Tabletop Gaming Feeds

On the Edge of the Map

Hack & Slash - Thu, 11/25/2021 - 13:30

I still recall when I had to wait till Monday to call the Library of Congress to find out things. 

You don't really know what's out there. We see a lot more of it. A cat with a thumb. A fish standing on land. Some weird underwater squiggly giving inspiration to the Flumph. 

A few months ago, I wrote an article On the Lie of Colonialism in Dungeons and Dragons. I still believe my core thesis in that post. In the entirety of my experience of gaming, I have never had a group that didn't treat or deal with sentient culture-having creatures in a modern "enlightened" way. They always helped the oppressed. They fight against those with power for the good of the people. Even in evil campaigns, they were concerned about Order against Chaos. 

In the real world, there is no objective morality. There's no glowing purple-green force one can syphon that by it nature is inimical to the existence of life. There explicitly is in Dungeons & Dragons. You can see it with magic. 


I mean, people overreact right? "Oh, hey, what a miserable take this guy has in an article I didn't read, but will publicly complain about on twitter as a preening gesture for my preferred ingroup!"


I have direct experience of working with several extremely low-income high-risk cultural groups. I spent five years in Alaska working with Yup'ik and Cup'ik native tribes. I have experience working with economically disadvantaged cultures in my local area. And I find it strange to have to say this, but this isn't because of any 'white savior' complex. Frankly, you can't save shit. Like, it is in a very straightforward way, the government using money to directly ease the extinction of a culture. And let me tell you, the destruction of a culture is not pretty. 



Maybe I haven't been to that edge of the map. Maybe one of monkeys banging away on typewriters that fit into their pocket, knew something that I did not. So I've been looking into it. Partly because I'm working on large semi-historical adventure for a. . . uh. . . a thing. . . that I'm clearly not supposed to be talking about. 

But it takes place in the colonial era. My initial weeks of research led me, to a conclusion that seems obvious in hindsight, that if an adventure is literally set in a colonial time, in an area nations were fighting over colonies, you can't avoid having colonization in the adventure.

So, what does this mean? Is the act of pretending to be a wizard who engages in slaying orcs, somehow some kind of dog-whistle racist activity? Well, MyFarog and Racial Holy War are universally derided and maligned for their obvious racism. I've never seen or heard of anyone running one of those racial cleansing simulators, so if role-playing were some front full of people engaging in genocide fantasies, I would expect them to be more popular. I mean, maybe those tables are out there, full of people who live their lives like extras who get killed in an action movie. 

But, you know, edge of the map. I went out (and am out) listening to lectures, reading and listening to those who do understand the issues, and people who are not like me. I mean, we are all different. That is to say, we all possess infinite worth, but our externals can be radically different. This is something I've carried inside as a truth, that I hold with a fervor equal to its arbitrariness. I.e. total.  Now I'm not done thinking, but it seems pretty obvious from my study that when we engage in entertainment via movies, table-top games, video games, reading, story-telling, we construct tales of overcoming adversity versus the self, other people, nature, supernatural, technology and society.

That is, you can totally pretend to shoot bad guys and that doesn't make you a bad person.

That isn't the end of it. 

There are clearly depictions of racial stereotypes in the monster manual c.f. dervishes, hobgoblins, et. al. that represent a bigoted view of culture inherited from the sword and sandal novels of the early and mid-twentieth century. A bigoted view Gygax clearly had, and I know for a fact there were people who did not have that bigoted view in 1970. 

And what do you do about a thinking culture's children after your murder their adults for being on your land before you got there?

Therein is the rub. You can make the game match cultural understandings and expectations, but you can't stop someone from being a racist douche. So you kind of have to play by some unspoken rules. E.g. You can't have an inhuman enemy that you kill without compunction who has its own culture and values. If they do have a culture, they must have a value that is deleterious to your very existence, which makes it palatable to kill them. Or you've got to expect your players not to want to kill them.

The thing is, and by far, I'm no arbiter of the state of the world.

But I've never seen a game or met a person who doesn't play by these rules. In point of fact, in every game in my entire life I've been involved in, covering these questions has always been done explicitly at the table, to make sure we aren't engaging in some nefarious act. 

In fact, it's an ancient trope, being the exact point of U2, The Danger at Dunwater (1982). You are given the location of the lair of the lizard men, but they are just chill dudes, who's really just arming themselves to protect themselves from the cuthonic undersea horrors of the Sahuagin. It's an adventure that literally is about understanding cultural differences to avoid conflict. I've been in and run the adventure an astounding amount of times. Sometimes it takes a fight or two, but there's a 100% rate of 'Oh Geeze, these aren't the bad guys, let's help them defend against the evil, which neither of us could defeat apart', which is a literal parable about why racism is bad.

So has the game "Since its inception in the ‘70s, . . . had profound issues surrounding racism and the colonialist mindset. Fifth Edition has done little to mitigate these issues, and if anything, the West Marches only make the longstanding rot more visible."- Izirion's Enchridiion of the West Marches

I mean, yes. The game has had stereotypical and inappropriate representation. e.g. please do not look at the cover of X8 Drums on Fire Mountain. (I told you not to look.)

Does the game have a colonialist mindset? It's feudal. It has depictions in monsters that have been used to demonify other cultures. Are antibiotics colonial? Spiritually, the core of the game is about going into the chaotic unknown and retrieving knowledge to return to strengthen society and further the cause of order and man.

The argument is, yes. We do so. To take the world and bring it to order, imposes by definition an unjust order. Order itself is a problem. Too much and the world becomes frozen and rigid. I mean, did you see earlier where I used the common colonialist trope of "we are making things better for you." when I mentioned Antibiotics?

