Monday, November 30, 2009

Real Life vs. Fantasy Life....

Real life always wins.

It looks like our campaign sessions may be on hold for the moment. We may get one more game in before the year's end. If not, we'll be rolling into next year and that's fine. We've been rolling the dice pretty well considering everyone's eternally tight schedules, but with the holidays coming in and other celebratory events, this time of year tends to get a bit hectic for all. I'll keep posting other tasty gaming bits in the meantime. And for those who have been following the exploits of our intrepid souls, sit tight, as their suspended adventures will continue in a brief while.

This all brings me to a finer point of gaming, and that is whether to end a session in mid-game or get the players back to a town.

I've always been of a mindset to let the game just be. If the session happens to end while the characters are deep below the surface of the earth, the game is suspended with the characters and events frozen in time until the next session begins. No resources are used up, no hit points gained for rest, it would be just like putting down a novel and picking it back up again and continuing reading where you left off. I like that concept. It adds a continuity to the developments of the campaign. That also may have worked when my players and I were all 12 years old, but as adults and with all the complexities that brings, it may not be the most practical method at this juncture.

In the situation mentioned above, if a player(s) can't make a session, then what to do? It is ashame to continue on without a player being there controlling his/her character. I enjoy having all my players at the table. They all have a good chemistry together and each one brings something unique to the game.

The GM can run that person's character, but the GM already has too much to keep track of.

So maybe it is best to begin and end a session in a 'safe zone'. Once in that 'safe zone', life goes on in the game, resources used up, wounds healed as one day of real time passes as game time. If the next session begins with a player missing, that player's character can stay in town or guard camp, etc. It does open up some more flexibility when players indeed do have to miss a session. It may be a little bit more contrived getting the characters in and out of an adventure than I would like, but perhaps in today's busy adult world, that may be a pretty good option.

I'll have to give it some thought and maybe bounce it to my players as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Play A Retro Clone?

This question has come up recently for me. It is, indeed, a valid question and has been in the back of my mind for a while now. Why play a retro-clone over the original game of Dungeons & Dragons when you still own the original OOP rules or can purchase them online?

For me, the Retro Clones brought back an excitement and gaming philosophy that lead me into the game in the first place. The revisions, presentations and community of these 'new' rules pulled me in.

It would be a tough argument to say that the original OD&D rules were written in a clear, concise manner. There was a lot of ambiguity and contradiction in those original rules. I'm not saying that that was a terrible thing but instead of just clarifying those original rules, they were rewritten into the 1ed Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide, which in my opinion, was a complication of the game and lead us down the path to the rules-intense versions of the game that are out today. Holmes did a pretty good job of editing the OD&D game into something that was an presentation improvement in his 'basic' version of the game.

Now, I felt that Moldvay's basic rules improved upon the layout and explication of the Holmes rules but I always felt the writing was geared more towards children. Even though I was young at the time, I still read from the Holmes rules, more because of the way it was written than anything else. I didn't need the writing to be 'dumbed' down, I needed the rules to be clarified.

The retro-clones do just that. They are well written 'revisions' of the original rules keeping the original philosophies and concepts of the original intentions of the game alive. Things are left open enough for the GM and players to adapt the game to their vision and style.

Sure I can still play using my original rules and you can play those rules how you like, but I also feel that Retro Clones are a good way to step out of the weight of what D&D was and had became without having to get into any arguments or issues. My players have all played different versions of the games from Holmes basic all the way up through 4ed, but now we're all just playing S&W. No arguing, no expectations just good gaming fun.

Many version of the Clones can be obtained as free PDF downloads. You and your players don't have to spend a lot of money buying volume upon volume of rules just to sit down and play a game. That, alone, can bring new players into classic RPGs. And with WOTC pulling their pdf files of the OOP material, obtaining copies of those publications can be difficult and expensive.

I feel the game was meant to be fun, quick-paced and concise and these various rules do just that. It's really all just that same game but the clones have gotten me back into playing the game once more. And we've got 6 players now and more want to play. Anything that brings new players in or old players back is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Level 1 Gamer Gains A Level!

Corey Bishop, a regular player in my campaign, has a blog called Level 1 Gamer. It covers his new introduction to the RPG hobby so he has a pretty interesting and fresh perspective on gaming. His current post is about his experience with our Swords & Wizardry Campaign. It's a good read and his analysis is spot on. Check it out.

And Speaking of Wizards....

Okay, this is a shameless plug for some of the gaming material that put out under IndieOnly and The Warlock's Home Brew. These are useful gaming aids to add to your gaming table and great for players and GameMasters alike to flip through.

Book of Wizardry
Give your players this hands on Spell Book for their Spell-casting characters. Compiled from the existing spell descriptions in the classic-style fantasy RPG Swords & Wizardry Core Rules by Matt Finch.

Book of the Divine
But why stop with wizards? You don't want your players casting spells of divine intervention to be left out? This book of divine spells are for Cleric or Druid characters. Also compiled from the existing spell descriptions in the fantasy RPG Swords & Wizardry Core Rules and Supplemental Lore by Skathros.

