Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of...

It's traditional to do a year end post, but I don't really feel much like going though my posts to see which one got the most hits, or +1, or comments. Instead I'm going to share some of the things I really liked:

Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence - I wrote about these books already, so in my first pick I'm already kind of doing what I said I wasn't going to do, but this series really was just that amazing.

Control Point and Fortress Frontier, books 1 & 2 of The Shadow Ops series by Myke Cole. Myke takes the idea that magic is real, and suddenly appears in the modern word, and runs with it. Shockingly most governments militarize it, basically drafting anyone who turns up with magical talent. This doesn't go over well with everyone.

Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London is another look at magic in the real world. And as much as I love books, I can't recommend enough the audiobook. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith narrates this series so amazingly well.

Once Upon A Time - Fairy Tale characters in a small town in Maine. At first I wasn't particularly impressed, but a couple of episodes in, I was hooked.

Sleepy Hollow - This is a new series with Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones, and Katia Winter, based around the story of the headless horseman. In this take, there was no Washington Irving or the story of Ichabod Crane. Rather, Crane was a revolutionary war soldier who had a witch as a wife, and the Hessian horseman he beheads was actually the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Ichabod and the now headless horseman end up in a magical stasis (thanks to the witch wife) which ends with them awakening in modern rural New York.

Hugh Laurie - Didn't It Rain Just a great album of jazz. Aside from Mystery (a really funny song) I hadn't heard any of his music before. It's definitely worth checking out.

The Lone Bellow - I saw them live a couple of months ago, and they put on an amazing show.

What's something new you discovered in 2013?

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Monster: Skeletal Mage

"Die!" the hollow voice hissed from the darkened hall, followed by a bright green blast that flamed down the hall.

"Down!" Rathgar yelled over his shoulder as he crouched behind his shield. The green flared as the ball of energy bounced off it.

Nimble tossed a dagger into the darkness, while Allianora downed a potion of darkvision. Feris pointed his wand underneath Rathgar, and followed Nimble's dagger with a lightning bolt. The bolt illuminated a skeletal figure at the end of the hall.

Dry raspy words in a dark tongue echoed down the hall, and Rathgar and Feris found themselves grasped by inky black lines of energy emanating from the walls.

Skeletons, clad in rusty armor, and clutching ancient weapons marched into the light of Rathgar's shield, their weapons raised to strike the held men.

Allianora held forth her golden pendant, now glowing with a holy light, and the skeletons crumbled as its rays fell upon them, the rusty arms and armor clanging dustily to the ground.

Skeletal Mage
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 4**** (M)
Move: 90' (30')
Attacks: 1 touch or spell blast
Damage: 1d6 + Special, or 1d8
No. Appearing 1d4 (1d6)
Save As: F4
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: E
Intelligence: 13
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 275

Monster Type: Undead, Enchanted (Uncommon)
Wizards and Wokan killed by necromatic or demonic magics are sometimes raised as undead magic-users, abominations that channel the mystical forces they harnessed in life. They still seek the arcane secrets they sought in life, and jealously attack any magic user, hoping to take their knowledge, and will focus all their energies on defeating their "rivals".

Skeletal Mages can launch a blast of raw arcane energy every other round for 1d8 points of damage (save vs spells for half damage), and they can cast spells as a 4th level wokan, though they often have rare or unusual spells that are not widely known. Skeletal Mages can also touch for 1d6 points of damage, and a -2 penalty to their attack rolls.

Skeletal Mages are often accompanied by a troop of normal skeletons

Any magic user killed by a Skeletal Mage will be raised as a Skeletal Mage under the thrall of the slayer. All others will be raised as normal skeletons, also under the control of the Skeletal Mage.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Setting Idea: Tortuga Asteroid City Pacification

I had a dream last night that I remember quite vividly. I was a character living in a small city in a hollowed out asteroid. The city was independent from any other government, and something of a Tortuga type place. Not quite lawless, but pretty close. Yet in the city there were lots of regular people just living their lives, going to work, having families, etc. Late night corner shops selling coffee, or ice cream, or fries with cheese and gravy. Living space was crowded and somewhat cramped with more dark alley ways than real streets. The feel of it was very Spike Lee Do The Right Thing crossed with Ice Cube's Friday... only inside an asteroid.

