying game I ever owned.  As a kid I didn't get it.  Back then I thought all things sci-fi flowed from two benevolent gods: Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas.  Neither Star Wars nor Star Trek were a particularly good match for what was going on in Star Frontiers and I lacked the Golden Age of Sci-Fi chops to recognize what was happening here.

But as I get older some parts of the game have started to make more sense to me.  Here's one piece that seemed lame back then but I kinda get now: the spaceship skills.

The original Alpha Dawn boxed set contained no rules for spaceships.  This frustrated the bejeesus out of every purchaser of this game that I have ever met.  We all wanted to hop into a spaceship and go all Han Solo on the galaxy. The Knight Hawks follow-up finally gave us all sorts of cool rules for spaceships.  The basic game booklet is a meaty little tactical ship-to-ship game that holds up on its own very nicely.  However, the ultimate goal of zooming around the universe as easily as Buck Rogers or Starbuck was hampered by this chart:

This image grabbed from,
where registered members can legally download the old stuff.
This chart had to be a bit of a heartbreaker for folks who already had PCs they wanted to move into space careers.  My mind boggles at the sheer number of XP needed to be a Han Solo type, who could pilot a ship, plot a course, conduct repairs and man the laser cannons.  Such a character would need almost superhuman levels of skill mastery.

So let's go with that for a moment.  In Traveller Pilot is a cool skill but not that much harder to acquire than learning how to brain someone with a club.  But in the Star Frontiers universe you need a pretty good grasp of computers and a total mastery of technology (skills are rated level one to six) just to get in to piloting school.  Navigation through hyperspace is such a complicated task that only the most elite of computer operators can even attempt to plot a jump course.

The best analog here, I think, is the heyday of the American space program.  Space ain't for amateurs.  Only the best of the best of the best in various terrestrial professions have the chops to learn space skills.  Test pilots and aces are allowed near the controls of spacecraft.  No one else can cut it behind the wheel of these multi-zillion credit wonders of technology.  If you want to be trusted with the cannon on a spacecraft you need to prove that you've mastered smaller weapons.

Basically, anyone with even a single level of Piloting, Astrogation, Engineering, Rocket Weapons or Energy Weapons is officially As Cool As An Astronaut.  Younger readers may not remember this, but there was actually a time when pretty much everyone agreed that astronaut was the coolest job in the world.  They were like real life Captain Kirks living among us mere mortals, but working among the stars.

So if I ever ran Star Frontiers again, that's how I would do it.  Space travel on the Frontier is still a new and exciting thing, like the glamour of the 60's Jet Set/Space Age but writ large.  Starting PCs dream of joining the elite, those who are trusted to operate the small fleet of starships operated by the United Planetary Federation spacefleet, the richest planetary governments and the handful of interstellar corporations.  Every spacer has a cool nickname like Buzz or Deke and walks around with the unmistakeable swagger that comes from knowing they have the Right Stuff.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Yo, Banesfinger!

On an old post Banesfinger recently asked:

Does anyone know of a good Zocchi dice retailer (on-line) up here in Canada?

I asked around on Google+.  Here are the responses I got:

Eric BoydYesterday 4:05 PM has quite reasonable rates on shipping to Canada.

Ramanan SivaranjanYesterday 4:31 PM
This fellow was going to ship to Canada the next time he has another set of dice up for sale:

Eric BoydYesterday 6:16 PM

Hope that helps!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

some Fiendish fragments

Okay, so thanks to Aplus's DCC Monster Helper charts I'm going to try converting some monsters from the Fiend Folio (the 1st edition version) to Dungeon Crawl Classics standards.  If I find this fun maybe I'll do a few posts along these lines.  I'd like to do up some straight conversions, some fixes to monsters that I don't think quite work as written and some of Zak's FF work.

Norker: Init +1; Atk big club +4 melee (d6+2) or bite +4 melee (d3); AC16; HD 2d8; MV 30'; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60'; SV Fort +3, Ref +0, Will -2; AL N; Norkers are to hobgoblins what cavemen are to humans.  Their hides are hella tough.

Flumph: Init +1; Atk spike drop +2 melee (d8+d4 acids for 2d4 rounds) or +1 ranged squirt musk; AC19 (underside AC11); HD 2d8; MV 20' (fly); Act 1d20; SP musk Ref save versus attack roll or shunned d4 hours due to skunklike smell ;SV Fort +0, Ref +2, Will +3; AL L; These enigmatic weirdoes can communicate with supernatural agents of Law but speak no tongue known to humanity.

Gorilla Bear: Init +2; Atk slam +6 melee (d8+3); AC15; HD4d8; MV 30'; Act 2d20; SP Any critical also triggers a hug for +2d8 damage; SV Fort +7, Ref +3, Will +1; A gorilla that is also a bear.  Possibly enjoys honeyed bananas.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

press release followed by commentary

This appeared in my inbox because GenCon still thinks I am a legit member of the press.

