Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pulp Triple Feature!

As many of you know, most of today's pop entertainment had it's birth in the original pulp fiction that began coming out in the early 20th century.  Comic heroes, space opera fantasy, sword and sorcery adventure all had it's beginnings with cheap and trashy dime magazines.  Star Wars, Jack Kirby's creations, Dungeons & Dragons and RPGs in general can all be traced to the early creators of fantasy adventures; Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. P. Lovecraft. What better way to wrap up October with a triple feature based on classic fantasy, horror and pulp adventures!  Lock yourself indoors, make yourself a big bowl of buttered popcorn and enjoy!

First Feature:
H.P. Lovecraft's modern-day silent film!

Feature Two:
Edgar Rice Burroughs space fantasy hero brought to life!

Feature Three:
Robert E. Howard's classic swords and sorcery hero!

Available via Video on Demand or at your local video store!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Session XLVI: Hack And Slash

Having battled and decimated a camp of hobgoblins and freed a prisoner, Throckmorton, a priest of the chaotic god Khalk'Ru the Destroyer, the party continued through the woods. At dusk they discovered some very ancient ruins smothered in the overgrowth and spent the night hidden amongst the rubble.  In the morning they explored some doors and rooms of the ruins coming upon a pristine and peaceful open air garden containing a large pool and a magic fountain...
After everyone had a taste of from the fountain with varying effects, well, all except Gnarly the Druid, Wolf discovered a secret door that lead deeper into the ruined structure.  There they found a door and upon opening were greeted by a garrison of hobgoblins and goblins.  Arg the half-orc, looking to test his newly acquired strength (raised to 20 from the fountain) and along with Skwanky the halfling warrior eagerly greeted the incoming onslaught!  After loosing their weapons the two began to just pummel their way through their enemies.

With one hobgoblin captive, they "persuade" a map to the throne room out of him and he guides the party beneath the ruins and into the underground complex of the hobgoblin king.

Sneaking through the hallways they are waylaid by two Bugbear guards whom they defeated.

Finally making their way to the throne room they burst in (of course) and dispatch the guards and begin questioning the king about his alliances between Lord Blackmoor or the followers of the Black Sun.  Having been "backed into a corner" by an emissary of the dark cult, the king felt there was no choice but to ally with the cult.  Televon talked the king into turning on the Dark Sun cult and the king called to his guards to bring forth the emissary who was making a temple within the kings dungeons.

But the guards not only returned with the Black Cult priest but also with armed hobgoblins! 

A fierce and bloody battle ensued in the hobgoblin throne room and finally ended with the hobgoblin king dead and a berserk Wolf the viking pursuing the retreating hobgoblins down the hallway!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Politics & Dragons

At an art gallery in NYC, there's an exibition where the titans of politics battle it out D&D style.
“Two volunteers will take up the roles of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and audience members will get to decide the fate of the election using Dungeons and Dragons dice, rules and attacks,” said the gallery. “Smith will act as Dungeon Master of the game, and the ultimate prize is his vote.”
Yes, presidential voting decided by classic D&D!

Character sheets and all!
(though I think the alignments are debatable as well as CHA)

Results of the D&D Smackdown here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Undead And Level Drain

I've been thinking a bit about the concept of Level Drain mostly inspired by a post on "A Horrible Night To Have A Curse" (you know, the site where Porkins is his Co-Pilot).

I've taken a peek through the internet as well and it seems that the concept of Level Drain has been debated and dissected and analyzed since Sir Fang roamed Blackmoor.

Since our campaign has revolved around the vampire Zenopus, undead level drain has always been in the back of my mind.

I like the concept of the draining of a life-force but the mechanical execution of it is quite the pain in the ass, not only for the players but for the GM as well (and we're playing a rules lite S&W).

Being touched by the undead has always been a creepy and detrimental thing - as it should be.  From Ghouls paralyzing touch, to a Shadow's strength drain to diseased Mummies.  Undead should strike fear into the hearts of players.  I know mine have had just about enough of Ghouls!

But when you get to Wights, Wraiths and Vampires we get into Level Drain.

Again, I have no problem with the concept of draining the life force from a character.  As mentioned in the link above there are plenty examples in fantasy literature (The Earth Sea Trilogy and the Wights and Wraiths in The Lord of the Rings), but in game it's a momentum stopper.  I agree with some of the criticism as it goes directly to the mechanics of the game (loosing character levels and all that goes with it).   There also doesn't seem to be much of a consensus on how to 'solve' this issue.

On the one hand these Level Drains or Life Drains should be deadly, feared and avoided, but mechanically in the game it's just too much work.  And for our campaign that has taken three years just to get to levels 4 and 5, it just might be too much to ask for the players to take.

So how to fix.

