Monday, May 31, 2010

CSI Meet Castle Greyhawk

Jimm's Cube of Quasar post made me curious about Mr. Gygax's notes in the photograph he mentions there (crop, above). I don't have the right image plugins on my computer at the moment, but I started messing around, rotated the image and have been trying to sharpen the text to little avail. I can make out a few words here and there (corridor, trap, dagger +1, drink, etc.) but haven't had much success yet. Maybe once I get the right stuff compiled I'll have more success. Then again, I'll probably lose interest by then...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Working Map of Domme

Here's the unkeyed map of the bastide Domme I'll be using with the Dordogne campaign (above). It's based on an old tourist map I found (below). Not exactly an identical copy, but you get the idea. It's an oddly shaped town... blame the Knights Templar/Free Masons of the area.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Slideshow of '70s and '80s TSR Modules

Just messing around tonight and came up with this...

Thanks to B. Renfrow for the images at TSR archive.
Full quality download here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

DIY Miniatures

Last week I was going through one of those drawers that has a ton of odd items in it - markers, tape, batteries, computer cables… For some reason there was a small package of Sculpey in there. I immediately began to think of easy monsters I could sculpt with it. Oozes, puddings, jellies, elementals, modrons, shriekers, piercers, and giant snakes all sprung quickly sprung to mind.

Then I remembered Rusty’s old Beer Ooze creature, which David helped me dig up again. So I sculpted this little terror, put it in the oven to bake, and after it finished and I turned off the oven, I left it in there to slowly cool down. Then I went to a work appointment, thinking I’d be back well before dinner. Big mistake. My wife came home and set the oven to pre-heat to 425 degrees, eventually smelling my burning sculpture in there. She got it out but it was petty messed up (pictured above). I still kind of like it, but it's no beer ooze.

I was a little attached to that first bugger, but I started from scratch, and made another one which this time survived. My monster is much bigger than Rusty’s write-up, or maybe it’s the mother of all beer oozes. I need to take another stab at the paint job, but what I was going for was the beer sort of rising up and getting ready to strike with a frothy white head of goodness. I mean evilness.

All this ridiculousness lead me to google how to go about making one’s own D&D miniatures - surely, I thought, someone out there took this a little more seriously than me. So here’s a little link dump of my quick findings…

Robertson Games has at least a couple of posts about sculpting minis with polymer clay.

StormtheCastle has a very comprehensive DIY guide to sculpting fantasy miniatures, complete with video tutorials to accompany the text. has a number of good links on the subject.

The Sculpting Tools blog will help seriously interested readers create their own modeling tools.

Finally, NewbieDM has an article about using plastic 3d printers to sculpt miniature parts. It's not really in the realm of frugal with 3d printers running in the thousands of dollars, but maybe one day that’ll come down like the cost of computers has over the years - an interesting glimpse into a possible future of do-it-yourself gaming miniatures.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Facepalm at the Local Game Store

Jonathan at Farsight Blogger not long ago asked “Why do local gaming stores seem to want the RPG hobby to fail?” The question struck a chord, because I’d been wondering the same thing about a game store not far from me that seems as equally determined to fail as the one he’d visited. Or maybe more so.

Here in Eugene, we’re lucky enough to have four stores in the area. Close to the University and within about ten or twelve blocks of one another, there’s Addictive Behaviors, Emerald City Comics (I include it because it’s really a hybrid store, with a table and chairs area for gamers), and Evolution Gaming (the largest of the four).

Then over in Glenwood, shoe-horned between Eugene and Springfield, there's another store (pictured above). Of the four, it would seem to face the most challenges, being on the outskirts of town and not far from the dump. I’ve been inside three times. The first time was on a lark when I saw it while driving by - I stopped in for a few minutes to check it out and bought some dice there for my nephew. Inside there were several people playing Magic the Gathering. There were a few board games, but the only RPG was 4th edition. The next time I was in the neighborhood I popped in again and bought a couple of cheap WotC minis. This time there were a couple of people, sifting through Magic cards. Finally, the last time I went in, there were several people sitting in front of computer monitors they’d lugged in, all playing World of Warcraft. Now that was a disappointment to see in a tabletop game store.
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

One for Bat at Ancient Vaults...

