Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bits & Bobs XX

Heroes in Fairy Tales are a different breed than those in other forms of storytelling, but one that ties in pretty closely with successful OSR style adventurers.

The Great Wooly Jack Raboose is just an awesome example of silly prop making simply because it's awesome.

Like the link above for the great wooly jack raboose shows, I'm a fan of props. Making something real that was just a picture in a book, or a digital model, or a silly idea is just so great. Eric Hart has gathered together a list of the 100 Best sites for prop makers. Be careful if you click through... you might lose hours, or even days.

Barrowmaze is back, and this time in a single collected volume, and with a new line of Underworld Minis.

It's about a third funded ($5,439/$15,000) with over a month to go. While I haven't gone for it yet, since I already have BMI & II, it is tempting. And if you haven't picked it up yet, now is a very good time to do so.

Over at there's a good discussion about some of the current news out of GW. It's been years since I bought a GW mini, which is a shame because they still make nice figures, especially the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit stuff. But their prices are just so unreasonable. Worth a read, if you're at all interested.

In celebrartion of D&D's 40th Anniversary, d20 Dark Ages is hosting a blog hop challenge in February.

I'll be joining in, but it isn't going to be a daily thing. I'll probably batch them together into groups of 7.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Growing the Hobby

It’s taken me a while to get here, but this is the final post of the 30 days of GMing Challenge, and fitting that this question falls on/around the 40th anniversary of D&D (and the hobby). At least it does for me because of the length of time it’s taken me to get to this last question!

Growing the hobby is something that comes up in every niche activity that I’m aware of, and it’s important!

But only a little.

The thing is, I don’t think that “the hobby” is in any danger. I am seeing new people join in on G+ regularly, I see old blogs die off, and new ones start up, I see posts about families playing together, I see new adventures, new rules sets, new everything in such volume that I can’t keep up.

And that's just in our little corner of the hobby, and ours is a little corner! The OSR (and by this I mean anyone playing OD&D through 2nd Edition or a game derived/based on those rule sets) is a vocal minority when compared to the numbers playing Pathfinder and even 4e. I can’t even guess how it compares to the non-D&D side of the hobby.

Given that Pathfinder is still publishing, that there is no slowdown of DCC products, that the new edition of D&D comes out this year, I think the hobby is doing just fine.

If you really are interested in growing the hobby, there’s two things you need to do:

1. Enjoy the hobby (aka PLAY!)

2. Talk about the hobby - find new players, then go back to #1.

A big thank you to Kat over at Triple Crit for putting together this set of questions.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Post-it Map

Here's a little micro-map for your Monday morning. I like this way of doing secret doors....

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ghost Ships and Cannibal Rats

The companions rode back into the small walled town on the coast at midday. The head of the orc warchief tied to Rathgar’s saddle bounced as they trotted through the gate, passing several overladen carts heading westward along the coast. The peasant families startled as the companions went past.

“It’s alright!” Feris called out to them, slowing his horse. “The orcs aren’t coming anymore.”

“Forget the orcs! Death and disease come from the sea.” The peasant flicked the reins and the cart lurched a little faster out of town.

“What’s going on?” Rathgar asked, wheeling his mount to face Feris.

“I don’t know… let’s find the burgomeister.”

Rathgar held the head by the jaw “So now that she’s no longer your problem, what is? You’ve got people streaming out of town.”

“Two days ago an abandoned ship was spotted out at sea, and headed this way.”

“A ghost ship?” Nimble asked.

“I’ve specifically not been calling it that.” the burgomeister said quietly. The fishermen who spotted it sailed close enough to it to see that it wasn’t crewed, but that it wasn’t empty either. Rats swarmed the deck. Enough to cause the ship to list toward the fishing boat.”

Allianora warded herself “Gods…”

The winds and the seas are pushing it toward the coast… towards us.”

“Can’t you sink it?” Feris asked.

“We don’t have any military ships here, and no one else is willing to get close enough to try.” He paused. “I was hoping that if you came back from facing the orcs that maybe you… could do something.”

Rathgar nodded “Probably”

“The fear at this point is that it’s close enough to land that the rats could make it to shore, especially if they floated in on wreckage.”

“So you want us to… what?”

The burgomeister pursed his lips, looked down at the head in Rathgar’s hand, and sighed. “Take the ship back out to sea, away from the coast, then destroy it.”

“It’s literally swarming with rats.”


“Rats who’ve been trapped for gods knows how long, eating gods know what.”

“Probably each other.”

“Any idea what else is on it?”


Ghost ship full of cannibal rats could be about to crash into Devon coast
or maybe it isn't...
No, an Abandoned Ship Full of Diseased Rats Is Not Floating Towards Britain

Real life, or at least real headlines make for some great inspiration.

Here are 1d10 other things you might find on a ghost ship full of cannibal plague rats:
1. (Rat)Shit Demon aka Golgothan
2. Rat King
3. Ghosts/Spirits/Shadows
4. Vampire/Plague Ghoul
5. Warpstone/Chaos focus
6. Carrion birds
7. Undead Plague Rats
8. Insect swarms
9. Insane crewman w/ ring of vermin protection/control
10. ???

What else should be on this list?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Selling players on a game

Teaching the rules: how do you sell players on the system while running a demo or con game?

Until recently I’ve never tried to sell anyone on a system.

Actually, that’s a lie. I used to do it all the time when I worked at the comic store, especially since that was right at the very start of D&D 3.0 release. But that was a very different thing from trying to get my players to play a new game. When I was talking to my players, I never tried to sell them on a system, I sold them on the game and the setting. In general I’ve found that most players don’t care about the rules all that much, at least not until they’re up to their elbows in it. I’ve found that one of the advantages of having a steady group is that if you want to try something, they’re generally willing to trust you not to bring something stupid (rules-wise) to the table.

