Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hating on Upkeep

Let me begin by saying that this post mostly stems from me being a lazy GM.

I HATE spells, powers, and game mechanisms that have upkeep effects.

Goodberry, animal familiars, druid animal companions, etc...

The druid class has always been one of the worst offenders in AD&D. I really don't like to keep track of a bunch of little NPC's or keep track of how many semi-permanent good berries a character is holding on to.

The reason I brought this up is that I've been reading the Stormbringer 4th and 5th editions. I really like them both for different reasons, but I didn't really like the magic systems presented in either book. The 5th edition brought in Sorcery spells identical to those presented in the BRP system which are similar to sorcery spells from Runequest. These spells have a limited effect and cost ~1-4 MP. In the Stormbringer 4th edition, it is all about summoning and binding elementals and demons (which are really aliens and not demons of the traditional sense). I think this would make for a tremendous amount of book-keeping - which I find tedious and lame.

I've never read all of Moorcock's works, but I'm currently re-reading them to get in the spirit of this game system. The 4th edition spell system of Stormbringer is pretty close, but one thing I noticed is that Elric tends to summon things up pretty quickly in game terms.

I'm thinking about trying to conceive a magic system where you call on the immediate aid of chaos or elementals/ beastlords, etc... and the GM would arbitrate on the level of MP that would need to be sacrificed to induce the effect.

I would still keep the summoning/binding system - but make it so you need specific grimoires to make it easier to call up specific demons, otherwise it would take even longer and use even more power. Once a demon has been bound you could release it, and bring forth a magical effect. This would allow for demon bound magical armor and magical swords but maybe a little bit more limited versus the versions presented in the Stormbringer 4th and 5th.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Riding the Storm Out

I recently picked up Stormbringer 4th and 5th editions.

I really like both of these games and I might spend a couple of posts discussing various topics related to them.

I think there are two primary aspects of the game that drew me to it:

1. There are no "character levels". I also like that in the BRP based 5th edition there are no "classes". I really like rolemaster but at the end of the day it is a D&D game with class and level and a huge number of options thrown in for crunch. The magic system and combat system have been changed and you have skills, but you still gain experience points for stuff and you still go up levels and have classes. I really wanted to see if you could play a fantsay RPG without the exp, class, and level systems.

2. The chaosium d100 system is similar to Rolemaster in that your character may grow more powerful, acquiring more magic and skills, but they still can be killed relatively easy with a single (or several) hit. The stormbringer setting brings in a random die for armor level into the runequest system and I think that is a brilliant piece that adds tension to the game. In addition the major wounds section brings realistic "critical" type hits to the game. I've tried adding critical hit tables with detailed wounds to D&D in the past. However, I always felt that it changed the game from being D&D to something else and my players always hated me for it.

I've read both the 4th and 5th editions over at least in part and there are things about each that I'm really loving and some things that I'm not sure would play out well in the type of RPG I'd like to GM.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Character Death

I've been branching out and trying some new RPG podcasts. I ran into one that seems wildly popular "Fear the Boot".

The first episode I listened to was entitled Character Death. First off, before I start blog trashing these guys, I thought this podcast was totally awesome. The hosts are completely animated and very fun to listen to. Another reason why they were so interesting to me was that I found myself disagreeing with them quite often throughout the show. I find it very stimulating to listen to points of view that run counter to mine own (he he he, I just said mine own).

Anyway, from the first part of the argument they seem to espouse the idea that:

1. They are ok with character death at the "climax" of the campaign, but don't want to be killed by a poison needle trap on a random chest that doesn't seem to be tied to the "plot" of the game. They later also discuss how they wouldn't want to be killed in a D&D game on a "random" encounter that seems to have nothing to do with the plot.

2. They think that the GM should let the players know his philosophy about killing PC's upfront at the beginning of the campaign.

3. PC's could have failure consequences that are different from death. They bring up Spirit of the Century and other games of the sort which can have negative character altering mechanisms that allow the GM to punish failure without resorting to death.

There were definitely other ideas that were brought up throughout the show, but I'm forgetting them right now (since I listened to the show yesterday) and I remember most of them being related to the above points.

Let me tackle the first point first. I'm ok with character death in just about any dangerous situation of the game. I would be mad if the GM just told me my character was dead without any explanation, but otherwise, in most games that I play - my characters are adventuring in some pretty dangerous and sometimes horrific places. If there was no chance of PC death (or at least the "perceived chance" of PC death) then it would make the game boring to me. I like to at least give my players the "perceived chance" of real death to give them that same feeling. I can do this with a whole host of very simple GM tools.

The other thing that bothered me in this podcast was the idea of the "random encounter" being inconsequential. If it truly has no point in your game, take it out! I believe that every minute of gaming at my table should be there for a good reason. I don't create the entire plot of every game and dictate "here is the big bad boss" and here is the "sub boss #1" and "sub boss #2" etc... Things may fall into a similar rhythm to that due to the inclusion of "move tropes" into my game, but I allow my players to have almost as much narrative control as I have... therefore, every encounter, every trap, and every monster I throw their way is important. I typically do have a loose plot in my head or a mystery story laid out in very general terms (maybe in a flow diagram) but my PC"s could choose to leave it all behind and set sail on a boat to foreign island in search of treasure - at that time I will throw out the original concept that I had and start trying to figure out what they are going to find on the island. Sandbox loving GM's find themselves running their games like improv musicians - it is difficult but highly rewarding!

Point 2 - should the GM let the PC's know his philosophy on PC death up front. I think this is pointless - it completely demystifies your game, makes it completely predictable and boring. Don't do this, keep it vague. If your PC's ask you about your views on PC death answer them Yoda style - "I'm not out to kill you, but there is always a chance your character could die depending on the circumstances"... something like that... don't say, "if you are only fighting sub boss #3 you won't die! I think even if you told players that there is the likely chance of death at any time, you are always going to get players that are angry when their beloved PC dies....

#3 - use other mechanisms for PC failure. This is one point where I completely agreed with the hosts. I think this is used far too little in most games. I remember lots of circumstances in my games as a youth where PC's were imprisoned, lost limbs, eyes were blinded, etc... Also, infamy and fame could be introduced to the game where once your character is famous you are noticed at every Inn in the country, such that you can't use stealth any more in your adventures. I think I use non-death punishments for failure already, but I like the ideas of coming up with more and more creative methods here that improve the roleplaying experience.

Anyway, while I didn't agree much with the folks at Fear the Boot, I really liked their podcast and I'm planning on listening to more episodes soon!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Skipping Quickly over Glorantha

I finally got around to reading like 70% of the books I purchased in my Amazon gift card bonanza!

I thought I would talk about the Glorantha second age book first. I hated it.

Maybe since I never got into original Runequest products in the past I'm missing some key element that gels everything together. To me this product sucked. Nothing about it made me want to play games in that world. It was extremely jarring how the author of the product used acronyms for different empires. Empire of Wyrm Friends was EWF, etc...

This game world was almost "too personal" for me to get into. Maybe that is why I like game worlds like Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk so much since they are general enough for you to make your own and tell the stories that you want to. I didn't get that feeling with this material. Although, I also read Stormbringer 4th and 5th editions from Chaosium which details a very specific non-generic game world and I LOVED them. So maybe I'm just missing something with Glorantha.

Anyway, someday in the future there will be another copy of Glorantha 2nd Age up on EBAY. Until then it is going into deep storage. The bright side is that I didn't spend much on it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

American Horror Story

Most octobers in the past I have spent a lot of time hunkered in front of the tube watching horror movies. This year my schedule is actually bat shit crazy so I'm lacking the time for that kind of activity.

So I've been getting my horror fix from a new FX show American Horror Story. It is a fun horror romp with all the cliches. Check it out, it is pretty creepy and fun:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

D100 Gaming

I've been pretty silent on this blog for about 1-2 months now. I had a wicked bout of migraine headaches that forced me to limit my computer usage. Since I'm not sure I'm completely over it I'll make this quick.

While I have been away from the computer I did get an amazon gift card a present... I made pretty good work of it scoring:

Rolemaster Express (love this book!)

Chaosium BRP hardcover
Stormbringer 4th Edition
Glorantha 2nd Age
Call of Cthulhu 5th Edition Rulebook

Yes that's right, lots of d100 gaming goodness!

I've been reading them over and when time permits I plan to review some of this stuff. The Chaosium skill based system has me the most interested. It really works for Call of Cthulhu - I've been playing the PBEM game with Daddy G, DungeonMum, and O4E for a while now and it runs smoothly for that style game. The question is can it correctly handle all the other genre that it advertises in the BRP book. I like that it has so many options that can be brought in and out of any campaign yet the core is straightforward and simple.

