Sunday, March 30, 2014

"The Bedroll Maneuver"--Grimmsgate Campaign, Session 6

The last time we left offm all of our characters were trapped inside a tomb beneath a hill. At some point, as the DM explained, all of us later blacked out and woke up in the ruins of a cathedral dedicated to Virtoaa, the Sun God. It was night, with a full moon in the sky.

Dramatis Personae
Wolfram: a dwarf fighter 1/thief 2
Kristopf: a 2nd level cleric of Virtoaa
Silver: a 2nd level human fighter cursed to look a little like a snakeman
Cross: a 2nd level elven fighter.
Arman: a 1st level monk we found in the last adventure.

The rules were Swords & Wizardry. The DM, of course, had to make some conversions to run the module he'd found--but those were fairly easy.

We found the entrance to the dungeon, killed a giant spider in the first room, found an ivory scroll case in the hands of a skeleton in a second room. The scroll case contained a note, saying that brethren of the cathedral had started worshipping an evil effigy found within the catacombs adjacent to the cathedral's cellar.

Thus, our exploration began.

We found the wine cellar--barrels full of brandy. But one barrel contained the corpse of a woman in her early twenties--about three days old. Across the way was a room used to process and tan leather--we feared that the skins within were human, but couldn't tell.

Soon after we discovered a series of cells, bolted from the outside. Some contained skeletons of a strange humanoids with a cat-like skull. Other were empty. A 10-year-old boy named Tobias resided in the last cell.

It turns out both he and Kristopf spoke High Imperik. Tobias told Kristopf that he and his older sister Clarissa had been playing nearby when they discovered the ruins. They descended the stairs. The next thing he remembers was waking up in the cell.

Kristopf didn't have the heart to tell the boy that his sister was rotting in a barrel a few rooms away. Kristopf cast cure light wounds to help mend the boy's broken leg. We took Tobias to a relatively safe part of the dungeon and continued on our way, intending to come back for him. Kristopf case cure light wounds to heal the boy's broken leg.

A couple rooms and passages later Silver opened up a door and skeleton fell out on him--he failed his fear check and started screaming. This brought the attention of the ghouls in the nearby room down the hall.

We fought a pitched battle against the ghouls. Kristopf discovered to his horror that the power of Virtoaa had been diminished somehow; he could not turn the undead monstrosities.

(Though we did get a laugh as the DM played "Hurt" during the combat as sung by Kermit the Frog. --NSFW).

Fortunately, though Wolfram went down, nobody got paralyzed, and first aid brought Wolfram back from the brink.

Another room or two later we discovered a secret door. Inside there lurked a source of the evil on this level of the dungeon:  reeking and rotting man in armor. He sat on an iron throne, feasting on flesh, watching us.

We shut the door, opened it, and Wolfram without a word took aim at the cannibal's head--but the crossbow string snapped. And the creature, who declared himself "Golmek, the Ghast King" became enraged. Two ghasts emerged from behind an illusionary wall and charged us.

At that point, metagaming-wise, we thought were screwed--even the DM.

But we fell back, and let the ghasts come at us through the secret door--one at a time. After a fierce struggle (once again, we were fortunate nobody got paralyzed--but at least half of the group suffered from the stench of the ghasts), the party defeated the ghasts.

Then Golmek stepped forth, and we knew we were all going to die.

Then Kristopf unrolled his bedroll, which puzzled the party.

As Golmek came through the secret opening, Kristopf draped the bedroll over the vile ghast king's head. Then he grabbed a torch and lit the bedroll on fire.

Wolfram, catching on, took his last flask of oil and splashed it on the creature.

Golmek the Ghast King burned to death before the party's eyes. We discovered three enchanted keys on his corpse.

The exploration of the other parts of the dungeon was rather anti-climactic--but the characters all had gained a level or two (Wolfram became a 2nd level fighter/ 3rd level thief). We encountered a handful more ghouls and ghasts.

We then opened up the door to the vault we had found earlier using the enchanted keys. Inside was a small fortune in gems, coins, and magic items. After collecting these we found Tobias and left the dungeon.

To our surprise and horror, we saw that the moon was still at its apex in the sky, despite that fact that we had been in the dungeon for a few hours.

Tobias said he wouldn't leave without his sister. At that point Kristopf told him the truth. Tobias insisted that we bring back his sister's body to his camp. "What camp?" we asked.

It turns out Tobias and his sister are part of a clan of wandering gypsies. We soon found their caravan in the nearby hills. There we told his parents what had happened, then asked them what realm we were in.

They seemed confused. The spoke of only towns, and how the land had been dark since the night the moon camp up and didn't go away.

