Thursday, March 22, 2012

Goth Girl of the Week

OK, enough self-reflecting and introspection!

Goth Girl of the Week!

Monday, March 19, 2012

At a Crossroads

Well, I've been blogging for nearly three months and I'm not sure if I will continue with this endeavor.  It's been fun, I've gotten to read some great blogs, I've picked up some awesome members, and I've learned a lot about old RPG's.  But I just don't know if I'm really making enough of a contribution to the OSR blogosphere to warrant the time investment of running a blog.

Also, I've noticed that my life has become much richer the past few weeks now that I've cut way down on my blogging.  I've been exercising, spending more time with Lily (my wife), and gotten other aspects of my life more organized.

This is also coming at a time of gaming changes.  The small (3-person) group that I've been gaming with for the past two years might be disbanding.  Jim announced a few days ago that he was leaving the group for various reasons related to gaming preferences.  None of it was personal or anything; it was a gaming thing.  And the other member, Adam, is taking a few weeks off to focus on his band.

So I'm now pondering where I want to take this whole gaming/blogging hobby of mine - which I do indeed love.  Will Adam and I just recruit a new member?  Will we try to get into someone else's game - maybe Pathfinder?  Will I get back into miniatures games, like Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game?  Or will Adam and I just run with a 2-person group?

One thing I have decided for sure is that I need to cut back significantly on my gaming/blogging time committment.  So this means:
1.  I will only be a player going forward, not a DM (at least for a while)
2.  I will continue to blog infrequently (or perhaps disband the blog)

Maybe the "sweet spot" will be getting into a long-term campaign where I'm just a player - and keeping up my blog for a couple posts per week.  I would really be jazzed about just "showing up" every week and rolling dice, and making a good blog post every few days about something that interests me.

One thing that's weird is that the last session our group played was our first Pendragon session!  Granted, there is no cause-and-affect with that.  It's just a weird coincidence.  I think the changing of the game brought a lot of Jim's feelings to the forefront and caused him to realize that he just wants something different with his gaming choices.

Anyway - I've really appreciated the support so far from the readers of this blog.  I've had so many intelligent, thoughtful commenters.  And not a single jerk.  Not even once.  Out of literally hundreds of comments on my blog post, not a single one of them has caused me annoyance or irked me. 

Thanks.  :)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Game Recap - Ran a Session of 5th Edition Last Night

5th edition Pendragon, just to be clear.  :)

I discussed this game in a couple of prior posts and I was definitely more than enthusiastic to play it.  Over the past two weeks I've pored over the rules and, just as importantly, the setting.  I wanted this to go as well as possible for our group of traditional D&D'ers.

Cover of Pendragon 5e
 And you know something?  I really, really liked it.  And we've only scratched the surface of the rules and the possibilities.  Last night was mostly about character creation and background and then we ran a quick introductory scenario designed to give players a basic clue about how to play the game.  This scenario included combat, hunting, jousting and culminated in the Player Knights (PK's) being knighted by Roderick, Earl of Salisbury.

Character Creation
This was a time consuming process, being our first time playing the game.  It took the group over 90 minutes to create our PK's.  But I found the rules to be straightforward and clear.  It literally walks you through PK creation step by step.  And the players looked to be enjoying all the opportunities to develop a good character through divvying precious points amongst Traits, Passions, Statistics (Attributes), Skills, and Combat Skills.  There is a finite amount of points to go around, and a lot of important traits.

Jim and Adam both created PK's that were combat-oriented, but that is a wise move in my opinion.  The early stages of Pendragon are in a Dark Ages setting, a world where "Might Makes Right."  Later on, the game develops into a more romantic, chivalrous period where Arthur and Lancelot represent all the knightly ideals of justice, mercy, modesty, romance, etc.  But meanwhile, the PK's need to SURVIVE until then.

Both knights had strong skills in Lance (a devastating weapon in Pendragon), Sword, and Horsemanship.  They were also strong in First Aid, Awareness, Hunting, and other selected skills. 

As for Statistics, both PK's were built with high Size, CON, and STR scores.  This made them relatively brutal in combat, as was planned.  In Pendragon, Hit Points start off quite high at 1st level (often in the 25-35 range) and are raised up very slowly.  One nice benefit of this is that you can easily have a "mixed level" group of PK's in the same party. 

A very interesting element to Pendragon is the sense of history and the sense of family.  There's an entire chapter dedicated to rolling up your "Family History."  You roll year-by-year to see how your ancestors lived, fought, and died.  And the more gloriously your father died, the more starting Glory (XP) you get as a PK.  I gave the players the option whether to roll up the Family History and I'm happy to report that they both wanted to give it a go.  Jim's character, alas, comes from a family line where the men tend to die in battle at a very young age.  His new PK hopes to change that pattern.  :)

Greg Stafford in the 70's - I think
 Religious choices also have direct impact on character creation and the role-playing of the PK's.  You can be Roman Christian, British Christian, or Pagan.  One guy chose British Christian while the other guy threw me a curve ball and selected Paganism.  I like the variety.  This choice actually has a direct bearing on your Trait scores (scores which influence your decisions and can bring additional glory or shame to the character).

Being first-born sons of knights, both players inherited an expansive Manor from their fathers.