Both books are available as a free pdf download from or as Lulu's print on demand booklet from The Warlock's Home Brew Lulu store.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Magic User House far

(Reader's Note: Sorry about the revisions to this post. I was trying to get the table to work properly. I'm still figuring out this google blog thingy.)

The concept of 'game balance' these days is a bit foreign to me. I have always pictured campaigns as being open ended, a bit deadly and characters of all skill levels running around. A low level character stumbling into an encounter too challenging for them just made the game more 'realistic' for me.

When I was younger (like around 10 years old) and first introduced to the game, Magic-Users were always a bit tricky to figure out. They tended to play a very, very minor roll in my childhood games. Now days, I'm a bit more fascinated by them and their powerful magic.

Wizards, who start out incredibly weak at first, evolve into the mighty arcane casters we are familiar with. So in working magic-users into my campaign I wanted to keep that characteristic in place also, I've always liked the spell book for wizards; thick old tomes filled with mystic runes and characters, so that was, for sure, staying.

My house-rule magic-users are nothing ground-breaking, but I kinda like the general sketch of them. I may evolve things over time but this is where I'm at now. I've added some of the Holmes' elements to it as well.

The Magic-user begins his trade as a graduated apprentice and a number of spells that he has knowledge of from his studies. Additional spells can be studied or discovered through adventure. A Magic-user's spells are recorded in a large heavy tome . Any new spell that a magic-user wants to know has a chance of being knowable or unknowable. Any spell that is unknowable cannot be added to the Magic-users spell book.

Intelligence of MU

% Chance to know any given spell

Minimum number of initial spells known

Maximum spells known per level.

































The apprentice magic-user 'graduates' with his minimum number of spells as per the rule, with one having to be Read Magic. The player can choose what those spells he/she wants (or random roll) from the first level spell list to complete the minimum. Thus, a higher intelligence apprentice graduates his education with with a larger repertoire. Of course, the apprentice can still only can memorize but a single spell per day. After he graduates, he is on his own. Only adventure and self-study will gain him additional spells.

These rules place some limitation on the magic-user's power, but there are ways to partially overcome them. One way is to have the spell written on on a magic scroll. Magic-users may make a scroll of a spell they already 'know' (have in their spellbook) at a cost of 100 gp and 1 week's work for each spell level.

The gold spent in this process counts towards experience (I'll be talking more about experience a future post).

Copying other spells from another spellbook or scroll into your spellbook: First you must cast Read Magic to be able to decipher the magical writing. Then you must spend a day studying the spell. Then at the end of the day you must make your know spell percentage roll. If you succeed, then you understand the spell and can copy it into your spellbook. The process leaves a spellbook that was copied from unharmed, but a spell successfully copied from a magic scroll disappears from the parchment.

If the check fails, the wizard cannot understand or copy the spell. He/she cannot attempt to learn or copy that spell again until another level is gained. A spell that was being copied from a scroll does not vanish from the scroll.

It is recommended that a Magic-user not bring his spellbook with him on his adventures. The book is quite heavy and very costly to replace. but it is up to the MU to decide if he would risk it being stolen or ruined. Now, if he wants to make a copy of his book that he can carry with him, he can, but it will cost him in terms of gold and time. 1000gp and 1 weeks work for each spell/level. If the spellbook is lost or destroyed the magic-user can try to recreate his original spells as per the creation spell rule below but has an additional 5% chance of success per character level.

My other addition would be that if a MU never runs across a spell he would like to have, he can research or create a new spell. The first attempt would cost the 2000gp per spell level and 1 week. After that week, we see if he can know the spell, if so, he has a 20% chance of success. If not, time and money lost. If he can know the spell but failed his success, he can try again with an additional cumulative 10% on each attempt.

I may evolve this a bit as time goes on but this is the foundation that I'm working from. I saw a really good article in Knockspell #2 by Brendan Falconer called Spell Complexity which gives the MU character odds of keeping the spell in his mind after casting. I like that as well but haven't applied it to the game yet.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Remember when saturday morning cartoons kicked ass? Well, here's a real treat for you so go grab your bowl of cereal and kick-back!

Korgoth of Barbaria - Pilot

June|Bug | MySpace Video

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fantasy Friday

For Fantasy Friday today we have a very special treat. Over at Ninja Mountain Scrolls there is a great podcast featuring an extended interview with TSR artists Erol Otus and Jeff Easley. Also at the virtual table is artist Stefan Poag and Goodman Games.

It's a great listen as they chat about creating the illustrations for classic D&D material and talk a bit about gaming, TSR, the old school movement and Swords & Wizardry.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Monster: Crypt Crawler

I've never created new monsters for my games. I've always been content with the stock of creatures from the various rulebooks and manuals. But as I've learned to become more flexible with the rules of the game I've learned to use the rules as a guideline to create the type of game that I want to run.

Since running a game with a more pulpy feel was my intention, I wanted to de-emphasize some of the more high-fantasy elements of the game. I wanted to add a creepier critter that can replace the standard Goblin in terms of monster challenge (not that I won't have hoards of goblins on my players tail from time to time) so I came up with the Crypt Crawler, which my players christened the Crotch-Goblin.

