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A5E Kickstarter live! Go back it!

Blog of Holding - Tue, 10/05/2021 - 16:36

Level Up: Advanced 5E, the project I’ve been working on for a year, is now live on Kickstarter! (Funded in 18 minutes!) Go back it immediately!

Let me tell you about my contributions to each of the 3(?!) core books.

The Monstrous Menagerie

The Monstrous Menagerie is closest to my heart. I’m the lead writer and designer on this one. In this book, I’ve worked over every stat block in core D&D (except the dozen Wizards IP monsters: mind flayers, gith, displacer beasts, and so on). This is a straight up upgrade of the Monster Manual. There’s really no reason not to get the Monstrous Menagerie.

  • Gone are the boring bag-of-hit-points monsters. Every monster does something interesting.
  • Monsters have been re-balanced, so there are no more disappointing one-round disappointments (looking at you, mummy and vampire).
  • There are more monsters! About twice as many stat blocks as in the MM, including NPCs (my favorite monster).
  • A big team of writers re-did the lore for every monster: Andrew Engelbrite, Anthony Alipio, Cassandra Macdonald, J R Zambrano, Jocelyn Gray, Josh Gentry, Mike Myler, Morrigan Robbins, Peter Coffey, Peter N Martin, Russ Morrissey, Sarah Breyfogle, Sarah Madsen, Shane Stacks, Will Fischer, Will Gawned, Yvonne Hsiao, and me. By throwing a lot of biological determinism in the garbage, we opened up a lot of room for more interesting storytelling.
  • More dragon stat blocks than the Monster Manual and Fizban’s combined, with more interesting and specific abilities too boot. Cassandra Macdonald and Andrew Engelbrite did great design work here.
  • I got to add every bell and whistle I wanted in a bestiary: name lists, sample treasures, monster behavior charts, and other game-running aids.
  • Dozens of “elite” monsters, much stronger than legendary monsters, which can provide solo challenges to high-level parties.
  • New monster-building guidelines based on my MM on a Business card.
  • New encounter-building guidelines. If you’ve noticed that high-level characters are impossible to challenge using the traditional guidelines – or that first-level parties are too easy to TPK – I’ve got fixes for that.

    the Adventurer’s Guide

    OK, you already know about the Monstrous Menagerie – I talk about it plenty. The Adventurer’s Guide is the player-facing book, with classes and spells and so on. What did I do on the Adventurer’s Guide?

  • I did the rogue class, along with three new subclasses: the cutthroat, burglar, and trapsmith. Like all A5E classes, the rogue has a lot more customization options than the 5e class, including access to battlemaster-like combat maneuvers. My biggest change to the rogue class, though, was the addition of skill tricks, a menu of mini-abilities that expand the way you can use a skill, and which incidentally grant you an expertise die.
  • What’s an expertise die? It’s a replacement for 5e’s doubled proficiency bonus (which I don’t particularly like: I play a lot of high-level D&D, and a +12 bonus to a skill roll smashes bounded accuracy). You add an expertise die to a roll when you are particularly skilled at a task. Expertise dice stack in an interesting way. When you first gain an expertise die in, say, Stealth, you get a d4. If another feature grants you another expertise die in Stealth, the d4 becomes a d6. You never roll more than one expertise die on a check. Expertise dice started as a rogue feature and ended up becoming an important A5E design tool.
  • Spells! In my opinion, this is worth the price of admission alone. It was very important to me that we rebalance 5e’s spells. If you play high-level D&D, you know that certain spells, like force cage and animate object, make for less-fun encounters. We redid every spell, clarifying confusions, fixing broken spells and outliers, and folding in errata – and we’ve also added about a hundred new spells.
  • Rare spells! Another one of my home-game inventions that I snuck into the final project. I’ve always loved the idea of a special version of a spell, which can be obtained as treasure, which has an extra, cool effect in addition to the standard usage. For instance, a version of flaming sphere that you can ride like a chariot, or (very important in my game group) a permanent version of animal friendship. The other developers loved this idea and ran with it and now we have tons of rare spells.
  • Backgrounds. I redid the format of backgrounds, with an eye to providing adventure possibilities past level 1. Instead of a d6 list of bonds, a background now includes a d10 list of connections: specific NPCs from your history that the GM can leverage. Instead of a single equipment list, a background comes with a d10 list of trinkets or mementos, each of which provides a plot hook. For example, as an acolyte, your connection might be “the inquisitor who rooted out your heresy (or framed you) and had you banished from your temple” and your memento “a half-complete book of prophecies which seems to hint at danger for your faith—-if only the other half could be found!” Finally, each background comes with an “advancement” section detailing how you might earn an extra background advantage at high level. (An acolyte who advances their faith might earn devoted followers.)
  • Math! I did a pretty good amount of balancing for all the classes and combat maneuvers. “Balance” isn’t everything, but you might as well shore up the classes that lag behind.
  • The above are just my contributions, out of a dozen designers. Other stuff you should look for: every class has been expanded and rebalanced. Weapons, armor, and equipment have been overhauled and expanded. 5e “race” is gone, replaced by a hugely expanded set of ancestries and heritages. A character can now pick a destiny, which is like a fully-baked version of inspiration dice. Plus there are new feats, new combat maneuvers, and so on.

    Trials and Treasure

    If you’ve been following A5E, you might be surprised to see… there’s a third core book! 1000ish pages was just too big for a single book, so the core book was split in two. (Including the 500+ pages of the Monstrous Menagerie, the three core books are now 1500 pages!) Trials and Treasure is a primarily game-master-facing book.

  • The main work I did for Trials and Treasure is an overhaul of treasure. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t love the 5e treasure tables, and I got a chance to make my own. They’re granular and provide a better treasure mix; they come with a hugely expanded list of random jewelry, art, rare books, and other valuables; and they’re completely compatible with 5e economy, but with the proud nails hammered down. (Plus, of course, the list of magic items is, like, doubled.)
  • In D&D, sometimes it can feel like there’s not much to buy beyond level 3 or so. A5E includes prices for the training of monsters and the hiring of armies; the eggs of griffons, dragons, and other beasts; and extensive rules for strongholds and bases.
  • Lots of great stuff in here by other people, including safety tools, magic item crafting, and a really cool system where hazards and traps are expanded into well-defined, leveled encounters.

    forwards compatibility

    Level Up: Advanced 5E is, of course, backwards compatible with 5E. What about the 5e refresh that’s coming out in 2 or 3 years? Will A5E still be compatible with that?

    No one knows much about the 5e update (beyond the fact that it’s coming out in 2024), but all signs point to it being a fairly small change, with some new updated base classes, a new way of handling races, and so on: more of a 5.5E than a 6E. Wizards has said that it will be compatible with their older material. That means that A5E should be just as compatible with it in 2024 as it is with D&D in 2021.

    I’m excited to get the new 5e books when they come out! And I know I’ll be using them along with A5E – probably mixing and matching. In the games I DM, players will be able to use classes and player-facing features from 5E, 5.5, or A5E (though I may insist on them using the A5E fixed versions of broken spells) – but the A5E-only GM tools – the new treasure tables, the rare spells, the blessed high-level support, plus my precious Monstrous Menagerie – are going to be invaluable for years to come.

    Back the Kickstarter!

  • Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    The 9th-Level Spell that Breaks D&D (It’s Not Wish)

    DM David - Tue, 10/05/2021 - 12:02

    When Magic the Gathering players talk about broken cards, they mean ones powerful enough to dominate games so that every competitive deck either includes the card or focuses on countering it. These cards break the game by destroying the options that make playing fun. D&D includes some spells that suck fun from the game, but nothing that ruins it.

    Still, foresight breaks D&D. I don’t mean that it’s over-overpowered; 9th level spells should deliver wahoo powers that feel a bit overpowered. In the words of lead designer Jeremy Crawford, “High-level spells are often just whack-a-doo on purpose.” (I’ll bet he didn’t expect to be quoted on that one.)

    By broken, I mean that foresight makes D&D dull, and a 9th-level spell should always add excitement. Even if the spell’s power wrecks an encounter, the magic should feel game breaking and thrilling. Foresight just feels game breaking and boring.

    For 8 hours, the target of foresight “can’t be surprised and has advantage on attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws. Additionally, other creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls against the target for the duration.”

    Fifth edition’s rules for advantage and disadvantage streamline the game by eliminating the fiddly pluses and minuses that older editions imposed on attacks and checks. While the old modifiers added realism, they slowed play and seldom made a difference.

    To gain even more quick simplicity, multiple sources of advantage and disadvantage don’t stack. At most they offset, leading to a straight roll. Usually that works because multiple advantages and disadvantages come infrequently. (For instances where this rule creates illogical situations, see numbers 12 and 10 of the 13 of the Craziest Quirks in the Dungeons & Dragons Rules.)

    The simple approach falters when some ongoing factor adds advantage or disadvantage to every roll. Suddenly other circumstances stop affecting the odds. D&D’s designers recognized this when they opted to have cover impose a minus to attacks rather than disadvantage. They wanted a factor as common as cover to stack with all the other situations that can create advantage and disadvantage in a fight.

    During my D&D weekend, when two level-20 wizards benefited from the 8-hour duration of foresight and spent an entire adventure with advantage, I realized how much less interesting the game became. Foresight eliminates all motivations to seek an edge. By erasing fifth-edition’s foundation of advantage/disadvantage, foresight nullifies the effect of too many decisions, tactics and character traits.

    Incidentally, the 3rd-edition version of foresight gave just a +2 bonus to AC and Reflex saves—at 9th level! Instead of a broken spell that sucked the fun from D&D, the spell just sucked.

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    The Bloody Cliffs

    Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 10/04/2021 - 11:11
    By Tolkraft Dendrobat Productions OSR Levels 4-6

    The sole heir of Baron Solreigh was kidnapped, in the middle of the night, in the heart of the castle! The ransom letter is signed by Masked Harald, a thief, robber and benefactor of the poor.