You see, while listening and thinking and pouring over tomes, which amazingly enough is my actual job (Made possible by awesome people who give me money! You too can join this exclusive club of raising the volume of a voice you like. Blame capitalism.) It occurred to me that the discussion, and there is a discussion, is about how to respect autonomy, dismantle unjust hierarchies, eliminate unfair exploitation, and make the world a better place.

Which, funnily enough, is exactly what the fuck Dungeons and Dragons is about.

There's no answer to the question. We still remain as a species in the period of unknowing. Maybe there will be an answer to the question of a perfect society one day. Hell, I don't have to wait till Monday morning to call the Library of Congress to find things out anymore. But the game itself is literally about answering the question: what is right, what is just, and what is within my power to improve?

The game itself deals with profound issues. Important ones. Like racism and the colonial mindset. Fifth edition hasn't done anything to mitigate this, it's still about important things, like Freedom and Representation. The game is about personally taking agency and being confronted with this question. It is about what colonialism means and what complicity and rebellion cost. It's about what it means to be a hero. So when I say that colonialism in Dungeons and Dragons is a lie, what I mean is that the idea of our personal exploration of these issues is somehow bigoted or racist is, as the kids say, a bad take.

And I would hope, in my heart of hearts, when you venture into the West Marches, beyond the edge of the map, that the longstanding rot is clear and visible, so your blade may strike true when you fight for justice. 

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope this post finds you and yours well. I've very recently solved looming housing insecurity, and it occurred to me no one should have to suffer housing insecurity. If your interested in helping, there are a lot of resources that allow you to help out locally and nationally. We are in for a rough decade—and we can make it through, together. Tell your loved ones you love them. 

The whole colonialism issue strikes me as "Satanic Panic-ish" because where are the people sacrificing these children? Is this something that is really happening, or is it a reaction to the ambiguity of what other people might do 'wrong' while playing a game? I don't think so, but don't know for sure. It seems somewhat self-selecting, racists are almost by definition provincial, and role-playing does require a lot of traits that are contraindicated to someone who has racist beliefs. What's the angle on targeting it? I'm not sure. But there's a definite disconnect between the claims and the reality. What, exactly do we do about racism? Forty years of anti-racist propaganda and societal efforts, and. . . nothing. Still Racism. It might be, I think, related to genetic in-group/out-group stuff and I don't know how we get rid of that. I don't have to know to play D&D. 

If you're curious, I'll put the old article up Friday and you can read it then.

If you're interested in something cool, I have some crazy art in this adventure about a dungeon inside a dead sea god. There's other factions and goals, it's a really smart adventure. So much cool stuff and my art, too! Take a look at Voyages on the Zontani Sea!

And, oh, it's so crazy. Dungeons and Dragons is so crazy popular, JeShields who's both a technical and spiritual mentor of mine creates crazy high quality art. It's so good. Someone like it so much, they are turning the art into 3-d miniatures? It's just awesome. I think everyone should go have a look. Just to see how cool it is to take a 2D old school type illustration and turn it into a monster. 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mobius, Sword & Sorcery, & 'The Willow' 1988 Film Concept artwork As Influence On Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 11/25/2021 - 07:15
 So over the last couple of weeks I've been posting Mobius classic artwork from a wide variety of sources. Having discovered Mobius back in the Seventies in the pages of Heavy Metal magazine.  It didn't take me long to have my lizard brain incorporate him as a major influence on Sword & Sorcery rpg campaigns back in the Eighties. According to Wikipedia on Mobius; "Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was a Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Giants of Chaos - Giant Chieftains, The Forces of Chaos, & B2 Keep on the Borderlands -ACK's Stormbringer Campaign

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 11/25/2021 - 01:29
Eric Pape's illustration for Lyrics and Old World Idylls by Madison J. Cawein (1907)." King Arthur shookAnd headlong flung Sir Accolon. Then took,Tearing away, that scabbard from his sideAnd hurled it through the lists, that far and wideGulped in the battle breathless. Then, still wroth,He seized Excalibur; and grasped of bothWild hands, swung trenchant, and brought glittering downOn rising Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe

Beyond Fomalhaut - Wed, 11/24/2021 - 21:08

In the Shadow of
Tower SilveraxeIn the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe (2021)

by Jacob Fleming

Published by Gelatinous Cubism Press

Low- to mid-level

In a sense, the mini-sandbox is one of the holy grails of old-school gaming. The idea of a home base, a wilderness with minor points of interest, and a dungeon or three to top it off is the clearest expression of a home campaign. From Hommlet to Herth, and from Bone Hill to The Forsaken Wilderness, the pattern has been unbroken, even if relatively few published modules give you the whole sandbox, toys included. (The Vault of Larin Karr, for mid-level PCs, is the best example in print that I know of.) This is one genre which is easier to build piecemeal at home by the game table than prepare in a publication-ready format.

In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe, a 60-page, zine-format module for Old-School Essentials, is a fully realised mini-setting describing the locales of the Gemthrone Wilderness, a mountainous territory arranged around a central valley occupied by a particularly dense and dangerous old-growth forest named The Labyrinth of Shadows. Dwarven settlements and ruins ring the central valley, connected by well-mapped trails; the Labyrinth is trackless and inhabited by the most dangerous monsters. In addition to wilderness exploration procedures, the module provides a description of five settlements (including the town of Karn Buldahr) and nine dungeons of various sizes (from 5-6-room lairs to a main feature with five levels and 33 areas total). The power curve goes from beginning-level to some fairly deadly stuff – maybe 4th to 5th level or so. Rumours, mysterious glyphs, treasure maps, the remains of an advanced ancient civilisation, and local politics complicate the picture, and create a layer of connections to bring it all together.

