Tabletop Gaming Feeds

On 10 Ways To Open A Chest

Hack & Slash - Fri, 10/22/2021 - 13:00
"But assuming it was a treasure hunting expedition (and the lower floors of the tower were reasonably cleared, with a path of escape blocked only by wandering monster rolls) what would a party need to do in one of your games to safely open a chest?"
Here are 10 ways to open a chest safely!

10. Pour acid in the lock.
9. Use a pick and chisel to break apart the lock mechanism.
8. Use a crowbar and specialized tools to pry the lock out of the chest.
7. Saws!
6. Carry the chest back to town and pay the thieves guild to open it.
5. Hammers!
4. Knock!
3. Unscrew the lid hinges.
2. Pry off the back of the lid!

And the number one way to open a chest safely?

1. Have the thief open it, there's always more where they came from!

Why don't they just do these things by default? They are time consuming, loud, or require heavy encumbrance penalties.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Minaria: Muetar

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 10/22/2021 - 11:00
 
Muetar is the largest kingdom of Minaria in land area and possessed of the largest army. Its rulers are the descendants of the Mueta horse lords who first harried the city-states of the Land of the Great Rivers, then were its foederates, until a chieftain general Oyaro (Old Meuta: Hoyaru), forced the Princes of Methluma to give him the title of Supreme General or Warlord. The word, as borrowed into the Muetarian tongue, eventually came to mean "emperor." Oyaro's line came to be the de facto rulers of the land in a military dictatorship that developed over generations into the current feudal state.

The Empire's current ruler is Herrott (Kheroth) of the Pirostar (Phiroshtar) Dynasty. sometimes called "Golden Helm" for brightly polished helmet he wears in battle. Herrott was the second son and given command of the elite guard of the Emperor, but ascended to the throne upon the death of his older brother in a riding accident. While his father's rule was occupied with internal struggles, Herrott turns his eyes toward expanding the empire, but he is cautious and not prone to rash action. He is an avid falconer as well as rider and pampers his prize animals.

Atata, his Empress, is descended form the old Oyarostar line. She has little taste for court gossip or petty intrigues and is judged as aloof and perhaps even severe by her ladies in waiting. Like all Muetarian elite she takes part in the rituals of the martial cult of Anshar (who has absorbed much of the folio and importance of the supreme god Taquamenau in the Muetarian ascendance), but supports a policy of religious tolerance in the Empire. She is an advocate for the poor and is said to use her influence to protect the more moderate clerics of Huisinga--this despite the peasant uprising blamed on radical members of the Sankari sect during the reign of Herrott's father, Maasa. 
Atata is also a patron of the arts and has even brought Ponian theater to the court of Muetar.

Hearing the Owls Hoot in the Day Time

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 10/21/2021 - 11:00

 


Owls Hoot in the Day Time & Other Omens was the title of the 2003 collection of Manly Wade Wellman's John the Balladeer/Silver John stories from Night Shade Books. I have long been a fine of these Appalachian-centered fantasy stories (they were an influence on Weird Adventures). Recently I bought the audiobook of this collection for a work trip. I probably have read these stories in nearly 20 years so it was fun to revisit them and the narrator is just right for the material.

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1980 (wk 2, pt 1)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 11:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around October 23, 1980.


Action Comics #515: Wolfman's story here is an interesting alternate history of the sort the X-Men would do a lot in the 80s (in fact, X-Men #141, "Days of Future Past" is out this same week!). We see a world where Vandal Savage is the absolute ruler and Superman is his dedicated enforcer, completely convinced of Savage's beneficence, until undercover rebel agents Lois Lane and Perry White make him see the light. The issue ends with Superman vowing to make Savage pay. It's odd seeing the very Silver Age Curt Swan drawing this sort of "modern" story.
In the Atom backup by Rozakis and Saviuk, an agent of cosmic balance named Mallo (who is drawn so mundanely and specifically, I feel like he has to be a reference to someone but I don't know who) is worried that having an Earth-1 and Earth-2 Atom without the same powers will somehow cause a problematic imbalance. So he switches the Atoms' powers, and Ray Palmer has to go through the issue just being tough and not having shrinking powers. At the end of the issue, Mallo restores Palmer's usual powers and plugs the upcoming "Whatever Happened to the Earth-Two Atom?" feature. This story is logically flawed and a bit silly, but it didn't bore me, which is a win for a backup.


Brave & the Bold #170: Burkett and Aparo bring Batman together with Nemesis, probably to try to build interest in the character who's going to return to the backup feature after this. Nemesis and Batman get to the top of the organization that killed his friend and brainwashed his brother to do the killing. It turns out Head is a guy in an iron lung. Nemesis wants to kill him, but Batman convinces him not to. Still, a dying Nazi scientist does the the job. The story has a nice moment where Batman is examining with professional admiration the quality of one of the masks Nemesis uses as a disguise.

Detective Comics #498: The Conway and Newton/Adkins main story starts out a little confusingly as it is a direct sequel to story from 1979, but they don't tell you that until a few pages in. After his last encounter with Batman, Blockbuster falls into the ocean and is presumed dead.  After washing up on a beach, he walks to Bleak Rock, West Virginia, for some reason where he gets involved in the struggle of miners against a corrupt union boss. Batman has been looking for Blockbuster to show up (perhaps a bit guilty over his death) and flies to West Virginia. He is promptly hit in the back of the head by a goon and thrown into a mine. He's found there by Blockbuster who starts to get enraged and wants to kill him. To be continued!
The backup continues the "Barbara Gordon--Murderer" storyline by Burkett, Delbo and Giella. Commissioner Gordon is back to bail Barbara out of jail and the lawyer she's friendly with agrees to represent her, but she doesn't have much time to clear her name--unless she wants to reveal that she's Batgirl. The prosecution has an invoice signed by her for the poison that killed the Congressman, so Barbara knows her administrative assistant must be in on it. She visits her as Batgirl, and the woman admits the part she played, but she didn't want Barbara to go to jail, only to leverage Commissioner Gordon into letting her brother out of jail. She now knows she was duped. Before Barbara can do anything with this information, thugs bust in, and she in knocked out in the ensuing fight. This continues to be a decent storyline.

