Saturday, May 29, 2010
A Long Weekend Put to Good Use
A Matter Of Completely Prurient Interest
A sex scene from The Swords of Lankhmar, cut by editor Don Wollheim ("Good Heaven, Fritz, we're a family publisher...") was published in Fantasy Newsletter #49 (July 1982)
So my question is: Where can I get a hold of a copy of the July 1982 issue of "Fantasy Newsletter"? ;-)
Friday, May 28, 2010
New Spell: Know Age
The following spell is probably of little value to many typical campaigns, but for those of the same peculiar frame of mind as my own (or for those who have a similar oddball referee); this minor piece of magic might be found useful.
Know Age (Magic-user and Elf spell)
Duration: 1 round per level
Upon completing this incantation, the caster intuitively knows the age of any object or creature touched with a ± 1 year margin of error. Living beings are allowed a save vs. spells should they wish to conceal their age.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Patching Holes in My (Gaming) Music Education
As it stands, I’m impressed. While not what I’d normally put into steady rotation, the albums have grown on me—Hawkwind more than In Search of Space, but that may simply be due to the fact I've heard more of the former than the latter—and there’s definitely a time when having this play in the background would be beneficial to the creative process. Plus I kind of dig the fact that iTunes labels their genre as “space.” And while I’m not quite ready to go out and purchase the entire Hawkwind catalogue, I am interested in hearing more.
My question then is this: Is there a quintessential Hawkwind album? Something that I would be doing myself a favor by sampling a taste of? Perhaps there’s one of the many which I might get more out of with a gaming background? Please enlighten me so I can best spend my musical budget.
News for a Very Narrow Demographic
The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry
On view in the Robert Lehman Wing
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
March 2-June 13, 2010
The Belles Heures (1405-1408/9) of Jean de Berry, a treasure of The Cloisters collection, is one of the most celebrated and lavishly illustrated manuscripts in this country. Because it is currently unbound, it is possible to exhibit all of its illuminated pages as individual leaves, a unique opportunity never to be repeated. The exhibition will elucidate the manuscript, its artists-the young Franco-Netherlandish Limbourg Brothers-and its patron, Jean de France, duc de Berry. A select group of precious objects from the same early fifteenth-century courtly milieu will place the manuscript in the context of the patronage of Jean de Berry and his royal family, the Valois.
Note: The Met "suggests" a contribution of $20 but will let anyone in with any contribution. Two dollars, for ex., will let you in. Don't be intimidated!
Oh Look, A Cave!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
That Ol’ Gamer A.D.D.
If the urge doesn’t pass, I’ll have to take drastic action: Go out and try to set one up.
Referee, Entertain Thyself
With our tenth game session on the horizon and the first major chapter of the campaign completed, I’ve taken the time to look back on what has occurred so far in order to judge what worked and what didn’t, to see where I can improve my referee style, and consider what kookiness I might want to try next. The result of all this navel gazing is that I’ve realized that this is the most fun I’ve had running a game in years.
As some of you might remember, I literally threw my former campaign setting and a year’s plus worth of prep work out the window at the 11th hour to run a pulp sword & sorcery-style campaign. I went from my plan to allow more than a dozen classes as player choices to restricting them to a mere five. As I mentioned just last week, even the list of monsters that will appear in the campaign has been stripped down to a specific list with albeit vague membership requirements.