Introductory Scenario
I ran a pre-published Intro Scenario from the book.  I truncated it a little bit since we only had a 3-hour gaming session and the first 90 minutes was spent on PK creation.  The scenario was comprised of the following elements:
  • PK training (practice sessions of Jousting & Horse Racing)
  • An actual Joust
  • A Bear Hunt
  • A Bandit Encounter
  • Knighting Ceremony
The training aspect was to allow each character a chance to show their skills at jousting and horse racing.  I thought it was fun.  The players were competing against each other and against a couple of NPC's I introduced.  If they did particularly well, I threw them a few Glory Points.

The Bear Hunt was fun.  There were two hunting groups.  One of the groups located the bear and surprised it, mounting a devastating double-lance charge from two knights.  The first knight (one of the NPC's) delivered a Critical Hit to the bear on the first combat roll.  This sent the bear reeling and then Adam's PK came in to finish him off with a lance blow to the creature's midsection.  Just like that, the bear was dead.

On the way back from the hunt, the PK's came upon four bandits who had ambused another Knight - Sir Scott.  He was beaten and about to be kidnapped.  The PK's came galloping across the field on their 900-pound warhorses and scattered the Bandits like bowling pins!  Two bandits were instantly slain, their bodies penetrated by lance blows so forceful that the lances actually broke off inside their guts.  Two other bandits were badly wounded.  Their lives were spared by the PK's, who took them back to the Earl to face justice.

PS: Lances in this game are devastating (although they break a lot).  They do massive damage and you almost always win against opponents on foot.  In fact, a bandit on foot with an axe faces almost certain death or dismemberment against a charging knight.  Even without lances, knights on horseback are fearsome opponents against common rabble unless the numbers are heavily stacked.

Knighting Ceremony
After much celebration of the PK exploits, the culmination of the evening was when the characters were Knighted.  It was a very formal ceremony and is truly one of the highlights of a character's entire career.  The characters started the game as squires and ended it as knights.  That's the way this game is supposed to be played.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I'm sure the players will face up against bandits, lions, magical beasts, and hordes of Saxons.  With a little courly intrigue mixed in.

I certainly had fun.  I hope the players enjoyed it as much as I did.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Way Back Machine - Blackmoor (Supplement II) - Part 3

NOTE: Spoilers to Follow!  In the highly unlikely event that you're planning on running your PC's through Temple of the Frog, don't allow them to read any further.

In prior installments of the Way Back Machine, I took a look at Greyhawk (OD&D Supplement I) and much of Blackmoor (Supplement II).  Today I complete my look at Blackmoor by discussing Temple of the Frog (TOTF) by Dave Arneson, which I believe is the first ever published RPG module.

TOTF is in Section 3 of Blackmoor - Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.  It's just kind of "there," with no instructions or explanation of how to use it.  It's grand, wonderful, gonzo - and at the same time maddeningly frustrating.  If I was a new DM back in the 1970's and I decided to run my players through this adventure, I think it would be a difficult task indeed.  Has anyone out there successfully used the module as written?  Just curious.

A full 21 pages in length, TOTF contains no less than six maps and several illustrations.  There are a couple of overland maps (city map, for one) and 4 "dungeon" or "temple" maps.  In my opinion, the maps are quite well done and really give the early D&D player a sense of what a dungeon should look like.  The illustrations peppered throughout TOTF have NOTHING to do with the content of the module, but they are nice pictures.

The basic theme of TOTF is explained in the Background section.  A weird, scientific cult called "The Brothers of the Swamp" has apparently done genetic experimentation to launch animals to the top of the food chain and supplant man.  Nasty!  Specifically, the cultists developed a ferocious Killer Frog.  These frogs even had a sacrificial temple where screaming victims were fed to them.  Another order called the "Keepers of the Frogs" tended to the beasts over the years - herding them and feeding them in vast underground catacombs.  The Brothers send out secret traders to buy human slaves in exchange for fabrics and medicines.  However, trade has been slow due to the swampy location of the Temple and the fact that no lawful merchants would sell slaves to evil amphibian-frog-temply guys.  They eventually had to "sell out" by allowing evil bandits to trade for them.  Unfortunately, the evil bandits and other riff-raff now dominate the temple.

Then along came Stephen the Rock, a weird magician who wanted to restore the temple to its original frog-worshipping purpose.  Anyone who disagreed with him was "cast into the breeding pools" or "struck down by lightning."  A great power struggle ensued and many people were slain on both sides, but eventually the bandits were driven off or enslaved.  The temple has now been refortified, and anyone with knowledge of its whereabouts has been slain.  Thus, it is now SECRET again!  And the Temple denizens are once again up to their nefarious, no-good, frog-worshipping activities again.  Stephen the Rock is now High Priest.

So presumably the PC's will need to find the temple, sneak up to it without being eaten by killer frogs or captured, and loot it or destroy it.  What is their motivation for doing so?  We're not really sure, so the DM must come up with a hook.

As for the room contents, these are both fun and frustrating.  First of all, the rooms vary so much in sheer power of the inhabitants that it's really hard to figure out what level of party should adventure in TOTF.  It really throws any concepts of "balance" out the window.  I guess in the "old days," you would just march in with your party of 15 adventurers and systematically reave the place.  When the old PC's died, replace them with new ones.  :) 

And this place is no joke.  There are literally THOUSANDS of guards and warriors at the Temple and the surrounding city.  It kind of reminds me of "D3 - the Vault of the Drow" in terms of this vast, evil city.  How do you infiltrate it?  You can't possibly hope to slay 2,000 guards and 5,000 killer frogs.  So you need a plan.  You need some kind of strategy and stealthy approach.

