Tuesday, April 19, 2011

AlarumsandExcursions #7 January 1976

Alarums & Excursions #7 January 1976
(21 Doublesided pages Page Numbering starts with Front Cover)
(NOTE: My working copy may be missing back cover sheet)

Editor: Lee Gold
Cover Artist: Jack Harness
Contributing Artists and Writers:
H.J.N. Andruschak
Sherna Burley
Philip M. Cohen
Richard Eney
Lee Gold
Jack Harness
Hilda C. Hennifen
Samuel Edward Konkin III
Mark Leymaster
Wayne Shaw
Mark Swanson

Table of Contents:

A Few Paragraphs From the Editor By Lee Gold Pg#3, 4
Table of Contents Pg#4
Well, Now... By Sherna Burley Pg#5-8
LE MANDRAGORE for Things Phantasmagorical By Mark Leymaster Pg#9-11
LoC News Monster By Philip M. Cohen Pg#12
Billy Balrog's Own Fanzine number five By Mark Swanson Pg#13, 14
Tantivy By Lee Gold Pg#15, 16
Depth Perception 4 By Richard Eney Pg#17-24
The Portal to Tempralana By Wayne Shaw Pg#25-28
Manrikigusari #1 By H.J.N. Andruschak Pg#29-31
Mockturtleauthor #35 By Hilda C. Hennifen Pg#32
The Sentient Mockturtle #27 By Hilda C. Hennifen Pg#33-37
Readers Letters Pg#38
Clear Ether! By Samuel Edward Konkin III Pg#39-42

Sunday, April 17, 2011

AlarumsandExcursions #6 November-December 1975

Alarums & Excursions #6 November-December 1975
(23 DoubledSided Pages -Front and Back Cover Inclusive)

Editor: Jack Harness
Cover artist: jack Harness
Contributing Artists & Writers:
Sherna Burley
Richard H. Eney
Lee Gold
Hilda C. Hannifen
Jack Harness
Samuel Edward Konkin III
Brad Schenck
Mark Swanson
UCLA Computer Club (Mike)

Table of Contents (Page Numbering starts with Front Cover as page 1)

Editorial By Jack Harness Pg#3
Table of Contents Pg#3
Contributor and Subscription Guidelines Pg#4
The Bloody Mockturtle or A Dungeon-Master's Tale of Terror and Death By Hilda c. Hannifen Pg#5, 6
Mockturtle in Haste By Hilda C. Hannifen Pg#7
Billy Balrog's Own Fanzine number four By Mark Swanson Pg#8
Mockturtle Heroics By Hilda C. Hannifen Pg#9-16
Full Page Cartoon By Jack Harness Pg#17
Special Abilities Swanson Abilities Harkness Version By Jack Harness Pg#18-20
Tantivy By Lee Gold Pg#21-24
Depth Perception 3 By Richard H. Eney Pg#25-32
Well, Now... By Sherna Burley Pg#33-36
Cosmic Frog Productions Advertisement By Brad Schenck Pg#37
Blank Page Pg#38, 39
Anyone Wanna Sell a Coat of Mithril #1 By Mike-UCLA Computer Club Pg#40
The Competitive Quest By Samuel Edward Konkin III Pg#41-44
Neutral Cleric By Jack Harness Pg#45

Friday, April 15, 2011

Alarums and Excursions #5 October 1975

Alarums & Excursions #5 October 1975
(18 Double Sided Pages - Front & Back Cover Sheets Inclusive)

Editor: Jack Harness
Cover Art: Jack Harness
Contributing Artists & Writers:
Sherna Burley
Dick Eney
Hilda C. Hannifen
Jack Harness
Jeff May
Robert Sacks
Nicholai Shapers
Wayne Shaw
Elst Weinstein