Hostile Work Environment Brings Life to Roleplaying Games 
SEATTLE (August 1, 2012) There is a new company launching today which is solely dedicated to roleplaying games and the core of what makes them so enduring, the craft of storytelling. Peter D. Adkison, former CEO of Wizards of the Coast, Inc., and owner of Gen Con, LLC, America’s biggest tabletop games convention, is pleased to announce the formation of his new multi-media company, Hostile Work Environment™. Through a variety of media formats, Hostile Work Environment will bring life to roleplaying games, not by publishing them, but by filming, narrating, and illustrating them online, engaging and interacting with audiences worldwide. 

“I couldn’t be more excited about Hostile Work Environment!  Roleplaying games are my passion and through my new company, I’m creating ways for people to experience RPG’s that will resonate with long-time players and new audiences alike,” said Peter D. Adkison, founder and CEO of Hostile Work Environment. 

The first production for Hostile Work Environment will be a web series dedicated to a Dungeon & Dragon’s campaign titled The First Paladin, which is set in Adkison’s fantasy world of Chaldea.  

“The launch of The First Paladin web series is just the first step in what I expect will be many opportunities to explore ways to both interact with gamers dynamically in shaping stories, and to create entertainment across a variety of platforms including producing short and feature films for this specific genre market,” adds Peter.  

Hostile Work Environment brings together a highly experienced team of industry professionals, which gives it the clear vision necessary to make it a leading contender in the industry. CEO Peter D. Adkison founded Wizards of the Coast, Inc., and grew it to a multimillion-dollar company before selling it to Hasbro in 1999.  Under his leadership, Wizards of the Coast created an entirely new genre of games with the release of the world’s first trading card game, Magic: The Gathering®, and salvaged the Dungeons & Dragons® franchise through a business turnaround and publication of the wildly-successful 3rd Edition. 

Joining Adkison at Hostile Work Environment is Kim Voynar, who will serve as producer on HWE's The First Paladin web series and website.  Based in Seattle, Voynar previously produced "White Knights," directed by Joe Shapiro, and produced, wrote and directed "Bunker" via her Catawampus! production company. Since 2004, she has been a leading voice in the world of film journalism, as managing editor and film critic at AOL's Cinematical, and features editor and film critic for Movie City News.
About Hostile Work Environment
Hostile Work Environment, LLC, is a privately held company headquartered in Seattle, Washington. Its mission is to bring life to roleplaying games (RPG’s) through a variety of media platforms, creating ways to introduce gamers to new and challenging ways to participate and connect with RPG’s.  

Media Contact:
Stacia Kirby

Off-the-cuff analysis:
  • Hostile Work Environment may be the douchiest company name in the history of the game industry.  Can anybody top that?  Unless there's a Gang Rape Games or Hitler Was Right Productions out there, this has got to be about the worst company moniker around.
  • Points off for the copywriter for an unnecessary apostrophe in the phrase "a Dungeon & Dragon’s campaign titled The First Paladin".
  • Prediction: this web series will be four times slicker and half as interesting as I Hit It With My Axe.

so I may have to run 4e

Or at least a 4e powered game.  My daughter caught me reading the 4e-based fan-made Adventure Time RPG.  It seems pretty groovy, despite being more fiddly than I like.  She used this character creator to whip up a PC.  You get to choose your level up to 5, so of course she maxxed out her character.  

Crystal Wizard Emily

Level: 5
Exp: _____
Species: Crystal
Class: Wizard
Size: Medium
Vision: Darkvision
Health: 31
Healing Surges: 7
Healing Surge Value: 7
Initiative: +5 (+0 Dex, +5 level)
Speed: 6 squares
Armor: Cloth
  Dagger, Simple; One-Handed, proficient: +3, 1d4, Blade, Can be thrown, range 5
  Quarterstaff, Simple; Two-Handed, proficient: +2, 1d8, Blunt
  Hand Crossbow, Simple; One-Handed, 1d6, ranged 10
Ability Scores
Base Attack Modifiers
Base AttackModifier
Defense Scores
AC17 (+5 level, +2 Int)
Fortitude17 (+5 level, +2 Str)
Reflex17 (+5 level, +2 Int)
Will18 (+5 level, +3 Wis)

Skill Scores
Acrobatics+5 (+0 Dex)
Athletics+7 (+2 Str)
Bluff+6 (+1 Cha)
Diplomacy+11 (+5 skill training, +1 Cha)
Dungeoneering+8 (+3 Wis)
Endurance+10 (+1 Con, +4 crystal)
Heal+8 (+3 Wis)
History+7 (+2 Int)
Insight+8 (+3 Wis)
Intimidate+6 (+1 Cha)
Magic+12 (+2 Int, +5 wizard)
Nature+13 (+5 skill training, +3 Wis)
Perception+8 (+3 Wis)
Stealth+5 (+0 Dex)
Streetwise+6 (+1 Cha)
Technology+12 (+5 skill training, +2 Int)
Thievery+5 (+0 Dex)

