Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Winter Time Gaming

Winter is in full swing here. It came a little later than usually, but is making up for lost time by dumping a couple feet of snow on us. Christmas is over and the New Year is coming on strong and this time of year always makes me want to game more. After all the time spent with families over the holidays it's good to go out and kill a horde of critters. Good stress relief therapy.

All the snow and cold makes me want to game more. I do miss sitting around a table and throwing dice, but there is something to be said about staying in your own home while using your preferred on-line tabletop program and skype to harass your friends or challenge a GM's ruling. My group is hoping to meet twice a week this coming year. Rob and I may attempt to get a new group running in the area. It's good to game with different people to shake off your comfort zone once in a while and mix it up with others. I admit that I am lousy at this. Rob will game at the drop of a twenty sider with anyone. The man has no fear.

I plan on doing a top 10 list or something for the end of the year. I've gotten more involved with gaming this past year than I had in over two decades. If I tallied up the money I spent on gaming this year my wife might beat me with my Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Plus it will be interesting to look back to see what influenced me and what bored the hell out of me.

I do hope everyone has a great New Year. Keep safe.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Yes, Another Blog About Experience Points

For the longest time and the current campaign my group is in is GURPS so experience points for treasure, monsters, gold or exploration isn't really factored it. To tell you the truth there is very little thought put into handing out experience points. For the current campaign four experience points are given at the end of each session. Sometimes a power gained during play can be given shooting up your character point total, but the four xp rate is standard. This fits our group for the time being.

For the past year I have been exploring all the systems and seem to gravitate toward Castles & Crusades and my new fondness for HackMaster. These are level based systems which makes the awarding of experience points more interesting. Now there is a number for magic items found, monsters slain, loot and exploration. Here are some of my theories on how I think experience points should be awarded. Any GM should explain their system of awarding experience points to his players before play begins. We all have our quirks.

1. I don't believe experience points should be given at the end of each session. It should be given at the end of a trip, dungeon delve, or an interesting time in the character's development. These may last one session, but could last several sessions. The GM can award the xp when there is a conclusion to an experience the players are having.

2. Experience points for magic items is awarded only to the character who can use that item and only gets that experience once. Joe Basher get his hands on a +2 Axe of Whoop Ass he will get the 2500xp for it, but Ricky Firehands won't get one drop since he can't use it. If Joe Basher finds another +2 Axe of Whoop Ass he will gain no experience since he already had that experience of using one.

3. I am not a fan of 1gp = 1xp. I never understood that math or the reason. I don't give any experience point for a pile of gold. I see that pile of gold as the funding/opportunity to continue onto other places to gain even more experience.

4. After reading Jeff Rients blog on exploration xp I am completely on board with that. I guess the only adjustment I would make is the players would need to interact with the place. Finding the Mines of Moria is great. Taking pictures of your buddies in front of the door will get you a big goose egg for experience. The players will need to get dirty. Some others who dislike the xp for exploration because they believe their players will go on a grand tour, but I think this is short sighted. If the GM is awarding xp for site seeing then yes this will probably get abused. But make the players interact and this is no longer a problem. Again, like with the magic items, the experience points are given once. This total is not split among the players, but each one is given the entire amount. So when Joe Basher and Ricky Firehands explore the Caves of Chaos they will both be awarded 250xp.

5. Monster experience points are divided among the players that were somehow involved with the interaction. This doesn't have to be the death of the monster. Depending on the situation different levels of experience points could be given. For unique critters, I will award xp just for seeing them. Like if Joe Basher was camping by Loch Ness and Nessie came up and took his bait. I would award xp just for seeing the creature.

6. Experience points for henchmen or followers or lackeys or can't find a job cousins. First off, I don't keep track of their experience points. If the players have a significant follow than they can keep track. When the players defeat a monster and Joe and Rickey have three followers with them I divide the experience in three shares, the followers all share one share. Giving a follower magic items will gain them only 10% of the xp value and this holds true for the exploration xp value. This is due to their secondary nature to the game and interactions. But this does allow a follower to gain in levels and become more useful as the character rises in power.

This is how I plan to award experience points to my players the upcoming campaign early next year. Of course I will discuss my plans with my players and see what input or changes they would like. As a GM I am flexible with my rules and I always like to see what the players want and often they come up with an idea that was so obvious that I whack myself in the head for not thinking of it. The one thing I strive for is being consistent. The same rule/system applies the same one the first adventure as the last.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wilderness Maps: Locations of Interest

When you finish your map and have all the forests, mountains, swamps, deserts and seas where you want them and after you string together all the villages, towns and forts you may think your done, but not quite. That vast space of wilderness needs a personality. It needs a history. This can be done by simply placing a few Locations of Interest in an area to tell the story.

Locations of Interest can be anything. They are the wildcard of the map. We know an upside down V is a mountain and a bump is a hill, but whatever symbol you use to denote a place of interest it can be anything. Since I am using a fantasy campaign as the example many of these places will be lairs of creatures, but these lairs can be more than a hole in the ground, a nest in a tree or a camp. These lairs can among the ruins of some ancient fortification. This centuries old fortification provides a glimpse into what was here before. A depth of place. Even if the GM never explains the ruins it sets a mood and gives the place relevance.

With the recent post at Jeff's Gameblog where a GM sets an experience point value for encounter certain locations, which I think is a fantastically obvious idea I never thought (slaps forehead). Locations of Interest can add a little boost a player's xp. Now when I create a wilderness map and I list sites there will be an xp value with the description.

And for your perusal a simple sample of one of my Locations of Interest:

The Shallow Barrows (500xp)

The Shallow Barrows are located at the foot of the northern most mountain in the Meznor Range. There are fourteen large mounds encircled with large black stones cut from the mountainside. The stones have large runes carved into the sides, but they vanish when it rains or water is poured over the stones. This is not a magical effect, but a natural occurrence. The hill barbarians will not enter the area and the local mage guild forbids its apprentices to explore the barrows.

Not much is known except that has the distinct oblong burrows and runes tell they are Northmen origin, a now extinct culture. Who or what is buried within is not known. Those who claim to have visited the burrows have seen ghostly men raise from the mounds a patrol the area. These are in fact wraiths, 1d4 for each burrow. They will drain their enemies of life. In the central burrow is the wraith lord. The wraith lord will only rise if one of the barrows is disturbed.

The stones around the burrows once worked as a barrier that the wraiths could not pass, but their power has weakened due to the erosion of the runes. When the wraiths approach the stones they will hesitate, but they will continue on. They will not go far from the barrows, but far enough to chase away anyone wanting to plunder their graves.

The Northmen currency was made of iron chits so those have all rusted to dust as well as their weapons and armor. The only remaining treasure under the mounds is magical. Each barrow should yield 0-5 magic items. These should be weapons and armor. The central barrow should yield 3-8 (d6) magical items plus the minor artifact, Anadour's Bracers.

Anadour's Bracers provided the priests of the Northmen the power to lead their tribes. These braces provide +2 to Strength and Constitution attributes, adds +2 to Armor Class, and allow the wearer to do an automatic critical hit once/month.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Vote for the Ritual System

James M. recently did a review on Rob Conley's Majestic Wilderlands. I read his review and a couple of his negative statements on the Ritual System got me to thinking why it's a good addition to a campaign.

The comments that caught my attention were "I don't much care for the concept of rituals, precisely because it changes the complexion of spellcasting character classes in a profound way. Without the so-called "utility spells" taking up spell slots, spellcasters no longer have to weigh combat effectiveness against the unpredictable needs of adventuring. Should I memorize find traps or hold person is a significant decision..." then finishes with "...I think it (the Ritual System) does serious violence to the class structure of D&D and would never allow the rules to be used in my campaign."

I completely agreed with James when Rob first wanted to introduce the Ritual System. Then we did a few playtests that included the Ritual System and I was shocked by how much it made sense. The effectiveness of the spellcasters increased and it made playing them at low level more enjoyable. In addition almost every historical tome on magic includes the components and specific time or situation needed to complete a ritual. Rob has simplified this into a gold piece cost per ritual. So it makes sense historically and it's very playable.

The other way I think it makes sense is that intelligent races innovate. Intelligent races find ways to make things better in a shorter time. So why would a magic be any different. After years of practicing magic, especially in an adventurer profession world, they would find ways to give them the best chance possible to survive and to thrive. I think a ritual system is a natural progression in what the next step a magic system would take.

