Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gaming with Kids: Sir Kevin and the Daring Rescue

Continued from Part I

Sir Kevin was able to convince the mushroom men that he was not hostile through gestures, hopping around, and making funny noises. The mushroom men surrounded him and herded him down a corridor. Soon he was in the throne room of the queen of the mushroom people. He was surprised to see that the queen was a teenage girl named Ariel. She explained to him that she had fallen into a hole when she was a young girl and the mushroom men had raised her. As she got older they learned to trust her judgment and made her their queen. Sir Kevin explained his quest to rescue the unicorn and Queen Ariel ordered the mushroom men to escort him back to the surface.

Once back above ground Sir Kevin set out in the direction of the Goblin's shack. As he made his way through the forest he saw what looked like a beehive dangling from a tree. Since there had been nothing to eat in the caves other than rats Sir Kevin decided he wanted some honey. He used his sword to knock down the hive. Little flying men came swarming out. Sir Kevin tried to swat them away but they were too small, their poisoned arrows easily slipped through the cracks in his armor and numbed him. Paralyzed, Sir Kevin was at their mercy.

One of the flying men explained that they were pixies and that Sir Kevin had destroyed their palace. Sir Kevin apologized and offered to hang their nest back up. He explained that he was trying to free a unicorn and needed something to eat. The pixies accepted his offer to help and insisted on helping him free the unicorn.

After the nest was back in the tree Sir Kevin and the pixies snuck up on the Goblin's Shack. Sir Kevin told the pixies to draw the goblins out of the shack while he rescued the unicorn (not bad for a 7 year old). The plan worked without any problems and the unicorn took off into the forest.

Stonehell: Halfway

I am halfway through reading Michael Curtis's Stonehell and it has ruined me. I have always hated reading dungeon adventures, and now I will hate them twice as much. Nothing irritates me more than having to flip back and forth between the map and the entries. It makes it very hard for me to enjoy reading map heavy modules, even campaign settings. I keep getting yanked out of the flow by having to flip back. It will be even more irritating going forward, because I now know that IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!

If he has done nothing else with this book, and trust me he has done other stuff, Mr. Curtis has set a new standard for how dungeon adventures should be presented. Each chapter starts with a map of a whole level of the dungeon. There is also a brief discussion of the level and a list of all the monsters, with stats, on the level. This is followed by four sections, each detailing 1/4 of the level. Each of these sections starts with a more detailed description of that quarter and then discusses anything that requires extra description like stat blocks, traps, special rooms etc. The next two pages consist of a half page map of the quarter with a wandering monster table and the keyed entries for all the rooms. That's right you can always glance over at the map while you read the entries.

I have to admit that the quarters seem a little bit artificial at this point and they seem unnecessarily walled off from each other at this point. I am sure that will improve as the format gets used more. There is no reason that it has to be this way, I am sure a more organic feel will develop over time.
I'll have more to say about the content of Stonehell when I finish. For now, the presentation is awesome.

Knockspell Issue #3

Finally back at it after exams and a nasty sneak attack by pneumonia.

Alright, Knockspell #3 is a great issue. Let's start at the start!

From Kuroth's Quill: First, I appreciate the bibliography. This is one of the most academically written old school articles I have seen yet. It is an interesting classification system for dimensional gates. Usually, when I run fantasy, I am very much a "keep the magic parts magic" kind of guy. I don't like to get into how magic works, I like it to be a mystery. When I run sci-fi I tend towards hard sci-fi so I go the other way with fantasy. That said, it is far easier to construct interesting puzzles when there is a basis for how everything works. I am talking about puzzles that challenge the players' creativity here, not just the match the color kind from video games. As usual I found myself coming up with some ideas as I read grodog's article.

Pulp Heroes and the Colors of Magic: Akrasia has written one of my top 5 favorite RPG articles ever here. It has given me a reason to use a whole rule set. I have struggled with Swords & Wizardry, it is rules light and easy to mod. But what would I use it for? My friends and I grew up with the Mentzer sets, I am going to go with Labyrinth Lord if it is nostalgia I am looking for. That would be my go to rule set if I wanted to concentrate on kingdom building too. The later sets just make it so easy to do with those rules. My next campaign will be a dungeon/hex crawl. I am going to use OSRIC because I can start out simple and gradually add complexity over time to keep the combat interesting. OSRIC is really strong here, it would be very easy to one piece at a time turn it into Hackmaster Basic when it comes to combat if that is what my players want. But what to do with S&W?

I'll be honest, I have never thought that D&D really supported pulp style adventures all that well. It has some pulpy, gonzo feel to it, but it has always been way too high magic to convey anything like Conan. And just taking out classes doesn't really help because you just wind up resting and dying all the time. But the rules in this article will make S&W my go to system for a Conan style game. It has the love side of my love/hate relationship with Iron Heroes. The revisions to damage and especially the revisions to the spell system are great. These three and a half pages are worth the price of the magazine alone.

The Font of Glee: This is a fanciful adventure, I like seeing these lighter hearted adventures. It is a nice break from the usual doom and gloom, evil wizard affairs. The chance to play factions off against one another gives it a level of complexity not usually seen in lighter games.