Green Lantern #136: There's a lot going on in this Wolfman/Staton yarn. Trying to find out what happened to Carol Ferris, Green Lantern and Tom seek out Bruce Gordon who was at Ferris Aircraft the day of the bombing. Bruce Gordon is Eclipso, though, so a fight breaks out that leads to the collapse of the building. As GL flies to save Tom, he is transported away to a future Earth under siege by the Gordanians. The time jump has left him without his memory. The Space Ranger breaks him out of the hospital to enlist his further aid against the invaders. They manage to find a green lantern in an old weapon cache, so Jordan can recharge. Unfortunately, the Gordanians defeat them all and take them captive. While (well, not really since she's in the past, but you know what I mean) all this is going on, Carol is being hunted Most Dangerous Game-style.
Unsurprisingly, the Adam Strange backup by Sutton and Rodriguez is less interesting than the main feature. There's a sort of planetary Olympics going on on Rann. Strange is competing, but the contests keep getting won by the same stranger in suspicious circumstances. Strange figures out the guy is somehow solar powered and confronts him. It turns out he's a shape-shifted alien who for some reason thinks he will conquer Rann by winning the contest, but when Adam Strange defeats him in one on one combat his species gives up the attempted conquest.

House of Mystery #288: The "cover story" hear is a riff on "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by DeMatteis and Speigle. A skeleton in a top hat playing a bone flute shows up in an idyllic town once a year to lead away some mentally challenged townsperson. A young man is determined to get his friend back and tracks the Piper to a cave where he is torturing the man he took away. The Piper shows the young hero the River of Souls, where the dark elements of human nature are held--and kept away from the town--so long as they give up one innocent soul a year to be tortured and corrupted by the Piper. Our hero attacks the Piper to free his friend, then the River of Souls is released. The town begins to destroy itself in a frenzy of concentrated badness. Our hero's uncle joins him and the former victim in leaving town. He explains as they go that he had once confronted the Piper over the hero's father but had been too frightened to do anything after seeing the River.
The other stories aren't as good. Barr and Jodloman deliver a short story about a big game hunter shooting a guide in an argument over shooting an endanger wolf, but then it turns out the guide is a werewolf. "Blood in Sand" is a weird story by Gwyon and Redondo about a young matador who wants to win enough to pay the rent on his mother's grave, but his girl's unhappy with the dangerousness of his chosen profession. She's also being pursued by the wealth bull breeder. An old wise woman warns the matador that the next bull he fights will not be as normal bulls, but doesn't quite believe her. In the arena though, he realizes his rival's spirit is somehow guiding the bull. He manages to kill it but dies in the process. No one pays the rent on his mom's grave or his grave, Cain helpfully informs us. The last story by Kanigher and Cruz  is a tale of doomed love and jealous in an Irish fishing community, and is the sort of bland stuff I expect from Ghosts.

Unknown Solider #247: Haney and Ayers and Tlaloc have the Solider infiltrating the Warsaw Ghetto to get information from a Jewish scientist whose "gas diffusion" work will aid the development of the atomic bomb. The old man is dying, but he will only give up the information if the Soldier takes his granddaughter out of the Ghetto. They are on their way out, but they're captured by Jewish resistance fighters who at first thinks the Soldier is a Nazi spy, but won't let them go even after they find out otherwise, fearing that under torture the girl would give away their hiding place. One of the fighters helps them escape into the sewers for the promise of a lot of money, but a German patrol nabs them. The cowardly fighter turns traitor, but the Solider stuffs a cyanide pill in the guy's mouth! He and the girl get away, hiding in a wagon of corpses being removed from the ghetto. Outside, they are again caught by German troops, but the Soldier fakes a heart attack to grab a soldier's rifle. With help from the resistance fighters on the walls, they kill the squad, and he the girl make good their escape. 
Kanigher and Mandrake follow that up with a tale of ancient Greece. After the Battle of  Thermopylae,  a brave shepherd boy kills a Persian commander. The coda remarks that the Persians are now called Iranians and suggests the possibility that their "fanatical leader" might fall to a single blow from a defiant boy. The last story by Burkett and Ayers/Celardo continues the travails of the "Ruptured Duck" from last issue, where the old, worn out plane keeps somehow saving folks' lives--and still breaking down a lot. Part one seemed kind of pointless and part two definitely was.

Tasha’s Rules for Custom Origins Make Pencil-Necked Mountain Dwarves Overly Good

DM David - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 12:17

I played Rime of the Frostmaiden in a party that included the sort of armored dwarven wizard empowered by two features: (1) a weak dwarf’s ability to wear stout armor without a speed penalty and (2) the customized origins from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which let players assign their race’s ability score bonuses to any ability score. This dwarf started with a Strength of 8 and level of fighter for heavy armor proficiency, but some characters gain similar benefits by opting for a mountain dwarf and gaining proficiency with medium armor.

We both played wizards who boasted similar offensive power, except his wizard never got hit. When the character returned at high levels for my D&D weekend, a shield spell routinely boosted his AC into the 30s.