I've been thinking of changing the term from Level Drain to Life Drain but how should that be reflected mechanically?

A drain on Constitution?
It would make a character's Life Force practically the same throughout his career. Which may or may not be a bad thing.
How would you recover constitution?
Complete bed rest and one point per week?

A loss of the Character's Hit Die per hit
Hit Dice are a reflection of a character's Life Force.
When touched you loose a roll of the character's hit die per hit.
MU loose 1d4 per hit, fighters 1d8 per hit.  Gives them a little bit of a fighting chance.
These losses can't be recovered easily.  Maybe a remove curse spell for each hit die recovered, or restoration per hit die lost.

Drain on Constitution and Hit Die damage
A combination of both ideas that I kinda like.
Constitution can only be recovered at one point per week at complete bed rest.
Lost Hit Points can not be recovered until all constitution is recovered.
Loosing hit points can cause death but loosing constitution can turn the PC into the creature.

I don't know.  Does anyone see any issues with these ideas?  Have you tried some of your own solutions?  I'd love to hear what some others have to say.

UPDATE:  Another fantastic take on the concept of level drain and undead in general can be found over at The Other Side Blog here.
Exactly who you DON'T want to run into in some dark gloomy chamber.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More On Megadungeons

No, not moron megadungeons, you jokers!  We're going to talk some more about this game foundation and current hot-topic!

Two level megadungeon.
Got a couple months to spare?
Having started in this 'hobby' back in the late 70's the concept of the dungeon being the tent-pole or hub of the campaign has been ingrained in my brain.  Needless to say I love megadungeons or at least love the concept of what they are.

There's been a lot of chatter in recent days about the decline of the megadungeon (history repeating itself).  If it were the decline of the mega-church, I don't think I'd be writing a post.  But it's megadungeon and so here we are.

Perhaps many OSR gamers have their own definitions of what a megadungeon is.  Besides being a huge (mega) underworld complex (dungeon) I've recently defined what it is to me:

Megadungeon: A funhouse. A nightmare. A dreamscape.  An ever changing endless twisting of tunnels, chambers, caverns and worlds within worlds ruled by all manner of creatures, denizens, cults, sorcerers, races, demons leading deeper beneath the surface or out into cosmic realms or into the depths of a soul or just out into a back alley.  In other words anything can happen and real world rules don't apply. When you walk in be prepared for anything.  ANYTHING!!

 That there pretty much sums up a great campaign - open-ended, anything can happen, constantly changing based on PC interaction.  In fact, the campaign itself, with all it's dungeons, forests, cities and towns is a megadungeon.

In recent years there have been a number of 'products' produced, and taken out of mothballs, by many of those faithful OSR enthusiasts that have taken the megadungeon concept to it's full potential; Stonehell, Dwimmermount, Castle of the Mad Archmage, Xlarthen's Tower (direct to pdf), Mines of Kuhnmar(somewhere around there), the Darkness Beneath and others.


We're not schoolkids anymore with hours to kill and days to play.  With adult life, most of us are lucky to get a session in once a month.  Our group gets a generous two per month and even then it's rare when every player shows up.

So with that in mind, does exploring the same underground complex session after session make for a good campaign?

Since I feel a Megadungeon campaign is interchangable with a general campaign (various dungeons and wilderness settings) yes, it does.

That said, a megadungeon is a lot to explore.  If you figure a level is mapped out on a standard piece of graph paper, you've got a ton of square footage of dungeon to explore. With sporadic play that can take months or more just to get through a single level.  Even the OSR's one page dungeon format (30 X 30 squares) can and has taken three or more sessions to get through.  At our play rate that can be two months or more.

Does that really matter in the scope of a campaign?

No, I don't think so.  After all, I run a sandbox and let the players decide where they want to go and what they want to do.  If they want to hang out and explore one dungeon until they are satisfied (or killed) so be it.  Who am I to say no you can't do that.  If they're bored, they'll move on and I'll let them.  In fact, Our campaign started around Holmes' sample dungeon which I extended into a megadungeon.  I've tried to get the players 'out of town' and explore other areas, which they have, but they've always ended up back where it all started.  Zenopus' Tower.

So whether a megadungeon is a multi-level funhouse of doom beneath the surface or the campaign world itself, it's all the same to me.  And in that sense, Megadungeons will always be an eternal part of this game.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Empty Room Syndrome

There was a post on Joe the Lawyers blog about playing James M's infamous Dwimmermount dungeon and the tedium of exploring empty rooms.

So called "empty" rooms in dungeons have been a part of the game since it's beginnings with every classic iteration of the rules' original authors (Gygax, Holmes, Modvay)  having added it to their dungeon creation process.  In general, roughly 1/3 of the rooms should be 'empty' while the rest are filled with monsters, monsters & treasure, treasure and tricks or traps.  Delta's D&D Hotspot has a great summary of this dungeon stocking process from the early rules and supplements worth reading.