Do I think the ritual system is right for every campaign or every GM? Absolutely not. But it's a viable option a GM should consider when developing their world. Options are good. Really.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Incompetence and Ignorance Can Be Fun

Rarely did Rob and I have a chance to adventure together. Rob was usually the GM while Dwayne and I tore up or got tore up in his Majestic Wilderlands. This time Dwayne decided to give it a go. We were playing GURPS so no alignments were needed, but Rob and I played a pair of nasty SOBs. I played an unlucky mercenary named Del-Goth who was not all that tough, always got into trouble and he never thought any of it was his fault. Rob played pretty much the exact same type of character except he was a dwarf and I was human. I referred to him as my 'little brother' because we were constantly getting into one mess or another. Neither were that smart and we played their incompetence to the hilt. It was a blast.

One of the first adventures we had was when I was fired from a job for no fault of my own. Little Brother was fired due to his association with me. So we concocted the fantastic idea of mugging thieves' guild members. We figured thieves steal for a living so they have money. We knew of one place where the thieves went so we set up an ambush. Little Brother with his crossbow and me with my sword. First guy comes to the door we are staking out so Little Brother tries to plunk him off is a shot to the top of the head. He had to point down so much that the bolt fell off the crossbow and onto the street. Alerting our mark and he disappeared. Crap.

Onto the next plan. We figured we were big bad mercenaries and they were just thieves so should just kick down the door crack some skulls and take the money. We needed money bad because we had none. So we go into the door we were staking out and went into the den of thieves. At first we did well. Kicked some asses and feeling good about ourselves. We were plucking the bodies clean like a pair of starving vultures when Little Brother got his with a knife. Then another. I grabbed Little Brother and tried to get out, but they had surrounded us. Crap.

I managed to get out by beating one little thief to the side and running out the door. On the way out running through the streets trying to lose the pickpocket boys we ran into our old boss. He didn't see us so we had a few healing potions got back up to snuff and came up with our next brilliant idea. Steal the money from the mercenary group. We knew the people, knew the layout, and knew where the gold was. Why hadn't we thought of that before? This plan lasted all of fifteen minutes. Del-Goth tried to convince one of the other mercenaries to let him in on the premise he'd forgotten something. I got in, apparently the guard was a bit more incompetent that us, and we went directly to the treasury and looted as much as we could carry. What we didn't figure on was how to get out. It's difficult to sneak by people when you jingle. The gig was up when we were spotted coming out of the treasury with sacks full of payroll. An alarm was raised and we were on the run again. Crap.

So we ran and ran until we ducked into a temple in the middle of the city. The priest was kind enough to offer us sanctuary. They fed us, were kind to us and when we woke in the morning all the gold we looted was gone. The priest explained it was the price of staying. Just when me and Little Brother were about shish ka bob a couple of priests I noticed outside a small crowd of mercenaries was camped and in the alley ways a crowd of thieves waited. Crap.

It took some time but Del-Goth and Little Brother escaped by getting shipped out inside barrels. At least we were fed and in good condition even if was a brief. We were shipped to this tavern at a crossroads and here is where Del-Goth and Little Brother's story ends. Again, we were out of money so a tavern seemed like as good as any place to rob. What I didn't know is the tavern was protected by an iron golem. After a short fight that saw Little Brother killed by a small mob of patrons. Del-Goth fell into a water trough and held underwater by the iron golem until he died.

We died they way we lived, unremarkable and wasteful. But there was a charm to playing them. It was one of my favorite pairings. The campaign did not last long, but I will always remember the adventures of the two most incompetent adventurers to strap on boots.

Hack Mania

I am so late to the party that the building that the party was in has been tore down, but I am indulging in it none the less. I'm talking about HackMaster or AD&D on steroids. My FNGS has a wall of 50% off gaming books and one shelf has a lot of HackMaster books. I read Knights of the Dinner Table when it first came out, but never followed it much. A few months back Rob gave me a few of the Bundles of Trouble and I loved them. And of course they were playing HackMaster through the series.

For whatever reason I got onto eBay and went searching. I found a HackMaster Lot of 19 new books for only $60 + $12 for the shipping. I didn't hesitate and placed my bid. Then took the list of the books in the lot to my FNGS to fill in some of the gaps. It's fun to browse, but I like shopping when I have a purpose. And with the 50% off I filled in a lot of gaps.

Lately I've been spending my free time reading up on HackMaster and loving its sarcastic tone, the gruesome artwork and the pictures that play off the old classic pictures. This game knows how to have fun. And it's a very good game. I know I've been writing a lot about Castles & Crusades and still plan to continue building adventures for it, but I gotta say Hackmaster has my interest right now.

After the New Year my group intends to play twice a week. Intends is the key word. But if it works out I will be running a HackMaster campaign and Rob will run a Swords & Wizardry campaign in his Majestic Wilderlands. We will be play testing more material for future releases.

So if there are any HackMasters out there reading this do you have any tips or suggestions when playing a campaign? And suggestions on a rule set or changing one? And/or what house rules you use that makes the game better?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Building a Wilderness Hex for a Sandbox Campaign

Playing in a sandbox campaign means the GM needs to be fairly quick on his feet with improvising situations since there is no direct point to point exploration. Players can wander where ever they please and create the adventure organically without the heavy handed scripts that fill the beginning of most adventure modules. For a good sandbox adventure to succeed the GM needs to understand the ecology of his area to give the adventure and place a sense of depth. That life continues on in this area even if the players never set foot in the hex.

The following is an example of how to build a wilderness hex and by no means the only way to go about it. I do it differently than Rob (Bat in the Attic) and Dwayne (Gamers Closet) so find what works best for you and go with it. I'm not ashamed to say I've stolen elements from most of the GMs I've gamed with and incorporated those elements that would enhance my own style.

A campaign map will have hundreds of hexes with the basic information, a symbol representing water, forest, mountains, hills or plains. A dot for a village or city. A square for a castle or fort. What I am focusing on is all that space between the dots. The places adventurers must travel to find the lost tomb of the dead god of two many vowels in a row or that tower with obligatory orcs and femme fatale princess in need of saving.

Now you have your beautifully rendered map in front of you and you have to decide how large the hexes are. Mine are 12 miles across. Then you have to decide how many miles a party can travel. The travel times I use are the ones I get from Rob Conley. These distances are based on an 8 hour travel day and weather penalties are not included. Light forest and plains is 20 miles, heavy woods 10-15 miles, jungle/swamp is 5-10 miles. A good road a party can increase their distance up to 50% or a trail can decrease the difficult of the terrain by one.

Say your adventuring party has discovered the location of the goblin stronghold. The stronghold is located four hexes into the wilderness. The party will be traveling on a road for one hex, lightly wooded area for two hexes and the stronghold is located in a heavily wooded hex. The party will reach the middle of the 2nd hex after the first day of travel. So let's take a look.

Wilderness hex 2301 is a section of the Aberdeen Forest that borders the heavily forested hills of the Cranax Wayland to the north. There are no roads or heavily travelled trails here. This area is inhabited by typical forest animals including a giant grizzly bear, a small tribe of bugbears has moved into a pair of shallow caves in the northern hills and transient population of goblins from the stronghold. On occasion woodsmen from the villages of Orton and Green Tree can be found in the southern area of the hex. Then there is the Ghost of Aberdeen, a knight who has roamed the forest for years.

A brief description of the listed inhabitants above:

Giant Grizzly Bear: This beast stands 15' tall and weights over 1300 pounds. He usually stays by the streams to hunt and sleeps in the caves to the north of the hex. There are two broken arrows in his right side from a recent battle with the bugbears. The pelt will bring in a hefty price at market.

Bugbears: Twelve bugbears moved into the caves hoping to capture some of the goblins for slaves and take their treasure. Two of the bugbears were killed by the giant grizzly bear in the area. The bugbears are led by a dark shaman. He always travels with at least four body guards.

Goblins: Twenty to forty goblins travel though this hex two to four times a year on their way to a raiding camp. When they do a return trip their numbers are reduced by 20% to 50% carrying 100gp-1000gp worth of items, food supplies and coinage. When the goblins return to the raiding camp their numbers will be replenished.

Woodsmen: Paul is from the village of Green Tree and Jerrin and Lloyd are from Orton. They know each other well and are friends. They trap and fish in the streams. They know the area well. They know the location of the Well of Whispers, they've all seen the giant bear and the Ghost of Aberdeen, and they know to stay clear of the goblins when they come marching through. They don't know about the bugbears yet. All of them are competent combatants, but only do so in self defense.