This one goes out to bat for his recent post over at Ancient Vaults and Eldritch Secrets...

Not a fan? Well, maybe this (or this) are more your style...

Friday, May 21, 2010

D&D and Burglary

My wife and I were watching The Mangler Reborn (which I do not necessarily recommend), when I realized that there was something about the idea of burglarizing a house that had a certain D&D-like appeal. Ok, maybe it was just me, but she agreed I was onto something maybe... In discussing it with her, I realized that the appeal ultimately lie in the fact that I knew something evil was in the house - the apparent protagonists, a father and son burglar team, were Chaotic Neutral at best. Once the father had gained entrance to the place and realized it was the den of a murderous evil monster, the whole D&D analogy kicked in for me. What else do our players do but explore and plunder the dark, mysterious chambers where evil has had its way, having destroyed innocence and accumulated “treasure” accordingly… Here I’m thinking of the scene where the father, now trapped in the house and communicating by walkie-talkie with his son, describes how he’s found a dresser drawer filled with wallets still stuffed with dollar bills. That’s how I see most monsters in D&D - sure there are the devolved humanoid species for whom the common coin has its use, but there are so many even more evil creatures for whom money is a psychological trophy which has no actual intrinsic value.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lazy Maps for the Dordogne Campaign

I’ve been going through some mementos again and turned up a brochure from the more recent trip to Chateau Commarque. Eventually I’ll work up a dungeon beneath the keep, but due to laziness and for kicks I’ll use the brochure’s map (original above) for the castle ruins. I've brushed out all the text and reduced the obvious folding creases with the GIMP, but I didn’t feel comfortable posting the result online here without the artist’s permission. I actually phoned him in France this morning but only got his voicemail - see how much I respect author/artist rights? :) ...I found the current brochure for comparison - equally useable (page 2 that is) for my purposes.

I found another brochure (5mb pdf) with a great picture of Castelnaud. I’ve been wanting to make a map of the village for a while, and used Google Earth to get the building layout. The photo on page 5 really helps to visualize the place better in conjunction with it. Check out those trebuchets.

Of course, a part of me realizes that village and castle maps aren’t really all that necessary with most of the sessions I ever play. Miniatures are seldom used, and outdoor battles requiring fine measurements (for missile and movement calculations) very seldom happen. For small villages, I’m always tempted to just turn the map over to the players. With Hommlett for example, is it really necessary to ask the players which way they go to find their way back to the Inn or to the moneychanger’s or church? Especially if they've spent more than a few days there, they’ll likely know their way around, or quickly be directed by residents. Still, the unique character of a village can be conveyed somewhat with a map - and it can sharpen the memory of one we’ve actually been to before for my wife.

The bi-weekly S&W and OSRIC sessions have been put on hold for the next five weeks while school finishes up, so this is pushing me to get the solo Dordogne campaign rolling.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Railroading for Beginners

I’m not referring in this post's title about how to railroad, rather I’m referring to my thoughts and concerns about purposefully railroading a beginner player. See, my wife has hardly played - the one time she did, she felt overwhelmed with the possibilities. So I’m strongly considering locking her into a town. Literally. The bastide will close its gates, because as it turns out, it’s the Plague. The whole place is quarantined and until such time as a high ranking church official or two can make it there and begin administering their Cure Disease spells, noone will easily get out. This way, she’s stuck there for a bit, and will be forced (railroaded if you will) to interact with NPCs and to pick up some game hooks for when the town is eventually re-opened.

I’ve been playing with the idea of a plague ever since a different PC in the current S&W campaign got bit by a rat a while back. Also, I’ve been reading Albert Camus’ The Plague (thanks for the recommendation TS) and it’s been making an impression. It seems strangely appropriate too, with the whole Swine Flu scare of the last year or so. I feel sort of guilty locking her up like this, but it’s for her own good (I keep telling myself). I think it might be a decent mini playground for her in there. Besides, Domme (short video) actually has a nice little grotto she could check out (which of course we did the first time - not easily found and referenced on the web, the cave was a shelter during the 100 year war). Now she can go back and kill the few troglodytes we never actually encountered then but where both of us secretly knew they must have been lurking.