It's never this bright inside the asteroid

In the dream I was one of 2 guys just doing our thing, pretty aimless, when the asteroid city comes under attack by another state's police force. It's very clearly NOT a military action, at least visually. As the riot police move in, my guy gets separated from his friend by the police moving in. They might have captured him, but in the process, I piss off a particular policeman, who spends the rest of the dream trying to capture me. This leads to a cat and mouse game through the city. It wasn't quite slapstick, but it came close a few times, and often involved running through peoples apartments, hiding in trash bins, generally experiencing the growing chaos caused by the police.

Since this is inside an asteroid, gravity doesn't work like normal, and people are able to basically fly, if they jump off from a spot high enough. Very useful, you understand. Of course, because you're jumping, you don't actually move very fast, and it's still possible to hurt yourself, so most people don't do it, especially since the ground cars are usually faster, even if you need to get around the other side of the city. That is, until the police showed up!

I ended up at the residence of the mayor/governor of the asteroid, who's sick (just a bad cold really) and trying to deal with the police invaders via comm. Somehow I get inside (through an upstairs balcony that is being ignored in favor of the doors the police are trying to get through), still trying to avoid the policeman who's following me. I overhear a bunch of stuff going on, as no one is worried about me being there since I am clearly not police.

Unfortunately this is pretty close to where I woke up, so I don't know where the dream would have gone from here, but it seems like a fantastic start to a new campaign. I could see using d6 Star Wars to run it, but I think that something more like Tales from the Floating Vagabond might be a better fit. There is some very serious shit going on, but that doesn't mean the PCs are going to be either taking it all that seriously, or going to be in any way directly involved or pivotal in the outcome.

Sunday Inspirational Image: Pirate Treasure

I hope the holiday brought you all the treasures you wished for!


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Birthright: Player's Secrets to Roesone

"Once a lawless frontier less than a century ago, Roesone is one of the youngest states in all of Anuire. As the ruler of this land, you'll find that Roesone is surrounded by uncertain allies and dangerous enemies. Plots and intrigues creep through the halls of your court, and shadowed powers are moving against you. It will take strength, courage, and determination to keep your crown on your head - and your head on your shoulders."

Roesone is a young realm on the southern coast of Cerelia, founded on the ruins of lands that were depopulated by goblins of the Spiderfell under the command of one of the great awnsheghlien Tal-Qazar, aka The Spider, several hundred years prior. Less than a century ago a bandit lord, Daen Roesone, began the process of bringing the abandoned but repopulating lands under his control. He then applied to the Baron of Diemed (whose lands these officially were) to become his vassal. Instead the baron sent his army to take the lands and install his own ruler. Daen Roesone defeated the army of Diem, and crowned himself Baron of Roesone.

The realm of Roesone is actually a good place to start for a fairly standard fantasy RPG. It's a young boarderland full of old ruins and mysteries, with an evil human nation to the north, a really evil monster realm to the northwest, ancient woods to the east, and boarder nations to the west protecting you from the old barony that wants Roesone back.

There are 3 different guild houses that control the vast majority of trade in the realm. Orthien Tane, head of the Southern Anuire Shipping and Imports is pretty much a mob boss. The Port of Call Exchange, under El-Halid is involved with overseas trading, and is an excellent way to involve pirates and sea monsters. The Spider River Traders operates near the Spiderfell under a relatively young and honest Siele Ghoried. Protecting river barges and trade caravans from the raids of the Spider, and possibly from bandits from Ghoere.

Neither of the two great wizards who hold the magic of the realm, Rogr Aglondier and the High Mage Aelies, actually reside in Roesone, but there is one who does, the Count of Bellam, whose loyalty to Roesone is... tentative. Either Aglondier or Aelies could request PCs fetch them things, or check on one of their source holdings.