Well, that is all for now, hopefully my head will stop this nonsense and I can cover some of this game material in better detail.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Shadow over Innsmouth

In august the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast covered The Shadow over Innsmouth, covering it in 4 parts with Andrew Leman doing some EXCELLENT readings. I finally got around to listening to it and it was just an excellent podcast.

Also, good was the wrap up show with Robert Price and Donovan Loucks (who runs While Robert Price's interview was intellectually stimulating as always, Donovan spoke alot about the architecture that inspired lovecraft and spoke about how you really need to spend time in New England and get the feel to really enjoy this particular aspect of Lovecraft.

I can tell you that I brought one of my Lovecraft collections with me on a trip through New England, Salem, Boston, Gloucester. I remember one morning that I woke up early in a B&B in Gloucester before light and read some of The Shadow over Innsmouth. I reread the ending passage as the narrator speaks of strange longings to find that strange reef off the coast and then I got up and went to the window and looked out through flowery curtains at the grey sea, the sun just coming up in the horizon and the sky a mixture of yellow, grey, and crisp blue. It seemed to me I could remember a genetic calling toward the sea... perhaps a strange desire to step out past the spired churches and abandoned buildings, to tread over the rocky beach line, and to slide back into the waters that birthed a primordial ancestor long ago and explore the glories and wonders below...

Anyway, this is definitely one of my favorites of Lovecraft, listen to this podcast and read the story, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No More Infravision!

I think in my next B/X campaign (or possibly later on in the campaign that I'm running) I'm going to replace the infravision that is explained in the core rulebooks with Twilightvision and Darkvision.

Twilight vision would be the ability of elves and possibly other faery types to see in the moonlight/starlight as if it were daylight.

Darkvision would be the ability to see for a short range in near perfect darkness conditions. The range of vision would be 60-90ft in most situations. Nobody knows how this works, perhaps characters with darkvision can see some other exotic radiation source that is present in the underdark? Or maybe it's just magic?

Monday, September 12, 2011

You Can Call Me Al

Meet Allessandro Mancini, my Call of Cthulhu character for the Decade of Darkness campaign initially helmed by Daddy Grognard who also plays as Chester Allen, followed up by Old 4 Eyes who also plays as Solomon. The game is currently being ran by Dungeonmum whose character is currently indisposed but normally plays a mildly alcoholic millionaire pilot.

My thesis for Allessandro is:

A passionate bare-knuckle boxer who spends his days serving espresso in coffee bars and writing poetry.

Initially, I thought it would be fun to try playing a character in an investigative game who has almost no investigation skills. I would have to make my way though encounters with my punching ability (not good when facing things with tentacles) and my witty turn of phrase... I figured since CoC characters have such short lives, that it wouldn't matter much anyway.

However, over time, Al's personality has really grown. I see him as a tragically heroic character in a nihilistic universe. He believes in right and wrong, goes to church every week with his mother, he was forced out of his boxing career by gangsters who wanted him to throw fights, he spends his days serving high quality coffee to rich people and his nights dreaming up poetry. He is a dreamer, and an optimist in the face of everything that has happened to him. He relishes the good things in life, art, food, wine, coffee, etc... maybe he is a bit hedonistic, but hey, it is the roaring 20's!!!

"his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night."

Quote from The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

X4 - Alternate Intro

Upon returning from the extra-dimensional adventures with Stephen Amber, you found yourselves in the midst of Glantri. The laws of this magocracy were almost hostile toward the dwarfs and fighters of your group and so you traveled south into Darokin to escape imprisonment or death. Darokin was a land of wealth and splendor where the vast amounts of treasure your party acquired during your adventures allowed you to literally live as kings!

You lived it up in the social circles and intrigues of Darokin city for weeks until you tired of the backstabbing and strict rules of etiquette that the elite have created for themselves. Finding a noble in financial troubles you were able to invest nearly all of your wealth in a great villa and surrounding vineyards along the southern edge of a great plateau that lies to the west of Darokin west of the Great Swamp.

Traveling there with hired experts in horticulture and winemaking you spent the next year living in splendor, feasting on lamb and steer and making wine. Bards came from all around to live in your villa, hear your stories, and sing you tales from abroad. Traveling princes, wizards, and wandering knights all made your stone villa a favorite respite from the harsh wilderness. Life is good and you began to forget the tiny song of adventure that once resounded in your head.

It was then when disaster struck! A massive army of humanoids, mostly orc and goblins but supported by cruel men, ogres, trolls, and worse stormed your villa in the night. You fought back with magic and swords but you were out of practice and unprepared for such an onslaught. Their numbers were immense and finally you were forced to flee east toward Elstarath with only your fastest horses and your most precious weapons and magical items and books.

On your way you began to alert the small villages and keeps that you found along the way, but most of them had already been evacuated. It seems that the army was much larger than you had even begun to imagine. The main army of Darokin had already marched west into the desert following the humanoid army that had retreated to find reinforcements.

Weeks went by and your party joined in with a rag-tag group of reserves who was planning to meet the main army that was now deep in the desert of fire fighting the humanoid force. You find yourselves entering a small village that was only recently taken back by the Darokin army, still among the smoking ruins of the village were the signs of nomad enemies - humans, orcs, and other unknown creatures. The leaders of your rag-tag group halted at this place and awaited the field commanders orders. He is held up in the largest house of the village and spends all day assigning orders and processing information. It seems that the reserve effort is pretty unorganized and mostly you have spent the last three days camped near the edge of town with no orders or information about what you should do to help. The fires of vengeance still burn in your chests, life on the road has hardened you once more, and you would love to be able to do something effective against this unknown army...

My buddies will be back in town this weekend of Sept 10-11 and we might be able to organize up and throw down another tabletop gaming session! I'm still trying to catch up from a week on vacation so this was the best introduction I could come up with for X4. I tried to come up with a more plausible (still very rail-roady) reason for the players to be involved in this adventure that made sense from coming out of the Castle Amber X2 adventure module. I think this will serve the purpose of emptying them of nearly all of their coin and give them a reason to care about facing down this strange army and give them the idea that stealth and not strong-arm tactics will be required (since they already faced this army and were all nearly killed). I'm not trying to make this a really open ended campaign right now, I'm basically railroading my players through a group of old-school adventures one by one and having fun just playing in them. My plan is to run them through a beefed up version of X1 next followed by something maybe placed in Alphatia or the hollow world or maybe both... I may have to make something up for the next two adventures because I'm expecting the players to make it up to ~10+ level by the time we finish the X1 adventure.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Magical Dwarves and Sneaky Halflings

"They brought up their ponies, and carried away the pots of gold, and buried them very secretly not far from the track by the river, putting a great many spells over them, just in case they ever had the chance to come back and recover them."

That line is from the Roast Mutton chapter of "The Hobbit". I'm reading the Douglas A. Anderson annotated version of J.R.R. Tolkien's book before the movie comes out and re-reading the book I read as a 4th grader in elementary school as an adult has been really interesting.

That quoted line really struck me as I read over it. It didn't say specifically that Gandalf cast the spells... I got the picture that the dwarves know some spells which really got me thinking about dwarves in general and how in the Middle Earth world dwarves are more like their Norse mythological roots.

Douglas A talks about how almost all the dwarven names are pulled directly from the Poetic Edda (1923 Henry Adams Bellows translation) which I have never read, but I'm thinking of looking for a copy in English. I also found it interesting in his annotation that he spoke of a dwarf who cursed a man to roam the woods as a wild bear in the Blue Fairy Book 1889 edited by Andrew Lang (Douglas was making the point that the bear man is a Beorn prototype, however I was thinking more about the fact that the dwarf had magical abilities). In our ancestors folk myths of dwarves, they are magical creatures with magical abilities; I wonder why Gary decided to make them almost "anti-magical" in D&D? As I keep reading this book I'm going to think more and more about how (and if) I should adopt this stuff for my next D&D game. I kind of like the idea of dwarves having some magical abilities...

On a completely different note, it really spoke to me that Bilbo not only can hide in the woods at will (as the BX Halfling can), but in addition Bilbo shows that he can "move silently" with ease, and attempts to pick pockets of the trolls in this chapter. I think the current BX halfling abilities mock the hiding ability, but maybe the halfling should have a marginally better aptitude at moving silently and some other thief abilities than the average human does (not trained thieves). Perhaps it would be as simple as giving halflings some bonus to surprise checks (they may already have that in the B/X system or I might be crossing my systems) or give them a +1 on a d6 or approximately a +20% chance to attempt these things.

