Friday, July 30, 2010

Hmm, What Do We Have Here..?

Someone stat this monstrosity! (From Geekfill)...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

OSRIC Session Journal: To Kill A Fairy

It's been ten weeks or so since last we played, and I felt a little less focused than usual possibly because of the long time between games.

There was a lot of summarizing from the last time considering the major NPC/plot developments. We followed the druid as he led us down a hole that lie at the base of an oak tree. There was quite a cave system below, and the dwarves recognized the tunnels of giant rats. The druid had assured everyone that we had nothing to fear down here, that he'd been here before, and that he was after a magic relic that would aid us in overcoming the strange malady effecting the area. Down a short passage and continuing to follow the druid, we climbed down a long steep incline entering a large chamber that was obviously a shrine of some kind. There were a few rat-like humanoids there who called out that worship services were not for some days.

The druid began a discussion with them about how his order had sent him to borrow their relic and they were agreeable having dealt with his circle before - but they required collateral in the form of one of our party. We’d left the porter up on the surface with the horses, and Gladric helpfully suggested he retrieve the poor bugger for this purpose, but instead Sidre (the druid’s lover) volunteered.

In these OSRIC games I’m a player - so far this session had seemed a little too melodramatic. I was also beginning to feel more like an NPC myself, witnessing the interactions of the NPCs and not really having a lot to do with anything.

When we got above ground we asked him where he thought we should go next and the druid replied to the north. It was then that I decided to try and take some control back and made a case for us returning to a location we’d previously mapped in the wilderness. It was a well on a distant hill where there was a scantily clad, beautiful female (who could blame me?) Gladric asked the druid about her and was told he was aware of her and that she frequently lured passersby to their deaths. I was able to convince the party that we could do a good deed as well as recover some treasure for hiring some additional porters or men-at-arms.

So we set out for it and approached the well cautiously from all sides simultaneously, slowly closing in on it. We called out for her to surrender or die. When we were a short distance from the well, the ground suddenly gave way beneath three of our number. The earth where they’d been standing was an illusion and they fell thirty feet down into a ravine. One of the druid’s men was killed instantly, our porter and the cleric Ouze were near death.

At this point the creature flew up from out of the well. She was semi-transparent in appearance and we didn’t know whether she was some kind of fairy, ghost, or something else. When one of the dwarves rolled a 19 and missed, we knew we were in trouble. Benedict tried to turn her but failed. While distracting her, another rescued Ouze with a rope. Things looked grim but Ouze cast Hold Person which somehow made her solid and managed to down her with his magic staff. I think we were pretty lucky. The haul was unexpectedly large, so we should have an easier time finding some help if we’re going to eventually take on the brigands to the north. The druid wasn’t pleased with the digression but the rest of the party (that didn’t die) are pretty happy.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rats on a Card

Here's another paper miniature. I suppose the rat could have looked a little scarier but it'll do (I gave it fangs but at this size, it's impossible to see.) I formatted this one for printing onto a 4x6 index card since I thought the heavier paper would work better. PDF

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Garage Sale Score - The Unspeakable Oath

I bought a bargain box of old Dragon magazines at a garage sale the other day and discovered a couple of copies of The Unspeakable Oath in it - the salmon colored first issue pictured above and issue #9. I'm sure I don't appreciate these as much as a CoC player might, but it's still a pretty cool find.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wife's Solo Campaign: How Short Can A Session Be?

I asked myself this question following my wife’s solo game last night which amounted to a little less than an hour. Much of it consisted of DM monologue. Young Eon and her boy companion Mander had just entered the city gates. C was as lost in the game as her PC was in the bastide, but I was determined not to overly coach her or suggest courses of action.

Because of her uncertainty, her role-playing actually came across as very good. She stood there for awhile inside the city gates alongside the slack-jawed Mander who was looking to her for guidance. She began crying, and a sergeant-at-arms gave her a very basic, tattered cloth map of Domme (one given to new recruits) out of pity. After this she stopped crying but continued to stand there in shock. There was some commotion as the guards at the entrance were joined by what looked to be a captain. She could only pick up part of the conversation from where she stood, but she gathered from the reactions of folks wanting to leave town that a quarantine had just been declared due to an outbreak of some kind of disease.