Table of Contents (Note: Pages Are Not Numbered. This page count starts with the front cover)
Contributor & Subscription Guidelines Pg#2
Full Page Cartoon By Jack Harness Pg#3
Reviews And Honorable Mentions By? Pg#4, 5
Depth Perception 1 or Operation Orifanc 565 By Dick Eney or By Sherna Burley Pg#6-15
Robert Sacks By Robert Sacks Pg#16, 17
Jeff May By Jeff May Pg#17
Notes From The Underground #1 By Nicholai Shapers Pg#18-21
The Portal to Temporalana By Wayne Shaw Pg#22-24
Everyone Knows Department By Jack Harness Pg#25
Nasties at the Nasfic By Jack Harness Pg#26
Depth Perception 2 By? Pg#27-30
Dungeons & Dragons Character Sheet (Might be part of Depth Perception 2) By? Pg#31, 32
Another D&D Mockturtle Just Barely Though By Hilda C. Hannifen Pg#33, 34
Hogwashed, Poppycocked And Baloneyed, but Boulder Dashed ! #2 By Elst Weinstein Pg#35

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Alarums & Excursions #4 September 1975

Alarums & Excursions #4 September 1975
(14 Double Sided Pages including cover sheet. Pages are of different colors and paper type)

Cover Art: Jack Harness
Editor: Jack Harness
Contributing Artists and Writers:
Joel S. Davis
Lee Gold
Jack Harness
Hilda Hannifen
Robert Hollander
Jock Root
Robert Sacks
Mark Swanson

Table of Contents
Contributor and Subscription Guidelines Pg#2, 3
Index to Issues #1 & #2 By Jack Harness Pg#3
Cartoon (Full Page) By Jack Harness Pg#4
Tantivity By Lee Gold Pg#5, 6
Billy Balrog's Own Fanzine number three By Mark Swanson Pg#7-10
Alarums & Excursions #4 By Robert Sacks Pg#11
Blank Page (Misprint?) Pg#12
Thou Art God By Robert Hollander Pg#13, 14
So You Want To Be A Were By? Pg#15
The Mad Scientist By? Pg#16
The Emerald City Flash Part 2 By Jock Root Pg#17-20
The Distracted Mockturtle or My Mind's A Million, Million Miles Away By Hilda Hannifen Pg#21, 22
More Mockturtle By Hilda Hannifen Pg#23, 24
Colorado Comments By Joel S. Davis Pg#25-28

Without a Table of Contents inside the Zine itself I can't be certain this list is complete.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #5 Aerie of the Crow God / #5.5 Seed of Evil

Dungeon Crawl Classics #5 Aerie of the Crow God / #5.5 Seed of Evil By Andrew Hind

{64 Page d20 adventure for 4-6 players levels 7-8 (DCC#5) 4 players level 9 (DCC#5.5)}

Front Cover Artist: Chuck Whelon
Back Cover Artist: Brad McDevitt
Interior Artists: Jason Edwards, Brad McDevitt, Stefan Poag, Brian Tarsis
Cartographer: Jeremy Simmons

If you are planning on playing in these adventures STOP READING NOW! - I really mean it this time.

The edition I reviewed contains the adventure DCC#5 and the sequel DCC#5.5. It struck me as odd that they have different recommendations for the size of the party. I noticed one map error on page 63 of this edition that refers you back to page #48 for an overhead map of level A encounters (it is now on page #64).

The are some excellent ideas and interesting maps in this double adventure. It will require a bit of conversion work to recraft it for AD&D mainly due to the nature of higher level d20 rules drifting further from their AD&D origins. The main problem I found was that these adventures are remarkably underpowered.

DCC#5 begins a bit strangely. The plot device to get the players involved in the adventure feels unlikely and somewhat strained, even more so because it was intentionally left undeveloped. This plot can be used or another motivation put in its place with little difficulty but it struck me as more awkward than useful. I made many alterations in this module when I converted it to AD&D and abandoned the central plot motivation. This removed the time constraints ( a 3 day deadline to find a missing key) and made it into a campaign rather than what might be a single session game for the DCC#5 portion (although it would have to be a lengthy day's gaming since DCC#5 covers a good number of rooms and encounters unaltered).

The six pages of background and DM charts and recommendations are quite helpful. I have always found the Game Master's Section encounter table at the start of DCC adventures to be a wonderful inclusion. From here it is a short step directly to the dungeon.