I probably won't implement any of this in one of my campaigns without a lot of thought, but it is interesting to imagine how one could adjust the B/X system to increase the Tolkeinishness of the system. I've also been reading the MERP roleplaying system and while I love rolemaster (it is a perverse sick love) the system as it stands really doesn't exactly match the flavor of tolkien. The art was amazing IMHO, the background they put in the MERP books is great, but the system mechanics are pretty far away from the Middle Earth universe as presented in the Hobbit and LOTR.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Forgotten Realms

I have both the 1987 Grey Box realms and the 1993 Forgotten Realms boxed set redone for 2nd edition rules. I have studied both of these boxed sets in detail and I have to say that the 1993 version by Ed Greenwood and Jeff Grubb is the better of the two. I think it is really the Cyclopedia of the Realms from the grey box that I have the most issues with.

The 2nd edition boxed set presents the same gameworld that folks learned to love through the original modules and the grey box but it is represented in a more organized format. In the "Grand tour of the Realms" the entirety of Faerun is covered along with hints of what lies "off the maps" and it is presented in a way that provides for tons of adventuring hooks. The art is minimal, black and white, and provided from a bunch of different artists with rough wood cut and charcoal drawings that really hooked me as a kid.

I LOVED that they separated the prominent NPC's from the geography in this version of the realms. I pretty much never use an NPC that has ever been in a realms novel in my games of the realms. Each time I run the realms I like to try to put a slightly different spin on it. The characters are not just going to wander into Florin Falconhand, or Elminster, or Khelben Arunsun. I don't use these characters in my games at all. Most of my players have read more realms novels than I have so I like to draw inspiration from the novels but exclude all specifics.

The fact that all the NPC's are tucked into a small section of the Running the Realms book in the 2nd edition printing of the game means that they are easily bypassed when looking for something out of these books. The dieties are all organized well and all of the 1st edition gods are present in case you just want to play a "historical" realms campaign before the ToT.

Speaking of the fact that all the gods from the original edition are still there, I think that Jeff and Ed tried hard to keep cross compatibility between the two versions of the game. There are almost no actual game statistics for anything in this boxed set. All NPC's are listed as N hm T7 and then a couple of paragraphs of description, this is easily converted into any game system you would like Original, Basic, 1e, 2e, 3e, etc... play this gameworld with any of these, do it yourself, make up your own rules. Here is a world to play in, period.

While I love almost everything about the 2nd edition realms, there is one piece in particular that I took offense against:

I hated the "time of troubles". While it wasn't half as bad as the "coming of the Shade" and all the massive world altering changes that occurred with that, I didn't appreciate TSR at the time telling me that I "had" to take the realms in a certain direction. I liked Bhaal and Bane and didn't want to let them leave my campaign. They were far better evil gods for my clerics than Cyric. The wild magic zones and dead magic zones I could take or leave, they really didn't add much for my game etc... However, this is easily changed. I just continued to begin my realms adventures between 1344 and 1358DR. I typically stole all the plot hooks from the "News of the Realms" section and changed the specifics to meet the situation that I was in and started a game. The actions of the PC's would begin to craft a story that would take the realms in any direction that I saw fit.

I had realms games where the time of trouble happened and those that didn't. I played games where Amn and Calisham had massive wars that embroiled the rest of Faerun in small scale battles for trade and land. The thing I loved about the running games in FR was that all my players had a common understand of the dieties, the races, and the major organizations. I could get right to playing the games without explaining all about my new game world of the day. The forgotten realms were always flexible enough for me to play the games that I wanted to play in them, but at the same time familiar enough to my players to have a common understanding of the game world.

If you have never checked out the second edition version of the realms, I would recommend you do.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fighting back the Gamer ADD

I was talking to my players this week and they really asked me to fight back the Gamer ADD. They had a real blast playing in Mystara and running through Castle Amber and they would like to keep these characters for a while yet. One of the players is lamenting that he has never had a PC make it to over 10th level and would like to try making it there with his wizard character in this game.

I told them that I have a group of adventures that I've been buying up that should get them up to at least 10th level and maybe beyond.

I'm thinking to run them through a heavily modified Master of the Desert Nomads (which could have a massive detour to the moon if the players play things right), followed by the Temple of Death adventure. That alone should get them up to about 8-10th level.

Then I'd like to use one of these three products that I got off Ebay:

Isle of Dread (maybe I could beef it up a bit for high level PC's, add some kind of twist?)

Empire of Dawn boxed set (I'd like to take my PC's to Alphatia and have some cool mid-air battles among the ramparts of flying castles).

Hollow World Boxed set ( I got this whole boxed set for free, the guy threw it in with another product that I purchased, I think it is pretty neat, and the altered game physics with the magic and stuff could throw off my players in a fun way).

Does anybody that reads this blog have any other ideas for really good 8-12th level adventures?

After some greater than 10th level play, I want to reboot our campaign and have the guys start brand new PC's at low levels. I'd like to run in forgotten realms. However, I would also really like to run Rolemaster - my series on running Forgotten Realms and Rolemaster together probably all ready showed what I'm thinking about. However, my players are really loving the stripped down aspect of Basic DnD and I'm not sure if they are ready for anything close to Rolemaster. They are asking me to "quit it" with the changing game systems each week stuff. It is hard, most of the time I feel like this guy...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rolemaster Customization of FR Deities&Clerics

I went through the major deities that usually crop up as PC clerics and NPC clerics in my games and customized them such that each one would have spell lists to choose from that represented the deities well:

Lathander: Clerics and Paladins gain Light's Way as a Base list, Summons is considered closed for them.

Mystra: revered by Magicians and Sorcerers (who gain their channeling power from her). True clerics of Mystra are mysterious and rare, and their powers are currently unknown.

Oghma: Priests of oghma gain Past Visions and Lores as Base Lists. They lose Summons and Repulsions. They focus on Linguistics, Runes, Mathematics, and star gazing as secondary skills.

Shar: She loses lights way, weather way ,calm spirits, life mastery, repulsions, but gains Curses, Darkness (from Evil Magician list), and Dark Channels as Base Lists. Seduction and subduing are important skills for clerics of Shar.

Silvanus/Chauntea - their clerics are Animists and Rangers.

Talos: Clerics gain weather ways (Lightning Bolt I from Light Law is added to the Weather Ways at the 9th level slot, and Lightning Bolt II is added at 17th level, the GM could give Talos clerics access to higher level Lightning bolts at even higher levels). They also gain Dark Channels, but lose life master, and repulsions.

Tempus: gain the typical cleric list, but gains the Mind over Matter (+25 to Adrenal Moves) during combat. I thought about giving them an option to be berserkers but I never liked that in 2eAD&D so I didn't add that. I might let clerics of Tempus have a little lower weapon skill acquisition costs to reflect the militant nature of the order.

Clerics of Tyr and Torm are as found in Character Law and Spell Law.
Clerics of Helm and Ilmater are also unadjusted. - all of these clerics have summoning but can only summon good aligned creatures (no demons).

Clerics of Mielikki are rangers - rangers will have quite a few deities to choose from.

Clerics and Animists of Selune are unadjusted on their spell lists, however all of them are affected by Lycanthropy from the Creatures and Treasures book. They also focus on star gazing/ moon cycle knowledge as secondary skills.

Priests of Tymora are unadjusted in regards to their spell lists but all have the Lucky advantage (they may adjust any roll affecting them per day by +10/-10). Tymora also frowns on her clerics summoning demons - so her clerics should veer away from that ave.

"Clerics" of Mask are usually PC thieves who select the Channeling focus and gain their channeling spells from Mask. There are also reports of some "chosen" of Mask that are actually clerics with good thieving skills - they are extremely rare and their exact skills are unknown.

Clerics of Llira/Milil loose the summoning spell list, and gain Controlling Songs; additionally they focus on dance, singing, seduction, drama, and other crafts and musical skills.

Clerics of Umberlee gain Water Law(magician list), but lose the repulsion, and calm spirits lists. They tend to have good ability in swimming, navigation, rowing, sailing, diving, etc...

This is my list so far... I have kept most of the "evil" lists a secret for two reasons. No use letting my PC's know exactly what I have in store for them.

Another thing I'm going to have to deal with is the rolemaster rules for clerics/paladins and metal armor...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Men of Forgotten Realms Rolemaster Style

Since my last post on combining Forgotten Realms with Rolemaster I purchased the Rolemaster Companion I - it has various races of men and like 6 varieties of half-elves which I found excessive, but it also had a paladin class that seems pretty good.

