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late backers can now order LevelUp5e books!

Blog of Holding - Thu, 11/18/2021 - 16:40

Just a quick note, if you missed the kickstarter and want to get LevelUp5e books (including the Monstrous Menagerie!) you can sign up now!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Mind Flayer From Issue #1 volume one of the Strategic Review from Spring of 1975 & Their Single Agenda For The Dungeon

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 11/18/2021 - 04:27
 Diving deeper into the deep end of the history of original Dungeons & Dragons in issue #1 volume one of the Strategic Review from Spring of 1975.this issue marks the appearance of the Mind Flayer by  Several things become very evident and that's the fact that the Mind Flayer came into original Dungeons & Dragons fully formed. And the abomination was already a fully formed threat to any Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wild Men in Casimir’s Mill

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 11/17/2021 - 12:22
By Ben Gibson Coldlight Press 5e/Pathfinder/OSR Levels 1-3

Bigfoot is coming out of the woods… The harvest season is come. It should be a time of sweat and singing and joy. But howls sound at night, and the old folks whisper about the Wild Ones, who chatter amidst the trees and dance on the roof at night. Rocks fly at merchants, and on nearby paths lie smashed and twisted household gods.The Wild Men have come to Casmir’s Mill, and each night they draw nearer.

This 22 page adventure presents an ongoing situation in the domain of a small manor lord. An investigation and exploration, feature a bunch of bigfoot monsters, it has enough elements of chaos to really bring the noise. Ben makes you work for it though, it being dense for the number of pages and written at a “game notes” level, for the most part.

This is a good example of an adventure situation with a lot going on. We’ve got a village that needs to bring their grain to the mill before it rots. But, the local “wild men” aka bigfoots are attacking people on the roads and generally harassing people. This just started. Mixed up in this we’ve got a negligent manor lord and The Old Region, a snake cult, being practiced in secret … with some human sacrifice and a summoning adding gas to the fire. Hired killers, mob justice and the ilk round out the potential energy. THis is the way things should be. You want the DMto have a lot of tools at their disposal. If the party hangs out at night, watching, you want them to see things. You want a feel that things are going on outside of the parties direct involvement, that the villagers, etc, have agency also. 

There’s a density here that folks familiar with this designer’s style will recognize. It’s written in such a way as to convey a kind of DMs notes, or designers notes, or something, about a situation. A general overview of what’s going on, with specifics mentioned, but all meant to be guidelines to help the DM react to the machinations of the players. It’s high level notes on how to run the situation rather than notes on how to run an individual encounter. Taken as a hole, you get DM guidance. 

That doesn’t tell yo ushit, does it? Basically, you’re going to have to read the adventure, memorize and/orr highlight it. For example, there’s the grain deliveries from the outlying villages that serve as one of the primary hooks. It’s only mentioned briefly, as well as the villagers generally not helping unless the party REALLY win them over. These are brief notes, maybe a sentence each. And, then, notes in the stable and local manor about getting horses … and the difficulty in doing so, in order to pull the grain carts. Having to get horses is never mentioned. The carts lack of horses isn’t mentioned. It’s only by recalling the stable entries that you can put 2 and 2 together. Or the ladies of the village, following the old ways in their snake cult. They are going to sacrifice some missing orphans. But, there’s not much at all about the cult or how they act, other than “on day blah they do they sacrifice and the giant snake shows up.” 

So … bad or good to do things this way?

Well … not great. Or, at least, not great the way this is implemented. As written, the adventure is mixing in the action with the keyed entries of the village, and in the free text descriptions of the countryside, etc. So, hunting for what potentially triggers mob justice is not going to the easiest thing … and is scattered throughout the text at that. This is the old Keyed Location issue. Somethings, a traditional room/key format is good. If you’re exploring, or some such, the format works fine. But, in a more free-flowing environment, the traditional room/key format doesn’t work. You need a way to organize the text in such a way that the natural flow of the adventure is leveraged. So, it’s not “this is what causes mob justice” (probably, anyway) but rather “”Everyone hates the party” or “After the widow rants about cats.” IE: the DM is scanning the text to find out what happens/how to support the shit that just went down, and the text needs to be organized to support that.

Let’s look, specifically, at one entry in the village. This isn’t a perfect example, since my assertion is that a decent amount of the issue comes from the free text general overviews, but, it’s going to have to do.

4. Mad Etta’s Hut: Rumored consort of devils and eater of babies, the sweet and slightly dotty “mad” Etta is hospitable and pleasant to anyone who shows up on her doorstep. Her modest little home smells strange from tinctures and potions she is always brewing for sale, and if she sees someone wearing flowers, she will invite them to stay with her as long as they want. She is chatty about everything except for the wild men; she has watched some of the wild men children and her home is protected by the adult wild men.”

As a DM, what can you do with this? Will you remember, when the inn/tavern, to drop hints about Etta and her baby eating? Will you run a random street encounter where the party see a dotting old woman? Or, tell the party of that strange house in the distance covered in flower garlands? How will you use the children & protection thing in the game? It’s a BUNCH of ideas. The ideas are decent to good. But they are not useful being located in the description of her home. You need something that leads the party TO her home. That street encounter. The rumors of baby eating. Given the lack of that support, explicitly, it is left as an exercise to the DM to remember to use this information, which means highlighters and notes.

And this does a middling job of that. There is a rather explicit box about “what is everyone in the village hates the party”, but, the mob justice, events, and so on, as essentially scattered through the keys. No real guidance on the cult, although, as a DM, I’m inspired .. if I could remember to do it. Bolding of key concepts is desperately needed. 

This is a fun idea. I like the nature of it. I like the scope of it. I like the way Ben sets up the situation and timeline and lets the cards fall. 

Ben has a style, by now, a house style, or writing adventures. And it kind of works. I mean, it works GREAT sometimes and less well in other situations. And in this case its working less well. Not terrible, but this is definitely a “needs highlighter and notes” adventure.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is six pages and the last three give you a great idea of what to expect.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 11/17/2021 - 12:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 25, 1980.

