Saturday, May 31, 2014

Review: Shadow Ops books 1-3 By Myke Cole

I first heard about this series at Balticon 47 (last year) when Myke Cole was presented as the Compton Crook award winner. The premise of this series is that magic is real, and has sprung suddenly upon the modern world. It still isn’t common, but when even 1 in 10,000 develop magical talents, and there are 8+ Billion people on Earth… That’s a lot of people turning up with amazing powers!

The cover of the books describes the series as “Black Hawk Down meets the X-Men meets” and that’s pretty accurate. When the US government realizes the terrifying position it's in, they basically draft anyone who turns up with magical talents… so long as they turn themselves in. Of course this isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction, the Native Americans on the reservations in the west turned their sorcerers against the US government, and declared themselves free, with the help of some summoned allies. Thus far they've been highly successful keeping that newly won freedom.

Control Point (Book 1) focuses on Lt. Oscar Britton, an army officer attached to the military's Supernatural Operations Corps tasked with hunting down those who run, under the command of the airomancer Harlequin. Things go quickly sideways when Oscar manifests one of the forbidden powers… and runs. He fights his own unit, meets up with other runners, and ends up releasing the witch Scylla.

Fortress Frontier (Book 2) introduces Colonel Alan Bookbinder, an army bureaucrat who also manifests, is drafted into the SOC, and finds himself unexpectedly in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier… the US military’s outpost in The Source, the world inhabited by blue skinned goblins, giant monsters, and shadow demons, where magic is even stronger. This book also gives us the first glimpse of how other nations are dealing with magic.

Breach Zone (Book 3) Brings Oscar, Booksbinder, and Harlequin together to face an invasion of New York City from the Source commanded by the witch Scylla.There are some flashbacks in Breach Zone which fills in some of what happened before book 1, when magic was really new.

Myke Cole manages to take a situation like that of the X-Men, and examine it from a perspective that isn’t really seen in fantasy fiction, that of the modern military. In the X-Men, the response to the rise of mutants isn’t to try to force them into the military, but to control them with drugs. There’s a parallel to that in Myke’s books with a briefly mentioned program at NIH (which I would love to read more about), but most sorcerers are drafted, even those who run.

The writing is action packed, and delves deeply into the ramifications of the sudden appearance of magic in the modern world. Everything hooked me, and made me want to delve deeper into the setting, which made it extremely difficult to put the books down. Even more than that, it made me want to play a superhero game for basically the first time ever!

I'll be posting up the interview I did with Myke at Balticon early next week. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Balticon Maps

First off, I have a new poll off to the right. Are you going to get the new D&D box set?


I took advantage of some downtime at Balticon to work on some maps.

If you follow me on G+, you've probably already seen these. I have a whole lot more to post about Balticon, including an interview with Myke Cole, so be on the lookout over the next few days!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

New Magic Item: Seal Ring of the Sea-Fey

From the grimoire of Ostanes the Ancient:

The fey of the sea have created various artifacts for interactions with surface dwellers. Among the most common are rings, bracelets, and necklaces that are enchanted with the ability to breath water and to speak the language of the sea-fey. Forged in underwater volcanic vents, and adorned with pearls, these trinkets are often sought out by those who sail the seas.

However anyone who seeks these charms needs to be aware that many, if not most of them, are also enchanted with other spells directed at the wearers. Commonly encountered are charms that will enthrall the wearer to the first fey they encounter, permanent polymorph into sea creatures or sea-fey, and even outright curses.

One such ring is illustrated below. Careful examination has revealed that anyone putting on the ring  will grow gills, permanently, and while they also keep their lungs, the gills must be kept moist. It also grants the wearer a full understanding and command of the sea-fey dialect.

Image Source: Alysia's Arts

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: The Tower of Azal’Lan DF32

Dragonsfoot isn’t a place I visit very often. In general I read blogs and G+, but forums just don’t keep my attention, mostly because they don’t feed into my RSS reader. Yet it seems that it was the place that those who never stopped playing classic D&D went before the advent of the OSR. Since then, I’ve heard it said that they claim there is no such thing as the OSR. I’m not sure how that works out, but in the dark times before the OSR they managed to produce a fair amount of new material that’s still in their archives. One such item is DF32 - The Tower of Azal’Lan, a 1e adventure for 5-9 PCs of level 4-6.

This is as much a mini campaign guide as it is an adventure, clocking in at an impressive 48 pages, including cover. It begins in the city, moves to a pair of wilderness journeys that ends at the tower itself. One of the wilderness tracks is longer but safer, the other shorter and more dangerous.

Information on Innspa (the town) takes up 9 pages that covers quite a lot of information. Topics covered include:
  • History and geography get about a page
  • Taxation is given half a page
  • Food Lodging and Entertainment is half a page
  • Shops 1 full page, 2 column list format
  • Religion 1 page, mostly a list of the gods of greyhawk showing the type of temple and the basic info on the high priests.
  • Weather gets a quarter page
  • 8 random encounters (half day, half night) take up the remaining 5 pages.

All of this before we get to the adventure! Unfortunately the entirety of the urban events take place within a single inn, and spans only 3 pages, at the end of which the players will receive a map to a long lost magical treasure.

The wilderness map (which doesn’t show Innspa - there’s a village shown as “minerstown” where Innspa should be) and the background story for the players are the next two pages.

The two wilderness tracks each consist of 8 possible random encounters (again half day, half night), while one offers the possibility of meeting up with some elves - I mean olves. while the other route you might encounter some dwarves- I mean dwur. Depending on how things go, these might be friendly encounters, or they might not.

This brings us to the final act of the adventure, the tower itself. It is, of course, defended, but more than that, the defenders will actually respond to the adventurers, not just stand around waiting for them to take them out one room at a time. On top of that there is a twist with the appearance of other adventurers.

Overall this is a pretty impressive product. The town is highly fleshed out, the two sets of wilderness encounters are nice, and the end is satisfying. The encounters are a nice mix of the expected and the unexpected, where the unexpected can be both deadly and rewarding. The interior art is above average for a free booklet, and I especially like Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s art. I wish it had been Beaulieu’s art throughout, but given that he seems to be a professional artist, I can see why that might be difficult.

On the flip side I really don’t understand why the author renamed elves, dwarves, etc. It drove me nuts reading through the adventure. I also don’t get why the town is described so fully and then not used, and the lack of a rumor table is almost criminal for an adventure like this!Easy enough to take advantage of the town info, and use the adventure to figure out some rumor tables if you're so inclined.

Monday, May 26, 2014

New Monster: Deathmask Crawlers

"Will this rain never end?" Nimble yelled as he paused under a rock outcropping.

"Not for another month or so" Feris said, stepping in beside him. "Presuming that I understood the village shaman correctly."

"According to the map, we should be close to the old city, and Allianora."

"How close?"

Rathgar shrugged "Maybe an hour?"