Once started the adventure offers surprisingly little risk for the rewards. A small group of 2HD monsters defending over 1000 gold in coin. A telepathic sword that can sever hands on a critical hit left lying outside the entrance to the tower. The tower itself almost empty (13 rooms with three combat encounters, only one of which offers any actual challenge to the players). It is a shame because there are good ideas here and interesting encounters, but not enough of them and not enough meat for the players to dig into.

From the tower the quest will lead to an underground temple. Some undead guardians that a cleric should have no trouble turning or the party hacking into little bits.

Once in the temple area the players may choose one path that will lead them to the key they were looking for, and end the timed portion of the quest (if they were following that plot line), or another passage that will lead them to an abandoned shrine of Matlock... I mean Malotoch. (Except that every time I see that name I keep hearing Grandpa Simpson calling out Matttt-Lock from an early sideshow Bob episode).

The 2nd and 3rd levels of the temple are an excellent dungeon crawl but really geared more for characters two levels lower than the ones recommended.

Without much alteration the entire temple area would make a fine 5th or 6th level adventure. The other named weapons are powerful but not absurdly so. The gold values can be toned down (especially if they also are being used to compute experience). The same goes for the treasure awarded. Most of the monsters run between 5 and 7 HD including the bosses.

The adventure ends with a nice enjoyable battle in an evil temple with some good suggestions for further adventures.

Dungeon Crawl Classic #5.5 Seed of Evil is only loosely connected to the Aerie of the Crow God. Once again the players are fighting the evil God malotoch in a short wilderness/dungeon trek. It is a nice little adventure with possibilities, but with only a handful of rooms and encounters with nothing particularly outstanding.

Strangely this is recommended for only 4 players, which makes it hard to mesh directly with DCC#5 if that group consisted of 6 players, but even 4 ninth level players will have an easy time up until the final encounter with Malotoch herself. Like DCC#5, DCC#5.5 would be more challenging and better suited to a party of 5th or 6th level characters.

There is room in Seed of Evil for a better adventure to grow. The encounter with a God is too heavy handed for my taste. The players are not meant to be able to defeat Molotoch so the entire encounter becomes plot device. The confrontation seems pointless. Simply running afoul of Molotoch's clerics and followers should be enough to create a recurring nemesis for the players if the DM so desires.

The back of the module contains a map of the town Carnelloe which is near to the tower and temple with a few NPC blurbs of town residents, a listing of new monsters and magic items, and some player handouts which are mostly illustrations of various areas in the adventure (something I've always enjoyed ever since they first started providing them in TSR modules like S1 Tomb of Horrors).

This is a good all around adventure. I don't see it as difficult to convert to AD&D, but I do recommend adding more encounters to the first areas, and either beefing up the entire adventure to suit 7th or 8th level PCs or trying it with a lower level group.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #4 Bloody Jack's Gold

Dungeon Crawl Classics #4 Bloody Jack's Gold By Joe Crow
(A 32 page d20 adventure for 4-6 players levels 10-12)

Front Cover Artist: Erol Otus
Back Cover Artist: Chuck Whelon
Interior Artists: Brad McDevitt, Chuck Whelon
Cartographer: Jeremy Simmons

If you are planning on playing in this adventure STOP READING NOW! - You Have Been Warned.

Here is the first great parting of the ways between the DCC line and AD&D. It was inevitable that d20 adventures would draw more upon the options and alterations of third edition as the level of the adventures became higher.

My reviews are centered around the aspects of these modules that either need no conversion to AD&D or how they would relate to an AD&D adventure of equivalent level. I will not be focusing on them in terms of their third edition usefulness or playability.

The Otus cover art is fantastic. The scenario is filled with good ideas but the maps are a little sparse. I believe that the adventure itself is underpowered for twelfth level characters ( and this is something I see for either AD&D or 3rd edition).