Action Comics #516: I like the cover on this one. Wolfman's Vandal Savage story continues with Superman out for vengeance against the immortal. Luthor quickly spills it that Savage is traveling through time. He even gives Supes a device to detect where Savage is. Everywhere Superman pursues the dictator, though, something goes awry and their is a big explosion. Olsen and White smell a rat. They get Luthor to tell them more, which includes the origin of Vandal Savage and that Superman's actions in the past now are actually what brings Savage to power. It seems their are time-changing bombs Superman is inadvertently setting off. Luthor sends Olsen back in time to stop all this--which is just another part of his master plan. He's going to see to it that Savage, Superman, and Olsen die in one big explosion, leaving him to be ruler of the world. Back in the Age of Dinosaurs Savage gloats he's about to be struck by a fireball from space like the one that made him immortal, and then his victory will be complete. Superman has finally caught on and doesn't destroy the fireball. Savage's victory is foiled (and Luthor's too). Jimmy and Superman return to a restore timeline where Lois is still alive. 
The Atom backup story by Rozakis and Saviuk is pretty forgettable. Chronos is committing crimes but being really good about not leaving clues. Perhaps too good. Chronos does not come off as particularly impressive either in the story or in Saviuk's depiction of him.

Brave & the Bold #171: Conway and Garcia-Lopez bring us a really off-beat crossover, which well, only happens in Batman's mind, I guess? Bruce Wayne wins an auction for a jewel box once owned by Martha Jennings, the "Florence Nightingale of the Civil War." While Bruce is admiring his $10,000 box he confides in Alfred he had a crush on Jennings when he was a schoolboy, which really tells us that Bruce was a nerdy kid. (Or maybe not, as Garcia-Lopez depicts her as pretty attractive, but I digress.) He finds a secret compartment with a note with the bat symbol on it! As one does in these situations, he goes to see an old professor from college who has a "time hypnosis" technique. Under hypnosis, Bruce goes back in time to see what's up. There, he meets Jennings and Scalphunter, and the two heroes help Jennings get supplies through Confederate lines. Bruce really spends a lot of time wondering what makes that enigmatic Scalphunter tick. But did he ever really meet Scalphunter? And what is time hypnosis? Conway is following in Haney's time-honored "just go with it" writing style.
Nemesis is back in the backup by Burkett and Spiegle. This time there's casino action, and Nemesis actually gets shot, which is a big deal in a way that I suppose is realistic but seems odd for comic book action heroes.

Detective Comics #499: Conway and Newton/Adkins open with Blockbuster contemplating killing Batman, who lies unconscious in a mine in West Virginia, but the corrupt union leader's goons set off in explosion to cause a collapse before Blockbuster can act. In the aftermath, with Batman struggling to help the the crusading reformer, Macon, the giant has befriend, Blockbuster decides to ally with him for now. They all manage to escape the cave, then Batman and Blockbuster go after the badguys who have kidnapped Macon's daughter. In the end, justice is done, and Batman decides to let Blockbuster stay "dead" and remain here.
In the backup, we reach the end of the "Barbara Gordon, Murderer" storyline. Batgirl has to escape from a watery death-trap and rescue Doreen the secretary who helped frame her--all before Barbara is found in contempt for not showing up to her own hearing. In the end, Batgirl gets there in time to reveal the true murderer. The wrap up seems a little bit to quick for how long this drug out--and maybe it is. It seems like from previous issues there was a conspiracy against Barbara (though I'd have to look back).

Green Lantern #137: The Wolfman/Staton tale of GL visiting the future continues. I apparently missed a plot point last issue by not carefully reading one panel: Jordan was drawn to one point in the future but instead wound up in a different point (apparently 1000 years earlier, or something) where he Space Ranger. So the Gordanians attack Earth twice. Anyway, the story opens with GL and Space Ranger in the hands of the enemy who are getting ready to throw cables around the Earth and drag it to Vega so the Citadel can auction it off. Space Ranger breaks them free, but Jordan is still without his memory, so he doesn't know how to use his ring and is useless in the fight. Space Ranger's girlfriend, Myra Mason, shows up to lend a hand, but once she is injured the battle turns against them. At that moment, GL is yanked back to the 58th Century. Apparently he's met these people before as Iona is in love with him from meeting previously (that would be in Green Lantern #51, but the issue has no footnotes anywhere to tell you that). They manage to restore his memory, and GL defeats the Gordanians in this time, then wipes Iona's memory of him so she'll stop pining. He jumps back to help Space Ranger before returning to his on time.
The backup is another Adam Strange story by Laurie Sutton, joined now by Infantino on art. It's an improvement. This is mostly an Alanna solo story, though Adam shows up at the end (courtesy of the zeta beam) to rescue her from bird-riding tribesmen with blowguns. It turns out Sardoth had sent her somewhere to distract her until he and Adam could complete a surprise (big goof on that one, Dad. You almost killed her!) Anyway, a double zeta beam is ready to take her with Adam for a trip to Earth.

House of Mystery #289: "Brother Bob's Home for Wayward Boys and Girls" by DeMatteis and Rubeny is the opener. It's starts off with the familiar sort of sanctimonious disciplinarian who runs up against a new resident, Joshua, who seems able to thwart him and inspire the other kids to petty rebellion. Bob is convinced Joshua is Satan, but in the end Joshua reveals he works for the other Guy--whose vengeance is also terrible! Kashdan and Zamore follow with an odd tale (told in a different style, it could almost be a Ligotti yarn) of two thieves wanting to steal a treasure from cultists in a cave. In order to win it, they impersonate Kronus, the god of the cult, and Braxus he's opponent in myth. The Kronus imitator kills his companion, seemingly possessed by an unnatural rage. He ascends the throne to claim his treasure, but finds the cult won't let him leave, and if he removes his costume, they'll kill him. He hears the dark laughter of Kronus ringing in his years. DeMatteis returns with Amongo for a story of a reclusive "hippie" musician trying to make a comeback, but when taunted by the crowd looking for something newer (they're all over the place wanting Alice (Cooper), disco, and the Village People--harder not to see DeMatteis making some comment on post-60s music), he lets his vampiric hunger take over and kills them. He flies off into the dawn as a bat and dies, leaving the crowd awed by the theatrics and the promoter wanting to repeat the show tomorrow night.