The City of Vultures is an interesting city by the always imaginative Gabor Lux. Interestingly I was reading this at the same time I was reading the Fritz Leiber story where the birds are stealing all the jewelry in town. Make sure you read the entry on page 32 for The Society for Optimalised Objectivism.

The Labyrinth Tomb: it is what the title says, a hack and slash dungeon crawl. There are some cool little puzzles in here though.

The Tower of Mouths: I like this dungeon because there is plenty of room to customize it. The poison gas adds an interesting dynamic to the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hello Readers

I have not forgotten you. I am just in the midsts of my final exam period. I actually wrote several posts over Thanksgiving that I have not put up yet. I intended to just have to edit them and put them up during exams. Sadly I got pneumonia the day before exams started and have been playing catch up ever since. The end is near though, it is all over Friday.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gamist v. Simulationist

I want to start this post by saying that the first blog I scroll to in Reader every day is Grognardia. I find James' posts to be very insightful and well thought out when it comes to designing and running your game. The main reason I enjoy his blog so much is that we have completely opposite styles. His profile even states his interest in philosophy. I, on the other hand, am an engineer working on becoming a patent attorney. I like to think that I am a pretty good DM. I have brought quite a few new people into the hobby over the years and I haven't had a lot of complaints. I personally find James' work in Fight On!, Thousand Suns and other places to be excellent. He comes to a lot of the same conclusions as me, and produces stuff I like, but his way of getting there fascinates me. It is totally opposite of the way I do things.

An illustration. In a recent post he discusses keys in dungeons. He feels that every lock in a dungeon should have a key hidden somewhere. He talks about how he thinks of dungeons as puzzles. When I first read this my mind protested. People walk off with keys all the time. That is why we have keys and locks! So you can protect something while you are not there. People are often inside a locked area, with the only key in their possession. To me, the assertion that you should always have a key on the unprotected side of the door that can be used, Zelda style, to break in is silly.

But, he has a valid point. There should be some way to get through those doors. When you put a door in a dungeon you have not only put an obstacle in the players' path, you have given them a challenge. Sometimes I might have the key where they can find it. It is far more likely that I will put the door there, have it locked, and react to what the players do to get through or around it.

As an engineer, worse a perimeter security engineer, I know that doors are not denial devices they are delay devices. They force an intruder to make noise that is followed by time before they can fully breach the portal. This allows security to react before they can get in. There is always a way through a locked door. It is just a matter of time, effort and noise. You can get through most real life doors in a few D&D turns at the longest. But in real life, this is more than enough time for security to react. A locked door does not force a party to have a thief, it forces them to be creative. It also forces the DM to know enough about the physics of breaking through a door if he is not going to provide a key.

I am not trying to say that James' dungeon as game/puzzle philosophy is wrong here. Ultimately our conclusions can be expressed in the same broad statement: there needs to be a way through that door, and it is your duty to provide it. My strength as a DM lies in my ability to construct a world that players can effect in a physical way they are familiar with. I feel this really helps me when I have to improvise and make stuff up on the fly. I know why my dungeon was built and how all the creatures whithin interact. I can quickly calculate how the players' actions at one end of the dungeon will effect the other.

My DMing style will never produce James' Crystal Hemisphere from Fight On! Issue 4 though. When I get my review of that issue up you will see that I love that dungeon.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hex Crawls

Those of you who have been reading this blog know that I have never run a megadungeon before. I have always used more realistic dungeon settings, keeping all underground areas to a minimum and keeping the over all size of castles and the like fairly small. There is another style of gaming I have never indulged in: the hex crawl.

I have never seen hexes as discrete chunks of the map. I always just used them as a guide to find distance if they were present and not worrying about themif they were not. I have always taken a more continuous view of overland maps. This is another streak that will be ending with my upcoming OSRIC game. I will be using James M's Outdoor Map as a starting pont in my campaign. I will be heavily modifying it for my purposes but most of the features will stay the same. I will be adding my own versions of Castles Blackmoor and Greyhawk to the map.

I have been struggling with how a hex crawl works. How do I know if they find features in the hex and isn't 5 miles a bit large? It turns out that I am not the only one wondering about this. Chgowiz has an interesting post on the subject.

The only real hex crawl experience I have is playing Tolkein Quest gamebooks. You read numbered entries based on the hex you entered

Monday, November 30, 2009

Coup de Gace

In a Dungeon Magazine editorial from last year Chris Youngs talks about how Chris Perkins loves to use the coup de grace. He also talks about how it makes the enemies more memorable and satisfying to defeat. I couldn't agree more.

In D&D, regardless of the edition, death is the threat that gives the game meaning. The threat of your character dying is what makes the game fun to play, it is the other side of the risk/reward balance. D&D is not Burning Wheel or WoD, the players do not assign soft goals that have mechanical meaning to their characters. The goals of D&D are to find monsters and make their stuff your stuff. Though in recent editions the scope of the goal has been narrowed to killing monsters and making their stuff your stuff. Either way the reward is for putting yourself in physical danger and surviving. If you are never in actual physical danger the reward is meaningless.