    His lair?–?the Bloody Cliff?–?is known, but would resist a frontal assault, which would also put the young heir in danger. Bringing the Baron’s son back safe will require a very cunning plan…

    This 45 page adventure uses ten pages to describe a 26 room bandit hideout; their lair outside in the woods and the caves nearby, as well as a short “investigation” phase. The intent being a raid on the lair by the party to free an NPC. The maps are essentially unusable, and the formatting TOO formatted. A good lair assault ruined. This is an EASL adventure from our friends in Vive la France, but doesn’t really have EASL issues other than an awkward word choice or two. 

    So, the asshole barons son has disappeared and Robin Hood wants some cash and tax breaks for the poor as ransom. Oh, and the new young pretty maid in the castle is missing too. Things that make you go Hmmmm…. The baron hires you to go on a commando raid to rescue his sweet loveable boy, all Longshanks/Prince Braveheart style. You can poke around the castle a bit, asking questions of people and looking at rooms, maybe turning up two or three bits of information. There’s caves in a cliff, there’s an entry at the river, and so on. So, fucking around ahead of time pays off with alternative points of entry and approaches. That’s good. You then walk over to the cliffs and do your assault the usual way: sneaking around until your plan goes to shit and then stabbing everyone. Most of whom are 1HD in this instance.

    Base assaults are near and dear to my heart. Sandboxy, a good base assault supports the DM and lets them run things on the fly, giving them the tools for the “normal” base and then how the base adjusts and reacts, etc. As well as supporting play with multiple ways in and a good map. This is trying to do that, but not very well. 

    The maps are a major issue. They are done in some arty program, I suspect one meant for battlemaps, with colors and features. But they come off crowded and confused, with an inability to really tell what you are looking at, where the rooms are much less what the features are or how they work together. You’re fighting the map the entire way, trying to figure out how things fit together. There are some photos in the back, showing a DwarvenForge type 3d terrain set of of a portion of the inside of the caves. I guess that helps a little. 

    Our issues continue with the text. There is generous usage of long blocks of italics for read-aloud, making it difficult to sort through. There is a fancy gothic font used as a header throughout the adventure, even in room names, that I can’t for the life of me read. I actually had to go through the adventure searching to find the name of the kings son because the first letter was in the fancy gothic font, all illuminated manuscript style. Man, you gotta think about this shit. I know, I know, you want to make a pretty product. I want one also. But not at the expense of the legibility. Or, rather, not in a way way that impacts legibility to the extent that I can’t read it/figure out what the fuck room is where.

    And the room formatting. I am a victim of my own words sometimes. Highlighting, building, bullet points, white space, they can all be used to make a text easier to scan and to find information. And when TOO much is used it then becomes harder. The text becomes disconnected from itself, too much space between things, the natural “grouping” of items is broken and your brain can no longer recognize (or, “easily recognize …”) that differing items are related. And that’s a major problem here. Long sections of DM text with too much shaded text blocks, highlighting and bullets. The read-aloud can be cringe-wrthy in place, with phrases like “ … as if even the water was afraid of the sinister name [the bloody cliffs].” *sigh* This is not what I need in my life. I want a description that makes me, and the players, think “wow, even the water is afraid of the cliffs!” not, being told directly, what to think. That’s telling instead of showing. You always want to show. 

    We can combine this with some basic issues around base assaults. There is little to no guidance on an order of battle and/or how the base reacts to incursions and alarms. There are four lieutenants in the base and we get VERY little guidance on where they how, what they do, or how they react. (Although, its implied that at night they are all sleeping in the same room.) There’s very little in the way to help the DM. I could also point out that while there is guidance for climbing the titular cliffs, there is none for just walking around the other side. I mean, cliffs, not mesa, right?

    Oh, I don’t know what else. I mean, there are separate entries for how to find the place in the day vs the night, which is good. And there’s a cute little section about what you can overhear the bandits talking about if you listen in or buddy up to them. And, yes, there is some guidance on negotiating with them (only works on a critical success!) or bluffing your way in. So, varying success levels there. And NPC descriptions tend to be too long. They do have some “three words” personality summaries, but their goals and what not are buried in text, with no highlighting. Not that they ever show in the adventure, except sleeping in their rooms. 

    And there’s a lot of abstracted shit. Observing the cliffs is just a skill check, and if you critically fail you get captured. Doing a jailbreak (at the barons castle) on the one bandit who’s been captures is just a skill challenge. Climbing the cliffs, the DM can, the text tells us, be a real hard ass and make the players note HOW MUCH rope they have, to see if they have enough to scale the cliffs. If this a thing? Abstracting a climbing distance? You have rope listed so it doesn’t matter how far you repel? I get it, resource management can be a pain, but, fuck man …

    Hard pass here. And, mostly, because of the map and the lack of comprehension on how it works. Reworking the map and formatting would help a lot. 

    This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3. The entire thing is available as a preview, so, good job with that. The map is on page 24 of the preview. Check it out now, the funk soul brother.


    https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/352361/The-Bloody-Cliff?1892600

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Minaria: Half-Elves

    Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 10/04/2021 - 11:00
    This continues the series on my version of the world of Minaria, extrapolated from the map, manuals, and pieces of the boardgame, Divine Right.


    In my post about the elves of Neuth last week I neglected to discuss the Ercii or Half-elves. The name comes from a contraction of the Elvish term for "mixed blood." Half-elves have faced persecution within the forest of Neuth, alternately being expelled or limited in terms of their movements and activities.

    Some Ercii, however, do perform an important function within Elven society, and members of that select group have even managed to prosper. Elven nobility finds direct engagement with financial matters beneath their station. Unwilling however, to leave these matters strictly to elves or lower station, have brought on individual Ercii or sometimes groups of them as factors or bookkeepers. Some of these have become prosperous enough to be able to act independently acted as moneylenders to other noble houses.

    The Elvish Crown has also employed Ercii as ambassadors or diplomats to other lands or and allows them to operate as money changers (so long as the Crown gets its share of the profits). Some of the these Ercii have not only become wealthy but able to wield (discretely) a great deal of political power. Perhaps some times more power than the Elves know, as they are the conduit through which the kingdom interacts with the outside world.

    Still, their status as second class citizens is something they are unlikely to forget. Many Ercii in service to Elven nobles were taken from their families as infants and raised as servants to the noble house. More than one has had their fortune seized by a covetous noble who claimed it was their due. Others have lost their lives for their effrontery of being a noble's creditor.

    At Any Price - - Paul Elliot's Zaibatu rpg & Postcards from Avalidad by Miguel Ribeiro, & Manuel Souza Combined

    Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 10/04/2021 - 06:08
     “There are no innocent bystanders ... what are they doing there in the first place?”― William S. Burroughs, Exterminator!Yes, what are they doing there in the first place?!  Let's pick it right up from the other day on the blog.  Who are the party in the first place?!  If their agents of the powers from Postcards from Avalidad by Miguel Ribeiro, &  Manuel Souza combining it with Zozer Games Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Things of the Moon - James Ward's Tainted Lands & Cultclassic Eighties Movie Mixed With A1 Assault on Blacktooth Ridge By Davis Chenault - More Thoughts On Horror Campaigns In The Tainted Lands

    Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 10/04/2021 - 03:21
      “This madness is no longer contained in the Tainted Lands. It spreads, filling the empty places around it with the dread of horror, polluting the world one small step at a time.”"Upon the far slopes of the Turmberg Mountains, where the northern shores of Lake Vanhir lap the Plains of Cos lie the fog-enshrouded Tainted Lands. In the Days before Days hosts of dark hearted Val-Ehrakun settled hereNeedleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    The Monkey Business Ruin Generator in Action (Part 1: Basic Results & 1st Area)

    The Disoriented Ranger - Sat, 10/02/2021 - 17:33

    So a good friend of mine recently informed me that the Ruin Generator I provided in Monkey Business (that OSR module I wrote) had no merit at all. The results were too vanilla and for the time you'd spend using it, nothing of value would be produced. He admitted, though, that this judgement was superficial and only based on his read-through, not on actually testing it. Fair enough. I value his observations a great deal, so I should pay attention. If my description of it wasn't enough to inspire him to use it, I'd go as far as agreeing that I failed to make him use it. That doesn't mean, however, that the tool doesn't have merit, it means I failed to make my case properly. This series of post will try to rectify that (this is going to be a big one, so I decided to go with two parts or more here).

    Presumptions 1: Can Complex Environments be Randomized?

    DMs using the tools provided will create a huge jungle sandbox from scratch, including factions, villages, treasure and ruins as well as having an idea how those interact. It is a tall order and people seem to mostly find it all usefull. Treasure got some heat, but I make my case about that in the post linked above ... in short, I believe the treasure generator gives a DM a shitload of information to build on while IMPROVISING treasure on the fly, even creating quest items (among of lots of other things). Test it in specific gaming situations (it needs the context of the game to build on) then tell me it doesn't work and, more importantly, why.

    Anyway. The Ruin Generator got no love at all and was deemed to baroque to be even used. I mean, it definitely is high concept and not using it will have you missing out (imo), but not hinder you from using the module at all. It is just (and here's why I even bothered to write it) that a DM will create 19 hex fields with each containing an average of 3 ruins, some of them small (not so much work), some of them huge (that'd be modules in themselves, actually).

    You don't have to have all of them prepared (players will only explore one hex at a time ...), but you'd be well advised to have the hex prepared the characters are in and the adjacent hexes as well. Starting at the border of the hex map would mean you'd have some concepts for round about 12 ruins ready enough for the characters to explore on a whim. Looky here (from the module):

    Open in new tab for details ...

    Now, either way you prepare for that will be lots of work, because that's just what it is. You sure can have some maps handy or some other product or even some random online generator to help you through this, but you will not get around preparing all of that. At the least you'll have to adjust what you get to your game.

    The problem is, obviously, the level of detail players will expect when exploring ruins or a dungeon. It can barely be handwaved (if at all) and it'll have lots of moving pieces in the air as the players gather information about structure and inhabitants and how to work that to their benefit.

    My design goal for the ruin generator had been to have a system easy enough to complete in a couple of steps, but with complex enough results to allow for depth and variety while summoning all the little tropes one could encounter in such an environment in the order they would be encountered.