She continued to stand there not sure of where to go or how to go about it. The sergeant last session had given them documents to present to the town magistrate, so I was hoping she’d try to make her way there where a jobs board was posted and I could give her some further ideas. It started to grow awkward, so I decided to roll on Matt Finch’s City Encounter tables. The first time was just another guard patrol. I’d been describing to her various details of the city and pausing to see if she’d do anything, but she wasn’t budging. After another ten minutes of in-game time, I rolled again. I didn’t like the result, so I had a beaten up beggar come crawling from one of the fancier looking avenues not far away. He saw her catch sight of him and cried out to her for help. Apparently this was enough to spur her to some kind of action, although I was surprised at it - she decided to take off running away from him and towards the river.

After just a little bit, she slowed down, and saw a church and cemetery. She walked towards the church and saw a couple of holy men chopping wood. She seemed relieved, and I had one of them approach her and ask if there was anything he could do for her. She relayed her whole story, and he directed her to a nearby inn and said to come back and ask for him personally any time.

Following his directions, she managed to find the inn and entered and asked for Harry. The innkeeper (Loretta) told her she’d been misinformed or was confused as there wasn’t any Harry, but that her inn was sometimes referred to as “The Inn of the Hairy Orphan” since it was contracted with by the office of the magistrate to put up any refugees from the outlands at no charge (as long as they had the correct paperwork). At this, she and Mander handed over the papers they’d been directed to take to the office of the magistrate, and the innkeeper said she’d take care of everything and told them where to find their rooms. Eon asked for some food, and Loretta gave each of them a baguette and jug of water with a splash of wine mixed in. She also told them where the nearest well was located.

I had to smile at one point when I said “Loretta seems nice” and C said “She’s not!” so maybe there’s some hope and interest here yet. It looks as though our regular Swords & Wizardry and OSRIC sessions are starting up again next week, so maybe this solo campaign will happen even less frequently. She has a busy schedule and a lot of her own interests - D&D doesn’t rank too highly among them! I’m glad she’s been amenable to giving it a try and still hold out hope that she’ll come around to enjoying it, but I’m open to the fact that the game’s not for everyone. Originally I’d hoped to have at least three hour sessions. This one hour session feels far too short to capture what I’d been hoping for - but I remind myself that many people enjoy play-by-post games (something I’ve been a little reluctant to try myself). I’m going to shoot for two hours next time and then try to slowly increase it if it goes well.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Offshore Oil Strike Boardgame

Somewhat old news, but in case you missed it - apparently there was a board game back in the 1970's called "BP Offshore Oil Strike".

According to boardgamegeek:
Two to four players compete at exploring for oil, building platforms, and laying pipelines to bring the offshore oil back to the player's home company. Players take on the roles of either BP (Hull), Amoco (Bergen), Chevron (Rotterdam) or Mobil (Dieppe) in their quest for oil. As with other games focusing on offshore oil exploitation (e.g., Omnia's North Sea Oil), there is also the risk that storms will reduce production on, or eliminate, one's oil platforms. The first player to make $120,000,000 in cash is the winner.

This article notes "
the remarkable parallels between the game and the current crisis out in the Gulf of Mexico... The currency on the money in the game is in dollars and there are playing cards marked Hazards, Blow out! Rig Damaged. Oil Slick Clean-up costs $1m... The picture on the front of the box is so reminiscent to the disaster with the stormy seas, the oil rig and an overall sense of doom. I was so knocked over by how relevant this game is, made some 35 years ago, to BP’s current crisis today."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Groo the Wanderer as an Allegory of US Foreign Policy

Nah I’m just joshin’ ya. I’m not about to make that comparison or bring politics into this blog. Crazy!

I have fond memories of Sergio Aragones' Mad magazine work. As a kid, I could always count on finding a copy of Mad even in the rural supermarkets or drugstores of upstate New York when we were camping or in the Islands. A lot of the political satire and social commentary went over my head, but I was always fascinated and impressed with Sergio’s art. There was just so much going on - he manages to cram in so much detail that keeps you looking long after you’ve gotten the joke.