CRYPT CRAWLERS (also known as Crotch-Goblins by seasoned adventurers)
These 4 foot tall, thin yet quite strong cave dwellers with ash grey skin live in complete darkness and use sound to “see”. They communicate with a series of clicks and screeches. Their faces are completely eyeless with but a large toothy mouth. Crypt Crawlers scavenge and hunt in packs. They attack twice with their claws but may leap onto a victim and try to bite them. They eat the decayed flesh off the bones of corpses but are vicious and prefer to eat fresh flesh.

Crypt Crawlers/Crotch Goblins:
HD: 1d6; AC 9[10]; Atk 2 claws 1d3 or Atk 1 bite 1d6; Move 12; Save 18; CL/XP B10; Special: After 2 successful claw attacks in the same round will cling to victim and bite.

My Players Are Awesome!

Okay, this is just too great to not share.

Mike Moran, (Kirby Toth Dude) who plays Wolfheir in our Swords & Wizardry campaign doodles up a drawing commentary of the game as we play. It's crazy, every time I look up from behind the screen he's got, like, seven more figures drawn on his sketch pad. I've known him for a while and he's a great guy and great artist.

Mike sent me these scans of the drawings from our sessions and he was kind enough to give me permission to display these quick doodles here in this post. I'll update the campaign commentaries with the images as well. I hope he continues doing this as I think it brings a great element to our gaming table. A big thanks to Mike for sending them to me. When you get a chance, check out Mike's about Classic Comic Art.

Again, my players are awesome. They've had just as much input in creating this adventure as I have and I appreciate their creativity and enthusiasm at the table. These are great guys and I'll have to chat more about them later.

Now, if only Clay (Gedleesmote) would send me his images of the Dwarven Coin Lords....hint....hint.

Our party from session 2 in after they ran into some spiders and discovered a wardrobe with some shrunken heads.

Slick Vinny getting smacked-down by a Zombie in Session 3

Meeting up with the wizard in the tower - session 3

Our party of fool hardy adventurers. Notice that Gedleesmote is carrying the carpets, monkey cage and severed heads. "Everything is loot!"

Tibag leaping over the city wall to escape the town watch. Session4

Wolfheir and Gedleesmote preparing to ambush their tail who turned out to be Tibag.

Arvin wasting the lone pirate - session 4.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Beneath the Tower of Zenopus: Session IV

...of severed heads and carousing and more mysteries beneath the tower.
(quick campaign doodles by Mike Moran)

Session 4 began with the party cleaning up their loot in the ground level of the tower and then heading back to town to sell their gains and recover their wounds. At the main gate, they were stopped by the town watch, who found the party suspicious being bloodied and carrying around two severed heads.

The party mentioned that they found the missing Capt. Conik beneath the tower. The watch guards called over Sgt. Morak accompanied by three other guards. Morak questioned the party but didn't believe their story and thought them vagabonds and highway men robbing and murdering traveling merchants. Gedleesmote recounted their battle with the wizard and ape and told the Sergeant that there would be remains of the the battle back in the tower as proof of their story. Arvin also mentioned that he was a follower of Mithra and that the head priest of Mithra would vouch for the party. One guard was sent to the temple of Mithra to gather the head priest, Father Halford while Sgt. Morak and two guards made their way to the tower to seek out the evidence that would exonerate the party. The other two guards gave the party water but to Skwanky's disappointment, no food. The party also noticed that little Jack, the stableboy, had slipped away.

After a while, Sgt. Morak returned and denied that he saw any evidence of battle or of a ship off shore and ordered the party to drop their weapons to be arrested. The party quickly came to the conclusion that Sgt. Morak was now somehow involved in the disappearance of Lord Osric's daughter but being worn out and wounded were at his mercy. Gedlee and Wolfheir cause a commotion by getting into a scuffle with each other. As the Guards tried to break it up, Tibag made a dash for it but fails to break past the guards and instead climbs up and over the wall into the city. Morak sends two of the watch after Tibag just as the other watchman returns with Father Halford.

The priest questions his follower Arvin and vouches for the character of the party. Father Halford vows to be responsible for them and will answer directly to Lord Osric. Sgt. Morak begrudgingly submits.

Once at the First Temple of Mithra Reform, the party is healed (for a donation) and fills Father Halford in on the events. The priest tells them that Capt. Conik is of good character and couldn't possibly be involved in Osric's daughter's disappearance for he loves dearly the maiden. Father Halford asks Arvin and his companions to find out more about the goings on beneath the ruined tower and to protect the city of Caladan while he goes to speak with Lord Osric.

The party leaves the sanctuary and proceeds to sell their found items at Master Bringham's Curiosities. After dividing up their treasures, the members goes their separate ways. Skwanky heads over the the Black Anvil to purchase some halfling sized plate armor, Arvin heads back to the Rolled Scroll to have a wand identified and meets Aelyina, daughter of Arvik, and Gedleesmote and Wolfheir head over to Willy the Tanner to get some snakeskin boots made from the remains of the giant snake they killed earlier. Drunk Willy, the best boot maker in all of Caladan, offers the adventures a glass of his homemade hooch.

Heading back to the Cloven Hoof, they run into a cloaked Tibag and the three began to spend their gains on wine, women and song and a night of carousing. Skwanky is quite fine with a tasty meal from the inn and polishing his newly acquired armor and Arvin heads back to the Holy Temple of Mithra. Slick Vinny retired up to a room to begin his long studies of the books that he has found in the dungeons.