When selling an RPG system at the store, I would talk a lot about the changes made from the old system, or about what made it different from other games out there. Generally in these cases I was selling the game to GMs, who tend to care about rules more, but even then a fancy new mechanic isn’t all that important unless it does something at the table that either is new or fixes something that didn’t work well.

More recently (as I talked about at length) I ran a Labyrinth Lord adventure at Charm City Gameday. No one who sat down at my table was familiar with LL, though most were familiar with the newer versions of D&D. I went over the mechanics very very briefly, and we jumped into the game. I didn’t worry at all about trying to sell the game to them. As with my old standing groups, I sold them on the adventure, rather than the rules.

Thinking about the various con games I’ve played in, it’s been the same thing. I’ve tried out lots of different rules sets that I would have passed over otherwise because someone asked me if I wanted to be a god, or if playing an Alien style sci-fi game sounded fun.

This is post #29 in the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mangu Timur

“Castle up ahead” Nimble reported as he rejoined them in the clearing. “Red banner with some sort of stylized golden dagger on it.” He shrugged. “The road goes right past it, of course, and there’s a village or small town on the far side of it.”

“Think it’s Kalemsport?” Rathgar asked.

“Maybe” Feris pointed at the map “but there’s no notation about a castle.”

“Do we go around, or take the road?”

“Road. I want to sleep on a bed tonight.” Feris sighed.

“Me too” Nimble agreed.

“Road” Allianora sighed. “I don’t really care if there’s a toll.”

The tap room of the inn was subdued. The companions claimed a corner table early and none of the other weary traders and travelers seemed interested in them. “A gold each, plus a gold for each horse? You know... you know that the guards were pocketing most of that!” Nimble grumbled.

“I’d have paid ten times that.” Feris admitted quietly.

The door to the inn slammed open, and a squad of plate armored men tromped in. At the head of the group, a large man in blackened armor with a scarlet talbard.

Rathgar downed what was left of his ale and stood “How much more would you have paid?” he asked Feris.

“Keep your hands where I can see them.” the armored man growled “and we can keep this... friendly.”

“We’re just passing through.” Allianora said softly.

“Indeed? Rumor has it you killed Salinkari the wizard, and are looking to pawn his spell book”

The companions glanced at each other. “There... may be some truth to that rumor.” Nimble offered.

“Salinkari was my friend.”

Mangu Timur

Armor Class: -2
Hit Dice: 9+6** (56hp) (M)
Move: 90’ (30’)
Attacks: 1 sword
Damage: 2d8+5
No. Appearing: 1
Save As: F12
Morale: 11
Treasure Type: A
Intelligence: 11
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 2250

Monster Type: Man (Unique)
Mangu Timur is a ruthless killer and strongman who came to power by the strength and skill of his sword. His natural talent and skill are further bolstered by his magical plate (+2) and shield (+2) and his sword Witch Hunter (+2, +2 vs spell casters, Int. 9, detect magic, detect traps, healing). In addition, Mangu is always accompanied outside of his castle by 2d8 4th level fighters in plate armor, shields, and swords.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: Firefly the Game

Firefly the Game

Just opening the box, this is an intimidating game, and I had about 10 minutes with the rules before I was supposed to help everyone learn how to play. And it wasn’t even my game!

The first thing you’ll notice is that there are a LOT of pieces. How many other games can you think of that use 12 different decks of cards?? You’re going to want a BIG table to play this on.

Luckily the rulebook does a fairly good job of walking you through the game, and even suggests the best way to play your first game. The scenario suggested, and the one we played, was to steal the crown jewels of old England. To do this, you need cash, so off we went, picking up jobs and stuff, fumbling our way through the first couple of rounds.

There are a number of planets on the board, but only 5 of them sell stuff, and 5 have contacts who give jobs. There’s some overlap, but you’ll be moving around the board a lot. If you stick to Alliance space the jobs are generally less well paying. Boarderland jobs, even if they take you into the Alliance territory pay better, but are much higher risk.

One downside to the game is that there isn’t a whole lot of player interaction. No real team work, and the only way you can really hurt anyone is by sicking the Alliance Cruiser or the Reavers on someone, but that isn’t easy either. Turns can take a long time too, especially if there’s shopping for stuff or jobs going on, especially at the beginning with new players.

I do recommend starting on a planet that both sells stuff and has jobs. If the other players claimed them for their first turn, pick one that offers one or the other. Don’t worry too much about the scenario right away either. Chances are you aren’t going to be able to start it very quickly. Also, be very careful with your crew. If you let them get unhappy, other players can buy them off of you if they’re in the same place on the board. That’s how I lost both Simon and River Tam ( a great combo if you can get it), not to mention my other crew members.

If you’re a fan of Firefly, and of games like Ticket to Ride and Monopoly, and you have a few hours (or an afternoon) to kill, this is a good one to get. It isn’t fast. In the 4 or so hours we played, 2 players succeeded in getting ⅔ goals, one got ⅓ and one was on her way to the first goal. This was a scenario that the card suggested would take 2 hours.

Monday, January 20, 2014

City Rings

The sky overhead was low, faceted, and amber, which would have fascinated Feris more if he hadn’t found himself on the wrong side of a balcony railing with nothing under his feet.

Yelling in a language he didn’t recognize followed from above as he fell. Below, thankfully, was an awning which caught him, slowed his fall before he tore through it, and landed unsteadily on his feet in front of a door.