The Ghost of Aberdeen: He is not a ghost, but a nameless knight who has patrolled the forest on his massive mount for over twenty years. He patrols the hexes surrounding this hex, but his main home is by the Well of Whispers. He does not speak and will not engage the players in any way. If attacked he will defend himself, but he will not kill. In combat he uses his double crossbow from a distance and a long sword and shield when engaged in close combat. His shield is battered and in poor condition as is most of his equipment.

A random encounter table would look like this;
1-5 d4 Wildlife
6 Giant Grizzly Bear
7-8 d4 Bugbear Patrol
9 d4+4 Bugbear Patrol + Dark Shaman
10-13 d20+20 Goblin Raiding Party
14-17 d20+20-25% Returning Goblin Raiding Party
18-19 d3 Woodmen
20 The Ghost of Aberdeen

The four stone long houses (the ruins) in the central part of the hex have nothing of value in them or around them. A person well versed in history would recognize the structures as those the North Men used to construct and in the center is a well. At night hundreds of voices can be heard coming from the depths of the well. Wells were holy places to the North Men. They placed their sacrifices in these wells and also offered their dead.

Now an enterprising GM could construct a cool little dungeon adventure here or keep it as an unexplained mystery. For this example this hex is to be travelled through, but this is a sandbox campaign so a GM may want to have some idea of what the players may find if they decide to explore. In just under 600 words I've got a pretty good picture of what is going on in this hex and how it influences the areas that surrounds it so if the players decide to explore, the GM has enough details to fill in the bigger picture.

Be flexible. Be prepared. The goal of the players in this example is getting to the goblin stronghold, but the journey there is just as important.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Majestic Wilderlands Unleashed

Most have heard already that my good friend Rob Conley, over at Bat in the Attic, has released Supplement VI, the Majestic Wilderlands. The blurb "Contained in this book are the background and rules used in a campaign thirty years in the making," is not hyperbole. I've had the honor of participating in Rob's Majestic Wilderlands for the past 25 years and I know he was running it for years before we started gaming together. If you are looking for a sandbox campaign this is it. This is the supplement you should get.

The Majestic Wilderlands is as rich a campaign world as you will find. One of Rob's strength's is his extensive knowledge of history and having the ability to adapt that historical knowledge into a playable and interesting culture, situation or event. He does this by putting his own spin on things and allows players to change outcomes. He allows the players the make history. Many of the cultures that are detailed in his book are because of his players wanting to do something different or wanted more information on how this part of society works. It's rare to find a GM who does not let his ego get in the way when players seek a change.

And if this amazing world wasn't enough Rob, as most of you know, is one of the best cartographers out there. His maps are fantastic. Above my writing desk where I do most of my work on gaming and write this blog are two beautiful maps of Rob's creation. One is a colored map of City-State and the other is a 4'x3' map of the surrounding campaign world. Any map you get from Rob is always top quality.

Here are some hard stats of Supplement VI, the Majestic Wilderlands:
This little powerhouse is 140 pages.
5 classes of Fighting Men.
6 classes of Magic Users. All with their own unique casting abilities and a ritual system.
5 classes of Rouges.
A detailed section on clerics.
A section on professional classes.
13 playable races described.
Sections on skills, monsters, magic items and combat.
This is all in the first 85 pages.
Brief descriptions of the campaign area.
Then finishes up with 22 cultures and religions.

I think I have spouted off enough about Rob's virtues. Honestly, I think Supplement VI, the Majestic Wilderlands is an incredible addition to the OSR and to gaming in general. Rob, I wish you the best of luck and success with this product. I know how hard he worked on it. It took thirty years to create it so maybe its influence will last twice as long. I can't wait to see what the print version looks like.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dark Knight : I'm not Batman

So I was cruising the web last night after perusing the latest blogs and I decide to watch some TV. I stop on hulu and what do I find, a show called Dark Knight. Now maybe this is already common knowledge, but I hadn't heard of it before. Ivanhoe returns from the holy land to return King Richard to the throne. Production values make me think of late night 90s television. It's so bad it's good.

The first escape scene was laughable. Rob was questioning where Ivanhoe's DM was. He kicked a sword up into his hand and the jailer fell on it. The soundtrack seems to come from the old Dragon's Lair video game. Dirk the Daring has nothing to worry about. He still rules. You old timers know what I am talking about. The special effects are fun bad, the open scene has this specter or wraith thing gobble up some henchmen (they always get the short straw). The specter is similar to the green booger ghost in Ghostbusters.

If you like bad fantasy, over acting, last generation graphics and a sound track that seems to be ripped off from a video game, check out Dark Knight. Now if this is not enough to get you searching hulu for it there is the bonus, Dark Knight also includes the actor who played Baldwin the dwarf in the 1980 cult classic Hawk the Slayer flick. If that is not enough for you check out Dark Knight than I can't help you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Campaign Cultures

In most fantasy RPGs skills, advantages and disadvantages are decided by race. Where this is helps define a race it doesn't take into account the various cultures within a race. AD&D made an attempt at it with the elves and somewhat with the halflings, but the difference were found in the Monster Manual not in the PBH. In the PBH it states, "Elven players characters are always considered to be high elves" so they try to eliminate the option of being an aquatic (you never know), drow, gray or wood elf. At least you find a something that separates the different elven cultures.

Halflings also had three cultural variants, the hairfeet, tallfellow and stout halflings. There is only one sentence in the PHB that mentions a cultural variant "...halflings of mixed type and those of pure Stoutish blood are able to note if a passage is an up or down grade 75% of the time and determine direction 50% of the time." Exciting stuff. It's always good to know which way you will roll when you fall down.

Cultural relevancy adds depth to a campaign above the surface racial benefits. I've had to fortune of being a player in Rob Conley's Majestic Wilderlands for twenty some years. This is where I learned to appreciate the cultural differences. What better place than City-State to have a melting pot. To be effective in Rob's world you better know the differences in the cultures. What one might consider to be an honor another may consider it a grievous insult. Cultural tension plays a huge part in who the characters are and the situations they get into.

A small scale sandbox campaign tend to be homogeneous and probably should considering the scale, but to add a small population of same race, different culture there is built in tension on many levels. There will be tension based on strength, moral fiber, different religions (or again they could be worshipping the same god, but very different aspects) and political.

Example. You have a simple group of farming villages run by a local lord. The lord's land lies on the frontier of the kingdom and have no buffer between them and the uncivilized lands. To the north are several tribes of hill barbarians. Their tribes are not large, usually made of two to six families. The hill barbarians battle with one another quite often, over hunting land, a perceived sign of disrespect or because it was Monday and they were cranky. The farmers view the barbarians as savage and uncivilized (the definition of a barbarian). But the farmers need the barbarians because they enjoy killing all the horrible creatures that pop out of the wilderness that wants to gobble them up. Most of the leaders of the tribes trade furs and other items for food. They are barbarians, but know not to plunder the villages. They need the extra food source during the winter months and know storming the lord's fortified keep would be futile. But the barbarians consider themselves superior and the farmers weak and cowardice. They brave the wild and fear no creature.

When developing a character for this setting the skill set would be drastically different if the PC came from the lord's hall or a barbarian tribe. It's good to develop a template for each 'culture' so they PCs will have a skeleton of skills based on which culture they have chosen to be from. So being human is much more than being able to be any class at any level. Being an elf is more than wise tree dwellers. And dwarves can be more than grump miners. Every culture developed within the race adds a new depth to a campaign that the players can explore and find something new each time they sit down around the table.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Citadel by the Sea

One of my favorite features Dragon did back in the day was to include adventures in the center of the magazine. Sorta like the centerfold. One of the adventures that stood out for me was the Citadel by the Sea designed by Sid Fisher. It appeared in issue #78 and won 1sr place in the module design contest, category A-1. It combined many of the classic elements without being cliché. Orcs barricaded within a ruins of an old elven fort with a couple of dungeon levels beneath. Mix in some undead, an evil half-orc cleric and an orcish artifact and you got yourself a wang dang doodle of a party. What I appreciate the most about this adventure is the simplicity and the progression of the adventure.

This adventure is very adaptable. How difficult is it to place that setting/situation into a campaign? I have used it four or five times, with small changes. It became a stronghold for one of the players. He tried to capture some creatures during his expeditions to stock his own dungeon and found it was easier to kill the critters than subdue them. There is plenty of room to develop the area for a micro setting, a seed for a sandbox campaign. The village of Awad could easily be mapped out and some of its inhabitants are already detailed. The area has a history that could be altered, but even if the GM decided to use the background it can easily be adapted into an existing campaign.