The result of all this self-imposed limitation is that I’ve never felt like I’ve had more choices and the gaping holes in the rule material have led me down creative paths I would have never considered travelling if I was still trying to run the same sort of “typical” D&D campaign I’ve been running on and off for almost thirty years. I’ve come to realize that I owe a much greater debt of gratitude to the OSR community than I ever imagined. Had I not spent the last two years being exposed to the creations of almost everyone involved in whatever the hell it is we’re trying to do here, I might never have realized that the definition of “what is D&D?” and what can be shoehorned in under its auspices is so mutable that it need not be a game based around a pseudo-medieval/Tolkien-influenced worldview. In retrospect, I realize that I have no one to blame for this preconception but myself, but I’d point to TSR’s attempts to market the game and establish a brand as being very responsible for encouraging this preconception. But that’s all blood under the bridge of bone, so let’s not dwell upon it. I’ve since been rehabilitated,
To get back to my original point, all this jettisoning of expectations has put me in the position to try out some crazy schemes to see if they’re even possible to do in the context of fantasy role-playing. It’s too early to tell if they will work or not, but the mere fact that I’ve been able to play with them in an unorthodox setting has given me great joy. This enjoyment has naturally led to me maintaining a high interest in both the campaign setting and our weekly meetings. I’ve also discovered that, by letting the players call the tune, I’m usually only dancing a session or two ahead of them, which means there’s a lot of thinking on my feet and conjuring on the fly to be done—both of which really push my Wahoo! button. In short: I’m having a blast.
I’m really blessed to have the players I do at this time. They’ve been willing to go along with my harebrained scheme and to give my offbeat rule additions a try. They’ve persevered under a crushing number of PC deaths (not all of which are completely my fault) and slightly slowed level advancement to start becoming “real” characters in a world that’s still cooking on my intellectual stovetop. As a friend of mine mentioned last week, I got incredibly lucky with this lot considering it was a pickup group of people who’ve mostly never played together before—and that’s somewhat difficult to achieve in this hobby sometimes, as anyone with a “let’s recruit down at the hobby shop” horror story might tell you. I forget which blog I read it on, but someone put forward the advice to simply be the type of gamer you want to attract. So far, that’s worked out well for me. I can only hope everyone is as lucky and is having as much fun out there as I am.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Heart of the Island Screencapture
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Eat Me, Drink Me
Yesterday, the party finally put the Temple of the Goat behind them (although the possibility always remains that they may one day return to deal with the chamber of ambulatory, character-smiting statues). Having done so, I can now reveal that the theme of that location was “mutation” in all its negative forms. From the bizarre toadhemoths to the fungal dead to the weird murals that decorated the site, the temple pointed to things not being as they should.
This theme led to thoughts of physically altering the characters as well, so I inserted two substances that could lead to strange mutations if sampled. My players did not let me down.
As an aside, Maggu Mani is a corruption of Magna Mater or “Great Mother”, a term that refers to the god/dess, Ishnigarrab, which was who the Temple of the Goat was dedicated too. Some of you may know Ishnigarrab by another name: Shub-Niggurath.
Fruit of the Maggu Mani: This strange life resembles gooey yellow-purple polyps the size of cantaloupes. They grow in grape-like clusters and are covered with a slick, sticky film. This material is a plant native to Nihil and was brought down by the Overpriest to serve his nutritional needs. The strange fruit can be either profoundly stimulating to the human body—or a nasty toxin. Anyone eating one of the polyps must make a CON check. If they succeed in the roll, their body shrugs off the alien matter, but they become horrible sick in the process (equal to the bite of a giant centipede). If the roll fails, however, the alien fruit causes their body to undergone a slight and visually unnoticeable change, resulting in the gain of 1 point of CON permanently. There are enough fruits here for ten (10) such meals. They rot quickly after being plucked (within 4 hours).
Milk of the Maggu Mani:This grey fluid is the milk of Ishnigarrab him/herself and produces strange effects on living tissue. Anyone who samples this liquid must make a save vs. poison. If successful, the drinker immediately gains the benefits of a full day’s food and heals 1d3 points of damage. If the save is failed, they undergo a spontaneous transformation. Roll on the table below:
1d4 sightless eyes grow on the drinker’s hands
A second mouth sprouts from the drinker’s throat. This mouth can only make whimpers and horrid smacking sounds.
Hair follicles secrete urine regularly
Drinker’s mouth fills with puss-containing blisters and boils. Drinker can breathe through nose but cannot eat or drink.
Wormlike tendrils sprout from the drinkers nostrils.