Odin & The Forces of Law - Thoughts on Kuntz & Ward's Original Dungeons & Dragons's Gods, Demi Gods, & Heroes

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 11/16/2021 - 17:32
 When it comes to original Dungeons & Dragons then I've still got a soft spot for Kuntz & Ward's "Supplement IV" Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes. And there's minor things that have jumped out after reading it last night. Looking over the Norse deities reveals something very interesting & that is that Odin seems absolutely resigned to war. All of his artifacts are geared towards absolutely geared to Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Alabaster Alcazar of the Earth Genies

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 11/15/2021 - 12:11
By Rob Couture Self Published OSR Level 13ish

Wherein our adventurers seek out the Topaz of Earthly Perfection reputed to be held within a mountainside palace.

This twenty page adventure describes a fifteen room palace wherein reside four earth genies, and an artifact, the topaz mentioned in the teaser. It has some boring descriptions, although it is trying, and suffers from High Level Adventure Syndrome, wherein super powerful creatures are left mostly to the DM to run without guidance.

There’s no adventure intro, or hook, or anything. It’s assumed that the party is here for the jewelso all we get is “here’s the palace”, which is totally fine & dandy. There is some VERY brief guidance on this being a hack, or caper, or social adventure. And by guidance, I mean that a sidebar says it can be played in any of those ways. Which is true; our genie buds, and in turn their pals, are smarties and like to talk and have reasons to receive guests at their palace. But, advice is generally not present in running the adventure as one of these type, except for a brief mention in each room that the NPC/monster may receive guests or “is suspicious of them.” That’s not really support. It is, for all real purposes, just a typical room/key dungeon but with no “immediately hostile” encounters … until the party start their murdering.

And this lack of support extends to two other areas that I think are critical, especially for high level adventures. First, no order of battle. The genies, fallen deva, dragon, mind flayer, drow, and other superty duperty smarties are sometimes noted as “calling for reinforcements”, but that’s the extent of the battle plan. I’m not a big fan of in-depth tactics, but, a little guidance for the DM to help them run the inevitable “plan goes to hell and fire rains down” situation is appreciated. 

It’s also the case that these folks don’t really get any advice in running them, in combat. Now, I’m not talking about detailed tactics. I hate detailed tactics. But, these are high level creatures with A LOT of powers. A few words of advice, up front, on some typical plans, would seem to be in order. It doesn’t have to be long but a few words of advice would seem to be in order, if only to get the full value out of the creatures who have such control over the earth. And, “will passwall away” is not really substantial. Again, not a lot needed, but SOMETHING. Demons, Devils, genie, all powerful creatures with a lot of spell-like abilities could use a few words in adventures when they come up.

The descriptions in this adventure are an issue. Well, not more than most adventures, but, the designer, here, actually tried. And failed. But, they tried, I’ll put in more effort than usual in describing them. 

This is a palace. We might think of it as an opulent, or perhaps elegant palace. Imagine walking in to one of those “palaces turned museum” in europe and then trying to write a description that communicates the opulence of what you experience. Hard, right? Right. The designer is trying, hard. They give a little read-aloud section in each room (and each room has its own page, sometimes two, keeping the page turning to a minimum.) Well, usually short read-aloud. Some rooms have three to four sentences (yeah!) and some have a lot more, approaching a quarter of a page. And, this is in an attempt to mention everything in the room in a way that will be evocative. 

Which generally fails. It’s quite hard to convey the feel of a room by using more detail. I get it. You want people to enter and be WOW’d! But, more doesn’t help with that. Less, is how you achieve that. You want to communicate impressions, first impressions, anyway, and then use the DM text to follow up on that to provide more detail. That’s not a universal rule, but, in an overstuffed environment, its probably good advice. 

Further, the read-aloud over describes. Again, I think this is in an attempt to really WOW the players and stun them with the environment. But, it also kills the back and forth between player and DM that is so essential in an RPG. You don’t really want to tell the party that there is a large (boring word!) gilded chandelier adorned with large (boring word!) crystal shards. Not in the read aloud. You want to leave the impression of opulence, maybe mention A chandelier, and then, in the DM text, note it. Especially if the feature is interactive or important to the room. The read-aloud noting that a fresco is of “a princely genie riding a winged serpent” is too much info. Maybe “A yellowish fresco” is more appropriate. 

Treasure is quite light for an adventure this high level. Magic items are all boring book things. “Rope of entanglement.” Great. Consider me awed. Well, there is an artifact, but, hey, more please?

It does a couple of nice things. It notes window locations up front, for non-front-door parties. It also puts a scale to things that is generally unusual. Almost everything in the adventure is BIG, seven to ten feet tall. And it puts levers and buttons and secret door mechanisms up high and does other things communicate the scale well. It’s not quite overwhelmingly, Id’ still say its done a little too subtly, but, again, it is trying more than most adventures. 

When buying this I thought it would either be great or a shitshow. Turns out it is neither. The designer tried, more than usual. The descriptions are a little boring and over described. It could use a little more guidance for the DM, and treasure is boring also. But, it’s also A LOT closer to being a high level adventure than most of the ones I see, with no gimping, and correctly noting the social element. One more page of advice and some tough editing off the descriptions and an overhaul of the treasure would turn this in to a decent high level adventure. 

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The last page shows you room one, to give you an idea of the writing style and layout. It’s a good overview of what to expect.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Everyone Comes to Sigil

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 11/15/2021 - 12:00

I've said before that Sigil is perhaps the most interesting thing about Planescape, and it doesn't really rely on the Great Wheel for the things about it that are interesting. For most people, who seem the dislike the Great Wheel, that may be a design feature. I happen to like the Great Wheel (As a concept. I can't say I'm particularly excited by a lot of the execution. On the other hand, I also feel like a lot of the "what do you do with this?" response to it shows a willful lack of creativity. That's perhaps a topic for another post.) so I think a setting meant to make the classic planes of D&D a setting, but instead makes a setting that can mostly ignore them, has some flaws in execution.
We are told gods can't enter Sigil. This is very convenient, because it provides a base of operations very much like the Prime Material Plane (where gods can go, but don't much) for the PCs to run around in. It also raises a lot of metaphysical questions, which sure, might have interesting answers, but I feel like it would be just as interesting--maybe more--not to keep the gods out. Sigil is the center of a plane surrounded by all these hostile forces. It's a Neutral Zone, a DMZ, a Free City with no allegiance to any of those eternally warring philosophies. 