"When did that happen?" Kristoph asked.

"About 18 months ago..."

It was revealed that we had entered the nightmare world of... 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Finding the Gems: Puppets, by Vince Garcia and Bruce Rabe

Depending on your tastes, WG11: Puppets is either an enjoyable and whimsical light-hearted adventure or one of the worst modules ever published by TSR.

I remember picking this up sometime in the late 1990s, thinking, "Great! An out-of-print Greyhawk module!" Then I remember being disappointed.

Because its not really a Greyhawk module.

TSR took two RPGA Network tournament adventures, "Puppets" and "At Last, Ravens Bluff!" and put them together. "At Last, Ravens Bluff!" became "The Road to Dyvers" (since Ravens Bluff is a city in the Forgotten Realms).

Then they slapped Greyhawk on the cover and called it good.

We learn this on page 2 of the module, as part of a sales pitch for the RPGA by Jean Rabe.

While I'm not trying to resurrect 25-year old grudges in the hobby, I can't help but feel a little offended.

So what do we have here? 
"The Road to Dyvers" starts off with the PCs in the middle of the Gnarley Forest, escorting a caravan from Narwell to Dyvers. Repeated monster raids have killed everybody else in the caravan, save for a woman named Marya Darkeyes. They have to get the remaining three wagons, bearing cloth and ship building goods, to Dyvers.

Along the way they encounter:

--A paladin, cleric, and mage (all three lawful good) attacking the caravan to kill a supposed vampire inside one of the wagons (there isn't one, "oops, sorry.")
--a halfling warband hunting for orcs and goblins.
--a 19-week-old gold dragon (but with the stats of an adult) disguised as a cat.
--Freddie McKrueger, an evil leprechaun, and his wererat lieutenant named Jason and their assorted humanoid minions.
--Wizard disguised as a city guard who tries to rip off the PCs.

"Puppets" takes place it the City of Dyvers itself, where the PCs investigate a series of robberies. As the title suggests, a band of puppets is behind the thefts. Though nobody has been killed, small items have been stolen, enriching their master--a wizard who isn't evil, and will probably escape before the PCs even encounter her.

The puppets include: The Jester, Bow Peep, Baron Blardo (a dressed like a vampire), two gladiator puppets named Romulus and Remus, Conn the Barbaric, Little Miss Muffet and Boris the Spider.

Oh, it gets worse...
My main beef with this module, light-hearted or not, is that the actions of the PCs don't matter. The villains are supposed jerk the PCs around and then escape. On top of this, the PCs aren't in any real danger.

In "The Road to Dyvers," Freddie uses illusions and invisibility to annoy the group; his Polymorph Non-living Objects ability can infuriate PCs ("Oh no! my magic sword!"), but the module doesn't explain how this ability works (nor does the Monstrous Manual, for that matter).

The presence of the halflings and the baby gold dragon pretty much assures that the PCs will survive.

Furthermore, given Freddie's powers, he can easily get away.  Even Jason the Wererat is supposed to run away.

In "Puppets," the PCs are supposed to be going from inn to inn, questioning NPCs and gathering rumors about the thefts. But then advancement of the "plot" relies on the PCs coming up with the idea of posing as wealthy travellers and becoming targets of the thefts themselves. If the PC don't come up with this idea--an NPC suggests it.

Once the PCs engage the puppets, the puppets are supposed to run away, leading to a chase through the  city back to their hidden lair... where Browynn, the wizard who created the Puppets, is supposed to run away.

In Dragon #171, Ken Rolston gave this module 4 stars--even thought he admitted that the module contained three "cheap tricks" and investigative portion of the second adventure was "cheesy."

Finding the Gems
--Beginning in media res. The PCs are in a tough spot and need to figure out how to get out.
--I like the idea of a dragon polymorphed as a cat (but I also like cats).

Augmenting the Module
Why aren't the puppets killing people? The puppets should go around killing people. And Browynn, their creator, should have some sort of drug addition so you, the DM, have an excuse to play "Master of Puppets" by Metallica.

Get this if...  No. Just don't get it.

Maybe if you find it for .99 cents or free somewhere and want to see how bad it really is, then by all means go for it. But if WotC decides to put this up on D&D Classics for any price above $1.00, resist the urge to buy it.

Don't get this if... you own at least one good published module. Run that.

I really tried to find the gems in this module, I really did.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D OSR Blog Challenge (Part 3)

21 What is the narrowest genre RPG you have ever played? How was it?

Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, 2e. You think you're playing D&D, 
but its more like Call of Cthulu.