Hiking Trip, But With HobgoblinsTower Silveraxe follows the trends in vogue in the modern old-school gaming scene. It is heavily focused on tight editing and effective presentation. Every page spread is laid out in a precise way that eliminates the need for page flipping: all the maps and key you need are there before you. The dungeon maps are precise and clean affairs, with local random encounter charts tucked into a corner. I was particularly impressed with the wilderness cartography, which takes the form of an elegant hiking map with contour lines, trail distances, and points of interest. This format has lots of potential, and I hope people will do more with it in the future. (Minor nitpick: my inner textbook editor is screaming in rage at sight of the page numbering, which puts odd numbers on the left and even on the right. How dare you.)

Here we come to the Achilles heel of the module. Following trends in vogue in the modern old-school gaming scene, Tower Silveraxe has sacrificed interest for accessibility. It is well-rounded, impeccably made, nicely interconnected, but the content is just sort of mediocre. One could call it vanilla, but the term is misleading. For instance, the original TSR modules were often quite vanilla, but even so, they always had interesting twists like the orc/carrion crawler caverns/weird shrine under Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, or the pool room and the whole “retired adventurers’ home base” aspect of In Search of the Unknown. Unfortunately, this is the “generic, flavourless” sort of vanilla that works with standard tropes and does not really improve on them, or use them innovatively.

A lot of the module text is remarkably facile. Consider Karn Buldahr, the dwarven town. There are 14 keyed locations, very few of which actually add anything beyond the baseline. The Traveller’s Inn is “a modest inn, just outside the western gate, (…) welcoming to all travellers, even in the early hours of the night.”The Stables are “Owned and run by Kreel Coalbraid. Only mules and carts are available to purchase.” The guards are stout. The General Store & Outfitters sells adventuring gear. The Crafters Quarter is “where nearly all skilled crafters conduct their trade.” There is very little here that could not be improvised on the basis of “Dwarftown. Population: dwarves”. Karn Buldahr occupies an uncomfortable middle ground between minimalism, which does not give you much, but occupies little place, and an actual in-depth treatment which elaborates on the basic concepts until they transcend a generic quality. Here lies the trap of the format: it is all on a spread of two facing pages, which either stifled the author’s creativity, or made him stretch a thin concept beyond its sensible limits. In fact, Karn Buldahr does have things of interest which deserve notice: a theatre putting on modernist plays everyone goes to but nobody confesses to not understanding (the Quirk differentiating the place from other dwarven towns), the local tradition of The Airing of Grievances (the Detail which drives home the dwarven connection), and a magic-user looking for crystals (the Adventure Hook). There are four decent rumours. This is good stuff, surrounded by several paragraphs of eh and meh.

Similar problems affect the nine mini-dungeons. The size is all right for something you find in a wilderness (although Bone Hill would beg to differ), and the concepts – looted tomb, abandoned mine, haunted tower, cave shrine, etc. – are good, with decent variety. It is, again, the encounters which suffer. They are very rote, very standard dungeon encounters of the monster/treasure/trap variety, missing a sense of wonder or deeper challenge that would make people start to pay attention. The treasure is usually coins contained in chests and such, and generic +1 items. The monsters are usually small groups of standard critters. You don’t get the “oh crap, 45 goblins! How do we solve this one?” kind of encounter here.

The encounters end up remarkably shallow. Many details in the key add nothing to the information already found on the map:

“Large room with six huge stone pillars. 2 doors – one south and another goes east on the north end of the room.”

“There is a tunnel to the north and a door to on the south wall. The room is empty.”

Seemingly interesting details do not, in fact, add to the interaction potential of the module, and are left as undeveloped cyphers:

“This room contains many shelves of books. A library for the elf stewards.

>> Books: All journals and logs written by the elves throughout the centuries.

>> Treasure: 3 spell scrolls (shield, knock, and hold portal)

“The stairs descend to a large room with four large statues of figures with heads bowed. At the end of the room is a sturdy iron door.”

Touch the Eye.
Touch the Eeeeye!If you read that last one, your spidey sense is probably telling you this is going to be a great “deeper level” setpiece with a portcullis trap, animated statues, poison gas, flooding, or monsters attacking from behind secret doors. But nothing really happens, and the imagery is left unexploited. Of course, not every such room needs to be a deathtrap. Red herrings play an important role in messing with the players and either deplete their resources or lull them into a false sense of security before the iron door mimic eats them for lunch. Too bad this is a pattern that repeats through Tower Silveraxe, and most similar opportunities are also missed. There are a few exceptions: good foreshadowing down in the main dungeon, which offers progressive hints of a large, dangerous monster’s presence; a cyclopean idol with an obviously telegraphed but still oh-so-fun poison gas trap; or mysteries which span multiple adventure sites. However, the majority of encounters in the adventure are very plain, and the payoff of finding something really unique and off the wall is not present. This is a shame, because the setup is virtually crying out for it.

In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe is, therefore, a module with excellent structure and relatively weak content. I would not want to savage it – there is obvious craft in how it is put together – but I cannot help but believe the “layout-correctness” has not helped this one, and that it does not live up to its own implicit promise. Your players would probably have a reasonably good time playing it; it does not make any egregious mistakes, and just letting the players loose in the sandbox often produces a spark that sets even middling material aflame. This is what it is: solid, functional, but falling way short of excellence. Potential for improvement? Yes. Room for improvement? Yes, and lots of it.

No playtesters are credited in this publication.

Rating: *** / *****

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Mail Call! Emperor's Choice Arduin Grimoire Bundle (Arduin Grimoire volumes 1-9!) Unboxing

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 11/24/2021 - 18:29
Hoping that your Thanksgiving preparpation has gone smashingly! I'm very appreciative of having a roof over my head, four squares a day, a job, and a hobby that has given me some amazing friends & opportunities. And this little beauty came today. so excited to have this package! Lo do I see the Arduin Grimoire Bundle (Arduin Grimoire volumes 1-9 in my mail box today! Excellent turkey day reading Needles
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Date of Expiration

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 11/24/2021 - 12:11
By Graphite Prime Graphite Prime Studios AD&D Levels 4-7

You have never seen a dungeon like this before! What happens when crazed mechanical beings from the future arrive on your fantasy world?