Second, the DM must do a LOT of work to make this module playable.  For example, there are a number of Living Quarters for the Brothers.  But listen to this description of potential treasure: "Although sparsely furnished, each wooden item is made from the finest mahogany, the sleeping mattresses are of down feathers, the rugs of the finest furs, and all the smaller items are without question made of durable and exquisite semi-precious metal."  So that means you as the DM need to go through and assign value to these items, particularly the rare furs and the small, semi-precious items.  And believe me - there are LOTS of rooms like this.

Monster descriptions are equally vague: "This barracks holds 40 men.  There is a light light dart thrower on the roof."  Again, there are many room descriptions like this.  Who are these men?  How powerful are they?  What is their purpose?

Ladies and gentlemen, nothing in this adventure is statted out.  As the DM, you must be nimble and creative and willing to put some time into it.

Despite these frustrating descriptions, it is still a wonderful read.  Some examples of the fun & gonzo aspects of TOTF:
  • The High Priest, Stephen the Rock, is "an intelligent humanoid from another world/dimension."  Once per year, he must report information to a "hovering satellite station" - sort of like Mork from Ork.  If he fails to turn over any interesting artifacts to his overlords, he will certainly face "recall/trial/extinction."
  • Stephen's treasure consists of "a complete set of battle armour, a mobile medical kit, and a communications module."  Stephen has continued with the genetic modification of frogs into "Frog Men."
  • Should a player win Stephen's Battle Armour and don it, they get +3 on A/C, +3 on saving throws, a 12" move, 18(00) strength, 18 dex, and complete protection against all energy weapons including fireballs, lighting, cold, etc.  It also protects fully against charm, hypnosis and other mind-affecting spells and level draining.  The wearer can also fly, walk and breathe underwater.  Jesus!
  • There is a sacrificial temple where scores of slaves are thrown screaming to the teeming frogs below.  The pulpit above the pit is made of precious metal and gemstones and is worth 100,000 gp!  It depicts scenes of the eventual doom of man.
  • There is a library containing books and scrolls with a value "beyond reckoning."  It supposedly contains 10% of all the world's known books.  But good luck in stealing this shit!  There is "one guard at each door".  ;-p   This is what I mean!  Some rooms might contain a million gp of treasure value and be guarded by 2 guys.  The next room over won't have any treasure and be guarded by 400 soldiers. 
  • One cool room has several treasure maps.  The maps aren't shown, so the DM must create them, but they sound really cool: "Leads to a giant's den somewhere in the swamp.  Treasure is: 58,000 gold buried amongst some rubble."
  • There is a pipe organ worth 300,000 gp, but it weighs ten tons and will fill a cargo ship!  And good luck putting it back together again.  :)
  • There are row upon row of machines that "turn out special devices and goods of high value, these machines having the ability to take worthless material and transform it into valuable goods."  Only those "involved in manufacturing" are allowed in to run the machines.
Anyway, those are examples of the wildness that is TOTF.  The treasure is big and spectacular, the rooms are filled with wild beasts and hordes of soldiers.  I don't think I would ever run it as written, but it was fun to read.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pendragon - Grognardia Retrospective

Still on the Pendragon train o' thought, I was very encouraged to see this glowing review of Pendragon from James over at Grognardia, especially since he is such a noted old-school guy and has forgotten more about RPG's than I've ever known:

It's really a very positive retrospective, including this statement: "It is, to be frank, the most perfect out-of-the-box RPG I have ever played."  That is solid praise indeed.

If you want to know more about this game, read his review.  Unlike me, he's actually played it and knows a great deal about it.


Things have been quiet the past week at the Cleaning Service.  Some of it is because I decided to cut back my posting schedule a bit.  But the other factor is that I'm switching off from running D&D to Pendragon for a while to see how we like it.  In case you're not aware, Pendragon was written by Greg Stafford (the Runequest designer) and is based around the mythos and "history" of Arthurian Britain.

It's taken many, many hours for me to become as knowledgeable in this game as I need to be - and it's very different from D&D.  I mean - EVERYTHING is different from D&D.  In Pendragon (we'll call it KAP for King Arthur Pendragon), there is only one race to play (human) and one "class" to play (Knight).  And the game is based around many things that D&D players may not emphasize as much.  For example, there are incredibly important aspects to your PK (Player Knight) that revolve around honor, chivalry, religion (Christianity or Paganism), stewardship, loyalty, valour, love, etc.

There are "real" in-game benefits to following your Traits & Passions and it "forces" you to correctly roleplay the character as a Knight of the Arthurian times.  If you don't, you can lose XP (actually called Glory) and status in the realm.  And this is important, because in this game your reputation can help you and your entire family line.  You actually play a long-term campaign with elements such as knighthood, marriage, becoming a parent (through marriage and/or your "side wench"), fighting great battles, going on quests, and above all faithfully serving your lord and king.

Don't get me wrong, combat is still incredibly important in this game.  And it's quite lethal!  There's a pretty unforgiving combat, healing, and death dynamic to KAP.  You might run into a giant in the wilderness and he can whack you for 9d6 damage straight up!  An average starting Knight might only have 25-28 hit points so that could end it for you right quick. 

This is a low-magic setting for sure.  Magic exists of course (Excalibur, Merlin, - duh!), but it tends to be more epic in nature, more rare, and truly sought after stuff.  You might base a quest of a couple years on finding a rare magic sword, for instance.  And no player Knights can cast spells.  But there are plenty of monsters to deal with.  :)

Every Knight has a "Manor," which is basically his land holdings (yes, you start off the game wealthier than 95% of those around you).  This might consist of a property that has a Great Hall, a Town, several Villages, and many acres of livestock and farming.  You are indebted to your lord, without whom you would potentially have nothing.