It’s funny, but I find myself procrastinating our first session - like a first date, I’m nervous that our first D&D real solo game won’t go well… I’ve put it off more than once, and can’t help feeling that it would be less pressure if someone else was there for it (even, or especially my 9 year old nephew veteran!)… In the end, I have to remind myself that the game isn’t for everyone, and that no matter how it turns out, it will be interesting and I’ve still got other current and potential players.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rusty, Where’s Your Battle Axe?

I only recently discovered that the Rusty Battleaxe’s blog seems to have been deleted entirely. I knew that there wasn’t much happening there lately and that he was going undercover, but I'm sad to see the old posts gone. Add it to the Valhalla of the Blogs list at Swords & Dorkery I guess, alongside Chgowiz, O.S. Rant, and the Sorcerers of Doom… I don’t suppose anyone has the beer elemental/ooze thing on file that he wrote up?

In other non-news, ever sold or lost your D&D books years ago and wonder what became of them? A few replacements of my own collection have names inside the front covers:

John Bachmann, (complete set)
Michael Dannov, PHB
Bill Williams, Fiend Folio
Ken Judy, Oriental Adventures
John & Chloe Evans (MMII)

I’m pretty sure I could easily track down one of those former owners. “Uh, what’s that you say? You’ve got an old D&D book of mine and you want to know if I want back? No thanks Mr. Maniac, and please don’t call here again!” Personally, if you happen to have a Monster Manual or PHB with a strange illustration and the name “Rob-Heme Abdul Jablossom” inside the cover, that was mine. Barely anything about that resembles my real name - I was just a weird kid. Maybe the Lakers were in the news that day. Sure it’s a long shot, but I can always dream of having my actual original books back… Swish!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lagulient (S&W Bestiary Item)

As a kid canoeing across lakes in the Adirondacks, I was always fascinated and slightly disturbed by the numerous trees that had fallen into and under water. Paddling over them, they sometimes seemed to take on monstrous qualities - as though they might reach right up and tip us over...


Armor Class
: 2 [17]
Hit Dice: 1d6 HD + 4
Attacks: one strike (2d6, 3d6, or 4d6)
Saving Throw: 12, 11, 9, 8, 6, or 5.
Special: Monster Summoning IV (see description)
Move: 9
Challenge Level / XP: 5 HD (7/700), 6 HD (9/1100), 7 HD (10/1400), 8 HD (11/1700), 9 HD (12/2000), HD 10 (13/2300)

The tree-like lagulients branched off from treants, distinguishing themselves from their cousins by choosing to spend the majority of their lives underwater. They spend most of their time sleeping there, but can be awakened and upset by anyone disturbing the still waters of the lakes and ponds where they reside. It’s unknown why lagulients originally sought to spend their time below water - perhaps simply to escape the noise of encroaching settlement. They are more chaotic than treants, and aren’t interested in protecting trees so much as they are in maintaining the quietude of their chosen homes. They are particularly infuriated by anyone who actually pilots a small vessel over and above them.

Lagulients are slightly less powerful and slower than their land bound relatives, probably due to their waterlogged state. They cannot swim, only walking on the bottom of bodies of water, and stay close to shore unless forced to retreat to deep water. Although they don’t have the ability to “awaken” normal trees, they do have the ability to summon water creatures for aid (treat as Monster Summoning IV substituting appropriate/available creatures).

Depending upon their size, they have different hit dice and damage; lagulients of 5 to 6 hit dice inflict 2d6 points of damage when striking with their branch-like hands. Lagulients with 7 to 8 hit dice inflict 3d6 points, and those of hit dice 9 to 10 inflict 4d6 points of damage. Fire based attacks against them do not receive any bonuses.

Text of this post is released under the OGL.
original photograph released under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 by Elkman, and GIMP'd by ze bulette

Friday, May 14, 2010

Men Hacking Pigs

fun, but this one still remains my favorite video of meat choppin'...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Look Back at Fantasy Games Unlimited's MERC

Since our session this week didn’t happen due to school and illness, the other night I went through the box of FGU’s MERC I’d bought recently. Like many of us, I’ve been rebuilding my old long lost collection and was happy to be able to get the actual box and rules along with original accessories. These include two six sided dice, the usual PC sheet, a transparent sheet of plastic with a marksman’s scope imprinted on it, and a paper with an illustration of a generic human form to be used as a target.

