Monday, July 28, 2014

Comment - Campaign Setting

A setting, a campaign, even a single pick-up game is only as good as the DM.

There is no formula, no diagram, no mythos, not a damn thing that can make a setting good on its own. A good DM can make a bad setting good, can take a piece of crap published module and make it fun. It is a god-damn art. It isn't the setting that can get you into the game, that can keep a campaign going for weeks, months or even years, that can stir your imagination and make you feel the gold coins slipping through your fingers or startle the crap out of you when your character turns a corner, or makes you shout when you chop down that last beastie just before it takes your character down. A good DM does that.

Part II

My point is that there is no setting fluff that makes a campaign golden.

I detest Planescape, others love it. Greyhawk is my favorite published setting others have no time for it.

Setting fluff is subjective. You can have rivers that flow uphill, you can run into WWII German infantry attacking dinosaurs controlled from outerspace with a tree full of keebler elves on the side and it can be a fantastic game.

Or it can be a horrible game if the DM sucks. The DM is the setting. He breaths life into the words of a published world, he makes paper lions roar and unsheath their claws, he takes his imagination and becomes everything, the split in the player's backpack that rips while he is being chased by those paper lions, the rotting boards of the bridge the player runs across, swaying back and forth over a black and bottomless pit, the fraying rope, the feathered lizard creatures with spears that rush the player from the other side as the lions wait for their dinner to return. The DM is the town where the player rested, the kingdom the town resided in, the tribe of Ogres or clan of Giants, the number of coins stuck to the chest of the sleeping dragon.

There are no elements, no fluff, no story-line, that universally make a flavoursome campaign setting. The flavor comes from the chef, the DM and nowhere else. He can take your favorite steak and burn it beyond recognition or make it the so good your mouth waters at the thought of it.

All that you can do here is make a list of recipes that other people have enjoyed. A good chef, a good DM will know what to do with them. Use them, change them, maybe ignore them, but all you really need is that good chef.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Comment - Searching the Room - Part 2

DM: As you begin your search you hear a clicking sound from the hall.

Ted (the thief): What the hell is that?

Clarence (the cleric): Is the door still open?

Mike (the magic-user): Shit!

Frank (the fighter): I'll check it! Back me up!

DM: As you approach the open door you can hear the clicking sound again. It sounds like two pieces of wood hitting each other.

Ted: What the F...!

Frank: I have my longsword of painful blisters ready.

DM: What do you do?

Frank: I edge against the wall and take a glance out, left and right , real quick.

DM: In the glowing orange-tinted light of your sword you don't see anything, but as you pull your head back you hear the click again. It sounds very close.

Ted: We are screwed man! They're coming outta the walls!

Clarence: Shut-up Ted!

Mike: I take out my powder of Dis-invisability and prepare to use a dose of it.

DM: Are you going out in the hall?

Mike: I will jump out and send the powder to the left and right in the hall.

DM: Roll when you jump out.

Mike: An '18".

Frank: I'm ready to attack!

DM: The powder swirls from Mike's palm and spreads in a pink shower up to the ceiling and down to the floor flowing right and left like the edge of a rainstorm.

Frank: I jump out into the hall!

Clarence: I have my mace in hand and I'm right at the door.

Ted: I have my sling out and I'm back up against the wall opposite the door.

DM: The powder has settled across 30 feet of floor, fifteen feet to either side. Frank you see nothing.

Frank and Mike: What!

DM: Suddenly the clicking sound comes again as loud as if it was right in the room with you. All of you can see the small cricket near Frank's left foot.

Frank: You bastard!

DM: Are you still searching the room?

Comment - Searching a Room

If you ever read Knights of the Dinner Table you can find examples of play exactly like that, where the DM just hands them a list of what was in the room and the players transfer it to their character sheets.

I like the right kind of detail in my game and try to tailor such searches to my players' temperament for detail. If a character makes such a blanket statement I usually slow things down ask for details. How much time are they going to take searching, do they trust the the other players not to pocket a few shiny bits of treasure, are there traps, etc...