I often have the monsters stop to kill a KO'd character. Do the players get mad? Yes. Do they really hate that guy and go after him with a vengence? Hell yes.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gaming with Kids: My Nephew's First Quest

On Thanksgiving my nephew, 7, brought Risk with him so I could teach him to play. As expected it started out fun but eventually devolved into mindless dice rolling as giant armies clashed in lopsided conflicts. By halfway through the outcome was obvious and he was getting bored. He insisted on playing on to the bitter end, but was ready for adventure.

In the past I have played Descent with my nephew and during our vacation this summer we played through The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game. This is an introductory RPG that follows the plot of the Fellowship of the Rings through three battle scenarios. We completed it and he even explored deeper into Moria. I did not have Descent with me and since playing another made up adventure in Moria would basically be playing D&D, I drug out the D&D 3.0 starter box. Sir Kevin was born!

Sir Kevin was hot on the trail of some unicorn stealing goblins when he came across their cottage outside of town. He crept up to the splintered wood door and pressed against it to listen. He could hear the sound of goblins talking inside. Kevin stepped back and charged the door, intending to break it down with his shoulder. He bounced off and was knocked off his feet into the black mud.

As Kevin struggled to his feet, rubbing his shoulder in pain, the goblins pored out of the house. He took off running with the goblins in hot pursuit. As the goblins gained on him, spears clattering of the path, Sir Kevin saw an abandoned farmhouse with a well ahead. Putting on a final burst of speed he dove head first into the well.

Kevin knifed into the cold, dark water far below. He started to struggle, his heavy armor was pulling him down! As Sir Kevin sank to the bottom he saw an opening off to one side with a strange glow. He pulled himself into it. After pulling himself up the side passage he found the water was not deep here and stood up into a strange chamber.

The walls were rough hewn rock and firelight sparkled off crystal shards in the ceiling. There was a small campfire off to one side and an old man was cooking a rat. Kevin called out to the old man. A brief discussion revealed that the old man had fallen into the well over 20 years ago and had been surviving on rate ever since, he could not find his way out of the maze like cave. Politely declining the offered rat, Kevin set out into the cave with only his sword and a torch.

As Sir Kevin ventured deeper into the cave, he became sure that something was following him. He could barely see some glowing eyes just out of range of his torch. Before long the cave opened into a large chamber, there was a fountain with a statue of a mermaid grasping a spear. Kevin carefully approached the statue and slid the spear from its hand. Suddenly the eyes were closing in on him, there were hundreds of them.

A strange figure stepped into his torchlight. A mushroom with legs, eyes, arms, and a mouth. It lowered its spear at him and said "Glarspink!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Reading

Looks like I have a pretty good pile of stuff to read through this weekend.

Fight On! Issue 5
Fight On! Issue 6
Knockspell Issue 3
Hackmaster Players
Hackmaster GM
(I found the two Hackmaster books in a used book store for $15. They look like they have never even been opened)

I will probably cheat and read Knockspell first because I am excited about it. I hope to get my Fight On! Issue 4 review up, one for the Knockspell issue and maybe, if I am lucky, get caught up with Fight On!

I am currently working on an inn to use as a home base in my OSRIC game that starts in January. If I get that finished I will get it up. Then I will work on setting some of the elements I want in the Outdoor Map

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I pre-ordered The Dungeon Alphabet and ordered Stonehell today. These are both from an author, Michael Curtis, whose work I have enjoyed online and in magazines. I also ordered WHFRP 3rd edition today too. I think Stonehell will show up first and I can't wait to see it. Since I will be running my first megadungeon soon I hope it will be helpful.

Fight On! Issue 3

I am going to preface my review by saying that this issue was not as appealing to me as the first two. My main problem with it was that much of the content is specific to old Judges Guild stuff. It is well written and much of it I could still use in some ways, but I kind of feel like I am missing something when I read it. I realize that this magazine is aimed at the OSR and I am somewhat outside that target group. My review will be coming from that viewpoint. Frankly, I think that Knockspell and Fight On! are the two best gaming magazines out there right now, even if you are not in the OSR.

I no longer go through the issues article by article in my reviews, although I do read the magazines from cover to cover. I think you can get an idea of what the overall feel for these magazines is from my other reviews. I will just hit on the articles that really stood out for me.

The Wild North by Rob Conley. I point this one out because I enjoy Rob's work. I have both of his Points of Light books and read his blog. This is a well written hex key with some interesting entries. The problem is that it is an add on to the Wilderlands setting, and I don't know anything about it. You don't need to know anything about Wilderlands to appreciate the article, but I feel like a lot of it is lost without being able to put it in perspective.

Khas Fara by Jason Morningstar is a neat little adventure and breaks the usual dungeon crawl mold for these magazines. There isn't even an interior map and it is very character driven. This could be a fun one to just throw into a hex on my world map.

County of Haghill and Environs by James Mishler is another Wilderlands addition. This one works better for the uninitiated though. There are some cool NPCs, a neat fort and a kickass picture on pg 33. This one just feels more self contained than Rob's.