In the morning, a very hungover Wolfheir the Viking meets up with the rest of the party in the Cloven Hoof. Gedleesmote lost a bundle the night before gambling the night away and is now indebted to some shady characters. Jessi, the barmaid, asks the party if they have seen Jack the stableboy and they say that they haven't. They promise to keep an eye out for him and head out, once again, to the tower ruins.

Back at the ruins they find that there are two city watchmen standing guard. The guards were placed there by Sgt. Marak who went down beneath the tower with a couple of other guardsmen. The two watchmen are having their suspicions of Morak's motives and state that Capt. Conik is a good man and find it hard to believe that he would be tangled up in any schemes against Osric and the city of Caladan. One of the watchmen decide to accompany the party below the tower to see what Morak may be up to.

Entering the ruined tower, the party brings the guard upstairs to see the remains of the battle fought. Sure enough, the bloody evidence is plain as day. Sgt. Morak was indeed lying.

Descending the stairs, the party, along with the watchman Tero, is once again below the tower and in the room with the black alter. Gedleesmote drags down his handcart to load up on loot while Tibag tries to discover the secret door. He is unable to do so and the party leaves through the west door. Coming down the hall towards them is a pirate carrying a sword and candle. After a brief exchange about meeting in a cavern, Tibag fires an arrow, hitting the pirate. The wounded pirate turns and runs for the door, dropping his candle. Gedleesmote, in hot pursuit bursts into the room and sees the pirate desperately trying to feeling up a statue in the center of the room. Gedleesmote swings at the pirate who blocks the attack in a desperate maneuver causing the dwarf to tumble to the ground. Arvin rushes in and splatters the pirate's skull.

Exploring the room they find 4 doors, one on either wall. Tibag discovers that the statue pivots on it's base which unlocks each of the doors. After much debate on which way to proceed, searching for the cavern which the pirate mentioned or avoiding any confrontation and just continue exploring the catacombs, it was decided to head through the south door to seek out the watery entrance to the caves.

Extinguishing their light, Tibag journeys down the hallway, alone. He finds that the passage continues south but to the east is a door. Listening to the door he hears running water. The party opens a door and enters a large chamber with a wide river running through it. Sipping water at the river's edge and now alerted to the party are three cave crawlers, thin grey-skinned, sharp clawed underground dwellers. They rush the party. Arvin and Wolfheir make quick work of the creatures but one leaps onto Tibags shoulders. Skwanky bonks the creature in the head with a stone and Gedleesmote finishes the creature off.

The party begins to explore the room.....

Another enjoyable evening, though Max had to leave early to pick up his wife from the airport. It just gave Slick Vinny a chance to study up on some magic. I felt there was a lot of good role-playing from all the players. Lots of laughs, as to be expected with this group!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Campaign Creation

Tonight will be the 4th session of my Swords & Wizardry sandbox campaign. I have a feeling that the players may be breaking out of the tiny area of play that they've been exploring in the previous sessions and I'm okay with that. After all, that is what the concept of sandbox gaming is all about. In fact, I want the players to define the direction of the game. Believe it or not, it seems to be a lot less work for the DM.

Campaign creation can be a daunting task, especially if you feel that in a sandbox campaign you have to have something created for every possible direction that the characters can take. I've learned that that doesn't have to be the case. As long as you are willing be flexible with your setting and situations and are comfortable with a bit of improvisation, you can let your players run wild. It's good to have a flexible rule system to be playing with to assist in making that happen, such as classic D&D or many of the Retro-Clones such as Swords & Wizardry, Basic Fantasy RPG, Labyrinth Lord or many others.

I'm sure that every Game Master has different methods and philosophies about designing their RPG settings and that's exactly what the core of the game is all about. With today's RPG communities online, you have more resources to help in your setting creation than ever before, many of it as free downloads and some an pay products.

I'll be covering some of my methods and sources for the creation of my sandbox campaign setting. It may not be the most jaw-dropping and mind-blowing of ideas but it's what I've found works for me and if anyone one on the interwebs finds any of this useful, than by all means take what you want and discard the rest. That's what it's here for.

Until then....Keep Those Dice Rollin'!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fantasy Friday

Instead of just sticking with art drawing for Fantasy Fridays, I'm expanding it a bit to include other imagery to get your old school pulp fantasy juices flowing. This week is the classic Golden Voyage of Sinbad. It's got more pulp fantasy than you can shake a 10 foot pole at. An evil sorcerer whose use of the dark arts drains his life essence (played with great gusto by Tom Baker), a barbaric cult living in the ruins of a much older temple, dark caves and traps, the voluptuous slave girl played by Caroling Munro and some of Harryhausen's best creations. It's actually quite dark at times.

This is, by far, my favorite Sinbad movie though they all have their iconic horrors. If you haven't seen this movie in a while, revisit it. It's amazing how close to classic D&D this film actually is.