22 What is the most gonzo kitchen sink RPG you ever played? How was it?

GURPS. I played a human in the local ROTC. Another character was some sort
of catman thing. Another player ran a talking dog. And the last player played
a pixie who admitted that a single swift kick would kill his character. 

They needed me for my character's "leadership skills." After I learned what
everybody else was playing, I promptly left the table. 

23 What is the most broken game that you tried and were unable to play?

D&D 4e--just to be facetious, and because at the time I didn't think it was really D&D. 

24 What is the most broken game that you tried and loved to play, warts and all?

Star Wars d6, by West End Games. Well, the game itself wasn't necessarily
broken--but man Jedi could break the system and surpass other characters. 

Though hobbits in Middle Earth Role Playing could be nigh-invincible. 

25 Which game has the sleekest, most modern engine?

Oh, I have no fraking clue. 

26 What IP (=Intellectual Property, be it book, movie or comic) that doesn’t 
have an RPG deserves it? Why?

My unpublished books. (I guess I should get working on that). 

27 What RPG based on an IP did you enjoy most? Give details.

Middle Earth Role Playing, by Iron Crown Enterprises. It was just fun
playing in Middle Earth, and getting experience points for inflicting criticials
on your enemies. 

28 What free RPG did you enjoy most? Give details.

Oh, I don't know. 

29 What OSR product have you enjoyed most? Explain how.

Swords & Wizardry--its easy to run and play. Though I'd really really really like to give
Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG a shot. 

30 Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about? Give details.

Ultimate Toolbox. Crack open the book and find the details. 

31 What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication? Why?

I have no idea. 

And there we have it. Challenge completed. Sort of. 

I'm already working on some better stuff for the April A to Z Challenge. 
I'm statting up a bunch of "old school" non-D&D monsters for the challenge.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March Madness non-D&D OSR Blog Challenge (Part 2)

I think I might need to broaden my gaming horizons...

11 What post-apocalyptic RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

I've never played in a post-apocalyptic RPG. 

12 What humorous RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

I've never played in a humorous RPG. 

13 What horror RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

Call of Cthulu, because you get to play an average person struggling against invincible supernatural horrors. 

14 What historical or cultural RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

Pendragon was fun, though I've only played it a few times. I enjoyed the different aspects of character creation--the "alignment" system was interesting. Also, I just enjoy Arthurian legend and Pendragon captured the spirit of those legends.

15 What pseudo or alternate history RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

Cthulu Dark Ages. Because it mixes Cthulu with medieval history!

16 Which RPG besides D&D has the best magic system? Give details.

Mage: The Ascension. It encouraged players to be inventive about the spells they cast. The spells weren't cut-and-dried and where limited only by the imagination of the player--and paradox. 

17 Which RPG has the best high tech rules? Why?

Rifts, maybe. If not then it seems like it has the most. 

18 What is the crunchiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?


Middle Earth Role Playing  was a lot of fun. I would never try Rolemaster.

19 What is the fluffiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?

I really don't like the terms "fluff" and "crunch." 

20 Which setting have you enjoyed most? Why?

Outside D&D? World of Darkness,  I guess. 

My earlier answers to these questions can be found here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Grimmsgate Campaign -- Session 5

Behold the power of Turn Undead--well sort of.
The ghouls and zombies still got through.

We're done with the module Grimmsgate, but the campaign continues. Last Sunday afternoon we played through part of an adventure the DM had planned using Swords & Wizardy.

Dramatis Personae:
Wolfram: a dwarf fighter/thief, levels 1/2
Kristopf: a lawful cleric of Virtoaa, level 2 (yeah, he can cast spells now!)
Silver: a human fighter, level 2
A second fighter, level 1 (of whom I can't remember the name.
A monk joined us later on in the adventure.
And of course, the DM, who confessed to misplacing his adventure note and making up most of the adventure on the fly. 

While the group was eating and drinking at the Silver Dagger Inn, a man named Aaron approached and told his tale of woe. Apparitions had cursed Aaron. Spirits that his father disturbed while exploring a nearby mausoleum had kept him from sleeping, and whenever Aaron slept, night terrors took over and he'd wake up screaming the name: MEDERETH.

He asked to return three items his father took from the mausoleum: a jeweled dagger, a scroll case, and a diamond ring. We checked to see if the items were magical, but they weren't.

Aaron himself guided us to the hilltop where the entrance to the tome supposedly lay. It was topped by a ring of statues, each holding a stone torch, unlit. Upon lighting each of the torches, the arms of each stature shifted downward, spewing fiery oil from the end of each torch onto the ground, burning away the grass and revealing a double stone door, with the name MEDERETH etched on the front.