The Baroness Marlae Roesone is recently come to her throne, and would make use of adventurers to help her keep it secure. She could be of great use as a patron. Additionally, she has a younger brother Daenal who is something of a wild child, and is likely to get himself hurt, killed, or even kidnapped. Keeping an eye on him could be an entire quest line. There are many activities that a sitting regent can not take care of herself, especially activities outside her realm...

The end of every Players Secrets book has a section on Rumors, Secrets, and Plots which is an invaluable goldmine of ideas, and while they're focused on the regent of the realm, there isn't any reason that they can't be just as useful to non-regent PCs. For instance, haunted ruins of an ancient wizards tower? Or how about some giants in the woods near the coast? What happens when the great tournament comes to Proudglaive? Will the PCs enter, or use it as an opportunity to take care of other business?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Birthright Players Secrets guides

Most of the products that came out of the Birthright setting were in the "Players Secrets to" series that detailed various realms across the continent of Cirelia. 14 were produced (15 if you count the PDF only Player's Secrets of Müden) and released mostly between 1995 and 96.

The Players Secrets are interesting products, in a variety of ways. First off, they're clearly aimed at the players. This isn't typical of 2nd edition products, most of which were pretty clearly aimed at DMs from adventures, to boxed sets, to various campaign books. Secondly they don't have rules in them! No kits or prestige classes, no new monsters, no new spells. It's 32 pages plus a foldout cover crammed full of background fluff.

I'm going to go through my collection (I've got most of them) and do reviews of them here. These aren't going to be typical reviews, but rather looking at each of the realms detailed, and seeing how well the material could fit into a non-Birthright campaign. Now, the realms are explicitly tied into the setting, and not really designed to be pulled out, but it wouldn't take significant tweaking to make it work, especially given the complete lack of rules and mechanics in them. I'm going to start with Roesone, Ilien, and Medoere, since these three realms all fit in nicely together.

The complete list of Players Secrets guides is as follows. As I review them I will update this list with links to the individual posts.

Player's Secrets of Endier
Player's Secrets of Roesone
Player's Secrets of Medoere
Player's Secrets of Tuornen
Player's Secrets of Ilien
Player's Secrets of Talinie
Player's Secrets of Ariya
Player's Secrets of Binsada
Player's Secrets of Baruk-Azhik*
Player's Secrets of Halskapa
Player's Secrets of Khourane*
Player's Secrets of Tuarhievel*
Player's Secrets of Stjordvik
Player's Secrets of Müden (PDF only)
Player's Secrets of Hogunmark*

*Still need to add to my collection

Thursday, December 26, 2013

GMs are the worst players!

If there is one thing a DM needs to be good at, it's being in charge of the game. It's your table, your rules, and while it's not an absolute dictatorship, at the end of the day you, the DM, are in charge.

So when we end up on the other side of the screen, it's sometimes hard to give that up. It's understandable given the amount of time and effort we've invested to be good DMs, how we've trained ourselves to run games, and provided the framework for a good time. Setting that  aside isn't easy.

I know that I've spent a lot of time on the player's side of the screen thinking about what my DM is doing, and criticizing (sometimes harshly) the decisions they're making. It's hard not to, since I'm always on the lookout for new ideas, new techniques that I can bring to the table, but it can take away from my enjoyment of the game.

We're our own worst enemies! 

I know this isn't unique to me, as I've played and run games that are made up of players who are also experienced and regular DMs. While they all relish their time as players (just as I do) there's also the occasional suggestions that are voiced at the table. It isn't too bad most of the time, but it can cause a bit of a kerfuffle if everyone decides to weigh in.

On the other hand, experienced DMs provide the best post-game critique and followup!  

My suggestion to my fellow DMs is when you find yourself pleasantly on the other side of the screen, put away your natural tendency to try to run the game, and just immerse yourself in playing it. For once, don't take charge of the game, take charge of your character, and try to make it as fun for yourself as you do for your DM.

This is both #26 in the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge, and my entry for December's RPG Blog Carnival "Taking Charge" hosted this month at Casting Shadows.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

New Monsters: Santa Claws & Santa's Little Helpers

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday!

