Monday, December 30, 2013

Dungeon of Signs Muses About the Underdark

“The Brother Lords of the Faith of Light are great, and through their will they brought the lands of man to the Light at the end of the Age of Awakening.  All corruption was cast down, all false idols toppled and all brought forward to bask in the sun.  Those men and women that had served dark gods and false masters were given choice, all wise and all just, as the Brother Lords are great.  Many the of the unbeliever were wroth with these generous choices, and had to be forced to kneel.  The armies of the Light committed no wrongs though they were firm in leading the unbeliever from sin.  The choices given were as always the righteous three: repent and be cleansed to rise again in the Light,  Take the mark of service and the mark of the unbeliever to rise again in the Light after a life of instruction and repentance, take up the arms of the Light to live and die in the Brother Lords service, finding repentance as a warrior against the evil.  Because the soul of humanity shines with bravery and Light, even that of the unbeliever, many chose the last, yet at the end of the age there were no dark empires remaining unhumbled in error, and the armies of the Light were swollen with glory.

Bruegel - Underworld or Triumph of Death or Something
The blessing of bravery and the gift of the Brother Lords was not wasted, so wise were the pontiffs, and so wise their decrees.  Those newly grasping the arms of Light were sent into the deepest darkness of the underworld to bring Light there, so that the world could be cleansed from the heavens to the root.  There was much struggle in the deeps and many were given to rise again in Light.” – From the Chronicle of the 356th child of the Light, a work of commentary on the scriptures of the Brother Lords, published in the final years of the Age of Awakening.

So I just reviewed D3-Vault of the Drow, and as a result was asked by Brendan at Necropraxis what an underdark campaign would look like these days. Over at False Machine much work has already been perfected (really it’s amazing stuff) on what procedurally generating an Underdark would look like, so I’m not going into that. The above bit of mock serious doggerel would be the player handout for my Underdark campaign.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review - D3 – Vault of the Drow

Lloth from D3
Written in 1978 by Gygax himself, and marked by his meticulous writing style, love of serious warnings about how hard things will be and gimping of certain spells, Vault of the Drow is pretty iconic. It's also pretty good, though better if one views it as a campaign source book then any sort of linear adventure module.

The first chunk of the module (continuing the D series methods) is a hex crawl through tunnels and caves, using a nodal map and geomorphs for random encounter areas. This is a lot of content in a little space, and it’s a solid way to do it. No keyed locations, but several tables of encounters. Unfortunately these encounters show a limited and minimalist understanding of what a random encounter can be. All the encounters are with monsters, and while some are Drow merchant caravans which are well detailed with giant pack lizards, evocative cargo, and slave lines, nothing really jumps out to provide atmospherics or wonderment one would like from wandering the underworld. Still this is an excellent hex crawl to cram into a few pages, and seems like the solid basis for the module. While it’s a bit odd that almost every monster in the random encounter table is Drow aligned, I suppose that this could be a cool feature, indicating the control and power of the evil elves underground empire.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Occurrences Beneath the Dungeon Moon

The Great and Powerful Human Spirit Protect me from the wrath and clutching hands of the unworthy and false creatures that have claim divinity and dominion, for I am now a Godkiller. May my Sisteraunt, Fleesin NoHells, anointed speaker against the alleged gods, confirm this statement and ratify our acts as correct within the eyes of the spirit of humankind, which resides within all.

 – Makepeace NoHells, ‘Paladin of No Gods’, upon his return to the surface from the last foray beneath the surface of the Dungeon Moon.

The exploration of the Dungeon Moon has continued a fair bit since last the deeds of the town of Stockton’s adventurous youth were recorded, some have died, and some prospered.  All have witnessed the depraved wonders of the Motherless Warlock and his cabal of sorcerers.  Notable events are related as follows, pieced together from the stories told by the returning band.
Killsin NoHells, henchwoman and 1st level cleric
of atheism
“A pack of stunted creatures, orange and wizened, with enormous side whiskers have been encountered along the street of slumbering villas. The creatures, who call themselves the ‘Kobalds’ were impressed when the band of Stockton explorers spoke to them peaceably and then battled a strange and frightful creature at the gate of their compound.  The fantastical beast, referred to whimsically by the rusticated Kobalds as “A Horse That Thinks He’s a Spider”, spewed webbing and bit with envenomed fangs, but was dispatched due to the skill and ferocity of Stockton’s own sons.  A gift of meat earned much respect and valuable directions from the Kobald compound.”
“Also among the slumbering villas a trove of several paintings was recovered.  These depict many exciting scenes, and strange personages from the world of green grass and can be seen at the old grange hall where they are on exhibit for the price of a single silver penny or one jot of strong drink. Younger patrons are advised to bring an elder to explain the strange landscapes depicted within the works.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