What exactly are 'empty' rooms?

I like to think of an 'empty' room as another type of dungeon encounter. It is my feeling that empty rooms shouldn't be empty at all and most aren't but they should have something of interest for the PC'.

Dungeon philosophy falls into two general camps; Dungeons as a realistic setting and dungeons as a fun-house.

I prefer the dungeon as a fun-house with a sprinkling of realism thrown in. A journey to the Underworld should leave the players in an unexpected environment where anything can happen and the usual rules don't apply.  You mix 'realism' up with some wacky goings on, your players will always be on their toes not sure just what might happen next.

"Empty" rooms can help with that if you think of empty as being just a concept. 

As you all know, I've started my campaign with Holmes' sample dungeon.  What's great about that dungeon is that it has a good mixture of monsters, tricks and traps but it also has an abundance of empty rooms.  These empty rooms are not keyed or anything, they're just empty rooms.  There was always a good chance that players would just hit empty room after empty room which really made exploration a bit dull.  Sure, there might be an atmospheric aspect to tossing in a gloomy empty room every now and then but to have that happen more often than not can make for a tedious session or two.

I always disliked the empty rooms in Holmes' dungeon and it wasn't until this recent campaign that I keyed the rooms in myself. I feel that no room in a dungeon should be just empty, there should always be something in there to reward the players or set them back, but in just a minor way;  a found key (could be to a room in the current dungeon or used by the DM in the future), a weird reflective mirror that shows the PC's as the opposite sex; anything to get a brief laugh at the table or make the players stop and think.  Anything to just break up the monotony of killing things and taking treasure but more than just exploring rotting furniture. 

With low level dungeons it's easy to fill in 'empty' rooms with items players might need like torches or barrels of food or wine but here is where you can get fun and creative with things to just freak the players out.  Why waste an opportunity for some role-playing and table fun.  Plus PCs waste game time examining the room allowing for additional wandering monster checks - but give the players something to think about.

Some of the things that I've added to the empty rooms in Holmes dungeon include:
  • A room with rotten furniture with the exception of a wardrobe with a collection of shrunken heads. Oh and there were magic doors that looped the characters back into the room.
  • A completely empty room except for  a shiny red apple on the floor in the exact center (this was great as the players spent 10 minutes debating examining then avoiding this apple, in fact I brought the apple back in a lower level, this time it was eaten and bestowed the PC with growth).
  • The bones of a chained up prisoner hiding a gem in his mouth which has a chance of biting the finger off of a greedy PC scaring them for life.
  • A looted temple that just so happens to look exactly like the cover of the Player's Handbook with eternal burning flames.
  • A pool of mist that hides a hidden chamber - not easy to get down into nor easy to remove found treasure.
Most of these were just quick minor afterthoughts (well, a little thought was put into it). An 'empty' room is a great game opportunity, as DM don't let that pass you by.

Pretty much you can do anything you want here. Let your imagination just have fun - the players will too.

There are plenty of resources out there to get you thinking about fleshing out those 'empty' rooms.
So for some stocking ideas here are a couple of resources that  can help you fill in the so-called 'empty' rooms and give your players something to brag about at the tavern:
That said, I don't like purchasing a dungeon where the author has keyed half the rooms and leaves the other half for the DM to flesh out.  I expect the author to do that, that's why I'm picking up someone else's dungeon.  I have no problem adapting a fully keyed dungeon to my needs within a campaign. If I have to key half the dungeon I'll make my own, thank you very much!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Session XLV: Where's That Damn Halfling When You Need Him?

After capturing a patrolling Hobgoblin, Arg had 'gently' persuaded some pertinent information from him about the whereabouts of the Goblin King (okay, so he began chopping off fingers). With the afternoon spring rain coming down in the thick forested Howling Hills and the path to the ruined monastery and the entrance to the Hobgoblin king's domain blocked by a camp of Hobgoblins there was nothing else to do but sharpen blades - for blood was about to be spilled!

 Gnarly swam across the lake to get close to the camp while Arg and Wolfheir, along with their prisoner followed the path to the open clearing.  However they found three Hobgoblin guards guarding the entrance to the camp grounds.

After trying to distract their attention and failing, Wolf pulled back his bow and shot an arrow with the intention of only wounding the guard.  Unfortunately, the arrow pierced the skull and killed the guard killing him instantly.  With the advantage on their side, Arg rushed the surprised hobgoblins skewering one with his spear.  The third hobgoblin tried a hasty retreat but was run down by the half-orc and slain.

After Arg had collected the fingers of his slain victims, the viking and half-orc preceded across the clearing to the camp.