Basic Melee Attacks:
  Dagger; Attack: +10 (+2 Str, +3 proficient) vs. AC; Hit: 1d4+2 (+2 Str)
  Quarterstaff; Attack: +9 (+2 Str, +2 proficient) vs. AC; Hit: 1d8+2 (+2 Str)
  Unarmed; Attack: +7 (+2 Str) vs. AC; Hit: 1d4+2 (+2 Str)
  Improvised One-Handed; Attack: +7 (+2 Str) vs. AC; Hit: 1d4+2 (+2 Str)
  Improvised Two-Handed; Attack: +7 (+2 Str) vs. AC; Hit: 1d8+2 (+2 Str)
Basic Ranged Attacks:
  Hand Crossbow; Attack: +5 (+0 Dex) vs. AC; Hit: 1d6+0 (+0 Dex)
  Dagger (thrown); Attack: +8 (+0 Dex, +3 proficient) vs. AC; Hit: 1d4+0 (+0 Dex)
Other Actions:
  Bull Rush; Attack: +2 (+2 Str) vs. Fortitude
  Grab; Attack: +2 (+2 Str) vs. Reflex; sustain minor
  Move Grabbed; Attack: +2 (+2 Str) vs. Fortitude; move action, halfspeed
Class Features:
  Cantripomancy: As a wizard, you can perform a myriad of minor spells to amuse your friends and aid your allies.
  Sources of Power: All wizards choose the source of their powers early on in their magical training. Many pick elemental sources like raging fire or billowing wind. Other more eccentric wizards choose almost anything from sweaters to toast to cutlery. Your source of power provides a great deal of flavor to your character and can be used as a simple way to customize a wizard. Any power that contains they keyword Source indicates your chosen source of power. Once chosen, you may not switch power sources. E-veeeeer.  [Elizabeth chose Sparkly Crystal Powers.]
Class and Species Powers:
crystal power
Note: Modifiers in parenthesis have already been included in your totals and are present only for reference.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

quickie wandering monster tables for DCC RPG

Two things I like about the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG are its good supply of neat monsters and its radical devotion to random die charts.  Two things I don't like are its lack of wandering monster charts and the absence of an index.  Well, maybe there are some wandering monster charts somewhere in the book, but without an index, how the heck am I going to find them?  So I made some.  These creeps are sorted mainly by hit dice and most of the die ranges are my guesswork.

Level 1 (d14)
  1. 2d4 Acolytes
  2. d6 Bandits
  3. d6 Deep Ones or Subhumans
  4. Demon, Type I
  5. 2d4 Dimensional Sailors
  6. d6 Giant Ants (workers) or Giant Rats
  7. d12 Goblins or Kobolds
  8. d6 Hobgoblins or Gnolls
  9. d6 Lizardmen or Troglodytes
  10. d6 Orcs
  11. d20 Peasants
  12. Primeval Slime, 1 hd
  13. Serpent Man with d6 Subhuman servants
  14. d12 Skeletons
Level 2 (d20)
  1. d6 Bat Swarms (mundane)
  2. Bandit Hero with 2d6 Bandits
  3. d8 Berserkers
  4. d4 Cave Octopi
  5. d4 Colossal Leeches
  6. Demon, Type I
  7. Gargoyle
  8. Ghost
  9. d4 Ghouls
  10. d4 Giant Beetles
  11. d4 Hell Hounds
  12. d4 Hollow Men
  13. d6 Killer Bees
  14. Knight with 2d6 Men-At-Arms
  15. d4 Living Statues (crystal)
  16. d4 Man-Bats
  17. Primeval Slime, 2 hd
  18. d4 Serpent Men with 2d6 Subhumans
  19. d6 Shroommen
  20. d4 Vombis Leeches with d6 Vombis Zombies
Level 3 (d16)
  1. d4 Androids
  2. d6 Cave Crickets
  3. Cockatrice
  4. Demon, Type I
  5. Friar with 2d6 Acolytes
  6. d6 Giant Ants (soldier)
  7. d6 Giant Centipedes
  8. d4 Giant Cobras
  9. d4 Living Statues (stone)
  10. Lizard, Giant
  11. Magician with d6 Peasants
  12. d4 Owlbears
  13. Primeval Slime, 3 hd
  14. d4 Underdark Slugs
  15. Witch with d6 Servitors
  16. d12 Zombies
Level 4 (d10)
  1. d4 Bat Swarms, vampiric
  2. d6 Bugbears
  3. Demon, Type I or II
  4. d6 Insect Swarms
  5. d4 Living Statues (Iron)
  6. d4 Ogres
  7. Primeval Slime, 4 hd
  8. d6 Rat Swarms
  9. d4 Giant Vipers
  10. d4 Time Travellers
Level 5 (d16)
  1. Ape-Man (Giant or Four-Armed)
  2. Basilisk
  3. Brain Elder
  4. Chimera
  5. Cyclops or Giant
  6. Demon, Type I - VI
  7. Elemental
  8. d4 Giant Scorpions or Giant Boa Constrictors
  9. d4 Harpies
  10. Hydra
  11. Manticore
  12. Minotaur
  13. d4 Mummies
  14. Primeval Slime, 5 hd
  15. d4 Shadows
  16. d4 Trolls

I put Peasants on the first level chart under the assumption that the party could run into an NPC funnel group.

Given how often they come up, the GM should probably pre-generate some Type I Demons and Primeval Slimes.