D20 Random Lunatic Hermits

Recently I got to thinking about Death frost Doom again, specifically as a representative of a definitive OSR (No I don't know what 'OSR' means) product that plays well on an 80's D&D ruleset (or retro-clone, whatever) but is nothing like an 80's D&D module.  I've been reading some of those things lately - and am still fuming about the apparently beloved "Pharaoh - I4" (which takes a cliched setting so brimming with life and reduces it to a limp grey ghoul confusedly wandering a 10' x 10' room).  Death Frost Doom is not without places to tweak and reskin it to make it better, and it may demand a bit much from a GM (or play testing has shown that it's end game isn't as final as the author originally believed so some additional material would be helpful), but it's a great little adventure well worth dropping on any sandbox map. 

One of the best parts of Death Frost Doom is the mad hermit who cajoles and warns the adventurers to steer clear of the haunted mountain.  Zeke (the hermit) is a bit dubious and might be scary to you or me (though not to the pack of money crazed sociopaths that make up most adventuring parties), but he is no liar.  Avoid the scary mountain and survive!  the problem with Zeke is that he's a give away for Death Frost Doom (also reskin the cottage and tooth door), and well informed players will run when they see his untanned hide wearing figure stumbling down an icy path.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


I4 - cover art, this has promise - it's a lie

Don't go into the desert of boring, you'll choke to death on the blandness. - Should have been the tagline, not “Lazy mists, deep blue wind, desert night”. The night and desert thing, that’s not a bad start to an adventure – and I3 – Pharaoh is a desert adventure, which is the best I can say for it. Pharaoh is from 1982, when adventure design seems to have been heading away from the sandbox and towards Curse of the Azure Bonds and Dragonlance Adventures. I figured I’d give it a read, because ASE’s Land of 1,000 towers has a lot of desert, or green sanded radioactive wastes, and not everything can be a dragon’s desolation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Silent Perils of the Crystal World

The maniacs, they blew it up and were damned.

The world (or at least this vast expanse of it) is sick, silent and perfect.  Everything is now crystal, tinkling leaves on trees with trunks like cut glass, and shattered plains of broken fragments. Nothing can live among the majority of this beautiful ruin, though here places capable of supporting life endure.

Use the table below for any hex where you wish to emphasize that wizards did something stupid. Roll a D10 or D12 if your world is completely dead and a D20 if maybe some desperate holdouts still cling to terrible, miserable existence.

Friday, December 20, 2013

ASE - Onward to the Obelisk - Play Report

ASE SESSION B 1 – Return to Mt. Rendon

The Party
Mungo Stroot – CL 2
Jane Dill – IIL 2
Raymond ‘Numbers’ Gamma – SCI 2
 ‘Bee Bot’ – ROB 1
Darth Acne – MU 1 (necromancer)
Yana of Cithras – CL 1

After spending a few weeks going about their own business in the newly booming town of   Grain doesn’t grow in the mold patches of Chemfoldshire and the demands of the Certopsian  War to the South East have meant that grain shipments to the new brewery are frequently getting hijacked by troops, including mercenary bands and private militia heading to the front.

In Denethix Mungo can’t even get a meeting before the magistrates and the Boards of Proper Apportionment won’t honor most of the brewery’s scrip for refund as they are on the wrong form or misspelled.  A clerk suggests that Mungo and his business partners retain a lawyer to travel with each grain shipment to make sure that the brutish mercenaries and angry Unyielding Fist Sarjents fill out the right paperwork.  With this setback Mungo wanders into a nice bar near the Street of students and begins to realize that the life of a business priest is perhaps less certain and more cutthroat then wandering into the darkened lairs of eldritch horrors from ‘before time’.   He soon meets up with his old nemesis/adventuring companion Ray ‘Numbers’ and finds the scientist equally glum, as his reports on opening the subsurface environment were received only with threats from Ray’s advisor who wanted to know about the secret entrance and where the gold Ray had found was, far more then he wanted to hear Ray’s theories about subsurface life cycles and robot ghosts.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I wade into the greatest OSR fight ever, several years late

Sacrilege! Shame! The center cannot hold! Madness! Rioting neckbeards! Muderous halflings!