If you have issue #78 (it's a pretty great one) than dust it off and take a look. I was fortunate to find the first 250 issues on DVD a few years back. There were many great modules tucked into those pages and this one always seems to come back to me. It's like a great late night horror flick you've seen it a dozen times. It's just as good twelfth time as it was the first time.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Advocating for Planned Encounters

So you've strained your wrist rolling on random tables, for random encounters, random contents in a chest, random villagers a villaging, random names of said villagers, random monsters and provide random treasure for them. It makes my wrist sore writing about it. I am not against random tables at all. They can provide an unexpected twist for the players and GM and let's face it, they are fun.

My soapbox rant today is about doing the work ahead of time. There are blogs after articles and comments about random tables and short cuts. I will admit I do not use random tables too often, especially during a game. Where I use random tables is during the creation of the session ,to get inspiration and creating a quirky juxtaposition of two items I would have never thought of combining.

In my games, if I feel the players are having an easy row during the adventure than I select an encounter from a list, not random ones, created ahead of time to help kick the challenge level up a notch. The only time I will use random tables during a game is if the players are camped in a certain area for a time. This allows me to give each encounter a depth a normal random encounter would not have. These encounters can become significant to the adventure.

Since random encounters have a wide following I thought I would be the advocate for planned encounters.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Go Hunting

I haven't felt like blogging much lately. I was on vacation this week and figured I would pound out a dozen entries, but that never happened. I've been taking a short hiatus from it. One large reason was Modern Warfare 2 came out this week and I've been having fun swearing at the TV since then. I went to the midnight sale and there were two to three hundred people in line. I was surprised. This is not a large town and to see that many standing in line got me more excited to play it. I won't go into the internet problems I had. That swearing at the TV was not so fun.

Seems like my batteries are recharged and I am ready to get more involved in my work involving gaming. Complete some of the billion and one projects I start and never finish. Then I go onto Ebay. Dangerous place. With my renewed buzz for gaming I come across this lot of 19 new Hackmaster Books for $60 bucks with an additional $12 for shipping. Well slap my ass and call me Betty. I've always wanted to take a look at Hackmaster and now I pretty much get the glut of the game in one shot. At the game store I go to all the Hacklopedias are half off and even then those are $10 a piece. So now I wait by my PO Box twiddling my thumbs, thinking of adventures and how to hard it will be to convert my other adventures into this system.

Now I am all set to head to the gaming store in Erie. I'm going to go look at some products and see what they have available. Look at the Hackmaster list of books and see what they might have that is not included in the list. I like going to a gaming store with a purpose. I'm going hunting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

GM Rulings

There will be times when a player disagrees with a GM's ruling. My view is simple. If you think the GM is wrong make your case briefly. If the GM overrules you then that's it. Discussion over and move on with the game. To give an example of a situation that happened recently a GM stated that the players could not see at night in the desert. A player argued that with starlight he could. Both argued about their personal experiences with the same or similar situations. The argument boiled until it was decided to postpone the game for another night. In this case I believe the player is wrong. This is the GM's world based on his experience.

I'm not talking about the times when a GM ignores, disallows or is inconsistent with a rule. In such cases the player has a valid gripe. What I am focusing on is interpretations or laws of the gaming world. If the GM decides you cannot see in at night in an area or you cannot swim across a fast moving river than you can't. Use your imagination to get around the problem or solve it. Don't let the problem ruin the night of gaming. We get precious few as it is.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Good Ugly

Some may argue that Unearth Arcana was the bane of AD&D. I liked having something new introduced into the game, especially the weapon specialization. The classes were nice, but we'd always played with the new classes introduced in Dragon Magazine. But what I liked a lot and thought was necessary for the game was the Comeliness attribute. I don't like the name. It should have just been named Attractiveness.

In AD&D and most fantasy games, Charisma tries to cover that area, but it does a poor job. It's a simple addition and only costs the time of an extra roll. Can Charisma influence appearance...absolutely. It can assist in reaction modifiers when dealing with similar races, henchmen and trying to convince the town guards it wasn't you who burned down the tavern. And now DMs could answer the age old good looking is the barmaid? I know some old schoolers out there are shuttering at the thought of another attribute, but I never saw how it detracted from the game, but added an interesting aspect to it.

I'm curious as what other think about adding Attractiveness as a seventh attribute and of they have used it in their game.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

No Evil Religions?

I'd thought I'd comment on Mr. Conley's post today. One, because I think he is wrong and two he's been a good friend for more years than I can remember and sometimes arguing with him can be good fun. The argument is whether there can be evil religions. He uses human history to make his point that at no time has there ever been an evil religion. I won't get into historical relevancies. I don't need to. My argument is there can be evil religions in my gaming world. I'm the GM so 'poof' there is an evil religion in my world.

Is it that simple? Not really. Not if you want to make it fun and have some sort of logic. But it's no more work than having to develop any religion on any alignment. If I were going to argue about what religions would or would not exist it would be chaotic aligned religions. You need structure and cohesion of laws and beliefs to make it work and a chaotic aligned religion wouldn't have that structure. Alignments are not my favorite thing in the world, but since this discussion began with the alignment terms I have used them.

As for something being evil or good it is often a matter of perspective. Again though, I believe Rob was speaking about the mustache twirling baddie who exists only to cause grief and pain even to those who follow him faithfully. I gotta say there is room in my campaign for such a villainous deity. Why not? I would need to do the work to justify why these people would want to adhere to such a god. I would also need to take into account whether the power of the gods in my world is equal to the number of those who worship him or if they are just incredibly powerful beings who can impose their will onto others.

Let's go for the latter for now. Bronson the Dreadful is an evil god whose power is not dependant on his worshippers. He is a mean tempered, jealous, vengeful son of a bitch. But others find value in following him. An example could be they are an enslaved race and Bronson is a huge fan of revenge, sabotage and mayhem. He inspires this enslaved race to revolt even though they know they might be crushed, but gives them hope. Now Bronson the Dreadful could give two turds in a punchbowl about these people, but because they entertain him he will grant a few powers to make the game more interesting. But to get these powers they must sacrifice their most beloved to him. And some will. And more will if they see those who have sacrificed have succeeded. And as people are, even if no laws or codes exist they will begin to develop them.

There are many reasons why an evil religion can exist. I am not talking about the perspective argument, but the cartoon this is good this is bad version. And it can work. It can add a lot to a campaign. And sometimes it's nice to have a bad guy who makes no bones about it. He stands there with a wide stance, hands on hips, black mustache waxed and curled, dressed all in black and with a sinister cackle he looks at all the land and all the people around him and says, "It is all mine. All mine I tell you. Muhahaha."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Horror Comes in Small Packages

I'm not sure about all of you out there, but it's the small things that creep me out the most. Zombies have become a 'how many cool ways can we kill them' past time. Skeletons were never very scary to begin with. Vampires get more moody as the years go by and are more annoying than frightening. Dragons are now a staple at arts & crafts shows. Not so scary. And all those goblinoids that make up the majority of the enemies in a fantasy campaign are trees waiting to be chopped down. But what about the small enemies? Enemies small enough that a sword or mace is useless. These are the enemies that crawl inside of you. Become a part of you. They cause the most horrible and agonizing deaths.

I'm talking about the Ear Seekers, small insects that search for a warm place to lay their eggs. Ears are their favorite place, but an open wound will do nicely also. While you sleep they lay 9-16 eggs and in less than a day the eggs hatch and start feast on the flesh around them.

And I'm talking about Rot Grubs. These little beauties burrow into your skin and tunnel through your body until they reach your heart. It takes1-3 turns for these grubs to finish the job giants could not do.

Here is the problem I have. In both cases the MM says both can be rid of by a Cure Disease, but neither is a disease. The PHB describes disease as a parasitic, bacterial or viral nature. Even though both would qualify as parasitic in nature I don't see as they qualify as a disease. The remedy is already give in the MM that rot grubs need to be burned off and some sort of similar thing I believe would need to be done for the ear seekers. A steady handed player with a red hot needle plunging into the infected player's ear.

These creatures are more difficult to deal with because of the harm that comes with defending oneself from them. The difficult part as a GM is using these creatures and having the possibility of having one of the players die because insect eggs in their ear. Depending on the realism you promote in your campaign this might not be an option. Heroic campaigns don't want their heroes dying from disease or infestations, but leading a battle against insurmountable odds. Not dying in their bedroll the night before the battle.