This 108 page adventure uses about sixty or so pages to describe a futuristic hellhole of a tower with about 45 rooms. Uninteresting descriptive/layout format complements the nature of the site and while descriptive text is low word count, it complements the art well. 

Occasionally someone with attempt to write an adventure on a trash world. You know, the entire planet is a dumping ground and there are weird holes and tunnels everywhere littered with refuse, made up of refuse. Or, there was HoL, proper, or every those tunnel scenes of sewers in The Matrix or the alien warrens in Aliens. You get this idea of a chaotic area that you are picking your way through, uncertain exactly what is going on, surrounded by an alien environment. I’ve never seen this described very well. It seems to be a relatively popular area to explore, but the nature of the environment makes it difficult to convey the vibe in anything other than a visual format. Hence the HR Geiger stuff, the Matrix tunnels, and so on, doing so well to inspire. This adventure, also, relies on an art style to help convey the vibe, much more so than the words alone. 

We’re up in the land of the ice and snow from the midnight sun with the blah blah blah. I’ve actually got Burn It Down on heavy, loud repeat right now, but, you get the idea: the frozen north, barren but mountainous and rugged. Rumors of strange things to the further north, from the last friendly fort, and strange creatures. You hex crawl north Miss Tessbacher, through 28 or so possible hexes, one to two hexes a day. Until you see, nestled in a valley of ice and snow, a rusted iron contraption, made of up rivets and pipes, draped with golden cables and wires. 900 feet high and 700 feet wide. Yup. We’re there kids, Wally World awaits! That is unmisfuckingstackably the place you want to go to. It cannot be recognized as anything other than a place of wonder. You. Have. Arrived. 

Let’s imagine a government research lab, say Black Mesa. You’ve got the scientists, the staff and receptionists, the janitors and food service people, some soldiers, a few, ahum, “men of vision” and so on. Now, lets take the whole place, complex and all, and transport it so fucking far back in to the past that time looses its meaning. But, those Men of Vision are on a mission. But, the working dudes? Hey man, they didn’t sign up for this shit. Thus you have some human foibles mixed in to an otherwise focused “mission.” That’s what’s going on here. Except, the people transported back are cyborgs from so far in the future they no longer know that humans WERE their ancestors and they don’t resemble the cyborgs you know and love from movies and Tv. They are more like a loose collection of wire, like a pile of cassette or VCR tape, on the floor, that can pull itself in to different forms. They can’t really do that, but, imagine the pool of wirre HAD given itself a vaguely (and I emphasize vaguely …) humanoid form. A little insane, on a missione, some occasional moments of relatability … all while they harvest people and animals for experiments. Some are hostile, some curious (and therefore probably hostile in a “vivisection” kind of way …) and some are drunk or apathetic or resigned to melancholy. In short, NOT a monolithic enemy.

We must now discuss the map. And art style. And formatting choice. And evocative writing. Because, they are all one and the same here. Or, perhaps, working towards the same end, intrinsically linked. 

There is an overview map, a big map showing the entire layout. And then that map is broken up in two four smaller “quadrant” maps, to help make things more manageable. But, the individual rooms? They EACH get their own map. Imagine a drawing of a room, in the center of a page. Scattered around it are small blocks of text with lines pointing to various parts of the map. If there’s a pit then there’s a small block of text describing it and then a line pointing to the pit on the map. You’re with me so far, right? Three, maybe four features per room.

And by “room” I mean “this part of the big ass complex weird and confusing complex.” There is SUBSTANTIAL verticality to this, with virtually every “room” having three of four vertical components separated by small “flat” sections. And it’s all this weird post-industrial/hyper-technology setting. 

With a black and white art style that that is a signature of Graphite Prime. I wouldn’t want to draw comparisons, but ,those of you unfamiliar may think of Scrap and the “less is more” ambiguity that the black & white styles of both artists convey. (It is gauche to compare one artists style to another? I feel like I ned to do SOMETHING to give the gentle readership some basis to visualize …) It leaves significant room for the imagination to fill in the gaps, while still inspiring that imagination to actually do so. And the the words are rather utilitarian, the complementary art, IN YOUR FUCKING FACE on every page, does wonders to fill the gap. This is what passes for one feature of one “room”: “Floor Hatch: Locked. Opening this hatch unleashes a swarm of hundreds of time-bombs. They are

about the size of small cherries and aim to fly down one’s throat” Complimenting this is the actual room art, showing the hatch in the floor and the space underneath. 

I might complain the the “always on” features of the rooms could be further front and center. There is a monster ref sheet, it could have gone there. Or on the big map, or quadrant map, or even on the “common features” map page. At best you get “is consistently lit by industrial lighting that creates a gold/rust colored glow. Otherwise, the Structure looks like it was crafted from Iron.” A little more in the “general inspiration” category would have done well. I don’t now. Oil? Something. 

Complementing the dungeon proper is the hex crawl, which can almost be run with the mini-descriptions on the hex crawl map, the expanded text later on almost not needed. Wanderers for the hex crawl and for the dungeon are both great, with good actionable things going on, from weird and bizarre to deadly. And, the dungeon isn’t just a killer, there are boons to be found throughtout, wandering adventure parties, a dryad, pixies needing to be freed, and a whole fuck ton of “loot” to get way with.

There’s a techno element to this adventure, but, it’s not really science fiction. I mean, not in the way most of these “lets put in some science shit” usually are. The creatures and environment is from so far in the future that it essentially almost never comes up in play. I mean, you can tell, immediately, this is tech shit, but this is not the relatable tech from Barrier Peaks. This is almost at the point of Tech As Magic … except it’s not quite there … there’s a bare recognition of relatability that keeps it meaningful, from going off the deep end of the magic pretext. 