Level 4 is kind of boring, isn't it?  It's like the calm before the storm of getting completely clobbered on Level 5.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Zzarchov Kowolski has his head on straight

Here's how I know that:
The Known Rule
NGR contains a large number of rules, and in the end it is not likely someone will have them all memorized.  The rules of this game are only applicable if someone involved actually knows the rule (or claims to).  If no party involved knows the rule then they obviously did not choose their course of action based on the mechanics.  In such a case, the GM should issue a ruling and move on.  You should never be looking up rules during play.  Doing so results in -1 awesomeness for a player or +1 awesomeness to all players if the GM looks up a rule (per occurrence).
--Neoclassical Geek Revival, page 4.

I don't know what the awesomeness mechanics are yet, but it doesn't really matter.  Whatever they are, that's a rock solid approach to D&D type gaming.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dig this

I've been remiss in not reporting this item sooner.  Starships & Spacemen second edition is a project from Goblinoid Games that takes a musty old sci-fi rpg and updates it to full compatibility with Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future.

In case you're new here: Labyrinth Lord is the retroclone closest to Basic/Expert D&D and if add in the Advanced Edition Companion it also emulates they way AD&D played when I was a stupid kid who didn't know you "couldn't" mix AD&D and BX.  Mutant Future is an almost-clone of Gamma World that more compatible with LL than Gamma World was with BX/AD&D.

Adding a full-blown sci-fi option to this scheme is pretty much my definition of rock solid awesomeness.

This project is already fully funded, so if you kick in five buck now you will be getting a PDF of this game.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I live for stupid crap like this

So last night at the Armored Gopher we were playing a third session of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.  The party was descending this big spiral staircase somewhere under the Tower of Zenopus when some stirges flew down and started harassing them.  Eustace the Bold uses a Mighty Deed of Arm (which I use as an ad lib stunt system, ignoring the details in the GM section) to swat one to the ground with his shield.  The beggar-thief and the cleric of Cthulhu try stomping on its head, but both roll miserably, bumping into each other in their haste to kill the prone bird-bat-mosquito thing.  On the next round the stirge gets up and attacks the cleric, rolling a crit.   I don't know if it was my idea or not, but I will totally take the blame for this next part: the cleric now has a stirge jammed in his crotch, sucking out his, and I quote, "dick blood".  The stirge in question is killed on the next round and gingerly removed from the area in question.

The proboscis-to-jimmy attack ended up only doing a single measly point of damage, but I doubt I'll ever forget that particular one point.  That cleric won't either, I reckon.

I was interviewed

Jennifer Steen interviewed me for one of her Jennisodes podcasts.  She was a lot of fun to talk to.  You can check the interview out here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

hybrid Chainmail/DCC spellcasting

Rolling dice to cast a spell goes back to Chainmail.  Here's the basic 2d6 chart:

2-5 Fail
6-7 Delay
8-12 Success

-1 for a first level spell, -2 for a second level spell, etc.

+1 caster level 1-2
+2 caster level 3-6
+3 caster level 7-8
+4 caster level 9-10
+5 caster level 11+

I may have that level chart slightly buggered up, as I'm doing it from memory.  A bunch of my gaming stuff is packed at the moment.  Also, note that the Delay category refers to the spell going off one Chainmail turn after the casting.  In my games I'd probably rule that the spell goes off the following round, provided nobody disrupts the casting in the meantime.

Anyway, even if you are a pretty strict Vancian adherent there's still lots of uses for a chart like this.  A moth eaten scroll with an incomplete spell.  Some joker with read magic trying to cast a high level spell directly out of a spell book.  Someone attempting to cast an Arduin spell that's rated a spell level beyond the scope of the rules you normally use.  Basically, any situation where the casting is less certain than normal conditions.

For DCC-style "you must roll for every spell" shenanigans, just add a "1 or less" category that sets off a spell fumble and an "oversuccess" result on a 13+.  While I don't mind making up spell fumbles and oversuccesses on the fly, a couple good rules of thumb for the latter might be in order.  Something like this:

  • Any spell with a variable based on caster level gains +1d6 levels.
  • Spells with no such variable double range, duration, etc as appropriate.
  • Magic Missile gains one bonus missile for each point over 12 rolled.

If you want caster Intelligence to figure into the roll, here's a chart for that:

Int 3: -2
Int 4-8: -1
Int 9-12: no modifier
Int 13-17: +1
Int 18: +2

These are the standard stat mods for BX D&D when applying a modifier to a d6 or 2d6 roll.  See Initiative Adjustment for Dex or Adjustment to Reaction for Charisma.

Monday, July 23, 2012

video blog

Nine days left in the fundraising period for my adventure.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pre-FLAILSNAILS cross-campaign logisitics

"When last winter'’s tedium was broken by the fun and games at WINTER FANTASY, I was scheduled for DMing continual adventures in Greyhawk Castle, and that is exactly what they turned out to be — continual. Not having the heart to cut them short, I ended up eating meals while play went on, and the games lasted from morning into the late hours of Saturday night, from early Sunday morning straight through until evening, and fatigue made me a bit silly. When the last party, which included several regulars in the campaign (Mark Ratner and Jim Ward each playing one of their player character henchmen, and Ernie Gygax playing the character another participant had abandoned when he or she had to leave for home), beat up a body of gnolls and slew their master, there was a scroll amidst the heap of booty. It was, of course, a curse scroll, and it was a curse which whisked all creatures off to another world. Jokingly, I said that there was a I in 10 chance that the curse would teleport them all to Jim’s starship, and when the die was tossed out what should come up but the stark single line of a 1! imagine the surprise which struck my weary countenance with a look of wonder. . . imagine the groans from the regulars! They didn'’t want to be stuck aboard Warden, not with precious henchmen aboard that deathtrap. But all six characters, along with three gnoll prisoners, were, in fact, exactly that. The whole party was gone from the ken of D&D-kind and off amongst the horrors of METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA.