Tables for Fables is good in this issue it covers NPC parties met in a dungeon. I am fond of having my players come across rival/ally groups of adventurers.

Spawning Ground of the Crab Men is the next level in the Fight On! megadungeon, The Darkness Beneath. It is a neat level with two factions for the players to play off each other. There is also intrigue within one of the factions that can be exploited. The crab men are also really creepy.

The columns on Bob Bledsaw were cool since I knew nothing about him. I would have liked an "Introduction to the Wilderlands" piece though.

There are some demons for Empire of the Petal Throne. I know nothing about this setting and it is not really useful to me.

Gabor Lux is as productive as ever in this issue.

There is a level of Hell expansion to an old Judges Guild product. i don't really have a frame of reference to put it in.

The next two parts of the Wilderness Architect are cool, it is always interesting to see the ways that other GMs build their worlds.

I had no interest in the fiction. Sorry, I always skipped these in Dragon. It was a good story, just not what I am looking for in a gaming magazine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Plastic Imitation of the Amulet of Yendor

Most evil thing in a game ever. If you know what I am talking about, then you know.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mutant Future Game 1: Postponed

Didn't get a chance to play Mutant Future. This will actually give me a chance to flesh stuff out more and get a few more people together for the first game. I did wind up getting a chance to make a map and key I am pretty happy with for the battleship New Jersey.

I also got a chance to develop some things that we be ongoing threads in the campaign. The first is the Multipass. The Multipass will be a combination EZPass, PATCO Freedom Card (public rail system), and admission pass. The idea is that the pass gets you through just about any gate you might have to pay to pass through. At some time in the distant past the country was basically run by corporations and Multipass basically had a monopoly on the pay portal business. They also installed killer robots for people who jump the turnstyle. There is the added benefit that few geeks can resist the word "Multipass".

I also decided that the currency for my world will be Skee Ball Tokens.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mutant Future Game 1: Prep

I am preparing to start my Mutant Future game on Saturday. The game will be set in and around the City of Camden in NJ. The game will be starting with 1 player. This works out well, he is the guy I started gaming with. It will be easy to test out the new system in that setting.

While the campaign itself will be a sandbox, I find it is best to start things off with a bang. I am going to use Grodog's suggestion and have the battleship New Jersey be in the hands of pirates. The player will start as a prisoner in the brig of the ship. I will leave the rest of the evening up to him. He can try to escape, join the crew, take over, or whatever else he can come up with. This means for the first session I will need a map of the ship, some NPC's, and a land area for him to escape to if he manages to get free.

I am struggling with the map, but I found some game stats (Robotech) for the ship here.

I am going to use Jeff Rient's Slimy Lake map from Fight On! Issue 6 for now if he gets ashore.

I can grab Kordon, Queen of the River Pirates to use as the captain.

I can throw in some of the Savage After Worlds encounters if he gets ashore

I am not usually this lazy, but I like to use the resources available if I can. Plus, I want to concentrate on getting the rules right for now. If it goes well I can put in the time to flesh things out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting Started

I am going to talk a bit about what I think is missing for people starting out in the hobby. To set things up I am going talk about how I got started in the hobby.

I first learned about RPGs through gamebooks. Gamebooks were like Choose your Own Adventure books with a conflict resolution mechanic. The first one I had was a Car Wars gamebook purchased at the school book fair. At 10 years old I was a Tolkein nut and it didn't take me long to learn that there were Tolkein Quest gamebooks. I grabbed the two availabe (they have a sordid publishing history) at the time and was hooked at once.

I have learned in the years since that these are considered by many to be two of the best gamebooks ever made. They had a full color hex map for overworld exploration and there were entries in the book keyed to the map. When you entered a hex you flipped to the entry for the hex and from there choices might lead you to another numbered section of the book. Underground sections were entered this way.

The books had a combat system of their own but they also had stats for something called MERP. What the heck is MERP? My friends and I started to ask around about it and found out that it wasn't available anywhere near us, but we were told it was just like a game called Dungeons and Dragons. We wanted that.

Sadly it was 1988 and D&D was forbidden by our parents. The level of penetration that the smear campaign against D&D had is amazing. My family is not even religious and they managed to scare my parents.

My friends and I managed to figure out that D&D was like gamebooks but with just the rules, you made up your own adventure to go on. We did the next best thing to getting D&D, we made our own game by taking rules out of gamebooks. We played this for several months before our parents decided that D&D was like Tolkein (safe) and we were allowed to play it. Enter the Red Box.

The smartest thing done in the Red Box was to make the instructional section like a gamebook. We picked it up right away without any trouble. We were literally playing by the end of computer class.

Now I will turn to the topic of how to introduce new players to RPGs today. It seems to me that there are two main geek kid markets at this point: computer games and Japanese manga/anime. Probably the best chance to grab these kids is through the manga section in Barnes and Noble and World of Warcraft.

I think that Fantasy Flight Games is on the right path for grabbing the WoW kids. They make pseudo-RPG board games that have mechanics very similar to a MMO. Descent and the WoW board game are great bridges to RPGs. Their upcoming Warhammer RPG also looks to be a great bridge game. I think that in the early '90s HeroQuest played this role, although in that case it was bridging the gap between traditional board games and RPGs.