A loud crack above them was the only warning. Looking up Rathgar saw at least 3 skull faced things coming down the side of the rock outcrop. As he drew his sword, the thing in front lifted it's face, revealing a round toothy maw. The face contracted swiftly, and a scream belted out of the monster. The force of it hit the companions, and Rathgar felt himself blackout.

Feris and Nimble grabbed their ears, then their weapons, and jumped from under the outcrop. Feris triggered his wand, sending bolts of electricity coursing up the rockface while Nimble threw poison coated daggers.

Artwork by me!

Deathmask Crawlers
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 2*-4*
Move: 90’ (30’)
Attacks: 1 bite or scream
Damage: 1d6 or special
No. Appearing: 0 (2d4+2)
Save As: F2-4
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: see below
Intelligence: 3
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 25/50/125

Monster Type: Monster (Uncommon)

These monsters are the larval form of Sky Screamers, appearing as 6 legged worms with padded feet, a long tail, and an overlarge ovoid head. The face has markings that appear skull-like. They are voracious eaters, and highly aggressive.While large (weighing between300-600lbs) they are easily able to climb on any surface, including ceilings at their full movement rate.

In combat they will attempt to stun their prey with their scream, and then consume them a chunk at a time. If forced into melee combat they will slam into their prey or whip them with their tail. The scream of the Deathmask Crawler is a Hold Person effect (save vs Dragons Breath to resist) affecting anyone within 20’. Those held will shake off the effect in 3d10 rounds.

Anytime Deathmask Crawlers are encountered, there is a 25% chance that they are already in their cocoon, and mid-transformation into a Sky Screamer. In these instances, the Deathmask Crawlers are helpless and provide no XP. However the cocoon silk is extremely valuable, and can be sold for 5d30gp each.

Terrain: Ruins, Hills, Mountains, Jungle

Inspiration for this guy came from a picture of Phyllodes Imperialis.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Balticon Filler: Music

Today is the 2nd day of Balticon, so I'm not around right now, but I also don't want to leave you completely abandoned. So here's a bit about what I've been listening to lately.

I have eclectic music tastes. One of the joys in my life is having someone at work walk past my desk, stop, listen in confusion and ask me “What is *that*?”

The way I accomplish this is to go to the library and grab a stack of CDs. I pick them based on their titles, or their covers, or sometimes completely at random. I want to share with you the latest batch, and what I thought of them.

Mehliana: Taming the Dragon
I’d call this some weird experimental jazz. There were some tracks that I couldn’t decide if the disk was dirty, or if the stuttering effect was intentional. I think I’d have liked it if it was just a little less difficult to listen to.

Syncopated Musings: Classic Piano Rags and Ragtime Waltzes
Exactly what it sounds like. Loved it, but knew I would.

Dubstep Side of the Moon
A reimagining of the classic album Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. I’m not generally a big fan of dubstep, but this was pretty good.

William Shatner: Ponder the Mystery
Rock with Bill talking over it. The awesomeness of William Fucking Shatner is hard to explain, but you really have to appreciate his efforts and all that he accomplished in his life. And while I don’t know if I’ll listen to it again, it might be worth adding to my mix.

All Time Favorite Pirate Songs by Carl Peterson
Good songs, studio recording. I think I’d have enjoyed it a little bit more if it had been a little less polished.

Lei Maile by Mark Yamanaka
Traditional Hawaiian tunes for when you need that island state of mind.

Thor by Patrick Doyle
I snagged this one purely because I’m a sucker for instrumental soundtracks. Pretty solid, and I think will make a good addition to the gaming background playlist.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bits & Bobs: Balticon Edition

Today is the first day of Balticon, and if you’re in the area, I hope to see you there. If not, I’ve got an assortment of links for you to check out while I’m at the con.

Mark Craddock of Cross Planes write up a magical Chain Sword For OSRIC though it would work equally well in any version of D&D from OD&D to 4e. As far as I’m concerned that’s the best way to write a magic item.

faoladh of The Ongoing Campaign takes an alternate look at how Ravenloft could have been, and it’s a view I like. What if, instead of being drawn to a demi-plane, what if the effect is the result of a supernatural mood that claims a place, The Dread Mood being one of the more common ones, and manifests in a variety of interesting ways. 

The Grand Bazaar of Targenmoor Approaches! If you have a flailsnails character that likes buy, sell or trade with the most diverse group of traders this side of Sigil, to enter jousts, brawls, melees, or mecha combat, or to bet on them, check out this event between May 24-31.

How (and Why) to Talk to Villains from Brandes Stoddard over at Harbinger of Doom. This is an important PSA for a variety of reasons, and not just because the DM wants a chance to monologue.

What if what you wore had a greater impact on the game? Sure, your trusty travel clothing might be great for delivering news that you’ve killed the scourge of the countryside, but when it comes time for the feast, (and asking for a bigger reward) you might have better luck if you’re properly dressed. Patrick Stuart takes a look at this in his Silly Fashion Post over at his blog False Machine.

Not every magic sword is Excalibur (or even Sting), and not every scroll contains world ending spells. Sometimes you find the work of some deranged magic user (or juvenile apprentice). In such cases you can always roll on 1d30 Slightly Useless Spell Scrolls from Rended Press

Paul over at the Blog of Holding has an idea for how to standardize how we talk about AC, a unified notation for ascending and descending AC, if you will.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Carousing: Magical Research

Since I’ve covered my appreciation for XP for treasure, and drafted XP for magic item creation rules, it makes sense to also cover carousing rules. There are a bunch of them out there to choose from, and they all have great charts for when things go really well or really poorly at the party. But like many bloggers out there, I’m not a fan of the one size fits all chart for carousing - especially for my favorite class: wizards.

Because one never knows where research into arcane topics will take a wizard, the results of experimentation are many and varied, though generally less extreme than when attempting to create a magic item, at least for the caster directly. Many of these mishaps cause an effect that might be felt by the local populace, which would explain why so often wizards towers are so far away from cities and towns.

Carousing: Magical Research
Time = 1d6 days * level
Cost = Time * 100gp

As magical research is fraught with danger, a save vs. magic wands must be made. If passed, they gain XP on the cash spent. If the save is failed, or if the wizard runs out of cash before their research is concluded they must roll on the chart below, and do not gain XP.