DM: "The wizard's apprentice inhabiting this room is dead and his homunculous familiar as well. What a mess."

Thief 1 (Ted): "I thoroughly search the room!"

DM: "Okay, it is a long room running south; about forty feet and twenty feet wide, but it looks like it might turn east at the end. Where do you start searching?"

Fighter 1 (Frank): "Not so fast thief-boy! I'm going with you. Last time you searched you palmed that ring of spices."

Cleric 1 (Clarence): "That's right! Keep an eye him Frank. I'm going to shut the door. Who needs healing?"

Mage 1 (Mike): "I do. That bastard used a Magic Missile on me!"

DM: "Just as a point of interest the bookcase against the wall is still smoldering from Mike's Burning Hands, but most of the flames were put out by all the blood after Frank chopped the wizard's head off. (Nice called shot there).

Mike: "The Bookcase! Healing can wait. I put out the burning books and search it!"

Ted: "Hey, I'm searching the room!"

Mike: "Not this bookcase you aren't!"

DM: "How are you putting the flames out. And where exactly are you guys searching?"

Ted: "Okay he can have the charred books. What does this place look like?"

DM: (Finally!) As I said when you opened the door, the wizard was sitting at a table, now knocked over with two of the legs broken. There were 3 chairs around it, now knocked over as well. A long bookcase is against the west wall behind him running about 15 feet. There is a sideboard against the north wall, with a strange picture above it and the door opened in the east wall. The room runs south another twenty or thirty feet with another bookcase at its end and three pieces of furniture and a desk on the east and west walls. There appears to be a gap at the end of the east wall where the room seems to run east. A cloak rack is near the door.

Ted: "Sheesh! What are you doin'; writing a novel?"

DM: "Hey, you want to thoroughly search the place. This is what you have to search."

Frank: "What's that picture look like?"

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wormy's World - Characters - Wes - 31

Wormy's World - Characters - Wes - 31


While playing a game of chess Butch and Wes are approached by a pair of giant red ogres (Otus and Rudy. Butch speaks up and almost gets smashed by Otus' ball and chain while Wes runs for the cave. When the Ogres come back Wes is all for letting things simmer down while they finish their game, but Butch kicks over the board and wants to find the Ogre's gold while Wes tries to catch the falling pieces of the game he was winning.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lost Library of Q'Sh - Tradesman's Entrance - Part 1

Lost Library of Q'Sh - Tradesman's Entrance

Part 1

The area around the Lost Library of Q'Sh is wilderness with the once nearby towns and villages long abandoned and swallowed by forest. The road to and from the library was once wide, well paved and maintained but the trees have claimed the once open track as they have claimed worked fields and town squares. Time and the elements and the gnawing roots of trees have not been kind to the works of man.

The library itself was made of sterner stuff, carved from a wide plateau of rock and descending untold depths into the earth, the work was at the hands of dwarven craftsmen, miners and masons; built as a repository of knowledge for the ages not just the life of a man or even a civilization.

If only those protecting the library had been as enduring as stone.

The Tradesman's Entrance -

The Forest

The area surrounding the Tradesman's entrance to the library is in a long narrow, heavily-wooded valley. The roadway that once marched evenly down the valley floor, raised above a fast flowing stream, has long since disappeared and the stream is now the only direct path to the wide southern gateway.

The valley forest is strangely empty of any large animal life except for a pair of giant-weasels that hunt by day and a patrol of kobolds who check their traps for small game by night.

If the players approach by day they may discover the tracks of a brown bear leading into the valley. A fresh trail can be found broken through the underbrush and in a small clearing near a recently uprooted tree is the scene of a desperate battle. A large brown bear lies dead atop the body of a giant-weasel. A second weasel is tangled amid the roots of the upturned tree. A small 1hp brown bear cub sits forlornly by its mother's body while the body of a dead cub is resting where the weasel dropped it; in the deep depression left by the roots of the tree.