Aside from a monk with high-wisdom and Stunning Strike, I suspect the character type that dungeon masters find most tiresome combines high AC and the ability to cast shield. We DMs can be fans of the characters and want to land an occasional attack. I love Superman, but I also love the threat of a robot powered by a kryptonite heart.

Tasha’s custom origins improve D&D by giving players freedom to play the character they want without choosing ability scores that make the character less effective than others. In an appearance on Dragon Talk, lead D&D designer Jeremey Crawford says, “All games are about making choices and making meaningful choices, but we want the choices to be between things that are all fun and interesting. What we don’t want is a choice where just hiding inside it is some kind of trap. And that’s what the traditional ability score bonuses often feel like to people.

“As the game continues to evolve, and also as the different types of characters people make proliferate and become wonderfully diverse, it’s time for a bit more of those old assumptions to, if not pass away, to be something that a person can set aside if it’s not of interest for them and their character.” The Tasha’s rules create a game that helps gamers imagine and create a broader spectrum of viable characters. “You can play the dwarf you want to play. You can play the elf you want to play. You can play the halfling you want to play.”

Does the new freedom fuel more powerful characters? Jeremey says no. “Contrary to what many people might think, those ability score increases that are in those different options, they are not there for game balance purposes. They are there strictly to reinforce the different archetypes that have been in D&D going back all the way to the 70s.”

The game’s design gives smaller ability score bonuses to races with more potent racial features. Jeremey contends that where players put the ability score bonuses doesn’t matter.

Except the placement matters. Before custom origins, mountain dwarves gained a +2 Strength along with medium armor proficiency—a feature that rarely benefits characters who gain from a +2 strength. Fighters and paladins get armor proficiency anyway; barbarians and monks avoid armor. For wizards and other classes that actually need armor, that +2 Strength offers nothing. To the Player’s Handbook designers, this combination of strength and armor proficiency seemed like such useless fluff that mountain dwarves gained +2 in two ability scores rather than just one. Besides, Strength is a roleplaying choice for sub-optimal characters..

I suspect that if Jeremey failed to save against a suggestion that forced the whole story, he would admit that the placement of modifiers does matter, but not enough to derail adding the simple and flexible custom origins in Tasha’s. Mountain dwarves rank as strong, but not overpowered.

Still, if the designers gained a redo on the dwarf, surely the race’s mechanics would change. In the case of dwarves, the custom origin rules go beyond enabling unique characters who defy class archetypes. The rules encourage pencil-necked dwarf wizards able to wear half-plate. I’ve learned to accept characters who sell out to seldom get hit, but acceptance comes easier when the price isn’t a bargain. Nonetheless, if I were king of D&D, custom origins and their flexibility would stay despite the adventuring parties suddenly filled with clanking dwarven wizards.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dark Sun: The Bandits of the Crimson Oasis

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 10/18/2021 - 11:00


The last two sessions of our Forbidden Lands Dark Sun campaign saw the party (now having made the acquaintance of the dune peddler Egon the Honest) taking yet another job from the dwarf merchant Urum ath Wo. Urum believes he has reliable information regarding the rumored treasure of the merchant prince Darom Madar said to be hidden in the remote Canyon of Golothlay.

Urum plans to do this deal separate from his work for House Zawir, hoping to strike out on his own. Egon negotiates the party not just decent pay, but a share in future profits.

The arrangements made, the small caravan heads out for the Silver Springs Oasis with the party acting as guards and scouts. At Silver Springs they plan to palaver with Chief Toramundi of the Silver Hands, the elven tribe that holds the Springs. Urum believes he has specific knowledge of the desert that might be helpful.

Along the way, they avoid an erupting swam of baazrag, and notice a halfling spying on them. Eowen the Elf tracks the halfling back to a small oasis, but finds whoever was there has already left. Fearing an attack, she heads back to the caravan, but is waylaid by the halfling. She kills the halfling, but hears that a fight has begun in the arroyo the canyon the caravan was passing through. 

The others are set upon by a dwarf ornamented like a sun priest, and three human bandits. After a short battle, the dwarf and one of the humans are dead. The other two surrender. Looting the bodies, they take studded leather armor and find a pouch with two potion fruit.

Putting some distance between themselves and the canyon, they decide to stop for the the night and make camp.

Doc Stalwart Issue 258

The Splintered Realm - Mon, 10/18/2021 - 00:55

 I had a little trouble getting this one right; it's a transitional issue, and I didn't want it to fall flat. I'm happy with how it turned out, even though it is far more character development and setting things up than it is straight-up adventure. I figure there's a lot of straight-up adventure I'm setting up...

Doc Stalwart 258

The Sword & Sorcery Paperback Renaissance

Sorcerer's Skull - Sat, 10/16/2021 - 14:00

 Likely touched off by the success of the Lancer (and Ace) Conan paperbacks, the '70s was a Golden Age of Sword & Sorcery paperback fiction. Okay, most weren't that good, admittedly--but there was stuff like Karl Edward Wagner's Kane, Charles Saunders' Imaro, and a number of works by Tanith Lee that were good, just to name a few. Also, even books that weren't all that great were often graced with Frazetta covers.

These gradually disappeared in the 80s. Sword & Sorcery was a genre born in short fiction, and while perhaps workable in slimmer novels, the multi-volume, thick fantasy series was ill-suited to telling tales of wandering swordsmen or rogues. The small press magazines that published this sort of fiction were already rare and soon disappeared entirely.