My Grandmother use to take my brother and I to see these films and it's something that I'm very grateful for. These brilliant fantasy films obviously left quite an impression on me which wasn't lost when I first saw the Homes Basic D&D box cover.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On Death and Dying

Player Characters hitting zero hit points and dying is a very grim possibility for all those beloved 1st level characters. We've all been through it and when it happened, we simply rolled up a new character and rolled on.

Everybody has their own opinions and house-rules for death and dying and these are the ones that I'm currently using in my Swords & Wizardry campaign.

How I work character death is 0 hp is unconscious. The character bleeds out per round until they hit a negative number equal to their level + CON bonus (if any) to a maximum of -10. Then they're dead. It gives the PCs a little bit more of a chance while still leaving death as a possibility. That's how I'm playing it now, we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Beneath the Tower of Zenopus: Session III

..of carpets, apes and wizards!
(quick campaign doodles by Mike Moran)

This session saw the introduction of a new player, Zach, to our group playing Skwanky Furrytoe, the halfling fighter . So we are up to 6 players and myself. The dice rolled much more in the players favor than in previous sessions and they even walked away with a good handful of loot. This session took place entirely within the dungeon and had a bit more physical action, none of which limited any of the role-playing.

The players:

Arvin Ardmore - Acolyte of Mithra played by Corey
Gedleessmote Hammersend - Veteran Dwarf Warrior played by Clay
Wolfhier - Viking Veteran from the North played by Mike
Tibag Backstabber - Elf (half-elf) Rogue played by Brian
Slick Vinny - Human Medium played by Max
Skwanky Furrytoe - Halfling Veteran played by Zach
Jack (NPC) Stableboy, Torch-bearer
and a Mule.

Our last session left our party of intrepid adventures exploring an oddly furnished room beneath the ruined tower of Zenopus. Wolfhier was guarding the door they came in from, while the rest of the group looted the chamber. Gedleesmote rolled up the ornate carpet, while Arvin and Slick Vinny looted the bookshelves and writing desk. Tibag, while listening to the western door heard voices on the other side.

They debated a bit on what to do and soon decided to try to draw the occupants out. Everyone gathered along the walls by the door to surprise whomever was on the other side and Tibag cracked the door slightly to peer in. He saw another lit chamber and in the distance three unmoving figures. But the voices weren't coming from those figures, the voices were coming from a portion of the room around the corner from the door. He heard three distinct voices, murmuring about the city of Caladan, Lord Osric and the Merchant Guild, and a payment of sorts. The game is, indeed, afoot!

Tibag turns to tell his comrades just as the voices stop. Bursting into the door way was a burly Buccaneer in Chainmail wielding a sword! Slick Vinny, in an uncharacteristically not so slick manner, yells something about having the gold for the payment but the Buccaneer just calls them thieves and rushes in to attack. The stout dwarf Gidleesmote blocked the doorway and the two go at it while Tibag tried to get a couple of arrows off without hitting the dwarf. Wolfhier came rushing in to aid his companions. After a brief melee, the pirate lay dead and the dwarf near death. Arvin aids Gidlee with one of two healing potions he received from his order.

Upon entering the chamber expecting to confront more foes, the party finds a deserted room. Only three very lifelike stone statues (leaving the party to believe that there may be a Basilisk hovering around), a table full of alchemical equipment, a couple of chairs, a very large sack and a hanging tapestry. Tibag looks behind the tapestry for a door only to find a blank wall. Arvin and Vinny gathered the items on the table and found a scroll. Wolfhier guarded an open passage to the west while examining the statues when he heard a slow shuffling coming down the corridor. Seeing a sole Zombie and feeling frustrated in his lack of usefulness in combat, Slick Vinny grabbed a torch from the wall and rushed over to burn the creature. Surprisingly, the Zombie lashed out at the rushing wizard and deals him a devastating blow leaving him unconscious and very close to death! Wolfhier rushes the Zombie and decapitates it while Arvin uses the last of the healing potion bringing the Magic-user back from the brink!

While this is going on, Gidleesmote opens the sack to find a neat little halfling warrior who introduces himself as Skwanky Furrytoe. It seems that Skwanky had been drugged and shanghaied from the Green Dragon Inn and brought aboard a ship! After a couple of days in the hold, he was shoved into a sack (a very insulting predicament!), placed upon a small dingy and rowed to what sounded like a cave. He was dragged around until he ended up in this chamber with the three voices. The first had a thick accent from the southern Desert kingdoms, the second was more aristocratic and from Caladan, while the third didn't say much but was gruff, short and spoke in the dialect of a Buccaneer.

Not having the slightest clue to where he is at, Skwanky decides to join up with the party.

Tibag finds a hidden latch which opens a secret door. After Gedleesmote rolls up the tapestry along with his carpet the party enters the long narrow passageway which ends against a wall. Another search reveals another hidden door.

Beyond the door the behold a strange site. A lit circular room with a polished black solid stone alter in the center of carved runes on the floor. A stairwell spiraled up around the room to a hatch in the ceiling. Arvin examines the alter while the party moves up the stairs. Suddenly, a giant snake rises up from behind the alter and lunges at the cleric. A battle ensues and is ended when Wolfheir swinging with his battle axe split the snake's skull.