The bear cub is very young and will bond with anyone feeding it. If abandoned the cub will attempt to follow the party. If cared for the cub could become a faithful animal companion, but keeping it alive as it is a 1HP AC9 creature could prove challenging.

The Stream

Once an icy-cold and fast flowing water that ran beside the raised roadway; the valley stream has become a slow and shallow flow of water skirting tumbled rocks as it leads toward the southern entrance of the library. To the west the valley wall rises higher as the water flows south ending in the pool at Area 1). before curving along the outer wall heading east and disappearing into a crevice and into the dungeons below.

Movement along the stream is not difficult but the bed is filled with loose stone and combat for anyone standing in the stream-bed is at -1 to hit.

The east forested bank of the stream is about ten-feet above the shallow water. During the spring storms flood waters will raise the stream from mere inches to a height that will easily overflow the ten-foot banks. The bank has been worn down in several places where kobolds have beaten down animal paths that reached the stream.

If the valley is entered at night there is a chance of encountering the kobold patrol or the group gathering small prey from their series of traps. (During the day it is possible to find the kobolds' traps which are simple wire snares).

A. Patrol

The kobold patrol consists of one sub-leader of 4hp AC5 (suit of homemade leather armor) armed with a barbed throwing spear dmg 1d4 (+ 1hp dmg to remove unless save under Dex is made) and a dagger he uses as a short sword dmg 1d4+1 (due to strength).

8 2hp AC7 kobolds armed with 1d4 damage stabbing spears.

The leader has a small belt pouch with a round gold sphere (if examined it will be revealed as the head of a small statue that radiates magic faintly).

The Trap Gatherers.

The trap gatherers consist of 12 kobolds that will split off into six groups of two. One kobold will be 2hp AC7 the other 1hp. The 2hp kobold has a stabbing spear 1d4 dmg and the other kobold is unarmed and will run away if attacked (or if any strangers are encountered). If forced to fight the 1hp kobolds can only inflict 1hp dmg.

Raising the Alarm

Both the Patrol and the Trap Gathers will try to race back to their warrens (1a-1e) and raise the alarm about intruders rather than to stay and fight. If a single adventurer is encountered the Patrol leader might try to swarm them but will still send one member of his patrol back to the warrens. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lone Wolf - A Solitary Journey - Book 2 - Fire on the Water

Lone Wolf - A Solitary Journey 

Book 2 - Fire on the Water

After surviving Book 1 - Flight from the Dark with 2 character deaths I managed to rack up 3 more before rolling to a glorious finish with Lone Wolf the 6th. My natural inclinations are not a good survival choice I find and there are a number of ways to walk into a situation your stats can't pull you out of (either through combat with a monster way above your paygrade or just instant death).

These books are great for replay value. I have about exhausted Book 1 after three runs through it. While you learn to avoid certain of the instant death trails as you follow one numbered paragraph to another part of surviving the game involves knowing which Kai Abilities to choose. I neglected healing with my first character in book one and found that to be a terrible blunder.  Part of survival depends on your Combat Skill and Endurance, but CS is the most important of the two. My characters with 12 and 13 CS just couldn't cut it and died in combat encounters a higher stat'd character would have walked away from. All part of the game and really, the risk of character death enriches the experience.

Fire on the Water and Flight from the Dark are both quest adventures and a great deal of the charm of the books comes from the interesting glimpses, brought to life with Gary Chalk's fantastic illustrations,  of the game setting as you make your way through,  The books are a quiet bit of fun broken by an occasional bout of swearing and a cheer when you overcome an opponent.

There is a bit more of the random rolling in Fire on the Water, at least more that I encountered than had been in Book 1, and it was a welcome addition to the straightforward solo game system. There is some replay value but the book can only cover so many possibilities. It cries out to be turned into an RPG and a series of adventures based on the solo books.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lone Wolf - A Solitary Journey - Book 1 - Flight from the Dark

Lone Wolf - A Solitary Journey

Book 1 - Flight from the Dark

I was going through an old box of books when I unearthed my Lone Wolf collection. It has been years since I last ran through them and wondered how they would hold up. Fantastic!