Anway - maybe I'll write an actual review of the rules some time.  But that's what's keeping me busy these days.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

May Slow Down a Wee Bit..

I find blogging to be a lot of fun, but I may slow it down just a bit.  I've been averaging about 1.3 posts per day since the blog's inception.  This is actually a pretty frequent rate of posting.  It's been a lot of fun, but there are some other fun hobby-related things I want to catch up on, such as:
  • Catching up on my reading (Lovecraft, Arthurian stuff, John Carter, etc)
  • Spending some serious time on setting up a new campaign
I'm certainly not going away, but I may cut back to 3-4 posts a week to free up some time.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Any Stupid, Wacky, Monty Haul Stories to Share?

Does anyone have any goofy, fun stories from playing D&D "back in the day" as kids and/or teenagers?  Any Monty Hall treasure piles, any perversion of the rules, or ridiculously powerful or lucky PC's?  I'll share a story.

As background, Sylvaeon had a discussion over on G+ about the Arduin Grimoire series from the late 1970's.  I was reminded about how gonzo and fun that system was.  Anything seemed possible in Arduin.  I then recalled how we used to play AD&D but incorporated certain Arduin rules into our game.  One such rule was "Critical Hits."

Arduin has a crazy critical hit chart.  One particular roll on the chart equates to "Entire head pulped and splattered over a wide area.  Instant and Irrevocable death ensues."  I don't have the book in front of me, but it was very similar to that.

Anyway, here comes the stupid, crazy part.  My brother was DM'ing, I was about 11 years old, and me and my friend had a party of 1st level PC's.  We somehow ended up in Demogorgon's lair.  :)  Yeah, I shit you not!  Well... the Thief in the party managed to steal a +3 Dagger from Demogorgon's stash, snuck up on him (undetected, apparently, amongst all of Demogorgon's demon minions), and backstabbed the poor guy.  Well, somehow I miraculously rolled a "20," which allowed me to roll on the Crit chart.  Seconds later, Demogorgon was dead - his entire head pulped and splattered amongst a wide area.

Amongst his loot, OF COURSE, was a Vorpal Blade.  Our PC's got so wealthy that they were all elevated up to about 5th level each from the treasure XP.

Never mind that:
1.  How did our 1st level PC's find Demogorgon?
2.  How did we sneak around and find the +3 Dagger?
3.  How much dice fudging resulted in the instant death Crit?
4.  Where were Demogorgon's minions to protect him?
5.  What about his 2nd head?
6.  Why weren't we all slain on the way out of the joint by pissed off Demons?
7.  Why weren't we held to the rule that you can only level up 1 level at at time?

Anyway - my brother and I rotated DM'ing - and somehow the treasure just flowed and flowed.  :)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Way Back Machine - Blackmoor (Supplement II) - Part 2

My last installment of the Way Back Machine took a look at Men & Magic section of Blackmoor - Supplement II.  I will now take a look at Monsters & Treasure, as well as Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.

Section 2 - Monsters & Treasure

Like Greyhawk, Blackmoor introduces us to a fair number (43 to be exact) of new monsters.  And there is definitely an aquatic theme, as a number of these beasties are waterborne.  This goes nicely with the new water rules later in the book.

New Monster Descriptions: Following are some of my favorites from Blackmoor.
  • Giant Leech: the original Level Draining Undead!  :)  Seriously, when they bite you and attach, they drain one live level every round! 
  • Giant Beaver: they can be persuaded to build shit for you if you give them gold & jewels. 
  • Giant Wasp: love the stinger description: "a deadly sting, similar to a cast spear dipped in poison."  And their poison is so debilitating that any victim who dies from it is 30% likely to be so fucked up he can't be raised.  Oh crap.
  • Fire Beetle: This 1-1 hd creature bites for 3-24 hp of damage!  Nice way to introduce your new 1st level players to OD&D.  :)
  • Boring Beetles: they cultivate Yellow Mold, vile jellies, slimes, and other dungeon denizens.  Weird.
  • Minotaur Lizards: these 40' long lizards do a claw/claw/bite for a wicked 8-72 hp of damage per round.  And we're told they mature at 10 years old and live to 40.  Gee.  Thanks for letting us know.
  • Plesiosaurus: we're told they are an "endangered species."  I though they were extinct.  :)
  • Sharks: more likely to attack "bite-sized" creatures like Hobbits.  Poor Hobbits. Stay out of the water!
  • Dolphins: they will come to the aid of any humans being attacked by "denizens of the deep."  Cool.
  • Sahuagin: digging the MASSIVE writeup of two full pages!  I think these were meant to be a very serious and critical foe for seabound humans.  Yet I've rarely used them in a game.
  • Ixitxachitl: these are described as "Chaotic Clerical Philosophers."
And then there's a cool little section describing how to take ordinary land creatures and convert them to sea creatures!  I kind of like it.  You can use Kobolds that live in air-enclosed cave complexes connected via tunnel to surface caves.  And we learn about Lacedons (underwater ghouls), whose leader will always be a Wraith.  Gelatinous cubes are the same underwater as they are in a dungeon.  Nice to know!