"That took place in January, and the affair was not resolved until Jim Ward’s next visit to Lake Geneva in late March. Frantic letters and telephone calls from Mark Ratner were to no avail; determination of the fate of the nine intrepid creatures from Greyhawk could be resolved no sooner. Mark, being headquartered in New Jersey, was unavailable for play, so we had Brian Blume fill in for him. And instead of refereeing, yours truly was now a player, a pawn of the remorseless ShipMaster, James M. Ward."
That's the introduction to "Faceless Men & Clockwork Monsters" written by Uncle Gary and appearing in The Dragon #17, August 1978.  Dig this neato title/illo:

The rest of the article is a blow-by-blow of D&D types stuck on the Starship Warden.  Today I mostly wanted to point to out that Gary halted play the moment the party arrive in Jim Ward's campaign and the players had to wait two friggin' months to continue play with those characters.  Also note Mark Ratner's efforts to get something going before then.  A lot of successful D&D play comes from being motivated.  Bad die rolls and crappy rules are largely surmountable obstacles, so long as the players are dogged.

One other thing I thought would be neat to share is the roster and magical items of this crew:

Thurible of Roaky, Cleric 9 (Gary Gygax, who is demoted to player in Ward's game)
Dorag, Fighter 9 (Luke Gygax)
Hodkin Ap-A Wrd, Half-Elf F6/MU5
Neb Rentar, MU8 (Brian Blume)
Scrag Flatchet, Assassin 8 (party character)
Nivell, Fighter 8 (party character)
3 gnolls captured in a previous encounter

I'm guessing that by "party character" that means a pregen Gary whipped up for the con.  Here's the gear these guys had with them:
"In addition to a good selection of the usual gear typical of members of a dungeon expedition, there were the following noteworthy items: 
  • 1 gem of seeing
  • 1 fireball wand (97 charges)
  • 1 strange gem with 2 wishes contained within
  • 1 snake staff
  • 3 magic swords ( +3, +2 teleporting — with some other minor abilities, +1)
  • +2 hammer
  • +2 dagger
  • 2 suits of magic plate mail (+2, +l)
  • 2 magic shields ( +2, +1)
  • scroll of 6 sixth level magic-user spells (none too useful!)
  • scroll of 4 fourth level cleric spell 
  • 3 potions of healing. 
There was also an assortment of normal armor and arms, including 2 bows — one carried by a fighter, one being amongst the arms taken from the gnoll prisoners. Fortunately, there were also pack- ages of iron rations and skins of water, for the group spent much time in areas where there was no game, but I am getting ahead of the story."

Note that Ward rules that the wishing stone and teleporting sword would not get their owners out of this scrape.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reputed entrances to the Dungeons Below Wintoncester

A hole in an old Roman wall at the end of Crap Alley.  It's called Crap Alley because several houses along the south side of High Street are perched over it and anyone passing along the alley are in danger of sewage barrage.
Via the Chapel of St. Oswald in the Assassin's Guildhall.  Not that anyone knows where the Assassin's Guildhall is.
Beyond a triple-barred ironbound door in the cellar of the Wild Boar Tavern.  Old Bert, the proprietor, is said to allow usage of this doorway for a couple gold a head.
Through the torture chamber under Winton Castle.  This is one of the many rumored ways Empress Matilda escaped the siege of 1141.  Ask around, every gabber in the city has their own pet theory.
Under a hatch on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. Swithun.  The Cathedral is relatively new, the old cathedral was demolished to make way for it.  Rumor has it that the entrance to the catacombs are not encompassed by the new floorplan.
Down an ancient well, said to be in a small courtyard between a tavern and a blacksmithy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Things you should know about Wintoncester

So I'm starting to gear up for a new Wessex-based D&D outing.  This time I'm going to set the game and the dungeon in/under Wintoncester, the biggest and oldest city on the map.  Here are some initial notes on the city.