Later on, I managed to discover Marvel’s Epic production of Groo the Wanderer. By this time, I’d mostly stopped buying any DC or Marvel comics and wasn’t interested in superhero faire (unless Alan Moore was involved - Miracleman / Watchmen). I'd been a fan of Plop! and when I realized that this Groo wasn’t just a one-shot I subscribed for the next three years.

I’ve gotten rid of a lot of comics over time, bouncing back and forth between the East and West coasts, but I always held onto those first thirty six issues of Groo. I thought of them after getting the DC: AD&D comics in the mail the other day and took them out of storage to re-read. I’ll be watching out for magic items and silly plot ideas to steal.

Fans of Groo and old lead might be interested to know that Dark Horse cast a Groo mini way back when. I saw one go for $26 on eBay this week.

At one time there were plans for a Groo the Wanderer movie. I’m hoping to hear back from Mark Evanier about whether it's still in production.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

DC Comics' Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1988-1990

A couple weeks ago I’d made an impulsive purchase on eBay of DC’s Advanced Dungeons and Dragons comics (before Zak's post, fwiw). As the days went by, my buyer’s remorse grew.

The problem was, I’d been reading the first volume of Darkhorse’s reprint version of (Marvel’s) The Savage Sword of Conan, and loving it. This was probably the inspiration… eBay is really a dangerous place to be lurking late at night after a few too many drinks - I bought the whole thirty six issue run along with annuals.

I’d never read or even noticed them back in the day, basically only collecting oddities like The Flaming Carrot and other weird indy comics during the late eighties and early nineties. So I wasn’t eager to open the package when it arrived. I knew that the art wasn’t going to be anything like the Buscema/Starlin/Windsor-Smith work in the SSoC. I still hoped that it might be mildly entertaining and suitable for the bathroom though.

Well, that’s where they’re going. On page twelve I learned that one of the main characters is a centaur. It’s not just that though, it’s the whole “we’re superheroes in a fantasy setting” thing that irks me. I’d have much preferred to follow some low level fools (some of whom will die) as they work their way up to owning their own fortresses. I suppose that’s where the game went overall in the years to follow though - towards epic stories that could be retold and sold in lines of fiction that earned the company more than the actual games that inspired them.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Ocarina Skull

I thought I’d join bat and David in writing up another magic skull.

Ocarina Skull

A relatively common magic skull, most of the openings of an Ocarina Skull are sealed with wax or mud. Several new holes have been carefully drilled into it, allowing the skull to be blown into and played as a musical instrument.

Unless the exact melody intended to be played with a skull ocarina is known, the magical power or effect caused by using one can be dangerous and unpredictable. Roll on the table below, use d4 if the tune is known, d10 if not (saving throw allowed.)

1. Animate and control d4 skeletons in vicinity.
2. Turn/Bind Undead - At level of user, based on alignment - clerics get bonus turning/binding attempt.
3. Curses enemy listeners within a 30 ‘ radius (-1 on attack rolls for 1 hour.)
4. Causes Fear in enemies in a 30’ radius - flee for one hour.
5. Causes user to cease playing the Skull Ocarina and laugh maniacally and uncontrollably for d6 turns.
6. Causes deafness for one day for all listeners (including user) within 30’ radius.
7. Summons up to d12 hostile undead from within a radius of 30’ times level of user.
8. User and listeners in 30' radius are compelled to shave their heads. If their heads are already shaved, they will furiously attempt to do so again, causing a hit point of damage in their zealousness. Those without bladed weapons will beg others to help them or loan them theirs.