New Magic Items & Treasure: Staying with the aquatic theme, all the new treasure items in Blackmoor are water-based.  Some examples include items that ALLOW PC's TO ADVENTURE UNDERWATER!  Cool.  Like the Ring of Freedom and the Ring of Movement.  Also the Manta Ray Cloak and Necklace of Water Breathing.  This is cool, because you can't very well have underwater adventures if nobody can breathe.  We are also introduced to non-magical Pearls, which are treated as gems.  But you'd be one lucky adventurer if you found a Silver Pearl.  These are worth 10,000 to 100,000 gold pieces!

Section 3 - Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

This section in Blackmoor is dominated by the Temple of the Frog adventure, which takes up 20 out of 27 pages.  I will tackle that in a seperate writeup shortly.  For today's post, I will cover the other aspects of this section - including rules for underwater adventures, sages, and disease.

Underwater Adventures: This 2-page section covers some very rudimentary suggestions, rules and encounter charts for setting up underwater adventures.  There's an opening paragraph that gives some suggestions for how PCs can breathe underwater - including spells, magic seaweed, helms of water breathing, etc (many such items are included in the new magic items of this Blackmoor supplement).  There's a nice note that the undersea is not exempt from "Tricks & Traps."  Things such as "false sea floors" and "phantasmal images of sunken ships" are encouraged.  :)

This is followed up by combat and movement rules underwater.  A PC can only swim wearing up to leather armor, and may only carry 25% of his normal weight allowance.  The only usable missile weapons are "specially prepared crossbows (at three to five times the normal price)."  Tridents are highly valuable melee weapons because they are the only ones that don't have their damage cut by 50%.  We're also warned that a Magic User casting a lighting bolt will electrocute anything in range! 

The underwater and sailing encounter charts are chock full of many of the new aquatic monsters introduced in Blackmoor.

Remaining Information: The book concludes with a 2-page writeup on Sages, followed with a 3-pager on Diseases.  These sections have some rather weird rules and unnecessary charts.  The disease section is probably more detailed than necessary and is reminiscent of AD&D.  However, there is a cool paragraph on what happens if you attack or slay a Sage.  Any PC so doing will have his alignment changed to Chaotic and will be subject to the Sage "Dying Curse."  A curse from a low level sage might cause all the PC's teeth to fall out (thus reducing CHA!), while a more powerful sage might cast a dying curse which causes a PC to fail every saving throw he ever attempts in the future.  Grim stuff. 
The next (and last) writeup on Blackmoor will cover Temple of the Frog!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Way Back Machine - Blackmoor (Supplement II) - Part 1

This is the second part of a series (The Way Back Machine) to discuss the four OD&D supplements (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, and Gods, Demigods & Heroes).  I started by discussing Greyhawk and up now for discussion is Blackmoor - Supplement II.

Blackmoor is probably best known for introducing the readers to Dave Arneson's world of Blackmoor with the amazing, old-school adventure "Temple of the Frog."  This 20-page adventure gave early DM's a real idea of what an adventure "module" should look like - but it's not without its flaws!  Additionally, Blackmoor gives us new classes (Monks, Assassins), new monsters, and some cool new rules (underwater adventures, disease, sages, etc).

Overall, though, I'd say Blackmoor didn't contribute nearly as much to D&D as Greyhawk did.  The new classes it introduced were problematic at best and the proposed new "Hit Location During Melee" was a fiasco.  But at least we got "Temple" and some waterborne rules.

The Cover, Layout & Art

Blackmoor has a very evocative, almost spooky cover.  It depicts a sinister castle sitting atop a treacherous, rocky crag.  Swirling mists and a full moon are in the background.  I think this cover really creates a mood of adventure, mystery and possibly horror.  I like it.

The book is 60 pages, digest sized, and has a great deal of content.  There are 13 illustrations in the entire book plus a number of maps for Temple of the Frog.  And guess what?  Some of the art is pretty dang good because David Sutherland has joined the team!  In fact, a number of the illustrations from Blackmoor are used in the Monster Manual.  This includes some classic MM pics like the Umber Hulk, the Sahuagin, the Chimera, and the Dwarf.  Also of note: Greg Bell, in my opinion, produced substantially better art in Blackmoor than he had in the previous books; he seemed to have grown as an artist.

This supplement (as with the others) is organized in three sections - Men & Magic, then Monsters & Treasure, then finally Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. 

Section 1 - Men & Magic

New Classes: Blackmoor introduced the Monk and the Assassin to D&D.  The Monk is a subset of Cleric.  This class is extremely difficult to roll up if using the "3d6 in order" technique of attribute generation, as it needs a WIS of 15, DEX of 15, and STR of 12.  Monks are limited strictly to humans and may be of any alignment.  In Blackmoor, Monks can use no armor but ANY weapon.  And they receive level-based damage bonuses when using weapons.

In non-weapon (hand-to-hand) fighting, Monks either stun or kill their opponent if they roll 5 points above the required to hit roll.  Monks have some abilities which are similar to Thieves, such as opening locks, removing traps, being rarely surprised, listening, climbing, moving silently, and hiding in shadows.  Monks also get to speak with animals and plants, heal themselves, simulate death, and receive immunity to many mind-altering affects.

Assassins are a subset of Thieves.  The DM is advised to only allow them "under special circumstances and in large campaigns."  Oddly, Assassins can only be neutral.  They must be human.  To be an Assassin you must have a 12 or better in DEX, STR and INT (again, not all that easy with 3d6 in order).  Assassins get all the abilities of Thieves, but at 2 levels lower than their actual level (so a 5th level Assassin functions like a 3rd level Thief).  They may wear leather armor, shield and any weapon.