It appeared that the hatch was locked and after Tibag failed to open it, Wolfheir and Gedlee used their backs to bust open the hatch. In the round chamber above, they found a sparsly furnished living area, cooking pot, cot, etc. and a latched door leading outside. Another staircase lead upwards to another wooden hatch.

Climbing the stairs (while Skwanky searches the cooking pot for food) and coming to the trap door, Tibag opens it and pops his head in. Unbeknownst, to the rest of the party, the thief is put under a charm spell by the dark wizard in the room above and is whispered a command to get the others out of the tower. Tibag tries to pursued the party that there is nothing up there but an empty room and that they should just leave. The others know something is up with the thief but don't quite know what to do. This threw everybody into a confusion. Tibag wouldn't let anyone up the stairs.

Now wait, you're probably saying. I thought Tibag was an elf and is immuned to charm and sleep spells. I would say you are right, but it turns out that Tibag isn't a full fledged elf after all. It was a happy accident as that was the players intention with the character and my forgetting the elf/charm rule. It actually all worked out for the game and the player.

After much debate and argument, the party ventured outside. Geddlee said that he would climb up the tower. Tibag pointed out that, being a dwarf it would be quite hard for him to do that, so the thief volunteered (the player, Brian, did a great job playing the role of the charmed Tibag). Tibag climbed up the tower, over the ruined parapet and then disappeared on the other side! More party confusion as the whereabouts of their comrade, Tibag, was unknown. After more argument and debate it was decided that the only option was to burst through the trap door and face whatever danger was in there and try to get their companion back.

Back inside the tower they climbed the stairs and tried to open the trap door only to find it locked. The dwarf and the viking started splintering the door with their axes. Then Gedleesmote, sticking his head through the portal sees an odd site; another round chamber with stairs leading up to another hatch, a large gorilla in a cage, Tibag targeting him with an arrow and a robed magician hurling a magic missile at the dwarfs face. The dwarf tumbles back onto the stairs, wounded but alive.

The party decides that there is no other option to save Tibag but to just storm up into the chamber and take what is dished out at them. While Slick Vinny prepares a sleep scroll, Wolfheir and Arvin rush up into the chamber. Tibag lets loose an arrow at the Viking while the wizard unlocks the cage, releasing the ape. Wolfheir rushes the ape while Arvin charges the wizard who dodges the blow and sticks a dagger into the clerics ribs. Tibag lets fly another arrow at his viking friend but misses, and hitting the ape, killing it. Vinny finally gets his head up into the chamber, reads his scroll and puts the wizard to sleep.

After binding the wizard they searched the room finding a couple of spell books, a scroll, another map and a wand. Tibag, now released from the wizard's charms, and Slick Vinny question the sorcerer about the where-abouts of Lord Osric's daughter. He reveals that she may be somewhere near-by and that Captain Conik is the one that kidnapped her. Beyond that he would not say much else but insult and doom the party. Frustrated with the lack of information, Slick Vinny murders the wizard in cold blood angering Tibag who wanted to deal with the wizard himself and who is a bit confused by being susceptible to a charm spell even though he believes himself to be an elf.

The session ended with Wolfheir, upon the roof of the ruined tower spotting a ship off in the distance, Giddleesmote trying to figure out how much the ape cage might be worth, Skwanky searching the chamber for any food, Arvin, battered and wounded, and Tibag and Slick Vinny not on the best of terms and little Jack watching all the events with glee!

I didn't feel I was in my best form that evening, I was a bit tired, but the players seemed to have loved the session. There was more action and the players were getting confident with their rolling of the dice. The charmed character and battle with the wizard was a memorable highlight from the session that provided some great role-play, suspense, strategy and problem solving. The characters are starting to develop a bit more depth and the 'story' is just developing itself. A couple of near death experiences keep the PC cautious but they are beginning to realize they have to take some chances to get some rewards.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tucson ComiCon & Classic D&D & Retro-Clones

IndieOnly Comics (my small press comic company) had a booth at the second annual Tucson ComiCon. Since I haven't put out much in terms of new comic stories, I decided to push more of the D&D / Retro Clone items that I've worked on.

Mind you, I always felt that comics and gaming are very close blood-brothers. The thing that I found interesting was that when certain people saw the "Outpost" module cover they excitedly recognized it as a D&D type of module and I took the opportunity to chat about classic style gaming and the Retro-clones.

What I found exceptional was that the people who were the most interested were some of the comic shop owners, convention organizers and other small publishers - none of which have ever heard of the reto-clones but were eager to set up a time to roll some dice and play a game. A number of these people fondly remember the good 'ol days of the game (less rules/rolling dice, more laid back fun at the table, etc.). People seemed turned-on by the rules-lite aspect of these games as opposed to the constant stat checking and dice rolling of modern games. But, again, none of the people I talked with have ever heard of the retro-clones. One book publisher, who has not heard a peep about the retro-clones, is very much into playing RPGs and is even creating a monster-based RPG.

All this tells me that this 'movement' / concept is still a very isolated (though perhaps growing) and unknown to a great many people outside of the circles, forums and blogs. Granted, word is spreading, but much more slowly than it would appear.