I enjoy a good treasure hunt and I have always found pirates fun as a basis for adventure. Dead pirates especially so. The concept is intriguing. Even a successful expedition against the island and the treasure shouldn't keep it from being restocked to be used again. The plot is ripe for expansion but there is nothing to keep a DM from running it as is with few necessary conversions(though I recommend beefing it up in many ways if twelfth level characters are going to be used).

The map of the island and the monastery could not be simpler, and in that respect I find them extremely disappointing. The wandering monsters and set wilderness encounters, such as the fiendish sharks, are doomed. Any high level magic-user or druid has too many options for destroying or circumventing them just in their spellbook arsenal. What items or devices the players will also have at their disposal at the very start of this adventure should have no problem eliminating 8HD monsters with no magical abilities or ranged attacks. The problems with underwater combat are mentioned, but any experienced adventuring group going on an adventure in the middle of the ocean will be prepared.

It might be better to toss the players on the island as a shipwrecked group rather than give them a prepared base of operations. The scenario suggests that any ship will be manned by low level NPCs incapable of defending themselves against the more powerful monsters that can be thrown at them. While this may be true it would be something a prepared adventuring group would think of. Defending a base camp has always been a problem, but for characters this powerful would they even arrive by ship? The players are either going to have a secure base or be on their own and experienced players are going to know this. At twelfth level the PCs are going to have henchman, followers, companions, hirelings, if they are coming as a prepared expedition. This has always been the problem with high level games; the amount of resources available to the characters and the gaming experience that the players themselves have to call upon.

In this respect the adventure as-is doesn't offer much of a solution. The resources in terms of monsters the DM has to call upon as written are fairly inadequate. But it does offer up a number of possibilities for a DM to add to the scenario and even unsuccessful attacks against the PCs base or ship should be interesting to play and a drain and disruption on the treasure hunt. I'd recommend planning a series of attacks and events upon any ship or base camp that the PCs leave behind. Attacks in greater number, perhaps increasing over time, and planned events such as storms, sickness, ship sightings, than are mentioned in the adventure itself.

Now part of the plot includes an Imp spy who keeps a watch on the adventurers and seeks to tempt them to sell their souls in exchange for aid or perhaps survival. This seems so far fetched and unlikely, as well as creating an index-card exchange between DM and player, that I was sad to see it included. The party should be perfectly able to keep a watch for invisible creatures and the likelihood of any player being fooled into signing away their soul seems minuscule. For me I thought it was a bad idea and a waste of text, but perhaps other DMs can make use of it.

As I mentioned the island is undetailed. There is a suggestion in the text that the jungle is so dense as to be impassable except along an overgrown pathway. This is the green dungeon syndrome, where the forest is nothing but dungeon walls and the pathways and roads dungeon corridors. Wilderness adventuring tends to provide choices in a full 360 degrees as well as 3 dimensions. Railroading players down a set path in what should be an area of plentiful choices has never been a recipe for a fun adventure in my experience. But having an actual wilderness on the island will force the DM to create it themselves as it is not provided for in the module.

The adventure doesn't begin till page six. There is an overflow of superfluous information and background that really should have been devoted to the adventure itself. Greater detail and encounters on the island would have, I feel, been a much better use of ink and paper.

Finally the treasure hunt begins. This is a very combat oriented adventure rather than a tricks and traps scenario. For me the concept works very well. The adventure isn't about hidden treasure, though the players need to believe it is. It is about assembling a small army of undead. Unfortunately the types of undead encountered are far too low level for the recommended power levels of the party. A twelfth level cleric is going destroy any skeletons, zombies, wights and shadows lined up against them. Mages will use area effect spells from a distance on the same and a score of zombies or skeletons that are fireballed are simply going to so much charred rubble under the players' feet. How many 1 HD skeletons and 2 HD zombies would it take to kill a twelfth level fighter? I am not an expert in third edition but the bulk of the monsters in this adventure just don't seem up to the job.

But despite everything I have objected to I have to say that this is a good adventure. Converting it to AD&D should be no problem and either beefing up the encounters or lowering the recommended level of the module (while also lowering the level of some of the more powerful monsters) should be easy.