Amazon and ebooks have provided an avenue for the genre's return in something resembling its 70s glory. A number of small presses (and self-publishers) put out this sort of material with suitable, throwback covers. I confess to not having read many (well, any) of these volumes yet, though I do have a couple on my list. What's more exciting, though, is some new collections of stuff I already like.

Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories collects all of Richard Tierney's Sword & Sorcery tales of his version of Simon Magus of New Testament fame. He mostly fights Lovecraftian menaces cloaked in pseudo-historic references. Chaosium had a collection a couple of decades ago, but there's wasn't complete.

Charles Saunders has passed on, but his Imaro novels are back in print, and then there's Nyumbani Tales, a collection of non-Imaro stories in the same setting.



Westernesse

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 11:00

While traveling some for work, I listened to Vance's Suldrun's Garden as an audiobook. It gave me an idea for a setting:
Westernesse (the historical place, not the one in Tolkien's legendarium) is first mentioned by that name in the 13th Century chivalric romance, King Horn, though there is little truth of the place in that work. The Greeks knew the isles by many names: the Hesperides and the Fortunate Isles chief among them. The unusual apples, tended by priestesses of such power they were believed by the Greeks to be goddesses, were known to the Celts as well. The Irish spoke of their source as Emain Ablach. Geoffrey of Monmouth would call it Insula Avallonis and noted that Arthur's half-sister Morgan was one of nine sisters who ruled there, though Geoffrey's information is a distorted echo of past political arrangements, not the status quo of the 12th Century.
Homer knew it as Scheria or Phaeacia. The Phaeacians were perhaps the isles' original inhabitants, besides the fairy, and were themselves of part fairy ancestry. They would later be called elves, and perhaps still later be mistaken for extraterrestrials, if what is said about the abilities of Phaeacian ships is to be credited.
Greek, Celtic, and Phoenician peoples and religions found the islands at some point and left their mark. Brendan of Clonfert introduced Christianity to them, though only heretical forms chased out of Europe have ever had any real purchase, and they always existed side by side with paganism in a pragmatic pluralism.

Merlin is said to be entombed there, somewhere in the ancient forest of Broceliande, home to fairy creatures and prehistoric animals long extinct elsewhere in the world--though there were persistent accounts of encounters with a living, and mad Merlin in those woods. A certain Duke of Milan was shipwrecked on a smaller island of the archipelago and managed to make of himself a great wizard with the aid of a trove of Merlin's lore.
What became of these wondrous islands in the mid-Atlantic? Certainly they appear on some old maps, though their multitude of names make their identification uncertain and their placement on these charts often fanciful. Irish legends of Hy-Brasil (yet another name for Westernesse) suggests that they are cloaked in a strange mist save for one day every seven years. Stories of the Bermuda Triangle (not the islands location most likely, but not far off either) are full of strange appearances and disappearances. Eventually, like so many other Phantom Islands, Westernesse was merely dropped from the map entirely.

Watch Me Talk D&D on the Designer’s Den With Ginny Loveday

DM David - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 12:28

Watch my appearance on the Designer’s Den with Ginny Loveday. We talk Queen of the Demonweb Pits and Dead in Thay, and how they fit Dungeons & Dragons history. Plus, why designers should DM for strangers, my most popular posts, and much more.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1981 (wk 1, pt 2)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 10/13/2021 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm continuing my look at the comics at newsstands on the week of January 8, 1981. 

New Teen Titans #3: Wolfman and Perez introduce the Fearsome Five. They get together by answering an ad Dr. Light placed in an underworld paper. The Titans take them on twice and get beaten both times in variance with the usual superhero plot structure. They manage to do some infighting before that over Raven's mysteriousness, which Wolfman doesn't handle as well as Claremont would've. In the end, it's revealed that Trigon is using Psimon who is in turn manipulating Dr. Light to Trigon's ends. This title continues to really move. Everybody else this week seems less momentus (even Momentus, see below) by comparison, but I wouldn't say we've had a particularly good issue since the first.

Secrets of Haunted House #32: That guy, Judge Kobold, who escaped Mister E last issue was a werewolf and a vampire. Rozakis and Spiegle give his origin this issue, and it turns out he was a witch-hunting judge of colonial Boston who got cursed by a witch. Kobold attacks Kelly O'Toole who has now taken a job with Mister E. After making a disconnected telephone ring, E shows up to shoot the judge with a silver bullet. Mrs. Charlie Seegar and June Lofamia open this issue with an old Chinese man imparting a story about prejudice to some kids excluding a kid on crutches. It seems that a noble in ancient China was brought a paw cut from a marauding tiger by a warrior. The paw had transformed into a woman's hand with a ring the noble recognizes--his wife's! He confronts his now one-handed wife, and she admits she's a shapeshifter and pleads not to be cast out, but the husband condemns her to death. Before she is executed she curses him, and he wakes up the next day with a tiger paw in place of a right hand. The children now let the boy with crutches play with them thanks to this morally muddled story, and we see the old man has a tiger paw for a right hand.
The final story is a goofy yarn by Kelley and Sparling about vampire pirates. They're defeated when they break into a cabin full of nuns all brandishing crosses.
Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes #1: This seems like an excuse to retell the origins of the Legion and many of its members, but Bridwell/Kupperberg and Janes have wrapped a story around it. R.J. Brande, the Legion's inspiration and benefactor, is dying. While the Legionnaires are distracted, a man and woman dressed in black break into their headquarters to review their records (providing a recap on their history). When the Legion confront them, we find the man is Brande's assistant. He's convinced that the Legion files contain a clue to helping Brande. Brainiac 5 jumps to the conclusion that this means one of the Legion is suspected of killing Brande, which seems a bit of a leap, but I guess makes a good issue-end cliffhanger.