Look at that flat affect, he'll use that blowgun on you in a second.

I think I will adopt ascending AC.  I am bad at math, ascending AC is easier to figure for me then THAC0.  I’ve never seen any real debate here and I’ve enjoyed using ascending in some games recently.  How to convert seems to be the biggest issue.  Nothing new really said below, notes to show my players mostly. Still I feel it's a decent discussion of my personal conversion story to ascending AC.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Finchbox Play Report II - A tower of moleratmen

Back to the old wizard tower, looking for plunder and violence.  It’s not as if there’s much else to be done – a few caves, and old lightning shrouded temple (which a few of the companions from last time were lost to), some kind of stone circle that eats religious men – but really for a curious redcap like Scabgrinder, there’s nothing like exploring deeper into the cracked and crumbled ruins of the wizard’s tower. It’s not really the money the items recovered from the tower, though money buys drink and more metal, it the sense that one is changing the behavior of other thinking things.  As a root, one doesn’t have much chance to do this, maybe try to choke the neighboring root where it gets in the way of one’s expansion, but that’s rather intimate – tendrils grasping in the dark and squeezing for months or years.  The world of men is changed by a casual and distant word – every action can be like a brush fire, rewriting the landscape in a moment.

B4 - The Lost City - Review

B4 – The Lost City

A classic module of the golden age of D&D, Written by Moldvay in 1982 for Red Book (it says so itself) Basic D&D. There is something pleasant about B4 because of its origin, as it’s clearly written with youthful players in mind (the glossary for exciting dungeon terms like “niche” for example [Aside: I sometimes wonder if the use of certain archaic words in D&D has changed the frequency of these words in popular usage since]), and ultimately, while B4 has many troubles, there’s an endearing spirit to the adventure that makes it worth reading. It seeks to encourage, even requires, a great deal of imagination and dungeon building by the GM, and while I think this is a noble intent for an introductory product, it is a weakness in a published dungeon when one is looking for either a drop in location or something to fill out specifics, such as traps and set encounters (the reasons I use published modules).
The Art is kinda great as well - the giant headed bald guy keeps appearing
While Lost city is labeled B4, it’s a tighter and less sprawling adventure then B1(search for the unknown) or B2(Keep on the Borderlands), yet without the narrow focus of B3 (Silver Princess). Some might find this enough to stop reading, B4 is no sandbox, it’s a dungeon adventure that makes some weak gestures at a sandbox in the end.  Indeed, these weak gestures, and the typical poor monster placement of products from its era, are B4’s biggest flaws. The better elements of the adventure are its excellent traps and a certain spirit worth emulating.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Backstory and Adventure Design

So I read a lot of reviews on Ten Foot Pole, and am pretty familiar with Mr. Lynch's standards over there – especially his overwhelming hatred of backstory, boxed text and excessive plot. I largely agree with these sentiments.   Read aloud text for example is a way published adventures make players tune out, and a way antagonistic GM conceal “gotcha!" traps or encounters. Likewise, excessive plot leads to railroads where clumsy efforts to make PCs act in certain ways that the players don’t want their avatars to act frustrate everyone. Background is often a waste of space and GM time in published adventures especially when it makes it hard to incorporate them into one’s own game. Yet, on background I have some contrary observations.  Specifically,  my players seem to want background, and I have been thinking about how to introduce it into play, but more to what extent background is useful in a product.

Makes a great Dungeon...
but don't make me watch all of Starblazers to run it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Simplified HMS APOLLYON or OD&D gun rules.

Below are draft rules for firearms that I would use for HMS APOLLYON or any similar reasonably high lethality game based on a Basic/Expert or more specifically OD&D (whitebox) system.  I have only dealt with small arms below, but crew served weapons such as heavy machine guns and artillery have their own, very deadly, rules that I will detail in a future post.

My aim is to make firearm rules that provide some advantages to guns, but limit them in other ways so they don't come to dominate player's weaponry.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

D100 Random "Minor" Science Fantasy Treasures

Below is a list of randomly generated "minor treasure" for the South of Denethix, where the Tombs of the Rocketmen and Obelisk of Forgotten Memories can be found. I like this sort of list because it provides random treasure for unexpected encounters, with a great variety.  Generally putting some odd valuable objects in place and then some coinage where appropriate is more fun then using classic treasure tables.