From this I decided to go with:

Men of the Savage North: The lands around and above Icewind Dale have a group of men who fit along with the same line of "proud, well built, tall, and blonde peoples of the north" from pg 45-46 of the RC1. For PC's who would like to use an even more barbaric stock of man, such as the Uthgardt barbarian tribes, I would have them use the Bear Tribes from pg45-46 of RC1. Obviously, PC's could use the same two categories of men for the eastern northern areas such as The Ride.

Men of the Heartlands: I'm going to split up the men from the heartlands of forgotten realms into two flavors - Common Men and Mixed Men. The common man would represent 80-90% of the humans living in Faerun. Those men living in close enough proximity to the deep elvish woods (examples: the dalelands around Cormanthor, and men living around the Wood of Sharp Teeth or the eastern portion of the High Forest where their stock has been blended with elves since the time of the lost civilizations of Askavar and Eaerlann). I think the common man & mixed men could work from Silvermoon to Calisham and from Thay to Cormyr - men are men. Mixed men are not quite half elves, but have a bit of the fay or magical blood in them which gives my players an option or two to choose from.

Horse Warriors: any character from the horde could pick "Common Man" or "Dark Tribes" from pg 45-46. Dark tribes are supposed to represent nomadic horse people, similar to the culture of the Hordelands.

I think this is enough variation in men for me. I for one don't really need game mechanical adjustment for every little village in the realms. I'm planning that 80-90% of the men played in my game will be either the Common Man, or Mixed Man. Maybe there will be one horse warrior or barbarian among them.

Page 45 of the RC1 also has a great deal about customizing clerical orders for Rolemaster. I plan to start working on that next, and will try to cover at least most of the greater gods and work on important lesser dieties.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

B/X Wizard and Elf Spell Lists

As JB from BX BlackRazor has pointed out before:

Magic-users and elves are limited to the number of spells they may know, and their books will contain spells equal to the number and level of spells the caster can use in a single day (thus, the books of a 4th level elf will contain two first and two second level spells).

I have not been playing this way in my B/X games so far. I've been playing that characters can learn spells from spellbooks and scrolls that they find and scribe them into their spell books. I haven't really put a limit on the spells that a wizard/elf can have in their books. Each day they have to memorize spells from their spellbooks. This is pretty close to the way I played 1e and 2e AD&D. I hardly ever worried about how many spells a PC would learn.

However, I've been thinking of loosely following the rule from the expert book listed above. But I would like to alter it in an interesting way:

Wizards/Elves would only be able to "learn" the number of spells equal to the number that they can use in a single day.

However, they can keep spell books with any number of spells in them and they can learn spells from the spellbook of an enemy, but if they already have learned the maximum number of spells of that level they must trade one spell for one spell (essentially learning the new spell causes them to "forget" a spell that was already in their head). It takes them ~1 week of uninterrupted study to change a learned spell slot. Wizards could change spells on the road but only if they don't engage in combat, take damage, or face harsh weather conditions, etc... anything that could take a large portion of their concentration off imprinting the spell into their mind.

Wizards/Elves would not need to consult their books to memorize their spells each day, instead they can cast any of their learned spells up to the # of spells per level that they may cast per day. This would remove the need for wizards and elves to bring spellbooks along for the adventuring trip (unless they think they might want to change a learned slot on the road). If a 2nd level magic user has the ability to learn and cast 2 spells per day and has Magic Missile and Sleep learned he could cast one of those each in a day or cast two sleep spells in a row.

Using this method would improve magic user and elf versatility, trading it for an increased limitation on the amount of spells they can have access to at any given time. Also, having access to another wizards spell books would allow you to "learn" more spells and transcribe them into your books - so there would still be a good reason to have wizard mentors and guilds. I'm not 100% convinced I'd like to adopt it, but I may give it a trial run this fall if I can get together a skype game with the Castle Amber crew. I talked to them about continuing more of a campaign following up on the Castle Amber adventure with a couple of others that I have.

I think I'm going to run them through the Master of the Desert Nomads followed by the Temple of Death adventure. I think those two adventures should easily take 4-5 decent sessions each and would likely bring all of the party members up to 9-10th level if they can defeat the modules.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Marsh/Cook Expert Monster HD Analysis

Following up on my post about determining the distribution of monster HD in the moldvay basic text, I did the same thing for the Cook/Marsh Expert book. I found the analysis quite interesting. I remember thinking that there were very few 3HD monsters in the basic book - I had screwed that up with the expert book. There are very few ODD HD creatures in the expert book. Either Cook or Marsh (or both) had a thing with even numbers. They liked to make entries of monsters with 4, 8, 12HD creatures.

Here is the data:

It is also interesting to me that while the Moldvay progression seems very planned the Cook/Marsh distribution seems very haphazard. They both had roughly the same number of posts, I counted 102 in Moldvay and 101 in Cook/Marsh but I could be off by 1-2 in each case.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Moldvay Basic Monster HD Analysis

The other night I became obsessed with what the distribution of monster HD was in the Moldvay Basic book. I was thinking that there were way more 3HD creatures than 2HD which seemed strange to me. So I got out a pencil and wrote a list. I got 102 total entries (there was only one that I didn't mark down "NPC Party" because the HD was variable. In cases where the HD was 2+2 I marked it down as a 2HD creature. In cases where a range was included such as 4-6, I would mark it down as a 5HD entry.

Here are the results:

It is a nice distribution with the highest number of 1HD monsters and trailing downward up to 11HD creatures. I'd like to repeat this analysis for the Cook/Marsh expert book and then compare and contrast the two books.

It looks like quite a bit of thought went into the design of how many monsters to include and what ratio of each (approximately) was desired.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Forgotten Rolls

Gamer ADD strikes again. I've been reading my Rolemaster Classic books again and leafing through Waterdeep and the North and my Ruins of Undermountain boxed set. It then hit me that I could combine the two and satisfy two cravings at the same time.

Adapting rolemaster for AD&D isn't that hard, but I'm going to have to take care of a couple minor details...

1. No Gnomes in Rolemaster - do I add gnomes to Rolemaster or delete Gnomes from Faerun? I will probably add the gnomes. Maybe I can find something online.

2. "High Men" - do I delete them from Rolemaster or do I come up with a way of making two (or more) flavors of men work in Faerun? I could imagine separating a few different "sub-races" of men - Northern Barbarians, Calishites, and men of the Western Coast.

3. "Eastern" martial arts professions in Rolemaster, they don't groove with the more medieval/Ren vibe of Forgotten Realms. These could easily be switched to NPC professions only.

4. I'd like to add the paladin profession somehow, I've heard that this profession was covered in one of the rolemaster supplements or maybe I can find a fan version online somewhere. This class is important to a lot of the faiths on faerun so I want to make sure I get it in there.

5. I wouldn't allow my players to take on Orc, Trolls, and other humanoids as PC races. Just doesn't fit with my vision of the realms. I don't even like half-orcs and half-ogres as PC's in the realms - it just doesn't fit for me. When I think about the realms I think about Ed Greenwood's Spellfire, without a doubt. It just occurred to me that I need to review that book here, it was one of my original influences in how to play D&D.

6. I think playing in and around Waterdeep would allow for a lot of Roleplaying and less ROLL playing, which should keep the PC's alive for a decent amount of time. Directly adapting the kick down the door, kill the monster, and take all the loot approach of D&D would definitely fail miserably using rolemaster when all the PC's are knocked out, with broken bones, and slashed jugulars. I have both the City System boxed set with the glorious map that fills an entire room and also the FR1 Waterdeep and the North book that I will probably use more in play.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Elves of Alfheim

Lately I've been spending a few bucks on Ebay. I've been picking up the Mystaran Gaz series, slowly acquiring quite a few of them.

My favorite so far is the Elves of Alfheim. I love the cover shown above, I love the whole bit about the trees of life, the elven philosophy, the magic that grew a forest and created magically spawning monsters, the druidic style spell list for elves that take the treekeeper path, elvish swords, and pretty much everything about the book. It even has some nice adventure ideas for groups ranging from levels 1 up to the companion and masters level PC.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Finishing Castle Amber (with Alt Ending)

Well, last week was my military buddies last day in town. We all got together for a bit of pasta and a D&D session with one singular goal in mind: finish the Castle Amber module. You can see my other play recaps one, two, three, four, five, and my alternate ending idea for the CAS inspired black sand desert and the alternate crypt.

I warned them up front that this could end in a TPK and secretly I knew that when they faced down the mummies in the tomb of Steven that was the most likely spot for TPK.