He looked around in confusion, as the people in the street jumped back from him in fear. Most seemed to be wearing simple tunics and sandals, their faces were broad with sun darkened skin cast in yellow from the odd sky. There was little ornament, and most of it seemed to be made of colored ceramics. More muttering in that odd language as they took a good look at him and his ornate robe.

Feris looked from the faces to the street around him. The buildings were solid, mostly low to the ground, though he could see some domes in the distance. The streets were paved with bricks made from the same tan material as the buildings. It looked like a more residential area, with the buildings close to one another.

Not knowing what else to do, Feris quickly cloaked himself with invisibility, causing yet another round of gasps and cries of alarm from the onlookers. He stepped quickly away from his landing spot, and tucked himself against a wall, and watched as men rushed from the building he’d found himself falling from. They looked around, while multiple onlookers tried to talk to them at once. Unlike the people in the street, the men from the building were all armed, mostly with spears.

Whatever the people from the street said caused the armed men to circle tightly together, their spears pointed out in all directions. The one in charge barked an order, and the formation began to move off. Feris followed the men as they cleared a path through the streets. After 3 blocks they reformed into a solid running block, and took off at a faster pace.

They jogged from the residential area straight into the heart of the city, passing through a market square that was rather bare of produce. At the far end of the square was a large wall with a gate. The guards at the gate opened the door for the troop, and Feris slipped in with them, thankful for the drills that Rathgar had made them all practice.

Beyond the gate was another square, larger with a garden rather than market stalls. Larger buildings dominated this side of the wall, and crisp statues of ancient gods stood in places of honor. The people in this section of the city were clearly more well off, adorned with geometric ornaments of shining metals. Their eyes turned to the troops, worry lines creasing their faces.

The troops pushed on, and came to another large square. Ahead a massive domed fortress dominated the view. As they approached, the leader of the troops yelled something to the guards at the door, who quickly unbarred the way. Once within the cool shelter of the fortress most of the troops broke off and dropped onto stone benches on either side. Feris stayed with the leader who continued deeper into the building. Through several twists and turns they emerged in a throne room. Feris stepped softly off to the side, avoiding the guards at the doors, and the various servants rushing about. The leader dropped to one knee before the woman sitting on the throne. She was dressed in white linen adorned with simple gold bindings. Her thick hair was silver with age, and piled in a complex style straight above her head. She nodded, and the kneeling man began to speak.

A child stood beside the throne, its hand on the throne’s armrest. The simple white linen tunic lacked any adornment, and the shaved head made determining its gender impossible. It listened as seriously as the queen to the man’s report. A short time into his narrative, the child’s eyes went wide. It then covered its eyes with its hands and muttered. When it dropped its hands, the eyes glowed with a pale blue light. Almost immediately the child locked eyes with Feris and spoke a question. The child covered its mouth, then dropped its hands again.

“Can you understand me now?”

The queen looked questioningly between the child and where Feris was standing.

Gulping, Feris answered “I can.”

The queen’s back stiffened, and the guards drew their weapons. “I don’t mean you any harm!”

“He says he doesn’t mean us harm, and he is dressed very oddly.” the child said turning to the queen. She replied, and the child translated. “She says to show yourself. No harm will come to you.” The guards lowered, but didn’t stow their weapons.

Feris willed the magic he’d bound to release. “Where am I?”

“You are in the cursed city of Uskadara”

“I’ve never heard of it. Nor have I heard your language spoken before.”

The child translated to the queen. Dismay flashed as she pressed her hand against her forehead. The child turned back to Feris. “Almost three weeks ago the priest Bıçakçı trapped us beneath the great golden sky, in the ring that brought you here. Within the city walls we live, but there is no food coming in. The wells run dry.” The child pursed its lips “There has already been one riot. As long as you are here, things will only get worse.”

“That’s terrible…”

“Worse, our gods no longer answer our prayers, and I haven’t the strength to break this curse.”

“It must have been a very long three weeks ago.”

“We think so. You are not the first to visit, and every visit has been... strange. In the past few weeks, not counting Bıçakçı, there have been 46 strangers, 47 counting you, who have replaced one another. A few came with groups, but most were alone. Those we’ve talked to have told of an increasingly alien world. The last one stole away with a magical amulet, which is where you found yourself with the guards.”

“If they, we, replace each other instantly, then time doesn’t pass here, unless someone with the ring is in the city.”

“That’s our conclusion as well.”

“Then I’ve got to figure this out and get gone.”

“We had an alternate idea.”

Feris felt a sharp pain to the back of his head, and the amber world went black.

“Do you think you can free us from this curse Father?”

The child nodded. “I think so.” He sighed. “I hope so.”

The queen stood and hugged the child. 

"I’ll only be a moment.”


“So it will seem to you.” the child answered, slipping the ring from Feris’ hand and onto his own.

“Who the hell are you!?!” Rathgar yelled at the child standing in Feris’ place.

City Rings are an extremely ancient form of magic only ever practiced by Bıçakçı of Uskadara. Over the course of his career he trapped 6 cities and placed them into rings. By force of will, the wearer can instantly transport himself into the city, along with whoever else he’s touching. Time passes normally only when the ring is within the city, and is frozen otherwise. When the wearer wishes to exit, he must travel with the same number of beings who entered with him. He will reappear in the exact spot he left, but time will have passed in the real world.

Of the 6, Uskadara is the oldest, and on the brink of social collapse.
Dougga is a compact city on a hill, but completely unpopulated except for a trapped beast who stalks the empty streets.

Yamatai is an elven city of wooden buildings, only hours into the curse.
Kota Gelanggi is a town on a small jungle island. The entire island is trapped in the ring. The people are extremely angry about the curse and will attempt to kill anyone who has the ring. They’ve already succeeded several times.