Flight in the Dark is engaging and fun (and deadly). I think, for anyone not yet experienced in these choose a path paragraph solitaire books, that it is a like or meh experience. Lone Wolf is the top of the food chain, but the position is shared by the Fighting Fantasy series and perhaps the Middle-Earth paragraph books but I have no experience with those. Outside of books both TFT's Melee and Wizard had a good solo paragraph booklet as did Tunnels & Trolls. All very similar to each other, though TFT, Fighting Fantasy and T&T were also role-playing games and now Lone Wolf too, at least as I understand it. But as I say a new player may find they enjoy the quick low-key adventure and rather simple combat in Lone Wolf or Fighting Fantasy or they may just say meh an set them aside.

I enjoyed Lone Wolf in the past and it has stood up to the unforgiving tide of years very well. It is a quick adventure with limited choices and instantly fatal consequences in some situations. Took me 3 characters to make it through and I'd played this umpteen times in the past. If you keep playing you will win eventually so the best thing is to Iron Man through it. Take the bad rolls from the start and just see what you can do.

You only have 2 attributes, Combat Skill and Endurance (Hit Points). You roll a d10 and high numbers are good, so naturally I rolled a 3 for Combat Skill. You add 10 to this number so I had a 13. The combat system is simple but you do need to roll on a ratio chart to see about damage. Low number rolls on the d10 bad, high numbers good.   Endurance works the same way, roll a d10 but add 20 this time. These are your HP. It is a nice smooth simple as a brick system, but it is combat in the very abstract and it comes to just rolling dice. Monsters either group to act as a single bigger monster, for example a Giak, which is kind of a Lone Wolf Goblin might have a CS of 10 and Endurance of 10 but two of them might fight as a single enemy with a CS of 13 and Endurance of 15. Or they might form a conga line of death where the very gentlemanly fight you one at a time.

Then there is the ability system. Your character chooses 5 of the available abilities. Each can come into use during the game, some are helpful and some are lifesavers and some will never get used depending on the path you choose. I advise choosing Healing as one of the five. No matter what path you choose it will come in either handy or as a life saver. The combat system usually involves both sides taking wounds so even if the character wins combat they will usually have some scratches. As much as I'd advise taking Healing I advise against taking the weapon skill ability. It sounds good but you roll for which weapon you are skilled at and only have a one in ten chance of it being your starting weapon (the axe) and the chances of finding whatever randomly rolled weapon you are skilled in are really too much of a chance when you will definitely need some of the other abilities listed.

The Lone Wolf series calls out to be expanded into an RPG (which I believe it already has been) but I'm thinking more along the lines of AD&D, both as a setting and a way to spice up the old paragraph books. In any case an entertaining quick adventure book and worth giving a replay once enough time has passed to have forgotten which path leads to success and which leads to an agonizing death. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wormy's World - Characters - Rudy - 31

Wormy's World - Characters - Rudy - 31


Chasing after their stolen gold Rudy and Otis come upon the Minotaur Butch and the Cave Bear Wes who are playing chess. While Otis asks the questions Rudy lets slip that the gold that was stolen was Giants' gold earning a sudden Hronk across the face from Otis. When Rudy hears from Butch about what the dwarves were singing he realizes it must be Wormy they are talking about and he and Otis are off.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Wormy's World - Characters - Otis - 31

Wormy's World - Characters - Otis - 31


Otis and Rudy are out in search of dwarves who they think stole their gold (not realizing it was Wormy who took advantage of a little dwarf distraction). Rudy lets slip a little too much about where their ill-gotten gold has come from and Otis gives him a swat in the face. Still in a foul mood Otis is about to swack Butch the Minotaur with his ball and chain after he hears that the rockeaters passed that way four hours ago, but he relents when Butch hurriedly tells him that the dwarves were singing about a Dragon and not Ogres. Even Rudy knows they must be talking about Wormy and the pair make haste to the dragon's lair.