    That last part ("the order in which they are encounteres") turned out to be the crucial part, as it mirrors the hierarchy of information from "most general" to "most detailed" when the narrative starts zooming in on something that warrants more detail. Having the information build up that way a DM will have at all times a superficial pattern on hand to expand on as well as some detailed hot spots to work with as the characters explore.

    That is, admittedly, a tall order. But if pulled off properly, it'd be a mighty tool for a DM to get all of those ruins prepared within some reasonable time frame (imo). If a DM has fun doing so (because we are nerds like that), it'd be even better. It'd be the DM playing AND creating at the same time (like, you know, How To Host A Dungeon, for instance). If nothing else, DMs using this tool will spend time creating something themselves instead of learning to use something someone else wrote (well, it's kind of both ... you know what I mean).

    Naturally, one could critizice now that you don't buy a module to do something yourself that should be provided instead. However, that argument does not stand with all the sandbox creation tools I have encountered so far. It is always assumed that the DM interprets and builds on the pattern any such tool would provide. Why should this be different with ruins or treasure created that way?

    It isn't different at all, imo. The DM creates. Ideally a module will provide a great frame to make what they create shine and maybe even give it some direction. But DMs will create or they end up being the mouth piece for something someone else created, and where's the fun in that?

    Anyway, I digress. Sorry. I believe that a certain amount of complexity for such a tool as described above is warranted, even necessary to get results worth anything (considering said complexity). Still not saying I managed to create such a tool, but I hope I was able to explain where I'm coming from in this and how I went about it.

    Show, don't tell, man!

    Alright, lets get rolling. I'll just go ahead and use the module as intended so you guys get an idea what's happening. Our hex-field is a 52, that'd be "rolling plains with some jungle". The Resource Level is a bit lower here (-1), so we get to roll 2d6 for ruins here ... a 7. That means we have one medium sized ruin hiding here as well as two overgrown remains (a piece of road, a pillar, something like that). As for factions, this hex also contains a hidden Gorilla Base (with 2 orangutans, 3 chimpanzee ninjas and 9 goblins stationed here) and two hidden drug stashes, 2 Cannibal Villages, some mushroom artwork (5 times, spread across hex) and some artifact and weird effects from the Alien presence as well as some (4) areas showing signs of radiation.

    First, the Cannibal Village (just going with the dice here) actually is within the ruins. They currently have lots of wounded due to some sort of war and people are afraid of something (quest is indicated!), but are poorly equipped. They have a shaman who's faking his magic abilities (which is somehow connected to the people being afraid) and have a crazy chieftain (reason for the wounded and the poor equipment, although they live within the ruins).

    The second Cannibal Village fights with some sickness but has the population happy as something nice had just happened (I'd go with them finding a cure or remedy). They are quite primitive and have only basic farming and rudimentary tools available, but their fighters are capable veterans and have a level 3 Shaman that is in contact with the spirits. Their chieftain, however, is quite incompetent.

    There are no conflicts in the area, but the next time the gorillas will expand here, it'll mean to go to open war with the cannibals, so tension is high.

    That's the stage as far as we'll need it for this example (we'll ignore the surrounding hexes and the vistas they'd add to this as well as the results about what the villages would exactly look like). This is what's going on in the 790 square kilometers of this hex (an area about two-thirds as big as Los Angeles) ... everything is in a distance equivalent to couple of hours travel across those plains. 

    What ruin over yonder?

    This is for the results!
    Now for the Medium Ruin. First roll is 1d100+50 to see how big we'll go ... that'd be 115 points for building this. The result of our first Ruin Section is 9 (d12), 20 (d20), 5 (d8), 10 (d10) and 2 (d6) (a total of 46). First sign of those ruins is a big overgrown Stone Arc (adds includes Inside Area). It should be in a jungle area this hex is featuring, visible between the green growth.

    The Theme for those Ancient Ruins is "Time Loop Destruction" and it'll feature some Residual Magic of sorts. There are also some harmless ghosts here and a zombie problem as well as Kobolds. One Jungle Treasure can be found here.

    TREASURE 1: 17 (d20), 2 (d20), 1 (d12), 6 (d8) - This is one dose of a rare drug made from vermin and worth 208 gp.   

    Our 115 are reduced by the value of that first roll (46) to a 69.

    For the second Ruin Section (an Inside area) the results are 3 (d12), 5 (d6), 7 (d10), 20 (d20) and 7 (d8) (a total of 42). This is a former Green House. The entrance to it is hidden, Stone Faces are heavily featured in this area, it is quite swampy and here are some crude and natural traps. Here are two factions present: Kobolds and Troglodytes, but it also has a Dragon! So a dragon has its lair in a tower here ... Furthermore adventurers might find 4 Jungle Treasures and access to clean water here (additionally to what the Factions and the beasties carry, that is).

    TREASURE 1: 4 (d20), 15 (d20), 2 (d12), 5 (d8) - This is some ancient weapon made out of iron and worth 130 gp.

    TREASURE 2: 1 (d20), 12 (d20), 8 (d12), 7 (d8) - This is some alien wear made out a strange leather with usability 8 (high) and worth 56 gp.

    TREASURE 3: 6 (d20), 10 (d20), 4 (d12), 1 (d8) - This is some crested container made out of wood with a usability of 4 and worth 21 gp.

    TREASURE 4: 2 (d20), 1 (d20), 5 (d12), 7 (d8) - This is 5 doses of some alien alcohol made out of herd animals and worth 30 gp.

    Our remaining 69 are reduced by the value of that second roll (42) to a 27.

    On to the next area. The results are 15 (d20), 4 (d6), 4 (d12), 5 (d10) and 2 (d8) (a total of 30). First Impression here is a "Mountain Side", which should translate to something like a cliff of sorts with the features "hiding" in the jungle atop the cliff. I'd go as far as saying this is a wonderful stone wall featuring a mountain scene and hiding some stairs that lead to the top. The high result here also adds one Inside and one Feature Area to this.

    Main Theme here is "Roots"and the Complication is "Uneven Footing", both adding to the hidden aspect of this area. Some harmless monkeys reside here and there's one Jungle Treasure hidden here as well. I'd put the cannibals here in relative distance to the Kobolds and the Zombies (and the Dragon, for that matter).

    TREASURE 1: 3 (d20), 16 (d20), 11 (d12), 1 (d8) - This is an ancient artwork made from salt and worth 62 gp.

    Our remaining 27 are reduced now below 0, but there are still two areas to be resolved (an Inside and a Feature). After that the ruins are complete (for now).

    For our Inside in this area we get 6 (d10), 5 (d6), 5 (d12), 1 (d8) and 5 (d20). This is a Boneyard (a huge hall, at that) with the Stone Faces returning as a Theme, more harmless ghosts and some termites. Three Jungle Treasures can be found here. The Cannibals are aware of this area, but mostly avoid it because of the ghosts.

    TREASURE 1: 13 (d20), 13 (d20), 3 (d12), 6 (d8) - This is some mysterious knowledge conserved on iron sheets with a usability of 3 (low) and worth 70 gp.

    TREASURE 2: 15 (d20), 1 (d20), 9 (d12), 7 (d8) - This is 9 doses of some primitive alcohol made out of herd animals (blood?) and worth 32 gp.

    TREASURE 3: 4 (d20), 8 (d20), 1 (d12), 1 (d8) - This is some big ancient accessory made out of bone with a usability of 1 (very low) and worth 14 gp. 

    The Feature is connected to the Inside and for that we get 3 (d8), 13 (d20), 3 (d12), 1 (d6) and 2 (d10). An Ancient Gallery with some hidden spaces can be found here. The main Theme is "Bridges" and these ancient halls still have some magic working here. The complication here is that it's crawling with insects, mostly Termites, it seems. One Jungle Treasure can be found here.

    TREASURE 1: 17 (d20), 13 (d20), 2 (d12), 2 (d8) - This is some rare knowledge written on some vermin based medium with a usability of 2 (low) and worth 272 gp.

    That's it for the random results and what they sum up to. All of this is somewhat basic, so far. What we haven't done yet is interpreting how the dice used for those results connect with each other and what that looks like. A map, so to say (see below).

    And all that for what?

    I had scribbled on the side how all of this comes together, roughly. This will need some fleshing out in places as well as produce some very specific necessities for the ruins here (mostly due to residual magic and a dragon).

    What I will do now is putting in some extra effort, since this is a blog and not a DM notebook. If I were doing this for my home game, I'd just make a sketch, put down some notes and be done with it, which would be much faster. Since this is also a proof of concept, I'll go the distance and show how the provided information helps creating a very individual and fitting location for Monkey Business.

    It goes without saying that this has a very high variation due to basic variables like location alone. Have this location high in the mountains and it will look totally different as well as offering different challenges (different hidden areas, different ways to get from A to B, different populations, ...).

    Other than that, there might be many different reasons to explore those ruins derived from how the adventure is going. Those cannibals have a problem that needs solving. The dragon could be a problem in the area or even a possible ally versus the gorillas ... or it's all just treasure hunting (again, that dragon will have a hoard!).

    You won't get the same result twice, so there is that as well. In the end, if you do 12 ruins like that, even without fleshing them out properly (there are cheat sheets to keep the information straight and with that it should be easy to even improvise a ruin), they all will be distinguishably different with lots of variety for exploration and enough information established to keep the players busy for some time.

    And now for the first Area ... this is me as the DM now, building on the established. The map for what is presented here looks like this (preliminary and to be expanded on, of course, but this is what you get):

    Just a sketch, but all the pieces are there!

    The Hidden Everdying Galleries of Karrik-Thazzar

    These ruins of a long lost civilization once flaunted its greatest achievements and victories for its people to indulge in. It featured a magical gallery where the rooms connected via magical bridges, a boneyard where the remains of overcome foes could be admired in artful displays and a green house showcasing the most beautiful and magical blossoms throughout the realm.

    It fell, as all things do eventually. Now only the ghosts and ruins left behind give careful observers a hint of the serene beauty this place once held.