Aaron stayed outside, he just wanted to make sure we'd find the place and fulfill our promise to help him. Kristopf cast detect evil and found that Aaron, was indeed, under some kind of strange baleful influence, but he himself was not evil. If Aarson was demonically possessed, it was still beyond Kristopf's power to aid him anyway.

We entered the mausoleum, with Wolfram often scouting ahead because of his dwarven vision. What he encountered was a multi-level dungeon. But each level consisted of only one or two rooms, with steep staircases linking each level.

But the entrance to each staircase was hidden. Each room had some sort of puzzle to solve or undead to defeat before we could find the staircase to the next level.

The most bizarre thing happened on the third level. We found a sarcophagus standing up against a wall. We opened it, and found a monk inside!

"How did I get here?" the monk's player, who come to the session late, asked the DM.

"What?" The DM said. "That's your story. I'm too busy making up other crap over here."

And the DM was doing a good job winging it.

On the 5th level, some 500 feet below the hilltop by Wolfram's reckoning, the party encountered a room full of coffins with four stone sarcophagi in the middle. The undead guardians awoke and attacked.

There were too many undead for Kristopf to turn. The ghouls attacked, almost paralyzing one of the fighters. Kristopf used his cure light wounds spell to bring another character back from the brink of death. But in the end the party triumphed.

We returned the jeweled dagger, the scroll case, and the diamond ring to their resting place.

We searched the room, looking for another secret entrance and any other treasure (which in retrospect, was a foolish thing to do).

We discovered an iron crown. Kristopf picked it up--it was cursed! Kristopf would now suffer from insomnia.

Thinking that our mission was completed, we made our ascent back to the surface and ask Aaron for our reward.

Instead we discovered the double doors at the entrance shut and locked--we were trapped! Aaron had betrayed us!

The next session isn't until March 28th. I can't wait to see how we'll get out of this mess.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Do you think the pdf prices at D&D Classics are too expensive?

Yesterday I received that promotional email stating that The Masque of Red Death and Forbidden Lore were available at D&D Classics.  Both products are priced at $9.99--so about half the price of what they originally cost in the 1990s.

I've bought only a handful of D&D Classics products--usually around the $5 price point. I've been hesitant to buy more. The scans sometimes have flaws--as in the case with Greyhawk Ruins.

Is $9.99 a fair price for Forbidden Lore, given that the original boxed set contained a Tarokka/Tarot Card deck and set of dice? How will those items be reproduced in the pdf? 

How are the prices determined? They seem to be based on the original price of the physical product. Some are even as expensive as the original product. Discount/sales prices seem to vary wildly. 

I've been hesitant to purchase many of these products for these reasons. 

What you do think? Are the pdfs at D&D Classics too expensive? 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Finding the Gems: The Patriots of Ulek

Here's the Obligatory: SPOILER ALERT

If you want a good laugh, head on over to EN World and read Example from the worst TSR adventure module(s) ever published, where the Forest Oracle gets torn apart. Soon The Patriots of Ulek ends up getting roasted because of its a railroad with heaping amounts of boxed text. Erik Mona himself put it best:

"For example, in one encounter the PCs enter a town, talk with the populace, meet the local mayor, eat a meal with him and leave, all without ever having made a decision for themselves."

Yes, there's boxed text. If you love boxed text you'll love this module. In fact, the adventure begins with a whole page of boxed text.

Go ahead. Read it aloud to your players.
I dare you.
The Patriots of Ulek is for 6-8 characters of levels 1-3.

I like how this module is part mystery, part sandbox, and part war story.

The PCs are commissioned by the Prince of Ulek to uncover why the Graf of the Province of Prinzfield hasn't sent reinforcements to help against a massive invasion of orcs and goblins from the neighboring Pomarj. 

The PCs wander the countryside, looking for clues and rumors to the Graf's whereabouts, while encountering raiding orcs and goblins. But they do have a time limit. Finally, they journey to the Graf's mansion and discover that agents of the Pomarj have held the Graf hostage.

The adventure ends in a pitched battle against the hosts of the Pomarj, with the PCs preventing the forces of good getting flanked. The Players and DM may use Battlesystem for this.

So what's the deal with all of the boxed text? 
--This was Anthony Pryor's first full-length module he ever wrote.
--Everybody else at TSR was writing boxed text, a fine tradition going back to Dragonlance. So how was a young Anthony Pryor to know better? 
--But somebody did throw a bean bag at him during the module's playtest.

Finding the The Gems
--I like the war story aspect of the module. The PCs can be constantly harassed by wandering bands of orcs and goblins. They come upon desperate battles, looted farmsteads, rumors of war. This all builds up to the battle at the end.