9. Irresistible Dance - User, friends, and foes alike within 30’ are compelled to dance for 2-5 rounds, reducing armor class by 3 and making other actions impossible.
10. Causes everyone within 30’ radius (including user) to stop what they’re doing and attempt to dig a grave for one hour. If the terrain allows for it and there are enough present to succeed within the duration, a random participant will volunteer to lay down in it, whereupon the others will fill the hole back up again. Any time left in the hour will be spent idly standing over the grave or in murmuring prayers to whatever deities are worshipped. Anyone attempting to stop this activity or uncover the grave will be attacked by those effected.
(all effects occur once per day)

I can see using this with either a visual puzzle of some kind where a pattern needs to be played, or else with a riddle along the lines of “name that tune” where I either give lyrics as clues or somehow justify playing a short clip of music (a Magic Mouth might be useful here.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sea Lion Caves

Sea Lion Caves on the central coast of Oregon is one of the largest sea grottoes in the world. It’s about an hour and a half drive from us here in Eugene, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been out there now. Probably a dozen - it’s one of those places that you find yourself taking out-of-state guests to every so often.

After a 200’ elevator ride down, when the doors open you’re hit with the noise and stench of the many sea lions who take shelter in the main part of the cave, along with the sea air. It’s a very developed and commercial cave - a narrow section with stairs leads to a northern entrance in the cliff about fifty feet above the beach. From there, there’s a great view of a lighthouse a few miles up the coast. To the southwest, there’s an opening which has been partially sealed off with concrete and a steel fence which allows you to safely see into much of the main cave.

It’s a dramatic sight - large waves come crashing through the large western entrance, washing over a rock outcropping before breaking further inside the cave. Depending on the time of year, there can be ten to a maybe a hundred or so sea lions there, all growling furiously and squabbling over territory. Beyond the main chamber is a tunnel which leads south another thousand feet or so to another entrance from the sea.

One gets a very primeval feeling from the spectacle while smelling the odors and listening to the sounds of the sea lions amplified and echoing off of the cavern walls, all while the tide repeatedly rushes in and out. It always makes me want to write up a seaside dungeon of some sort. The entire location can be experienced with ease and in a very short time. It’s definitely an out of the way place, not being on the way to anywhere else exactly, but if you’re taking a leisurely trip up the coast on Highway 1 from California to Washington, it’s a must see.

Friday, July 16, 2010

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fantasy Silhouettes - 25mm Paper Miniatures

I liked the silhouettes Telecanter posted on his blog recently and last night played around with them a bit and came up with some (apx. 25mm sized) paper miniatures. They feel very whiteboxey. Thumbnail above, PDF here.

It could really use the addition of a cleric. I doubt I'll ever use them myself, but I had fun making them and thought I'd share them here in case anyone is interested or finds them of use. If you do assemble them, I recommend glue and not tape. The bases fit on top of a U.S. penny. These two photos are my lazy tutorial...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Charisma and Magic

I’m really not a rules hacker, and am conservative with any tweaks I introduce, but something ChicagoWiz posted the other day got me thinking. Among other things, he proposed a “What if” where magic users were sorcerers and relied on charisma as well as intelligence. It’s a relatively neglected attribute that I’ve always wanted to give more attention. I really don’t want to overhaul the class, but the notion that charisma is taken into consideration with certain spells makes a lot of sense and makes me want to introduce it in my Swords & Wizardry games somehow.

Here’s a list of spells from the core rules that I’m considering combining with charisma in some manner:

MU: Charm spells, Monster Summoning, Suggestion, Conjure Elemental, Geas, Power Words
Cleric: Bless, Speak with (Animals, Dead, Monsters), Quest, Aerial Servant, Holy Word

The first thing that comes to mind is to simply use the typical attribute modifier with any saving throw a monster needs to make. This would be very modest - a +1/-1 thing. In the case of NPCs though, the difference in the spell caster and target’s charisma might be more fun, but it might also dramatically over or under-power the spell. That is, a 16 charisma spell caster casts Geas against a 10 charisma NPC. Forcing the NPC to save at -6 seems harsh. Maybe halving this and rounding makes sense, or I could always scale it somehow.

At first glance, it seems like a minor house rule. It’s a small group of spells where this would be used. I already use the 3d6 in order method for determining attributes, with no rearranging or re-rolls, so it would make overpowering spell casters less likely.