Drinker’s body absorbs a random body part – 1: left arm; 2: right arm; 3: left leg; 4: right leg; 5: reproductive organs; 6: head (this is fatal).
Roll each time the liquid is drunk, rerolling on duplicated results. If the character is afflicted by all six effects and continues to consume the liquid, each additional failed save results in the PC losing 1d4 points from a random ability score. Any score reduced to 0, the character is reduced to a viscous puddle of proto matter and is slain.
NOTE: the need for rules for what happens if a character continues to sample the milk may seem strange to some people, but not if you've spent a lot of time on the other side of the referee screen. As it was, the milk was drank by the same character not once but twice in my campaign, demonstrating that it's never a good idea to underestimate the rashness of players.
Liftoff Has Been Scrubbed
Had they not done so, the campaign would have taken to the stars as the adventurers found themselves on the surface of the lesser moon, Nihil. And oh what fun that would have been…
Instead, it looks as if the party is headed out beyond the Dune Sea to investigate the legendary dungeon complex know as the Black Gut—which will be fun in its own right for I have some interesting plans for that megadungeon.
But still, a trip to the moon would have been legendary.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Signs of Life
1) Roleplaying gamers are probably unique in their irrational tendency to argue that the rules of their games are not sufficiently” realistic” (and I include wargamers and other fans of simulation games amongst the roleplayers in this case). Imagine how many of the hoary old chestnuts of debate (alignment, wizards with swords) would no longer be fodder for arguments if gamers simply remembered that they are playing games, and that games, by their very nature, have artificial rules and limitations imposed upon them. I very much doubt that, over on the Monopoly forums, there are debates raging about how “I should be able to move farther on my turn because my piece is the guy on the horse. That horse has got to move faster than the iron!” or “I’m the car. Why can’t I just run over the dog and take Bill out of the game completely? That’s not very realistic!”
2) One of the unforeseen benefits of running a campaign that draws primarily on pulp sword & sorcery tales as inspiration is the ease of stocking dungeons and creating wilderness encounter tables. No longer do I find myself having to choose between kobolds, goblins, xvarts, or jermlaine. Instead, I just try to picture Elric, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or Conan fighting a certain creature. If I can, that beastie makes the cut. If I can picture Conan as depicted by John Buscema & Ernie Chan fighting it, I know for certain it’s the right monster to use. There’s not going to be a lot of pegasi or chimeras lurking in the Watchfires & Thrones campaign.
Speaking of Watchfires & Thrones, for those of you interested in such things, the recap of last Sunday’s game is live over at the Archive of the Rotted Moon. I may squeeze in real post on the SoTPR before the weekend depending on what I accomplish today. If not, please enjoy yourselves, friends, and happy gaming!
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Farewell, Ronnie James Dio
I'm grossly under-qualified to sum up RJD's musical accomplishments, but, as those of your familiar with his work might agree, I just know he would have had the coolest dice bag if he had been a gamer.
Generate your next adventure is Ronnie's honor with the Ronnie James Dio Lyric Generator to help inspire you.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Obscure Octavo: Water Spider
Movement: 120’ (40’)
Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 1+1
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1 + poison
Hoard Class: None
This creature is not an aquatic arachnid, but rather a poodle-sized spider composed of water. Sages argue as to the origin of these creatures with some maintaining they are minor elementals and others claiming them to be the restless spirits of spiders who perished by water. In either case, they are always found in or near water and they can lurk in narrow pipes and tiny drains in order to ambush their victims. They do not spin webs.
Water spiders are venomous and their toxin, although weak (+2 to save vs. poison), is lethal. Their liquid state makes them resistant to harm and they suffer half damage from non-magical piercing or slashing weapons. Bludgeoning, silver, and magical weapons all do normal damage. Water spiders are also partially immune to fire spells (taking half-damage from these effects with a successful save negating all damage) and are merely slowed by cold-based magic.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The Return of the Much Missed Mr. Driver
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Summer’s Here: The Punks Have Arrived
Last summer, through a series of coincidences and happenstance, I found myself attending a few punk rock shows in my area. It seems that, like the OSR, the punk bands from the late seventies and early eighties are having their own revival—cashing in on their dimming fame while everyone’s still alive. This is a good thing for fans like me in our troubled economic times for it means cheap local shows.