I’d run THE FUCK out of this. Best.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is elevent pages, with the last few being “rooms.” I’d recommend taking a look, both to get familiar with the art style and if this formatting style works for you. I think it works GREAT for this kind of “indescribable” environment.

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Wednesday Comics: 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 11/24/2021 - 12:00

 The DC 80s review will take this week off, so I can make some suggestions for holiday gift-giving in the comics arena:

Monsters by Barry Windsor-Smith: Windsor-Smith turned a rejected Hulk story idea into a magnum opus about trauma and the horrors of war that just can't seem to stay in the past. It can be tough going given the subject matter, but it's well-worth the effort.

Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean: Follow the adventures of the Norgal, a mighty warrior and the eponymous Head Lopper, as he and his companions take on evil wizards and monsters. Four volumes of this Sword & Sorcery series are available now.

DC Through The 80s: The End of Eras: This is one of two volumes presenting a survey of DC in the early to mid-80s. This one focuses on the era as a time of change. The Moore/Swan "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" is here as well as his "Twilight of the Superheroes" pitch, but there's also a grab-bag of other genres--horror, Western, fantasy, and science fiction--that were destined to die away as superheroes solidified their hold at the Big Two.

Marvel Classic Black Light Posters Portfolio: This is a massive (actually poster size) collection of many of Marvel's 70s black light posters, all suitable for framing. It's pricey, true, but a great gift for any Bronze Age Marvel fan.

Commentary On Using the 'Arduin Grimoire Trilogy' book from Emperor's Choice For Dungeon & Adventure Creation For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 11/24/2021 - 07:31
 So for the past three or four weeks I've been listening to Erik Tanard waffle on about Emperor's Choice's  the 'Arduin Grimoire Trilogy' book & other Arduin books. So glad to see Emperor's Choice rise from the ashes & inject some needed old school reprint goodness back into the OSR & the hobby scene. Now I've had this book going back to someplace around 2008 or so. Anyhow everyone talks about Needles
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Megastructures Expanding Our Campaign Scope - ACK's Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu & Colonial Troopers Knight Hawks rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 11/23/2021 - 19:11
 So the other day my father & I were stuck in a garage waiting room waiting for a car repair. Whist there I grabbed a holiday flyer & with a ball point pen I outlined a good chunk of the upcoming Colonial ACK's campaign. A campaign setting combination of Colonial Troopers & Adventurer, Conqueror, King rpg. And the subject of the 'Precursors' alien race came up. The 'Precursors' are a series of Needles
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The Keep on The Borderlands of Realities - Law, Chaos, & the Holy Grail In ACK's Stormbringer

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 11/22/2021 - 17:39
 Let's once again step onto the moonbeam paths of the Holy Grail & Chaos with continuing our discussion of The Fisher Kings & the Michael Moorcock mythos of Law & Chaos right from here. This brings everything home with  Adventurer, Conqueror, King Heroic Fantasy  Handbook. And ACK's makes a perfect alternative rpg to create an alternative Stormbringer rpg campaign. And this dove tails into the Needles
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Death Ship of the Roach Princess

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 11/22/2021 - 12:11
By Matt Finch Frog God Games S&W Levels 1-3

A mysterious ship in the city’s harbor holds terrifying secrets … and the characters are trapped on board! This plane-shifting, roach-infested, puzzle-laden adventure offers fabulous riches, but also offer a fate worse than death.

This 34 page adventure uses fifteen pages to describe fifteen or so relatively complex locations on a ship that is also an interdimensional nexus. It plays with a couple of D&D concepts, and shows an understanding of the player motivation. It is also plagued by the Frogs house style which does absolutely nothing to help the understanding of the adventure or running of the game. At least they got the right cover on this one.

So, listening to my critics, I spent more than 30 minutes this morning picking out a new adventure to review. SOME readers seem to think that its my lack of research that leads me to the issues I have with quality. “What did you expect, Bryce?” is a common refrain. We shall see, in this mornings experiments, gentle readers! I dig in and passed Morg Borg after Troika adventure, with appealing descriptions and covers and previews that indicated they were probably the usual crap. Multiple Starry Knight, Filbar, Joseph Mohr, and more. Pamphlet dungeons, two page dungeons, four page dungeons. All passed by. I skipped Frog God dungeons. “This time it’s gonna be different!” I told myself. Then I spotted something that looked interesting, clicked on it … and immediately saw it was Frog God. I went back. Then, it struck me. It had Finch’s name on it! I went back. Yup. Matt Finch. Someone who knows what the fuck they are doing. Perhaps, gentle reader, he can overcome the apathy of the publisher to deliver something quality?

If you played the first adventure in the series then you See a Ship In The Harbour to investigate, or if not you hear from another sailor about a large crate of gold rowed over yesterday … and it’s assumed to want to loot it. You row over to the ship to find it essentially empty, except for a few notable items. First, there are a fuck ton of roaches on the ship, more than usual, by  lot. Not monster swarm territory, but, still, a FUCK TON. Second, There’s a bunch of dudes in the rowers hold whose hands are melted in to the oars. They saw you’re trapped here, just like they are. Seems like you’re in a Zeno’s Paradox situation if you try to leave, oh, and also, you’ve got about three days to escape the ship before you melt in also. Finally, that big pile of crates in the corner? It’s in the shape of a spiral making a portal to someplace else, and each one has some gold ingots in it. That’s the first six rooms “of the ship.”