    This location contains five major areas, some of them hidden, as well as two factions to interact with (Cannibals & Dragon Crew). It's low in treasure and in traps.

    The whole complex is hidden under heavy plant growth and the easiest access to the ruins is through a overgrown but still well visible artificial and ornate stone arc.

    Encounters as per rules for exploration (in this case using Labyrinth Lord and the module itself).

    Random Encounter Table (1d12)

    1-2     Ghosts 

    3-5     Signs of Dragon Presence

    6-7     Sight of Dragon in Distance

    8-9     Kobolds on Patrol

    10      Troglodytes having Fun   

    11     Cannibals, but lost

    12      Dragon Close-By

    Add (1d4-1) 1 Random Jungle Encounter, as per the module (results 12 & 8):

    There are some stoned lower monkeys somewhere in the location (where the DM thinks it appropriate ... I decided for Area 1 Site 3).

    AREA 1

    Basic mixture of jungle and ruins. Sites are connected via paths that allow easy traversion. Cutting through the jungle between sites is (mostly) possible, but tiring and time consuming in comparison. Sites are between 30 and 50 meters apart, visibility of surroundings is noted if applicable.

    There is some Magic Residue in this Area with a "Time Loop" as a theme. Let's have some fun with this one: once per character (not enough magic to trigger this more than once per character!) death in this area creates a loop where the character is sent one combat round back in time instead. First time this happens, the character has to make a successful check to not be surprised and just die again (because, duh!). Second time around they know what's happening and can take the knowledge about their surroundings and the fight into account to avoid their death. Each time they willingly die to learn from the experience, they either get +1 to attacks or -1 to AC until death is avoided (as for the DM: that last and deadly last attack will stay the same, of course ... no additional rolls needed!).

    If they die more than 10 times, a succesful Save versus Death Rays becomes necessary to stay sane. Unsuccessful save implicates fear against [mode of death] and means that each time a character is confronted with similar situations (same weapon, same monster, whatever applies) they have to make a Save versus Paralysation to not freeze in place instead of acting.

    Please encourage players to come up with creative alternatives to allow their survival. Characters willingly facing death in this Area after surviving their first loop, will just die as per the rules of the game you are using.

    Area 1 Site 1: A once glorious Arc

    The top of this arc is well visible when the jungle containing those ruins is approached from the plins due south. Even when entering the jungle during daylight, the top of the arc will function as an easily visible guide to the location.

    On site, this turns out to be a roughly 40 meters high, 60 meters wide, 20 meters deep triumphal arc. Very ornate heavy stone blocks that mostly feature edged but expressive stone faces.

    Features:

    • An eery whisper is omnipresent here. It sounds like the distnat buzz of a town.
    • The remains of a cobblestone street lead downhill towards WWN (Area 1 Site 2).
    • The surrounding jungle is littered with big overgrown stones, but no complete structures are visible.
    • Everything but the arch seems thrashed.
    • Climbing the arch will reveal two more close-by features: a half-sunken building with a tower due NE and a massive cliff artificially cut to appear like a mountain panorama due west (Area 3 Site 1). The panorama can be recognized and located in the distance after a succesfull INT check (and might lead to other locations, if the DM so desires).

    Area 1 Site 2: Kobolds & Decaying Ghost Shadows

    This has been a plaza of sorts, located at the foot of a artificially altered, 30 meters high cliff bordering it due W. The cobblestones here resisted some of the roots reclaiming this area, resulting in a bit of a clearing. Still, it's full of big debris and growth, making this the perfect camp for the kobolds residing here. They are the preliminary guard for the Dragon living in Area 2 Site 5.

    Features:

    • The residual magic remaining in this place makes things even more irritating: glimpses of the past of this location flitter ghostly over the remains, making the whole area very restless with ghostly people and buildings telling of the downfall of this place, if one cares enough to observe the phenomenon for a long enough time (at least 4 days before it loops back to the beginning).
    • The Kobolds are well hidden here, allowing for an ambush 4 in 6 times.
    • An optical illusion hides a staircase up that cliff (leading to Area 3 Site 1).
    • Rests of one cobblestreet leads up SEE to the arch, one leads up NEE (to Area 1 Site 3)

    12 Kobolds, 1d4 HD (4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1), AC 7, C, 1 Attack, D 1d4 or Weapon-1, Saves 0 level Human, Morale 6, Hoard Class I

    Area 1 Site 3: Hidden Durst Jamboree

    This clearing borders above a swampy area due N (some 20 meters down from the clearing). It has only big debris marking the area, like overgrown partial walls and half broken passage ways. Some stoned monkeys have set up camp here (the Random Jungle Encounter set up above ... it fits here quite well becaus of the Treasure hidden here). There's a shabby tent, some carpets, wooden boxes and dirty cushions. There's also a table set up with six monkeys playing poker and five more commenting on it (in Common Tongue, of course). It's a lively scene and they are unafraid and relaxed (the Dragon allows their presence, thinks them entertaining). The monkeys are not associated with the Hidden Gorilla Camp in the area (just customers ... those monkeys are too flimsy for military duty).

    Features:

    • From here the half sunken building due N (Area 2) is well visible.
    • The monkeys will allow characters joining the poker game, but they cheat and are careless about it. Still will take the gold, though. They are easily threatened and intimated, however, and will make concessions if pushed hard enough.
    • One shady monkey will offer the character some Durst (see Monkey Business p. 42 & 43), but has no idea what the dose is actually worth (or what the drug does ... he'll sell it hard, though). He'll claim 100 gp, but can be haggled down to 60 gp.
    • One path leads down due W into swampy territory (to Area 1 Site 4), one leads down due WWS (to Area 1 Site 2)

    [using the Monkey Generator provided in the module, adding the stats myself:]

    11 White Howler Monkeys with flat wide faces and naked prehensile tails (black skin), 1d4+2 HD (6, 6, 6, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 4, 4, 3), AC 4, C, 1 Attack, D 1d6-1 or Weapon, Saves 2 level Human, Morale 4, Hoard Class IV

    Area 1 Site 4: A damp place, but sunny

    This little clearing is bordering on a swampy area with a half sunken building due NNE surrounded by lots of water patches between the dense jungle as a main feature (Area 2). Other than that, there's not much else to be seen on a first glance. There's no such thing as an empty space, though. It's quite nice here, actually. And no ghosts at all. Coming to rest here, one can admire the beauty of nature integrating what's left of this once thriving place. Thick roots, rustling green, ornate stones and sunlight glittering on water ...

    However, spending more than half an hour here will trigger an encounter as described above.

    Features:

    • Taking the time to enjoy the scenery will heal 1d3 HP.
    • There are two hidden paths leading away from this location. Finding will take 10+1d20 minutes each (unless characters very actively look in the right places, going by the description the DM provides).
    • One leads underwater NE and into the building adjacent to this site (into Area 2 Site 1, sidenote: the building can be entered by climbing as well, see entry Area 2) and can be discovered by looking into the clear water between this site and the building (which will reveal a stone doorway). Characters will have to dive through it into the building (simple CON check will suffice, though).
    • The other leads through an ascending tunnel due N (to Area 1 Site 5). The Stone doorway leading into the tunnel is hidden behind some rubble (covering the lower third) and heavy undergrowth. This is former service tunnel used by slaves and it is very well intact, even features some graffiti mocking the long dead masters of those long dead slaves (texts will need read magic to be deciphered, the pictures of profanities speak for themselves).
    • There is one obvious path leading up and due E (to Area 1 Site 3).

    Area 1 Site 5: Foul Kitchen Service

    The building that stood here is long gone and only some foundation and debris are left to frame this site. The service tunnel this site is entered by opens into what has been a kitchen (which could be found out if someone where to study the remaining foundations). This is not a clearing, but somehow bushes did not overwhelm this part of the ruins. The jungle only gets thick right behind the remaining stones marking where the building stood. The Dragon Crew is not aware of this area, which would make it a nice place to hang out. However ...

    Features:

    • Main remaining feature in this place is an open well with a 2m diameter. The water deep down is black and muddy. On opposing sides of this well, somewhat hidden below earth and grass, it has two skeletons. The rests of their clothing indicate that they had been soldiers of some kind. They seem to have stood guard here.
    • Only the night reveals the tragedy that befell this place, albeit only incomplete. The scenery will come to life ghostly, showing the two soldiers forcing what seems to be the household into the well, with all the tears and drama one would imagine. Women trying to protect their children, people trying to climb out of the well only to be cut down. The soldiers do their job relentlessly, but with tears streaming down their stoic faces. 20 people die in that well. The Soldiers commit suicide after the deed and die where their skeletons are found.
    • Those 20 souls forced into the well are Zombies now that will climb out as soon as they sense the living above. It'll take them two rounds to get out of the well, and even though characters being aware of what's coming will be able to shoot some of them down before they get out, most sure will make it. And they will follow those adventurers mercilessly unless destroyed.
    • Service tunnel leads out of there due S (to Area 1 Site 4).

    20 Zombies, 2d8 HD (adults: 15, 13, 12, 12, 11, 11, 10, 9, 9, 9, 8, 8, 8, 7 children: 7, 7, 7, 5, 4, 3), AC 8, C, 1 Attack, D 1d8 or Weapon, Saves F1, Morale 12, Hoard None 

    That's enough for now ...

    I think it's already a lot, actually. The rest will follow as I get down to it. As I said above, just going with the notes and sketches is way less work intensive, especially if the DM is somewhat familiar with the tool and uses the provided Cheat Sheets.

    Okay, I have to admit this was more fun than I thought it would be :P Reminded me why I enjoyed writing MB to begin with. However, as I stated above: if you actually use the tool, you'll get lots to play with and it does allow for a deeper exploration of the setting while allowing room for what the module established. This is an, I'd say, average result (you can get a crystal skull, ffs, and more quests that connect this with the hex ... a lot can happen).