Superman #355: Bates and Swan have dared to imagine Isaac Asimov as a super-villain. Well, not technically Asimov, but a writer named Asa Ezaak with Asimov-sideburns who gives a lecture called "Science Says You’re Wrong If You Believe That–." It turns out he's used some dubious theories about gravity to give himself powers. He's into sort of an orange Clayface in appearance and calls himself Momentus. He kidnaps Jimmy so the "ace reporter" can't reveal his doings. Luckily, Jimmy finds a way to summon Superman. At first, it appears the Man of Steel has met his match, but Superman's super-dense body (being from Krypton and all) adds to Momentus's power until he overloads and explodes. Superman did try to warn him.
Bates and Swan are also on the Superman 2020 backup. We see the entirety of the Midwest is a desert waste, so that's one way their fictional 2020 is worse than ours. Anyway, human purists trap the young Superman in a way that if he breaks out it will set off a bomb and destroy New Metropolis. Young Superman gets wise to their scheme and summons Superman I and II to save the day. Crisis averted, he's ready to get the symbol on his chest, too.


Superman Family #205: Harris and Mortimer/Coletta continue with the return of the now villainous Enchantress. The Enchantress taunts Supergirl into coming to see her latest magical feat on Miami Beach. Just like last time, she's using the Moon, and Supergirl plans to just kick it slightly out of orbit. When she does, know, Enchantress casts a spell that stops her from moving it back! It also gives the witch the power she was looking for to become the premier crusader against evil in this Florida beach town. Anyway, Supergirl tricks her into using her magic in a way that gives Maid of Might the means to break her spell and depower her. She's also figured out the Enchantress is June Moone, but a quick spell remedies that, and the Enchantress is again free to swear she'll get Supergirl next time.
In the "Mr. and Mrs. Superman" story by Bridwell and Schaffenberger, the mop-topped Earth-2 Luthor pulls a hunk of kryptonite to Earth in an elaborate plot to eliminate Superman by pretending to be a statue of himself made out of kryptonite. He's foiled by a kick to the shin and a hotfoot. "The Private Life of Clark Kent" is as boring as ever with Clark surreptitiously helping the annoying Steve Lombard save his aunt the mystery writer from a kidnapper. 
The Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen multi-part stories by Wolfman and Saviuk finally come together. Lane knows her name now and begins the process of reconstructing how she lost her memory, which leads her to Al Diamond, crooked would-be Congressman. She manages to make a pretty badass escape, all action hero-style, and runs into Jimmy Olsen. Olsen has been busy disguising himself as Diamond to dust his office for Ryan's prints, then scaling the side of a building with suction cups (do these two even need Superman?). Lois doesn't know Jimmy at first so she fights him like superheroes are wont to do upon meeting. The two manage to escape and make it to safety. Ryan is revealed as a HIVE agent, Jimmy and Lois save Diamond from a HIVE base and escape in a helicopter before it explodes. In the end, Lois calls Superman with Jimmy's signal watch and sits him down for a talk.

Weird War Tales #95: This issue is kind of bland. Kashdan and Carillo open it up with a diminutive alien showing up on a Crimean War battle field. He takes command of a Russian force--the actual general is eager to get ahold of his advanced weaponry. Soon it's revealed that the Turks have an advanced weapons benefactor too, and the humans are all slaughtered. The two aliens congratulate each other on the game and remark on how war is all humans seem to want to do. Mishkin and Cohn and Infante deliver a short tale of Native Americans who become centaurs to avenge their tribe against the white man. Kanigher and Ditko have the statues of Easter Island (when they had bodies not just heads) avenging the slaughter of their people by another tribe. 
Finally, DeMatteis and Zamora deliver the best tale of the issue, though that's damning with faint praise. In WWII, A cornfed country boy full of violent fantasies from pulp barbarian stories beats up a Romany soldiers who dares disparage his affinity for violence. The aggrieved soldier takes revenge via "gypsy magic" to show the Texan the error of his ways. The Texan finds himself transported to a barbaric land where he is attacked by his barbarian hero. The Romany solider wakes up in a hospital to find they were both injured in an attack, but the Texan was killed--presumably by the illusions he intended to teach a lesson. He feels remorse, but soon finds himself assaulted by the fictional barbarian himself for being guilty of the crime of wanting bloody revenge.

Wonder Woman #275: Wonder Woman and the new Cheetah have their first confrontation, and it's underwhelming. Conway and Delbo have the Cheetah moving swiftly and stealthily in her high-heeled catsuit. She manages to sabotage a dam and flood a town for her radical environmental agenda. She also beats Wonder Woman in their first fight despite the fact we've been given no indication as to how she got super-powers. Wonder Woman figures out that Debbi is Cheetah, and they fight on Debbi's yacht-- which explodes in a collision with a ferry and Cheetah is presumed killed. Kobra is angry at the loss of an operative and ready for a confrontation with Wonder Woman. I wonder if Conway planned Cheetah as a one off villain? This issue certainly makes it appear so.
In the backup, Power-Girl and Huntress deal with The Thinker's crimewave. They attempt to visit the D.A. again, but the Thinker's got him in a closed-door session. Soon he's having him jump out the window, and the duo save him, but he recognizes Huntress as Helena Wayne!

"Game Wizards" Has Arrived!

Zenopus Archives - Wed, 10/13/2021 - 02:35

 

Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons is the title of the new book by Jon Peterson of Playing at the World fame. I had eagerly awaited it since hearing about it, and had pre-ordered from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail today, like magic, on its official release date. Shelfie above. 
After checking out the images in the book, I naturally looked up Holmes & the Basic Set in the index and skimmed some of those parts. This lead to reading more parts before I forced myself to stop, so I can start at the beginning. But my early verdict is that it is very readable.