Thus Finch turns on its head a trope of D&D. Two, actually, and he states this up front in his designers notes. You get the treasure FIRST, but you need to get out with the treasure, you need to escape. This pushes you in to exploration. And this is the second trope: the escape adventure. Generally this starts with the party being prisoners, etc, or some other hackneyed idea. This, though, turns that on its head. Rather than a punishment escape, as most of these adventure types are, this adventure is a reward escape: you’ve already got the gold, essentially. Your motivations are different and therefore the vibe is different. And … there’s the three day timer at the end hanging over you. (I have a hard time seeing that as an issue. Maybe its an explicit pushback against sleeping for spells after every encounter, for OSR, 5e, or Pathfinder?)

You then go through the spiral crates and find extradimensional spaces, with more spiral places to explore. These places you find tend to be a large cavern or mini-complex of rooms, generally with a couple of other spiral exits. You encounter roach monsters, cultists, and some sphere of annihilation-like traps while searching for the command words that will let you bring the ship back to reality … at least enough to escape with the gold.

It’s imaginative and interesting. The roach element could have been played up more in the rooms. As it stands there are a couple of roach swarm monsters and a note for the DM to emphasize the roaches in their description. More support could have been included for that statement. It feels like, otherwise, its just going to get lost the way so many other environmental issues get lost in a game. 

There’s also a bit of exposition dump in the adventure. The doomed oarsmen, up front, explaining things, is the first big dump. I get it, you need to explain the whole trapped/doomed fate thing, but it feels a bit much. And then I’m thinking of the “Memory roach brains” locale, with more exposition dump. Two very big dumps that, I believe, could have been spread out a bit more. I know WHY they are there: you’ve got to get the party headed towards their goals … or even know that there is a goal to head to, but they come across as exposition and/or monologue.

And then there’s the Frogs format. They never met a Wall Of Text that they didn’t love. With a small font. It feels like they are trying some techniques to get past this. There are a coupe of instances of bullet points, particularly when someone has information to relate. There’s also an attempt to divide the larger areas up in to smaller sections. Think a big cave with a general overview description that hints at other parts of the cave … like murals on the north wall or inky blackness on the west well … with those two areas both getting their own descriptions. This FEELS like an attempt to break the rooms up in to more manageable sections … while still working within the confirms of the selected format. That’s laudable. And it still doesn’t work very well. A stronger/any attempt to explain the overall “flow” of the adventure would have been helpful also. There are multiple command words that do different things found in different areas with different impacts. It’s not OVERLY complex, but its also not immediately intuitive … the way gibberish words can tend to be. A little extra help in this section would have been useful. 

So, Finch knows what he’s doing. It’s not just a hack and there’s shit to fuck with and, if run properly, a decently fucked up vibe. But I don’t think it supports the DM very well to do that, and you’ll need a fucking highlighter, again.

This is $11 at DriveThru. I enjoy the Frogs hubris. You might take a look at the last page of the six page preview to see if the formatting style fits your needs. It doesn’t mine; it feels like work.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cowboy Bebop and the Faithful Adaptation

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 11/22/2021 - 12:00

I've watched one episode of Netflix's Cowboy Bebop. so I could be wrong, but I think I already see how this is going to be. I don't think it's awful, but there are definitely things I'm not fond out.
Watching it brought to mind Rodriguez's first Sin City film. That film is a pretty faithful adaptation of the comic, down to the composition of shots, but my reaction on first viewing was very different from my reaction to the comic. It felt silly; I was vaguely embarrassed by it. It's not that I missed that Sin City the comic is over-the-top in some ways, and part of that over-the-topness is Miller's dialogue and narration. But when I read it, I get to decide how the characters deliver the lines, and the almost superhero comic level action scenes are just Millerisms to be translated to real world terms. (Much in the same way I know when reading a comic that characters don't have time for long discussion while they trade a couple of lightning quick blows. It's mere convention of the form, not something to be taken literally.) But on the screen their were actors not selling the clunky lines they were saying and all the action was taken all too literally.
Cowboy Bebop came from a cartoon not a comic so it's closer to film, but it's also the product of another culture (and honestly, another era) so maybe that all washes out. The show gets the details right in cosplay sort of way, but it doesn't feel the same. Gone is grubby future and much of the range in tone. The action is similar in prosaic description but what seemed dynamic in the anime feels fairly flat here. It may be less wacky than the cartoon, but then my tolerance for wacky is much less in live action.
Perhaps the biggest disappoint is some of the choices they made. The first episodes of the anime and the live action show have the same basic plot, but are otherwise fairly different. The anime opens with Spike's dream (enigmatic at that point) then goes into spare scenes of the solitary, early morning rituals of Spike and Jet, accompanied by blues harmonica. There is a lonesome feel to this sequence, and there is nothing like it in the live action show, which instead opens with quipy action. The cartoon returns to a bit of this somberness later with Spike's discussion with Katerina. This is also quite different in the live action episode. The show perhaps gets Bebop's silliness right, but misses the anime's mix of tones, except as absolutely requisite to the plot, and then it can't quite land it.

There's also the indication that we will be seeing hints of the Vicious-Spike conflict every single episode. This is no doubt to make a "season arc" fit for a modern streaming show. Cowboy Bebop the anime was structured like old school tv, with "stories of the week." Over-exposing Spike's arc robs it of any sense of slow reveal or discovery and has the potential to make everything else feel secondary.
Anyway, I'll keep watching. The wife likes it, and I've still got the animated series to watch when I want.