    In realted news, since the PoD version of this is overdue and a revision is warranted (it is my first, and I love it for that, but it can be better!), I'll aim for a Kickstarter of the Revision in 2022. So stay tuned! You want a teaser? You'll get a teaser :)

    Sexy, no? More 2022 ...
    The module itself already does a lot, of course, so make sure to check that out if haven't already! It is PWYW, so you can get it for free, give it a try and show some love afterwards, if you are so inclined. This beast of a module received 3 five star ratings since the reviews had dropped. From people I do not know, I might add (and still love for their commitment!), so this actually is received quite well.

    ------------------------ 

    If you are thirsty for more,  you can check out a free preview of the Ø2\\'3|| (that rpg I published) right here (or go and check out the first reviews here). We will do a sale in October when the banner goes live. Stay tuned for that ...

    If you are in Europe, I'd put this on hold for a bit (wishlist it, or something). OBS still prints in the UK and since that isn't Europe anymore, tolls are mandated. No one needs those extra costs. They are working on the problem, and I'll do a happy sale as soon as they switch printers.

    If you already checked it out, please know that I appreciate you :) It'll certainly help to keep the lights on here!

    Just look at that beauty ...


    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    The Frozen Temple of Glacier Peak

    Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 10/02/2021 - 11:06
    By Robin Fjarem Self Published Knave Levels 1-3

    The melting ice has revealed the walls of a long-forgotten temple at the summit of Glacier Peak. Historians and adventurers travel from afar to witness this legend come back to life, hoping to get a slice of the untold riches surely contained within. There is just one problem: The entrance is yet to be found.

    This 24 page digest adventure uses thirteen pages to describe about 32 rooms in a three level dungeon. It’s got some norse folklore theming and tries to keep the writing focused. I get the concept that it was going for, but it feels constrained. I THINK it’s possible, tough, to come off with some PHAT L00T with no fighting; a nice folklore element.

    Ok, so, cave up on the frozen mountside. And, in spite of that “historian” crack in the blurb, there’s no hint of magical renaissance in this at all. It’s pure norse mythology. We’ve got three levels to the dungeon. The first is a relatively empty abandoned temple with, I think, eleven rooms. You get reindeer hides on the walls, and antler carvings and small little figurines at modest shrines. The overall vibe here is one of a place empty, and abandoned. In fact, I believe the only encounter is with a centipede hiding in the chest of a skeleton. Old. And then you come to a stairway leading down. It’s covered, blocked with ice. Here we have a pretty literal transition to the mythic underworld. You need to find you way past it. Level two is linear, with just a handful of rooms. A giant lake, some islands. A small shrine on the second to last, that lets you turn the water in to a portal you can jump in to. And, at that last island, a 6HD norse troll, in a deep sleep. So, you know, don’t go too far. Finally, the lake portal leads to you level three with the rest of the rooms: norselandia.  Dark elf, grey dwarf, some frog-people, sprites, and a wingless dragon: the lindwurm. And, of course, his hoard. 

    We are now in full on fantasy realm and you can talk to most of those bizarro people. The dwarf, chained to the wall by the dragon, his keys around the troll-kings neck … who was turned to stone by the dragon. Freed, he forges an adamantine sword for you. Or the gnome living in a cabin next to wall that has colossal door in it, the keyhole 8’ off the ground. He’s got the key, but will only give it up if you go X and get him Y. (Where X&Y are mushroom forest related.) Or the sprite that has lost his drum … that will put the dragon to sleep. And on it goes. So we’ve got a good transition in to the fantastic and strong folklore elements. And, as I’ve mentioned, it might be possible to snag a decent amount of loot with no combat.

    The writing tends to the brisk side: “Grand hall with a high ceiling. Empty torch sconces in the walls. Reindeer pelts hang stretched out on the walls with stone benches beneath.” Not droning on, to be sure. Other rooms are perhaps too terse in their descriptions “Frozen Shrine: Encased in ice.” There might be some EASL issues with the quality of the imagery/evocative word choices, but I think the issue more comes down to imagining the scene and trying to get it down on paper. There is clearly an attempt made, in most cases, but one that falls short in almost all cases of bringing a truly evocative environment to match the interactivity in them. It’s not doing anything special in the formatting area, other than staying focused on the length and using some bolded words. I’m not on board with what IS being bolded, but clearly there was an attempt. Better writing and better bolding choices come with more time and more experience.

    So, what the fuck is wrong with, besides some less than stellar evocative writing?

    I could point out some mistakes in the design. The sleeping troll is at the END of the path, and wakes up if you make noise … but you don’t really know he’s there … and thus are not worried about making noise. Placing him up front, or, stronger signalling or snoring would help. And there’s a bit of this and that similar in the adventure in which there are things to do/not do that could cause tension but are, I think, mishandled or not telegraphed well, working against their intent. 

    It’s also got a little bit of a fetch questy “find the red key for the red door” sort of CRPG thing going on. “So what do we need to do FOR YOU to get you to give us something?” came to mind. This is hard. You want interactivity. With NPC’s, them wanting things is good. But too much and it starts to feel like you’re running up to someone with a gold star flashing over their head and pressing the “skip dialog” button as fast as you can. 

    It’s also constrained in its size, and I’m thinking particularly level three and its fantasy-land fetch quest stuff. Everyone essentially is right on top of each other. Melan and I differ, I think, to the degree we dislike this element, but I think we both recognize it and don’t care for the constrained spaces. I recognize that it exists, and why, and that NOT being constrained is far better. I just don’t ding something as much when it shows up. I’d much rather have some gravitas behind the distance, and quest, than just walking next door, etc, to pick up the thing and stab the thing guarding the thing. In particular, the lost drum, hanging in some random (literally!) tree in the swamp comes to mind. There’s no weight behind this. There’s no feeling of having earned that golden fleece. The adventure is trying to do too much in too small a place. But, meh, it’s 2021. 

    Other things comes to mind, like the use of a random table for a treasure behind a waterfall. I don’t get why designers do this. Just place a treasure. The fact you have a table for it shows a lack of understanding of what random tables are used for in old school design. It’s far, far better to place a treasure, or monster, in an integrated way in to the design. Yes, there IS a time and place for random tables in an adventure. But not for general use. 

    So, slow start, probably on purpose, and strong theming. But the language use doesn’t convey the theming well, although the interactivity does. 

    This is $3 at DriveThru.

    https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/370215/The-Frozen-Temple-of-Glacier-Peak?1892600

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Happy Dave Arneson Day & Some Thoughts On David Lance Arneson

    Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 10/02/2021 - 05:59
     Happy Dave Arneson day everyone! Mr.Arneson was the co creator of original Dungeons & Dragons. And he's one of the innovators of the grand game as we know it. There are so many things that I owe to Mr.Arenson as both a player & as a dungeon master. David Lance Arneson, October 1, 1947, Hennepin County, Minnesota, U.S.He literally is one of the founding fathers of the game that we call Dungeons &Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Sutherland Dragon Details

    Zenopus Archives - Fri, 10/01/2021 - 21:43


    As promised in my earlier post about on the exhibit of the Holmes Basic cover art ⁠— aka the Sutherland Dragon ⁠— here are several close-ups of different portions.


    The Fighter



    The greens are more apparent, including in details such as the "emeralds" circling the pommel of the sword poking out from the treasure pile.

    In the dragon's chest in the upper portion of this image you can clearly see multi-colored gems encrusted between the belly plates. A few are even gleaming, a detail which doesn't show up well because the gleams are white on a yellow background. 

    Note Sutherland's signature, just visible below the shield. This portion of the image appeared on the bottom edge of the box set cover, where a bit more of his name can be seen than here.


    The Magic-User



    Here we see the wizard unobscured by the TSR logo and the other writing on the box cover.

    Sutherland's attention to the lighting is very apparent in the yellow highlights and deep shadows applied to the wizard's blue robe.


    The Dragon


    Yellow bands of light radiate out from the wizard's torch, a detail that doesn't reproduce well on the boxed set cover. 

    The motion lines accentuate the mood that the dragon has just been surprised. Sutherland used motion lines in other illustrations, particularly sword swings, such as on the title page of the Holmes Basic rulebook, as can be seen here.

    As a reminder, the exhibit featuring this painting is at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA through Halloween, and then will be at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, TN from May 20 to September 5, 2022, and then at the Flint Institute of Art in Flint, MI from September 23, 2002 through January 8, 2023.

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Agents Within The Blood Soaked Alleyways of SANCTUARY! A Cepheus Engine Rpg View Into Chaosium's Thieves World rpg Campaign Box Set

    Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 10/01/2021 - 20:05
     "Skulk through the night on the heels of Shadowspawn . . . delve into the twisted tunnels of the Purple Mage . . . attend the court (or perhaps the harem) of Prince Kadakithis . . . dodge the keen-eyed Hell Hounds with Jubal's Hawkmasks . . . drink your ale and guard your purse at the Vulgar Unicorn . . . boldly walk the streets of the wildest, most varied, and most downright fascinating city inNeedleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Minaria: Elfland

    Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 10/01/2021 - 11:00

    This is the first post in a series, perhaps. My version of Minaria, extrapolated from the map, manuals, and pieces of the boardgame, Divine Right.


    Humans are not welcome in the shadowed and quiet forests of Elfland. This antipathy is ancient. In the age following the fall of the Lloroi Empire, the Elves of Neuth (as they call the great forest in their own language) viewed the primitive tribes that they encountered as they ventured from their home as little more than clever beasts. The years have taught them that those beasts can be dangerous; they have learned to be wary of humans, but not to respect them.

    The Elves believe themselves to the heirs to the Lloroi, possibly even a direct continuation of that great race. They take pride in being the only culture to withstand the Cataclysm without a reversion to barbarism. They prefer not to discuss the crumbling spires of their half-buried, ancient capital of Letho or the much reduced extent of their lands.

    The Great Forest is relatively unspoiled by human standards. Their craft and science (they do not call it magic) is such that their communities often blend into their surroundings. Only another elf might know that they were there.

    Humans who have dared to enter the forest easily become lost and often have returned with their memories completely gone. Those are the ones that return at all. Elven rangers patrol the wood with hounds whose howls are uncannily like human voices in lamentation and whose all too human faces hold horror in their eyes. Few elven settlements would give shelter to human stranger, raised as every elf is on tales of the malice of the beast Man.