It's good to change up the expectations of the players. Any group can prepare to go against a stronghold of ogres, but have them go against the creepy crawlers and you'll see those same big badass heroes screaming like little girls running for the door.

This is a great comic from

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gaming Props Pro or Con

A couple of weekends ago at the Day of Gaming in Erie, Rob ran a great first adventure with Al and I. He used a erasable marker on a battle mat and we had a blast. A very simple execution that kept the game rolling along.

The second game he used (I can’t remember the exact name of the product or company) dungeon wall props. They were great looking, but it took up time to set up each hallway and room. Of course he did not build it ahead of time because we could only see the dungeon as we explored. The walls did look great, but it was tough to keep the flow of the excitement because each time we moved it took five minutes to setup the walls. This took me out of the game and I would gladly sacrifice the ‘look’ for the ‘play’.

The other con for me was that when you tried to move your figure there was a difficulty level 25 to not to knock down the walls as you moved your figure. I failed my check a lot. And beware of bumping the table. You know how graceful all us gamers are.

Rob was given the dungeon walls and I heard that set ran about $80 to $100 and you could only built a few corridors and rooms with them so the same pieces needed to be reused as we explored. He would have needed to buy at least four to five more of the sets to build the dungeon.

I ask the question is it worth to other out there in blog land? For me keeping it simple and bump the table resistant is the best. Miniatures on a erasable battle mat is about as wild as I like to get. Okay, maybe different color markers to make the water blue and trees green, but that’s only when I’ve gone mad. So keeping it simple on the props, keep the focus on the adventure and to maintain the mood you’ve worked so hard to develop is for me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review : Tavern Denizens - Book 1:The Dives

"You walk into a tavern..."

Those five words have been said at every gaming table. Let's face it, the kings can have their castles, priests can have their temples, and mages can have their towers, but the taverns belong to the adventurers. Tavern Denizens provides 25 personalities to populate those taverns.

Let's get the boring, but important stuff out of the way. The formatting was good and made for easy reading. The artwork was minimal which fit this product. The choices of tavern scenes went with the theme. And being a person who prints out his PDFs I appreciated the smallness of the pictures and no heavy black areas.

The heart of Tavern Denizens is the tavern personalities. A table is provided in case you want to randomly choose your personality. The personalities are described in a two cell table. The first cell provides the name, sex, race physical traits and age. Also included in this cell is the generic rating of the NPC's ability. We'll get into this later. The second cell gives a description of habits, history and possible hooks. Overall, the personalities are well done and accomplish the goal. There is enough to get a GM the flavor of the person after a brief reading. The names are colorful and easy to remember. Some of the personalities lacked...personality. Some were just appearance with hints of a back story. I would have liked a sentence or two more of background or current situation.

This supplement runs off a generic system which is explained in the beginning of the book. And this is where I had the biggest problem. Three pages are used to explain the generic mental and physical system. A table and explanation accompany each of the four attributes. I did not feel these enhanced the product. In fact it was a distraction. These attributes are used to explain the competence of the 25 personalities, but 12 of the personalities have no rating at all. If you're using nearly 25% of your product's space to describe 50% of the personalities it should have been left out or the ratings should have been applied to all the personalities.
The last section is Adventure Ideas. Another problem here is the 20 adventure ideas suggests most are situations. Having someone follow a character around annoying him is not an adventure. And the ones that do hint at an adventure fail to develop the seed needed to begin.

Tavern Denizens heart is the personalities to populate your taverns. This it does. But I do wish the generic system was applied to everyone. The adventure ideas don't inspire. I wanted more throughout the product. Each section stopped short of its goal. Tavern Denizens could have been a very good product instead it falls to below average to poor.

Whimpy rolls an 8 for Tavern Denizens.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PC Wrecking Balls

I've been reading a lot about GMs spending a lengthy time developing a campaign only to have it so dear to them that it was unplayable. There is still a strain of GMs out there who consider it a 'me against them' game. That there is a winner, and for him to win he has to annihilate the party. These GMs want you to walk through their worlds and marvel at what they have created, but don't touch anything. It's not to be played with. They spent too many years developing it to be tarnished by any actions of the PCs.

Let's talk about the flip side, PCs who want to destroy what the GM has built. Some players are like that all the time, I shall dub them the wrecking ball PCs (or if you're into MMORPGS you can call them griefers). Class and alignment don't hinder them from their goal of causing destruction where ever they go. There is always some degree of this in players, but most will play along with the society you have developed and explore the world first then change the things they don't like. Wrecking ball PCs will target things they know that will bother the GM. Maybe a shop owner NPC the GM seems to be having fun playing or a village that the GM was up last night mapping because the week before the players said they wanted to explore this area and wanted a map.

The easiest solution is to weed out these types of players. There is no sense of spending time developing something of interest if the player goes out of his way to make sure it gets destroyed before anyone can enjoy it. This player is making it personal and is the same kind of person who will scream the loudest if a call goes against him.

If the player is working within the confines of the world and using the rules and laws to his advantage that is just good game play and the GM should encourage it even if it drives him nuts. These two should not be confused. The first guy would try to burn down the palace where all the nobles are gathering. This second player will use skullduggery, blackmail and maybe assassination to bring down the nobility.

GMs need a way to handle this kind of player. Any fantasy world has some type of law whether it's the King's Law or Law of the Jungle, some type of structure is in place and anytime anything that gets disruptive there are consequences. Keep the consequences within the game. Another possibility is to get the other players involved. This is what usually happens, they will police themselves or deal out the consequences themselves.

The important thing is to allow the players to alter and move through your world. Allow them the freedom to change and destroy parts of your world. GMs cannot be so protective of their world to deny any PC influence on it. That is the fun of the game. Guiding the players through your world and see what parts they stop to admire and see what they want to change or part of your world they want to become a part of. PC wrecking balls, their joy comes from making sure no one else has fun. Each GM has to decide how much they are willing to tolerate and whether the player is worth the struggle.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: Engineering Dungeons

Engineering Dungeons is a 28 page supplement published by Troll Lord Games for Castles & Crusades can easily be used for any fantasy system. There are no stat blocks or system specific mechanics that need converting. I originally bought it on Amazon and did not read the description. I bought it for the title alone. From the title I thought it was going to be a philosophical approach towards constructing dungeons. I thought I would get a lecture on different approaches, stereotypes and the various ecologies. Something like a college seminar with a tweed clad professor discussing the historical significance of the construction of dungeons. Nope. It's a tech school. From the first pages they slam a hammer and saw in your hand and tell you to start building. No talk. Just do.

Engineering Dungeons is full of tables. I'm not kidding. Full of them. One of the first tables you will see is why the dungeon was originally constructed and who built it. Then you go from table to table. Roll and roll some more.

Here is an example of what I rolled of the who, the why and the where. I'll highlight the things I rolled. Giants dug out a massive coal mine six centuries ago to forge their massive weapons six centuries ago. Now the massive fortification is ruins. No one is sure where the single entrance of the mine is. Scholars say it is hidden on the outside of the ruins.

The next set of tables let you built your dungeon such as traps, lock difficulty and treasure. There are tables for NPCs and dragons and many other possible inhabitants. The randomness makes some interesting combinations.

There is no substitute for a GMs imagination, but Engineering Dungeons is a helpful addition to any fantasy gamer's bookshelf. If you are GM who builds their own dungeons this supplement is for you. I think the $9.95 price tag for the PDF is too high, but the $9.95 price tag for the printed version is spot on.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Al of the Flying Staff

Yesterday was Erie's Day of Gaming and I had a lot of fun. I got to sit down with Al from Beyond the Black Gate blog and Rob from Bat in Attic and play some OD&D. Rob used the adventure I wrote for Castles and Crusades. It was interesting how he tweaked it to work with OD&D and how another GM would use the adventure.

Not only did I get to meet Al, or Al of the flying staff as he is now known, but a couple of gamers in the area and a possibility of starting a new gaming group. I enjoy Fantasy Ground 2, but nothing replaces rolling real dice.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Day of Gaming

Tomorrow is Erie's 'Day of Gaming'. I'll be heading up there and Rob is planning on running an old school adventure. He asked to use my C&C adventure I wrote and do one more playtest for me. Should be fun.

I don't go to conventions or to game shops as much as I should, but I have a couple of good reasons: 1) The closest gaming store is 45 minutes away and there is no gaming tables there. Closest one with gaming tables is over an hour away. 2) And this is the real reason, by the time I get done with my job dealing with even more people is about as inviting as a porcupine jock strap. Then once I get out there and play I always wonder why I don't do it more.