  • No one knows how many people live there, even though everyone generally agrees Wintoncester is second only to London as far as English cities go.  When the Domesday Book was being prepared Wintoncester and its environs were one of the many places not included in the census.
  • There are no good maps of the place.  Non-natives should expect to be lost much of the time.  Even natives sometimes get lost in the maze of twisted streets, as the medieval and Roman streets are laid out in contradictory grids.  The problem is further exacerbated by by the unpleasantry of 1141 AD, when the forces of King Stephen and Empress Matilda fought within the city and much of it was burned down.  Rebuilding has been haphazard and without much central planning, while many blocks still feature one or more burned-out ruins.
  • The city has been continuously occupied going back to the Anglish, for whom it served as the capitol of the kingdom of Wessex, to the Romans, to the Belgae and the prehistoric Celts.  This being a D&D type campaign, all those people built tunnels of various sorts under the city.
  • The foremost lure for the adventurers are the underground Tombs of the Wessex Kings, where gold and magic await the daring.
  • One of the biggest buildings in the campaign is St. Swithun's Cathedral, right in the heart of the city.  The cathedral is the nominal headquarters of the ruler of the city, the Bishop of Winton, Henry of Blois.  Do not mess with this cat.  He is often call the King Without A Throne and is reputedly the richest man in England.  You don't achieve accolades like that by being a nice guy.
  • Wintoncester has services and institutions not found elsewhere on the campaign hexmap: a hospital, skilled craftsmen, an alchemist or two, a grumpy old sage, an Assassin's Guild and even a semi-secret order of magic-users one can attempt to join.  It's not quite Waterdeep or the Free City of Greyhawk, but for crapsack 12th century fake England it has a lot of possibilities.
  • There are nineteen different establishments that will sell you as many drinks as you can afford.

DCC fighter thoughts

So the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG gives the fighterly types this thing called an Attack Die.  At first level you get a d3 and it increases in die size as you advance.  You roll this die every time you make an attack, in addition to the standard to-hit roll.  The Attack Die roll has three functions:

1) You add the roll to your to-hit roll.  A 12 on the d20 and a 2 on the d3 means you actually rolled a 14 to-hit.  Note that the Attack Die completely replaces the fighter's Base Attack Bonus.  I.e. A 1st level warrior has a BAB of d3 rather than +1.

2) If your combined roll is a hit, you also get to add the same number rolled to the damage you do to the foe.

3) You can declare a Mighty Deed of Arms, which is basically the stunt system of the game.  If you hit and if you rolled a 3 or higher on your Attack Die, you also pull off your Mighty Deed.

There's a bit more to the Mighty Deed rules we can ignore here, but overall there's some neat stuff happening with these rules.  Clearly you could just bolt these rules directly onto other D&D type games with little difficulty.  In general anything that makes the fighter types feel fresh and interesting seems to be worth investigating further, I think these rules need a little tweaking.

First of all, I don't like the idea of asking someone in a Google+ game to roll a d3 all the dang time.  I can bring extra funky dice to my FLGS games, but I don't think it's fair to expect everyone online to own a d3 or d5 or whatever.  Yes, there are work-arounds such as rolling a d4 and re-rolling 4's or using one of the d6/2 methods, but that just seems clumsy when you are using that faux die with every dang to-hit roll.

Second, I'm not sure I like stunt systems any more.  I'd rather the players just declare awesome actions and we resolve them on the fly.  About the only thing I like about codified stunt rules is that there existence suggests to players that stunts are possible, but there are other ways to communicate that fact,

So here's my idea for adopting the Attack Die to baseline D&D:  Keep the normal to-hit progression for fighter types.  Disallow weapon specialization or any other stuff that would give additional bonuses to fighters.  Instead, all fighters get to roll a d6 with every to-hit roll.  If the roll comes up a 6 then they get either +6 to-hit or +6 damage but not both.  Call it a Mighty Strike or some similar nonsense and Bob's your uncle.

Yeah, a +6 modifier on either roll is pretty big and bad but keep in mind that there will be times when the d20 roll plus 6 will still be a miss.  You could use a d4 and get a 25% chance of +4 to-hit or damage instead of a ~16% chance of +6, but I hate rolling d4s.  Does anyone like those things?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dig this bad boy.

This is a modern replica of a 12th century 'bar' style mace fished out of the Thames.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wizardly Wednesday

Thanks to Jeremy Deram for this image!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

More LotFP contest results: Pro-Am category

Nearly everybody being judged today did their best to tell me how they were really not a professional game artists, but the fact remains that their work was published somewhere prior to the contest.  I created a separate category for these folks to avoid scaring doodlers away from entering the competition, but that really worried some of the entrants here.  What can you do?  Anyway, check these out.
Doc Rotwang!, who totally needs to update his blog, got a laugh out of me here by riffing on Raggi's weird choice of picking a header font with old fashion long s.

Craig Brasco's work here is technically good and I'm as fond of hot dark-haired sorceresses as the next het dude, but from an art direction point of view I just don't see the connection between the text and the illo.  Great pic, but I wouldn't put it on this particular page.

Felipe Budinich's tromp l'oeil approach is a great break from stock fantasy art and the execution is great, too.  Like the witchy gal above, the connection to choosing a name for your PC is a little obscure, unless Felipe is attempting to comment on the strange metafictional nature of RPG characters.  Whether there's a message here or not, I'd love to see a whole game illustrated this way.

This submission from Wille Ruotsalainen leaves me doubly frustrated.  I want to see the whole illo free of the text and I sure as hell want the text without the illo under it.