On the other hand, using charisma like this might add some extra flavor into the game and game balance be damned. It makes sense that a highly charismatic magic user would acquire and be predisposed to use spells that depended upon his personal magnetism, just as an ugly witch would have a harder than usual time in charming the rare visitor.

I think this is something that’s used to a degree in 3rd edition, but I’ve never played it and am not familiar with the rules. Has anyone done something like this (or more ambitious) with their own house rules in an earlier game version?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mark of Amber

I’m checking out this strange “Mark of Amber” box I picked up on eBay recently for $5 (that includes shipping and still in the original shrink wrap.) It’s described as a sequel to Moldvay’s X2: Castle Amber module. Other than the french names, I’m really not sure how I could fit this into my Dordogne campaign except as a kind of funhouse diversion, but for the price I couldn’t pass it up.

The maps inside seem decent enough and I might be able to recycle them somehow, but the thing that stands out the most is the inclusion of the “Interactive Audio CD” in the box, with accompanying track summary page, detailing the 69 tracks. Examples…

Track 17: “Young Michel asks a PC to dance”
Track 25: “Michel the giant attacks the PCs for trying to corrupt his little boy.”
Track 64: “Etienne thanks the PCs for their aid and asks them to stay on as his guests for a few days while he prepares their reward.”

Listen to this one -
Track #26: Sound effect: The giant dies.

I’m having a hard time not laughing out loud listening through these tracks. Conceptually, it’s sort of a marriage between a role playing game and a read along/audio book, which just seems condescending. In another sense, I can see how the threat of video game consoles and computer games must have loomed large and where the perceived need for multimedia comes from… but I really have to wonder how successful it was in game play. It seems more suited to a solitaire game (if you attack the giant, turn to page 26, er, play track 26...) Anyhow, this isn’t a review - I obviously haven’t played it and don’t plan on doing so in its current or intended form, but I wonder how common this type of production was back in the nineties. I didn’t play a single game of D&D in that decade and this is a strange novelty for me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dubious Job Board Listings

We’ve probably all had to look for work at one time or another and read through suspicious sounding job descriptions in the classified ads. This is the inspiration for the following group of job postings for a town or city adventure. I wrote these specifically for my wife’s solo game, but I imagine they could also be used with a larger group. Low level party members might be interested in the opportunity to take mundane jobs and earn an income between sessions (with the DM relaying some of the things they experienced at the start of the next game.)
Entry level position for woodcutter and aspiring carpenter. Minimal experience necessary in this small but growing business. (Coffin-maker)

Nimble and fearless individuals may apply for the honor of helping a nobleman liberate some of his buildings of undesirables. (Rat catchers and forcible eviction assistants)

Down on your luck? Looking for lodging and work? Friendly, outgoing, and healthy women are always needed at Angie’s Overnight Inn. (Obvious)

Hardy individual wanted for local courier position - free drinks provided during work hours! (Water-carrier)

Looking for a little person for a big job - help renovate an important local building.
(Halfling or Dwarf wanted to dig out an overflowing permanent outhouse)

Sales position - Enjoy meeting your neighbors and working outdoors. Our product sells itself! (Knife “selling” thieves are looking for help casing future targets)

Unexpected job opening - work for a nobleman. Our staff drink like kings! (Cupbearer needed to check for poison)

Like animals? Local dog breeder and trainer needs part time help. (As a human target -and to clean up their kennels)

Help Advance the Magical Arts! Jeronymous is looking for an assistant. Easy work! (Human guinea pig)

Porters needed for subterranean expedition. If interested, leave a message with the Innkeeper.
I included that last one so a player might see their own job posting in context and realize why it might be hard to find decent help - most of the locals know full well that these jobs suck. Maybe someone else can use these, or be inspired by them for their own game. Here’s a PDF (without the true descriptions) I’m using as a handout, formatted for a 5x8 index card.

Friday, July 9, 2010

X-Plorers Skin for Firefox

With John at Brave Halfling's permission, I put together an X-Plorers Firefox skin. It looks like this on a Mac:

It doesn't look quite as nice in Windows. If you test it out, try having three or four toolbars at the top of the browser in order to see the artwork better.