Dvārakā was an ancient stone city full of temples to a thousand gods and demons when it was cursed. The people are remarkably blasé about the situation.

Rosbroch is a rough town, recently built on ancient foundations. It was trapped in the late fall, and snow covers the town. The people are hardy and accept that they’ve been doomed, but will fight it if given the chance.

Image source: Sevan Bicakci

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Review: Freebooter's Guide to the Razor Coast

When I won both the Razor Coast setting book and the Freebooter's Guide back in May, I decided to tackle the Freebooter's Guide first. For one thing, it was shorter. For another, I wanted to use it to get the feel of the Razor Coast before I sailed into the meat of the campaign setting. At about fifty pages, it’s still a bit of a read for most players, but it’s very informative.

I didn't mean for it to take me 8 months to post about it...

The Razor Coast feels very much like the writers took Hawaii and plopped it in the Caribbean. Now, I’m perfectly ok with that, since it really lets you play with some of the normal expectations from a setting called Razor Coast. It brings in some interesting flavor to what might otherwise be a typical and maybe even a little boring pirate setting.

One of the other things I really appreciate about the Razor Coast is that it doesn’t shy away from some of the more touchy aspects of the setting. There is a real clash of cultures going on between the colonists and the natives, and it's bloody.

It’s hard to think of a 50 page setting book as being an overview, but that’s what this one really is. It’s written for players… but I don’t know that many players who’d willingly plop down the cash or the time to read 50 pages for a game. Then again, I don’t hang out with Pathfinder players.

In the OSR, you’d generally expect that in 50 pages you’d get a full setting, not an overview, and that’s what this one really is.

No, you’re not imagining things. I wrote that the Freebooter’s Guide is both a player’s overview and a full campaign setting. How is that? Is’t a matter of perspective. For someone who’s in deep with the fine detail level of granularity that games like Pathfinder offer, 50 pages is nothing. Especially when there aren’t all that many rules in it. Now, this is the Swords and Wizardry version, so I don’t know how rules intensive their version of the Freebooters Guide, but I can’t imagine it’s that much more, unless it's a very different book.

For the more broad strokes sandboxy type OSR Dungeon Master, the 50 page Freebooter’s Guide provides everything you’d need to run a game without it bogging you down in detail that’ll either never show up in, or isn’t quite right for your game.

So what exactly is in the Freebooter’s Guide?
Races (Human, natives, mutant natives, short natives, half-orcs)
A Brief History
Port Shaw (aka the big city of the Razor Coast)
Organizations (4 different groups)
Religions (13 new gods with nice writeups)
Equipment (Pistol! Cutlass! Drugs!)
Spells (11 new ones)
Magic Items (12 items, 13 tatoos)
Appendix I: Flora & Fauna (3 new monsters)
Appendix II: Gazetteer
- 5 land locations
- 19 sea locations

The art is all really solid. The map is highly evocative (see above), with some great names that just cry out to be made into swashbuckling adventures, most of which get at least a couple of paragraphs in the gazetteer.

I only have 2 complaints. First are with the excess of adds taking up the last couple of pages. I can't blame them for including them, I just don't like it much. Second, there are also a few spots where a chapter would end and most of a page would just be blank. Seems like wasted space that could have been put to use.

I would definitely recommend picking this up if you're thinking of running a pirate campaign. It's well worth the cost.

Friday, January 17, 2014

FATE L5R Actual Play

Charm City Gameday has both a morning and afternoon game session. I ran the Tomb of Rakoss in the morning session, and was signed up for Castle Mistamire using Basic D&D in the afternoon. Unfortunately I was the only one who signed up for it (which I found odd given that my game was full) and it was canceled. Going into the afternoon I didn’t have a slot in any of the other games, as they were all full, so I waited to see if anyone wouldn’t show. I ended up playing in a Legend of the 5 Rings game using the FATE system.

Fate is a system that I’ve heard of, and even seen on store shelves, but I’ve never picked it up, or played with it before. There are lots of blogs, reviews, and other pages all about it, so I’m not going to go too deep into it. Honestly, after a 4 hour game, I don’t think I could get too deep into it. Basically it’s a universal system where the dice have two plus signs, two negative signs, and 2 blanks. You roll 4 dice for every action, trying to beat either the opposed roll, or a static difficulty. Added to this roll are your skills, and the permanent and situational modifiers that can be activated to help. It’s pretty simple, but it works. It does rely more heavily on the players and DM to make it work, since there’s less for everyone to rely on, rules-wise.

Going into the game I had only a vague memory about L5R. I had (have?) the D&D Oriental Adventures version of it from the 3.x era, but I haven’t looked at it in ages, and I never used it at the table. I’d played a game or two of L5R when it came out, but… mostly what I remember was a bunch of clans, lots of samurai, and honor was a big deal. Very much Hollywood Japan.

Thankfully that was about all I needed to know about the setting for the game.

I was playing a Spider Clan Courtier, there was the Lion Clan Ninja (Cindy or Sydney?), a Phoenix Clan Wizard (Larry, organizer of the Gameday), and a Unicorn Clan Fighter (Micha). We were all also samurai and the L5R equivalent of FBI agents. Kevin W was our DM... Or FATEMaster... or whatever it's called for FATE.

The basic scenario for the game was to protect an old samurai named Agasha Uki from assassination ahead of his return from the colony to the capital city. It turns out that there’s a dragon who’d corrupted some locals into thinking that he’s a god, and that the colony should be independent.

How crazy is that??

Of course it isn’t so simple as just keep him locked in a safe house until it’s time for the boat to sail. No, there’s a big spring ritual that he has to preside at, attended by all the important samurai of the colony.