The heart of this adventure is very sound. The possibilities for expanding the adventure are many. As is, though, I believe it will too easy for a group of twelfth level characters.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #3 The Mysterious Tower

Dungeon Crawl Classics #3 The Mysterious Tower By Joseph Goodman

(A d20 Adventure for 4-6 Players Levels 3-5)

Front Cover Artist: Erol Otus
Back Cover Artists: Brad McDevitt
Interior Artists: Brad McDevitt, Marks Parsons
Cartographer: Jeremy Simmons

If you are planning on playing in this adventure, STOP READING NOW! - Spoilers - like there is no Santa or Angelina Jolie is really a man - I told you to stop reading

What a fantastic piece of cover art by Erol Otus... I should stop writing now....

The best thing about this module is the cover. This isn't a terrible adventure just a ho-hum bit of monster killing that makes little sense. A kind of low level poor man's Tomb of Horrors like one of those state fair miniature portable roller coasters but without the strung-out ex-cons at the controls, and with less rust and beer cans.

The premise of the module is painful. A wizard puts the magical on/off switch for his tower's permanent wall of force just a few inches outside his tower while he is inside his tower turning it on for the first time. Trapped inside he goes insane, dies and becomes that wickedly cool looking Otus-drawn ghost on the cover but doesn't really have much of a part in the bulk of the adventure. What a waste.

Getting to the on/off switch is the main focus of the module. The ground level portion is a brief scare by the ghost and the extermination of some vermin, literally. Absolutely nothing surprising or challenging and the greatest danger seems to be falling into a sinkhole. The exterior map is plain and uninspired.

The first level below ground has a small but interesting map. The encounters are split between a nest of owlbears with a dab of pathos and a small tomb with a bit of silliness and one of the most annoying undead, a wight. I hate level draining. This is an important level and depending on how obvious or easy the DM wants to make it the players will need to do some searching here. That shouldn't be a big problem, only, perhaps, time consuming. Again; the challenges on this level are minimal.

The next level down is very short. Three numbered areas, large spaces, but really just one combat encounter after another. It should be possible for a thinking party to defeat each monster easily or a non-thinking party to fight their way through.

The third level down is the tricks and traps section. To me these traps seemed uninspired and easily circumvented. An incautious and inexperienced group of players could get themselves killed but it would be like drowning in a bathtub and after the first time it is unlikely that the players would let it happen again, and again. A little caution if not experience with traps will get the players through this area, and that is basically that.

The tower itself is pretty much reward without many risks and an "all martians are liars" type of puzzle.

All in all I found this adventure to be low on challenge but one that can easily be tossed into the middle, start or end of a campaign. A one-shot scenario that could be spiced up with some effort by the DM or played as written. The Otus cover immediately made me think 'classic' and the module itself made me think 'forgettable'. Very handy for a pick-up game or a filler for a rushed DM.

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #2 The Lost Vault of Tsathzar Rho

Dungeon Crawl Classics #2 The Lost Vault of Tsathzar Rho By Michael Mearls

For 4-6 D20 Level 1 Player Characters

Front Cover Artist: Jim Holloway
Back Cover Artist: Brad McDevitt
Interior Artists: Friedrich Haas, Brad McDevitt, Marks Parsons
Cartographer: Matt Snyder

If you are planning on playing in this adventure STOP READING NOW! - This is your only warning.

This isn't a first level adventure. It really, really isn't.

This is not an adventure for an inexperienced DM either. There are a number of balls that come into play past the 1st level of this dungeon crawl and they will have a DM quiet busy keeping them in the air if used as written.

I have a problem with adventures where first level characters are supposed to save the world. It just doesn't make sense to me so I have a very hard time relating the overall plot to a first level adventure. In many ways it reminds me of the much higher level TSR adventure WG4 Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun with a tiny hint of Judges Guild's Dark Tower. But the plot itself is not much of a problem and even elder outer gods from beyond this dimension need to start somewhere so I am just being picky.