I think that one way to grab the manga kids would be through gamebooks. These would have to be gamebooks laid out in the manga format, involving known manga properties, that are illustrated and sold right on the same shelf in B&N as the manga books. I think it would be great if these gamebooks were tied to things like the WoW manga or another property that already has a large draw to kids disposed to gaming.

The key is that today's kids are not going to be interested in a gamebook where you pretend to be Conan or John Carter. They don't want a board game where you take a barbarian and a Middle Earth elf and raid a dungeon with them. That is not their fantasy, that is their dad's fantasy. These products have to be designed to draw on the modern pulp fiction aesthetic not one from the first half of the 20th century.

I still think that a gamebook like product is the best way to explain the hobby and get people into it. I would love to see a Swords & Wizardry introductory gamebook, or a line for Labyrinth Lord. I would love to see an eastern animation style S&W gamebook even more. To kid young people you need to have something that looks familiar and put it on the shelf next to the books that they are already buying. I think the dream of some magic, modern, basic set in a box is for yesterdays market.

Fight On! Issue 2

I am not going to step through every article on this one, just call out the ones that stood out for me.

Patrick Farley's Penguin character race reminded me of the old Dragon Magazine races and classes that sometimes just cam out of nowhere. It is wacky but seems like it could work. I am thinking about throwing them in as NPCs and seeing how it goes over. If it flops we can just not come back to it.

The Darkness Beneath is going to be Fight On!'s community megadungeon. I will probably not use any specific levels from it, but as I am starting work on my first megadungeon it is cool to see what they did.

Shields shall be splintered offers an optional rule system for shield where they can be used to basically cancel a hit. I like this a lot and it is likely to be the first rule I add to my OSRIC campaign after the first session or so if my players want more detailed combat.

The Entourage Approach by David Bowman adds depth to the henchman system. He creates a head henchman that becomes the primary character in the event of death. I love this idea. One of the main dangers with old school gaming is that it is... dangerous. As a whole I see this as a plus, but it can lead to players feeling disconnected from the action if they have a few bad sessions. I will be implementing The Entourage System from the start in my OSRIC campaign. This is just a plain cool idea.

James Raggi gives us a really cool random inn generator that is packed with great stuff. As I have said before, these "idea" articles are my favorite. The whole time I was reading this I was thinking, "I could do this... and this... and this." You can use the table here to make a really dynamic feeling inn as your players' base. This one is going right into the game too.

James M.'s Outdoor Map is one of the prime contenders for the backbone of my OSRIC game. The other contenders are all from Rob Conley's Points of Light books, Rob also drew the map for this one. Usually I would make my own setting up, but law school could put me in a position where I can't keep up so I am going to go with help where I can get it. One of the main advantages to this map over the others is that some of the areas get developed on Grognardia so I have an additional source of inspiration in a bind.

Victor Raymond's Wilderness Architect article is a good read. I have never really done things that way, but it is interesting to see how he works.

The articles on Dave Arneson are fun, and of use to me since I plan on slipping Castle Blackmoor into my game.

A couple of issues:

This becomes more of a problem in later issues (I'll get to them), but Fight On! runs a lot of stuff specific to some really old campaign settings. In this issue it is Empire of the Petal Throne. While this is cool to an extent, it can be a bit much. I don't know enough about Empire of the Petal Throne to really follow those adventures. There are some later issues with a lot of old campaign specific stuff in them. I am torn on these, on one hand it is cool. On the other, it can make large parts of the magazine hard to follow.

That said, I am not really part of the Old School movement. I may not be their target audience. I enjoy that style of play, but I also enjoy White Wolf, GURPS, 4th edition, and other games.

One thing that Knockspell is doing much better: At the end of each article Knockspell gives you a little blurb about the authors, including their websites. Both of these magazines are community magazines, this aids in that feeling.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Knockspell Issue 2

Issue 2 continues the strong run for Knockspell. It opens with another good From Kuroth's Quill. This entry in the series deals with dungeon dressing and gives some cool things that can be done with doors. As I have said before these idea articles are the kind I get the mist use out of. I often times find myself putting down the magazine when reading an article like this and spending 20 minutes just thinking about the possibilities.

The next article is Dungeon as Mystical Underworld. This is a good read and deals with dungeons in a way that I never have in my games. My dungeons have always been small and geared towards realistic layouts.

The next section presents some views and class definitions for thieves. I know there is a lot of debate about thieves but I have no dog in that hunt. It was interesting, I may try my OSRIC campaign without them just to see what happens.

Next up is another setting description by the insanely prolific Gabor Lux. You will understand what I mean if you also read Fight On! Seriously, this guy is a bottomless pit of good locations.

This is followed by a series of articles with the retro-clone articles. I was especially happy to see the one with Dan Proctor. I think Labyrinth Lord is the most well written of the retro-clones and could function the best for people who had never encountered the original source material. I also appreciate that it does not have the adversarial tone that Swords and Wizardry (which other than the tone I really like) has.