The initial attack came from one of the dude’s own bodyguards. It failed, though he was injured. The wizard caused the earth to soften beneath the attacker, causing him to sink up to his chest. We excavated him, interrogated him, I threatened to have our wizard sink him into a fireant hill, where he’d be eaten alive for days…. or tell us everything, and we’d make it swift. He wasn’t very forthcoming at this point, and when we were briefly left alone he attacked my character. Even bound, he was probably a better fighter than me, but I wasn’t trying to win, I just needed to keep him from getting away, so I let him ineffectively beat me up, wasting his energy. By the time the fighter came back I was standing over the prisoner with one foot on his neck. Both the fighter and the prisoner were shocked by the turn of events. And I never even drew a weapon...

We revised our offer, suggesting we’d let him commit seppuku if he talked. He sang like a bird.

While this was going on, our ninja spotted 2 enemy ninja’s in a tree. She shot one, the other ran. We captured the injured one, got him to talk too. Found out there were about a dozen ninja total, and an evil wizard. This mostly from deduction, since neither the ninja nor the bodyguard could remember anything specific about their master.

Then it was time for the ritual. Everything was going splendidly until the local god failed to show, and in his place was a 15’ four armed coal black oni. The fighter placed himself firmly between the oni and our charge, while the wizard pulled up stone walls to protect the old dude.

Our ninja shot the oni with her bow, while I tried to figure out who summoned the demon. I spotted a guy in green muttering to himself and looking really intently at the oni. I took a pot shot at him with my bow. The blood mage bent the arrow around him (unnecessary really since I’m a terrible shot) but it did cause him to reveal himself to the assembled samurai.

After a fairly epic battle where I didn’t actually do very much except distract the oni by yelling at it in its own language the oni went back to the hell it came from, and we captured the bloodmage. Then we finished the ritual, bundled the old dude into a carriage, and tried to get away.

Our fighter couldn’t quite let it go though, and told the bodyguards they weren’t coming… by punching the chief bodyguard and friend of the old dude in the face. This went over about as well as you’d imagine. We managed to calm things down before lives were lost, and leaving the fighter behind took the old dude to the city proper to catch his boat.

While we were on our way, the ninja attacked the estate where this was all taking place. Sadly for them we’d already gotten away. The fighter helped fight them off, easing the tension with the bodyguards a little.

The ninja and I escorted the old dude back home, while the fighter and wizard remained behind to root out the heretical dragon cult and to squash the independence movement.

Amazingly enough it was the DMs first time running FATE! At the beginning it was a little rough, but it smoothed out quickly, and my fellow players were a lot of fun to share the table with.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Running a Con Game (part 2) Actual Play

This post will heavily spoil The Tomb of Rakoss. Also, if you have a copy of the adventure handy to reference (free to download here) it might be handy. Italics notes are comments on the adventure.

I started the adventure by giving the players a very brief background, saying that Rakoss was a necromancer general who’d displeased his emperor. The Emperor, a powerful diabolist trapped Rakoss in his own workshop by destroying the castle above it, and warding it with powerful demonic magic. The players recently found a book written in demonic about the tomb that also contained recent notes in common describing finding the tomb, and the bitter cold within.

I skipped the “random” encounter with the ogres, since it didn’t seem to serve any particular use. The PCs would wipe the floor with them, even surprised, and heal up so that it wouldn’t have any impact on things to come.

The players found the cavernous entrance, explored the pit trap, taking a long bone to poke and prod things. There was a lot of “boning” from that point on.

Once through the door, the second player in the marching order triggered the pit trap, hitting one of the spikes. He’s quickly recovered and healed, and the next door is breached leading into the hallway of Rakoss’ tomb. immediately they see both the hellknight statue and the frozen body.

The adventure describes the body as a skeleton with a broken sword, but with temperatures well below freezing, it wasn’t likely that it had decomposed too much.

The statue was boned, then knocked over. Then climbed over to check door to room #4. Finding it unlocked, they carefully opened it up. There was some joking about the noise of knocking over the statue, and that anyone around heard it. The room turned out to be empty anyway. There wasn’t too much interest in the giant brass bowl, but the tapestry was turned into makeshift bindings to try to keep the statues (should they inevitably animate) from moving too much.

Next they checked room #5 across the hall, killed 2 of the skeletons, and drove the rest back before closing the door. The elf took one of the skeleton’s masterwork swords.

I decided that I wasn’t going to do the 4 step penalty on turning the undead since that would basically mean that not a single undead would be turnable.

The next room they explored was the kitchen, #6. The 4 giant ants weren’t too interested in the party, but they attempted to spray the ants with lamp oil and light it up with the thief’s flaming trident (gotta love randomly generated characters) anyway. With a poor roll, only one ant got any significant coverage, and then the thief missed. Nevertheless the ants were upset, and a general melee ensued which just about finished up the 2 clerics’ healing magic.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, they decided to make camp. One of the clerics wanted to go out through the chimney, figuring that if the ants could get in, he could get out. Half the party liked the idea, the other half just wanted to use the door, but decided to wait to see how the cleric fared. The cleric got about 20’ up the chimney when he encountered a hole in the chimney wall, and a giant ant looking back at him. They all ran out the front door at that, managing to avoid the pit traps.

With only 3 real rooms explored (not counting the hallways or the entrance cave), I opted to roll for random encounters… Nothing in the evening. Nothing at night. An encounter in the morning! Without a chart to go by, I opted for bandits, and started pulling minis out and setting them off to the side.

The brave adventurers opted not to engage in a battle where they were outnumbered at least 2:1 and instead charged back into the tomb. One of the clerics animated the body in the hallway as a zombie. They next found the wargaming room (#8) with the table all set up with a game already in progress. The secret door was spotted right away, but the players opted to investigate the next room first.