Things started out all right enough for them, they combined a ring of telekinesis, a flight spell and invisibility to make short work of the necromatic colossus with a well pitched bag of undead killing dust to the face. They defeated the beast of perigon and obtained the Ring of Eibon again employing a combination of an elf, flying outside of a castle window firing lightning bolt into the castle and then running about on the roof top, while their dwarf who is an animal with 46 HP at 5th level (now upgraded to 56! HP at 6th level) just stood toe-to-toe with the beast and took like 40 damage over 3 rounds without dying, until the beast of Averoigne bit his leg off at the knee. They waited a couple of weeks and fit the dwarf with a peg leg and continued on.

They performed the ritual combining the four items together to create an extra-dimensional rift that sent them to the demi-planar home of Steven Amber. They even did ok evading a death knight and sacrificing a mule to the crazy amputee gardners of the poison flower ruin/garden in the middle of the desert.

It was however a bit of a surprise when an albino orc took aim with a Winchester rifle and blew a large chuck of plate mail armor from the shoulder of the main leader of the party - the elf. The party responded with a barrage of magic missiles, hold person spells, and suddenly they had suppressed 20 out of 30 of the albino orcs in two or maybe three rounds at the most....

But all things turned around quickly when they opened the door to the Tomb using the gold crown they had found in the Amber Lion/Golem at the silver gate in the castle (I read to them about the tapestry of a gold crown and pheonix on a field of sable, and they came up with the idea that the doors could be opened by touching them with the crown. Initially I was planning for the doors to be unlocked but I thought it was a cool idea to touch the doors with the crown so I made it work and had the doors swing open with a loud rush of air at the first touch by the crown).

That was when everything fell apart - nine mummies attacked. Everyone in the party failed their saves and were paralyzed for a round giving the mummies a free attack. Then the mummies gained the initiative for the second round. Two out of seven of the party members were below zero by round two. By round 4 the number grew to 3 and the mummies hadn't yet taken damage. I realized I probably had a TPK on my hands but I was prepared for it. However, when three mummies rolled 1's in a roll on the party's cleric, keeping him alive, things began to turn around for the group. The clerics had both already tried turning to no avail, however, the cleric was able to run backward out of the tomb, with the mummies returning to their feet and giving chase, this allowed the party magic user to barrage them with magic missiles (he was sixth level casting 3d6+3 damage per spell!). This combined with some lucky strikes by the cleric, and things started turning around.

B/X Mummies are sick.

I was planning to have magaen creatures jump out of the side rooms but that would have ended the night without a doubt. So instead I made up some fun stuff for the players to find in there. One room had the implements of mummification, in another room was a large espresso machine and potion mixer with a sign that said (drink at your own risk), in the third room they found several automaton creatures that served steven, they interacted with them and figured out how to get to Stephen's casket and remove the curse.

As a side-note, also have to say that the most resilient character of the party was the dwarf, the combination of a low AC of 1, 46 HP, awesome saving throws, and wielding a +2 mace with another +1 to attack and damage due to strength meant that he just started dropping mummies every couple of rounds.

All the characters ended up with a little bit of mummy rot but that was cured by Steven Amber using his ring of wishes. He also healed them all up, regenerated the dwarf's leg, and gave them all a 10,000gp gem/jewelry, and a random magical item each. I rolled up some cool stuff for them and we quit the night. This is an awesome adventure but a bit of a monty haul relative to what I normally run my players through.

We decided that we might bring these characters back for another game - Master of the Desert Nomads and the Temple of Death. I think the PC's are of an appropriate power level for those two adventures. I already have an idea on how to pull them into the first adventure, but that is a tale for another evening...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Doing it Wrong

"You can't do it wrong" or "As long as you are having fun, you are playing it the right way"

These statements have been showing up a lot on the blogs I've been reading lately. It is a way of approaching the RPG in a hippy laid back way that I really like, however, I don't totally agree with these statements. I think you can "do it wrong" as a DM and as a player.

Before I get all preachy and contrarian, let me explain where I am coming from. I'm speaking from the experience of having whole games come to a death spiral over one bad ruling from the DM. Even the best DM's make mistakes - maybe it is how you handle a wish, or a fight between two players, maybe you become biased, or maybe you are actually too fair and you let them crash and burn without you intervening in real life and coaching them.

For example, the DM could really screw over the PC's on a single wish spell and end a long running campaign. Did the DM make the right move? Should he have worked with the PC's to aim smaller in their intentions with the wish spell to lessen the chances of backlash? Maybe the DM feels that he "taught the players a lesson" but then maybe he just lost his group and it will now break up because the players feel defeated.

I played in another DM's game where he just constantly gave us too much treasure. Every game we had turned into a Monty Haul style campaign. We never felt challenged and we never really liked playing in that game. He kept telling me he was only giving out the treasure that he had rolled up on the tables in the back of the DMG. So he was technically following the rules. Where he was screwing up was that he wasn't offering up the appropriate challenge to the players. All of his monsters just came out in the open, and attacked the party without any guile or use of tactics. So a party was able to walk all over monsters of much higher level than they should have been able to if he had made his goblins use bows and arrows and fire down at the party from a vantage point. If he used more random encounters in his dungeons the party would have been weaker from facing lots of monsters with very little treasure, before they encountered beasts in their treasure laden lairs.

Anyway, I think you can "do it wrong" and sometimes the ruling that seems like it would make for the most "fun" right now is not what leads to the most fun in the long run. Experienced DM's learn this over years doing it wrong and making mistakes... maybe the OSR should talk a little bit about what they have learned over their combined years of DM'ing about doing it wrong that would help novice DM's not have to make all the same mistakes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Werewolves of Sylaire

I threw down on the tabletop once more - X2 Castle Amber. The PC's have left the Castle, and have collected two of the objects needed to find Steven's extradimensional tomb in the twisted desert of Yondo. This latest adventure jumped off track of finding more objects, since the PC's decided to track down the lair of the magic using Werewolf lord and try to gain access to his spellbook. I dropped a couple of hints that they were going off the reservation, but they really wanted to, somewhat motivated by the fact that we were missing one of our gamers so they didn't want to finish the adventure without him.

Instead they tracked down and fought 13 werewolves! The amazing thing was that they killed almost 6 of the werewolves without taking any damage. They ended up on a rocky cliff and were able to use web spells to take the advantage away from the wolves and hedge them into a certain area. Lightning bolts, hold person, and light spells slammed into the ranks of werewolves. In the end the PC's killed all the werewolves except for the leader who ran off to live to fight another day.

They found a spell book that was 1/2 intact and then they met with the enchantress who helped them get back to Averoigne...

Next up for my PC's... finding the last two artifacts and landing at the shore of the malachite lake. Hopefully I can get the gaming group together one last time before my buddy moves to Georgia. Otherwise this story may never get told (unless we use skype).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Custom B/X DM's Screen

I made this custom DM's screen for B/X DnD for my castle amber game in december, I have used it now for 4 sessions and I really like it, it drastically reduces the amount of looking up I do in the books.

Starting off with a picture from the DM's side, I took 4x 8"x11" pages and taped them to the inside of the Castles and Crusades GM's screen. I never DM castles and crusades in person so I don't ever anticipate using that DM's screen for what it was intended and using it for BX allows me to use a screen with amazing art by Peter Bradley!

Now from left to right, what the heck did I paste on the inside of the board. I started with the saving throw sheets. Monsters typically state that they save as a "fighter 3" or a "magic user 10" so this page worked when I was rolling saves for monsters or when I was rolling a secret save for a PC.

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After that, I added the death and dismemberment table. This was only used about 4 times total - but it was fun showing it to the PC's once in a while to freak them out.

After that page was the variable weapon chart, the armor chart, and the ranged weapon ranges with modifiers table. This was nice to have in front of me. DM's who use the d6 damage for everything rule, would probably be able to replace this with the ranged weapon table and maybe the EXP for monsters table or the random treasure tables? I didn't have either of these at my finger tips but it wasn't necessary since I was running a pre-generated and populated module. I'm thinking about changing this page up and adding those tables since in the future if I do get a campaign up and running I will be running more "on the fly" encounters. I really didn't need the armor table and I could make the other tables smaller to make space.

The final page was the most used, it had the attack tables for PC's and Monsters - nuff said.

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And finally, here is a crappy phone photo of the awesome artwork by Bradley.

I was pretty darn happy with this DM's screen overall. I'd love to see something like this professionally done up, but my scotch taped version will work for me until that day ;)

Monday, July 11, 2011

BX Rules Questions: Spell Durations, Blindness, etc..

In my last game with my players (X2, Castle Amber, read my play reports, I had some good times) I had to make a record number of rulings. As a continuation of my last post of the topic, here are a couple more questions that came up during my game:

Question 4: Spell Durations - wow, I was pretty shocked by how high someone can levitate! This item is more of a statement than a question - I'm pretty sure I'm running this "by the book".