The Darkest Side of Law - The Cult of the Bull Headed Devil God For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 11/21/2021 - 20:10
 Leviticus 18:21: “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of they God: I am the LORD.”If there's one dark lord of Law its got to be Moloch. This is one 'god' whose been there right in front of the original Dungeons & Dragons crowd going all of the way back to the beginning of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. He's been a devil going Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Every Devil is a Cop

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 11/21/2021 - 15:30

"So sooner or later, everybody's working for the Man."- Go (1998)
Hell was born when border Archons of the Machine became convinced that It's algorithms would never conquer Chaos. Stronger measures were needed. These warriors cut a path into Chaos and fixed it with iron, stone and fire, and created Hell.
Though Hell's propaganda won't admit it (devil's have been rendered back to Lermure-hood for saying it), the War on Chaos has not gone well over the aeons. The Infernal Marches once safely reached to the Black Iron Prison of Carceri. Chaos not only has refused to be subdued, but it has been able to turn formerly loyal soldiers. Does anyone in Hell's hierarchy trust the Yugoloths or Gehreleths? No, they've both been compromised and will be the next targets as soon as the demon threat is ended.
If there's one bright spot it's the Material Plane. Diabolic agents have been able to turn an unexpected action by Chaos into a key recruiting tool. The soul-stuff of material beings may be relatively modest in absolute magnitude, but every transgressor that can be brought over and gotten under contract is added to the Infernal warchest.
Minor devils and trusted agents work to uncover (one might even say tempt) wayward, souls all in the name of recruiting--coercing--them as assets. Let the priggish supplicants of the Mountain fret about "right." There is no right in a fallen cosmos, outside the Law. And right now, the Law needs strength more than mercy.
And the fires of Hell are not eternal for those see their error. With toil and penance the most Chaos-ridden soul can become a devil, a stalwart soldier in the armies of a new order for the all things. Is that not mercy? 
Not all beings turned by infernal influence are small. Big fish are particularly prized, those with influence over other souls. Even Gods and their cults have been suborned to the diabolic agenda. Of course, there are also devils posing as gods to the unsuspecting people of material worlds.

Astral & Ethereal Matters - Some Thoughts on Original Dungeons & Dragons 'Eldritch Wizardry' Supplement III

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 11/21/2021 - 03:17
 One of the things that I stumbled across some interesting little appendixes in Original Dungeons & Dragons's Eldritch Wizardry within the Underworld & Wilderness adventures encounter tables. It was the Astral & Ethereal Encounters Tables make those planes extremely dangerous for both regular magic users & psionic PC's. Then there's the fact that some player's PC's used their astral or ethereal Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Review & Commentary On “100 Oddities for a Vampire Lair,” From Skirmisher Publishing For Your School Game Campaign

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 11/20/2021 - 18:45
 "Welcome to “100 Oddities for a Vampire Lair,” the seventeenth entry in Skirmisher Publishing’s popular and bestselling series of system-free sourcebooks dedicated to inspiring rich stories and spicing up encounter areas with exciting curiosities! “100 Oddities for a Vampire Lair” draws on the long spanning multicultural tradition of Vampire myth-telling across the world and, of course, the Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Hamlet of Volage

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 11/20/2021 - 12:11
By Joseph Bloch BRW Games Adventures Dark and Deep Levels 1-3

The peaceful hamlet of Volage is beset by evil. Nestled on the edge of the High Vale in the shadow of the great Sesve Forest, the farmers and artisans of this small community have reported inexplicable happenings; cattle suffering from strange murrains, mysterious fires that seemingly start from nothing, crops rotting in the fields before they can be harvested, and more besides. There are whispers of witchcraft about. You and your companions have heard of these troubles and journeyed thither to root out the cause of these evils an bring peace and plenty back to the sleepy village.

This sixteen page adventure has a good idea but features a village in which nothing happens. Oh, it’s SUPPOSED to be about a shadow war between two different coven of witches, but how the fuck the party arrives at this is beyond my comprehension. I do know, though, that the local lumber yard specializes in making ax handles. Joy. 

Consider the humble witchfinder. Arriving at a village, using harsh questioning techniques, maybe just burning all of the village women at the stake just to be sure. After this adventure I feel a certain understanding for how they came to that. I’m not excusing it, but, I believe I can now offer at least an explanation of how they got that point in their lives. And knowing is half the battle. COOOBRA!

The party of level ones (for, this is a level one adventure, as plainly stated in the text, in spite of it saying levels one to three on the cover) arrives at the village. You heard there was witchcraft here and you’re here to sort it out, being that kind of people, I guess. There’s no local lord to take care of it, so, I guess no one is paying their taxes. Seems like some enterprising and belligerent local worthy should look in to changing that situation. But, we’re not playing with the morality of the time, we’re playing with the bougie morality of the modern era. So, you’re here, says the intro, to stop dem witches!

Why? No one in the village is asking. No one outside the village is asking. Meh, whatever.

We then get a listing of some of the buildings in the village. Nineteen. The tavern, some farms, the lumberyard. At this point I want to say that absolutely none of these buildings have nothing going on. That’s wrong, but it’s also right. There’s a burned out farm with a ghost in it. He wants his barn to finish being built, seeing as it wasn’t completed before he died. And about half the houses have a witch in it. This is explained in a format something like “Frank, Marthy and their kids Mary and Sue. Mary and Sue are witches of the Broken Claw coven.” That’s what you get. Run the fucking adventure, chump! That’s what I mean by nothing actually going on. There’s a shine in the forest where one of the covens has rituals. You’re somehow supposed to find out that there’s a coven of witches in the village and find out that’s where they do things. But there is NOTHING in the fucking village to support this. 

Which, again, isn’t exactly true. There’s a rumor table. One of them says something about people going in to the forest at night to that old shrine. Another has Mary & Sue sneaking off to the forest at night sometimes to meet boys. Out of twenty rumors. That’s it. Oh, there are woodsmen in the village. You could question them, I guess, if there’s anything out in the woods. That’s kind of rando, and they don’t talk to outsiders, but, I guess you could do that But, not with the elves, strangely. The group of elves who visit are even more insular than the woodsmen. 

A minor complaint: the witch coven is led by a 4th level cleric and 6th level cleric. I guess that’s cool for level ones to combat? Along the same lines, fuck, everyone and their brother in this is weird. The elves are insular, but there’s a friendly centaur merchant? Everyone in the village has some kind of magic item or is, like Level four? What up with that? The drunk dude in the tavern is a level 4 barbarian with 35 HP! 