You can get it here. Maybe someone browsing through the thousands of skins available will stumble on it and discover the OSR publishers. Sorry, retro-clones...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Edu-Ware's 1982 Traveller Inspired RPG

My Red Dwarf obsession continues. Today, for a split second I could have sworn I saw Rimmer holding up a copy of Traveller posing as the Space Core Directives book.

Not quite. Then for some reason I thought of an old Apple II game called simply “Space.” Space and its sequel Space II were some of the first science fiction role playing games on home computers. In 1982, GDW sued their maker, Edu-Ware, for copyright infringement of Traveller. The games were subsequently pulled from sale.

I’ve put together a short montage of Space II, complete with Apple II disk drive sound effects. Step into the YouTube wormhole for a trip back to these glory days of yore.

The game is about as much fun as this video would have you believe. I think I must have played it once before at a friend’s house, for about twenty minutes when I was twelve years old. Funny that Edu-ware picked up so much on the game in a game aspect of rolling up your character. For these shots, I had to go through several iterations of “Jamison” until one survived character creation. You might notice that one of them was deemed psychotic and immediate discharge was recommended. There are two game scenarios in Space II - in one, you’re a religious zealot trying to attract followers. In the other, you can enhance your previously saved characters by subjecting them to psychedelic drugs, with certain risks. Unfortunately I couldn’t get that second scenario to load. Edu-ware, they called themselves. :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Asteroid IS the Spacecraft

Why would an advanced space-faring species create monstrously inefficient metal constructs for their space-going vessels? Sure, smaller shuttle craft or even “destroyer” class vehicles I can see… But the whole idea of Star Wars’ “That’s no moon - it’s a space station!” seems ridiculous on further thought. I mean, there’s most likely a host of asteroids in a star system (or even a whole belt of them in the event of a earlier planet’s demise.) With behemoths such as these, things like steel girders seem ludicrous, unless they're constructed out of thin air in some manner. Even if they're molecularly synthesized somehow, such construction still seems grossly inefficient and slow in comparison to simply locating an appropriately sized asteroid and forming it into whatever type of vehicle was desired.

At the presumed sizes where this would make sense (dimensions surpassing miles or kilometers), whatever propulsion system that might be used could be fitted onto the naturally occurring structure, and explosives used to shape the asteroid into something more appropriate. Considering the lack of need for any aerodynamics though, such efforts would probably need to be minimal, especially given the huge number of available asteroids to choose from as an appropriate subject for spacecraft-forming.

Once an asteroid was chosen, it would also be relatively simple (in comparsion to the infamous Death Star’s creation, for example) to tunnel through the thing, creating vast labyrinths. These would have the advantage of being deep underground, naturally protected from certain forms of attack. Screw the need for deflector shields!

These large vessels would not need to be fast moving, and might have slowly decaying orbits around planets themselves. Not only would they be naturally camouflaged, but using gravitationally assisted propulsion (perhaps occasionally complemented by technological means), such a vessel or base might be able to slowly navigate throughout a solar system, or even used as the ultimate doomsday weapon against a planetary based civilization if an interception course was plotted.

These are the things that enter my brain after watching a few too many episodes of Red Dwarf in a row. The notion of an asteroid spacecraft or space station brings to mind tunnels, caves, and the dungeon crawl experience. If you’re looking for a way to marry such a thing with a science fantasy setting, this seems like an excellent way to introduce the subject in some manner, complete with scientific rationale.

If that’s not enough food for thought, check out this theory that Phobos, the misshapen moon of Mars is exactly this type of ancient, asteroid/moon-sized and derived spacecraft. Agree with the premise there or not, it makes for some entertaining reading.

Hello, You've Reached Technical Support: Blogspot's Comments Bug

If you're experiencing problems with leaving comments on others blogs (ie. they're not showing up after posting them, even without comment moderation), OR if you're being emailed that someone's posted a comment on your blog but on the actual site the comment isn't there (and wasn't deleted by the user), you're not alone.