Santa Claws by Dragon*Storm

Santa Claws
Armor Class: 1
Hit Dice: 9*** (L)
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 2 Claws
Damage: 2d6
No. Appearing 0 (1)
Save As: C12
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: F
Intelligence: 9
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 8,000

Santa Claws is a demonic being dragged from his slumber in the frozen waters of the north. His body is covered with bright red segmented plates and his topmost 2 limbs (out of 8) end in giant pincer claws. The demon attempts to steal away live creatures to eat later, and stuffs them in a great bag of holding. It is able to squash itself to fit down small openings (say, chimney size) in order to get to its victims.

In addition to its great pincers, Santa Claws can cast spells as a 5th level shaman, and can cast Sleep 3 times/day. Santa Claws is immune to all cold and fire damage, as well as non-magical weapons. It is also naturally silent in spite of its great bulk. Santa Claws can also gate in 6d10 lesser demons (see below) to aid in its work.

Santa's Little Helpers
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 1** (S)
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 1 Claws
Damage: 1d4
No. Appearing 0 (6d10)
Save As: F1
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: C (divided among all)
Intelligence: 7
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 16

Santa's little helpers are smaller versions of Santa Claws, standing between 3'-4' tall, though their shells are green in color. For every 6 of the helpers there will also be a 2HD chief helper that can cast phantasmal force or obscure 1/day. SLHs are immune to fire and cold damage, and take half damage from non-magical weapons.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Canon vs. Alternate Universes vs. Original Settings

The characters in RPGs need someplace to do the things that they do, aka the setting. It doesn't really matter if it's based in the real world, some steampunk metropolis, a fantasy wilderness, or a deep space sci-fi. What setting you decide on, and how you run it can have a major impact on the game.

There are 3 main options: The Canon Universe, and Alternate Universe, or an Original Universe.

Using a setting as written is using the canon setting. The major advantage to using a canon setting is its familiarity. It's a rare gamer that hasn't seen Star Wars, Star Trek, or Ghostbusters, or any of the other games set in a licensed universe. What constitutes canon can vary a lot though. Take for example the Star Wars Universe. In some games, only what is from the original trilogy counts as canon. Others use any of the movies and tv shows. Others use the books, and some even use the comics. 

The same problem arises with game settings like the Forgotten Realms, or Ravenloft, or Greyhawk that have all been around for a while, existed over multiple editions, and have a wide variety of both expansions and novels published for them. Figuring out what will "count" as canon for your game can be a pain. On the other hand, having everything all set means the only work you need to really put into it is to make sure you know your stuff.

Depending on how much stuff is out there, this can be a significantly difficult task, and even when you know the setting pretty well, it can be a major pain when one (or more) of your players knows it better and tell you that you're "doing it wrong". I dislike using canon settings for exactly that reason. Unless it's one that I know really well, better than anyone else, I prefer the Alternate Universe option over the Canon setting.

Alternate Universe (AU) settings are based on a canon setting, but with some things changed. They might be major changes, like the skywalker twins died at birth, or the Enterprise failed to stop the Borg, or a spaceship crashed into Waterdeep collapsing large chunks of Undermountain.

Using an AU setting alleviates the major downsides of a canon setting in that player knowledge of the official setting helps, but the changes keep them from telling you you're doing it wrong, or screwing up a major significant point. AU settings allow you to keep the stuff you like, and dump the rest. Most canon games end up as AU games, as the players influence things, at least eventually, unless they swerve into the realm of the Expanded Universe, where the canon things happen, but not where the PCs are. It's something of a compromise between canon and AU.

The downsides to AU are that your players might be upset at your changes, especially if they really love the canon setting. You also need to keep track of the things you've changed, and try not to add things in that shouldn't be there because of the changes that have been made. If the Skywalker kids never were, there wasn't any reason for Alderan to get blown up. Unless there was. That's up to you.