Here's another one from Wille.  I like both pics.  Fantasy RPGs need both more princesses in pointy hats and more samurai throwing down with bigass apes.  And I love the choice of a swan on the tabard of the fallen knight.  The discarded helm is a nice touch as well.  The only thing I don't like is that there are two separate illos side-by-side.  If I was the publisher and Wille was hired for art on this page I'd want a redo combining the two pictures.

I love, love, love Jennifer Weigel's pic bugs crawling all over this page.  They remind me of this old Homestar Runner cartoon.  But I hate, hate, hate the idea of covering up the text.

This other Jennifer Weigel illo is just about the best thing ever.  It nicely illustrates one of the spells on the page as well as winking towards Call of Cthulhu.  Cutesifying Cthulhu has gotten really played out in the last decade or so, but Jennifer brings a freshness to the subject that I find irresistible.  And that's why she gets the blue ribbon for this category.

Congratulations Jennifer!  Send me an email with your mailing address and your choice of whether you want the Minibox of Mystery or the Preposterous Miscellaneous as your prize.

The Ten Rings of Qwaar the Axiomatic

These ten enchanted bands are much sought by arcane masters.  Each golden Ring of Qwaar has two functions, the greater of which requiring great wizardly skill to activate.

  1. Ring of Ice - Identifiable by eight small, oblong white stones. - Lesser power: Ice Blast, 3d6 damage, 30' range, 3/day - Greater power (MU 5+): Summon Ice Elemental, 8 HD, who remain and obey wearer for 2d6 turns, 1/day
  2. Ring of Mento-Intensification - One princess cut (square) pale blue stone - Lesser power: Charm Person (old 'no further save' version), 10' range, 1/week - Greater power (MU 3+): Full telepathic contact with Charmed victims at will
  3. Ring of Lightning - One oblong green stone mounted diagonally - Lesser power: Shocking Grasp, 3/day - Greater power (MU 4+): Lightning Bolt, 6d6 damage, 1/day
  4. Ring of Flame - Four oblong red stones - Lesser power: Burning Hands, 3/day - Greater power (MU 3+): Fireball, 6d6 damage, 1/day
  5. Ring of Light - Two small white stones - Lesser power: Light, 3/day - Greater power (MU 1+): Turn Undead as cleric of your same level, 1/day
  6. Ring of Darkness - Eight tiny blue stones - Lesser power: Darkness which wearer can see as if illumined by light, 3/day - Greater power (MU 6+): Summon 2d6 Shadows, who remain and obey wearer for 2d6 turns, 1/day
  7. Ring of Destruction - One square orange stone - Lesser power: Shatter any object the size of door/barrel/etc or smaller, 3/day, magic items allowed save - Greater power (MU 1+): Disintegration, 1/day
  8. Ring of the Vortex - One small blue stone - Lesser power: Floating disc sustain by tiny whirlwind, 3/day - Greater power (MU4+): Whirlwind as per a djinni, 1/day
  9. Ring of Invisible Force - One purple stone cut in the shape of a five-pointed star - Lesser power: unseen servant, 3/day - Greater power (MU 6+): Flamestrike erupts from inside foe, 1/day
  10. Ring of Alchemic Power - One small pink stone - Lesser power: Turn any metal into any other known metal, up to 10 coin weight, 3/day - Greater power (MU 6+): Turn anything of user's mass or less into anything else of user's mass or less, 1/day

Note that none of the Ten Ring of Qwaar the Axiomatic function if the wearer is employing any other type of magic ring, but that all ten Rings of Qwaar will function together just fine.
A rumor among certain sages indicates that the possessor of all ten rings may access the Secret Ultimate Power of Qwaar, but that's probably just scholars conflating the rings with the Rod of Seven Parts.

Monday, July 09, 2012

More LotFP Reskin Contest Results

When I thunked up this contest I included a category for art appropriated from other sources so the non-drawing inclined could join in.  But I only got one entry, so hail the winner, my buddy Kirk.  Let's check out his submissions:
Calling attention to the airship lurking in the vehicle price list is a great idea.  Raise your hand if you missed that LotFP included airships as a canonical mode of transport?  I missed it.

If you're going to swipe your art, choosing a fun source like the Order of the Stick is aces in my book.

So, Kirk, congratulations on your victory by default, Heinz Doofensmirtz's favorite kind of victory.  Since Jonas selected the Boxed Set Bonanza, you may pick from one of the following grab bag prizes:

The Hardbound Hoard
The Minibox of Mystery
The Preposterous Miscellaneous

Pick one and I'll bring it to Wednesday night's game.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Wizards as Holmes Basic monsters

I woke up this morning thinking it might be neat to imagine what wizards might have looked like if they were written up as a foe in the monster section of the Holmes edit of D&D.  Here's what I came up with.


Move: 120 feet/turn     Alignment: variable
Hit Dice: 4     Attacks: 1
Armor Class: 5     Damage: 1-6 points
Treasure Type: E, S, T

Wizards are semi-human spellcasters whose abilities exceed that of normal magic-users.  They have 2d4 first level and d6 second level spells available to them, as well as d4 strange powers beyond the normal spell rules.  50% of all wizards have some sort of aberrant appearance that reveals their inhuman nature.  Most wizards have d6 unusual minions, such as demonic imps, a hunchback, robots, a super-intelligent horse, etc. 