I'm hoping to get involved in a couple of new games. Try something I've never played before. Also hit up an vendors they have there. Last year they had one guy who was just starting up his gaming store. Hope he is there again with a couple others.

If you live in northwestern PA or northeastern OH stop on by. All the information is on the website I linked above. Have a great Saturday everyone and good gaming.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Check out most any fantasy map and you will see big dots representing cities, small dots towns, squares are castles and hollowed out dots are towers. Then there are the triangles or some sort of symbol to indicate where the dungeons or lairs are hidden. Then there are those spaces in between. The long dark lines that indicate a road or a dashed line telling the viewer that a path winds through that place. Alongside of these roads are small unnamed dots. These hamlets or villages should not be ignored because of their size. They can become intimate places of peace for your players to recover between adventures or a place to blast out their frustrations.

Name It
With all those dots on the map you're not going to want to detail every village down to the 'goober' the village dog. Use a random name generator or just crank out some names for the village. I often use the surrounding geography to determine the name or I'll name it something like, Garwin's End. I have no idea what it means, but that dot now has my attention and I want to know what's going on there.

The Lord
Someone is going to be responsible for the village, to collect the taxes and defend it from all those critters that always seem to pester humble farmers. The lord should live in a nearby town or tower, some sort of fortified area with a half-day walk from the village. If you've fleshed out the other areas on your map the lord should be apparent. The village's condition will reflect the lord's attitude.

Since my campaigns are set in the typical feudal medieval style, my villages have reeves that are in charge of the village. I use the reeves as the spokesmen of the village. They don't command anyone, but they have their Lord's ear and will report troublemakers if needed. They also are the main person the players will be dealing with when it comes to village matters. I won't go into all those other positions within the village because it won't matter much during the game.

There may or may not be a church in the village. There might be a central location, but if there is a church in the village it's critical to get a brief write up on the priest.

The Wildcard
There shouldn't be a wildcard in every village, but every ten or so there should be a person with some sort of talent or unusual place. In one of my villages there is a 12' stone sword thrust into the ground. I thought it was a cool image, but haven't figured out why it's there yet. When the players get more involved in that area I will make sure there are rumors floating around about it.

So it will only take four, possibly five sentences to give your village a skeleton description so when the players be-bop over hill and dale and come across the village of Garwin's End they can say, "Cool, look at that big stone sword." as Walter the reeve walks out with Gurdy the young priest and greets the players in the name of Lord Bundle Britches. These descriptions provide the dots and your imagination can fill in the rest.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Castles & Crusades Adventure Playtest Concludes

Last night Dwayne and Rob completed the playtest of the adventure I designed using Castles & Crusades. They died and were turned into zombies. Running and playing in GURPS campaigns for years it was difficult to switch back to a 1st ed. state of mind.

Mistakes I made.
1. I thought I was in charge.
In the village of Aberton I had a handful of skilled NPCs who could assist the players if needed. There was a 1st level mage, 2nd level thief and ranger and a 3rd level barbarian available. Depending on how they interacted with the village they would get certain NPCs to join. The ranger and barbarian went with them. So the players being 1st level and the NPCs being higher made them feel as if they were being led around. I had the players take the lead the entire time and only had the NPCs as combat enforcements, but because the NPCs were higher level Dwayne felt that it took away some of the players' thunder.

The solution for this will be to take the NPCs down one level and make it more of a farming village atmosphere. Also, the players requested I draw a map of the village.

2. Any more people in here we’re gonna need a lubricant.
This mistake came in two parts. I originally made the mine with a scale of 10'/square then reduced it to 5'/square. Wow, did things get crammed. Then to make it worse I applied the number of monsters with a heavy hand. I didn't realize this until I started putting miniature tokens down and thinking, there is no room in here. The players used the small corridors to their advantage. They fell back and funneled the monsters through so only one could attack at a time. But because of the number of monsters they were still getting whittled down at an alarming rate.

The second part of this mistake was I had too many HD worth of monsters in the room considering the level of the players. I designed this adventure to be for 1st through 3rd levels. One or two good cracks from a zombie and all of a sudden Mr. Balls to the Wall fighter is having a very bad day. In one room I had 8 zombies, 16HD worth of critters. The players and I agreed that was too many.

The solution for this is I plan to keep the map at its 5'/square because it is a mine and the crammed spaces was the effect I was looking for, but for each room I am cutting the number of monsters in half. That one room where I described had 8 zombies, it was only a 10' x 15' room. This solves the cramped conditions and the reduction in HD per room.

3. Me and my Shadows.
As above I had some rooms with too many HD worth of creatures and in other rooms the abilities and challenge levels of some of the monsters I included were too high, like a Shadow. I had two Shadows in one area. With two 3HD creatures with an AC of 18 and a strength draining attack can cut the adventure short.

Solution, I think the Shadow is a good challenge so I am keeping one of them. The players will need to learn that sometimes hightailing it out of dodge is the better, wiser part of valor. You can't spend all that gold if you're dead.

4. Huh? How did we get here?
Usually this is something I do well, but for some reason did not bother to include it in this adventure and that is reason why the players would be involved. I like to develop three to five possible scenarios why the players would put themselves into the current situation. I like to have something better than, 'because that's where the action is'. Although I pretty much did that this time.

Solution, write the three to five hooks to get the players involved right away.

This is the first time I've playtested an adventure of mine and I learned a lot. When I finished writing the adventure I thought it was good, but did not see the problems until I played it. So thank you Rob and Dwayne for helping out and your suggestions will definitely make this a better adventure. I hope to have the adventure completed and posted by next week.

Where are you??

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Castles & Crusades Adventure Playtest

Monday night Rob and Dwayne started going through my adventure module I'd designed from the C&C rules. I definitely enjoy the 1e feel of the system and the parts they simplify. Still being new to C&C the three of us worked out some combat glitches and I'm still getting a grasp on when you add a character's level to a roll.

The first part was a quick character creation. I let the players choose which of the two ways they would like to roll, 3d6 reroll ones or 4d6 and toss the lowest. Each would get six rolls and they could put them into any stat they chose. I want them to have competent characters and the system works well, a player does not unbalance the game due to great rolls. A quick purchase of items and off they went into wilderness.

There was little to no set up for this adventure. Something I need to add. I had them encounter a group of skeletons right off to have a sample combat and warm up those virtual dice. We use Fantasy Grounds 2 and Skype. Combat went well, but both had piercing weapons so all their damage was halved. During this sample combat Rob rolled a critical and I always like to see what the players want to do, double damage or automatic max damage. They opted for the max damage because some class skills already grant double damage.

The funniest part of the night was when they were fighting a skeleton warrior. Dwayne was firing arrows at it while Rob finished off another skeleton. When Rob was done he ran over to engage the skeleton warrior. Shooting through an occupied space is -4. We made the rule that if a player shot through that space and missed his target within that -4 he possibly hit the other player. Well Dwayne missed in that -4 span. I had him roll to see if he hit Rob. Natural 20! Rob screamed out, "You killed me man!" Automatic max damage put Rob six below zero. I couldn't talk for a minute or so because I was laughing so hard. Favorite part of my night.

After the battle both of them agreed they needed some sort of healer in the group. Rob recovered some of his hit points and we stopped there for the night. We plan on continuing the game on Thursday.

Once I finish running them through the dungeon, see what their suggestions are and what I think needs tweaked I will post it here. I hope everyone has a great gaming night. Laugh a lot and don't eat too many chips.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Henchmen or Pit Detectors

In my early days of D&D henchmen were called followers. For some reason we came up with this rule that you gained the number of followers equal to your Charisma +1d4. Why the additional d4, not clue. We used our followers pretty much as pit detectors. Tied a rope around their waist and had them lead the way. If they disappeared through the floor it was noted. We'd pull them up and hope they could find another pit for us. Not once did these faithful followers ever complain. If one died in a fall we cut the rope and tied it to the next follower in line. Not one peep did he make.

Henchmen don't play a big role in most of the campaigns I have participated in lately. Allies are gained through role-playing and having similar goals. It's all complicated and strategic. But I do miss the old days where having a small legion of no named minions of pit detection. Last night I started play testing Castles & Crusades and the party running through the adventure definitely could benefit from a few worthy red shirts. All DMs, or in this case a Castle Keepers, should practice the death scream of the red shirt. Totally worth it. Good for a laugh and fun to do.