--This module is meant for beginning DMs, as it says in the introduction. I remember being tongue-tied as beginning DM, so all of that boxed text might not be a bad thing.

--The Nazi Orc. The PCs find an unarmed wounded orc who won't shut up about his blessed messiah leader, Turrosh Makk, who will reclaim the lands once occupied by their ancestors. This would just be fun to roleplay--at least until the PCs kill him (alignment consequences may vary).

--Half-orc spies? The main villain, Horaz, is operating with group of half-orcs and is part of the conspiracy to keep the muster of Prinzfield from happening. The module alludes that he's a stranger--but it sounds like he's a half-orc that looks very much like a human.

--Combining Roleplaying with Wargaming. I wrote about the possibilities of doing that in a previous post.

Augmenting the Module
--Paraphrase the boxed text (duh, that's a no brainer). 

--Skip chapter one all together. Have the PCs start off as refugees from a town or village that's been overrun by the orc hordes. Their village was lost because the Graf's reinforcements did not arrive.

--Add your own encounters to the exploration of Prinzfield and the Graf's mansion. The mansion itself has quite a few "meh" rooms. 

--Play up this idea of half-orc spies. Sure, this is old hat: Battlestar Galactica used it, so did the retcon of the Klingons in the original Star Trek series. But it works. Who can the trust if the orcs look human? Maybe some of the NPCs they encounter deliberately give them false leads as they explore Prinzfield.

--Vary the monsters and the tactics they use. They'll keep encountering goblins, and orcs over and over again. So have some of the use longspears/pikes. Others could be archers or sit back and chuck javelins. Others, of course, are mounted on the wolves.

--Make sure the non-fighter types have something to do, as this is combat-heavy module.

--Since Battlesystem is long out of print, you probably need to find another system for the war game scenario at the end.

--Perhaps The Patriots of Ulek could be a prequel to a modified Red Hand of Doom module.

--I keep thinking about stealing ideas from Battlestar Galatica. The regular orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins are like Centurions, while the half-orcs are like the Cylon skinjobs. But that's all I've got.

Get this if: You or your PCs don't mind a war-themed adventure. You, the DM, don't mind taking the time to make the module work (like highlighting the important bits in all of that boxed text). Or if you want to complete your Greyhawk collection.

Don't get this if:  You're not interested in war-themed adventure. You don't have time to make the module world.

Both The Patriots of Ulek and The Forest Oracle are definitely mediocre modules. But they're not that bad. They have salvageable aspects. (I may to a retrospective on The Forest Oracle).

The truly bad modules ever written by TSR are coming in future installments of Finding the Gems in 2e.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mini Monday: The Fall of Gondolin

Check out Tides of War for more pictures of this massive terrain set up depicting the fall of the elven city of Gondolin in the First Age of Middle Earth. I've been re-reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings lately, so seeing this is a special treat.

And here's how you can contruct Minas Tirith, if you so choose, from the same blog.

And, once you've got Minas Tirith built, here's the Battle of Pelannor Fields, featuring around 3,400 painted 28mm figures!

The blogger used to paint only in 15mm, but he converted over to 28mm about eight years ago and has painted over 12,000 miniatures to replace the earlier collection. This is on top of the terrain he builds.

(And here I had trouble getting 52 figures painted last year...)

Can't Sleep

Stupid daylight savings time.

Maybe in certain campaigns that feature trains, magitek, and perhaps time zones (Eberron?) would have daylight savings time to mess with people.

It doesn't help I've got a lot on my mind: upcoming projects, finding steady work, interesting revelations of where I currently work, etc.

The brief nighmare I had a little while ago didn't help either. Something about standing in a garden/courtyard of well trimmed bushes in the daylight. I heard a woman scream and frantically tried to find her. Then I woke up.

I read Chapter 2, "The Passing of the Grey Company" in The Return of the King before trying to go to sleep. Usually reading before bedtime helps--a habit I developed as a kid. But this time it only prompted me to think about the difference between the chapter and the movie.

--In the movie, Aragon, Gimli, and Legolas only enter the Paths of the Dead, in the book they are accompanied by around 30 Rangers, the sons of Elrond, and horses.
--The chapter is told from Gimil's perspective for the most part. He's the last to enter.
--You don't get to see the apparitions in the book. Tolkien describes them only has whispers and voices.
--Also, at no point does Aragorn boldly proclaim his right as the true king of Gondor to the "head spectre."
--In the extended version of the movie, Aragon, Gimli, and Legolas almost get buried in massive avalanche of skulls. That doesn't happen in the book, either.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

One Thing I Wish More Female Gamers Would Do.

Tell the moron who's chatting about his favorite character to shut the hell up, rather than listening politely. 