It would be a good place for the gods to come together to make treaties and talk, but also maybe a good place for them to vacation and let their hair down. What happens in Sigil, stays in Sigil. I'm thinking it should be a bit like the bathhouse in Spirited Away, a bit like Cold War Berlin, Throne from Kill Six Billion Demons, and Yu-Shan from Exalted. (Yu-Shan being the capital of Heaven has more bureaucracy than Sigil would have, certainly, but I mean in terms of a place crawling with spiritual powes minor and major.)
I think this would make Sigil more colorful perhaps, as part of the thing the PCs must navigate is avoiding offending visiting dignitaries. Of course, they have more room to be daring and burn the gods in some scheme or confidence game in Sigil, as the gods are constrained in what they can do within the city. Even still, it would be a risky play, but perhaps a tempting one. It would also supply a ready supply of quest-givers or dubious patrons.

The Forces of Law & Chaos - The Battle of Brown's Hill Wargame Session Report

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 11/15/2021 - 06:45
"Here in an excerpt from the Battle Report Gary Gygax submitted back in 1971 to Don Featherstone's Wargamer's Newsletter:Having run across an old map I had drawn of a mythical continent, complete with many fantastic inhabitants, I decided to use it as the basis for a game. Lake Geneva was to play host to the Madison, Wisconsin, group so I got busy. The "Situation" was described as follows:East ofNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventurer, Conqueror, King Along The Moonbeam Roads - Greyhawk to Greyhawk - The Queen of Air & Darkness

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 11/14/2021 - 18:27
 Sometimes campaigns take on a life of their own & this Adventurer, Conqueror, King Heroic Fantasy  Handbook . And in this case its been the fact that we've been discussing using some pretty esoteric  resources  including  Original Dungeons & Dragons  Supplement I Greyhawk. Because this blog entry picks up right from here. There are several reasons for this including the use of the Gate spell & Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Petrified Polyhedron Forest

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 11/14/2021 - 15:30


Our Land of Azurth 5e session last Sunday saw the party continuing their exploration of the strange, underground tunnels as they searched for the Cyan Sorceress. They had no luck in that regard, but they encountered a number of weird things. Waylon took a bracer off an alien skeleton that allowed the wearer to reach into a pocket dimension. They discovered a room where the walls were covered in green filaments, though they couldn't discern its purpose. Then there was the room where the emanations of a crystal seemed to have frozen a number of people (both aliens and recognizable folk) in time. 

The group freed a couple of the humans, who were priests of the oracular temple above and had been frozen for hundreds of years. The party hoped the priests might be able to shed some light on everything that was going on, but no such luck. They pointed the confused priests in the direction of the surface and went on.

The last room they came to had a column of light that they figured out acted as some sort of teleportation beam. They all used it and came out in a vast, underground cavern, full of a petrified forest of sorts--or perhaps a garden of standing stones might be more accurate. Except the stones are all "natural" and in various geometric shapes. They come in sizes from merely imposing to positively gigantic. And the party discovered that some of them move.

In fact, the party figured out how to nudge who of these rolling stones in a forward (deeper into the forest) direction, and they followed in its wake to the central hill.

The Church of the Unknown God

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 11/13/2021 - 12:11
By Marcus Lock Parts Per Million Worlds Without Number Levels 5-7

[No marketing blurb, anywhere, not even inside. I never thought I would  miss marketing so much!]

This 45 page adventure details a couple of levels in an abandoned church with about twenty locations. It’s a fucking boring hack-fest with norhing else going on. Until the end, when it is boring & confusing. 

So (don’t start sentences with ‘so’), the local innkeep hires you to go clear out a church from undead because it is bad for business. Or, some locals saw some undead near the church, could you pretty please go kill them? Oh, also, three people have disappeared lately. People might want that problem solved. These hooks telegraph what is to come: boring shit that makes no sense. Being hired is boring. It’s one of the laziest hooks possible. And by the innkeeper, who thinks the undead in the church are bad for business? Seriously? Is that the world we adventure in? I can, perhaps, forgive the “three people missing” thing, out of ignorance. But, a tight-knit community and three people go missing? That’s a fucking angry mob in the making to solve that problem. 

Oh, also, that church? The one that everyone is like “go kill the undead there?” Yeah, it’s 24 miles away. Like, who actually gives a fuck if its 24 miles away? Do you even know what is going on there? At this point it should be clear that other in the intro makes any sense. I guess it doesn’t need to. Hooks are not really needed anyway, and, we’re all here to play D&D tonight. But … man, it just puts a bee in my bonnet to see crap.

Ok, we’re at the church now. We’ve made it through a lot of interesting wandering monster encounters like “Small pack predator” or “large herd beast.” It is, at this point, that my addled memory kicks in. I remember hating something recently that did the same thing. Just a shitty copy/paste from a book with no localization. No DM support at all beyond “generic stat block.” It’s like you included “Put a monster in.” Whatever.

The church! The church is a shit show. Every room generally has two things in it. First, there will be some zombies. They will attack immediately. The text says so in every room. This is what this adventure is. It is ALL that this adventure is. You go in a room and some zombies attack you immediately. Is that D&D to you? Do you want to roleplay? DO you want to investigate things and poke at things? Not in this adventure. Not in this adventure buddy! You’ll go in a room, stab some shit, and then go in the next room to do it all over again. There’s nothing beyond this. Oh, wait, no, I forgot. In one room you can hear some splashing in the next room. Of the zombies waiting to attack you. That’s it.

Nearly every single room also says “Beyond that the room is empty.” Well no shit. That’s generally why room descriptions have an end. This is nothing but padding. It serves no purpose in the adventure. And, speaking of padding, the undead, EVERY undead, says the same thing. “They don’t need to eat or drink or breathe” and so on. Like, a copy/paste straight out of a book of monsters. It’s unbelievable to me. 

You find a 9” statue of a semi-clad woman at one point. There’s no further description or value to the statue.