The paper today announced that the first of these punks of yore have arrived on my fair shores so I’m officially kicking of "Mike’s Old School Punk Rock Summer of 2010" this Saturday when I go see The Buzzcocks play a few towns over.
Checking out some of my favorite bands from back then, I see that it looks like Social Distortion and GBH will be in the vicinity this summer too. And although I don’t own any of their albums, my love for the absurd may take me to see GWAR next month. I’m anticipating more shows to be announced in the coming weeks. It looks like it’s a summer of Punkémon: Gotta Catch ‘em All
Monday, May 10, 2010
You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla
But we now live in a wondrous age where retailers sell individual miniatures from these sets directly to the customer, thereby eliminating the randomness factor completely. Unfortunately, you still have to contend with the financial factor, as some rare plastic miniatures fetch an ungodly sum. That is unless your taste runs to the bizarre, which, in collectible plastic miniature land, actually seems to be to your wallet’s benefit.
After the other day’s grumbling, I spent some time looking over the selection of minis available from Miniature Market, an online retailer I used once before when I decided that my miniatures box really needed some cheap robots for an encounter I thought up (more on that at another time). After going through their listing of D&D miniatures, I found that the prices for what I’d consider standard “off-beat” old school monsters are quite reasonable. I assume this is because most of the kids nowadays are paying top dollar for drow figures and the like. But look at these numbers:
Aboleth Slime Mage: $1.25
Cave bear: $1.50
Clay Golem: $2.75
Enormous Carrion Crawler: $2.50
Galeb duhr: $0.50
Giant Frog: $1.50
Iron Cobra: $2.25
Ochre Jelly: $1.00
Rat Swarm: $1.50
War Ape: $1.00
Those are pretty reasonable if you’re looking to add a few oddball monsters to your miniature collection or are getting ready to build a really memorable fight that requires something like, oh, howzabout a whole bunch of apes of various types?
I doubt I'll ever be found lacking for an albino carnivorous ape encounter or Barsoomian four-armed ape ambush again.
I can vouch for Miniature Market when it comes to service, too. I ordered the minis pictured above on Friday and they had the order shipped that day. It was in my mailbox this afternoon.
I'll probably regret posting about this the next time I need something strange and find that their cheap old school monsters have been cleaned out, but I'll consider this a community service for cash-strapped referees such as myself.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Secrets of Stonehell: Hall of the Elders
There is a room on the third level of Stonehell Dungeon which seemingly contains nothing but a handful of marble busts set atop pedestals. Each bust depicts an older human male and is labeled with a name.
In true old school style, each of the five names is an anagram of the name of a real figure from the hobby’s history. Some of the anagrams are simple; others less so. The identities of all five figures are revealed here for the first time.
The first is easy enough: Yrag the Elder, who is of course Gary Gygax, a man who used “Yrag” himself. I included it in this room because I figured it to be the most blatant anagram example and hoped that it would encourage the players to try and decipher the rest of them.
The second bust is labeled “Evaders Noan,” which sounds like a pretty badass name for a D&D character. It also happens to be “Dave Arneson” rearranged. I used this name in a previous unfinished and unreleased dungeon, but liked it so much that I had to recycle it here. It is also my first “in game” tribute to Dave, appearing in my notes before he passed away and predating vaedium by several months.