Original settings are ones you've made up on your own. The major advantage is that they're exactly what you want them to be, and need them to be. The major downsides are that your players will have little familiarity with it, unless they've played in it before, and that it's up to you to know and keep track of what's going on. Depending on the level of complexity you've designed, that can be daunting. The personal rewards of having a successful original setting are much greater than having picked one off the shelf.

This is #24 in the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge.

Monday, December 23, 2013

New Monster: Xmas Wraith

Xmas Wraith
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 4** (M)
Move: 120' (40')
Fly: 240' (80')
Attacks: 1 touch
Damage: 1d6 + Special
No. Appearing 1d4 (1d6)
Save As: F4
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: E
Intelligence: 7
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 175

Monster Type: Undead, Seasonal (Rare, Enchanted)
The Xmas Wraith is a non-corporeal undead creature that appears as a transparent green figure with glowing red eyes. It's the restless spirit of someone who didn't get what they wanted for Christmas, and seek to selfishly take everyone else's enjoyment of the season.

Anyone touched by a Xmas Wraith will feel their joy drained and replaced with despair. Creatures of less than 4HD will suffer the effects of Sleep (no save) as they fall into a deep depression. Creatures of 4HD or greater must make a saving throw vs. paralysis or suffer a cumulative -1 to all attack, damage, and saving throw rolls. Xmas Wraiths are immune to sleep, charm, and hold spells, and can only be harmed by weapons crafted from holly or mistletoe, or those enchanted by magic.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Problem Players & Drama Llamas

There is a stereotype that nerds (in general), and D&D players (specifically) are basement dwelling troglodytes (who know what that word actually means) that wouldn’t know what to say to a woman in the unlikely event one dared enter their subterranean shrine to eternal virginity full of comics and action figures.

The vast majority of the time this isn’t anywhere close to the truth. However… there have been times I’ve had players who just completely lacked any understanding of social behavior. For whatever reason these players tended to be the worst muchkins, and they didn’t much appreciate my stomping on that, and tended to drift away pretty quickly. Most of these I encountered when I was running games at the comic shop I used to work at. It was always a delicate balance between discouraging their participation, yet trying to keep them as customers. Maybe not the choice I'd have made it it had been my store, but that's what the boss wanted.

It's hard to come up with a single memorable encounter, as it's been more of a amalgam of experiences. I've yet to have a table flipping moment, though there have been one or two times when people have left the table upset over a turn of events. These don't stick out as drama llama type reactions though.

What sort of crazy over-the-top problem players and drama llamas have you seen?

This is #25 in the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Game Mechanics and Story

It’s said that when you have a hammer, all your problems look like nails. I’ve noted the same sort of thing happen in my 4e game. My players, as much as I push them, tend to default to whatever their character sheet says they can do. That’s honestly one of the things I like most about old school games. There is very little to tell you what to do, or how to do it.

It isn’t that the games are unfinished, but rather are left for the DM and the players to work things out for themselves, and the rules are there as a framework to support whatever they opt to do. It’s not a bug, but a feature, that there’s so little that’s been filled in for you.

There’s some discussion that the mechanics limit or direct the focus of the game, in that the combat rules tend to make up a bulk of the rules in any edition of D&D. I don’t think that’s necessarily the truth given how little advancement comes from combat, at least in the pre-3.0 days. Rather I think that the potential complexity of combat lends itself to mechanical codification as a way to distinguish it from the more freeform conflict resolution of cops and robbers or cowboys and indians. Of course it really comes from D&D’s wargaming roots, but from that grew a much stranger game, one where combat wasn’t necessarily a good idea.

This is #23 in the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug

Yesterday morning we went to see The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug 3D HFR. The reviews I've seen have been all over the place. Those who loved the LotR trilogy, and the first Hobbit movie loved this one. Those who love the book tend to be upset by the movie. They don't appreciate the deviations made by Peter Jackson.

I get that.

It's hard to see something that you love, and have loved for years taken by someone else and changed, and shown in a way that doesn't match what you've imagined every time you think about it. Peter Jackson was never going to get that right.