  1. But it should have worked! Your frustration distracts you as you try to figure out where you went wrong. Always surprised/last to go in the next adventure.
  2. That was some powerful … umm … something. Your experiment blew up in your face, dousing you with something weird and hallucination inducing. Roll a 1D6 1 – minus 2 to all rolls as you watch the colors next session, 2 - +1 to hit and damage next session as you are filled with psychotic rage, save vs. poison or permanently lose 1 WIS, 3 – See invisible for the next Session, 4 – Catatonia for the next session, save vs. poison for every action taken, 5 – The lizards are under your skin, but you cut them out doing 1D6 damage to yourself at the start of next session 6 – Permanent flashbacks, -1 INT.
  3. Not really sure how you did that. You managed to Commune (as per the spell) with a greater being.
  4. New way of looking at things. +5% XP next adventure.
  5. Well hello there. You summoned a thing. It’s a small thing, but it won’t leave you alone, and trying to kill it would be bad. Very bad indeed. Roll 1d6. 1 - Only you can see it. 2 - Miniature demon/devil. 3 - Floating blob with d6 eyes. 4 - A bat that constantly crawls all over you during the day, and flaps around you at night. 5 - A tiny goblin head grows on your shoulder/neck. 6. Living spark.
  6. Just a pinch of cilantro. Brewed a random potion, but lost all your notes in the process.
  7. Oh hellfire. You managed to set the lab/library on fire. Roll a d6. 1 - Minor fire, easily put out, however you’re not invited back if the location wasn’t your own. 2 - Significant fire, take 1d6 damage. 3 - Destroyed spellbook! 4 - 1d6 burn damage and either -1 to Dex or Cha. 5 - Burned the building down. 6 - Actual hellfire that will burn for 100 years. Thankfully it doesn’t spread.
  8. Like the light of a thousand suns. Suffer penalties in bright light as a goblin or drow for the next 1d6 adventures.
  9. Demonic Temptation. Your research shows you a way to gain an extra spell slot of your highest level. A suitable price will be determined by the DM.
  10. That which does not kill you probably wants to make you their pet. An extraplaner being has laid claim to you, and has marked you in some way as their own.
  11. Power is fleeting. You manage to enchant a dagger +5. Every time you hit with it, the dagger will lose a plus. It will crumble to nothing with the 5th hit.
  12. Power is greedy. You manage to enchant a dagger +1, but it’s cursed, and every hit causes you 1 point of damage. It will always appear in your hand in combat. Remove Curse will unravel the entire enchantment.
  13. Knowledge is Power. Discover a variant of a spell you know that is just a little bit better.
  14. So that’s where it is! Uncover the location of a lost spell or magic item.
  15. If only I had the gallbladder of an owlbear! Obtain a rare ingredient, and create a random magical tea (a potion that needs to be brewed)
  16. Shouldn’t have spent so much time with that warpstone. Random mutation (per mutant future)
  17. Reality shift. Re-roll your highest and lowest ability scores.
  18. Out of phase. Lose your reflection. It remains nearby, appearing in other people’s mirrors. If you die, it will come through to replace you.
  19. Darker shadow. Your shadow has been replaced by the shadow of the last thing you killed or helped kill. Given the chance it will free itself and attack you.
  20. Gimmie some more of that! You’ve managed to create a magic drug that’s magically addictive to spellcasters. Each dose costs 1d4*100 gp to make, and lasts a week. As long as you have a dose, your spells are more potent. If you don’t have a dose, you suffer a -2 penalty to all rolls. If only you hadn’t tried it yourself…
  21. It’s alive! You animated a flesh golem… made of mouse parts. Then it escaped.
  22. Parlez vous francais? Learned a new language.
  23. Energize! You teleport yourself 1d30 miles away, arriving safely on land, but with only the clothes on your back, and only half your usual number of spells memorized.
  24. Blink and you’ll miss it. Randomly shift 1d6 feet every round for the next adventure. -4 to hit, +4 to AC and saving throws.
  25. Smells bad. For the next adventure you smell like a troglodyte. You don’t notice it, but everyone else does.
  26. Getting in touch with your inner reptile. You’re now somewhat cold blooded. Take extra damage from temperature based effects and spells.
  27. A touch of the grave. Spontaneously and randomly (at least once per session) animate skeletons and zombies within 100’. You have no control over them.
  28. The smell of death. Unintelligent undead will ignore you. Intelligent undead will target you.
  29. He’s smarter than the average bear. Give a normal animal 2d6+2 intelligence.
  30. I see! Grow a 3rd eye, roll a d6. 1 - Normal eye, +1 bonus to ranged attacks. 2 - Infravision. 3 - Magesight, able to detect illusion and invisibility. 4 - Someone else’s eye. 5 - Ethereal vision. 6 - Improved Magesight, able to detect illusion, invisibility, and magic.
  31. Rain of _____. Roll a d6. 1 - Frogs. 2 - Fish. 3 - Blood. 4 - Worms. 5 - Embers. 6 - Cat Urine
  32. The spice must flow. Everyone within 1d100’ has indescribable visions of the future lasting 1d6 turns.
  33. Unseasonably warm today. The local weather switches seasons for a day.
  34. Not in Kansas anymore. A twister pulls the caster and other locals into a different world - DM’s choice.
  35. Fogbound. The local area is wrapped in the thickest fog anyone can remember for 1d6 days. No one can get in or out. 25% chance of getting lost going down the block.
  36. It was a season of sorrow. A general sense of ennui pervades the local area for the next 1d4 days.
  37. Spring is in the air. Most everyone in the area is feeling extra frisky.
  38. With a bit of a mind flip. Time either passes twice as quickly or twice as slowly for the wizard while conducting research this time.
  39. Bugged out. Creepy crawlies descend en masse. Mostly harmless, but it freaks people out.
  40. Sour grapes. All wine within 4d20 yards turns to vinegar. Water becomes blood.
  41. A window to the spirit world. Harmless ghosts begin to appear to their loved ones/enemies.
  42. Like rats on a sinking ship. Animals flee the local area.
  43. The horned king. Your meddling has caught the attention of the wild hunt, and brought it to the area.
  44. Fire in the sky. The sky is filled with flickering auroras for 1d3 nights.
  45. Something in your throat? The wizard will vomit up a frog at least once a day.
  46. Is it hot in here? The wizards head bursts permanently into flame, burning away all hair. The flames don’t harm the wizard but will destroy any hats the wizard attempts to wear. Casts light as a torch.
  47. Fingers on one hand grow extra long, and gain an extra knuckle.
  48. I like it red! The wizard’s teeth become pointed as a wolf or shark. She hungers only for freshly killed meat.
  49. With lobes like these? The wizard’s ears grow 1d3+1 times their normal size.
  50. Crossed wires. The wizard loses his primary language, and gains a random one in it’s place.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Expedition to the Keep on the Borderlands

On Saturday I headed up to Collector’s Corner in Bel Air to play in the Harford County Game Day. I’d signed up for the Expedition to the Borderlands B/X game, mainly because I’ve never actually played a B/X game, or Keep on the Borderlands, or even in a hex crawl. Once, ages ago, I ran Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, but didn’t really get what the big deal was at the time.