Levitate (check page B17), lasts for 6 turns + 1 turn/level. It states that a player can levitate 20'/round. I'm pretty sure that there are 60 rounds in a turn (1 round = 10 seconds, 6 rounds/minute, 10 minutes/turn, so 1 turn = 60 rounds!) so that means a spell caster can levitate 1200 feet per turn!!! So a 6th level spell caster can levitate a minimum of 7200 feet in the air (allowing enough time to descend slowly).

You could in fact go even higher if you calculated how high you could go, then allow free-fall at terminal velocity followed by using the levitate spell at the last few seconds to slow you down before striking the earth. I didn't do the math, but a 6th level caster could likely levitate 10,000 feet in the air.

In the castle Amber adventure, the PC's used this ability to find the ruins of Sylaire. The mage of the party used this spell to levitate about 1000 feet up, which I thought it was a good idea and allowed it, but in the back of my mind I was remarking that maybe I had something wrong with the rules because WOW! After the game was over, I went back and checked, and I think I was doing everything according to the rules as written.

Question 5: According to the basic rules blind characters cannot attack. If you don't believe me check out the description for the Light Spell on page B16. I overturned that rule as a DM and said I would allow players/monsters who have been blinded to attack at a -6 to -10 penalty depending on the circumstances. I didn't like saying "Blind Creatures cannot attack at all" - I think they should be able to hear their foe and make a horribly awkward attack. What do you think? Maybe we should ask this guy?

Friday, July 8, 2011

BX Rules Questions - Web Spells and Werewolves

I got to say, I've been running a PBEM Greyhawk game but 1 day playing the game on the tabletop really has me charged up! I think I might run my PBEM game to a close or hand DM duties over to one of my players. I want to focus more on getting a regular tabletop group together...

Well, back to the reason for the this post.


The web spell B18: range 10', duration of 48 turns, covers 10'x10'x10', and describes how you can break out of the web using fire, giant strength, etc... However, it doesn't explain what would happen if a spell caster decides to try and cast the spell directly on a group of enemies fighting the party. Do the opponents get a saving throw to get out of the effect of the spell?

House Ruling: I gave anybody in the area of the spell a saving throw vs. spells, modified by DX, to jump/run/slash their way out of the web area before it fully "sets". What would you do as a DM? did I get it wrong?


Werewolves - what are the rules on shapeshifting, how does the moon affect shapeshifting, what does the animal form look like?

House Ruling: I ruled that werewolves can shapeshift whenever they want between man and animal form, the animal form looks like a very large wolf with elongated arms that look more like claws/fingers than forepaws. I ruled that shapeshifting took 1 round to complete going in either direction. Also, during the night of a full moon werewolves shift into animal form for the entire night and will run rampant killing everything in sight and feasting on the flesh of their victims. Did I get this wrong? How would you change this for your campaign?


Can charm person and hold person affect a werewolf? In both of their descriptions they say that they affect bugbears, lizard men, etc.. which are pretty different than humans... Also, a werewolf is pretty much a human inflicted by a disease.

House Ruling: I decided that given the description that I had for werewolves (they can think in beast form, but the curse affects their alignment turning them chaotic and evil - basically into beasts in either form).... I would allow these spells to affect werewolves in either beast or man form. I could see good reasoning to only allow the spells to work against them in man form, but I gave the advantage to my players at least this time... What do you think?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Castle Amber_Alternate Ending_Part 2

So you made it through Castle Amber, found all the artifacts in Averoigne needed to find the Tomb of Stephen, fought your way through the horrid deserts of Yondo. You are at the door of Stephens tomb starting at the black shield of sable, a phenix Or!

You open the door and head inside, only to find 12 sarcophogi which open up releasing 9 Mummies. Roll 9 savings throws vs. paralysis.... *insert the mad evil laughter of a DM as he watches his players one by one failing their saving throws*

Then I will have the mummies stride up and attack the party - gaining automatic initiative!

The party will face down 9 horrific foes, and then I have 4 rooms flanking the central hall that will begin to open up every 3 rounds releasing a small group of Magen guardians for Stephen's tomb! If this doesn't end in a TPK, the PC's will have proven their muster, and can enter Stephen's tomb and release him. He will use wishes to bring back any dead PC's and then whip them all back to Mystara and the adventure ends.... for now.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Castle Amber - Alternate Ending - Part 1

I've spent a little time working out that alternate ending to X2. I really didn't like the ending that Moldvay put in there. It felt really rushed. It is a string of 7-8 rooms in a row with powerful creatures to kill, open door see Blue dragon (kill it), open next door find some sharks (kill them), etc... with little excitement, exploration, or thinking for the PC's.

So I'm going to add on a little more CAS flavored action to the adventure. Instead of plopping the PC's directly in front of the tomb of Stephen, I'm plopping them upon the shores of the green malachite salt lake from the "Abominations of Yondo" Story. They will be standing in a desert of ash colored sand with a swollen red sun hanging in the sky. Looking directly ahead across the massive lake they will see a lone building of white stone on the far shore of the lake, with a back drop of hemispherical astroid mountains.

They will have the choice of adventuring to the right side of the map (where they will encounter the inhabitants of the Crumbling Gardens of the Amputee's. I made this up in the spirit of ClarkAshton! Or they can explore to the left side of the map where there is a large forest of Evil Cacti. Either way the PC's choose the trip will be about 20 miles. I would start the PC's at about midday so that they will have to camp near either the Garden or the Forest of Cacti depending on the direction they choose.

The Amputees live in a beautiful garden of flowers and vegetables that stands on the crumbling ruins of a once beautiful palace! They "feed" the plants their own blood, and body parts to enhance their growth. These plants have also adapted to live on the green lake water. Many of the plants should be of the carnivorous variety, the DM should invent all sorts of interesting plants to attack the players with if they explore this area. This ancient palace was once full of treasure so feel free to drop the PC's a couple of interesting items or create a dungeon below the ruin if you think that would be fun.

On the other hand, the Forests of Evil Cacti is full of horrifying Ochre Jelly's, shades, and spectral riders! Come up with any number of horrifying images for the PC's, pop the top off your mind and go for it!!!! If the PC's attempt swimming or flying over the lake there are many evil Cthulthu-like squid creatures there so they better fly high over the lake!!! That would be the most direct method of getting there if they can just fly over the lake but it is several miles across so they better have a long duration spell power...

When the PC's finally reach the Tomb of Stephen, there will be a group of albino mutated beast men [treat as orcs]. I would say there should be 20-50 of them depending on the strength of the party. They are equipped with a combination of crude weapons (but maybe a few have firearms plucked from the dead fingers of victims pulled from more modern worlds) and will attack as a mob. If the PC's kill 50% of them, they will disperse and flee into the desert toward the mountains.

If the PC's defeat the albino beast men, they can move to Part 2 of the Alternate Ending (inside the tomb).

***This is a work of fan fiction for my own Dungeons and Dragons campaign. All use of Clark Ashton Smith's creations are to add flavor to this module which is being posted up here for free with no intent to publish any description or material from any of Smith's work beyond casual references made to "the abominations of Yondo", the "evil cacti", "the green lake", and "the inquisitors of Ong".****

pss... I would strongly suggest reading CAS Abominations of Yondo before running this alternate ending to X2.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Castle Amber... continued.

Around Christmas 2010 and the first of this year I ran a group of friends through the first 1/2 of Castle Amber. We had a great time and it took them two play session and ~12 hours of playing time to get through the keep and into Averoigne. My buddy called me earlier this week, told me he was back from Europe, and would like to throw down more of the adventure. I told him I was free Saturday morning and early afternoon, and would love to continue the adventure.

Well this morning at 6:08am, three drunk friends of mine pounded on my front door. Apparently, they had gone out for a few after dinner drinks last night, which turned into MANY after dinner drinks. They had partied the night away, and decided it would be better to stay up all night, forego sleep, and show up on my door as early as they thought they could get away with it without me just kicking them out.

I grabbed some coffee, the Basic and Expert rulebooks, my dice (enough for 4 players), the Castle Amber adventure module, my improvised BX DM screen, and we started roleplaying at 6:30am this morning.