MERC came out in 1981, and I think I must have gotten it that year or the next. At twelve years old, I was just becoming aware of politics. At the time, and until about ‘85, I was big fan of the The Gipper. It’s probably even safe to say that I was a full-on Reaganaut for a while. MERC’s appearance on the RPG scene should have come as no surprise - there was no shortage of gamers hepped up on anti-USSR rhetoric. MERC, “A Modern Game of Counter Insurgency” was perfectly placed to fulfill the fantasies of those wishing to support either the Contras in Nicaragua or the anti-Soviet Afghan resistance. In retrospect, it’s probably what the founders of Blackwater were playing back in the day.

Character attributes are: Strength, Agility, Intelligence, Knowledge, Intuition, and Prior Military Service, and are rolled with 2d6, generating numbers like 1-4, 3-2, 5-6, 6-3, etc. Somewhat strangely, height, hair and eye color, voice quality, handedness, and complexion (“…the factor for sunburns etc.”) are also rolled for using 3d6. Combat consists of a 2d6 roll for H2H, or a 3d6 for Small Arms, with a variety of attacker / defender modifiers and base to hit numbers. The plastic transparency is laid over the human target illustration for use with sniping, and dice results are cross referenced on the cross hairs to find the actual hit or miss location. Assassination anyone?

The included sample adventure takes place in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Here are some excerpts from the opening text: “…by 1975, only two nations could still boast of a White Power control…and both were under attack. …The situation was opportune to Communist interests. Soon terrorists appeared…armed with Soviet weapons. …In an attempt to stabilize the situation, the White government decided to hire white mercenaries to train and lead loyal troops (both white and black). Hundreds of white soldiers of fortune answered the call.” Guess what side you’re on!

I played this as GM a few times. Looking back now, it’s fascinating to see the game in the context of the political events unfolding at the time we were playing it. I was a newspaper junkie as a kid and especially interested in foreign affairs. In the end though, the game failed to hold our interest for more than just a few plays, and for the most part we went back to our beloved D&D.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Entire Talislanta Library Now Free to Download

What is this Talislanta? Looks like it will take forever to download and read the vast amount of material available for free now... might be a thing or three in there I can use.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dragontooth 25mm Lead Miniatures

I was looking through an old Dragon the other day and saw Dragontooth's ad for their giant (pictured above). It made me curious to see the rest of their line - I found another couple of ads (below) and then Dave's Yahoo group with its great collection of catalogs and pictures. The LGS never had any of these when I was a kid...I think I would recognize and remember the blister pack. I get a sense that they're pretty uncommon (I couldn't find any on eBay). A lot of the designs are kind of trippy. Dig this giantess Big Meg for example. There's a lot of photos here too - apparently they put out some decent pig faced orcs.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tavern Graffiti: The Vegan Halfling

Maybe my last limerick was a little too much for a family friendly site such as this... I didn't like it much myself. Hopefully this one's a bit better.

A chubby halfling by the name of Stubbs
Gladly searched through the rubbish of pubs
He claimed "I'm a fregan!
And also a vegan!"
Just before dying from carnivorous grubs.

If it's no good, go look at this cartoon - maybe it will make you smile... :^)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dordogne Map Coffee Dip

I'm fairly pleased with the coffee treatment my previously posted Dordogne campaign map received the other day (DM map here). I've decided that I really need to lure the present S&W party eventually to the southeast and combine the campaigns since I can't see running two separate ones at the same time. I'll give my wife this map - she's a new player and I think it will help give her some options and a sense of place. She felt overwhelmed with possibilities the first time she played, and maybe this can be a guide.