In the crypt of the “mysterious lady”, who is mentioned several times in several rooms, we get the following description of her “Standing to one side is a sentient carcass.” That’s it. That’s your evocative writing for this adventure. Some description, huh?

And then, things change.

By this time you have made it though 20 rooms of generic zombie undead and a couple of “shades.” or “sentient carcasses.” Now, you go through a secret door and enter a modern office complex. With desks, chairs, monitors, keyboards, mice, and overhead lighting. I have NO fucking idea how this fits in. There’s no hint before. There’s no hint in the room descriptions. It’s just a set of modern office rooms connected to the basement of a crypt of a church. But it’s still got weirdly pseudo-fantasy undead? “Standing 10’ in front of the door is an armoured figure. If the party approaches it will draw its sword, ready its shield and prepare to attack.” Uh, so … ok. You can find some keycards to open a couple of doors, and some rad suits to protect you from radiation in a room. And a radioactive sword in the final room. No, I have no fucking idea. I have no fucking idea. There’s nothing to hint at what is going on. It’s just what it is.

So, shitty shitty adventure with little in the way of explanation. Little to no evocative writing. Monsters that attack immediately. A random office complex attached to the basement crypts of an abandoned church. And a lot of padding and copy/paste shit. 

Someone put some thought in to this. They made maps. They did layout. They made a semi-realistic church. But it’s nothing more than combat with descriptions that convey no sense of locations, or creatures. I’m at a loss. It’s like a very words warhammer minis game.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview does not work.–A-Worlds-Without-Number-Compatible-Adventure?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary On The Free 'The Weird Enclave of Blackmoor' Sourcebook for The Greyhawk Box Set & More

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 11/13/2021 - 02:18
"Dave Arneson decided to begin a medieval fantasy campaign game for his active Twin Cities club. From the map of the "land" of the "Great Kingdom" and environs -- the territory of the C & C Society -- Dave located a nice bog wherein to nest the weird enclave of "Blackmoor", a spot between the '''Great Kingdom" and the fearsome "Egg of Coot". Gary Gygax, Introduction to D&D, 1 November 1973  So itNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventurer, Conqueror, King Along The Moonbeam Roads - The Grail & Beyond

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 11/12/2021 - 19:33
 So today I had a get together with some of my fellow DM's for the next leg of the Winter campaign & we've been talking about Adventurer, Conqueror, King. Or more to the point the ACK's Heroic Fantasy Handbook. And there's been some hemming & hawing about doing an ACK's Stormbringer campaign. Now today's blog entry is going to pick up right from our last one. In the past it hasn't been Needles
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The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Random Encounters

Zenopus Archives - Fri, 11/12/2021 - 14:07

A random encounter table for the The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts here.

Illustration of a Large Rock Crab by Lore Suto

d12 Wandering Monsters and Other Encounters

When the players spend a turn searching, there is a 1 in 12 chance of an encounter per turn.

If an encounter occurs, roll d12 to determine which:

1. A large rock crab, camouflaged as a rock or stalagmite, strikes out at a random party member with previously hidden claws. Double chance of surprise (1-4 in 6). Unlimited in number.

Large Rock Crab (1): DX 9, AC 6, HD 1/2, AT 2 pinchers for 1d4 each. 

2. A pack of feral cats, descendants of smugglers' pets, begins circling the party just beyond their light source, meowing raucously for food. Providing food will quiet them. Otherwise, the noise will keep increasing until something else is attracted to the noise (roll again on the table), at which point it will suddenly cease.

3. A juvenile carrion crawler reaches down from a wall or ceiling in an attempt to paralyze a random party member. This is the spawn of the carrion crawler in Area #3; these are encountered alone, and there are only 8 in total throughout the cave system.

Juvenile Carrion Crawler (1): DX 15, AC 9, HD 1, AT 2 only (due to small size), D 0 + save vs poison at +4 or paralyzed.

4. The ghost of a peddler, who long ago provided the smugglers with goods, approaches. He is friendly and eager to sell goods to the party. He can procure any type ordinary equipment available at twice the cost of the rulebook prices. However, these items are actually brought forward in time from the past, and return there after one day.

5. An aggregation of aggroaches on the hunt scurries towards the party. See the full writeup of the aggroach here

Aggroach (variable): DX 10, AC 7, HD variable, AT 1 bite for 1 point.

Roll a d12 for size and numbers: 

1-6      =  2d6    least  (1 hp)
7-9      =  1d10  large  (HD 1/2)
10-11  =  1d6    huge  (HD 1)
12       =  1d4    giant  (HD 2)

6. A cloud of miasma settles in the area, sickening the party. Each must Save vs. Poison or make all die rolls at -1 for 3 turns.

7. A vampire bat, part of the colony in Area 6, swoops in and attempts to bite a random party member. 

Vampire Bat (1): DX 18, AC 3 (9 while attached), HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 bite for 1 point damage, attaches on a successful hit and then automatically drains 1 hp per round for two rounds, at which point it is full and will detach and fly away. 

8. A group of torches appears in the distance in the dark. Once in the light, they are revealed as floating torches. These are corpse lights, a type of minor undead formed from the spirits of smuggler lackeys who died in the caves.

Corpse Light (floating torch) (3d4): DX 10, AC 7, HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 torch for 1 point of damage. Undead, turned as skeletons with a +2 on the roll.

9. A partial skeleton, just an upper torso, drags itself into view and begins inexorably crawling towards a member of party. On 1 in 4 it still wears a minor piece of jewelry worth 10d4 gp.

Partial Skeleton (1): DX 10, AC 7, HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 claws for 1 point of damage. Undead, turned as skeletons with a +2 on the roll. 

10. A stalactite or chunk of rubble, disturbed by the group's movements, falls from above on a random party member. Treat as an attack by a 1 HD monster, with a hit doing 1d6 damage.

11. A small piercer drops from the ceiling on a random person in an attempt to find a meal. 

Piercer (1): DX 3, AC 3, HD 1, AT 1 drop for 1d6 per HD.

12. Roll for surprise. On a 1 or 2, a random adventurer realizes that the wet rock they are standing on is actually a grey ooze, which has begun dissolving their boots. Otherwise, they  are merely standing near the ooze.