Hundreds of others are reporting problems and Google is investigating the issue. Just thought you might like to know! Feel free to post a comment and let me know if you're experiencing anything like this - I have been. Of course I can't guarantee anyone else but me will see your comment until it gets fixed. It seems kind of random. It doesn't appear to be browser specific, cache, or cookie related. Probably something on the server side they broke when trying to fancy up their templates I reckon.

Update: Just to add, for example, Christian commented on the last post here before this. I cannot see this, but I can if I go into the Blogger dashboard, go to edit posts, and from there choose to view the particular post. Bah. Check it out if you're experiencing the problem although YMMV.

Another update: It seems if you click on the post's title itself, you can see the comments, whereas if you just go to the main site of the blog, you may or may not see comments as existing.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Intermission Music

Here's some intermission music to play the next time the DM has to do a beer conversion. It's sync'd to some video from our little CaveCon thing. It might be just a tad overdramatic, but what the hell.

Last night I accidentally closed a word processor window that'd been open for days, erasing the mini-dungeon key I'd been working on for my wife's game. Wah. I couldn't deal with typing it all in again immediately so wasted some time with this today instead.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Six Flags. Magic Ones.

Very powerful symbols make for very powerful magic items. Here's six...

Flag of Doom

Those who behold the flag of doom within a distance of sixty feet are immediately filled with fear and must make a saving throw or else hightail it for d6 turns. Those who make their saving throw still suffer a -4 to any morale rolls made during the encounter.

Flag of Allegiance

Those who behold this flag within sixty feet must make a saving throw or else are charmed by the flag bearer and will surround and follow him, protecting him and the flag with their lives if necessary. The spell is only broken if the flag should touch the ground or if the bearer can be interpreted in any way as disrespecting it.

Flag of Duplicity

A cursed piece of cloth, this item first appears to be the flag most favored by those who unfurl it. Viewed from a distance greater than 100’ though, its colors change to become the most dangerous flag for its bearers or the one who hoisted it depending on the situation. For example, it might become totally white, signifying surrender, or it might become the flag of the enemy on a battlefield, or it might suddenly become the Jolly Roger on the high seas when a friendly navy vessel comes into sight, etc.

Flag of Mirth

Unfurled and hoisted, anyone within 100’ who beholds this flag will be overcome with goodwill for everyone else in sight (save allowed) with the effect lasting a full day. Indeed, a celebratory atmosphere will quickly descend on the area, with spontaneous singing, dancing, and general all around back slapping. Needless to say, any alcohol or food in the area will be shared and consumed in earnest by those affected - although no one will want to leave the area of effect in search of more.

The Yellow Flag of Holding

A small yellow flag - if taken from storage and thrown to the ground, all those in a 30’ diameter area must make a saving throw or else be immobilized (treat as Hold Person spell.) It can only be used once per day.

Flag of Bafflement

Once per day, this flag can be used to cause up to twenty creatures who see it at ranges of less than 120’ to become confused for two hours. On a roll of 2d6, the creatures will do the following:

2-4 Attack Bearer & His Allies
5-9 Stand baffled and debate the flag’s design/meaning.
10-12 Attack each other.

The dice are re-rolled every ten minutes for the duration of the two hours.
If you live in the U.S., Happy Independence Day!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Time Table 1972

Just a bit of progressive rock history, from a time before their drummer managed to completely destroy the band's magic...
Genesis - Time Table

A carved oak table,
Tells a tale
Of times when kings and queens sipped wine from goblets gold,
And the brave would lead their ladies from out of the room
to arbours cool.

A time of valour, and legends born
A time when honour meant much more to a man than life
And the days knew only strife to tell right from wrong
Through lance and sword.

Why, why can we never be sure till we die
Or have killed for an answer,
Why, why do we suffer each race to believe
That no race has been grander
It seems because through time and space
Though names may change each face retains the mask it wore.

A dusty table
Musty smells
Tarnished silver lies discarded upon the floor
Only feeble light descends through a film of grey
That scars the panes.
Gone the carving,
And those who left their mark,
Gone the kings and queens now only the rats hold sway
And the weak must die according to nature's law
As old as they.