The problems I have start immediately. The players arrive in the frontier hamlet of Hadler's Gap. There is no map of the town or area around the town and adventure. DMs are encouraged to develop Hadler's Gap or use the village from other DCC adventures. One small paragraph provides all the details of the players base of operations that the DM is going to get. There are a few adventure hooks provided, but this is not a pick up and play module by any means. Instead a page and a half is devoted to text describing the rather grandiose background of Tsathzar Rho and the Outer Gods and a large half-page illustration that seems to depict nothing the players are going to encounter in this dungeon, and a blank area lacking text or illustration that could have been used for village map or some description.

The players immediately encounter an insane 4HD ogre, this could be a very brief adventure for the group especially since one of the adventure hooks has the players taking refuge from a storm inside the ogre's cave. Roll up characters, fight battle with monster that can kill the characters with one shot, then roll up more characters. The rest of the 1st dungeon level offers nothing as challenging or instantly lethal. The most potentially unbalancing item is an item that may be worth 1000 to 2000 gold. A lot to hand out to first level characters but perhaps a way to force level advancement. Easy to remove or even reward at a later date, but a bit of a campaign monkey wrench for an inexperienced DM to handle.

It is the dungeons 2nd and 3rd levels that are my greater concerns.

A side note here about the maps. I have the 2nd printing of this module. The maps show some character and remind me of old TSR maps that might have graced the inside cover of the D series. Unfortunately my printing has the level 2 and 3 maps mislabeled. Nothing that causes more than a moments confusion but I am surprised it wasn't caught during playtesting.

The player characters enter the 2nd level and encounter a 4HD monster... wait, this has happened before, only this 4HD monster can both web and poison the PCs as well. I suspect that by the 2nd level of the dungeon the PCs are meant to be second level themselves. With AD&D rules I am not sure how they this would be managed but I am doubtful that even 3e rules would prepare raise them high enough at this point. This isn't merely a monster with more HP, this is a monster with much greater abilities. This is damaging poison so the monster's attacks are more deadly, and the ability to web players effectively removes them from the combat. Played fairly, without plot device or dumbing down the monster, I can't see four to six first level PCs all surviving this encounter. Push them to second level and this is still an instantly lethal situation.

Once past this first monster there is a side excursion, two ghouls which individually should challenge the party, and a 4d12 HD ghast, which should probably slaughter the party.

From this point on things only get worse for the PCs. Kobold snipers while the PCs try to cross 100+ feet of water, elite kobold troops (I blame Tucker and that old Dragon article), and in large numbers. Eight kobolds versus six players, not a problem, but the next batch of twelve kobolds split between a pinning element and crossbows should prove exceptionally deadly. There is a single approach and no apparent cover.

And past this point the headache for the DM truly begins (the strange effect of the vault crossing from the pages of the module to the DMs dining room). Each hour of game time each player must save to keep themselves from falling under the strange effects or be affected by the effects resonating effectiveness. Once they fail their saving throws the results are going to be a monumental task of index cards and flavor text, hallucinatory battles and back tracking. The adventure talks about nightmares for the players on the 3rd level, but for the DM they have already begun and for the rest of this adventure they are now, "in effect."

Wait, isn't this supposed to be a first level adventure? Ghouls, ghasts, Tucker's Fallschirmjager kobolds and now Fear and Loathing in the Lost Vault of Tsathzar Rho. Each combat encounter from here on in seems to be another combined arms squad of kobolds. Two more twelve kobold units, and two smaller groups with officer types this time. The PCs could use a few grenades, light machine guns and some meds to help with the hallucinations.

Unfortunately the 3rd level is more of the same but with only one twelve kobold death squad present. The final encounter is fairly impossible.

I find this to be a greatly imbalanced adventure but not a terrible one. It isn't for an inexperienced DM or group of players and I cannot see how to run it for first level players. It needs work. Many of the cumbersome mechanics for the vault's strange effects need to be tuned to match the DMs style of play. The characters will need a base of operations. The town needs detailing. I can't see how to easily lower the challenges to make this first level, but many will need to be beefed up to challenge a higher level party.

This adventure is a major fix-er-up-er. Good ideas, good possibilities for expansion, but not something I would want to run as-is for the level recommended.