Gray Ooze (1): DX 3, AC 8, HD 3, AT 1 for 2d8.

Chronologically on this blog, this post was made after Area 10 and before Area 11.

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Dark Magics & Chaos At the Heart of The Dungeon - OSR Commentary On Original Dungeons & Dragons Monsters & Treasure Volume Three

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 11/12/2021 - 07:07
 Lately my interest drifts towards Arneson & Gygax's original Dungeons & Dragons set & the supplemental books. This is expands into Monsters & Treasures which in a way is the original monster manual book for Original Dungeons & Dragons. Monsters & Treasures clocks in at forty pages. And one of the things that I find interesting is the presence of many of the familiar agents of Chaos in Dungeons &Needles
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Dwellers Within Other Realities - Further Thoughts On Original Dungeons & Dragons's Gods, Demigods, & Heroes By Kuntz & Ward

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 11/11/2021 - 18:42
Reading deeply into original Dungeons & Dragons's Gods, Demigods, & Heroes last night had me diving deeper into Robert E. Howard's Conan material. There's a rather nasty god level threat within those pages. And of course I'm not speaking about Cthulhu here. Let's dive in deeper here.  Within  Original Dungeons & Dragons's Gods, Demigods, & Heroes there is the original Robert E. Howard's Conan &  Needles
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Talislanta: Werewood

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

My work on a Talislanta adaptation for the Dying Earth rpg, made me think it was worth reviving my dormant series of posts from 2020 touring Talislanta through editions. Still, in the Western Lands, we come to Werewood. 
"Look yonder to Were Wood and its darkling oaks!"- Jack Vance, Rhialto the Marvellous
The Chronicles tells us that Werewood is a "dark and tangled forest region" north of Zandu. It's described in forbidding terms. Enforcing this impression, Tamerlin tells us of its most baleful inhabitants: the Werebeast, which combine the "worst attributes of men, apes, and tundra beasts" (the Naturalists Guide says "Ur, beastman, and lycanthromorph") and the Banes. Banes are vampiric creatures with the power to mimic voices of any sort. They were inspired by Vance's deodands with their skin as "black as polished obsidian" and their large fangs and eyes that "glow like embers." Then there are the mandragores, plant things that stand immobile during the day, but move around at night to hunt prey.
Not everything in Werewood is deadly, however. There are the Weirdlings or Wish-Gnomes, who according to legend must give over their underground treasure if caught or grant their captor a wish. There are also the Dhuna, the human inhabitants of the forest. The Dhuna were persecuted for witchcraft in ages past and were forced to flee into the forest. They are still believed to have magical powers, particularly the women who can "capture a man's heart with but a single kiss." The Handbook adds, under the Dhuna Witchwoman/Warlock archetype listing, that they are "strange and mysterious by nature" and are "believed to engage in sacrificial rituals."
A Naturalist's Guide expands a little on the lore of the creatures. In fashion reminiscent of Dying Earth monsters, it says banes are thought to be a bizarre hybrid of "darkling, night demon, the extinct babbling howler, and perhaps even Ariane." Their fangs, claws, and ocular organs are sought by alchemists and thaumaturges. The mandragore are valuable because they speak the secret language of plants and trees.
The second edition expands a bit more upon the region. It adds locations with the forest, including the Valley of Forgetfulness, where a mist from the river steals memory, and the creatures known as gnorls, who get player character archetypes. The gnorls are an underground dwelling race, who practice a divination art called "rhabdomancy" (rhabdos rod, wand). They are speculated to be related to the Weirdlings.

This is pretty much the Werewood of later editions. The Dhuna get a bit more fleshed out: we are told they are persecuted for their "pagan beliefs" (presumably meaning non-Orthodoxist), and that they live in "close-knit clans or covens." They also have "liberal views toward matrimony," but the descriptions suggest more that they practice polygamy.
Werewood is the sort of dark, fairy wood of Talislanta. It has elements that recall Tolkien's Mirkwood, and Vance's Tantrevalles in his Lyonesse trilogy, but those resemblances may just be that they are drawing from the same inspirations. The Dhuna are sort of compositions of various witch tropes, including maybe some neo-pagan witches flavor. They're a good counterpoint to the Rennfaire types of Silvanus.
Given the potential fairytale scariness of Werewood, I feel like the Dhuna as insular, isolated people either fighting against (or sometimes embracing) that darkness ought to be played up. It seems like protecting their covens against banes, werebeasts, and mandragores ought to be a bigger concern than Orthodoxist oppression. The canon is somewhat inconsistent regarding the eldritch danger of the forest. The proliferation of inhabitants has added to that, but I'm in favor of gaining a bit of that back.
Jack Shear has some interesting thoughts on Talislanta and the Gothic that would be interesting here.

Matters Of The Demonic - OD&D Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry & The Empire of The Petal Throne Rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 11/11/2021 - 04:37
Tonight we've been cracking OD&D Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry's spine tonight where demons were first introduced in original Dungeons & Dragons. Demons are foes are nothing to add into even a high level campaign lightly. Demons are the counter point to Law in original Dungeons & Dragons & here's the high point in OD&D Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry; " DEMONS: Each type of demon, as well Needles
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On Gygax Design IV

Hack & Slash - Thu, 11/11/2021 - 03:00
My thesis here is that something was misunderstood. The question I'm left with is how did that happen?

Let's take a look.

Cave IntroductionThe first page of the caves proper contains the flavor text we discussed in the last post. It's lurid, and therefore interesting.

If you're going to ask someone to listen to something, it better get a reaction.

Immediately Gygax takes one column line to outline all his overview notes for the adventure: 600 words. He describes how to read the cave contour map on the outside, describes the woods, underground, and interiors.
He then covers prisoner ransom ("Set the sums low — 10 to 100 gold pieces or a magic item. . . "), the specifics of the tribal relationships, how monsters should react and handle player actions, and what happens in empty areas.

It is a training module, but these sections only contain nine sentences containing specific  'newbie' or training advice. The rest of the information is all useful, reduces the need for repetitive text, and is easily found in the front of the appropriate section. This is the really interesting thing. Here's a room description
1. Guard Room: 6 kobold guards (AC 7, HD 1/2, hp 3 each, #AT 1, D 1-4, Save NM, ML 6). They will throw their spears the first round if they have initiative. Each carries d6 silver pieces. One will run to warn areas 4. and 6.. The guards will be altered by loud noises or lights.Is there a single unnecessary word in that description to craft an emergent encounter for the players?