Look at all those bandits!

The pantry (#10) proved to be of little interest, as all the food was freeze dried. I didn’t mention that the room was supposed to be warmer than the rest of the dungeon since the front door was RIGHT THERE. Also, because when I was drawing the map, I’d neglected to leave space for the secret passage next to the dead guy in the hall, I had the secret entrance to #7 come from the back of the pantry. They didn’t find it though, so the statue remained on the floor of the hallway.

Finally they came to the crypt (#9) with the 4 coffins… and a flesh golem! They ran from the lumbering beast, and made their stand in #8 the war room. In spite of it's various immunities, the d30's first appearance on the table definitely turned the tide of this battle before it even began, though it did squash the zombie in the first round of combat.

Returning to the crypt, the party prepared to face a quintet of undead, and instead discovered treasure in the rosewood coffins. Opting to leave the treasure behind given it's weight (aside from the magic) they decided to check out the room at the end of the hall.

As with the crypt, I ignored the locked door. Unless there's a time press, such as being chased by something, locks and stuck doors slow things down. It's different in a megadungeon where exploration is half the fun, but this is a small one shot dungeon.

Room #12 was obviously a demonic temple, and in their exploration they triggered the summoning of 3 demons at the same time they discovered the secret door. The PCs were spread around the room, 3 by the secret door, one in the middle, and one at the far end. The demons appeared in the middle of the room. The thief who had been holding the tiger skin rung tried to hide under it, and was squashed for his trouble. Everyone else made for the secret door.

Since the caverns aren't cursed like the rest of the dungeon, I decided that the demons would be restricted to the tomb, but they snarled and tried reaching through. I also opted to skip the darkmantles at this point, wanting to get to the manticore. I also reskinned the manticore as a dragon with porcupine spines all along its back, which it rattled menacingly from the dark. This was in part to give them something to talk to, and also because I had a dragon mini. Just for fun, I let the players roll to see if it was 1) a talking dragon and 2) if it was a spell casting dragon. Lucky for them the rolls were yes and no. Actually it was going to talk anyway, but I liked making them roll...

I also replaced the dead body in area #14 with a replacement character. The player who'd been playing the thief chose a halfling in plate armor, so I had him appear at the back of #14, having fallen through a natural chimney while trying to escape the bandits from earlier.

Everyone but one cleric was turned invisible thanks to the elf's magic while they explored the caves (#13-16). After joining up with the halfling, they turned into the dragon's cave. Though evil, it wasn't too interested in taking on an unknown number of invisible foes, so it bargained. Bring the gold bars from the tomb, and it'll let them go. The cleric countered and asked for help with the demons. The deal was struck, and the cleric and dragon went back to the temple. Using its spikes, it slayed the demons in short order. The dragon then shoved the cleric toward the treasure while it guarded the door, trapping the rest of the party in the caves.

Once the gold bars were brought into the dragon's cave (the only treasure they'd seen thus far in his cave) the dragon nestled down in front of the door. The party cried foul, and the dragon said that he told them they could go, and pointed to the cave opening in the ceiling. After some grumbling the elf levitated everyone out. They camped near the chimney, managing to avoid the bandits. Using both invisibility and silence, they returned to the cavern the next day, and surprised the dragon with a fireball to the face.

Again the d30 made a big difference, as did the party's preparations, and in 3 rounds the dragon was dead. They then located the dragon's treasure behind another secret door, now with the gold bars.

The decision to fight the dragon and continue exploring was influenced in large part because this was a con game, and they didn't have much invested in their characters. It also helped that there wasn't too much time left in the morning session. There was some discussion about their "mission" and I reminded them that there wasn't a mission, per se. They were just a bunch of tomb robbing murder-hobos. I don't think they'd ever heard that phrase before based on the grins.

Returning to the tomb, they then decided to check out the secret room #11. The rod captured the attention of the elf. When the screaming faces began to appear, he thought to put it in his bag of holding. I told him that he didn't really feel that was a good choice. Then I gave him the extra 10hp and +1 to armor class. The other players were suddenly even more nervous. While this was going on, one of the players decided to check out the next doorway, leading to room #7.

I decided that opening room 7 from either side would wake the stone golem. Tough luck that, since room 7 also contains the 2 mummies, which I reskinned as dried out bodies in death priest robes that cried an oily black fluid.

Once again, the d30 and the pair of clerics kept this from turning into a 2-pronged TPK. Our time ended just as they finished the battle.

I talked with a couple of the players after the game, since they were curious about the rod, and where the game would theoretically go from here. My answer was that the rod was the phylactery of Rakoss, who'd been released when the other party came to explore the tomb, and that from here Rakoss would begin to hunt them down to get it back.

When I asked them what they thought of the game, they said it was fun, but that it definitely felt like an intro adventure. Nothing all that special. After running it, I have to say I agree. I think that without the d30 it would have been much harder for the PCs, and could have ended up as a TPK with a few poor rolls. I did have fun running it, but it could have been better.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Map redo: Tomb Of Rakoss the Undying

So, I didn't get to finish writing my actual play report for the Tomb of Rakoss today. I did however have 5 minutes, and a note card. So I redrew the map making it a little less linear.

This is the original.

And here is my 5ish minute redo.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Running a Con Game (part 1)

Saturday I had the pleasure of running a game at the winter Charm City Gameday. I've never run a game at a convention before, so I was a little nervous going into it. Not only was I going to be running with people I didn't know, I was doing it in an environment that I wasn't the most familiar with, surrounded by lots of gamers playing other games (mostly Magic the Gathering at a 64 person tournament going on in the same room).