Inspiring Illustrations - Fantasy - 27) UnderOerth map location C-19 - South-West Tunnel

27) Underoerth map location C-19 - South-West Tunnel

Heading west the tunnel branches into three before entering this location.  

The south-west tunnel is of double the normal width and heads downward. Signs of recent travel as well as maintenance are visible.

A dwarf might recognize the work of supporting columns as well as the drainage and ventilation shafts being of dwarvish work. A successful search for secret doors 10 yards down the south-west passage will reveal a locked hidden doorway. The lock is also of fine workmanship and is at -10% to pick for non-dwarves.  The room inside is 20feet from the door to the back wall and 40feet long following the south-west tunnel. The wall separating the room from the tunnel is an even foot-and-a-half thick.

Inside the room, whose ceiling is only 6feet, are a half-a-dozen bunks of dwarven size showing recent occupation. Chests at the foot of each bunk contain only blankets for the bunks, but each has a false bottom. Inside each hidden compartment are 1d6 healing potions, a week's worth of iron rations, a one gallon water canteen, a +2 dagger that is of dwarven workmanship but like drowic weaponry will disenchant and crumble if exposed to sunlight or taken to the upper world for more than a month.

A cloak and weapon rack is against one wall, but everything is sized for dwarves. Two of the half dozen picks in the weapon rack are enchanted and allow the wielder to tunnel through 20feet of rock as if it were stone once a day if the rune of activation, engraved on pock-head, is touched and the activation word, "spelunker", and "gravy" is spoken in the dialect of 'Deep Dwarven'.  There are also various shovels, hammer, chisels, coils of rope and masonry tools contained in the rack. There are 3 cloaks, dwarven sized, that give +2 armor class if the wearer is beneath the earth and near stone.  

The door can be secured on the inside with an iron crossbar and there are two hidden holes at dwarven eye-level for looking out into the passage.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Trampier in the PHB

Trampier in the PHB

I am not the best at distinguishing artists' work, even Sutherland and Trampier, who are, as I understand it, the two artists whose work appears in the PHB. Here is a list of the artwork and pages number they can be found on, but few seem to have a signature or initials which may have been trimmed off before publication or never appeared in the first place.

I found 34 interior illustrations and made some guesses even where the attribution seems fairly obvious (and added some descriptive titles to the artwork for identification).

AD&D PHB Interior Artwork

Pg#1 - Trampier? (Sitting on a D6)
Pg#10 - Sutherland (initialed) (Advanced and Remedial Magic)
Pg#11 - Sutherland (initialed) (Banana Peel)
Pg#12 - Trampier? (Praying for the Dead)
Pg#13 - Sutherland (initialed) (Snake-Fighters)
Pg#14 - Trampier (signed) (Run Away!)
Pg#15 - Trampier (initialed)? (Working in a Coal Mine)
Pg#18 - Sutherland (initaled) (What, No Halflings?)
Pg#23 - Sutherland (signed) (Paladin in Hell)
Pg#27 - Trampier? (No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem)
Pg#42 - Sutherland (initialed) (Late Night Reading)
Pg#43 - Sutherland (initialed) (Multi-Denominational)
Pg#47 - Sutherland (initialed) (Detect Treasure)
Pg#56 - Trampier? (Fire Trap)
Pg#57 - Trampier? (Warp Wood)
Pg#65 - Trampier? (Dancing Lights)
Pg#68 - Sutherland (initialed) (Shield - or Imp On-Board)
Pg#69 - Trampier? (Write)
Pg#71 - Sutherland (initialed) (Mirror Image)
Pg#81 - Trampier? (Leomund's Secret Chest or Damn This Child-Proof Lock)
Pg#83 - Trampier? (Enchant an Item)
Pg#90 - Sutherland (initialed) (Otto's Irresistible Dance - Umber Hulk)
Pg#92 - Trampier? (Gate - Horned Demon)
Pg#93 - Trampier? (Shape Change - Frog Attack)
Pg#97 - Sutherland (initialed) (Massmorph)
Pg#98 - Trampier? (Demo-Shadow Monster)
Pg#101 - Trampier? (Cheers)
Pg#102 - Trampier (initialed)? (Troll on a String)
Pg#107 - Trampier? (Poison Dagger)
Pg#108 -? (The Magic Mouth and the Little People)
Pg#109 - Trampier? (End of the Adventure)
Pg#117 - Trampier? (Just One Guitar)
Pg#120 - Trampier? (Astral Combat)