    "One day," say the elven lords to their knights when they are feasting in their hidden halls. "One day our host will ride forth and scatter the human rabble before us."

    Review & Commentary On Clement Sector Core Setting Book By John Watts From Independence Games For Cepheus Engine Rpg & Your Old School 2d6 Rpg Science Fiction Campaigns

    Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 09/30/2021 - 21:51
    "Welcome to Clement Sector!In 2210, scientists discovered a wormhole allowing travel to the opposite side of the Milky Way galaxy.  Once across, exploration teams discovered worlds far more suited to human habitation than those in star systems nearer to Earth.  Were they terraformed by some unknown race?  Are they just a coincidence in the vast diversity of the universe?""Over the ensuing years Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Review & Commentary On 'The Giants Wrath' By Brian Young From Troll Lord Games For Castles & Crusades Or Your Old School Seige Engine rpg Campaign

    Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 23:47
     "In the grey seas and dark skies of turbulent chaos, you see a long black dragon-shaped ship. A dozen massive oars on each side row to the beat of a thundering drum. Tall, harsh-faced and dark-hued, fully-armored forms walk the deck, shouting orders in terrifying voices . . . the Formians come again.""A power has risen in the Otherworld, it drives the storms upon the shores with such force that Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Review & Commentary On 'Crimson Escalation' By Venger As'Nas Satanis, & Rob Couture For Your Old School Game Campaigns

    Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 18:40
     "I was looking for a way to make my D&D combat fast, realistic, and exciting.  I put forth a few ideas, but my friend Rob Couture had the idea of increasing the critical-hit range every round.  I took his idea and ran with it.Included in this PDF is the cover image, Rob Couture's foreword, an explanation of the Crimson Escalation mechanic, a visual aid "tracker" so you always know what crits, Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Nutmeg in the Dark

    Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 11:11
    By Edward Deboinare Esoterik Games Knave level 1

    Something has happened to the northern mountain pass, those who have survived to  return reported the smell of nutmeg before their party was ambushed in the dark. The town guard is raising a party to go clear the pass. He enters the local tavern to conscript all the patrons …

    This 46 page adventure uses twenty pages to describe 33 rooms in a single column format. The rest of the page count is new monsters and some new class backgrounds. But, those 33 rooms? A combination of goofy funhouse puzzles and bizarrely minimal writing. To no effect.

    Let’s get this out of the way: the shambling woodpecker boss monster at the end smells like nutmeg. You now know why the title is what it is. No, I am not holding out on you. It makes no sense to me either. I’m a square though so maybe I’m missing something.

    The map is … different. The entry room is, like #14 and the exist #23 and there is no number ten on the map. You can’t really make out any doors. There are minimaps next to the individual (single-column) room descriptions, but, you can’t really make out the features on them. And this is blown up on my monitor to about 1.5! Printed out, in digest form, as the adventure suggests …  there’s Norfolk & Way for shipping an elephant overnight from New York to LA. Or to make out the map. Also, weirdly, the formatting doesn’t work at all on my mac, for the text. The built-in PDF viewer gives me garbage, so I have to use the Chrome built-in PDF viewer … which still will not render certain pages. 

    The writing is … interesting. Here’s a room entry: “Roll an encounter with [-] guarding the room, its unhappy. The chest contains loot.” No? Not your thing? How about “Ceiling is magically the night sky; there is loot[-] here.” Ok, ok, how about this one? “That is blood on the floor from the giant guillotine blade trap located there; it goes off every time.” That’s the extent of the description. There is nothing else. No mechanics, nothing. These sorts of things make up maybe about a third of all the encounters in the dungeon.

    Room type two, Hezrou, has a few more things going on in it. Such as “A Grasping Giraffe guards this room; upon entering the giraffe will trigger the switch on the wall, causing the door to slam shut; investigating behind the throne near the switch will reveal a wheel that can be turned to lift the plate shutting the door. There is a set of platemail here.” No, that’s all of the description. No, I don’t know what a Grasping Giraffe is. There’s no pic. There is an entry in the rear in the monster appendix. “Their eye stalks enable the giraffe precision and protection during their head-whip attacks.” So …. They must have eye stalks. You should be detecting a pattern by now. There is something here, just under the surface. But it’s almost like 50% of the sentences in the adventure were left out … the 50% that would explain what the fuck is going on and add depth to the thing. A giraffe with eyestalks? Uh, ok. Sure. I’m in. But … you need to actually put enough words in to make this work. Another room has “a dire shadow bear with a silver dagger stuck in its heart is frozen into a statue, in mid-attack.” Nice! It’s ALMOST there. It’s ALMOST an actual encounter. Maybe it would be in Dungeon of the Bear days. 

    Room Type III is an actual funhouse room. One of the rooms starts with “When the party sees the mirror or is in range, have the mirror introduce it self as the Opposite Mirror.” So … uh, I guess there’s a mirror in the room then?  Anyway, there’s a message on the floor. “Always coming to take me down.” If you give the password (the opposite, of course!) then the figure in the mirror (ok, so, now I guess there’s a figure in the mirror?) reaches through the mirror and activates two immovable rods that he uses to pull himself out of the mirror.” So … there’s two immovable rods somewhere? Outside the mirror I guess? And the figure comes out of the mirror? I mean, I’m not leaving anything pertinent out of the description here. The map doesn’t show anything important … or legible. It’s a funhouse room. And there are other funhouse rooms. And I can almost grok out what is going on. ALMOST. 

    The boss monster is labeled as BOSS on the map. It’s a  Shambling Woodpecker. It can the flying tree from the cover (Small Evil Flying Needle Tree) are listed as Unique monsters. Which means that the grasping giraffe and putrid peacocks are not, by inference? DId I mention the electric deergull, a seagull with the head and antlers of a deer? It’s weird all right. It also feels PROCEDURALLY weird to me, rather than a creation. Like someone stuck some words in n app and is testing their new AI program. 

    The loot table, which you dice on for all oot, is full of hings like “Magic Weapons [+] to hit” or Magic Weapon Damage Die Up. 

    Things like a dire shadow bear that can be turned in to a statue by stabbing it in the heart with a silver dagger? Excellent! Idiosyncratic and great! I’m not morally opposed to a funhouse room; they are not my favorite, I prefer cohesive design, but I recognize them as a thing. But, the minimal encounters, lack of effort in a third of the rooms, and incomplete data in the other ?’s, along with map legibility issues? A hand drawn cover is only going to get you so far with me. That charm has to pay off, and it doesn’t. In the same vein, but less coherent, as Unbalanced Dice.

    This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $7. The preview is eight pages but doesn’t really show you any encounters. Maybe check out that last page for the flying tree thing to start to get the right ideas about how it is written. 


    https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/366931/Nutmeg-in-the-Dark?1892600

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1980 (wk 2, pt 2)

    Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 11:00
    My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around September 25, 1980. 

    Legion of Super-Heroes #270: Conway's and Janes' story continues with most of the Legionnaires in the hands of the Fatal Five. Timber Wolf warns the others, but Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl are captured when the villains assault the Legion headquarters. Only Light Lass and Timber Wolf remain free to come to the rescue. The Fatal Five, however, are at least somewhat distracted by their resentment at having to take orders from the mysterious Dark Man. Timber Wolf discovers the identity of the Dark Man at the end of the issue: he's an unbifurcated Tharok! Another solid issue from this creative team.

    Mystery in Space #114: This issue is a mixed bag. The first story by Wessler and Craig has a couple trying to find a refugee from their world that's imperiled by an imminent collision with another planet, only to fall into the hands of a planetary despot. The woman appears to choose to marry the despot and have her former lover exiled, but that's only a ruse to allow him to escape. The planet they arrived on is the planet their homeworld is going to collide with! The next story by Levitz and Spiegle is slight, but a little more clever. We follow a day in the life of a really nice guy in the future, only to find out it is only for the sake of this good-hearted guy that tentacled, extradimensional horrors haven't yet destroyed the Earth.
    The co-creators of Blue Devil and Amethyst, Mishkin and Cohn, team-up with von Eeden for a kind of shaggy dog story about a man escaping a future conquest of Earth in a vessel with a damaged warp drive. It sends him back in time to...Ellis Island. Skeates and Ditko team up for a cynical, EC-esque story about a loving couple leaving a time capsule to be found by future generations. Their heart-felt expression of love only becomes another reason for people to kill each other in the primitive, post-apocalyptic future. Conway and Yeates finish out the issue with a time travel yarn about an attempt to kill Hitler that leads to a worse consequence--which precipitates a chain of assassinations as successive time travelers try to fix the failures of the past.

    New Adventures of Superboy #12: The lead story here is weird because Bates seems leave the primary conflict unresolved. A harried Superboy still dressed as Clark Kent winds up saving a rich man from driving off a cliff. The man uses his resources to track Clark down and begins publicizing his heroism and putting down Superboy as not as heroic because he has powers to protect him from danger that the man assumes Clark does not. Neither Clark nor the Kents like all the attention he is getting. This plotline is never really resolved; Instead, the rich man's nephew and heir tries to kill Clark and Superboy stops him. Maybe they're going to deal with Clark still being famous next issue, but I kind of doubt it. The backup by Bridwell and Tanghal relates Superboy's first meeting with Perry White where he reveals to the world in an interview that he's an alien. This story is mainly interesting because Superboy says he revealed his origins to President Eisenhower, thus setting these events somewhat specifically in time.