I decided to run the Tomb of Rakoss the Undying, which I've previously reviewed. If you read the review, you'll note that I didn't think very highly of it, calling it an amateurish intro adventure for higher level characters. One of the guys behind the adventure commented, and suggested that my review was perhaps a bit unfair. Over the last 2+ months since I wrote the review, I decided that maybe he was right. Reviewing something that I had only read, and not used at the table was maybe unfair. So when the call for DMs for the Charm City Gameday went out, I signed up to run ToRtU.

To prep for the game I reread the adventure a couple of times in the week leading up to the event, dug out my copy of Labyrinth Lord, the adventure, a DMs screen, minis for all the monsters and characters, my battle mat, dice and pencils. I then used the Labyrinth Lord Character Generator to make 4 fighters, 3 clerics, thieves, and wizards, and an elf, dwarf, and halfling (all 5th or 6th level). I also made sure I had my markers, paper towels, and some water bottles. Everything but the battle mat and the paper towels fit nicely into a plastic bin.

Once I got to Games and Stuff, I was directed to my table, and started getting set up. 5 out of 6 players showed up, so while waiting to see if player 6 would show, I handed out the pregens, and went over the basics, both of Labyrinth Lord and the day's adventure. I also told them the one major house rule I'd be using - The Order of the d30.

Going around the table starting on my left, the 5 players chose Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Cleric, Elf. The guy playing the Fighter for whatever reason just didn't have his head in the game. I'm kind of glad he was right next to me, since I could nudge him along (i.e. "ok, roll this, now this." "Did you want to attack this guy, or that guy?"). He was the only one who didn't have his own dice, and didn't seem to know D&D at all.

Running the game, I did my best to keep everything moving. There aren't a lot of personalities in the adventure for the PCs to interact with, so I tried my best to make the one big one memorable. When they suggested crazy shit, I went with it. All in all I think it went well. The players seemed to have fun, I feel like I did a good job, and we managed to fill the time almost exactly.

Tomorrow I'm going to write specifically about the adventure, so stay tuned!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bringing the sense of danger to dungeons

Hurt, alone, in the dark...

Dungeons are terrible places that are hazardous in so many ways to characters. What do you do to help convey that to players?

Image by feliciacano

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Transcending the material plane: DMing online

Playing D&D and other games online isn't nearly as difficult or intimidating as I expected it to be before I gave it a try. It turns out that it's actually really easy to do. Technically, anyway, and there are a lot of free services out there to facilitate it.

I've spent most of my time using Google Plus hangouts, though I've also used Skype, and for the most part the audio and video quality has been good on both.

DMing online isn't really all that different from DMing at a table, except that there is a big screen between you, as opposed to a little DM screen. Without using an extra service, there isn't a good way to roll in the open, which means that you have to trust your players to honestly report their rolls. Or you can use one of the many online dice roller programs. You also lose out on a certain level of goofing off/pregame chatting, though I've noticed that the longer a core group plays together, the more this picks back up. One thing that doesn't is the physicality of sitting around a table. There are times as a DM when I'll use physical action to help me show something that's happening in the game. That's a lot harder to do when you're confined to the view of a webcam. It also takes some practice to learn not to talk over each other. This is an instance where having a "caller" might actually be pretty useful.

I've played mostly old school games, rather than newer more tactical games, and since they require more imagination than gameboard and minis, describing the rooms or monsters as I would do with a group around a table works pretty much exactly the same. Sometimes, for a really complicated situation I'll sketch something on a piece of paper and hold it up to the camera for the PCs to look at. PC map makers tend to do the same thing, for me to make sure they didn't go completely off the rails.

While it does lack a certain something, gaming on G+ is really what got me rolling dice again, more than I have since high school and college. Plus it's let me play with people literally across the world, crazy, inventive, imaginative players and DMs who I never would have gotten to roll with otherwise.

If you haven't had a chance to play online, and you're itching to get back to gaming, give it a try. And if you're looking for a place to start, check out the Hangout RPG community on G+.

This is post #28 in the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge.

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Monster: Scarab Spawn

"When the ancient star-gods came with their fire and lightning, they brought with them magic animals, things, creatures that could transform the people of the land into monsters. Fearless, with a hivemind mentality, and only evil in their hearts. The star-gods turned the first of these monsters into the queen, in control of the great swarm of the created. Yet the queen was herself completely under the sway of the star-gods."

"Until they fell. The great war brought them down after many decades of sloth and decadence, and like the stars they were named for, their descent was brilliant. But their weapons remain, including the hive queen, or at least the magic that created her... And the stories coming out of Norbit Pass... I think she has awoken."

"This sounds bad" Nimble said.

"Indeed, if it is true." The Magus replied. "Which is why I sent for you."

"We were half way across the world... wasn't there anyone closer? One of your other students maybe?" Rathgar asked.

"I'm honored that you sent for us" Feris said with a stern look at Rathgar.

"Rathgar, you and your companions are the best suited to this task. Others were closer, but you are the most likely to succeed."

"Very well..."

"Take this portal to Norbit Pass, and the best of success to you. I hope that the rumors are false, but if they're not, try to stop the hive queen."

Scarab Spawn
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 2+1* (M)
Move: 90' (30')
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6
No. Appearing: 3d6 (5d8)
Save As: F3
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: None
Intelligence: 10
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 35

Created not by scarabs, but by magi-mechanical bugs that infest living beings, tapping into their brains and linking them all together but under the control of the hive queen. In combat they receive a +1 bonus to hit for every other Scarab Spawn attacking the same target, up to a maximum of +4. Once per turn Scarab Spawn can release a blast of mental energy that causes 1d4 points of damage per Spawn to all non-Scarab Spawn involved in the combat (save for half). They are immune to sleep, charm, and hold spells.