The jousting rules are interesting to me since I just worked out jousting as a skill challenge for 4ed earlier this year. A totally different approach, obviously.

Next up is an article on dungeon oddities by Michael Curtis. At this point I am willing to say that if Curtis is writing it, I am going to read it. I have enjoyed his articles and his blog. The Stone Womb is going in my game.

I think you have the idea by now so I will just hit on a few more highlights. Surviving Old School Dungeons by Sean Ahmed, and Magic Swords and Treasure Maps by Philotomy are can't miss.

Overall I found this issue to be even stronger than the first.

City in the Worm

For centuries Noxxe was the most powerful city on Ocama. It was the seat of the great Xnips empire and the center of technological innovation. It was a gleaming metropolis of steel and concrete. That all ended when the Chaos Worms attacked. Four hundred years ago giant worms rose up from the earth and began devouring the works of man. Noxxe fell victim to the Chaos Worm god, the World Worm. The World Worm swallowed the city of Noxxe whole. But the city was too big for even the greatest Chaos Worm. The World Worm choked to death on the city of Noxxe and the Chaos Worm invasion ended. Few have dared to enter the body of the World Worm to plunder the lost city of Noxxe, and fewer still have returned with tales of their adventures.

The first stages of the journey to Noxxe will be the descent into the tunnel that the World Worm retreated into before dying. This will be a natural cavern exploration and the characters will have to deal with the standard cave dwelling monsters.

The second stage will be inside the dead body of the worm itself. The body has been preserved by its magic, so the characters will be travelling inside an organic complex. The characters should face bizarre enemies here. Standard Monster Manual opponents should be avoided in favor of mutations and organic weirdenss.

The final stage of exploration will be Noxxe itself. What has survived? Have people continued to live in the city for all these years? Have the organic monsters from the worm moved in? What remains of the high tech society?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Religion in my upcoming campaign

All of the following assumes a campaign world where there are multiple gods, who are real, and are actively involved in the running of the world.

One thing I want to avoid in my upcoming campaign is modern style religion. Clerics' prayers are actually answered, the gods walk the earth in the form of men from time to time, many gods are known to actually exist, and they kind of act like children. This will make for a different kind of religion. In fact, by modern understanding, it wont be religion at all. It will be science.

Faith isn't needed in a world with a traditional fantasy pantheon. A god's followers are not taking his existence on faith when he can show up and lightning bolt someone. Clerics' prayers are actually answered. Religion in a world like that isn't about faith, it is about reacting to reliable evidence and things you directly observe. Religious people are not the ones sticking their heads in the sand denying verifiable phenomenon in a fantasy world. Furthermore, you know that all of the gods are real, not just yours.

Conversion will work differently too. It will not be about getting people to stop believing in their god and start believing in yours. It will be about convincing people that making sacrafices or praying to your god will be more effective. They are going to expect you to back this up too.

The idea of "my god" will be blurred in many ways. Some people may have a god that they are more loyal to than others but everyone has to deal with all the gods. If you are going on a boat trip you will make a sacrifice to the sea god, even if you are a cleric of the war god. The idea of a personal relationship with a god will be very different too. It will not be based on some personal interpretation of what the god means. The people of the world will have a pretty good idea of what their god want, they get feedback.

Since interpretations of what a god said 2000 years ago will be less important, people will not be able to use them to gain as much power over others. If someone was using an interpretation of what a god says to force others to do what he wanted, and the god did not agree with that, he could make it very clear. Any time someone is saying that a god told him to do something chances are he will be right or will be dead very soon.

With real gods, people get feedback and responses from their actions. They will record the response and attempt to connect it to their actions. They will develop theories about what causes gods to act the way they do, theories that can actually be tested. Clerics will have to take a far more logical approach to religion, it is likely that religion and science will not be at odds with each other in a society like this, but will actually be closely intertwined.

In a game with fantasy gods, religion would be nothing like the religions in our modern world.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Upcoming Campaign

My plans for my next campaign have changed. It looks like I have a group of pretty experienced players who want to play D&D. I managed to convince them that AD&D was the way to go, so we will be using OSRIC. I am planning on starting with just the core OSRIC rules and tacking on weapon speed and some other things as we go. I anticipate working in a count initiative system with Hackmaster-like movement eventually.

I am seriously considering using the entourage rules I saw in Knockspell. I really like this as a way to make old school death sting less without having to nerf the difficulty. I also like how it ties the players more to the setting in a continuous fashion.

I will be running my first megadungeon in this campaign. Now I just have to figure out how I want to go about that. I will likely set this in either a setting from one of the Points of Light books or James M's outdoor map from Knockspell (or was it in Fight On!)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Megadungeons 2

I have read a lot about megadungeons over the last week or so, and the more I read the more I want to run one. I have never run a megadungeon before. In fact I hardly ever run dungeons at all. I can think of two real, multisession dungeons I have run. The most recent was the 4th edition module Keep on the Shadowfell. This combined two things I am usually wary of doing in a game: a pregenerated module and a dungeon crawl. It was one of the worst modules I have ever read,let alone ran. We made it maybe 4 sessions in before going back to Traveller.