Next in line is “Jeermilch So,” who is also the reason why I decided to reveal this secret of Stonehell now. “Jeermilch So” becomes “J Eric Holmes” when shuffled around. Like some of the gamers in my age bracket, I was introduced to the game by way of Holmes’ “blue book” when an older cousin convinced me to play around Christmas time in 1980. Unlike many gamers who also entered the hobby via Holmes, however, I never developed the personal fondness for that edition that they did, instead preferring the Moldvay Basic set which was released soon afterwards. Granted, I was eight-years old at the time, so the more introductory level writing of Moldvay’s edition was probably responsible. Despite this character flaw, I do have a great deal of respect for J. Eric Holmes’ efforts to promote the game and draw connections between the hobby of roleplaying and psychological development. I do feel a little ashamed for us as hobbyists who are trying to keep the old ways alive and honor those who blazed the trail. We dropped the ball on missing Holmes’ death by more than a month and we should all be a little red-faced about that.
The fourth bust is labeled “Yammod Volt” and, after the previous revelation, I suppose it comes as no shock to admit that that’s “Tom Moldvay” all jumbled up. Moldvay’s another designer who I find myself respecting more and more as I grow older. With Watchfires & Thrones leaning heavily on pulp sword & sorcery as inspiration, I suspect it’s only a matter of time before the Moldvay’s “pulp trilogy” of modules show up in the campaign world. I finished clearing out a space for The Lost City over the weekend and I have some fiendish plans for the other two if the PCs start heading down certain paths…
Lastly, there is the bust “Rolo Utes.” Old Rolo differs from the other four in two respects. First off, he’s not a writer but an artist, and secondly (and sadly for the others), he’s the only name who’s still living. “Rolo Utes” is none other than “Erol Otus.” If I have to explain his presence in Stonehell, you’ve obviously wander onto this blog by some very bizarre pathway. This is not the sole appearance of Erol Otus in my work either, although his other manifestation is somewhat blemished. Those of you who own a copy of The Dungeon Alphabet should turn to the “One Hundred Book Titles” chart on p. 8 and take a look at entry #98. There, due to a typographical error (one that will be fixed in the book’s second printing so you really should go preorder a corrected copy right now), “Rolo Utes” shows up as “Rolo Ites,” the man responsible for the book, The Master’s Art. And speaking of “One Hundred Book Titles,” there’s one chart that’s rife with anagrams and inside jokes. Perhaps I’ll do a post about those one day when the creative juices are running slow and I feel like pulling back the curtain on another work of mine.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
New Magic Item: Galoot Cologne
However, when the galoot cologne is mixed with food before consumption, the results are quite different. On a failed saving throw, the consumer’s Charisma is permanently reduced by 6 points unless he or she already has a Charisma of 6 or less.
If this is the case, the consumer’s Strength is permanently increased by four points up to a maximum of 18. Additionally, the consumer develops certain antisocial tendencies and becomes quick to anger. Should the consumer have a Strength of 14 or better (and a CHA of 6 or less) prior to consuming the liquid, they become a strange creature (never before seen on Broadway).
In this event, the referee is encourage to determine their new form using the tables and methods presented in Exquisite Corpses, The Random Esoteric Creature Generator, “Random Monsters” from The Dragon #10, or similar products. Referees strapped for time may use the stats for an ogre and assign the character 2-5 bizarre traits or new body parts.
From Around the Watchfires: Heavenly Bodies
It started simply enough. In my initial notes for the campaign, I decided I wanted to employ a fantasy cliché that I’ve never personally used before: multiple moons. In this case, two of them. If there’s one thing that fantasy artwork from the 60s and 70s taught me, it’s that multiple moons are shorthand for bizarre alien worlds. With this in mind, I made a quick note about them. One is a big, bright moon, similar to our own Luna. The second, however, is a smaller and more battered body, cracked by some ancient catastrophe and trailing large chunks in its wake. That moon has a pallid, even putrid appearance, earning it the nickname of the Rotted Moon.
Although it looks different from the mental picture I have of the secondary moon, I used the broken moon from Thundarr the Barbarian as my quick “elevator pitch” sketch when trying to explain how the night sky appears. Just recently though, I discovered this promo image for the video game, Shattered Horizon, and it look much more like the picture I have in my head than Thundarr’s broken moon.