Scarab Spawn are always led by a hive queen.

Image Source: (Echoic) Zoe, Glistening Sprite
by SamC-Art

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Have you ever co-GMed? Would you consider it? What are the pros and cons?

I've never had the opportunity to Co-GM a game before, nor have I ever seen it done in person, so I'm not really sure how well it would work for me. I tend to like having creative control, and going in 50/50 with another DM... would be difficult for me. That isn't to say I wouldn't love an assistant more of the time, someone to help me keep my notes organized, someone to bounce ideas off of (that wasn't a player), someone to help run large combats, etc. Sadly I have yet to find such a henchman.

The closest I've ever come to co-DMing is when I've had a steady game that runs every other week, with another game that I don't run playing the off weeks. That works pretty week, especially if you've got the same set of players, and can cover for each other if you need an extra week.

This is post #27 in the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Bits & Bobs XIX

Dyson wrote about the Summon spell from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, a particularly scary first level spell that has the potential to go sideways very quickly. If you've never seen it, go download LotFP now (it's on sale), and come back. Ready? Ok! Did you read the spell? Like I said, scary. However doing that up on the fly can bog things down a little. Conveniently, there's this handy little generator for the Summon Spell by Ramanan Sivaranjan of Save vs. Total Party Kill.

If you've ever needed inspiration for the haunted garden of some dark elves, check out this video from Darkrose Manor.

Over at Necropraxis Brendan wrote up a variant Assassin class that makes extensive use of poisons. It's an amazingly simple execution that still manages to make the assassin demonstratively different from the thief. I've never played an assassin, or even had one played at a game I've run, but I'd give this one a try.

How often do fantasy characters ride something other than a horse? In books it happens way more often than I see at the table. I think this is because most games don't get to the level where riding a dragon, or even a griffon, tends to come up very often. But why not an elk, or a giant rabbit, or a clockwork steed? Paul over at the Blog of Holding has put together a list of fantastic steeds for low level characters. Actually, it's 2 lists, since he covers both riding mounts and war mounts.

Speaking of the fantastic, you know that orc guarding a pie in the 10x10 room? Did you ever think it might be a magic pie? Honestly, I don't know how Konsumterra of Elfmaids and Octopi manages to put out so many d100 lists. In addition to the pies, there's also d100 post crash space habitat modules and d100 forgotten temples and bleak ruins just to name a few.

And continuing on the topic of random tables, Needles of the Dark Corners of Role Playing has a Random Selection of 1d20 Sword and Sorcery Minor Treasures For Your Old School Sword and Sorcery Campaign. 14 is my favorite.

Gus L from the Dungeon of Signs has a d100 table of minor science fantasy treasures. I know I'd want #74 Undead animate human hand in wire cage. If released proves docile and an exceptional mixologist – has no other skills and cannot be ordered about.

And finally garrisonjames of Heretic Works has a nasty monster called a Malevolent Vestige. Just the creepy sort of thing to make PCs really nervous.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Nova Class Starship

There are a lot of really great spaceship designs out there, and being the Trekkie that I am, the Enterprise is always going to have a special place in my heart, and since I came to Trek with The Next Generation, it's the D that is the one I think of first.

I mean, really, look at that! The flagship of the Federation! Big, beautiful, powerful, with sleek lines and cool colors.

Yet... it's intimidating. That's the ship of Captain Picard!

If I ever get the chance to play in a Star Trek RPG, I don't want to serve on a Galaxy Class Starship like the Enterprise. It's too much. It'd be like starting a D&D game with a +5 Holy Avenger.

I want something a little less overwhelming, and Rick Sternback provided just the ship in Star Trek Voyager. Not the Intrepid Class Voyager herself, but the Equinox. A Nova Class science/scout ship.

It only has a crew of about 80, is designed to hit warp 8, and is equipped with a wide variety of sensors and a special shuttle docked on the ventral side of the primary hull that is designed for atmosphere operations.

It's also the only non-Enterprise model I've bought. There's just something charming about it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

2013 was a pretty good year for The Tower of the Archmage, but I think 2014 is going to be even better!

I have a Castles & Crusades game that I'm getting into online.
There are a couple of in-person campaigns that are struggling to get started. I think that with the holidays behind us, it'll be easier to actually get together and roll some dice.
I'm running a game at the Charm City Game Day on the 11th, which will be my first time running a convention game.

All of this means lots of material to write about!

I've created the catalog list of my monsters, but I still need to do the magic items this year, and I'd still like to get something put together as a combined PDF. That's currently a back burner project, but we'll see what the year brings.

I've been doing some painting of minis, which you've seen if you follow me on G+. I'll be sharing more of that here as I get some decent pictures, rather than my crappy cell phone camera shots. I expect there will be more minis in 2014, with write-ups!

So what do I really want to see come out of the Tower this year? What's on the front burner?

More monsters, more magic, more NPCs.

Same old, same old... right?

Not exactly. I want to shift focus away from random things as I think of them, and instead put together some more adventures like the Madness of the Frogmen Adventure, or the Watery Palace of the Ooze Behemoth: Pearly Spiral of the Endless Hunger (level 5). Short adventures, sidequests, 1 page dungeons, adventure locations... that sort of thing. Since those take a little more work, I expect that I might take a bit of a hit in my post count, but if I can actually put something out once a month, I'll be thrilled. My goal here is up to 8 pages per product. I'll probably need to look at something other than Word to do it with...Any suggestions?

I hope your New Year is full of good friends & good games!