For the rest of us, who are willing to accept that the Hobbit movies are different in so many ways from the book, because it has to be, you'll probably enjoy it. The dividing line between the children's story that is The Hobbit, and the epic that is the Lord of the Rings is a hard one to bridge given how different they are in tone, but I think Peter Jackson pulls it off.

As with The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, I never noticed the length of the movie. Getting to see even more of Middle Earth, from Bree to Laketown, Erebor and the Woodland Realm, Dol Gildur and Mirkwood. As far as I'm concerned, just getting to see the scenes of life in these locals was worth the price of admission.

The addition of Legolas and Tauriel mostly felt like unnecessary filler. I didn't dislike it, and the eyecandy was nice, but it didn't really add anything worth having to the movie. Do we really need an elf-dwarf-elf love triangle? No, we don't. Couldn't we just have some mutual respect and friendship develop, as between Gimli and Legolas?

The scenes in Laketown with Bard and the Master were fantastic. Stephen Fry and Luke Evens really brought the characters to life, and the sets and extras made Laketown feel real. Corrupt, hard living, but real.

The real star of the show was Smaug. I'd been wondering how well I was going to like him, given how picky I am about what dragons look like. I needn't have worried. While Peter Jackson went with the wings being a part of the forelegs, Smaug looked not only great for a dragon, but like one that truly fit in with everything else we've seen in Middle-Earth.

Overall I give The Desolation of Smaug 4/5 dragons. It wasn't perfect, but there was a lot that I loved, and waiting a year for the final chapter is going to be rough...

Friday, December 13, 2013

D&D Next & Fallout Free!

Just a couple of quick notes.

First Up, over on GOG.com for about the next 24 hours you can get Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics for free. I'm going to be honest, and let you know that I've never actually played any of these games, but they look cool, they come highly recommended, and the price is right.

When a game includes scenes like this, how can you go wrong?

Second, the D&D Next playtest is coming to a close on the 15th. I got the following e-mail today:

As this monumental year comes to a close, we are continuing to refine the D&D® Next rules. Your feedback has proven instrumental in shaping the future of Dungeons & Dragons, and for that, we thank you.

We want to let you know that December 15th, 2013 is the last day to access the playtest materials online. After that date, they’ll no longer be available, so we encourage you to download the latest packet if you haven’t done so already.

Until the next edition of the D&D tabletop roleplaying game officially releases, you can continue to play D&D Next adventures at home and at stores participating in D&D Encounters™. Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle™ is available now for purchase on www.dndclassics.com, and coming early next year are two more D&D Next adventures. These Sundering-themed adventures include the supplementary rules material from the D&D Next Playtest necessary for play. Visit DungeonsandDragons.com for more information.

As always, thank you for your participation in the D&D Next playtest.


D&D Team

If you haven't downloaded the latest playtest packet, you'd better get to it.

I don't really understand this decision, since they're going to continue to use the most recent rules in the D&D Encounters games, but what do I know?

Again, snag the rules. The price is right.

A Novel Solution

A novel solution: what’s the best advice you’ve borrowed from a totally different field?

“Yes, and…”

Role Playing games are a collaborative effort, and it’s important for that to work that everyone is in the same chapter, even if they’re not on the same page. In that spirit, it’s helpful to remember the improv rule to say “yes and” or “yes but” whenever possible, rather than defaulting to “no”.

“The cavern is split by a deep ravine.”

“Can I use my 10’ pole to vault across?”

“Yes... but the pole might break and you could fall”


“The cavern is split by a deep ravine.”

“Is there a bridge or other obvious way to cross it?”

“Sure, but it looks old and may be rotten.”

This isn't something that comes naturally to me. For far too long I looked at Rule 0 as a way of enforcing my vision of the game, rather than allowing what happened at the table to build the shared vision.

Of course, as a DM, especially in a D&D type game, you are the final arbiter, and there are going to be limits on your players' influence. For instance, maybe there is a bridge, but it was cut down and is now at the bottom of the ravine, or maybe the ceiling is only 8' tall. Generally, if there's a good reason the players idea shouldn't work, be honest. If there isn't a good reason, strongly consider going with it.