Gnarly had got within range of the hobgoblin camp and called down lightning to destroy one of the shelters.  Surprised by the 'freak' occurrence, the hobgoblins ran around trying to put out the fire.

Gnarly sent a cloud of obscuring mist to hide the advancement of his companions while he sent another burst of lightning down from the sky. The hobgoblin captain disappeared in a mist of blood.

With that, the hobgoblins ran around in shock and disarray as Arg and Wolf burst out of the mist.

Slaying took place.

One lone hobgoblin stood with his sword to the throat of a formerly unseen prisoner and bargained for his freedom.  Suddenly he stopped moving, freezing in place as the prisoner slipped out from his captors grasp.  The hobgoblin had been enchanted by his prisoner!

The hobgoblin's prisoner introduced himself as Throckmorton, a priest of the chaotic god Khalk'Ru the Destroyer, who of course, joined the party.

Arg questioned that last hobgoblin but he was quite resistant so Arg sent the enchanted hobgoblin floating into the lake to helplessly drown.  Then he killed his original hobgoblin prisoner and stole his fingers.

After looting the camp, pouring the undrinkable hobgoblin swill upon the ground and piling up the dead bodies, Gnarly called down lighting once more and set the bodies ablaze.

They proceeded onto the opposite trail through the forest and at dusk they stood before some ancient ruins.

Before making camp in hidden in a pile of rubble, they are attacked by giant centipedes which poison their new companion.  The next morning Gnarly cures the chaotic cleric of his poisonous bite and Arg leads them into a larger structure.

After killing some rats and finding an old library filled with rotten books they stumble upon a glorious garden with a sparkling fountain.
(It is here that Skwanky (played by Zach) was sorely missed.  We all agree that the impetuous Skwanky would have jumped right into the fountain thus testing the magic water before anyone else.  Alas, this came down to Throckmorton)
 Drinking the enchanted water from the magical fountain, Throckmorton was affected quite negatively losing his strength, looks and a bit of all his godly attributes. 

However, Arg the half-orc, taking a sip from the clear water, turned into a hulking mass of muscle becoming even stronger than he already was. (Literally, he's a battle-hulk now with a strength of 20!)

To be Hulkinued next time!
Arg the half-orc, now with 20 Strength!
 Bonus Points:
The first reader to comment with what classic TSR module I'm using for this portion of the campaign will win a free copy of my adventure module "The Outpost On The Edge Of The Far Reaches".  Clue below...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Of War

About a year ago I was in search of some kind of quick and easy yet accurate skirmish rules for use in our Swords & Wizardry campaign.  There was a large battle coming up between our heroes and some rebel watchmen of Caladan and a small army of undead and I wanted not to have to roll the entire combat out.

At the time I experimented with the S&W mass combat rules but they didn't quite work for me.  I mixed that up a bit with simple streamlined Mass Combat rules created by Justin from Old School Psionic.  I also looked at Song of Blades and Heroes.  None of these quite worked for me.

I even looked at Warpath, a Pathfinder supplement for larger scale combats but I have to admit I was turned off by, what I felt were overcomplicated rules and cross rules.  There is no way I'd remember any of that in this day and age.

I ran some skirmish combats on my own and just wasn't totally enthusiastic about any of it.  I wanted the larger combat to flow seamlessly in and out of the general campaign play at the table.

Alas, I ended up running the combat in game at the table at regular scale.  It didn't hurt the session at all and everyone seemed to have a good time during the hack and slash battle (though it did take a session and a half).

Always in the back of my mind I hoped to find a set of rules that I can easily adapt to the campaign.

With another possible larger scale battle looming in the distant horizon I've returned to seeking a solution to Mass Combat.

I think I may have found it in Daniel Collins' Original Edition Delta Book of War.

I don't know how I missed these rules (or this blog, it's filled with plenty of useful classic D&D info).  I like his philosophy on creation of these mass-combat miniatures rules, compatible with original D&D and similar systems.

Apparently this has been a quest for "Delta" for many years and he released these rules late last year.

He seems to have put a ton of thought into the scale and balance of his mass combat rules to fit seamlessly into an OD&D campaign and it's ilk (or to be played on it's own).   In fact, one might even say that Book of War is a direct descendent of the original Chainmail.

With simple d6 mechanics that mirror the results of actual played out combat at full OD&D scale it appealed to my rules lite mentality.  The rules also covered Heroes, Wizards and Magical Creatures.

I read through the compact 24 page set of miniature rules this weekend and was pretty enthusiastic about it.  I'm giving it another read now and will probably run some test skirmishes later this week.  I'll keep you posted on my findings.

If you're looking for some mass combat rules to fit into your campaign you  might want to give Book of War a look.