Get your copy of Game Wizards here(" As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases ")
In the weeks leading up to the release, Jon made a related series of "behind the scenes" posts to the Playing at the World blog:
Game Wizards: My New Book
Game Wizards: TSR Financials
Game Wizards: TSR Staffing
Game Wizards: D&D Development Timeline
Units of Value and the Tactical Studies Rules Partnership
There were also several tie-in media articles:
Polygon: History of Dungeons & Dragons chronicles the battle between Arneson and Gygax
Polygon: How a pending lawsuit changed the original D&D Basic Set (a "never-before-seen piece that was cut from the final book")
Wired: The Missing Teen Who Fueled ‘Cult Panic’ Over D&D ("This story is adapted from Game Wizards")
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Before You Roll, Do the Math: A D&D Tip Inspired by Numenera

DM David - Tue, 10/12/2021 - 11:50

Monte Cook’s thirty-plus years as a game designer include credits co-designing third-edition Dungeons & Dragons and his science-fantasy roleplaying game Numenera, which mirrors some broad patterns of D&D. Numenera includes characters that resemble fighters, rogues, and spellcasters who gather to explore dangerous places. Players even roll d20s and aim to reach target numbers that rate a task’s difficulty. Make no mistake though, Numenera features innovations. Monte writes, “I think I have some fresh variations on some concepts that are in games now, and some wholly new ideas as well.”

For example, Monte noticed that players have more fun rolling to attack than watching a dungeon master make a foe’s saving throw. Rolling gives us an emotional sense of involvement. So in Numenera, the players always roll the dice. When players attack, they roll to hit; when monsters attack, the players roll to defend.

Letting players always roll has the side effect of eliminating the GM’s ability to fudge rolls. “If the dice don’t mean anything, then everything is predetermined, and it’s no longer a game by any definition—just a story being told,” Monte writes. “So the dice need to matter. But that means that sometimes a PC will fail when they would succeed if it were a story, and vice versa. That’s not a flaw; it’s a feature. It’s what makes roleplaying games so exciting.” Dice make roleplaying games unpredictable and dynamic. Numenera embraces that. (You may like how fudging rolls gives a GM power fit the game into a story, but Numenera gives GMs and players other tools to help shape a thrilling narrative.)

Numenera highlights the fun and drama of rolling dice in other ways. One has influenced how I run D&D and improved my games.

The rules of D&D encourage rolling first, and then adding bonuses and penalties to learn whether the roll means success or failure. The delay of calculating after the roll often robs the roll of potential drama.

Numenera puts the calculations before the roll by making things like skills and circumstances adjust the target difficulty. By the time the players throw the dice, they know exactly the number they need. Monte explains that calculating before the roll “makes task resolution–and in particular combat–move much, much more quickly if you’re not waiting for people to add together numbers (or to ensure they have all their various miscellaneous modifiers accounted for).” Even better, calculating first gives the roll an immediate significance that everyone playing understands.

Of course D&D players and DMs can calculate the target number needed for success before rolling too. Just subtract all the bonuses from the DC. As a DM, I often announce these target numbers before open rolls to wring maximum drama from a roll of the dice. As a DM under the influence of Numenera, I find myself making such announcements before nearly every roll. I’ve always rolled in the open, but when players know what the numbers mean, they pay attention and they react to the numbers.

Calculating a target number in advance hardly takes extra effort. Sure, some very low or high rolls could have skipped the math entirely. But pre-calculating often makes up for the occasional unnecessary effort in volume. If I roll a save for the 7 ghouls in a fireball and I know they need a 13 to succeed, I can toss 7 d20s and spot all the successes in an instant. If I throw the dice with just DC 15 and +2 in my head, then making sense of 7 numbers on the dice and the 2 numbers in my head takes much longer.

The most exciting moments in games like Numenera and D&D often come from die rolls. When we throw the dice, game masters and players alike surrender control to chance. For maximum drama, don’t make players wait for calculation of the results. Tell everyone the number to look for on the die.

Related: D&D and the Role of the Die Roll, a Love Letter.

Steal This Rule: Numenera and XP for Discovery

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[ZINE] Echoes From Fomalhaut #09 (NOW AVAILABLE!)