Assassins are masters at Disguise, Languages and Poison.  Interestingly, any opponent in melee has a 50% chance of "noticing" the poisoned weapon.  If the poison is noticed, the opponent flies into a fury, attacking the Assassin with +4 to hit and +4 damage!  Sheesh.  :)  Assassins have the "Assassination Table" to determine their success in assassinating a victim.

Hit Location During Melee: Talk about a hot mess!  Pages 7-12 of Blackmoor introduce us to Hit Location During Melee.  It's basically six pages of charts and graphs detailing what body part you will strike in melee, how many hit points each part has, and how the height of the attacker modifies this.  I've never known anyone to use these rules.  Have you?  And these charts are by type of monster, like "humanoid," "insectoid," etc.  And they are based on where you are vs. the opponent.  For example, if you are facing an "Avian" from "The Side," you will strike its wings on a 51-80.  Nice to know!  And the rules then go on to explain which areas cause mortal wounds, which ones cause movement impairment, what happens with amputations, etc.  No thanks.

Next installment will discuss the new Monsters & Treasure of Blackmoor - which you'll find to have a very nautical theme.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Love the D&D Monochrome Covers!

I love all the old monochrome covers.  Maybe it's nostalgia.  Or maybe they're just awesome.  For some reason, the cover to D1 just really brings back memories for me.  And also G2.  Really, all of them.

Which is your favorite monochrome cover?

Which is your favorite module?












Thursday, February 23, 2012

Goth Girl of the Week - Feb 23

With nurses like this, I'd be happy to come down with a fever!  Ok, stupid joke...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Unmet Gaming Needs

Warning: lame venting session to follow.

I'm somewhat unsatisfied from a gaming standpoint.  I have a lot of unmet gaming needs (I know, this is much more important than world hunger).  Basically, the games I really want to play in I can't find anyone to run.  And the games I want to run are generally not the favorite of my players. 

First, here is a quick rundown of our gaming setup:
  • We game every Tuesday night for 3 hours.
  • We've deliberately kept the group small; there are only 3 of us in total (me, Adam, Jim); we had a 4th player but he got booted over a year ago because he didn't play well with others.
  • We are all fans of old school D&D (primarily AD&D and B/X).
  • Me and Jim rotate DM'ing duties (currently, I'm running an AD&D campaign and Jim is running a B/X campaign).
  • We rarely venture into non-D&D games (the only instances being when we played PF for a few months; and we played Jim's self-made RPG for about a month)
We all get along well and can discuss a variety of topics, gaming and non-gaming.  These are good guys that I look forward to seeing every Tuesday.

However, there is (in my mind) a bit of a tension about what to play - and who should run it.  Jim wants to run exclusively AD&D or B/X.  And he's a good DM.  And I can't force him to run something he doesn't want to run.  I firmly believe that you need to let the DM decide what to run since he will be the one expending the creative juices to make it happen.  But for me, this means that I can only play in a B/X or AD&D game.

And when I DM, I typically run AD&D - because that's the favorite system of both Jim and Adam.  And I like it too.  The only exception to this is when I ran Pathfinder for a few months.  But even that was a bit of an issue because Adam loves PF, I'm "okay" with it, and Jim doesn't like it very much.  So honestly, I don't think we'll run that again.

(Thanks for Your Patience So Far!  I'll be coming to an actual point soon.)

So essentially, we are playing AD&D or B/X the vast majority (90%) of the time.  And while those are great games, I want to play stuff besides D&D!  And I want to run stuff besides D&D!  I have a decent-sized laundry list of games I'd like to play in or run.  I want to try new systems and experiment with new things!  I considered PF an experiment since it wasn't an "old school" game.  And I feel more educated for having done so.

There are lots of games on my list.  I would like to run a Pendragon campaign.  I'd like to try out a COC one-shot.  Or some Gamma World (in all fairness, both guys have professed a willingness to play GW).  Or maybe a S&W campaign.  Or Mutant Future.  Or Mutants & Masterminds.  Or some OSR stuff like Carcosa, Weird Adventures and Dragons at Dawn.  Or Mazes & Minotaurs. 

But I'm not sure when I'll get to play or run these games.

By the way, the boys aren't jerks about it.  I doubt they would say "No!" if I asked them to play one of these other games.  But any time I test the waters with a proposal, they never seem very excited about it.  At times, I'll literally bring a hard copy of a new RPG to the gaming table - kind of a "Show and Tell."  But even that doesn't generate much interest.  So that kind of kills my enthusiasm.

I've thought about trying to supplement my gaming needs by getting into a second group, but my wife simply wouldn't tolerate me being gone two nights a week to game and I can't say that I blame her.  And I'm having fun with the guys and consider them friends, so I don't want to just disband the group.

Maybe I just need to be more forceful.  I.e., decide what I want to run, learn the rules, put together a good introductory adventure and say "Guys, this is what we're playing.  Let's roll up some PC's!"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Magic Item - Dragon Scale Armor & Shield

This is my take on suits of armor and shields made from the scales of dragons.  In addition to A/C boosts, they are treated as magic armor for purposes of saving throws, even more so for their particular type of dragon.  E.g., wearing Red Dragon armor or shield grants tremendous bonuses against fire-based attacks.

I imagine this concept exists somewhere else in D&D, but I'm not aware of it.