I was the last one to the table, as it was my first time to Collector’s Corner, and I took a wrong turn on the way. Peter, the DM was just getting into it, going very quickly over the basics of old school D&D. Then it was time to pick our characters. He had multiple 2nd level pregens for each class. We ended up with:

Nala the fighter played by Katherine
Alsador the cleric played by Warren
Jax the thief played by John (?)
Gorinka the dwarf played by Cathy
Melvin the Magnificent the magic-user played by me
- Wandra the Warrior, Melvin’s hireling/bodyguard

The adventure was set in a 5 mile hex with the Keep at its center. Our group was tasked by the local baron to investigate when the Keep hadn’t sent any reports recently. We started the adventure at the edge of the hex with a dwarven caravan heading back to Rockhome, and an intro combat with a pack of gnolls. Melvin’s sleep spell did drop one of them, and made another a little sluggish, but then he hid under one of the wagons.

Aside from that initial dropping of a gnoll, it would have been a very early TPK had it not been for the dwarves. Aside from winning initiative most of the 10+ rounds of combat, including the first 4 rounds in a row, we whiffed, fumbled, and missed nearly every attack roll, and our damage output was miserable when we did hit.

Did I mention that our 2nd level characters had typical ability scores for B/X? When you roll 3d6 in order, it’s not pretty. For example, Melvin had 7 Str. 14 Int. 6 Wis. 7 Dex. 9 Con. and 14 Cha. For those keeping track, thats an overall ability modifier of -2.

I know early edition is supposed to have fast combat, but that’s really only true when characters actually hit. As it was by the end of the combat we were already an hour into the game.

We pressed on with the dwarves, arriving at a small monastery surrounded by worked fields and a wooden palisade wall. The dwarves were continuing on to the west, while we would take the road north to the keep. While stopped at the monastery Melvin spouted his belief that there were in fact no gods, and that all magic was drawn from the same non-divine source. He then got to wait outside the wall. A pair of red uniformed guards from the keep were due to return, so we would all travel together. We were supposed to pass their relief on the way. We didn’t.

Upon reaching the keep, Melvin noted the blue uniformed watch standing guard. Already concerned that they hadn’t passed the guards relief, he pulled a wand from his robe and demanded to know why they were in a different uniform. Mind you, the wand was just a non-magical stick, but the guards didn’t know that. Turns out the watch and the guard have different uniforms since they do different things.

It also happens that the Lord of the Keep had ridden out nearly a week ago to investigate the sighting of undead in the swamp with 10 guards, which was why no guards took over at the monastery. Apparently both gnolls and undead are rare in these parts, and their sighting had everyone very concerned. Since we were tasked with finding out what was going on, we attempted to meet with the castellan. She refused to see us.

We stayed for the night at the inn, hired the stable boy to be our guide, and took off in the morning. A day of getting bit by mosquitoes didn’t turn up any traces of the lord or the 10 guards he took with him. We returned to the keep to head out again in the morning. That night we met a priest of Vara, the poet god. Wandra stepped on Melvin’s toes, preventing his further ranting on the false nature of gods. The priest was very interested in our tales, though his acolytes were silent “until the poetry filled their voices”.

The next morning we again headed out with the stable boy. Before reaching the marsh, the stable boy spotted something large moving off in the distance. We decided to investigate, and found a cave with signs posted outside it. Being the highly experienced group we were, we investigated subtly, letting everyone in the area know what we were about. The conclusion was ogre. Eventually Melvin proposed a plan to have half the party up on the hill across from the cave with weapons ready, the dwarf on one side of the cave and the thief on the other, with a trip line across the entryway. Melvin would then call out, and we would subdue the monster with his sleep spell.

Things went a little sideways when it turned out to be pumpkin headed bugbears. Thankfully the three that charged out all hit the tripwire and fell. Melvin ran for cover behind the dwarf, and combat was joined. Melvin took a hard hit, but remained standing. The same could not be said for the thief who went down with a single hit. The sleep spell dropped two, the other was killed. We tied up the injured sleeping bugbear, and killed the other. The thief was revived with the cleric’s healing. Then we woke it up and Melvin interrogated it in orcish. It didn’t give us any useful info. Also, it seemed to think the word for “Lord” was “Fart” Lopping off a finger didn’t produce any effect except to have a deep rumbling voice from the cave demand we release the monster. Still thinking ogre, and feeling the pain of the battle still, we ran.

Later, in the marsh we discovered a mound above the soggy mess, and investigated it. Once again, our initial thought of barrow mound proved to be incorrect, and we found ourselves fighting lizardmen. Thankfully the entrance to their lair was so small that only one could exit a round. We killed 4 when those within called for parlay. This was probably because while the rest of the group was killing the lizardmen that came out, Melvin was dropping open flasks of oil into the hole. They offered us a bar of gold to go away, so we did.

Unfortunately that was the end of our time…

All in all I had a great time. Peter used a homebrewed travel tracking system, which I thought worked well. The 5 mile hex was divided into both 1 mile hexes and 0.2 mile hexes. We were given a mostly blank hex map with only the main roads, the keep, and the monastery on it. This was my first time doing a hex crawl, and I really liked how it went. I was always a bit unsure about how to run one before, but this made sense, and I can see doing a similar system in the future.

Also, if you’re at all familiar with Keep on the Borderlands, you know that the monsters are almost all found clumped together at the caves of chaos. In Peter’s Expedition to the Borderlands, the lairs are all spread throughout the hex. Honestly I think this is an improvement over Gary’s original.

Other house rules that Peter used were:
  • 2 weapon fighting is a single attack roll at +1 to hit
  • Sleep gives a saving throw
  • 0 HP was down, but not necessarily out, if magical healing can be applied.
  • Weapon damage is by class

Lastly, if you note the picture above, Peter used Dyson’s character sheets!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The big RPG news of the week!

With news of the new D&D release schedule dropping yesterday you might have missed the fact that Purple Duck Games released FT 1: Creeping Beauties of the Woods, the follow up to FT0: Prince Charming, Reanimator for the DCC RPG.

I really liked FT 0 (and it’s free, you should go get it) so I can’t wait to dig into FT 1! Daniel Bishop twists classic fairy tales back into the dark and disturbing stories they once were, and brings them to the table in a fantastic way. Seriously, go get Prince Charming, Reanimator, and then try to stop yourself from getting Creeping Beauties of the Woods.

As for that other news... I’m especially interested in the new intro box, especially since it’s supposed to cover levels 1-5. My one big hope is that it covers character creation. Given that it’s $16 on Amazon, it’s probably worth checking out if you’re at all interested.

As for the $50/book buy in for the PHB/MM/DMG? I get it. Printing full color books with lots of art is expensive. Am I interested?

Honestly, I don’t know yet. I certainly don’t need another RPG to play. And I think this really comes down to: is this edition of D&D one that I’m going to play? Like I said on my post about Castles and Crusades, I’m not looking for another edition of D&D to play…

The bigger issue I think is whether there is going to be an OGL for it. The 3.x OGL is really what brought so many companies into the d20 realm, and also allowed the OSR to flourish like it has. I think, with a similar program this new edition could find way more acceptance than 4e, and also take back the RPG crown from Pathfinder.