Beyond Fomalhaut - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 18:48

Beyond the Gates of SorrowI am pleased to announce the publication of the ninth issue of my fanzine, Echoes From Fomalhaut. This is a 56-page zine dedicated to adventures and GM-friendly campaign materials for Advanced old-school rules, with cover art by Graphite Prime, and illustrations by Vincentas Saladis, Cameron Hawkey, Denis McCarthy, Stefan B. Poag, and the Dead Victorians.
This issue serves to introduce the Twelve Kingdoms, a divided northern region to the northwest of Erillion, cut off from the rest of human civilisation. Two hex map sheets describe the five larger, four medium-sized, and numerous smaller islands ruled by rival petty kingdoms, and ravaged by incessant warfare. Ruined castles, faerie-haunted forests, barren coasts and cold mountain ranges await those who adventure here; druids, reclusive eccentrics, jealous wizards’ orders and mysterious monasteries complicate the network of temporary alliances. This is a land fit for exploration, plunder... or will that be conquest? Let the players decide, and live with the consequences!
The titular adventure, Beyond the Gates of Sorrow, takes the company to a small archipelago on the borders of the Kingdoms. Uninhabited and barely sustainable to sustain life, there is nevertheless much danger here. Can a shipwrecked party find a means of escape from their predicament? Or can another find a person or item of special significance while racing against a rival group of explorers? 19 wilderness and 18 dungeon locations describe the archipelago’s dangers and occasional treasures in this scenario for levels 2-4.
Echoes #09 also includes a larger dungeon adventure, The Vaults of Volokarnos. Originally published as a stand-alone introductory module for the Casemates and Companies RPG, and now converted to the B/X lineage of old-school games, the Vaults are specifically designed for beginning characters, and potentially players who are new to old-school gaming in general. A fully stocked dungeon level awaits with 52 keyed reas, and more orcs than you can shake a stick at. Explore a dungeon complex that had once served as a catacomb system, thermal bath, touristic attraction... at the same time. Find out what the orcs are up to, what lies in burial vaults yet unconquered, and what the patricians of the nearby town do not want you to know... and where character sheets and followers are concerned, bring spares. It shall not hurt.
In addition to the Vaults, the issue also describes the isle republic of Arak Brannia. This two-page setting can serve as the background for the Vaults of Volokarnos, or a springboard for further adventures on the northern coastlands of the declining Kassadian Empire...
The print version of the fanzine is available from my Bigcartel store; the PDF edition will be published through DriveThruRPG with a few months’ delay. As always, customers who buy the print edition will receive the PDF version free of charge.

Double hex map

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Minaria: Immer

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 00:12
Immer is a hinterland compared to the grander, more civilized nations to the south like Mivior and Muetar. However humble its settlements, simple its castles, or rustic its lords, it still serves an important strategic purpose both as a buffer against the elves and goblins and as a rich source of natural resources.

The kingdom of Immer has its origins in the Vidvarnii adventurers who traveled north from Lake Lorimer to hunt and trap and trade with natives of the wilderness. They supplied the lands to the south with furs, honey, and beeswax. Eventually a stockade fortress and trading post was established at Muscaster, which would grow into the town as settlers followed the woodsmen north.
The nominal king (or Grand Prince, more accurately) of Immer is Euwint I, often called "Euwint of the Marshes" which he fancies as a byname to commemorate his dubious victory over a Muetarian sortie in the Wrogga Lowlands, but his detractors imbue his sobriquet with a different meaning entirely. Euwint is of the line of Hrorvikid warlords who beat back the encroaching Muetarians and subdued the northern tribes, establishing modern Immer. However, his upbringing was entrusted to the wizards of the Invisible School in the modern custom. They fostered him in the household of his more tractable cousin, a border lord of the Lowlands. The lords of the north and west consider him a bit effete, perhaps even soft. 

None would ever make such a claim regarding his wife, Igweena. Though she comports yourself in the required courtly fashion, she is the daughter of the Duke of Monen who holds Gap Castle and defends the land from the approach of the goblins of Zorn through the mountain pass. Igweena, it is known, has been counselling her husband in reinforcing the North, possible in preparation of seizing the land beyond the River Rapid to secure access to the gold found therein. 
It is also whispered that Igweena, like the peasantry of her mountain home, still holds to the tripartite goddess in secret--in fact, some claim she is even a priestess--despite public allegiance to the official Ansharite cult. 

Cold Wind Whispering

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 10/09/2021 - 11:11
By Markus Lindermun Apes of Wrath OSR Level 4? Wjo knows.

A crying statue, missing children, a mad wizard, raging conflict and a sentient wind whispering words of madness …

This 68 page digest adventure features a seventeen encounter pointcrawl up the side of a wintery mountain, with a couple of small seven-ish room dungeons in a few of the locations. You can see what it is trying to do, but it just comes off as … static? 

I don’t really know what to say about this. It exists. It’s not great. It’s not insufferably bad. It’s just mediocre. (And, in my taxonomy, there’s no room for average.) I think I know why it is the way it is, and that’s what I’m going to talk about. Mostly.

First, though, the adventure. The usual assortment of “someone paid us to go here” hooks, along with a decent one: they say that a goddess sleeps at the top of the mountain and provides boons to those that awake her. They journey through hell (a frozen one, in this case) to seek knowledge is a classic one, and fairly easy to fit in to a campaign. So, up the pointcrawl mountain you go. Your decisions, right or left, are generally arbitrarily made and not toward some specific goal. Individual locations tend to give you a hint of the next location, but not your progress towards a goal. So “a trail leading in to a sense forest of red foliage, with a distant amber glow coming from deep inside it.” Ok, so, check that out I guess? It’s as good as any other choice. Red door or blue door, you choice is arbitrary.

Why is this different? What makes this different, say, then taking a right hand turn or a left hand turn in the dungeon? This choice. Also, is seemingly arbitrary. And yet, it feels different. In our usual exploratory dungeon adventure we have a reconnaissance in force: the party is loaded for bear and looking to fuck some shit up and get the ca$h. It IS an exploration and therefore the decisions are (almost) arbitrary when deciding right or left. But when an adventure is NOT an exploration, when there’s a goal, then we have different things needed. The mindsets have changed. I am looking for the lost valley; is this the way? I am making choices to help me find that, to accomplish my goal. In front of this we place the red door and the blue door. It is arbitrary. The decision is meaningless. Is there a place for this? Sure. But too much and our mindset and framing is lost to the “who really gives a fuck anymore?” cause. And this blog exemplief time and again, Apathy Kills. It doesn’t matter that left is the red forest with golden glow and right winds further in to the forest with a huge tree visible. I mean, piquing someones interest is good, but you need to feel like you are making progress also. Otherwise this is just a funhouse museum visit.