I am considering being more responsible and having the henchmen specialize in jobs that assist the players. I've been reading a lot of rulebooks of late and I would like to bring back the henchmen, a support staff for the players. And for once they will have names. Names they can drink to at the tavern after a good haul. "To Jameson, the best damn pit detector I've ever known. Salute."

I'm interested in how others handle these henchmen in their games. So please let me know.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Adventurers in a Living Campaign

Why is there a dungeon a half day's ride from town? Was the dungeon something else before like a mine, a catacombs or a cave system that always seems to attract the absolute worst neighbors? If there are problems coming from the dungeon why hasn't the town taken care of it? Why hasn't the local nobility taken action? The answers to these questions can vary as much as you can imagine, but in a cohesive campaign world they need to be answered.

In most of the campaign worlds there will be a social class of adventurers. The ranking of their status will be determined by the need of their services. Most of the characters are not blacksmiths, carpenters, or washer women, they are professional adventurers. Professional adventurers come in all guises. Profit, fame and power are the name of the game. Even if the players are being altruistic the residual effect remains the same.

If a dungeon is crawling with critters near town the players will not be the only adventuring party going to investigate. Rival adventuring group can add a depth to your campaign. They had their own guild in a campaign of mine. The guild would gather information on locations, monster weaknesses and have the supplies needed to defeat the monsters. It was like dungeon headquarters. There was another class of members who gathered the information and sold it to the guild. Theses members would not engage in the dungeon itself, but make a living by investigating rumors and gathering information. It was a very lucrative profession with less risk.

I enjoy the interaction with the guild whether for or against. I enjoyed the rivalry between adventuring parties. I think it added another facet to the adventure. A party may get into the dungeon and leave to go back to town to heal up and when they return they find a rival group cleaned out the rest of the place. It makes players rethink their strategies and gives a GM another option.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Feast of Goblyns Déjà Vu

I do believe this was the first adventure published for the world of Ravenloft. At the time it was the largest adventure I'd ever seen coming in around 96 pages. The cardboard map was more of a DM screen with lots of good information.

So here I am all excited that I plunked down over $11 to absorb this 96 page monster and as I reach page 32 the next page is repeated back to 17. In fact a whole section is repeated 17 thru 32. Then the module picks back up on page 65. What the heck? But I go on a little farther and it happened again. I get to page 80 and the next pages are a repeat of 65 thru 88, but then continue on to the finish.
My page count goes like this:
1 -32

So where did pages 33 thru 64 go? I thought about take the module back, but of course I didn't or I wouldn't be writing about it. I thought it was ironic that 31 pages went missing. That fog must have been affecting the real world.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sea Adventures and Micro-Cultures

I've never been a fan of sea adventures. For some reason the whole idea bored me. I liked it when the GM would just make a few rolls and say, "Normally it takes two days to travel to Mystery Island, but due to poor weather it took 3 days." Cool. I can live with that. I jump out of the boat and start the real adventure.

During a campaign where Rob and I co-GMed the players got themselves captured by slavers. The next session was a ship adventure as the slavers took the players to a slavers' auction in another kingdom. Instead of dreading the session I decided to take charge and make it a memorable experience.

One aspect of the game I am fairly good at is creating micro-cultures. I guess I would define micro-cultures as a group of people bond together because of a situation not because of geography or religion. Their common bond is the situation and the laws and customs developed out of this situation. So I created a micro-culture for the slave boat. I wanted to give the adventure depth by developing these laws and customs. The antagonist, the captain, needed to drive this micro-culture. So the first thing I did was create the captain of the ship. I wanted to play with stereo types and make him fun and dangerous.

The Captain
I made him a young man and sounded like...well, imagine John Cleese playing an American who is talking in a bad British accent. Throw a little Tim Roth into the mix. He would strut up and down the benches of slaves as they rowed the ship. He would pick favorites arbitrarily and play the other slaves off of one another. For example, one of the players stole extra food. The captain caught him. The captain made him choose which other slave would not eat. The player had to eat the food next to the one who got none. The captain also had the habit of asking for volunteers. Usually it would be for tasks with benefits such as handing out the water or food. But he also would ask for a volunteer to use as bait to fish for sharks.

The Ranks
The captain used a simple system of rankings by what row of benches the slave sat in. The players started in the back row and move forward. The closer you got to the front the more water and food you were given. Some slaves were allowed to roam freely and asked to help patrol the other slaves.

Some of the players learned small tricks from the other slaves on how to maintain their strength and fatigue. One trick was to keep moist cloth pieces under their tongue. Another was when they would be shackled and unshackled to make sure it was done in different places as not to create sores. If the captain saw one of the slaves limping, the slave was fed to the guard dogs. Waste not, want not.

The Special People
There were a few people the captain knew would bring a high price so they were never thrown overboard. One of the players was an albino elf who had taken the attractive advantage. The captain nicknamed him 'snowflake' because he was to pretty and delicate. He ordered his men when they beat the elf to not touch his face or cut his skin. One of the guards was over zealous in his punishment and slapped snowflake and bruised his face. The captain apologized to snowflake as the guard was disemboweled then thrown to the sharks. Snowflake always got asked his opinion and the captain would take his advice and twist it into a punishment for the rest.

The Climax
The adventure climaxed at the slave port when one of the other prisoners, a very strong NPC, became enraged when he saw two of his tribe hanging over the side of another slaver's boat. The distraction gave the players enough time to attack a few unprepared guards and made a break for it.

I didn't overdue the details in the beginning. I wanted the flexibility to alter the situation to make it interesting. I wasn't sure how far I could push the players. They were going from heroes fighting for mounts of treasure, to slaves scrambling for cups of water or crumbs of food to keep their strength up. I wasn't sure how well they would do with the transition, but I figured if I could make it fun they would go along with it and they did. Throughout, I gave them glimmers of hope. That escape was possible. I created a few memorable NPCs to create floating village. The captain by far was the star of this adventure and was talked about long after the adventure was over.

This adventure turned out to be a high point in the campaign. After that adventure I learned I could make a sea adventure exciting and fun. The players taught me they were willing to put up with almost anything if you made it fun and gave them a chance. The entire session the players were shackled until the ending and they had a blast. Who knew?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Interview with Bob Liddil: Part 2

Part 2 of the interview with Bob continues with his views of today's gaming industry and an exciting announcement.

SHORTS: Do you follow the gaming industry today? And if so, what's your opinion of the state of gaming?

LIDDIL: Hasbro owns Wizards of the Coast, which owns Dungeons and Dragons. Four words; big boring corporate suits. I moved on from the game publishing industry when WOC burned the world down with Magic Collectible Playing Cards. It was comparable to “the day the music died” in Don McLean’s classic song, “American pie.”

Until recently, I never looked back. All the hard work that the hard noses and stiff necks put into destroying gaming was wheel spinning. In the end, it was corporate greed; big dollars that sunk gaming, as I knew it. In the end, the card and dice industry were the winners and literacy was the big loser.

As for my opinion of the state of gaming today; I believe that in today’s world, Dungeons and Dragons and the peripheral publishing that went with that genre would not stand a chance against Internet, instant movies, 500 channels of TV and video game consoles.

America is on a downward spiral toward functional illiteracy. There has been such a “dumbing down” of youth as a result of educational laziness that I doubt if 3 in a thousand youths challenged to do so could tell an original story equal to a two hour dungeon game.

It’s disheartening that we are “tweeting” our way into a literary abyss where Perez Hilton being called a pedophile by Demi Moore makes the front cover of the LA Times.

Still, when I published via print on demand 100 copies of “The 30 sided fantasy and Other Tales,” last year, 94 sold immediately and recently a copy showed up in Europe with an asking price of 40 odd euros. So maybe I am wrong and Gaming has simply ceased to be a mass-market prospect for the likes of corporate giant Hasbro, who thinks that “GI JOE” should be a movie.

I hope so, because "Little Shop Of Poisons and Potions 3 - Apothecary in Dungeon Deep," my new book scheduled for the winter of 2010, the news of which is exclusive to this blog, is gonna need an audience who knows how to laugh, kill and die.

SHORTS: It's great to hear you're publishing a new gaming supplement. What prompted to return to publishing gaming supplements?

LIDDIL:I had been noticing a surge of interest in my older works on forums here and there and that there was some interest still out there. So, beginning with The 30 Sided Fantasy and Other Tales, a completion of the “30 sided trilogy,” I began to think in terms of a new project. Noble Knight did so well selling the 30, I am wondering how they would do with a 3rd Poisons and potions book.