Pg#122 - Sutherland? (Splitting the Loot)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Inspiring Illustrations - Fantasy - #26 - The Guardsmen of Ptolemides

26) The Guardsmen of Ptolemides

The lost and ancient city of Ptolemides sits on the coast of an ocean that has no name beneath strange stars which sing eerily in the darkness for those who have the fate to hear them. Long ago, it is said, the Hellenic fleet that came upon this land, discovered a vast ruined city on whose foundation they built temples and homes, but others say that Ptolemides has always been as it is now, taken complete to the last stone from their homeland, but all agree that the shifting skies and mist shrouded land, the cold waters of the ocean, are not and will never be 'home'.

Those who guard the gates and walls of the city, those who walk the streets or stand against the peoples and creatures which approach the environs of Ptolemides bear the arms and armor of the Hellenes from long ago, but over the years, how many is not known as time flows strangely in the land around Ptolemides, they have become a mixed group of Hellene and wanderer, conquered or barbarian outsiders.

The traditional arms of Ptolemides guardians is a full helm with cheek and noseguard; a breastplate of steel and shield of embossed wood and leather with a bronze edge. An armored skirt is worn and greaves that protect from ankle to knee. The ancient short-spear suitable for thrusting or throwing and a short-sword are the normal armaments for a Ptolemides guardsman. Some short-bows are still in use but the crossbow was introduced to the city in past years and the guardsmen took to its use immediately, both light and heavy cross bows are used,.

The basic patrol group is a 'Hand' of five guardsmen. One experienced guard in charge with one veteran and a mix of three green recruits or city reserves. The green recruits gain experience in the city and once they become veterans join the patrols that march or ride outside the walls if needed. Reserve guardsmen serve for several weeks a year as their work permits but a good excuse is needed if they don't answer a summons to duty.

Green recruits are chosen at the age of 16 (men and women) and may serve as guardsmen all their useful lives. Those who are trained as reserves also begin their training and selection at age 16 but are generally not called upon past the age 40. Both male and female Hellenes serve in the guard and are trained as reserves.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Which Goblin do you prefer?

As I was scanning through ebay I came across an auction for the Pathfinder Goblin Miniatures and I was struck by their resemblance to the evil Gremlins from the unfortunate movie of the same name. While I only use 1e AD&D with decades of houserules I do scavenge through any module, supplement or setting that I can find for ideas as well as maps and illustrations. Illustrations are worth more than modules for me because I can come up with adventures for myself but I can't draw worth a damn. I've always appreciated Paizo products for their illustration (and map) rich products.

Seeing their take on Goblins I loved the illustrations but not as Goblins. For me Trampier set Goblins in my mind as small but sturdy creatures, cunning, tenacious and given to using armor and weapons. The Pathfinder Goblins seem more like vicious caricatures of a traditional Goblin. Since I enjoyed the illustrations of the many and varied Paizo Goblins I've liberated for my own campaign as a parasitic Goblin-like race called the Manok or in Common the Manic. They are 1/2HD creatures but many gain levels as fighters, thieves and shaman.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Whose head is whose?

I thought these were various TSR staff, but I'm not sure anymore.