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??