Dragon Scale Armor & Shield (F/P/R, C): Dragon scale armor & shields are crafted out of dragon scales and powerfully enchanted to provide the highest protection.  Additionally, each type of dragon armor provides saving throw enhancement against whatever type of breath weapon is employed by the dragon.  For example, Red Dragon Scale Armor provides saving throw bonus against all fire-based attacks.  The armor class protection and saving throw bonus of dragon scale armor & shields are based on the age of the dragon according to the chart below:

AC (Armor)
AC (Shield)
Saving Throw vs. Selected Attack (fire, etc)
Armor Only: Saving Throw vs. Other Attacks
Armor XP
Shield XP
Very Young & Young
Sub-Adult & Young Adult
Adult & Old
Very Old & Ancient

Following is a list of what each dragon type provides save bonuses for:
·         Black = Acid
·         Blue = Lightning
·         Brass = Sleep & Fear
·         Bronze = Lightning
·         Copper = Acid & Slow
·         Gold = Fire & Poison
·         Green = Poison
·         Red = Fire
·         Silver = Cold & Paralysis
·         White = Cold
Note: If someone is wearing Armor & Shield of the same dragon type, the AC stacks but the saving throw bonus does not stack.  (e.g., wearing Armor & Shield of an Adult Black Dragon would provide AC -2, but only +5 save vs. acid, not +10).  Dragon scale armor (but not shield) still grants the standard saving throw enhancements like other magical armor as outlined in the DMG.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Way Back Machine - Greyhawk (Supplement I) - Part 2

This is the second installment of a series (The Way Back Machine) to discuss the four OD&D supplements (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, and Gods, Demigods & Heroes).  I started by discussing the Greyhawk supplement but left off after the section on Men & Magic.  Today I continue the discussion of Greyhawk.

After "Men & Magic," Greyhawk next covers "Monsters & Treasure" and then has a short section on "The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures."  The M&T section has an extensive collection of approximately 40 new monsters and untold numbers of treasures, along with a number of clarifications on the existing monsters.  Between the Monsters and Treasure book and the Greyhawk supplement, there are now over 100 monsters for DM's to choose from!

Monsters & Treasure

Summary Table: The M&T section of Greyhawk starts off with a handy-dandy table entitled "Monster Reference Table, Hostile & Benign Creatures."  It contains key stats for all the various monsters, including AC, Move, Number Appearing, Hit Dice, % In Lair, and Treasure Type.  You'll notice that the Monster Manual has many of the same entries.  Of course, the table's not in alphabetical order!  :)

It's very odd that there is a separate table earlier in Greyhawk that lists Number of Attacks and Damage per Attack.  Couldn't these two tables have been combined somehow?  Then again, critiquing the organizational layout of OD&D is a fool's errand.

Monster Descriptions: Next up is a paragraph or two describing each type of monster.  And folks - these are fun to read.  Since the tables already contain all the statistical data, these descriptions are pure fluff, ecology and other notes.  It's in Greyhawk that we get our first description of some truly iconic D&D monsters, such as:
  • Beholders
  • Umber Hulks
  • Displacer Beasts
  • Blink Dogs
  • Hell Hounds
  • Rust Monsters
  • Stirges
  • Owl Bears
  • Carrion Crawlers
  • Gelatinous Cubes
Some of the monster descriptions are quite interesting.  I'll share a few of my favorites:

Dragons:  There is the following snippet, which sounds very 1976: "There is only one King of Lawful Dragons, just as there is only one Queen of Chaotic Dragons (Women's Lib may make whatever they wish of the foregoing."  :)

Hell Hounds: "The damage caused by their fiery breath corresponds to the number of hit dice they have; hit dice range from a low of 3 to a high of 7."  This is WAY tougher than the lame, gimped out Monster Manual  Hell Hounds which do 1 POINT of damage per hit die of the Hound.

Stirges: "Long, bird-like monsters with long dangling proboscuses, the Stirges might call to mind evil-looking feathered ant-eaters."  WTF!

Carrion Crawlers: "The Carrion Crawler is able to climb/move along walls or ceilings as readily as floors, thus allowing it to compete with Ochre Jellies, Black (or Gray) Puddings, and the like."  Aha - our first glimpse at dungeon ecology!

Magic Items: The next part of Greyhawk's M&T section is the tables for magic items.  This expands greatly upon the tables in the original Monsters & Treasure.

Swords: Swords are now powered up beyond the +3 limit in the original books, going all the way to +5.  We're first introduced to the +5 Holy Sword and *drumroll* the Vorpal Blade!

Magic Weapons & Armor: Again, these are basically powered-up options from the original list.  Instead of being capped at Armor +2 and Shield +3, you can now award your greedy PCs with +5 Armor & Shield, or even Armor of Etherealness.  The Mace of Disruption has been added.  Arrows & Axes used to only be +1, but can now go up to +3 - including the Arrow of Slaying.  And Magic Crossbows have been added, including the deadly Crossbow of Accuracy and Crossbow of Speed.

Potions: Potions didn't change much, but a couple of original potions were powered up.  The Potion of Super Heroism has eclipsed its weaker cousin "The Potion of Heroism."  And a Potion of Extra-Healing has been added.  Oil of Etherealness has been added to the stable.

Rings: Not a lot of new rings, mostly just a couple of powered up choices.  Chief among these is the Ring of Protection, which now goes all the way up to +3 instead of just +1. 

Scrolls: This seemed to be a weird omission from Greyhawk.  It's the only class of magic item which wasn't discussed.  So it would seem the original (fairly sparse) choices from the Boxed Set went unchanged.

Wands, Staffs & Rods: The key word here is "Rods," which are introduced in Greyhawk as a new type of magic item.  The original list of 12 Wands and 7 Staffs remains exactly the same, but 6 Rods have been introduced.  Chief amongst these is the Rod of Lordly Might (go, Fighting Men!) and the Rod of Resurrection.