I think there is a potentially huge interest in classic style RPGs, whether for nostalgia or rule simplicity. The key is getting the word out there and that, of course, is the great mystery, and one in which TARGA has been working on. I really feel that, if by some miracle of the gods, WOTC was to re-released the original box sets of the games (OD&D, Holmes, or Modvay), it would be to a hungry group of players both new and old.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday's Fantasy Art

As I prepare for tomorrow's 2nd Annual Tucson ComiCon, my head is filled with artwork and drawings and I got to thinking what is one of the most captivating classic D&D dungeon crawl images? I'll have to go with the classic B1 In Search of the Unknown's David Sutherland III's drawing of the Room with the Pools. The apprehension at the pool's dark liquid, the blackness beyond, the fighter's alertness to danger, the wizard's pointy hat, all of these elements make for a great atmosphere that the old game inspired.
By far, one of my most favorite images and one that has stuck with me ever since.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

2nd Annual Tucson ComiCon!

For those of you in the Arizona area, come join me at the 2nd annual Tucson ComiCon this Saturday, November 7th at the Hotel Arizona in Tucson AZ.

My small press publisher called IndieOnly Comics. I've put out a number of comics including Bliss, Plant Guy, Sequentially Tucson and others.

The festivities begin at 10am and go until 7. Last year’s con was a total blast and this one is shaping up to be bigger and better. I’ll have all the IndieOnly Comics for sale as well as the Warlock’s Home Brew Adventure: “The Outpost on the Edge of the Far Reaches”. I will also have my classic D&D illustrations available as well. A ton of great local artists will be there and it’s something that you don’t want to miss.

Oh wait, did I forget to mention that it’s free? Yes absolutely free! So you have no excuse to miss it!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Campaign Map

One of my favorite elements of D&D were the maps. Dungeon maps, setting maps, city maps, anything that allowed me to dream-away the time in those fantastic places. I still can just stare at those same maps and be drawn into their mysteries imagined situations.

I wanted to create a campaign setting that I could develop into an open-ended sandbox adventure. I started with a larger view and mapped that with general ideas of the kingdoms and realms which gave me a backdrop for the general feel of the campaign. I moved into just one section of that land which would become the initial focus of the sandbox. That would be the land of Eir'ian.

Once the sessions started, I realized that Eir'ian was still too big of a chunk as I wanted the player's sandbox to slowly expand. I focused on the home-base town of Caladan and the surrounding area, displaying just enough to pique their interest and curiosity. Granted, the characters are just first level and it may take them a while to even get outside of the Caladan city limits, but I hope that this tiny view of the greater world will inspire their curiosity for adventure.

I didn't give the players the map to start off with, they ended up purchasing it from a shop in Caladan during the second game session.

In future posts, I'll talk about how I created this map and others.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Beneath the Tower of Zenopus: Session II

..of The Fog of Battle and Other Missteps.

(Note that I'm one session behind in my campaign tales. I'll be caught up in the next couple of posts.)

The players:

Arvin Ardmore - Acolyte of Mithra
Gedleessmote Hammersend - Veteran Dwarf Warrior
Wolfhere - Viking from the North
Tibag Backstabber - Elf Rogue
Slick Vinny - Human Medium
and a Mule.

Last session

First I'll say that the dice didn't roll in the players favor early on. That said, when last we left our faithful party, the dwarf had been paralyzed by a ghoul attack, the later of which had been dispatched and Slick Vinny had set fire to the last two wooden coffins.

As the room began to fill with smoke, the party thought it best to exit the chamber and rest in the hallway near where they entered (always a good thing to do in a dungeon) while the Dwarf recovers and the room airs out. On their way they ran into a couple of wandering giant rats which they made short work of.

After having rested in the hallway for an hour and the dwarf fully regaining his faculties, the party stepped forth once again. Rounding the corner they see, blocking their way, six giant spiders feasting on the giant rats and not paying much heed to our stalwart adventures (result of a wandering monster check during their rest). Deciding that the only way to continue their exploration is through the spiders, Tibag begins firing arrows at them which agitate the over-sized arachnids. Now, Tibag is usually a good shot, mind you, and the only one with a ranged weapon (unless you count Slick Vinny tossing darts into the darkness in vain), but the gods did not smile upon him this day and the arrows just flew into the darkness, mostly missing their targets and killing only one. People are starting to panic a bit as these 5 spiders, climbing along the walls, floors and ceiling rush closer. Slick Vinny tosses a flask of oil in front of the oncoming horrors and Wolfhere tosses the torch to light it but.....misses again (see last session). Now the spiders are upon them and things go from bad to worse!

Wolfhere, Tibag and Gedlee take the front rank, and Arvin, protecting Slick Vinny stay back. That doesn't stop the spiders as the ones crawling on the ceiling drop and attack the two in the rear! Tibag is the first to slay a spider but Gedleessmote is the first to feel the pain of the creatures fangs. But the dwarf makes his save vs. poison and continues the melee. Next it is Wolfhere that feels the sting of the spider. His save doesn't go so well. I didn't want to go the save or die route with the poison and end up with a TPK, 'cause that's where it was headed. So I rolled a d4 for the number of rounds before the poison would take affect and then another d4 for the length of incapacitation. So Wolfhere, had one round before the poison would take affect which the intensity of which would last 4 round. So the Viking slayed his spider in the next round and, turning pale, spun around to help Slick Vinny who just had a spider land on his face! Wolfhere, keels over and becoming violently ill!