What is an Adventure?All the rooms are like this.
"Number. Description: # creatures (one line stat block), Rules and tactical information, treasure."

Is there any boxed text? No. Each room only tells you what you need to know what's in it, and more importantly how they act. The text is there to create emergent play. Here are quotes.
"This huge kobold is so powerful that he fights with a battle axe. . . and a large gem on a great golden chain around his neck."
"Six goblin guards are alterly watching both passages for intruders of any sort"
"If there is a cry of "BREE-YARK" similar to "hey rube!" (ed: noted in the rumor section as goblin for "We Surrender"), 2 of these guards will rush to the secret door, toss a sack with 250 gold coins to the ogre and ask him to help him"

This is over and over again in the room encounters. Set-ups from earlier pay off. Encounters are dramatic scenes. We know from his own play descriptions that he used random encounters and avoiding keying many areas in Greyhawk for these reasons. Each one uses as few descriptive words as possible to give the Dungeon Master a hook to hang his hat (the encounter) on.
There's no ancient history text, no unknowable background information.

Mostly. I lied a little bit. Everyone had to get the wrong idea from somewhere, right? Even when there is some unknown history, it is referenced and due to non-player character actions is discoverable by players. e.g.
13. Forgotten Room. Only the two orc leaders (from this area and from B.) Know of this place. They secretly meet here on occasion to plan co-operative ventures or discuss tribal problems, for although separate tribes are not exactly friendly, both leaders are aware of the fact that there is strength in numbers. . . . Looking at this alone, it certainly looks like the usual dump of information to the Dungeon Master that is completely inaccessible to the players. Except, note the following sentences:
From 12. Orc Leader's Room: . . . If hard pressed, the leader will wiggle behind the tapestries on the south wall and attempt to work the catch on the secret door to the south and go to the rival tribe for help. . . 
From Dungeon Master notes: If the leader is slain, the survivors will seek safety in area B/C, taking everything of value (and even of no value with them)

So you know, it's part of a dynamic encounter.

Encounter DesignI've talked before about how room environments should consist of clearly interactable objects in Red Herring Agency. That article uses the example of play from the Dungeon Master's Guide, and it's pretty clear the same design aesthetic is in use here. In the forgotten room, it describes "A small table and two chairs", "a wooden chest", "Two shields hanging on the wall", and "Two pouches behind an old bucket." The chairs are normal, as are the shields. The chest is unlocked and contains some weapons. The pouches have treasure, but cover 2 centipedes.

It's explicit, direct. Here are the interactable objects. Each one has a different effect and clues are available in the environment.

There is a specific structure to the different pillars of play. This is what the exploration pillar means. It means there are specific presentable things—clickable objects— within play. It's these objects, their integration into the environment, their creativity, and the tactical infinity options they offer that is the gameplay of exploration.

Walls the players can knock over, doors that open into space, a ring that shrinks objects, a chained megatherium. Give the players simple things that allow interaction. Create a world where non-player characters take action in response to the players. The complexity and gameplay is emergent.

Every single piece of information is either immediately accessible to the players, or is necessary for the Dungeon Master to run the encounter.

Each room is an encounter designed, and it should be like a good scene in a movie. Interesting, helping create tension and set the pace. It shouldn't be simple, boring, dull, and buried in a thousand words of useless text. It requires both active actors and things to act upon, and it must be designed and not just generated. This doesn't require verbiage, it requires thought. You want my examples of this in use, check out Megadungeon (or any of the modules I have coming out soon!)

From RPG CartographyI'm not saying it's perfect. It's certainly raw—for example many rooms have information on how people act if they hear someone nearby. This could be on the map, along with other modern improvements due to better tools. Which way the doors open, what the light levels are. . .

When the goblins rush the players and yell BREE-YARK, if the players got the rumor that it means "We surrender", shenanigans ensue. This isn't the only setup. More than one character is lost when the chaotic evil priest that offers to come with them from the keep casts 'inflict wounds' on characters instead of cure wounds.

The prisoners have a variety of races and genders, as well as each providing some non-standard reward, trick, or trap. You may notice a theme. There are also slaves that can be freed and armed. Each of these things creates a specific experience for the players. He isn't just writing descriptions of rooms! He's creating a scene flowchart just like the one in the start of Deep Carbon Observatory, but using the dungeon as his flowchart paths.

I did find a sentence of flavor text, "The owl bear. . . sleeps in the most southerly part of its den, digesting a meal of gnoll it just caught at dawn." That's some information that's not accessible to the players. It's on page 19.

There's also quite a lot of humor within the module. Signs posted on doors say things like "You are
invited for dinner!" and "Safety, security and repose for all humanoids that enter — WELCOME! (Come in and report to the first guard on the left for a hot meal and bed assignment.)" The thing is, it's not just a joke for the reader. The players will also find this joke amusing, and although it's funny, like all Dungeons & Dragons, it's deadly serious. I ran Hackmaster for years, and a gummi bear golem seems really funny, until it crits your fighter in the head for 38 points and kills him in a shower of sticky blood.

All of the rooms contain setpieces—interesting reactions and organic events, but this is one of the best.
"[Bugbears] lounge on stools near a smoking brazier which has skewers of meat toasting over the coals. Each will ignore his great mace when intruders enter, reaching instead for the food. Through they do not speak common, they will grab and eat a chunk, then offer the skewers to the adventurers — and suddenly use them as swords to strike first blow (at +2 bonus to hit due to surprise!) unless the victims are very alert. . . I mean, that exclamation point though.

If you aren't creating scenes and experiences through activities for players (and not excess verbiage) please start, and point people to this series to get them to change.

You don't have to write a bunch of words about how encounters react to every last thing, you just have to write something interesting well, and from that the Dungeon Master will be able to know how it reacts.

Enter the Present.This is INFURIATING.