Monday, May 19, 2014

New Monster: Luminals

“What was the name of this place?” Nimble asked as the later afternoon sun hovered just above the tree line. Just ahead of the companions the thatched roofs of the hamlet came into view.

“Uhh.. Declan's Crossing, wasn’t it?” Rathgar scratched at the stubble on his chin.

“No, that’s where we stopped last night.” Feris said. “This one is… Innspa?”

Nimble shrugged. “Does it really matter? We’ll stop, eat, rest, and move on in the morning.”

“When you put it that way...not really.” Feris agreed.

“Looks like a lot of activity in town.” Nimble pointed down the slight slope into the hamlet.

“Trivia night at the tavern?” Feris suggested hopefully.

Rathgar sighed heavily. “Let’s go find out what their problem is.”

The tavern master saw them coming down the hill, and stood waiting with the young groom. “Take their horses and get them stabled boy.” he said with a push. To the companions he said “Welcome to Pine Edge. Please come inside, the sun will be down in a few minutes.”

“And why is that important.” Rathgar asked, removing his pack from the horse.

“The moonlight-monsters will be out tonight.”

“Of course they will...” he sighed.

“Please, do come inside.” the tavern keeper held open the door.

Rathgar, shouldering his pack, stepped into the tavern. “You can tell us about these moon-monsters while we eat.” He paused just inside the doorway, nearly causing Nimble to walk into him. “What’s for dinner?”

Armor Class: 0
Hit Dice: 3**-8**
Move: 150’ (50’)
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6 to 2d4 + special
No. Appearing: (0) 1d4
Save As: F7
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: see below
Intelligence: 3
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 3HD 65, 4HD 175, 5HD 425, 6HD 725, 7HD 1250, 8HD 1850

Monster Type: Construct (Very Rare)
Luminals are a form of living statue or golem made of light. They have no standard form, appearing however their creator desires. The only consistent element is that their form is made of lines of light, as if sketched.

In combat, Luminals are extremely fast, receiving a +1 bonus to their initiative. Non-metal magical items only cause their magical bonus in damage. Normal metal weapons cause only 1 point of damage per hit, metal magical weapons cause full damage. As a construct it is also immune to sleep, charm, and hold spells, however Darkness causes it 2d8 points of damage (save for half) while Light spells heal it for a like amount.

When Luminals strike in combat they both blind and paralyse their targets (save vs spells to avoid) The paralysis lasts a single round, while the blindness lasts 1d4 turns. When destroyed, a gem worth at least 200 gp per hit die will clatter to the ground.

Image source: Light Paintings by Darren Pearson

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Inspirational Image: Keep on the Borderlands

I got to play my first hex-crawl yesterday - Expedition to the Borderlands, a tweak of Keep on the Borderlands that splits up the caves around the area. I'll be doing a write up of the adventure later this week, but I wanted to share these images of the keep.

Not sure where this one came from...

Dyson's tweaked keep

The original picture!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tomb of the Repugnant King

Sealed alive in his own dungeon, his greatest treasure entombed with him.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Balticon is next week!

Every year, on Memorial Day weekend is the annual sci-fi fantasy literature convention Balticon held at the Hunt Vally Inn in Maryland. This year's guest of honor is Brandon Sanderson.

You know, the guy who finished the Wheel of Time series? In addition to having written a whole ton of other fantasy novels of his own...

This guy is Halo Jankowski, the artist guest of honor, an amazingly versatile artist who's canvases range from skin to cars. 

Buy besides these guys, I'm part of the program this year too! Crazy that... If you're coming to Balticon (and if you're in the area you should) you can find me at the following panels:

  • Military Fantasy (Panel) (Participant), Sat 08:00 - 08:50, Salon B
  • Favorite Science Fiction Authors (Panel) (Participant), Sat 10:00 - 10:50, Parlor 1026
  • How To Do A Blog Tour (Panel) (Participant), Sat 16:00 - 16:50, Chesapeake
  • Blogging for dummies (Panel) (Participant), Sun 18:00 - 18:50, Chesapeake
  • Google+ for authors (Panel) (Participant), Mon 09:00 - 09:50, Chesapeake
  • Multi-creatives (Panel) (Participant), Mon 12:00 - 12:50, Salon C

Somehow I got some really early ones... 9am on the 4th day of the con? Yikes.

Anyway, it's a ton of fun, and I hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New Magic Item: Heart Cutter

Fellkin paused as the blade hovered over the boy's chest. "Be free" he whispered before plunging the serrated blade down. Flesh tore and ribs cracked as he sawed a rough circle. Setting the blade down beside the boy, he tossed the bloody mess to the bucket on the floor, before carefully lifting the heart from the jagged hole.

With his emmpty hand, he lifted the lid of the box, and set the bloody heart within. He smiled as he closed the lid and the box began to glow red. Blue flames burst from the hole in the corpse's chest and spread across his young flesh, darkening it as it went. When at last the flames reached his feet, they died down, flickering only in the blackened hole.

"Rise, and join the others. Tonight you go to claim the rest of your family and bring them to the peace you now know."

Heart Cutter
Dirk +2 Humanbane (additional 1d4 damage against humans)
Chaotic, Int. 12, Empathy
Special Purpose: Dominate Others
Natural Powers: Detect good/lawful within 40'
Comprehend Languages 1/day
Combat Power: Evisceration (damage dice explode on a 4)

This serrated blade was crafted by a wise and kind mage for an apprentice who was setting out on her own. Unfortunately, the mage's efforts were not entirely successful, and the blade warped the apprentice's mind. Eventually she was slain by a tribe of orcs, and Heart Cutter was lost.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Review: Back to the Dungeon Zine

I have a pile of zines, both in print and digital, most free, some of which I’ve read, and a few that I’ve reviewed. I just found a new one (at least new to me) Back to the Dungeon. It’s up to issue 5 already, and it does something I haven’t seen a zine do before - it details a rather massive megadungeon. Each issue covers an entire level of the dungeon, plus some info about the local city and a variety of NPCs. I really like how each issue seems to advance the events in the town, adding more details, and making it seem more alive. The same goes for the dungeon itself. There is definitely a feeling that there’s a lot going on outside of what the adventurers are doing.

The author, Eldrad Wolfsbane, is a highly enthusiastic writer who clearly enjoys putting out these issues. His humor and enjoyment shines throughout every issue. Sometimes I get the feeling that while some of the dungeon was pre-planned, much of it is being put down as he thinks of it. There are frequent uses of exclamation points, and words like suddenly, weird, unusual, etc. which definitely gives a raw feeling.

For all that I do like, I have some issues with it.

The maps are pencil drawn sketches that don’t seem to have received even basic cleanup once scanned, making them rather difficult to read. From what I can see, they aren’t very interesting maps, which is forgivable, as there is certainly a lot of interesting stuff to find *in* the dungeon. I just wish I could see it better, and didn’t have the overwhelming urge to try to redraw the maps.