That it would be a new poisons and potions book; the idea came from you. You are working in an active campaign in a hard to grasp world. Into ever life a little vial of potion must fall.

I plan to send # 1 of the new first edition to you personally, signed and numbered, with a thanks for the inspiration.

SHORTS: What can we expect from your new book?

LIDDIL:The new poisons and potions will be a little more death intensive than last round. The Assassins’ Guild chided me for not being “killer friendly enough” and did not accept my explanation that Grimm has been studying exotics for these last years. There will be 30 new objects associated with poisons and potions and a “side effects page that will make freewheeling dungeoneers much more cautious in their imbibing habits

SHORTS: Will Little Shop of Poisons and Potions 3 include short stories like the others?

LIDDIL: Yes. The further adventures of Fleet O Feet, the erstwhile alchemist’s apprentice is shaping up nicely. Several stories are completed and several more are rattling around in my head.

Below is an actual entry from the new book, which I present to your readers for their campaigns. It comes in a little blue crystal vial with a symbol of an octopus on it.

# 10 Essence of Octopus

Of all the creatures that swim in the warm waters of the Boiling Sea, few are more terrifying than the Giant Octopus. These titans of the deep have been known to attack passing ships and grab Nauticals and men alike right off the decks, dragging them screaming to their graves wrapped in huge tentacles.

There is another octopus though, a miniature one that is little known outside practitioners of the arts of alchemy. It is known as the Blue Striped Pigmy Octopus. Its signature blue and white parallel stripes distinguish it, a bold statement that says, “Don’t tread on me. I am very, very poisonous.”

Two liquids are harvested from this creature by specially trained (and not too smart) Nauticals. The INK that it ejects when frightened is particularly useful when mixed with magnetized iron filings to form thick writing ink.

The contents of Blue Striped Pigmy Octopus’ venom sack are a natural 2-step poison that assassins covet hungrily. There is no known antivenin for “Essence of Octopus.” Administered through puncture or edged wound, (often by dart), it is a guaranteed death sentence.

Classification: Lethal Cocktail of hemotoxin and Neurotoxin
Cost: 4,400 GP per 1 oz vial
Number of Applications: 1 by volume but it can be stretched due to toxicity
Mixing Agent: Counterintuitive to mixing
Special Properties: Paralysis or “Living Death” precedes actual death

Thanks for inviting me on your blog.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Interview with Bob Liddil : Part 1

I discovered Bob about 20 years ago when I bought Apothecary on the Street of Dreams. It's been a pleasure to learn about his history with gaming and his trials of publishing. Here is Part 1 of the interview with Bob. I hope you enjoy.

SHORTS: Everyone has an initiation or discovery story about how they got into gaming. How did you discover gaming?

LIDDIL: It literally happened on a “dark and stormy night” back in 1977 or so. My friend Jack Powers invited me over to his house for a “snow storm and popcorn party.” I was one of a party of 6 players he introduced to this neat new game called “Tunnels and Trolls.” It was the most fun I’d had in a really long time and it was a great intellectual exercise as well. That night, more than two feet of snow fell on Southeastern Ohio, paralyzing the roads, so basically we slaughtered Orcs until 3AM and then crashed on whatever furniture we could find.

At that point, having spent the entire night trying to keep Damian The Dangerous alive in the roadways and dungeons of “The World” I was totally hooked. Together, we wrote a classic fantasy adventure story, albeit orally, and for me, as an already budding writer, that was just the coolest thing ever.

Next morning, we were awakened by a car crashing into the side of Jack’s house that took out part of the back porch and kitchen. It skidded on the snow and came right into the building. Ironically, Damian had gotten himself trapped on a runaway wagon in the game the night before and almost got his 3x5 card torn in half. He and I both lived in perilous times

SHORTS: Independent publishing is prevalent in the gaming industry now, but back when you published “Griswald Grimm's Little Shop of Poisons and Potions” in 1988 what obstacles did you need to overcome?

LIDDIL:In the very beginning when Dimensions and Doors, Castles and Kingdoms and Demons and Notmen, my first three were published, only two kinds of typesetting existed. Professional typesetting was messy, expensive and cumbersome. Or one could use an IBM Selectric for the different type fonts of the day.

By the time LSPP came out, personal computer typesetting was coming of age and I was learning how to use PageMaker. Probably the biggest obstacle on the first book was just the physical process of assembling the book. To save money, Dallas Nillsen, my partner in Pandora’s Treasures, threw a “collating party” at her house in Logan, Utah. Once collated, the print shop wire bound them and they were ready to go. It really wasn’t much of a hassle for me, because she handled everything other than the actual typography and writing.

In the late 80’s the single most difficult obstacle to overcome had to be the cost of printing. Analog printing is inefficient on “short runs” and not cost effective at all. The cost of a single unit in a 1000 unit run was typically more than $5 per book. Since the wholesale price to a distributor typically seldom exceeded $6.00 the profit margin was usually a wash.

Only selling the book at retail at conventions allowed me to sell it at all. Distributors seldom bought more than 25 at a time so I would say that getting the finished product into the hands of the gamer was my biggest obstacle, that and the fact that Dragon Magazine wouldn’t let me advertise because of the title. TSR were in deep conflict with the Christian Right at the time and the words “Poisons and Potions” were so inflammatory that the book was actually banned by the Wizards of the North!

Coming up with the formulas was easy. I am a very irreverent game master and a great believer in “look before you touch.” I play tested the poisons and potions at a game convention in Salt Lake City in an “ancient apothecary dungeon” and killed virtually every gamer in attendance. The days of drink anything and watch what happens pretty much ended that weekend for those kids.

It still makes me laugh to remember that 13 hour-long game during which I must have signed five dozen “Certificates of Death,” a product of mine in the late 1980's.

SHORTS: Your products from 20 years ago reflect a lot of what's going on in gaming today, being self-published and system neutral supplements. What was the response then to your books being system neutral?

LIDDIL: System neutrality was a necessity during the decades of the 70’s thru 90’s. Gary Gygax and TSR would sue you where you stood for merely mentioning D&D compatibility specifically, where Rick Loomis encouraged T&T fans to “do their thing,” and Steve Jackson was cool as ice every time someone mentioned GURPS.

I always believed that the heart of role-playing was in the storytelling. That’s where my emphasis pointed. Also, having been introduced to T&T prior to D&D, I acquired that sort of “anti-establishment” rebellion attitude right off the bat.

System neutrality the way I published, with no real rule set and compatible with every single rule set was a scarcity. Most Kitchen Table Publishers of my era were broke, stayed broke or went broke.

Lou Zocchi and Gamescience were the obvious exception, and Steve Jackson as well.

You can find more information in Part 2 of the interview soon, but if you just can't wait head over to Digitropolis where Bob makes his home on the web.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Random Ramblings #4

I'm excited to announce that Part 1 of an interview with Bob Liddil will be posted tomorrow. His experience with self-publishing 20 years ago is invaluable. So check in tomorrow and see what Bob has to say.

Finally, I completed the first adventure for Castles & Crusades. The overall plan is to make the adventure short enough to complete in a single night. Of course this will depend on the CK's style and how much combat goes on. This will be the first leg of a three part adventure. Rob (Bat in the Attic) and Dwayne (Gamer's Closet) agreed to play test it for me soon. After that I'll be posting it here.

My character, Torrin of the Red Hand, continues to gain a reputation and fame he wishes would fall onto someone else. Torrin is now in charge of protecting Lake Town. Dwayne placed in this world without the craftsmen we would need to make armor or even find the metal to make a weapon or shield. But during one of my adventures I freed a fallen soldier from his undead existence and he told me of the Krill, dwarven equivalent in this land. I finally got around to finding them and was able to strike a deal, Lake Town has pearls they have iron. So now resource trading has begun in earnest and has been fun developing. Here's what we have so far.

-Lake Town trade fish and food in general for protection. The knight and paladins from the castle patrol the area.
-Lake Town has pearls and we are now trading it for iron from the Krill. This is a huge boon. And they sent a long a master anvil banger to train a few of my men in weapon and armor crafting.
-I've made a tentative alliance with a group of griffin riders. I saved a rider's life in an earlier adventure and Rob healed the griffin.

Hope everyone is having a good weekend. It's opening weekend for the NFL. My team, the Steelers, already got their win for the week so tomorrow I'll have more time to write instead of shouting at the radio.