Why? I just downloaded the most recent Dungeons & Dragons pay what you want adventure to find a room description to compare. Each room description is literally a full page. In lieu of typing the whole page, I'm just going to quote some random sentences from this full page of text for a single room. A whole page. It's not even an A5 page! It's a full letter page.

"The bed is perfectly normal and has a warm, soft blanket stretched over it."
"The party is in the right place, but this isn't the chamber in which the wardrobe is kept."
"Unbeknownst to the players, a hidden passage lies beyond the bookcase"
The box text says "the chamber. . . is not quite what you imagined"

I will summarize the entire room description, as I think Gygax would have laid it out.
3. Wizard Bedroom. Locked Chest (Disable Device DC 15, Strength DC 20) contains pouch 32 gold, 13 silver pieces, 21 copper. Secret door behind bookcase filled with bird books. Note in book about secret door. Corridor beyond trapped, must flap like bird or say "[REDACTED]" 50 XP for door, 50 XP for ladder.You do not need 1,200 words! I am a Dungeon Master looking for useful tools!

The early examples were great and maintain their popularity and utility decades later, look at the sales of the poorly-reviewed Keep on the Borderlands 5e reprint. They had to hold a second pre-order since pre-orders exceeded their first print run.

This endless glut of poor adventure writing is someone emptying their uninteresting brain noise right in the middle of what I need as a person that runs a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. Is there a market for people who want to read an adventure and have no use for it during play?

Yeah. there is, and it's pretty big. That's the problem.

People keep trying to characterize "What the old school renaissance" is. This has never been a mystery.

It's just people trying to find something they can use in play!

People were playing Dungeons and Dragons until people who did not play, and instead just read and admired ran it into the ground and nearly caused it to cease to exist. You can clearly publish a game with no firm rules and just allow everyone to do what they want, but they aren't very successful are they?

I would think everything in this post is obvious, but due to my inability to use 90% of everything ever published it apparently is not. If you feel the same way, link it the next time someone doesn't know how to write a module. Or, if you're feeling generous, you can join our hierarchy over here, and support more posts like this on Patreon, where you can get special access to my discord

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On Gygax Design III

Hack & Slash - Thu, 11/11/2021 - 03:00
There are like 12,000 terrible modules and adventures.

This hobby is almost 50 years old at this point. There have been literally thousands and thousands of adventures written and are available.

Why are we always playing the same ones? Why do people always fall back on Keep on the Borderlands, Forgotten City, Ghost towers, Horror Tombs,  and Giants in their lairs, leading to drow?

I mean, Modern cinema isn't obsessed with the movies that came out in the 70's. You don't see Deer Hunter being played and replayed over by viewers. (The fact that a significant portion of my readers were not alive when that movie came out, much less have even heard of it. In hindsight maybe it shouldn't have won best picture of 1979 versus Grease and Superman, which you know, weren't even nominated).

It's a joke, surely. But it's not.

We keep replaying the same old old modules because they are good and other adventures are not.

The old masters, Gygax, Jennell, and others—they knew how to write an adventure. Everyone else copied the form, not understanding the intent, and produced jumbled linear messes that are boring and dumb; literally not fun to play. How many good adventures can you name? What percentage is that of 12,000?

In part one we looked at how Gygax presented Keep on the Borderlands in just a page so that Dungeon Masters understood the excitement and wonder that was about to occur. You can't read his introduction without getting hype!

In part two, we looked at how the sequels just presented jumbles of random, useless, and most importantly inaccessible information. More importantly, we saw how Gygax used the physical layout to generate tension in the keep with player desire, a deliberate tactic used to create the tension that emergent play develops from.

The Journey to the Keep

You know how if you want to go on a theme park ride, there's a big sign? You just walk up to it and ride? That can be fun, but it's not an adventure.

You have to find the adventure. Finding the adventure location isn't something that delays play. Eliminating it to "speed things up" is missing the point. The adventure location exists among a living world. Travelling there, through the fantasy realm, to the threshold of chaos cannot be removed simply to get to the combat fasters.

Let's look at these wilderness encounters:

A madman hermit(thief) with a pet lion who wants to attack the party but is friendly first.
A mut pit with a roof and a hole, which lizard men come out one at a time to fight players, until only the women and children are left in the mud hole.
A group of bandits with their eye on the keep and any adventurers
Two spiders who guard the corpse of an ancient elf.

Explicitly, each of these create tension within the game world. This tension drives emergent play. Each is described in a way that makes them easy to represent by the Dungeon Master. All the relevant information is accessible to the players.

I'm not saying it's perfect. There's useless text in there (how many gold and silver pieces each of the different bandit types are carrying.)

But each of the different encounters creates a new tension in the world. Each is memorable and easy to represent. Each inspires other thoughts, questions, and adventure. Each is an event that can go many different ways on how the players approach.

How did "2.2d4 Dire Boars" become a standard?

The Caves

This being a learning module isn't relevant to our discussion, but it does provide some interesting insights into presentation. Gygax cautions at the very front: "Add whatever you feel is appropriate to the description of what they see, but be careful not to give anything away or mislead them." This is a concrete example of how he viewed the Dungeon Master as impartial arbiter of the game.

His description of discovering the caves is short and is entirely devoted to explaining the space in a way that allows us to visualize it, and, of course, setting the tone:
The sunlight is dim, the air dank, there is an oppressive feeling here—as if something evil is watching and waiting to pounce upon you. There are bare, dead trees here and there, and upon one a vulture perches and gazes hungrily at you. A flock of ravens rise croaking from the ground, the beat of their wings and their cries magnified by the terrain to sound loud and horrible. Amongst the litter of rubble, boulders, and dead wood scattered about on the ravine floor, you can see bits of gleaming ivory and white - closer inspection reveals that these are bones and skulls of men, animals, and other thing,. . .You know that you have certainly discovered the Caves Of Chaos.Here's another thing that's explicit in the module. "With this knowledge, they might be able to set tribes to fighting one another, and then the adventurers can take advantage of the weakened state of the feuding humanoids." In this adventure, indeed in most of his adventures Gygax assume that there will be multiple forces, often in equilibrium that the players will disturb or can leverage as they explore. It's this dynamic response that creates emergent adventure and dramatic scenes.

 On the next article, we'll take a look at they keys for the caves themselves. . .

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