She's decided that she wants to be a country girl - and that her raison d'être is that her parents were slain at their farm by goblins. Having escaped to a nearby village she now wishes to avenge them. Pretty straight forward stuff. She's no great great niece of the Goddess of Beagles or anything like that. :)

Friday, May 7, 2010

OSRIC Session Journal: Gimme some of that Midnight Eye

The party re-equipped and sold the rest of their loot, then arrived back at the tower camp with draft horses in tow - at this point, Ouze went back to town himself, and they further divided spoils. Gladric took Vadco to the side and told him to tone down his whining since he had a lot to be grateful for...

After Ouze’s return, there was some discussion about where to go next. Demurarg said she knew of a cave to the south a ways, but the Lawful cleric reminded everyone that they’d given their word to the druid (off to the northwest) that they would aid him. They decided that exploring the cave could be left for later, and set off across the wilderness.

After a few hours travel they encountered a herd of a type of bison. Demurarg suggested she use her “fire magic” to down some. This seemed like overkill and rather inhumane as well. The illusionist said that he could create a phantom wolf that should be able to down one of the beasts. In the end, they decided to try to drop one with missile weapons since they already had a large amount of rations from the wild boar they’d killed a while back. It seemed best to not unnecessarily expend their magic. Pathetically, I think everyone missed but Gladric with his crossbow, and they spooked the herd. They decided pursuing the injured animal was too much of a hassle and distraction.

A few hours later they happened upon the sight of a well some distance away. A scantily clad beautiful woman was seen there, leaning up against it. Her eyes and beauty seemed beguiling even at a great distance, and they decided to steer clear.

They traveled for a while longer and it started to get dark. They stopped and made camp, building only a very small fire to make some hot water for tea, not wanting to attract much attention. It was cold, but they weren’t going to freeze. Then they heard voices approaching. Readying their weapons, some humans called out in the local nomadic tongue, saying that they were the druid’s men (Ouze deciphering). They wanted the party to follow them to the druid’s tent, but Demurarg wanted to wait until the morning to travel further. Gladric asked the men to join the group around the fire to discuss things at greater length, but the two men declined and said they would be on their way and left. After that Gladric mocked the nomads for not wishing to dine with the group and there was some discussion that they might not have been the druid’s men after all.

The next morning they found the camp of the druid, and the visitors from the night before were there among others. They were heartily greeted by the druid who was accompanied by a beautiful woman fighter of some sort. He presented her as Sidre. The druid had met her acquaintance at an abandoned villa which was “besieged by goblins under the effect of the contagion I’ve been fighting.” Her comrades had died, but he'd saved her. She pledged her allegiance to the Druid for saving her life, and also entrusted him with the precious object she was carrying, which he explained was of great importance. When questioned about this object, the druid suggested Sidre explain what it was herself.

Sidre explained how she'd been charmed by a wizard in the employ of the bandit leader Bekarovka. She was delivering to him the object when she was attacked by goblins - it's a special potion referred to by Bekarovka and his inner circle as “Midnight Eye.” For most people, it has an opiate-like effect, but for magic users who consume it, it provides “visions of other worlds” and prescience of the actions of one’s enemies. The bandit leader doles it out regularly to his followers to keep them happy and servile, and regularly uses it himself for its magic power.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Carl Quapardus, Great Great Grandson of the Cat Lord

(Spoilers alert...) Thanks to KenHR, who recommended Saga of Old City as possibly more to my liking then the last Greyhawk book I read, Sea of Death. He was right, this was definitely more of what I'd hoped for in a book by Gygax - a rambling series of mini-adventures in a D&D-like style. We follow the desperately poor and bullied Gord as a boy through his small victories that culminate in him becoming a skilled and wealthy swordsman. At the end of the book, Gord returns to the ruins of his home in the slums of Greyhawk to recover a personal possession. There he confronts the thugs and their leader who had bullied him at a young age and delivers their comeuppance.

My favorite part about this book is the overwhelming feeling that it’s a rags to riches story - the American dream is fulfilled in the Wild West, albeit here in a fantasy setting. The idea that a person (or one’s character in the game) can come from nothing and with courage, determination, and a bit of luck, become powerful and wise.

That’s why the last page was slightly upsetting. “Now there was nothing left undone, nothing more to prove, no more of the old - except this cherished possession, the box that old Leena had once told him was somehow tied to the mystery of Gord’s parentage.” What this foreshadows is that later in the series, Gord will discover that he’s really Carl, descendant of a demigod. What bums me about this is that it sort of chucks the whole idea of your genes or early station in life as not being important to your ultimate destiny.