Arvin's spider lands next to him, and being unable to land a hit was bit by the eight-legged creature. Arvin, of course, misses his save and shortly keels over as well, puking all over the place.

Vinny, pulls the spider from his face and tosses it on the ground, and turns to aid the afflicted Arvin. He swings with his staff and....(rolling a natural 1)....misses the arachnid and slugs the poor cleric in the head!

Tibag and Gedleessmote continue to struggle with their spider, Wolfhere and Arvin puking all over the hallway, and Vinny swinging wildly at the spider until finally breaking his staff (another roll of 1). Things are looking grim, indeed, until Tibag slays the last Spider in the front and the dwarf turns and slays Arvins spider and Vinny turns to finish off the last one but...(another 1) splinters the remainder of his staff. Gedleessmote lunges at the remaining spider and (yet another....1) slips in Wolfhere's vomit and lands flat on his back in front of the remaining spider. Finally, Tibag slays the remainingspider as it's climbing up the wall.

Wolfhere and Arvin recover from their bout with spider poison but are still woozy (-2 combat penalty for 6 turns). They decide to head back to town to lick their wounds but are disappointed that they didn't pick up any loot on their first foray into the depths of the ruined tower. The companions decide to return to the room where they killed the two ghouls and burned the coffins and see if they could find anything of value. Indeed they do and recover a handful of gems and some coin.

They return to the surface and are happy to discover their mule safe and tied to the cemetery gate (having spent a mere three hours in the Underworld, one of which they spent resting).

Heading back to Caladan and threw the southern gate they notice that the town watch is a bit agitated and learn that they have been seeking the watch captain (Capt. Conik) who went missing shortly after last week's Harvest Festival along with Lord Osric's daughter. It is thought that the two were having an affair and ran off together. Furious, the leader of the Merchant Guild is having the town watch search for them.

The party heads back towards the Cloven Hoof Inn and on the way find a small shop called Master Brigham's Curiosities. Slick Vinny enters hoping to stock up on some magic scrolls he can use. Thus, Master Brigham has no scrolls to sell save a map of the area which Vinny purchases. Also, traded for first dibs on the curiosities found beneath the tower is some tobacco that can lessen the affects of poison (thanks to Thorkhammer). They also learn that six years ago, six adventures found their way beneath the tower never to return.

After some healing at the Temple of Mithra (donations accepted, of course), the party returns to the Cloven Hoof Inn to clean up and rest for the next day's return underground. It turns out the orphaned stableboy, Jack, is enthralled by the exploits of our adventures and asks if he can come along. Vinny invites him and purchases some armor and a short sword for the young lad.

After a night's rest, the party returns to the tunnels with little Jack in tow carrying the torches. They retrace their steps and continue to explore the room with the dead ghouls. Opening on door, the party discovers a flight of stairs that lead down into the darkness. The air is very dry and stale and the darkness foreboding. Thinking it best to leave that for a later foray, they head through the eastern door. Down a corridor they find a small room with an armoire of shrunken heads and magical doors that lead them back to the corridor which they entered from. After spiking the doors open, breaking the spell, they proceed east down another corridor and enter another room filled with refuse and garbage and rummaging Giant Rats. After making their way to the other side of the room, they decide to dispatch the rats and do so easily. Searching through the refuse, Jack finds the rats nest and pulls out a leather belt of one of their victims which contains a silver dagger and some more coin. Hooray for Jack!

The party enters an open tunnel and travels down a long corridor which ends at an ornately carved wooden door. Beyond the door they find a furnished room lit by four beetles with red glowing bellies in small cages suspended from the ceiling. As Wolfhere guards the door, the others explore the room. There are books and scrolls and a writing desk with parchments. Gedleessmote rolls up the ornate rug stating that everything is loot! Vinny (finally) finds his two magic scrolls. Tibag listens to the western door and beyond hears voices speaking in the common language.

And that's where the play ended. It seemed to be another good session with a lot of laughs and mystery. The randomness of the classic dungeon presents a lot of unknowns. The shrunken heads baffled the players as they tried to gather meaning from them. Really they were just there as some dungeon oddity but it still left a puzzling impression on the players. The combat where natural 1's kept coming up was a bizarre yet fun turn of events. It was an exciting battle. I felt that I rolled with the situations pretty well and that the players enjoyed when I put them into a position that they could role-play against. The battle seemed to be very chaotic and confusing instead of just hit, miss, hit, miss.

Again, the three and a half hours flew by and we really could've gone for another hour or two but it was Monday night and everyone had work in the morning.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Third Campaign Session +1 Tonight

Tonight is the third session of our Swords & Wizardry sandbox campaign and we have a new player, Zach, joining us. That makes a total of six players plus a DM. I'm looking forward to seeing how the group dynamic and game-play changes with the new addition.

Since the party is already in the depths of the Dungeon, I've thought of two options to get the new PC into the action, a brief summary as to how and why the PC ended up where he is. I'll write out those two options on a card. Depending on the players actions, I'll give one of the cards to Zach to get his PC in game. I think that should work pretty well.

I'll post details when I post the session summary.


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