Miscellaneous Magic: This section underwent a mind-blowing expansion - growing from 29 Miscellaneous Magic items in the Boxed Set to 130 such items in Greyhawk.  For those familiar with the Dungeon Master's Guide (a couple of you guys, at least), the Greyhawk tables look quite similar.  Too many inconic D&D magic items were added to list even a portion of them, but a couple of classics are the Deck of Many Things, the Bag of Tricks, Boots of Dancing, Cloak of Protection, Bracers of Defense, Figurines of Wondrous Power, and many, many more. 

The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

This section is quiet inconsequential in Greyhawk.  It's only five pages in length and basically has two features.  The first, and far more fun, section is on Tricks, Traps and Monstrous Combinations.  The second section is just a new Random Encounter Chart to include the new monsters.  I'll just talk about the firs one.

Tricks, Traps & Monstrous Combinations: This little jewel is actually a lot of fun to read.  It gives early Dungeon Masters some insight into how GEG envisioned tricks, traps and wild monster combinations.  It's basically a 3-page list of random ideas.  But there are some true classics here:
  • Fire Resistant Mummies: "Many players will get used to frying these monster with oil, but watch the fun when they run into one of these critters!"
  • Skeletons who are able to hurl their finger joints as if they were magic arrows (Note: I used this two months ago in a game I ran; once the skeleton was defeated, the players were able to "harvest" any remaining finger joints - which I treated as +1 Darts.)
  • A Troll with a Magic Spear riding a Purple Worm.  :)
  • A Cloud Giant riding a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
And many of the iconic "tricks" are also captured - such as Wishing Wells, secret compartments in treasure chests, statues with missing pieces that will grant something special if the missing piece is put together, etc.

Well - that concludes Greyhawk.  Next up is Blackmoor.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

B/X - Monsters as PC's - Mind Flayers

Today's Monster as PC is the utterly alien and fantastic Mind Flayer!  This would be a perfect PC to use in an evil campaign.

A few things you should know:
  1. For Psionics, I'm suggesting the use of Geoffrey McKinney's excellent system from his Carcosa supplement; it's so straightforward and easy to use.  (If you don't have it, you could come up with a psionics system of your own)
  2. Thank you, Trey, for giving me the inspiration for doing this (through reading Weird Adventures and particularly the Brain Invader!).
  3. Mind Flayers do not exist in B/X, but that shouldn't stop you.
Mind Flayer as PC

Possible Concept
Nobody knows for sure how Mind Flayers came to exist.  Are they some form of demonic spawn, or perhaps minions of some Cthulhuoid god?  Rumors abound that they are related to Brain Invaders from outer space!  If you are playing one as a PC, your goal is likely world domination – or perhaps the less ambition Mind Flayer characters may just be looking to enslave and prey upon the local cattle (umm, villagers).
Hit Dice
Ability Scores
STR -1; CON -1; INT +6; CHA -4
Armor & Weapons
Mind Flayers have a natural AC of 7 at 1st Level due to a slick, slimy secretion.  They become even more shifty and elusive as they mature, increasing their AC as follows:
·         AC 6 at 5th Level
·         AC 5 at 9th Level
Mind Flayers can still receive DEX bonuses to AC as well as use magical means (like Rings of Protection) to improve their AC.  Mind Flayers can’t use any form of armor or shield as these devices are completely alien to them.
Mind Flayers generally only attack with Psionics or Brain Extraction (or Ray Guns, if they can find one).  If hard pressed, they can wield or throw a dagger. 
Psionics: Mind Flayers are all gifted with Psionic abilities as outlined in Geoffrey McKinney’s excellent Carcosa supplement, with the following upgrades: Mind Flayers roll a d6 (instead of d4) to determine how many powers are available each day, and Mind Flayers receive one use per day, per level – which is greater than the amounts listed on the chart on page 19; Brain Extraction: Mind Flayers can attack with their tentacles (only counts as one attack); a successful hit indicates that they have latched onto the skull of their foe and will dig in to find the brain and turn it to jello!  Upon a successful hit, their opponent takes no damage in the first round but takes 1d6 damage each subsequent round.  The brain is reached in 1d4 rounds, resulting in instant death.  For large creatures, this takes 1d6 rounds..
Hate Sunlight: Mind Flayers detest sunlight and fight and defend at -2 in such light.  Additionally, their psionic abilities are penalized at -2 in sunlight. Utterly Despised:  Mind Flayers are greatly feared due to their alien and carnivorous nature; any party with a Mind Flayer receives a -3 Reaction Roll penalty.  Evil: All Mind Flayers are Chaotic, as befitting a being whose objective is to enslave the world.
Level as Magic User (e.g., 2,500XP to hit 2nd level); no XP bonuses for ability scores; Mind Flayer maximum level is 12th  
Save and combat as Magic User.
Weapon Damage
If using class-based variable weapon damage, Mind Flayers do damage as a Magic User.
Magical Abilities
The Mind Flayer PC will really only be suitable for an evil band of adventurers making their way in the underworld – or a campaign setting that is full of mystery and darkness.  Mind Flayers have no way to mask their identity as they do not employ magic spells, so ordinary towns and cities will be off limits.  The kindly DM can introduce campaign features based around a Mind Flayer’s interests, perhaps sending the PCs to explore that weird burst of light at the Barrier Peaks or spelunking at the Mountains of Madness.