But, back to the main point of bitch: NOTHING. IS. GOING. ON.

You get a series of up front things. A family was killed six months ago. Some cattle and sheep were slaughtered. All of the cats in the village died one morning. Rats ate all the grain in a dudes silo. The miller got sick and took a month to recover. This is ALL the secret war, but, there is NOTHING to support ANY of this. Do the two fucking covens know each other exist? Who knows. I guess it’s implied they do? What do the individual members know? Those locations have NO details about the events that took place. Just the shit I already types is relayed again. “All my grain was eaten by rats,” How the fuck do you run something from that? There are no village personalities. No inciting events. No conspiracies. No plots. Absolutely NO potential energy.

This is not how you write one of these things. These things should be like a gas factory, with open vats and barrels of gas. Lit by candles. With cookfires everywhere. That’s what the fucking village should be like. You look at it and you say “Oh, yeah, thats not good …” And then the traveling demo team for the local fireworks manufacturer shows up. The Party. “Hello sir and/or madam, please allow us to demonstrate our MR SPARKY”

You want things going on. You want potential energy. You want relationships between the villagers, some related to the situation and some not. You want things going on. You want the villagers to be super tense and on edge. You want suspicion falling on the lumberjacks. You want the elves to a serious contender of suspicion, by the villagers and party. You wants the fucking to be up to things. You want the sites of the former action to have a clue or something about who was behind it. You want a good innocent victim witch burning while screaming curses. You want this place HOPPING with potential energy. You want the fucking Montagues and Capulets going at it in a cold war in the village while all of this is going on. Ok, so, maybe not all that. But you want a SITUATION. 

But what you get, here, are boring facts. There’s nothing to riff one. “Mary & Sue are witches.” Well, great. There’s NO Dm support at all in this adventure. “You should heighten paranoia and foreboding among the party,” GREAT! Yes, you should! But the adventure offers absolutely NO support for this beyond “make the players make random saving throws.” Ug! 

What we DO get is loads and loads and loads of useless information that, I suppose, is supposed to fire our imagination. Like the lumberyard specializes in ax handles and pieces of furniture. Uh … Or that the blacksmith spends most of their time shoeing horses and making nails. Or that Franks cattle barn is only open for lodging in the summer months since in the winter he keeps his cattle in there. This is TEXTBOOK example of How To Not Write. This might all be true. It might all be accurate. But it does NOTHING for the adventure. And, yet, the designer spent time writing those words INSTEAD of putting in the potential energy and situations that would have led to a good adventure. 

And don’t give me any of that Bryce only wants nonstop fireworks” shit. No, I don’t. I’m fucking useing hyperbole. But there has to be fucking SOMETHING going the fuck on in the fucking village so you can go get killed by those level 4/Level 6 clerics at the forest fucking shrine. 

We are, however, told, that “Most of the inhabitants are of Aeridian extraction with a bit of Zhul, most of the families originally hailing from Furyondor, and a few from Velhana and Perrengaard.” But, they all get along now. How nice! 

A hidden witch war in a village in trysts, love affairs, rivalries, shit simmering under the surface. That could have been good. Instead we get the winter farming rules of Frank the herder with “Mary & Sue are witches of the Cloven Claw.” 

Fun fact: I get Joseph Bloch and Joseph Mohr confused. They are the same person, in my head. They are not. Bloch at least knows what roleplaying is. Doesn’t support the DM at all, but, knows what roleplaying games ARE.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages, one of which is fucking cover. How the fuck does that help me make a purchasing decision? Especially since I can already see in the product listing? The last page describes the woodsmen. It is, I think, some of the more useful information in the adventure. Which is not to say it IS useful, but at least there’s SOMETHING.–The-Hamlet-of-Volage?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

3D printed Miniatures and a JE Shields Kickstarter

Bat in the Attic - Fri, 11/19/2021 - 14:50

 James Shields has been drawing art for the OSR and RPGs for a while. I have used several of his pieces in my projects and backed several of his kickstarters

He is always trying new things. For example a project creating stock art that allows you to mix and match different elements to create science fiction art. 

His latest kickstarter is also about something different, Uncommon Monstrosities It offers 3D model files suitable for 3D printing but with the miniatures sculpted in JE Shields' distinctive style. 

I think it is a neat idea. With 3D printing becoming more popular I figured that folks to know about this. Recently I made some figures with Heroforge and paid for a couple of stl files. A friend of the mind, Josh, had a 3D printer and made the models. The results were acceptable. 

Yeah I know the shield is bent weirdly but having the rest of the mini exactly how I wanted it was great. The shield issue resulted because you have to consider proper support when the model is printed partway. Anyway thank to Josh for printing this for me! I am in the midst of painting them and will show them off once I am done.

Best of luck to James and his Uncommon Monstrosities kickstarter  and hope it works out great!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Corruption & Chaos Of The Welsh Underworld For Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 11/19/2021 - 06:51
 "tseemed to him that the little man had becometransformed into a very beautiful and giganticfigure, with a face that shone like the sun,and opalescent colours gleamed round him.Then music sounded again through the quietevening air, and Fionn saw that Cnu Deireoilwas still before him. But ever after thatFionn believed that the little harper was oneof the children of Dana, and that for somepurposeNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Law, Chaos, & Megadungeons Within Original Dungeons & Dragons - More OSR Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 11/18/2021 - 22:30
Megadungeons have been on my mind for a while now. No, not some brand new Kickstarter with another mega dungeon campaign adventure that tops out at four hundred plus pages. But the idea of creating my own kilo dungeon or mega dungeon of my own design. And so last night I cracked out my Gygax & Arneson copy of Original Dungeons & Dragons Volume #3 The Underworld & Wilderness adventures. One of theNeedles
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