The first dungeon run I did was shortly after high school. We had been playing for around 8-10 years at this point and I put one into a long running campaign purely because we had never done one before. It took about three long sessions to run through the dungeon and many great and memorable stories game out of that adventure. So this one was overall very positive.

Generally my players pretend to be in the political thick of things, even at low levels so we tend not to do a lot of dungeon crawls. Oddly my Traveller games have always had a lot in common with a dungeon crawl. The players always have hirelings or troops of some sort, I start them in the thick of things, and most of the actual roleplaying in those games occurs in the retelling of the story later. I just never thought about megadungeons that way until reading about the recently.

But even then I don't want to do things totally traditional. Mutant Future is on its way to my house right now, I want to use it to run a megadungeon. I want to take the city of Camden, NJ and have huge chunks of it swallowed up by the earth. Anyone I am likely to be playing with at this point is going to be familiar with Camden and the idea of an event so cataclysmic that Camden would get worse is just wacky enough to fit into a Gamma World type game.

I already have a bunch of ideas floating around that I need to figure out how to glue together. Most of them are faction ideas (I love wacky cults):

1) A cult that worships Walt Whitman's statue

2) The RCA cult

3) A cult that worships the statue of the Campbell Soup kids

4) A cult that hires the characters to find special offerings to their god. Their god is a nuclear missile and the offerings are parts of the launch mechanism.

5) Philly has turned into a hellish wasteland and there is a creepy guy who operates the ferry to hell

6) The entrance to the megadungeon is through the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge

7) People smuggle food into the city from South Jersey farms through the PATCO tunnel

8) The guy who lives down the street from me who wears a Cat in the Hat hat and talks using a sock puppet, who is running for mayor. Just use him, somehow.

9) All the big scary churches need to be standing. Obviously Father Doyle will have to be still running one of them because he is just that much of a bad ass.

I haven't really thought it through more than that yet.

Has anyone else run a megadungeon in Mutant Future? I'd be interested to hear about it, especially if you keep a blog record.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


There has been a lot of megadungeon talk around the internet for the last week. I am hardly an expert on the subject, having never run one myself, but I do have some things that I would like to see in a published megadungeon.

1. It should be pretty short. I don't need to see more than 100 pages for a whole world campaign setting (and I can go with FAR less) so I'd like to see the megadungeon come in at 64 pages or less.

2. Most of that space should be spent on a description of the rooms/areas. I am not talking about boxed text to read aloud here, I am talking about good physical descriptions that give me more than I will probably give the players at first. Historical information will be really useful here.

3. I would prefer that, in general, an area of rooms was described with random tables given for things that could be found in that area. Give me good historical information, a good description of what the stoenwork in that area is like, and random tables to use to populate the rooms with the kinds of traps, monsters etc. found there.

4. I would prefer nice looking poster maps. Don't put grids on them, don't number every room. Just call out the areas, point out special rooms, and give me a scale for the map.

5. Good descriptions for special, cool rooms. Don't bother with the other rooms other than the general information. I wasn't going to use what your detailed description of the mess hall anyway.

6. NPCs that inhabit the dungeon and the surrounding areas. Just the important/cool ones. I won't bother to read about the ones that are just run of the mill blacksmiths.

What I don't want:

1. A room by room description. *Yawn*

2. Adventure hooks

3. Adventures/quests

4. More than 64 pages

5. A bunch of gridded maps in the book that I have to keep flipping back and forth to

6. A poster map with no scale on it.

Here are some more posts on the subject of megadungeons:

The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope
Greyhawk Grognard

Monday, October 26, 2009

@ttack Thoughts

I have come to prefer a blend of sci-fi and fantasy over either in their pure form. This can take the form of science fantasy like Star Wars or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks style UFO's in a fantasy world. Post apocalyptic fantasy like Gamma World is also very appealing.

I do not like prophecies, supermen, or chosen ones. Anyone like that is likely to be a villain in one of my games. Actually a villain is likely to be someone pretending to be genetically superior to others to control them.

I want to have a megadungeon in my game. I have never run a megadungeon, in fact I have run very few dungeons period. There have been caves and ruined castles, but they were always realistically small in size. In order to have a megadungeon I will need to come up with a reason for it to exist that makes sense.

I do not want to have character classes or races in @ttack. That isn't to say that players cannot have a character of a race other than human, just that they will not be forced to adhere to any mechanical definition of the race.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

D&D Editions: BECMI Basic Set

From time to time I will be writing my thoughts on different editions of D&D. I take a very expansive view of what counts as an edition of D&D. There are several games that are heavily D&D based that will be included.

BECMI stands for Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal. These were box sets published throughout the '80s by TSR and put together by Frank Mentzer. They detail the system that is commonly referred to as Basic D&D or Classic D&D. Each box set was intended to cover different levels of play. Basic: 1-3, Expert: 4-14, Companion: 15-25, Master 26-36, Immortal: after the characters ascended to immortal status. They are easily identified by their Larry Elmore cover art.