This is #22 in the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

RIP Andy the guinea drake

I usually don't share much real life stuff here, but last night our old guinea pig Andy passed away. We took these pictures two and a half years ago for one of my monster posts, Guinea Drakes.

She was an ornery beast at the best of times, but she'll still be missed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: Tomb of the Iron God

Matthew Finch is one of the more prolific authors of the OSR, and consistently seems to produce some quality product. I picked up Tomb of the Iron God as part of a bundle deal a while back, and it was one of the first things I read from it.

Villagers report a truly massive lightning storm centered on the nearby Monastery of the Iron God. The peasants believe the Iron God -- a largely forgotten minor deity of the underworld who guards the spirits of the dead -- destroyed his own monks to punish their greed. The peasants claim the heretical monks had been accumulating great treasures. They've seen no sign of the kindly monks since the storm.

If it was indeed divine wrath that destroyed the monastery, then its treasure-laden catacombs are obviously fair game for an enterprising group of young adventurers such as yourselves.

This is an introductory adventure written specifically for Swords and Wizardry, but easily playable with any old school edition of D&D.

This is just about everything that an introductory adventure should be. It's got some solid background that is interesting and easy enough to drop into almost any sandbox without problem, with the potential to drive future adventures, depending on the actions and success of the adventurers. There is a rumor table though it's highly skewed toward one answer over the other. I'd add to it to balance it out. The wandering monster table is nice in that it shows the maximum number of possible encounters of each type. The numbers are such that you probably wont run out, but it's a nice touch.

Another feature that I like is that each keyed room there is a notes box provided, so you can track what the PCs do, either for an after action write up, or to restock for followup visits. There is a good variety of things for the PCs to encounter, puzzles to figure out, traps to avoid, monsters to fight, and even a pair of gods! You've got to love an intro adventure that doesn't pull it's punches. Granted, they're both more like godlings, but still, it's an impressive choice, and one that would be hard to pull off.

One of the best things about this adventure is that it's clearly written to be used. Background is kept to a minimum, descriptions are utilitarian, or skipped to allow the DMs to flavor it in a way most appropriate for their table. There is an entire section in the back to restock the dungeon, both with all new and different monsters and new treasures, plus a half a page on how to run the adventure, should you be new to running old school adventures. I really like how that's at the back too, since experienced DMs don't need it, and new DMs will have theoretically read the adventure before

The dungeon is on 2 levels, and the 2 maps that show them are clear and easy to read. There is only a single image in the adventure besides the cover.

This has the feel of a truly classic intro adventure, and I am definitely going to keep this handy he next time I get to start a new game.

I have the PDF, which I printed out in booklet format. It's 28 pages long, plus the cover. There are 58 described locations, as well as the items noted above.

You get get a copy from Lulu, and if you're starting a new campaign, this would be a great place to start.

Monday, December 9, 2013

New Monster: Dragon Gate

"So how do we get in?" Rathgar asked, looking across the street at the gated brick building.

"We knock." Allianora shrugged.

Nimble looked dubious "I don't often find that to be the most effective strategy."

"For you? Of course not. On the other hand, I am a priest of the light. As long as you're not lurking in the shadows behind me there shouldn't be a problem."

"What about the gate?"

"There isn't even a guard."

Nimble pointed "There's a dragon!"

"It's a statue. We're in the heart of Kalis City. Every gate has some sort of decoration! Are you really so adverse to going in front doors?"

Feris squinted at the gate. "Nimble might have a point. It's magical, and not a weak enchantment either."

Allianora's brow furrowed. "I'm going to go knock. If you're going to skulk about, do it somewhere else." With that she strode across the street and stood before the silvery gate, looking for a way to open it.