I don’t want to make too much of it, but I see this as encouraging the sort of pre-destined adventure outcome that others have told me becomes a more frequent occurrence after 1e. I know, there’s Gygax the game designer and Gygax the novelist, and this is just a story, but maybe the trajectory of the game system can be compared to these novels somehow.

I’ll see what develops in the next book in the series. Reading them out of order might have been illuminating in its own way.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Greetings, Commarque

I fell in love with the Chateau Commarque the moment I saw it, thirteen years ago.

Back then, I visited the place with a friend in late winter. The castle and grounds at the time were off limits to tourism - we drove out early, parked the car, and walked a half mile or so through a wooded area to the cliffs and clearing where it lie. Not a soul was in sight.

I was wordless and astounded at my good fortune to be able to see this place with my own eyes. The two of us separated (yes, we split the party) and I’m sure as many had done before, ignored the signs that warned us to stay away for our own safety. I couldn’t believe I was actually alone and exploring the ruins of a former castle, rumored to have been once used by the Knights Templar. I distinctly remember wondering at one point if I should attempt a running jump into the keep (traversing the “moat” - really just a deep ditch). I decided against it as a little foolhardy, especially being alone, but I still slightly regret it. The warning signs helped to dissuade me, as I felt a small pang of guilt that I might be disturbing the site somehow, even though I was treading as delicately as I could. At the time, I was really into photography, and so I’d brought along my manual-only 35mm SLR. I was stingy with film, and only had black and white loaded at the time.

Across the valley, a small chateau is visible through the ruins of the chapel.

It was just a couple of years after these were taken that my apartment in San Francisco was burglarized and I lost quite a lot of photographic equipment as well as undeveloped film. I never fully recovered my interest in the hobby due to the expense of the gear lost, and moved on to other things.

The next time I visited was with my wife about five years later. By then, a small parking lot for workers had been created. We walked down to the ruins and immediately saw people at its base. These turned out to be archaeologists who were surveying the site in preparation for a large scale restoration (presumably along the lines of Castelnaud or Beynac in the area), and we were not allowed anywhere past the small fence in the foreground.

I’m really looking forward to integrating the location into our Dordogne campaign.

Coincidentally, I watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the umpteenth time last month, just catching it by chance on TV. This time though, I caught a bit of dialogue that I’d missed before…

From scene 34:

KNIGHT: There! Look!
LAUNCELOT: What does it say?
GALAHAD: What language is that?
ARTHUR: Brother Maynard, you're our scholar!
MAYNARD: It's Aramaic!
GALAHAD: Of course! Joseph of Aramathea!
KNIGHT: What does it say?
MAYNARD: It reads, 'Here may be found the last words of Joseph of Aramathea. He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail in the Castle of uuggggggh'.
MAYNARD: '... the Castle of uuggggggh'.
BEDEMIR: What is that?
MAYNARD: He must have died while carving it.
LAUNCELOT: Oh, come on!
MAYNARD: Well, that's what it says.
ARTHUR: Look, if he was dying, he wouldn't bother to carve 'aaggggh'. He'd just say it!
MAYNARD: Well, that's what's carved in the rock!
GALAHAD: Perhaps he was dictating.
ARTHUR: Oh, shut up. Well, does it say anything else?
MAYNARD: No. Just, 'uuggggggh'.
LAUNCELOT: Aauuggghhh.
KNIGHT: Aaauggh.
BEDEMIR: You don't suppose he meant the Camauuuugh?
KNIGHT: Where's that?
BEDEMIR: France, I think.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Fearsome Creatures, Free Bestiary Download

As Matthew pointed out a couple posts back, "Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods" by William Thomas Cox (1910) is available at Google Books as a free PDF download. It's a great contribution to American folklore and a must have for any bestiary collector.

Tavern Graffiti: The Wenches Limerick

Take your party to the Red Cock's Inn -
the bartender's jokes will make you grin...
But don't touch his wenches
once your thirst he quenches
unless you'll be wearing a lambskin.