Not only are you doing yourself a favor, but those around you as well--especially in your FLGS, where other games are going on nearby, and the players there probably don't want to hear about his damn character either. 

Yes, its complicated: you probably don't want to hurt his feelings. But its best that he learn his lesson sooner rather than later. If he hears it from you, it be more effective since he probably likes you and might think you like him back.

Being nice never works: never under-estimate the self-deception of the male ego.

Also, please believe me when I say that avoiding eye contact or looking around nervously won't help. He won't get the message.

I've done my share of running off morons pestering female gamers when I was an officer in a college gaming club. Those days are over for me.

So please step up.

To the gamer guys who "just don't get it:" Just because a female is in the store or sitting in your game and finally saying something to you (gasp!), doesn't mean you should try to regale her with stories about how you min/maxed your character, why a certain magic item was bequeathed to your character for no apparent reason, or how you character triumphed against all odds.

In fact:

Nobody wants to hear about your favorite character. 

I know you're already thinking about exceptions to this rule. But aren't any. Okay, maybe if they ask--but they won't.

To everybody else who understands this rule: I salute you. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Soundtrack Saturday: Bashing the Balrog (Filk)

I stumbled across this while searching for highlights of last month's D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge. It came up in a search for "You Bash the Balrog, while I Climb the Tree."  I don't know if the songs are related or not.

I'm not advocating that you use it for your games, but I do find it amusing. Here's the lyrics.

Still, after listening to such filk, for some reason I feel like I really deserve this: 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Where do you get your ideas for your games?

Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire and the War of Art, has a weekly column on his website called "Writing Wednesdays." I've been following Pressfield for sometime now. In my opinion he's has some of the best advice on writing out there--a lot of which can be applied to gaming, especially for DMs.

Last Wednesday's column, "How I Get Ideas", Pressfield tells how ideas just sort of come out of nowhere, usually unexpectedly while the "brain is turned off."

I can see where he's coming from. Ideas pop in at the most inopportune times, for me at least. Even though I'm no longer running games I still get ideas for adventures and campaigns. Fortunately I usually keep something to write on nearby.

So where do you get your ideas for your games?  Do you actively seek them out or do let them come unbidden?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

When Miniature Building Authority Comes to Town [Part 2]

Just a brief continuation of this week's Mini Monday, where the Miniature Building Authority came to Treefort Games. 

I brought down my Corner Townhouse (Product ID 10109A) that I bought a few years back at Games Plus in Mt. Prospect. According to the MBA collector's guide, only a 140 of these were ever made.

Jim Elmore, one of the MBA's founders, explained to me that my model is particularly rare--earlier versions had red window shudders and doors, not green.

And now its even more rare with his autograph.

Meanwhile, some hobbits were defedning a village. (The LotR minis weren't brought by MBA, but a local wargamer). There were all kinds of wargames going on.

This fellow was kid-bashed together.

Here's the other to figures--Fatty Lumpkin and the Gaffer. Very well painted.

Gothmog--both mounted and on foot.

Both Kirk and Jim were really friendly, and they do make quality buildings for the price.

I find it a little amusing that people are arguing about the $50 price tag for each of the upcoming corebooks for 5e. The average cost of these buildings are around that price.

Gaming is a luxury hobby, folks. Just face that fact.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

OSR Fundamentalism and the Coming of 5e

OSR Fundamentalism?
I've been poking around the history of the Old School Revival/Renaissance, and I keep coming across that the OSR is somehow inherently fundamentalist. This is, apparently, an old argument, but some haven't ignored the term's religious connotations. One blog compares states the OSR is like "the tea party" of the gaming world. Or are OSR fundamentalists just a bunch of loud mouth jerks? Even James Maliszewski addressed criticisms of the OSR being essentially fundamentalist.

Where did this come from? How did I miss out on this? Or was I a part of it and didn't really know it?

Even before 4e, during the height of 3e/3.5e, I thought the hobby needed to back to the "fundamentals"--still do--with rules light systems and reading the history and literature that inspired the game to begin with. 

I really couldn't stand 4e after I had run it for 3 months back in the Spring of '09. But at least I tried it. Before that I got criticized by some hardcore 3.5ers for even wanting to try it out.

Afterwards I felt a bit like a chump, having bought the core books, a couple supplements, and a subscription to that stupid D&D Insider. I sold my books instead of burning them, but dumping gasoline on them and lighting a match did cross my mind. Spending $150+ on something I didn't like was a hard pill to swallow.

Others were obviously pissed, too, given how the Edition Wars waxed hot.