The silvery dragon's head turned with a metallic whine. "State your business"

Dragon Gate
Armor Class: 2
Hit Dice: 8* (L)
Move: 180' (60')
Attacks: 2 claw/1 bite/1 tail
Damage: 1d8/1d8/2d6/1d4+special
No. Appearing 0 (1)
Save As: F8
Treasure Type: none
Intelligence: 7
Alignment: Lawful
XP Value: 1,200

Monster Type: Construct
The Dragon Gate is based on the same magics that animate a caryatid column, though the end result is more advanced. It is imbued with a basic level of programed intelligence in order to determine whether an individual is granted entry. This also gives it the ability to speak.

If forced, The Dragon Gate will use all of it's abilities to stop the intruder. It will attempt to hit the most dangerous looking opponent with its tail attack first, knocking the target down (save vs paralysis on a successful hit or fall prone). It will gain a +1 to hit a prone target with its claw attacks. Anyone targeted by the tail can not be bitten in the same round.

The Dragon Gate is immune to Sleep, Charm, and Hold spells and effects, and ignores non-magical weapons. While fast, the Dragon Gate will not leave the immediate vicinity of the gateway. However its speed does mean that it will always go first in any combat round.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Best DMing Book?

Ok, well my doing the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge rather slipped through the cracks. I was doing pretty good with the first 20, then… not so much.

So back to it!


Best DMing Book?

I know in the OSR the word of Gygax is held in high regard, and while there are a lot of gems to be found in the original AD&D Dungeon Master’s guide, it’s only recently that I’ve come to read it. And it is good, don’t misunderstand, it’s just that it isn’t my “go to” book.

On the other hand, I honestly don’t have a go to book.

The sum of game mastering knowledge is not contained in books at this point. While I have a decent RPG library, and I’ve read way more than I own, but between the blogs I follow and the DMs on Google+, I have an embarrassing abundance of experience and examples from which to draw.

I’m not saying ‘skip the DMs guides’ or anything like that, but definitely don’t be limited to just one, or even just to books. Chances are good that whatever you’re struggling with isn’t new, and someone else has not only experienced it, but also has come up with ways to handle it. You just need to find that someone else.

Charles Akins over at Dyvers has compiled a comprehensive list of OSR blogs. It's a good place to start, but again, don't limit yourself. There might be a 4e or Pathfinder DM who has the answer you're looking for. Or you might find it from someone who plays Star Wars, or Ghostbusters, or Vampire, or Fate, or Fudge, or... who knows? And if you've come up with something, don't be afraid to share. Not all the answers have been found, and someone maybe looking for the answer you have.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

New Magic Item: Key to the Chains of the Demiurge

"Creation is not an orderly process. It is fitful, halting, sporadic, and messy. Sometimes like at the Very Beginning it is hot and wild and furious. Other times it is slower. It is always in opposition with what has come before. The Demiurge forges that creativity, bounds the creation, and brings order to it."

"There doesn't seem to be much order right now." Feris interrupted. His twisted body warped with patches of reptilian skin spotting his body.

"No. The Lawgiver has been itself bound."

"By what?" Allianora asked.

"Chains of its own creation. The Demiurge knew that too much order would stifle the multiverse's creative energy. The chains were designed to limit the Demiurge's ability to impose order. They worked too well... But there is a key."

"Where?" Feris asked.

"Hold on." Rathgar interrupted. "We've faced dragons, demons, vampires... are you seriously suggesting we take on gods?"

"Look at me!" Feris snarled.

"Not gods." The sage answered. "Primordial forces. And you won't be 'taking them on', you'll be facing those who would not see more order brought to the universe."

"I would have more order..." Feris scratched at the scales on his arm.

"Don't be so sure. As one who bends reality to suit your whims, you may not appreciate the results."

Key to the Chains of the Demiurge

While it is a literal key, it is also a highly lawful artifact. Anyone possessing it has as a constant effect protection from chaos (or evil as appropriate for your game). If the key is held, that protection extends to 10' out from the key. It also provides a 10% chance that any spell cast within the 10' of protection simply fail. Magic users can not cast spells while holding the key.

It is said that if the Key is brought to the Well of Chaos (where the Demiurge is said to be imprisoned) that order would be brought to the world. Attempts by those opposed to such order to destroy the Key have all failed, and most have resulted in the death of those attempting it.