The editing… There wasn’t any. It’s bad. I’ve somehow managed to refrain from taking a red pen to it, but only just. Also, why isn’t the PDF text searchable?

Treasures are oddly and unnecessarily detailed, especially when it comes to gems. For example this treasure from issue 3:

Treasure: SP: 8000 EP: 5000 Gems (22): Zircon-75 gp, Chrysoprase-75 gp, Tiger Eye Agate-25 gp, Citrine-75 gp, Blue Quartz-10 gp, Eye Agate-10 gp, Peridot-500 gp, Star Sapphire-1000 gp, Bloodstone-100 gp, Zircon-250 gp, Moonstone-100 gp, Citrine-100 gp, Hematite-10 gp, Citrine-250 gp, Blue Quartz-50 gp, Rock Crystal-100 gp, Turquoise-10 gp, Bloodstone-250 gp, Malachite-10 gp, Smoky Quartz-75 gp, Rock Crystal-100 gp, Malachite-50gp. Total Value: 3225 gp.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this looks like something a random generator came up with. Since so much of the dungeon reflects Eldrad’s obvious enthusiasm for his creation, this is rather jarring. If I was going to run this (or take an editing pen to it), I’d definitely skip over that entire list, except maybe for the Star Sapphire, noting it as the largest or best cut of the gems.

The thing is I can’t tell if Eldrad was trying really really hard to mimic the old zines from the 70’s, or if he was just so enthusiastic to get his megadungeon out there that he didn’t take any time to clean it up.Visually it's definitely mimicking those mimeograph days. 

In spite of all that, it’s definitely worth the price for the read. If nothing else, there are a fair number of ideas to steal.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Crafting Magic Items: Draft Rule

Following up on Saturday's post on Crafting Magic Items, here's the draft rule. Any thoughts, suggestions, etc. are welcome!

A magic user attempting to create a magic item must roll 12 or better on a d20, modified as follows:
-1 per spellcasting level/2 (round down)
+1 per spell level
-2 Scrolls, potions, single use items (runes, charms, etc.)
+0 Items with charges (wands, staffs, etc.)
+2 for permanent items (rings, figurines of wonder, bags of holding, etc.)
+2 per plus (Sword +1, Shield +2, Ring of Protection +1)
+1 per plus ammo or specific creature (Sword +1 +3 vs dragons, Arrows +1)
-1 per +10% spent, cumulative (i.e. 100gp base, +10gp, +11gp, +12gp, etc. )

Magic item creators gain XP for the creation attempt based on the cost of the item, regardless of the result (unless otherwise noted). Only gold spent on the base cost of the item contributes to XP.
An unmodified roll of 1 always fails
For all failures, roll on the below chart.

Failed Magic Item Creation Results
Failure doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t end up with a magic item…
Roll a 1d12, add the difference between the target number and the failed roll. Double that if you rolled a 1. (i.e. target is 8, roll was 2, add 6 to d12. if roll was 1 add 14!)

2. The magic failed to bind. If item is attempted again, base cost is ½ normal.
3. The magic bound in a useless fashion. Still detects as magic, does nothing magical.
4. The magic warped the item into uselessness.
5. Magic Backlash! -1 to Int
6. Opened Mind +1 Int, -2 Wis
7. Life drain, item created, wizard loses 1d6 Con or Strength
8. Gained the attention of an extraplanar being. It doesn’t like you.
9. Gain no XP from the attempt.
10. The item now drains magic from other nearby magic items to power itself. If it is especially hungry, i.e. has gone years without feeding, it may attempt to absorb spells cast near by or even the magic from magical creatures.
11. He contracted a magical wasting illness. Save vs. poison to avoid contracting it if you encounter him; if infected, save vs. poison once per week or lose 1 point of Constitution.
12. The item is overpowered and has a 75% chance to create a feedback loop when used. The Feedback loop treats the magic as 1 level higher but also affects the user (if offensive) or the closest enemy in proximity (if defensive).
13. It does the opposite of what it was intended. Offensive magic becomes defensive, healing hurts, etc.
14. The item is either underpowered or over powered. If it's effect was intended to affect a single person, it's now an area of effect (10' R). If it was intended to affect an area, it now only affects a single person.
15. The wizard can never again cast the spell (or a random spell) that was being used in the item's creation.
16. The item works, but it actively draws electrical energy toward it. Lots of static shocks, big ones if outside during a storm.
17. The item grows eight arachnid legs and acts as a monster with 1HD per spell level. It has all power(s) intended for the item.
18. The first recipient of the object's effect becomes imbued with the power naturally. If offensive, it may be used once per day. If defensive, it may be used for 1 minute per character level.
19. The item is ripped from this reality, leaving a hole into another. The hole will last 1 day per use or charge, or forever if a permanent item.
20. The item works but is dangerously unstable. After each use the referee rolls 1d20; on a 20 it explodes spectacularly (1d6 damage per level of spell in the enchantment to all in 20' radius, save for half).
21. Rather than creating the spell effect as desired, the item creates a short lived "spell elemental". These elementals have a number of HD equal to the spell level and their attacks mirror the normal spell effect. While independent from the item's user, offensive effects tend to be hostile to everyone while defensive effects tend to be protective of the user. They survive for 1d6 rounds before they die of "old age".
22. The item is intelligent, and loathes the caster with the power of a thousand suns. The imbued power will not work for the caster, but works x2 against him. The item will struggle to control it's wielder and if it succeeds will direct them to attack the caster.
23. The spell effect become entangled with another random school/spell. A fireball may animate the dead, a shield may be accompanied by a strange phantasmal force, etc.
24. Every time the item is used it summons a demon hostile to the item's user.
25. Every time the item is used or donned, it summons a demon (never a succubus) amorous to the item's user.
26. A person using the item cannot sleep in the next 24 hours. If worn or carried, the character is completely unable to sleep. They get no rest for spell or healing purposes and every day without sleep gains a cumulative penalty (-1 for day 1, -2 for day 2, etc) to all rolls made.
27. The spell went in fine, or at least it seems that way. Any time the item is used roll on the wild magic table
28. Use of the item slowly transforms the user into a creature based on the function of the item. A wand of fire will slowly turn the user into a fire elemental. A ring of invisibility slowly turns the user into an invisible stalker. The down side is that the creature only has HD equal to half the user's level. Each odd use of the item grants the user an ability of the creature. Each even use of the item grants the user a flaw or vulnerability. When all flaws and vulnerabilities are gained, the user loses a level with every even use until they reach 1/2 their original level. 
29. Is now trapped inside the item. He has to replace himself to get out.
30. An arm or leg (1d4) is now imbued instead and the magic is leaking. In 1d6 weeks, it will completely drain out, leaving the extremity a withered, useless husk. If the intended item had a number of uses, they are still available but each use hastens the wither effect by 1 day.