In addition to description and value I have included two other columns. Weight and fragility. Weight is based on the LOTFP "significant item" rules, and the modifications of that play are increasingly common in the games I've been playing.  A character may carry 1 significant item for every point of Strength. Exceeding that limit means the character is encumbered and cannot act normally. Fragile helps determine the possibility of the item being destroyed if it is dropped suddenly, caught in a fireball, or otherwise subject to destructive force.

100 science fantasy treasures on the table below.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Map - just a map

Was thinking about buried vaults from before the collapse of a Science Fantasy Society and what great dungeons they might make.  Below is a small one I call Shelter Antere.  We have nuke plants and robot repair stations, a dome of green crops (or not if the light went out) and plenty of space to fill with undead, mutants, ghouls, upstanding citizens or degenerate horrors.

As a map I am not so sure. I added too much fiddly detail I think - in the engineering sections and medical sections only.

Level One - is an Engineering shop section, and there's even an abortive escape tunnel.  I'd run this as a mutiny, trapping the vault closed behind the door to this upper section, where no one survived to let the majority of the dwellers out once the safety interlocks allowed outdoor access.

Level Two - Administration, Security and Medical/Carniculture around a central growing area with artificial lake.

Level Three - On the right, living quarters, on the left reactor and robot shops.  One might note a lack of supply rooms.  This is because the large covered pit leads to a robotic supply pit, an acre of dusty crates superintended by angry robots (or maybe balrogs, because that's what happens when you dig too deep).

Well something like that at least. I mean most likely it's filled with radiation ghouls and insane AIs anyhow.  I note (as referenced in the comments with Garrison James of Heriticworks) that this dungeon is full of choke points and has very little in the way of alternate routes.  Some would suggest this makes a bad dungeon map.  This was drawn on a whim, and as is my way, drawn with an effort to make something logical and organic (i.e. things are in the space that make sense).  Yet this is unsatisfying - as a dungeon map.  If one were to fill this with vault dweller of any intelligent variety, it would be unassailable by a party unless they had a few area effect attacks at least (and the vault dwellers didn't).  Could be good still for undead - or robo undead, which is sort of the science fantasy variant, along with plain old robots.  Anyhow it's a map.  I bet the initial population of the vault was somewhere in the 25 - 50 range - too small really.  I kind of envision it as a private vault built for a pack of rich folk.  This of course seems like it would be the perfect set up to devolve into necromancy or ghoul packs.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Finchbox Play Report - Session 1 - A Tower was Crumbled.

Scab Grinder. A Red Cap

Below is the bragging story of Scab Grinder, about his exploration, with several other destitute wanderers and castoffs, of the newly fallen tower of Grimsgate's lord protector .  The Scab Grinder is a forest spirit that stumbled into Grimsgate recently.  The entity seemed harmless enough, and since the lords are vanished and the capital has fallen, there is no one to say it should be driven back into the woods. Worse there is no one to drive the foul intrusion of the magical back into the woods,but it seems willing and even delighted to do menial labor (especially butchering) for table scraps and stale beer. Scab Grinder is a Red Cap, a twisted elemental brute of animate burl and root that crudely copies the ways of man.  As a PC Scab Grinder is a Lvl 1 dwarf played in Brendan’s “Finchbox” inaugural session.  He acquitted himself well, but did little besides acting as a guinea pig for gasses and spotting hidden doors.

There was sun above the rich earth, and the vibrations of the people below, the questing touch of growing things.  This was.  Then there was movement and the light of sun amongst the forest, and it was good to be inside the growing thing.  Time existed and also self.  Self begat knowledge of that outside self, and such knowledge is not quickly found standing still.  The ambition for more knowledge of the world cannot be served by standing alone in the deep dappled woods.  That is how the root wandered.  The root found others and others were different then the root, softer and loud, calling themselves men.  The root took a name, Scab Grinder, as those were in the words of the others and sounded strong. Scab Grinder was brought most powerful sensations in the test of the Root’s form against those of men.  Squashing, pulping and looking at their inner workings – such color, worthy of a hat for Scab Grinder.  Still ambition demands more than simply wandering the woods and crushing the men found there, dipping his hat in the red water that runs from their still forms.