I can see why, out of all of that, the OSR would be accused of fundamentalism. But its still news to me.
I also don't think being "fundamental" isn't necessary a bad thing. It's good to back to the basics every once in a while, no what you do, even in gaming. Just don't stay there.

But I also know the clock can't be turned back. Which kinda stinks.

I'm curious where the OSR is going to head after 5e arrives. Given how WotC, in the last couple years, had tried to earn back a lot of good will, I feel the OSR is almost sidelined--still vocal, still producing, but its influence is waning.

Will we have a 2nd Old School Revival, perhaps even more fundamental than the first? Or will 5e be the end of the OSR? 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Finding the Gems: Fiend Folio Monstrous Compendium Appendix

I'm a sucker for bad monsters. The original AD&D Fiend Folio introduced over 200 of the best and worst monsters to be seen in the game. Even the bad ones became classics. You got the Githyanki and Githezerai along with the Gambado.  Sure, you had Drow, but you also got the three-eyed Gorbel. And of course, the Flumph.

I remember, however, feeling disappointed back in 1992, when the Fiend Folio Monstrous Compendium Appendix was first published. Upon closer inspection, I remember why. Sure, most of the monsters were bad in a "good" way, but they were also leftovers.  The best monsters were picked clean and put in other compendiums. No Githyanki or Githezerai. The Drow got moved to the first Monstrous Compendium. Not even the Flumph made it into the new Fiend Folio. 

In fact, there's only 60 monsters in this collection, some of which weren't even in the original Fiend Folio.

Not even the Kamadan, the tiger with snakes displayed on the front cover, made it. I presume the brute to its left is a Fog Giant, and the four-armed creature on the right is a Xill. Both are in this particular compendium, but the Kamadan is not.

So what is going on? 

Its simple. The Role-Playing Game Association Network got involved in the creation of this Fiend Folio. The monsters "were updated by Network authors and edited by another Network member." Just take a closer look at the image on the right for further proof. 

Not even the original creators of the monsters were given credit (as they were in the 1e Fiend Folio), just those who participated updated them for 2e. 

Furthermore, I think I've discovered a pattern from trying to find the gems in 2e: material published from the RPGA is going to be sub par and disappointing. 
No doubt, many readers probably already knew this back in the day. I, however, was only 12 or 13 and oblivious. I'm not sure if this applies to material that came before or after 2e. But this is my working hypothesis, but it seems to hold water, as you'll see with my upcoming review on WG11: Puppets. 

Finding the Gems
Despite all of these negatives, the Fiend Folio Monstrous Compendium does offer us some gems--namely the Gem Dragons: Amethyst, Crystal, Emerald, Sapphire, and Topaz. (ba-dum-tss!) All right, if you need different varieties of dragons each with its own unique breath weapon--gem dragons are nice alternatives to the regular metallic and chromatic dragons. (The Amethyst Dragon spits a gem-bomb, what's not to like about that?

Yet aside from the Gem Dragons (which didn't appear in the original Fiend Folio), you do have a number old favorites. The Coffer Corpse and the Dark Creeper make a come back. As does the three-eyed Gorbel, nand the blind cannibalistic Grimlock.  Mephits return as well.

Need a flying vampiric head with trailing guts? 
The Penanggalan returns! (oh wait, they've replaced the guts with a slimy black tail...)

But like I said, I'm a sucker for bad monsters. Even the Spanner, a bridge that attacks people, has a certain amount of charm.

Oh no! Ah! 

And my favorite: The Gambado!

Surprise! I wasn't a skull on the ground after all!

Get this product if: You want to complete your AD&D 2e Monstrous Compendium collection or You're searching for some OPP monsters. Artwork by Jeff Easley graces many of the dividers.

Don't get this product if: Well, there's a lot of reasons not to get this product. Many of these monsters ended up in other sources. The Mephits ended up in Planescape. The Gem Dragons went into the Monstrous Manual. So, the 2e Fiend Folio is just a bunch of leftovers, unfortunately.

Part of the reason I'm doing "Finding the Gems" is to caution people of what's out there. I have no idea if WotC might try to repackage this product and sell it as a PDF. But if they do, you'll now know what to expect.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mini Monday: When Miniature Building Authority Comes to Town [Part 1]

Last Saturday, the folks from Miniature Building Authority came to visit Treefort Games. The put a bunch of their buildings and terrain on display and hosted several wargaming events over the course of the afternoon. I took a bunch of pictures.

Warfare on the Streets of Bagdad:

The Castle!

And it was all for sale... 

More pics soon.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Confession: I played D&D Next last Friday night...

The DM who ran Grimmsgate took the night off, so I decided to try 5e with another gaming group at my FLGS. The DM and a couple other players had been in the Grimmsgate game, so I figured, "why not?" 