(item costs are based on Robert Conley’s Magic Item Creation Costs PDF):

MU1 creating a Scroll of Sleep (Base Cost 100gp)
Base 12
+1 (First Level Spell)
-2 (Scroll)
-7 (extra gold (94.87gp))
d20 roll needed = 4+
Total Cost = 194.87gp

MU6 creating a short sword +1 +3 vs goblinkin w/ detect goblins 60’ (Base Cost 1600gp)
Base 12
+2 (2nd level detect spell equivilant)
+2 (+1 bonus)
+3 (+3 vs goblins)
-3 (MU level)
-4 (extra gold (742.56gp)
d20 roll needed =12+
Total Cost = 2342.56gp

MU5 creating a Wand of Charm Person w/10 charges (Base Cost 2,000gp)
Base 12
+1 (First level spell)
-2 (MU level)
-2 (extra gold (420gp))
d20 roll needed = 9+
Total Cost = 2,420gp

Big thanks to Wayne Rossi, A. Miles Davis, Duncan McPhedran, Reece Carter, Sean Holland, and Seth Clayton for their help with the failure chart.

Monday, May 12, 2014

New Monster: Heartless Corpse

"They call me The Scourge of the Salt Coast." Fellkin muttered to himself, as he picked at a flake of dry skin on his hand. "The Desiccator of Dell." The stacks of small boxes arrayed around him glowed red, and beyond the boxes the flicker of blue flames. "I freed you. All of you... I freed you from having to choose. I freed you from pain. You will never be alone, abandoned... waiting for someone to come.. knowing they never will."

He stood then, and turned in a circle, looking in turn at each of his creations. Their skin was stretched tight, charcoal grey, and glossy. A low deathrattle gasped out of their dry mouths as their unseeing eyes followed Fellkin's movements, while ghostly blue flames licked out of the gaping holes where their hearts would be.

"Come! Let us usher another poor soul into your ranks." He stepped to the wall, and picked up one of the dark boxes. He then turned, and walked to the far end of the hall, where a young man lay bound nude to a rough wooden table. His eyes rolled in terror at the monsters around him. The gag holding back his sobs bit harshly into the corners of his mouth.

"Now now" Fellkin soothed "You'll feel better soon." He paused, and smiled. "Well, you'll feel much less, anyway." He set the box beside the boy on the table. "Let's begin" Fellkin picked up a large knife with a serrated edge. "You might want to steel yourself. This part does seem to hurt."

The boy whimpered as Fellkin poised the knife above his chest.

Heartless Corpse by Me!

Heartless Corpse
Armour Class: 6
Hit Dice: 4+2**
Move: 120' (30')
Attacks: Claws
Damage: 2d4 and paralysis
No. Appearing: 1d6 (1d8)
Save As: F5
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: E
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 275

Monster Type: Undead (rare)
A Heartless Corpses is the animated remains of someone whose heart has been cut from them as part of a necromatic ritual. The heart must then be sealed in a specially prepared container. Whoever possesses the box can control the Heartless Corpse. The creature will dry out, becoming an emaciated monster with glossy blackened skin. The hole through which the heart was removed will burn with faint blue flames.

They can only be harmed by magical weapons, and are immune to all sleep, charm, and hold spells. Their touch causes paralysis, and the very appearance of them causes fear, as per the spell.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Crafting Magic Items

I’ve been thinking a lot about dungeons, and treasure lately. Given that I’ve been writing a bunch of sci-fi locations, this makes perfect sense. And if you’ve noticed on G+ I’ve been writing and asking a bit about magic items...

One of the things that’s been rattling around in my head is the frequency of treasure, and specifically magic items, spurred by a couple of posts. John over at Dreams in the Liche House wrote about revisiting the Magic Shoppe and also about The Vast Wealth of Dungeons, While Brendan over at Necropraxis wrote about banking treasure.

But the one that really got me thinking? The Shadow that Magic Casts over at Edgar’s Game Blog. If you missed those posts, go read them now. I’ll wait. What follows will make more sense keeping these posts in mind.

I’ve always (since my return to old school gaming anyway) been a fan of XP for treasure. However there quickly develops the situation where you end up with low-mid level PCs having incredible amounts of coin sitting around. At low levels there isn’t so much to spend it on once you’ve got the best basic equipment, even factoring in carousing rules (more on this next week). The next logical steps are magic items and/or real estate, which brings us back to Brendan’s Bank, and John’s Magic Shoppe.

This is where Edgar’s post ties in. Crafting magic in old school games is generally the province of higher level wizards, and that’s one of the things I missed from 3.x. I liked being able to make scrolls, potions, and wands at low levels. It just seems like the sort of thing that wizards should be doing while the fighters are off blowing all their cash at the bar. I want to encourage that, but how to encourage it? First off, ditch the 3.x idea that you have to spend XP to make magic items. Wizards don’t become less experienced because they made something new. It was just a bad idea, which is why Pathfinder dropped it.

If the goal is to encourage PCs to craft magic items, there needs to be a benefit for doing so, not just getting rid of the penalty. If the goal is more magic items, we could just open ye olde magic shoppe. But that's not the goal. The goal is to encourage PCs to make their own magic items.


Wizards should get a reward (XP) for crafting magic items.

I’m thinking full XP if they spend their own cash, and half XP if someone else pays them. That would include any group cash. Also, the XP isn’t based on whether the item creation is successful or not.

So what rules for magic item creation? DCC gives wizards the opportunity to make magic items at pretty low level with Wizards Staff, Sword Magic, and Make Potion. Of course DCC involves a lot of rules that fall outside the usual D&D set. AD&D, OD&D, B/X, etc. all require that magic users be high level for magic item creation(except scrolls in B/X).

Robert Conley of Bat in the Attic Games created this Magic Item Creation Costs document which covers basic costs, but not the process.It's a good place to start... But what rules?

I want something relatively simple, but not guaranteed. Not ever. Even a level 36 archmage making a Scroll of Feather Fall might screw it up. It’s not likely, but if the ink runs a little, or smudges, well… And if it’s a major screw up, I want there to be varying levels of badness from singed eyebrows to you’ve accidentally opened a portal to hell and Satan is coming for tea.

In 3.x you’d make a skill check, but most old school games don’t have skills. Maybe a saving throw? Modified by the item type/power? The thing about both of these options is that they’re based on a D20 roll. Is that a problem? Maybe not…

I'm working on a draft rule for magic item creation that even a 1st level magic user can use. I'll probably post it Monday or Tuesday. More to follow!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Review: Treasure Planet

I was sorting through a bunch of paperwork, and I wanted something on in the background that I didn’t really have to pay attention to. Netflix is great for this sort of thing, and I ended up picking Treasure Planet, and I’m glad I did. I always ignored it before as just another retelling of Treasure Island… which it is. However it’s fantastic as a Spelljammer style movie, or even Star Wars (if you ignore the ship designs). How so? Well, let’s start with the ships:

The aliens are all the sort of weird you’d expect to see in a Spelljammer setting, including humanoid dogs, cats, rocks, and weird nosed things, and the even weirder ones.