I was content to leave it at that, but then one of my player’s decided that his cleric worshipped the god, Uun (a name of his own creation). I let him run with the idea, leaving it up to him to decide what Uun was like, deity-wise. He decided that Uun (the Unknowable, as we dubbed him because we knew nothing about the god during the first game session) was a moon good and the guardian of cats. That’s all I needed to hear before I decided that the big moon’s name was Uun and the smaller moon was called the Rotting Moon. Done and done—or so I thought.
Then something started to cook on my creative stove top and I knew that I’d have to learn more about the Rotting Moon. For starters, a name was required, and, because of what was percolating in my mental pots, I decided that Nihil was best for my purposes. Since then, there’s been much more added to Nihil, but I can’t talk about that material just yet. It’ll have to wait until after I see what the characters end up doing in the next few game sessions.
But the stellar fun didn’t end there. I found myself in need of a suitable “red planet” to serve as an origin point/launch pad for another idea I’ve been noodling with. I also recently re-watched the first season of Rome and recalled Titus Pullo’s and Lucius Vorenus’ discussion about stars. Thus, Raka Ma’ad, the War Star, came into being. This “star” is one which sages believe may actually be a wayward moon, one that lies “hundreds of miles” up in the sky. If crimson Raka Ma’ad comes into play, the campaign will have taken a very interesting turn.
As a last point of note, it should be mentioned that the general populace believes that Hell, in its many guises, does not lie beneath one’s feet, but in the sky above. That dismal realm of devils and unknown gods lies in the night sky, in a territory just beyond the stars. This is a concept that I borrowed from my previous campaign world, solely on the strength of having a “cold hell beyond space” where things like this can come from.
Monday, May 3, 2010
If there was somehow a line a figures like that in their wonderful buck and change minis, I'd be an happy gamer. The alien bar figures and grey aliens are a nice start, but I could use more inexpensive weird minis in my collection. Just in case anyone with any clout over there is listening...
Archive of the Rotted Moon
That new blog is Archive of the Rotted Moon (http://rottedmoon.blogspot.com) and a recap of Sunday’s game can be found here.
House Rule Additions & Modifications
In my game, in order to use a shield to absorb the damage intended for your character, you need to make a successful save vs. death. I realize that this gives the clerics and the dwarf a slightly higher probability of success than the fighters, but I wanted something that was easy to remember and, since the shield splinter rule is most often used to avoid dying, this seemed like the best category. If push comes to shove and an explanation is required, I’ll just say that the gods look out for their own and, with the short stature and inhuman fighting techniques, dwarves are plain harder to hit sometimes.
I introduced the need for a saving throw because in Trollsmyth’s original version (whether it may have changed since inception, I do not know), using a shield to save your hide was a matter of simply saying so and I wanted there to be an element of chance involved in order to keep the players on their toes. That’s merely my own bias. So far we haven’t had to use the rule to avoid spell-inflicted damage. I’m curious to see how I’ll end up using this rule once that occurs.
I did have to make an on-the-fly ruling regarding this permutation during the third game session, one which so far seems to work fine. When one of the PCs was attacked by killer frogs and reduced to his last hit point, he attempted to block one of the frog’s two successful attacks. He rolled a natural 20 on his saving throw vs. death, which I ruled meant that the shield was able to take the blow and remained intact. Then, unbelievably, he invoked this rule to attempt to block the second attack and rolled another natural 20! I again ruled that the shield survived the attack and he remained unscathed by the blow. I could have stated that the shield, already weakened by the first strike, broke regardless of the 20, but I’d rather reward everyone with a really cool game memory, which is exactly what has seemed to occur. Conversely, in our most recent session, another character attempted to block a blow with his shield and rolled a 1. I took this to mean that the attack was so powerful that it not only splintered his shield but carried past to damage him despite his efforts to turn the blow.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
It was a hot afternoon for the referee: four natural twenties during three hours of play, one of which was responsible for the death pictured above. However, the party's two surviving clerics finally made 2nd level, and a cache of healing items was discovered. I think the party's survival rate is in for an sharp increase in future game sessions. I'm quite thrilled at that notion.