It is now 5 hours later... and I am remarking about how much Castle Amber is a MEGA MODULE! Don't be fooled, this is not an adventure module, it is a tiny campaign. When we had last left off, the players had just entered Averoigne from Castle Amber. We reviewed the salient points and then we started. First off they found an Inn, met some locales, talked it up and found out that Ximes was ~180 miles south of where they were. They started the ~9 day journey to Ximes, ran into various encounters, and met an adventuring Bard on the road, and finally entered Ximes. The Bard had related to them that he once had learned a Song about a Castle Amber that had disappeared one night long ago after many of the inhabitants had been accused of witchcraft and conversing with the devil! The Bard told them that he thought that maybe Castle Amber had disappeared over 1000 years ago (the bard was exaggerating *insert evil GM chuckle*.)

They decided to start reading a Holy Bible that they had found in Castle Amber, they intially couldn't read it and the mage of the party had collected it thinking that it might be a powerful spellbook. Once transported into Averoigne I ruled that the magic had allowed them to communicate in French as if it were Thayatian common from Mystara. The clerics of the party scoured the book closely and determined important point - there was one supremely powerful god above all others, and he had ruled that magic use was outlawed. They kept all their spellpower undercover from that point on.

They went to the Church in Ximes, and found Azedarc preaching a long sermon in a Catholic church. They put together the pieces and determined that there must be something fishy going on. One of the elves used an invisibility spell to sneak into the back of the church until he ran into Azedarc's assassin. The assassin figured out what was going on and decided to deal with the PC's. The PC's met him at a tavern and there they traded him a scroll with three powerful spells for a potion of time travel. Little did they know that the time travel potion was actually poison mixed with a time travel potion.

They had massive quantities of gold, so they bought a massive wagon and a large wooden boat and traveled north to try and find Sylaire. They found the ruins of Sylaire by levitating amazingly high (I've got to check if I'm playing B/X spell durations correctly) and then finding the ruins from their arial vantage. They passed through the magical gate, and I ruled that they fell asleep.

They awoke to two of their company bound in ropes, and most of their weapons in the hands of a massive group of Neanderthals!!! This was a lot of fun, they had to think quickly on their feet (which isn't easy when you have had zero sleep, but I had never said I wasn't an evil DM!) and figure out how to get their people back. They fought the primitive men for several rounds when the sky began to darken. The Neanderthals saw the sky change and decided to run away.

Sephora of Sylaire stepped forward and apologized for the actions of the primitives. She explained that she was cursed (I was adding things here and there if you haven't guessed, mainly because I hadn't had time to read the module through and was just improvising on my feet). Anyway, I told the group that she was stuck in time at a point where lycanthropic chaos threatened to overwhelm these primitive men inflicting them all with the disease and changing the course of history forever. She needed their help in defeating a time traveling werewolf magic user and then she would give them the sword of Sylaire and return back to the dimension of Averoigne. I had also ruled earlier that in Averoigne clerics turning ability and spells were as a cleric of 3 levels lower due to distance from their deity whereas in Sylaire I allowed the clerics full use of their abilities since the plane was not ruled by our GOD. I explained that Sephora was powerful but she didn't want to risk herself in combat against the wolves since she was the last guardian of these primitive people (blah, blah, blah, lol).

Well, the guys agreed to face down this werewolf magic user. So I look down into the module and find very little description of how to handle the encounter. There is no map, no stats on how many other werewolves he might have created, or any information about his lair. I improvised a map of the area, showed approximately where the werewolf might be. The players ran afoul of several traps in the forest, and a small army of club weilding skeletons (I saw that the were wolf guy had the animate dead spell, and I figured that given enough time he would have raised a small army of undead to guard his lair). Finally, I figured that using wolf spies, he would have gained information about the PC's coming toward him. He took 5 of his most trusted werewolves, 15 normal wolves, and himself as a war party to head out and face the PC's exactly at dusk.

The PC's heard the wolves coming before they saw them - there were 7 PC's in the party total. 5 of the PC's made a circle with the mage in the center and waited. The thief and one of the elves went invisible and ran out into the forest to scout.

The wolves ran through the area occupied by the scouts, and then began running circles around the circle of PC's. The PC's cast everything they could think of for protection and then got ready to fight. The wolves attacked, web spells were cast, hold person, light spells on the eyes of werewolves, the magic using werewolf tried polymorphing the party mage unsuccessfully. Things got dicey for a couple of rounds, but the PC's were eventually able to win, killing off almost all of the wolves, all of the werewolves, and slaying the werewolf magic user with a single lightning bolt (he failed his saving throw)!

The party's fighter lost an arm (I'm using the table of death and dismemberment, which I have on my improvised B/X DM's screen), but everyone lived through the encounter. The PC's gained the sword of Sylaire, but they are planning to go back into the forest to find the lair of the werewolves, rout them all out, and try and find the spellbook of the magic using werewolf! There is absolutely no information about the lair in the Castle Amber module, but I'm thinking since the PC's are planning to wait 3d6 weeks for the fighter (Thorn) to heal up such that he is ready for battle (as well as he can with one arm) - I think one of the werewolves will have become the leader of the group, infected a mass of other primitives, such that now they will have a small contingent of werewolf neanderthals guarding the lair. I think the lair will be a structure made of timber built off the entrance of a natural cave. There will be plenty of traps, and wooden structures built to funnel the PC's down choke points and force them to do battle with the lycanthropes on their terms. A huge encounter from roughly 1 sentence of the module. This adventure can really turn into a campaign. I'm also thinking about what other protections and guards would a 10th level wizard have provided to keep his spellbook from harm (even from the other werewolves) while he headed out to go fight the PC's party.

I've been really generous with EXP for this game, so I gave them all 1500exp each (which brought one of the elves within 1700exp from leveling to LVL5. When this adventure finishes, it will end in a TPK or character retirement anyway, so I'm just playing things fast and loose.

I'm having a lot of fun with B/X D&D - I had to do a lot of house rulings for one adventure, maybe a record. I'll try to write down the things that came up and maybe post them up here for discussion (if anybody is still reading my blog).

My military buddy is going to be around for the next couple of weeks so we decided we will try to get together at least one more time before he heads back to wherever. I'm skeptical that they can finish the adventure in 4-6 hours if they get sidetracked trying to find the lair of the werewolf, so I will probably try to reason with them. However, if they decide to go that route, I already have a mental layout for the werewolf lair and what they might find on the way. Good times.

I came up with a mental plan for an alternate ending to the Castle Amber adventure involving the abominations of Yondo, and mummy guards, and half-men worshipers of the abominations, for the tomb of Stephen, so I'm going to have to spend at least an hour writing down some notes and sketching up some maps to flesh that part out in case the PC's make it to the end of the adventure...

If they do, I'll make sure to blog out a play report from how it went!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Penhaligon Keep on the Borderlands

I combined the "Keep" with my concept for the Penhaligon village. In the keep I removed the tavern, provisioner, etc... which I believed would be sufficiently taken care of by the surrounding walled village. All of the keyed items correspond to the descriptions in the module by Gary Gygax.

The Manor house and Guest houses will only be detailed if I think I have need of them. These areas will not normally be visited by the PC's unless they are of sufficient level and notoriety to be tipping wine glasses with Lady Penhaligon.

Next up... details of my Ettercap adventure.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Map of Penhaligon

Well, I took a bit of time off from blog posting. I've been having a good time with my Castles and Crusades Greyhawk game that I GM. The players are getting a lot closer to the final campaign enemy and have defeated some Forest Giants recently and all gained levels! In addition, I've been posting on the wonderful PBEM CoC game that is now being helmed by O4E.

But in the few hours I have to dedicate to this hobby, I've become obsessed with a Mystara campaign that I'm planning to incorporate many of the early B and X modules that I have in my possession.

I'm planning to start the game in Specularum with B6, move north to Penhaligon where I'm planning to first run an encounter with Ettercap's and Spiders based out of the Dymark, and then run a heavily modified version of B2. I anticipate that the PC's will be at a high enough level to be enticed to head south on a small ship to search for treasure on the Isle of Dread (X1) and then I plan to move things into X4 and X5 running both of the David Cook modules involving the Master. I will then move the PC's into Alphatia and Thyatis and run a few adventures off the cuff. I have never GM'd any of these adventures and I don't think my PC's have ever read them so this will be a lot of fun.

Oh yeah, I wanted a map of Penhaligon but couldn't find one. The map resolution in the picture came out pretty ok, it gets bigger if you click on it. I plan to key important buildings on the map and produce a detailed map of the Castle of the Three Suns, which will be an adapted "Keep" from B2. All this is for my campaign notes, but I will try to post as much as possible in case somebody else would like to run a game of B2 set in a home brew Penhaligon.