Technology-wise there’s less magic than you'd expect in a Spelljammer setting, but it wouldn’t be all that hard to reskin things. However checking out Silver’s cyborg parts you can see how this would fit in with Star Wars really well.

Plus check out this little robot/droid.

And Jim's Solar Sail Board

The story? Well, it’s Treasure Island, so it’s a good story, but there aren’t any shocking twists. I would say that it’s worth viewing just for the visuals.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

New Magic Item: Emerald of Envy

“Do you see that rock?” Aramil asked.

Hilwick nodded “Hard not to, given that it was as big as Buris’ hand and glowing like a torch.”

“We need to tell Arag about this.” Aramil put down his half empty tankard, and tried hard not to stare at the emaciated sorcerer who’d just entered the bar.

“Don’t forget to mention the two body guards. They look orcish.”

“I’m more concerned about that tattoo on his head.”

“What about it?”

“It’s moving”

“Get back there and keep an eye on them.” Arag ordered, putting his cap on. Take Radoon with you.”

Aramil sighed “Samgos would be more helpful.”

“I know, which is why I want him with me.”

Samgos pushed open the tavern door, and limped inside, Arag just behind him. The sorcerer turned, his face lit by the giant emerald on the counter. Arag locked eyes with the sorcerer, and began to cast. The patrons in the bar began to scatter, the body guards lept into motion, one putting himself between the sorcerer and Arag, the other charging Arag directly.

The spell’s magic flashed out, and both bodyguards dropped to the floor unconscious, along with several of the patrons, and the barkeep. The sorcerer’s lips twitched downward. “Fools” he slurred as he pulled a wand and pointed it at Arag, completely missing the tankard thrown from the corner that smashed into the back of his tattooed head.

Arag stepped over the bodyguard, and seized the gem from the bar. “Fool? Not I…” He paused and looked down at the barely conscious sorcerer before drawing his dagger and slitting his throat. As the sorcerer’s blood pooled, the gem glowed brighter, and Arag gasped in pleasure.

Emerald of Envy (Emerald of Ascension)

This large gem glows faintly with a soft inner light, equal to a single candle. The carrier of the gem will be able to draw the skills and powers of slain opponents. If the opponent was in some measurable way more skilled or powerful than the slayer, the slayer must make a saving throw vs spells. If passed, the slayer may claim some of the opponents essence. This will manifest in a wide variety of ways mechanically, for example: +1 HP, +1 Attack, +1 to a save, new spell slot (even for non-spellcasters), new weapon/armor skills, thief abilities, etc. The bonus will be determined by the DM in every case.

The power of the gem may be used once per day. Every time it is used, the gem’s glow will increase by the equivalent of 1 candle. The first time it is used the owners eyes will change to an unnatural brilliant emerald green. Every time after the initial use, the user must make an additional saving throw vs spells. For every failed roll, the user will lose 1 point from either their Constitution, Wisdom, or Charisma (roll a d6) as they are consumed with envy. Alternately, use the Mutant Future mutations charts or the DCC corruption charts.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thoughts on Castles & Crusades

The only gaming I’ve got going on at the moment is a Castles and Crusades game, a new one. I’m playing a lawful neutral human cleric in a party that also has a pair of paladins. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a group with two paladins, or this heavily skewed toward lawful. It’s just unheard of in my experience. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out in the game. I can see the potential for some really interesting developments.

I have visions of a fortress temple from which inquisitors are sent forth to deal with incursions of the chaotic creatures at civilizations edge.

To focus on Castles and Crusades for a moment, overall it’s a pretty solid retro-clone. Mostly d20, with some tweaks. I like how it handles ability checks, for instance. Your ability scores are either primary or secondary based on your race and class, and depending on whether you’re ability check is against a primary stat or a secondary one your challenge base is either 12 or 18. It’s a simple, even elegant solution to handling skill checks.

For as much as I’m enjoying playing it though, it’s not a game I’d run on my own. And I’m having a hard time articulating why. It’s a perfectly serviceable d20 system that does a lot of cleaning up of the various issues that 3.x has. But I feel like it doesn’t have that spark that makes me want to pick up anything besides the players guide. The funny thing is, I’m pretty sure that if I’d had access to it back when 3.5 first came out, I’d have been all over it. Now I think I’ve just been spoiled by all of the awesome that’s come out of the OSR! It just isn’t different enough to really make it stand out in the same way that Adventurer Conqueror King or Dungeon Crawl Classics does, and it doesn’t try to closely emulate a specific previous edition like Swords and Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord.

When it comes down to it, I don’t need another D&D rules set that doesn’t do something *really* unique.

Of course that isn’t going to stop me from playing it! I’m pretty happy to sit down with just about any game and roll some dice.

The funny thing is, I’m pretty sure that if I’d had access to it back when 3.5 first came out, I’d have been all over it. Now I think I’ve just been spoiled by all of the awesome that’s come out of the OSR. I don’t know that I’ll ever get a more interesting set of deities than those found in Petty Gods, a more interesting campaign setting than The Hexenbracken, The Kraal, or The Colossal Wastes of Zhaar,
such variety of adventures in the one Page Dungeon Contest, and more everything in this year’s Secret Santicore.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A to Z Reflections

Once again, I managed to complete the A to Z Challenge! I know there is a section of the blogging community that doesn't really care for the challenge, and I get it. Depending on the theme, it can be really, really, repetitive and dull, which is why I try to make my challenge as much about creating something that might actually see some use at a table, rather than just... editorials or navel gazing. Back in 2012 it was magic items and spells. 2013 was monsters. This year I wrote up a sector's worth of star systems to explore.

I got a later start on the project than I'd planned, mostly because Strange New Worlds wasn't my initial theme. Originally, back in February, I'd planned on writing up some NPCs, and had settled on a traveling carnival/circus. And while I still think it's a great idea, trying to shoehorn it into the A to Z Challenge just didn't feel right. So I went looking for something else, rather listlessly truth be told. For a while I seriously considered skipping it this year, but my name was already on the list.

I ended up rewatching some Star Trek in March, just a couple of episodes of DS9, but it was enough to plant the seed, and thus the theme for this year's challenge sprouted.

Like I said last week, I'd wanted to get a map of the sector ready for the challenge, but I didn't want it to be a crappy hand drawn map. I've spent some time playing with GIMP, and I think I should be able to do at least a sector map, if not individual system maps for the PDF, which I want to get out by the end of the month.

Unlike last year, I did manage to visit a number of blogs participating in the challenge, and found a few I'll be adding to my RSS feed. I also had a fair number of new visitors, but I'm not sure it was as many as in previous years. I did gain some new followers though!

That wraps up the A to Z Challenge for this year. Look for the PDF in a couple of weeks.