The individual encounters in this, taking a page or two each with the mini/lair dungeons taking a few more, engage in a couple of interesting sins. One is perhaps forgivable and the other NOT. 

First is that new sin, the inappropriate use of randomness. In several locations, when the party first enters, the DM is instructed to roll to determine what currently inhabits the area. This is not a superior way to describe an encounter. A randomly rolled encounter can not be integrated by the designer. The encounters next to it can not be influenced by it, in the text. It cannot be hinted at in the next room. It cannot be integrated in to the room text proper. It’s just The Town Square with some random monster standing in it. Yes, absolutely, emergent game play from randomness is totally a thing. But, I point you to Websters Unabridged Dictionary, again, as the model of perfection for this type of adventure. There’s not context to the encounter, either local or in the scope of the large adventure. Sure, “reroll on every subsequent visit” could be a thing. As could “roll on the wandering table on subsequent visits.” The role of the designer is not to ask the DM to roll, but rather to create an integrated environment that riffs off of everything. Inappropriate randomness doesn’t do that and is lazy design.

The second problem, though, is far far worse. Nothing is going on. I mean, NOTHING is going on. Oh, sure, there are places to visit. There are people to stab. There’s a machine to fuck with. But, overall, the general vibe is one of a static environment. There is not much, if any, dynacism to the environment or the individual encounters. “Hawk Meadows” is a perfect example of this. You’ve got tents, a shooting range and an aviary. They torture prisoners, worship a nihilistic god, and conduct lavish feasts.This is it. Their leader, 6th bastard of a 6th bastard, runs a tight ship, we’re told. But that’s just it. There is no inciting action. There is no tight ship to interact with. In spite of generalized hints, which I quoted above, there is nothing going on. If I just said “village of dudes who worship a nihilistic goddess” you’ve have as much to run the encounter as the half digest page provides the DM with. No sacrifice in progress, or prisoners in a cage. Nothing you WANT and not really anything that they want from you. (I guess you could infer “dinner”?) It’s just this static place. And this happens times and time again in the adventure. We get some hint of something. A spaceship. Refugees. A buried statue. But, all we get is that thing. There’s nothing actually going ON with it. Not much to explore or interact with. Over and over and over again. Yet another giant buried statue. The encounters don’t have a disposition to them. There’s a passiveness to everything. 

This robs the adventure. Everything is supposed to be connected, for the most part. THings in one area relating to things in another. Instead it all just comes across as individual THINGS in individual PLACES. There’s very little cross-pollination. There’s very little motivation in the individual encounters. The malaise of existence comes back to you, instead of being driven off by bread and circuses. Sysyphsus fails, time and again. 

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages, but you don’t get to see any of the encounters. Boo! Boo I saw, Sir!


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/353958/Cold-Wind-Whispering?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Review & Commentary On Guilds and Orders by Steven Chenault From Troll Lord Games For Your Old School or OSR Fantasy Game

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 10/08/2021 - 16:49
 "Guilds and Orders is a simple resource guide for use at almost any table and any roleplaying game. It lists several dozen possible guilds or orders that you can port into your game and use to augment an adventure through role playing. It’s a book that adds depth to a region by giving its people that much more flavor. Below you’ll find outlined scores of guilds and orders, that serve as ready toNeedleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary on Bounty Hunters In The Clement Sector By John Watts From Independence Games For The Clement Sector Campaign Setting For Cepheus Engine & 2d6 Original Science Fiction Games

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 10/07/2021 - 15:20
 "Bring 'em back alive!With the many independent governments of Clement Sector, it is necessary to have a method to capture criminals who take advantage of the lack of a ruling interstellar polity and go on the run from justice.  For most governments in Clement Sector, the answer is the manhunter.  ""Manhunters include those who have dedicated their lives to tracking down criminals on the run, Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Small Setting

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 10/07/2021 - 11:00


For some reason, the idea of a small setting has long had some appeal for me. Something like the British Isles or any other single country, sure, but also even smaller, like an single province of a country (Averoigne, Poictesme)--or smaller still, like an immense Gormenghast-esque castle and its environs.

Obviously, hexcrawling has limited to no utility in a setting like this, and it's probably not grist for a long term campaign, if you do the usual D&D activities. But you know, most campaigns I play in or run don't seem to be long term enough that that would create into a problem. My Land of Azurth campaign will be 7 years old this month, and while the players have now ventured beyond Yanth Country, I feel like we could easily still be in that terrain (roughly the size of the state of Georgia), allowing for the brief planar, time travel, and underground other-realm excursions they've done.

What's the appeal to me of the small setting? I'm not exactly sure. Perhaps it's the thought of accreting a lot of granular detail in one part of a setting in a way players will actually find interesting versus that detailed city supplement approach where most of it never gets used. There's also the possibility of developing more of a robust "supporting cast" and layering in mysteries big and small. It also makes adventure locales less likely to be one-offs, encouraging the portrayal of them as living, changing places.

In short, maybe, it's bringing some of the aspects of the megadungeon to a setting that isn't centered around a megadungeon.

Its All In Today's Mail - Paul Elliot's Zaibatu rpg & Postcards from Avalidad by Miguel Ribeiro, & Manuel Souza Combined

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 10/07/2021 - 02:29
 “Every man has inside himself a parasitic being who is acting not at all to his advantage.”― William S. BurroughsSo this blog entry is gonna pick right up from here. And I asked for a physical  copy of  Postcards from Avalidad by Miguel Ribeiro, &  Manuel Souza. And the author came through in spades. Why would I need a physical copy? Because my eyes are ready to bleed out of their sockets Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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