Why, why can we never be sure till we die
Or have killed for an answer,
Why, why do we suffer each race to believe
That no race has been grander
It seems because through time and space
Though names may change each face retains the mask it wore.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Review: Savage Swords of Athanor, a Science Fantasy Setting

Doug Easterly has published “The Savage Swords of Athanor - Rules Supplement and Campaign Setting for Swords and Wizardry White Box.” It’s a 64 page, digest sized book, available in soft cover (as well as PDF) via Lulu that was released late last year.

As far as the book itself goes, the cover art is very simple but appealing. There is no interior art, although there are a couple of black and white maps. Personally, I don’t find this to be a detraction as the primary focus of the book is its utility. The text size and fonts are very readable, as are the tables. Owners of Brave Halfling’s WhiteBox box set will be glad to know that this supplement physically fits into its box nicely.

The book’s contents are laid out in a familiar fashion. Its sections follow and are named after the original OD&D books - being Men and Magic, Monsters and Treasure, and Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.

There are no dwarves, elves, or halflings in the Athanor setting. Instead, there are: humans (three races), Mal’ Akkan (seven foot tall, cacti-people), Alemanians (blue-skinned, human-sized arthropods), Throon (nomadic fungi-humanoids), and Earthmen - the latter being visitors to the world of Athanor from our time, arriving through wormholes or by technological or magical accident.

Character classes are broken down into Cleric, Fighting-man, Magic-User, and Rogue. Rogues are not a type of thief, but are actually untrained practitioners of magic. There’s a simple skill system based on the saving throw. Having a particular skill gives a character a bonus to the attempted action (any character can attempt any action.) Skills are chosen from two different sets - the Earthman class can choose from an additional set which includes such skills as “Scientist” and “Mechanic.”

Mutations are a part of the setting, which happen “as a result of exposure to the Clone Pits, Ancient technology, or irradiated ruin.” These aren’t as varied as say Mutant Future or Gamma World, but add more than just flavor to game play.

An interesting element is the existence of the Clone Pits of Zamora. Zamora is a large, domed, ancient city. There, Vog-Mur the Necromancer offers his services which allow players to duplicate someone or create a new, living body for them.

There are thirty two creatures in the section on Monsters and Treasure. Among these are a variety of dinosaurs and others more familiar to typical D&D settings such as dragons (or the Athanoran bat, which is essentially a stirge.) Various new technologies and relics are listed, including such heavies as “The Hand of Death” but also more familiar items like laser pistols. Fans of TSR’s S3 module will recognize the “needlers” here.

Physically, the land is covered in plains filled with lichen and fungus. The latter can compose forests ranging in heights up to twenty or thirty feet. The dying sun still reigns over a planet where most of the water has long since disappeared, and most of the cities now lie in ruin.

Deities are outlined, as are languages, and even food (commoners subsist mostly on the “meal beetle.”) The city-state of Zamora is described in some detail, including its twelve inns and taverns, its nobles, guilds and societies. A number of NPCs of Zamora are described, including the Overlord of Zamora, and the aforementioned Vog-Mur, among others.

Toward the end of the supplement can be found a list of twelve adventure seeds. The author explains in yet another section called “Planetary Romance Plots” that the setting is “all about the pulpy planetary romance action.” Here he includes a romance plot chart to roll on, and encourages one to loosely and somewhat humorously use the plot style of Edgar Rice Burroughs as a guide.

The included and keyed wilderness hex map, random encounter tables, NPCs, and suggested adventure seeds would make this a very easy to use sandbox setting requiring little initial adventure preparation. I really like what Easterly has done here - the setting’s various descriptions have the exact right amount of detail. One is glad for them, but still inspired to further make the place your own, and they allow your group to quickly get into a Swords and Sorcery / Science Fantasy campaign.

I highly recommend this to anyone looking to explore the genre in their game. At only $8 print and $2 as a PDF, it’s a bargain. Even if you’re just interested in it as a template of how a campaign setting should be put into print, you should check it out.

More information can be found at the Savage Swords of Athanor development blog.