I can't really give a fair review of 5e because Friday night was a series of firsts... 

--First time playing 5e. 
--First time playing in Eberron. 
--First time with a "Dragonborn" character in the group. 
--First time using Obsidian Portal. 
--First time using Roll d20. 
--First time playing with this particular DM. 

I felt like I was catching up on the last decade or so in gaming. So what follows is a series of observations, not necessarily judgments.

For Roll d20, the DM used a projector to display the "battlemat" on the wall just above his head. This was fine, but it was his first time using Roll d20. The Fog of War feature was kinda neat, as we explored some narrow sewers in search of some kobolds and their magical orb. The downside was that exploration and combat took a long time--the Internet also kept going out.

The biggest downside, in my opinion, was that the projector was placed on a milk crate in the middle of the table, blocking the views of the players.

Eberron reminds me a lot of the video game Final Fantasy III with Magitek, combining science and Magic. The DM explained quite a bit of the backstory. The Last War created Warforged. We, as characters, were hired by Guild to track down magic items lost or hidden after the Last War.

Dragonborn. I'm still not enamored with this race, but it fits well with Eberron. The Dragonborn monk within the group killed 3 Kobolds with his breath weaspon, and that helped out a lot.

Obsidian Portal. People have tried to get me to sign on before, I've always resisted. It seems superfluous to the game itself, and I don't need another social network.

I signed Friday night just to try it out. But I'm going to dink around with the features now to discover the benefits. The campaign wiki seems like an interesting tool.

D&D Next 5e. It plays like a re-hashed version of 3.5e. Though, as it was explained to me, the power levels have been toned down at higher levels. I'll just have to take their word for it. We're still only level  1. I got to play a bard, but never really got to try out any of his abilities.

The DM is running the campaign so that way each session is a self-contained adventure. People can drop in and leave depending on their schedules, which I think is perfect to do since he's running Friday nights.

In the end, I played 5e just to try it out. I can't give a verdict, however. But while I'm OSR, I'm not so old school to prohibit myself from trying new things. 

The March Madness Non-D&D OSR Blog Challenge

I'm just spreading the word on The March Madness Non-D&D OSR Blog Challenge, featuring 31 questions not-related to D&D, host by Tomb of Tedankhamen. There's a partial list of blogs participating here.

I'm gonna have to sort-cut this one, because of other project. Also, my answers for many of the questions wouldn't warrant longer posts. Here's my answers to the first 10.

1 What was the first roleplaying game other than D&D you played? Was it before or after you had played D&D?

That would be Shadowrun. And it was after I played D&D. Read more about it here.

2 In what system was the first character you played in an RPG other than D&D? How was playing it different from playing a D&D character?

Again, that would be Shadowrun. I remember having to wrap my mind around not having hit points anymore and how lethal the game could be.

3 Which game had the least or most enjoyable character generation?

Chivalry and Sorcery. But that could have been because of the GM. Everything is random--and your skills is determined by your social status. So, you have a chance of being everything from a wretched wanderer to a king (yes, you can be king if you get very very lucky). 

I rolled up a peasant longbowman. Great. And then I rolled up my flaw: Butterfingers, -15% to melee combat and shooting.  

"Can I re-roll? Historically speaking this character wouldn't be given a longbow if he's that inept." 


Creating high level characters for D&D 3.5e could be a chore.

4 What other roleplaying author besides Gygax impressed you with their writing?

Justin Achilli, Anne Sullivan Braidwood, and Geoffrey Grabowski who wrote the Vampire Storyteller's Handbook.

Sean Patrick Fannon for his The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible.

5 What other old school game should have become as big as D&D but didn’t? Why do you think so?

I think the 1e of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play could have given D&D a run for its money--by Games Workshop had no interest in promoting RPGs at that point. But players were looking for something different, gritty, I believe. 

Middle Earth Role Playing, by ICE, might have also done well were it not a toned down version of Rolemaster.

6 What non-D&D monster do you think is as iconic as D&D ones like hook horrors or flumphs, and why do you think so?

Maybe Skaven from WFRP. But I also have a fondness for the forgotten Fimir.

7 What fantasy RPG other than D&D have you enjoyed most? Why?

Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. Because players first think they're playing D&D, but soon learn its more like Call of Cthulu.

8 What spy RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

I've never played in a spy RPG.

9 What superhero RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

I ran a FUDGE super-hero campaign way back in high school. It lasted for only three sessions. While 
liked FUDGE's elegance, it was a lot of work for the GM to come up with his own system.

10 What science fiction RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

Dark Heresy. A big part of it was the DM. Another part was my badass arbiter named Jericho.
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