The Basic Set was my introduction to D&D. It was not actually my introduction to the hobby, More on that later. This edition is laid out to teach the game. After a short introduction there is a very simple adventure in which you only roll the D20 to play. That is followed by another, slightly more complex, adventure that is laid out in numbered entries like a gamebook. This was a great choice, gamebooks were very popular in the '80s and school book fairs were full of them. Twelve year old boys were very comfortable with this format. By the time you finish the gamebook section you have learned the basics of mapping and the rules of the game.

The next part of the book details the different character classes/races and how to make a new character. The rest of the book is spent detailing combat, equipment, and tips on how to play the game. The reader leaves the Players Manual with a very good idea of what goes on in a D&D session and how to play the game. They know about mapping, using their equipment, retainers, light and many other subjects.

The second volume is the Dungeon Masters Rulebook. Like the Players Manual the meat of the book is taken up with an adventure. This is also done by slowly removing the amount of help the DM gets. The ground level of the dungeon has very detailed notes for the encounter, the second level has less boxed text and the third level is left up to the DM to create. The introduction on how to be a DM is just as well done as the introduction on how to be a player.

The next section of the book details rules for different situations like morale, traps, and retainers. Then there is a list of monsters and treasure. The final section is a how to guide for dungeon making.

For me this is the best introduction to the game ever made. You could learn to play D&D from this even if you didn't understand what a roleplaying game was when you picked it up. The main drawback of this set was that it was not very useful for looking stuff up later because of its teaching layout.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Spending the evening helping my friend plan his major battle for the Imperial City.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Knockspell Issue 1

Knockspell is another magazine catering to the old school gaming market. It is published by the same people who make Swords and Wizardry and is aimed mainly at that game, although the articles work for any pre-WotC D&D.

The first issue has a great Mullen cover, I really enjoy his art style, especially the way he draws people. Inside you will find an editorial from Tim Kask, the first employee of TSR, an article on one way doors and trick stairs, several character classes, 2 adventures and several other miscellaneous articles.

The high points of the issue for me were:

From Kiroth's Quill, an article on one way doors, variable stairs and sub-levels. These kinds of articles always give me good ideas for things to do in an adventure. Even if I don't use any of the things listed in the article, it sets my mind down that path.

The Random Hireling Generator, I always enjoy random trait generators. They are one of the best tools a GM can have, especially for improv.

Charnel Crypt of the Sightless Serpent, a level 4-7 adventure that features some great atmosphere and some really nasty encounters in the crypt. Room #14 is my favorite

The Dungeon Alphabet by Michael Curtis of The Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope is highly enjoyable and is getting published in book form.

I have to admit that I enjoyed Knockspell Issue #1 more than I did Fight On! 1. But both were good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fight On! Issue 1

Fight On! is an old school gaming publication. It will be most useful to people playing OD&D, Basic D&D, or 1st Edition AD&D. By extension it is also useful to people playing Swords and Wizardry, Labarynth Lord, OSRIC and other "retro-clones". That is not to say that it will not be useful to players of newer editions or other games. It is the kind of publication that gets the gears spinning in your head no matter what kind of game you play.

The first issue is a slim 30 pages, but it is packed with gaming goodness. Inside you will find random description tables, a new character race, three dungeon descriptions, some magic items and other various articles full of gaming ideas including a primer on sandbox building. The dungeons are presented in very sparse detail, this gives you enough to work with but leaves plenty of room to make it your own.

Overall I enjoyed the first issue of Fight On! and trust me they only get better, more on that later.

Expedition to Castle Blackmoor

I have been thinking about running a game set in the dungeon of Blackmoor Castle. I started my research a few days ago and thanks to some very nice people (you know who you are) I was able to read Supplement II: Blackmoor and The First Fantasy Campaign. Both of these were interesting reads but didn't help me as much as I thought they would. The First Fantasy Campaign was very difficult to work through. It was basically a dump of Arneson's campaign notes, and in many cases assumed that the reader already knew a lot about the players and the setting. There were some great maps of the dungeons, so I will be using those.

Luckily, a guy named Harvard has an awesome site dedicated to Blackmoor. He also has a rockin' blog on the subject. Thanks to those sites and some articles in Fight On! I was able to read accounts by the actual players of those early games. I found the accounts by Greg Svenson to be especially useful.

There is no way I can reconstruct the actual story of what happened for my game, and I really wouldn't want to anyway (then it wouldn't be my game). I did get enough information to get an idea of the feel. It seems that many of the excursions into Castle Blackmoor were made by a group of PCs with a large retinue of guards and soldiers. I also managed to get enough plot ideas to grab some of the old style.

I am planning on using Searchers of the Unknown to keep it as rules light as possible. I thought about using Swords and Wizardry: White Box but I don't want to spend any time on rules explanation. I plan on giving the players a large number of soldiers to take into the dungeon, SotU will make the combat really easy to handle.

My basic plot idea revolves around Baron Fant and his transformation into Lord Fang. I actually couldn't figure out if they were historically the same character, but I am going to go with it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


This blog will deal with pen and paper roll playing games. I previously had a blog that dealt with many different kinds of games and with movies. I will concentrate only on pen and paper games and related items in this blog