    Sgt. Rock #347: This issue opens with one of Kanigher's blunt and simplistic, but not ineffective, anti-war tales. Easy is saved from a tank by the heroic actions of their CO, but the man is left blind and dumb, if not in something of a vegetative state. With the Germans advancing, the staff plans to leave him in the hospital for the Germans to find and move to one of their hospitals as the rules of war dictate. Rock isn't having any of that, so he personally drives the mute and expressionless officer through a forest, avoiding a German personnel carrier, and nearly getting blown away by a artillery. On the way, Rock talks of his father (dead in a steel mill accident), his brother (dead in a daredevil dive off a bridge), and his other brother (missing since the Japanese took the Philippines). Rock sees his company advancing into the range of the artillery and takes what action he can to save them. After the battle, they find the CO was killed by shrapnel in the drive over. Rock opines he bled to death without a word, as if perhaps that was a measure of his mettle, but the man hadn't spoken since his original injury. It was unclear if he could. Anyway, Easy Company buries him and moves on to the next battle.
    In the next story by Kelley and Severin, a bomber going down under fire thinking it's mission to destroy a German refinery was a failure lucks up and hits the real refinery. We get a second Sgt. Rock story or vignette about the Easy Company member Little Sure Shot. There's a one page profile on the Seneca war chief Cornplanter, then a story by Eads and Veitch about the only woman "who ever lead an American armed expedition against enemy forces," Harriet Tubman.

    Super Friends #39: The Overlord decides to send evolved clones after the Super Friends. The first proves too powerful for them until they use his advanced traits against him, finally weakening him with concentrated exposure to a trace element in the Earth's atmosphere--krypton. A clever, though perhaps goofy, turn in a definitely goofy story. The Bridwell/Tanghal backup story has the Wonder Twins at a disco and tangling with a DJ and lightning tech using their powers for no good. These Wonder Twin stories are mildly interesting (mildly!) if you think about the roundabout ways they defeat villains. Who would ever think "form of a peacock" would be the right call?

    Unexpected #205: This one is pretty good. First up, we get a Johnny Peril story by Barr and Sparling. Young Angela Lake has apparently been possessed for a second time, but Peril smells a rat, not brimstone. It turns out the exorcist is also a hypnotist and has faked Angela's possessions. The story ends with the possibility the exorcist himself might be possessed, though Johnny doesn't buy it. "A Match Made in Hades" by Kashdan and Rubeny has a lovelorn businessman buying a love potion from an old witch. When the object of his affections becomes positively obsessed and scary, he pays a hefty price for the antidote. Only then do we discover that the young woman is the witch's daughter, and it has all been a con. The last story by DeMatteis and Catan winds up getting reprinted in the Best of DC digest in 1981. Bruce used occultism to literally retreat into a psychic realm of fantasy after Cornelia dumped him. But he can't escape reality entirely, and his efforts to do just that cause him to confuse the two, resulting in the tragic death of Cornelia. To pay for his crime, Bruce sends himself to a Hell literally of his own imagining.

    Unknown Soldier #246: Haney and Ayers/Tlaloc have the Soldier in Egypt, trying to help defeat Rommel. He winds up chasing a spy named with stolen war plans from Cairo into the desert. There are sandstorms and bandits-- and then the Soldier finds out it was all a trick! He unwittingly delivered the plans to Rommel himself. Luckily, some quick improvising on the Soldier's part makes Rommel think the plans are misdirection, so the Desert Fox is defeated in the Allied offensive, though he escapes to fight another day. Kanigher and Yeates give us a tale of the Vikings where an aging Chieftain discovers his greatest warrior in a recent raid was actually his daughter in disguise. The final story by Burkett and Ayers is continued, but starts off with a classic war comic opening: U.S. aviator is disparaging the "ruptured duck" B-17 he's forced to fly. When they reach the bombing target the bay doors won't open. They are unaware one of their crew (captured after the last raid) is being held in the German installation beneath them.

    Warlord #40: Read more about it here. No OMAC back-up in this issue. Instead we get a "Tale of Wizard World."

    Home is Where The Hell is - Paul Elliot's Zaibatu rpg & Postcards from Avalidad by Miguel Ribeiro, & Manuel Souza Combined

    Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 09/28/2021 - 22:56
     “Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape. ”― William S. BurroughsNow let's pick it up where we left off yesterday within Postcards from Avalidad by Miguel Ribeiro, &  Manuel Souza combining it with Zozer Games Zaibatsu rpg  How can the cutting edge technologies, psionics, etc. be incorporated fromNeedleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    On the Ecology of the Lammasu and Lamia

    Hack & Slash - Tue, 09/28/2021 - 20:00


    "The offer she makes you seems like a good idea, but so does the worm on the hook to a fish" - Aldervile, Neo-Imperian Speaker

    Nomenclature: Lammasu, Lamia, Manticores, Nagas, Sphinx, Shedu, Lilith, Empusa

    Description: Creatures that have the head of a human and the body of a lion, goat, deer or snake, said to eat children

    Things that are known:

    • Human are their prey
    • They are intelligent and have powers of illusion
    • They like to live in arid desolate places
    • They have the heads and/or torso's of humans, with animal lower bodies
    • They can see in darkness
    • They bait and trap men, using them for sex, sport, and supper


    Rumors and other whispers in the dark:



    • They aren't evil monsters, just superior beings who view our children as a delicious source of tender veal
    • Their morality is complex, beyond human understanding. Amashotep's seminal works, Beyond Good and Evil, Also Sprach Lammathustra, Ecce Lammia, and Antilamia address the vast subject
    • It is a well kept secret that there is no separate species as lamia, it is the curse of all human females one night a month to become one
    • They are fond of associating with various other half-breeds, such as harpies and centaur. Whether this is due to distant relations or some other reason is unknown
    • They aren't any special - lions are just super horny and have no problem mating with human females. Lucky to survive, this rape is rarely mentioned. Lots of half-lion monsters though
    • The gods dream secrets, and these secrets slip into the world. They find a feline form, because those receive and transmit secrets. The forcefulness and power of the secret can sometimes mutate and warp the feline. 
    • Were a mortal to unravel the secrets of the leonine dreams, then immortality, even godhood, may be within reach. Two gods in the pantheon ascended in this way, and a secret order of questers pursues this murderous quest.
    • They are actually Zensunni post-buddhists, explaining their preference for arid, dune-filled environments
    Art Adams
    • They keep dustworms as pets, from which they harvest mysture, a substance used to make lions and snakes grow human-like faces and intellects.
    • All lions are inherently evil. They lust after human flesh, and when they consume enough, they become a monster. Manticores come from the flesh of old men, young women produce lamias. Kings produce Sphinxes. 
    • They are a species that breeds true, and they suffer no defects from incest. The meaning of this is uncertain 
    • Demons don't just tempt men, sometimes noble lions fall prey, and the demonic corruption causes this horrific change
    • The Lamia-kind are neither good, nor evil, being beyond such matters. Some follow chaos and others law. Mortals try to ascribe morality to their actions, but they are simply angelic messengers of the balance, disinterested in the fate of men
    • A lamassotto is an underdark version of a lammassu
    • That Which Prowls stalks the trade routes, and celebrates melding the creatures of the wasteland and the humans who trespass into it. Some of the survivors swear loyalty to That Which Prowls and assist in playing out the long, incomprehensible, sadistic game of cat and mouse with humanity that may end in the elevation or destruction of the world.
    • They are truly vegetarians and child-like playful beasts. Guarding wastelands and other desolate places, however, poses them as a threat to the Lords of Law. The end result is that they are portrayed as a vicious, bloodthirsty, childnibbling beast.
    • A male Lamia is called a Lamio. Rare creatures with silvery hides and prodigious. . . manes. The lammassu is a protector of Lamia
    • The Goddess of Trees was struck ill, and barely managed to escape the battle of the gods, stumbling into civilization. There, she was cared for by the awed and ignorant human savages. She saw their lives up close; the way they turned to meat and away from the energy of the sun and the plants. She saw how they kept cats to eat meat that threatened what they wanted to protect. And, as we all know, the war of the gods caught up to the village and the terrified villagers betrayed the Goddess of Trees to the Master of Forges. Her dying curse was that humanity would become the mice, and their hunters would bear the cruelty of their faces.
    • They are not half-lion, all of these creatures are simply torsos on swarms of countless insects, each representing the soul of a living creature
    • Simply another form of an aberration of chaos, like satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs and platypi
    • The spectacular orgies of the Arch Magus Wyvaria tended to focus on reptiles. Lilariasha tended to use shape changing (mercifully) or just gear (best not to think about it) for coupling with spiders. But Vashtoor... he had a thing for lions. There's a reason we've killed all the wizards we could catch.
    • The Kingdom of Farragut does a spectacular trade in lamia sized slippers. They are fascinated by wearing soft, woolen booties while at home
    • Their internal organs are suffused with magic - their guts can be used to make magical bowstrings +2 of distance and deceit
    • They are not actually lion-headed creatures. They are Penanggalan, which many people believe are vampires but are actually a type of sky demon. If they feast on the flesh of men, a body eventually grows to support them. This body if feline. If they feast on other creatures, they become other creatures. Horses and steeds become centaur, felines and cats become Manticores, etc.
    • Lamias have no digestive systems, in fact their bodies are purely mechanical support systems for their heads. Their heads are the last remnants of an ancient empire that depended on machinery for survival. They were cursed by the gods for the misuse of their physical bodies and now suffer, eternally 
    • Lamias and Lammasu can remove their own eyes. When they do so, they loudly utter prophecies. No one knows the accuracy of these prophecies, it's hard to listen after you've just seen something rip out its own eyes
    • They are difficult to perceive and viewing such creatures is difficult on the mind, draining sanity or wisdom
    • No matter their form, they detest combat. Much better through spell, word, or deed to have lower forms do their fighting for them
    • Each is violent and aggressive because when they tear themselves into existence a dark shadow is created at the same time. This shadow form hunts them to destruction
    • Each is a different manifestation of a pure emotionally ideal, Lammasu's are intelligence, Lamia's jealousy, Manticores are anger, etc.
    • All of these are in fact guardians of thresholds, doorways, and portals. It is impossible to cross one without being within their vision. This is the root of their knowledge and power.
    • They are all just different lineages of Rakasta bloodlines
    • It is the name for a female vampire. Their powers of mentalism are so strong, that the only memories are those of a beautiful woman crossed with a deadly predator
    • They are actually enlightened ascetic beings who have chosen to remain behind in earthly form
    • House cats were ordered to play nice with humans so that they could serve as a spy network, funneling truth about humans and witness of their deeds to the dark judges that await them. When enough intelligence about humans reaches them, these strange leonines transform in a more human direction, shaped by the nature of the insights the cats send them about what humans really are.
    • The leonines are assigned by the cosmic to shepherd the human race, but they chose servants of the wrong temperament. They were unable to agree on how best to handle humanity. Those that insisted on control, pushing, and goading humanity to achieve its destiny became male. Those who preferred seduction, trickery, and thinning the herd became female. Their task is a failure and the dissapointment of the cosmic is palpable.
    • Leonines once ruled the world. Humans could only ascend by wielding chaos magic, and crushing human frailties into the animal perfection of the world's rulers. By forcing human flaw and personality in to permanently shatter the balance of these once-regal beasts, they destroyed their ability to work together.
    • At the end, the heroes faced Gozer, who insisted they choose the form of their destruction. All Rae could think about was Mr. Mittens, his innocent and wise house cat. Since then, the leonine form of the destroyer has gained in power and aggression in the corners of the world, as a millennial-long agenda of destruction unfolds.
    • The foundation of the world is not stone, but secrets. The leonine guardians of the world are tasked with protecting it. However, their society is matriarchal. The men dislike their servitude and the discrimination against them. Some slipped out of their enclaves (a man's place is at the hearth) and try to support and encourage the seekers of secrets, the faster to erode the world's underpinnings so they can transcend to the next world. Meanwhile, the ladies seek out the races that are addicted to riddles and puzzles, and finish them off as cruelly as they can--still, they cannot quench the thirst for mystery that humans stole from the cats long, long ago.
    • The priests of the Rakasta are gifted by their feline goddess with more and more leonine features as they are infused with more and more cosmic and divine energy, eventually becoming immortal. Therefore, when slain, they must contextualize and motivate their existence as they re-exist. They go insane a little, but the better they manage their obsessions, the more lucid they remain.
    The ecology series is a crowdsourced series of articles, and contributors can be found on google+ under the hashtag #crowdecology. They are limited posts, but following me on G+ will allow you to see them. All artwork is credited where the artist could be found. Classic ecology articles from Dragon magazine are used both for reference and inspiration; the whole impetus of the idea was to create 'classic' ecology articles that are actually useful. Let's Read the Monster Manual by Noisms is also a source of inspiration.  