I downsized the population from ~4000 referenced in the GAZ1 to a smaller 1000-2000 size. The village is 1/2 outside of the wall and 1/2 in the wall. There will be a lot of empty buildings in the city that serve as siege housing during raids by humanoid creatures from the Wufwoldes. I read the Penhaligon Trilogy and I'd like to bring a little of that flavor to my game so I'm making a few other changes to my Known World to bring out some of the flavor. I hope to blog about some of these changes soon!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Three Companions - Odd Parts, Final Thoughts

Well, I actually finished this series of posts - this might be as rare as our little friend above :) It may be the first non game play related group of posts that I finished. There were parts of each book that mostly didn't overlap with the others. I thought I might cover these to give context about each book.

Barrataria games Companion Expansion had an expanded equipment list and a little section on overland movement rates with different animals and the effect encumbrance might have on rate. It had some good descriptions in its equipment section and also had 4 fast packs... I liked the fast packs used in Moldvay's B4 - The Lost City. The fast backpack just gets through the phase of character creation where certain players will hog the book and try to buy everything in the item list. Lately, my games have been loose enough and short enough (2-4 sessions long, no long campaigns) that it wasn't worth letting people pick out their equipment. Last time we made up characters, I told them, just pick out a backpack from B4 so I will definitely be pointing my players in this direction for more variety in Ye Old Fast Pack. Barrataria had riding dogs for halflings and gnomes this gives short folk more choices than the standard pony.

JB's B/X companion had some cool sections on Dungeon Mastering as a fine art and rules for dominion. This was also something covered by Mentzer. JB's dominion rules were fast and loose, while Frank was all about the random table. I think by combining these dominion rules together with the mass combat rules, players could take part in a "game within the game" if they so choose.

Mentzer also had a pretty neat section on extraplanar adventuring. He only touches on the ethereal and elemental planes in these books. I'm assuming he saves other planes for the Masters and Immortal rules. He also touches on the concept of vortexes and wormholes which are points where the elemental planes bump up against other planes. They create little pockets ripe for adventuring that are limited in scope rather than trying to tackle an infinitely large plane. I could see using these wormholes to spark interest in the planes from my players. It could also be a spot to place an interesting NPC or villain that the PC's will have to interact with on unsure territory. You can bend the normal game physics in these spots so it is important that the PC's are experienced and have an idea of what the norm is for your adventuring world before trying to change their expectations a pocket dimension.

Overall I was happy with the companion series books. I definitely will be slow to adopt material from these books into a B/X game and will test things out one at a time. Having come from a hard core background of 2nd edition AD&D I can tell you that when the splat books (Book of Elves, Book of Gnomes, Book of Fighters, Book of Thieves, etc...) all came out, my players wanted to integrate them all into my game immediately. Initially I let them, but over time I started pulling back on this tactic. I found that by adding tons and tons of very specific rules into the game atmosphere suddenly there was less and less room for flexible GM tinkering. Suddenly all the players were turning into Rules Lawyers... I would hear stuff like, my elven PC doesn't have to sleep because the Book of Elves says he doesn't. Then I would have to play the GM fiat card and say, "Well in MY GAME WORLD elves sleep!" This kind of back and forth just disrupts game play, so I eventually had to tell my players that all the optional rules were banned from the table. Players were limited to options from the Players Handbook unless I told them they could bring in one specific component from an optional rules book.

I feel that the options presented in these companion books should be treated the same. They can add tons of extra flavor to your game, but don't add too many flavors at the same time. I like steak, and peanut butter, lobster, and ice-cream, but if you add them all together (and you aren't an Iron Chef DM) you may just get an inedible mess...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Three Companions - Treasures and Magic Items

I have a certain reservation about the default experience system of B/X DnD. I don't like to give out massive boatloads of treasure in order to fuel the PC's in thire rise through the level charts. In playing my short little run through B/X DnD so far I corrected this in two ways. First off - I like to give out achievement based EXP. This throws sand in the face of certain OSR folks who have alternate theories on this issue. However, once the PC's have decided on a goal, I tend to give them an EXP award if they complete the goal. This isn't some DM driven story award carrot created to push the PC's into running down the linear path of the DM's pregen adventure. Instead, I will give EXP to players who create goals for themselves and then complete those goals. They make my job as a DM easier by "making decisions" and "engaging in teamwork to accomplish a goal" - things I like to see in my games because these things lead to fun. Another simple thing that I did to decrease the importance of treasure in PC experience gains was to multiply monster experience awards by 3x. I tend to maximize my monsters effectiveness in hampering the PC's as much as possible, so if the PC's actually defeat the monsters, I like to give them a good deal more exp for that creature than what is in the default rules for B/X. These two little changes make gold based EXP less important to leveling a PC.

Which is good because I am a stingy DM. I make my PC's work for their gold! My PC's in my PBEM castles and crusades Greyhawk campaign are near broke right now at 4th level. Some of them are complaining, but most of them are having a good time with the game and enjoy the challenge. Another interesting side effect of being a stingy DM, is you can let your PC's play to higher and higher levels without worrying about them entering into a run away power spiral. If you keep monty-haul treasure dumping on the PC's, at a certain point they have so much treasure and so many magical items, that there is really little left in the game world to go after. They are also so powerful that you have to come up with crazy stupid monsters to challenge them.

So anyway, with that lead up out of the way, let's talk about what I was planning on focusing on for this post! Treasure and magic items in the three companions!

I will start again with the Barrataria Games Companion Expansion books. There are a wide variety of magic potions and scrolls, which I tend to give out fairly frequently because I love magic items that have limited use. This allows your players to use them effectively but then eventually run out of their magic and be forced to go out adventuring for more. One particular scroll that I found interesting was the scroll of interrogation - it is pretty neat, and I don't remember seeing it before. There are some pretty neat wands, rods, and staves for wizards. And then there are some really cool oddball magic items such as Marvelous Pigments that allow an artist to draw out non magical inanimate items and then it becomes real! That is a pretty darn useful magic item! They didn't have much in the way of treasures described beyond the magic items - no art objects, or land titles, or strange artifacts, etc... Overall, I was pretty happy with their use of magic items. I have the Forgotten Realms adventures book which has the most amazing set of tables and descriptions for art objects and jewelry. If you have never seen this before it is worth checking out.

JB's B/X companion, started out with a treasure table built on the starting points from the B/X style game, and then added new magic items. He has a very brief section about gems and jewelry and then moves on to the magic items section. First off, I really did get some evil DM chuckles from JB's cursed items. I normally don't use many cursed items, but he has some real interesting cursed items in this book which make me think about changing that policy!!! One of my favorite items was the Tome of Utter Destruction, beyond its cool name, it sucks the reader into another dimension - and the GM gets to decide the fate of the character. Yeah, you can suck the PC into the Army of Darkness universe so they can go all BOOMSTICK on the population there. I also enjoyed the Dancing Hut which reminds us all of the walking huts from Baba Yaga and the witch in the Fafrd and Grey Mouser series.

Now we move to the Mentzer companion set which starts on page 43 of his DM's guide. Frank probably has the best non-magical treasure sections, having gem value tables with example gem names like amethst, carbuncle, and tristals and starstones! For his jewelry table he describes a variety of types of jewelry that the PC's could find such as leaf shapes, bracelets, crowns, scepters, etc... on page 48 he describes each of these types and what they would look like. I think that is nice for the beginner DM. Then we get into the magical items section. Most of these items seem to be from the AD&D manuals, but I can't cross-reference since my copies were destroyed years ago in a real life fire. I'll pull out examples of neat magical items that seem new to me or sound like they would be fun to use in the game. I like potions of Dreamspeech - this seems very Howardian - I can see the dark eyed wizard using this potion to interrogate the sleeping Queen of Aquilonia. Scrolls of shelter and spell catching are really neat! I like the idea of a wizard using scroll paper as a sheild against a spell and then behold, the spell is transcribed in glowing runes on the parchment with no detrimental effects to the defending wizard!!! Eggs of wonder are really cool and could be used to interesting effect. Also, Frank had two really cool sections on missile types, such as screaming missiles and speaking missiles - the final section is on special weapons and it has some table on how to make special magical weapons using tables similar to those found in the AD&D handbooks.

Anyway, there are a wide variety of magical items in these books for you to use. However, if you are a new DM to the game, remember my cautioning statement at the beginning of this post and be a little stingy. Make them work to gain and keep all the magic items they find. Also, I think you should always try to make the magical items be a personal and add little quirks to them to make them unique. For example, maybe a magical sword is non-magical on one particular night of the year. Or perhaps a +1 sword is +3 on the night of the full moon? Do some wacky things like that to keep your PC's interested otherwise, you will hear little sighs around the table when they figure out that it is "just another +2 sword" and NOT the SWORD OF OMENS.