Why do wizards have AC 5?  Because they're wizards.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Behold, Ragnar!

This delightful drawing, by Adam Thornton, should have been party of Wednesday's judging but got caught in the spam folder.  Sorry Adam!

To avoid this problem coming up in the other categories, you might want to send me a follow-up email if your name does not appear on this list: Kirk Hess, Craig Brasco, Felipe Budinich, Jennifer Weigel,   Will Routsalainen, Michael Brough, Brett, Scrap Pruncess.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Broodmother Sky Fortress videoblog

If what I'm saying here makes sense, please consider pledging for the Broodmother Sky Fortress crowdsourcing campaign.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

LotFP art contest judging, part 1

Okay, time to "judge like apes!" as Milk & Cheese once said.  I challenged readers to grab the totally free no-art version of the main Lamentations of the Flame Princess rulebook (available here) and fill in the blanks with less gore-tastic art.  Or at least differently gore-tastic art.  Today we'll look at the first category, original art by total amateurs.  A couple of entrants might be cross with me because I pushed them into the judging Pro-Am category, but come on, suck it up.

Anywhere, check out some art.  Click to embiggen.

First up is Tim Schaeffer.  What appear to be Sathar (from Star Frontiers) dissecting humans is a great choice of subject matter for the "Is the Character Suitable?" section.  It fits in well with the general grimdark horrorcore tone of the actual LotFP art, which is kind of the opposite of what I was looking for in this contest.  The examining table on the left looks a bit like a lobster tail, which I can't decide if I like or not but I'm pretty sure wasn't intentional.  Also, why are those dudes wearing underwear?  Either this is a soulless inhuman dissection room or not.  For the integrity of the scene those dudes' johnsons should really be on display.

Paul of Blog of Holding did great work here.  A British imperialist and a Japanese imperialist meeting makes a great illo for the languages section.  You know some shit is gonna go down there.  And the illo in the lower right corner is a great concept.  I love the dude with the map taped to the inside of his shield!  I think some of the shading got a little out of control though, as it looks to me like the area around the torchbearer's hand should be lit at least as much as the map.

The last entry in this category is from Jonas Mustonen and I am eating this cartoony style up.  Simple lines suggest so much here.  And look how just some exclamation marks and frowny faces show so much expression on those monsters.  And that stop sign cracks me up.  The other two entries are very entertaining, but I have to give the award to Jonas.

Jonas, you get your pick of one of the following boxes of game stuff:

The Boxed Set Bonanza
The Hardbound Hoard

The Minibox of Mystery
The Preposterous Miscellaneous

Shoot me your preference and your mailing address and I'll try to get to the post office by the end of the week.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Jeff salutes: Graham Staplehurst

I don't really know anything about Graham Staplehurst other than his credits: Robin Hood (the Rolemaster/HERO sourcebook), Angmar, Minis Tirith, Phantom of the Northern Marshes, Gates of Mordor, as well as White Dwarf articles stretching from #18 to #93, including all of these MERP articles:

Issue #64 - "The Dawn of Unlight: A MERP/AD&D Scenario in the Forest of Mirkwood"
Issue #73 - "Star Spray" - another MERP/AD&D dual stat
Issue #77 - "A Secret Wish: An Adventure for MERP and D&D"
Issue #79 - "Where and Back Again? Or, Starting a Middle-earth Campaign"
Issue #87 - "Taurëfantô" - also MERP, set in Mirkwood
Issue #89 - "On Ealden Byrgen" - actually a Robin Hood adventure
Issue #93 - "Letters From A Foreign Land: Multi-System Adventure for 3-5 PCs"  Purportedly statted up for WFRP, MERP and Call of Cthulhu!

Back in the day I got Robin Hood when it first came out.  I recall thinking it was pretty dang good, but without orcs and wizards I didn't see much reason to run it for my game group.  I think that's the big problem with medieval historical games in this hobby: they can feel like D&D Minus.  Still, Mr. Staplehurst did great work with the material.

I've got two of his White Dwarf adventures, "The Dawn of Unlight" and "Star Spray" and I think they are pretty excellent.  Each takes an incident in the Silmarillion and explores its ramifications in the age of Bilbo Baggins, giving a real epic turn to the PCs activities.  Another virtue of both is that they're short, maybe 3 or 4 pages each, but easily expandable into large arcs with suggestions how to do so.  And in "Star Spray" there's a side quest where you try to capture a live wooly mammoth for a circus.  How sweet is that?  The only thing that may annoy some is that there's a little bit of the Big Important NPCs The Players Are Supposed To Watch In Awe, but they all have stats so if the party really wants to backstab them they can.

Any other Graham Staplehurst fans out there?  How are his full-blown MERP modules?

Additional: While researching Mr. Staplehurst I came across a MERP article in White Dwarf written by someone else.  Martin Veart's "Up and Coming: A Look at Levels in Middle-Earth Role-Playing" in issue #80 sounds intriguing.  With MERP rating a typical orc warrior as level 3 to 5, I've always wanted to see an explanation for what a first level adventurer represents.  Are you a kid at first level?  I remember one MERP session where our entire party was routed by a single grumpy orc.