    If you like posts like this, support me on Patreon!

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    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons

    DM David - Tue, 09/28/2021 - 11:09

    Jon Peterson’s earlier books aimed for readers with an unusual appetite for role-playing game history. Playing at the World sprawls past 425,000 words, rooting the design of Dungeons & Dragons in chess variants and Prussian wargames. The Elusive Shift tells how fans mainly writing in amateur zines shaped the often esoteric theory behind roleplaying games. Thanks to my taste for such arcana, I jumped to get a copy of Peterson’s most recent book, Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons, but I didn’t expect this book to keep me up at night reading and telling myself I would only stay up for a few more pages. This book can captivate anyone interested in the business of roleplaying games or in the people who created D&D.

    Game Wizards focuses on battles that go from the game table to the boardroom and courtroom. The book reveals the pride and ambitions of the men who created D&D, and of their feuds over credits, awards, and money. This tale even includes backstabbing, though thankfully not the sort with knives.

    Jon Peterson pulls the story from letters and other documents written by Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and other players as the events occurred. “Many of the direct quotations in this piece are thus taken from their correspondence.” Much of this book’s magic stems from the breadth of sources Peterson uncovers, from the contract establishing the original game’s royalty agreement to an audio tape Arneson recorded of a Gygax television appearance. “When Gary enumerates the character classes available in the game, at the point when he mentions that there is a thief class, you can hear Arneson mutter, ‘That’s you.’” Arneson and Gygax were then battling over credit and royalties for their creation.

    The story starts in 1969, when Arneson attended the second GenCon, which Gygax hosted in his hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The two gamers first partnered to create a set of rules for naval miniatures titled Don’t Give Up the Ship.

    By the early 70s, Arneson and his group of Minneapolis gamers invented a style of campaign that broadly resembled D&D. When Gygax played Arneson’s Blackmoor game, its innovations inspired Gygax to turn the seed into a publication. “I’ll whip out a booklet for your approval, so groups can play their own games,” he wrote Arneson. Later Arneson described the role of Gary and his circle of gamers in creating D&D.  “At the time, they had a lot more spare time than I did and they had a lot of ideas, so they came up with their own version of the rules. They sent theirs to us and we fooled around with them for a while.” When Gygax had reasons to exaggerate his role, he claimed, “D&D, I wrote every word of that. Even my co-author admits that.” Arneson admitted no such thing. Still, Gygax’s tireless work as a writer, publisher, and well of ideas proved essential too.

    Gary Gygax started Tactical Studies Rules to publish D&D and other games. In September 1973 Gygax wrote to Arneson, “We’re getting ready to roll.” When the costs of printing the first D&D sets ballooned, Brian Blume invested $2,000 dollars to become a partner in the company. In 1975 the company was incorporated as TSR Hobbies with Gygax and the Blume family holding nearly equal shares.

    The revolutionary D&D game spread from Lake Geneva by word of mouth, from tabletop to tabletop, and especially from the gamers attending conventions like GenCon. In 1974, one GenCon visitor reported, “This year’s convention was centered mainly around the new set of Gygax and Arneson rules Dungeons & Dragons.” It was “the hit of the convention with gamemasters having games going in all parts of the Hall.”

    By 1976, sales had grown enough for TSR to hire Arneson as Director of Research—and to work shipping. “Everyone who worked in the building had a nominal job, but had to pitch in wherever the need arose. In a personal letter dated February 2, Arneson explained his situation at the beginning of his employment at TSR: ‘My work here in Lake Geneva is going quite well and keeps me very busy from 8:30 to 6:00 every day of the week. In addition to my job as Director of Research I am also in charge of the Shipping Department.’”

    But by summer Arneson felt growing dissatisfaction. None of his work related to D&D. Instead he had spent four months doing shipping and editing other designers’ rules.” He felt “no prospect of any of my work being published by TSR.”  Arneson would accuse Gygax of taking the company’s choicest design assignments. When work started on a D&D set for beginners, drafts of the future basic rules listed the authors as Gary Gygax and Eric Holmes with no mention of Arneson. Also, Gygax excluded Arneson from work on the design that would become Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

    Still, naval miniatures ranked as Arneson’s first love. Before hiring on, he had promised two sets of naval rules to TSR in exchange for company stock, but his drafts languished unfinished. “Gygax repeatedly asked for urgent revisions to them both, and Arneson repeatedly avowed his faith in their imminent publication to his friends, even as late as October 1976, but they simply never materialized. As of the summer of 1975, TSR had announced both as forthcoming titles in the third Strategic Review.” Clearly TSR planned to publish the games, but Arneson’s projects stagnated, frustrating Gygax. By September, Arneson routinely left TSR offices at lunch to work afternoons at his apartment. Despite the time away from shipping, he produced virtually nothing for TSR. Before long, he and the company started squabbling over unexcused time away.

    In November, Arneson resigned from TSR. He and Gygax drew battle lines over their creation. Arneson argued that D&D stemmed from his essential ideas. He planned a company and roleplaying game to rival TSR and D&D.

    Copyright law sided with Gygax, the author who penned the game’s rules. He planned a new Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which he presented as a completely different game, free of any royalty obligations to Arneson. Their war for hearts and minds extended to convention appearances and magazine interviews. The creators fought in shareholder meetings and in courtrooms. Reaching a settlement would take years.

    While Arneson battled for credit and royalties on one front, Gygax fought with TSR on multiple fronts.

    In 1979, a 16-year-old college student named Dallas Egbert disappeared from his dorm at Michigan State University. His parents hired a publicity-seeking private detective named William Dear to find the boy. The investigator blamed D&D for Ebert’s disappearance and his lurid speculation stormed to the national news. By the time Egbert turned up safe, few were paying attention. (See The Media Furor that Introduced the “Bizarre Intellectual Game” of Dungeons & Dragons to America.)

    Even as Gygax and TSR staff fought to clear up negative myths about the game, the publicity drove a sales boom. “At the beginning of 1981, no ceiling for sales of Dungeons & Dragons was in sight: the game was like a magic item that relentlessly generated gold.”

    The gold rush inspired a spending spree: The Blume’s added much of their extended family to the payroll. In 1982, TSR funded an effort to raise a shipwreck from Lake Geneva and announced sponsorship of the U.S. Bobsled Team. “It would be a year of lavish gestures like this, of a company spinning virtually out of control. Events piled on events so rapidly that its management structures simply had no way to manage them. It ensured the foundering of the company Gygax and Blume had created in 1975.”

    By 1983 the bubble burst, leaving D&D sales stagnant. Weary of battling the Blumes over business decisions, Gygax left Wisconsin to live in a Los Angeles mansion that cost TSR $10,000 a month, $25,000 adjusted for inflation. To be fair, the D&D movie Gygax hoped to produce could renew TSR’s growth, but to the gaming industry, the move looked like a retreat to an opulent lifestyle in Hollywood.

    Game Wizards wraps in 1985, with TSR on the brink of bankruptcy, but Gygax back from Hollywood and poised to take sole control of the company from the Blume family. By then a new player, Lorraine Williams, had entered the game. As granddaughter of the original publisher of Buck Rogers, Williams brought wealth plus experience licensing intellectual property. Gygax interested her in making the investment TSR needed to avoid bankruptcy.

    Before Gygax could take full control over TSR, Williams made other plans. “‘Gygax and I were not talking very much during the time because we had very fundamental differences,’ she would remark. Furthermore, informing Gygax that she intended to purchase the Blume family shares would be, as she put it, ‘an invitation for him to get in and just try to screw it up, and to once again try to thwart the ability of the Blumes to sell their stock and to get out and to go about their lives.’” Williams purchased a controlling interest in TSR and forced its founder out.

    In Game Wizards Peterson reveals the conflict with a turn-by-turn account played over years. It makes a story as riveting as any yarn played out at the D&D game table.

    Related: The time Dungeons & Dragons split into two games

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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