Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Board Game - Federation Commander

Back in my board gaming days prior to getting involved in the role-playing hobby, a game my group was big into was Starfleet Battles. The game gradually added so many rules that eventually most of the group gave up on it.

A couple of years ago one of the old group reintroduced me to the off-spring of SFB in a cleaner, simpler, and to me more entertaining version called Federation Commander.

The rules simplifications and the updates to charts, tables, and the full color laminated ship system display cards really helped return this old favorite of mine to being playable once more.

Several days ago I decided to start working on a set of campaign rules for playing out a war between any number of the star faring empires available in the game. Instead of using a map with the empires pre-placed, thus creating situations where some are clearly outnumbered by enemies and others have it easy, I am working on a mapless strategic variant. Hopefully once I can put it together in a playable form I can post the rules here for review and comment by readers that might have interest in making use of them.

One thing about these strategic rules . . . it doesn't require all of the players to be at one place at the same time, just the ones in any particular conflict. And it uses a neutral referee to allow for the fog of war that makes grand strategic games much more interesting. As long as at least one person has the needed rules and game components and is willing to lend them out or travel with them to where the combatants plan to meet, this can be accomplished.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thieves World

While digging through some of my stored gaming stuff I turned up a second edition of the Thieves' World adventure pack boxed set. Released originally in 1981 by Chaosium, it included a wall map of the city of Sanctuary, a map of the district known as the Maze, and an underground map of the tunnels beneath the Maze. There is a Players guide, a DM's guide and a book detailing personalities from the novels.

There is informaton for using it with multiple game systems including AD&D, Adventures in Fantasy, Chivalry & Sorcery, DragonQuest, basic Dungeons & Dragons, The Fantasy Trip, RuneQuest, Traveller, and Tunnels & Trolls. 

Among the notable designers of the day that helped with it are Dave Arnesson, Eric Goldberg, Rudy Kraft, Wes Ives, Steve Marsh, Marc W. Miller, Steve Perrin, Lawrence Schick, and Ken St. Andre. Some of the names are readily recognised and some are still quite active today.

For what it provides I would be willing to call it the Ptolus of its day. I wonder if Monte Cook was thinking of this at all when he decided to convert his campaign to book form.

The more recent incarnation in book form produced by Green Ronin focuses more on events taking place in the later books while the original was still very much tied to the earliest anthology from Robert Asprin and crew.

I won't go into to much now, but after giving it a re-read may post some additional thoughts.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monster - Burning Cube

Embuk kicked and swam for all he was worth through the cold waters of the underground lake. He prayed that the horrible creature could not cross the water.

A trail of ashes behind the thing were all that remained of his companions Maluk and Zefram. They had tried to fight back after the cube-like monstrosity slammed into them at the intersection of hallways. They had not noticed it coming.

It was as the rumors had said, a wizard had dropped his powerful wand of fireballs only to see it engulfed by a massive nearly invisible cube of slime. Now, imbued with the elemental energies of the wand the creature wanders the caverns and worked hallways beneath the ruins incinerating its victims.

Zefram had struck it full on with the point of his spear only to suffer a retributive blast of flames gushing from the wound. Maluk fared no better, though he did not become paralyzed, the thing wrapped itself around, absorbing him. Within its transparent form he burned to charred cynders over the next several seconds, writhing and screaming the whole time.

Embuk fired his crossbow and sadly sealed Zefram's fate as another gout of fire burst forth and down Zefram went. The thing lurched forward over his fallen companion and Embuk ran.

Burning Cube (unique monster)
Number encountered: 1
Movement: 60 (20)
Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 6
Attacks: 1
Damage: 2d4 kinetic + 1d4 fire
Save: Fighter 3
Morale: 12 fearless
Special Defense: Attacks that break the membrane (piercing and cutting) cause a gout of fire to burst in a 10 by 10 foot area immediately in front of where the attack hit. Damage from this attack is 2d4 and a failure to save vs breath weapon indicates an additional round of burning for 1d4 damage unless extinguished.
Enveloped creatures suffer 2d4 fire damage every round until freed or dead.
The event that cause this cube to become a burning cube took away the paralytic and acidic nature of the original cube.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Feeling uninspired today

I sometimes envy people that can appear to stay switched on 24/7 365. I'm definitely not one of them and this weekend has brought that point home.

Even with a list of topics I want to get around to and a couple of draft posts that need finishing, I am just not feeling the right energy for a gaming post.

Oh well, maybe the step back will prove beneficial since I have plenty to do before the weekend when I'll be running session #6 finally. Here's hoping the loss of momentum doesn't negatively impact my DMing.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Quick Hurricane Update

The coast of North Carolina is taking a direct hit as expected.

This link is to a Google page tracking the path of Irene.

Based on that image, my location should get even less wind and rain that previously expected.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Batten Down The Hatches!

Irene looms on the horizon, her darkening clouds driving before them hot tropical air, moist with the hint of mayhem to come.

Ok, enough of that.

Where I am located here in Fred-neck Maryland we aren't expecting a direct hit like the Northeast. According to the weather channel website earlier there's only a 10 to 20% chance of tropical storm strength winds of 40mph or over, though we are expecting plenty of rain. The odds of Irene turning inward toward this blogger's homestead because she is unhappy with the OSR seems rather limited.

Ragardless I will post periodic updates on the weather for as long as I have electricity. I'll also try to post some gaming stuff as well.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Joy Of Creative Players - The right tool for the job.

Harkening back to the group from the 2nd edition game I remarked on previously, here is another moment of outside the box thinking from the players. It caught me by surprise and that made it important in many ways for the players and myself.

The party was early into the chase for the thief that had stolen a very important item. They had chased the goblin into the woods and Otis had just caught up when both he and the goblin plumetted down a brush covered hole into an underground ruin. Otis had been knocked out in the fall and when he came to there was a bloody smear leading from where the goblin had been, through another small room, and out a doorway.

The rest of the party had caught up and after tending to Otis they were searching the dimly lit chambers. Among some fallen stonework Otis discovered a dagger that was missing the hilt and pommel. Picking the blade up by the rags that were wrapped around the tang he felt strange and found he could see better in the sparse lighting than a moment before. He had come into possession of an interesting dagger whose magic and drawbacks would come into play later in the campaign.

Deciding that the bloody smear was not just a ruse and that the goblin had not taken a hidden exit, the party lit a torch and started out from the door into a long hallway. They were met immediately by a volley of arrows and fell back.

Unable to see far enough down the hallway to spot their attackers they began to grow frustrated until Otis urged them to move the bright torch to the far side of the room so he could get a better look down the darkened hall. Dagger in hand, he peered from the doorway and determined that about 100 feet away was a pile of debri behind which a couple of small humanoids were crouched guarding another door.

The goblins were taking cover behind some barricades and firing shots down the long hallway keeping the characters pinned in the room and away from the door they believed the thief had escaped through. Applying their brains to the task, they took the door off the hinges and used it like a gigantic shield while moving down the hall. Then the used it to bridge up and over the barricade of junk so one of them could charge over into the enemy position.

In a few brief rounds they had defeated what otherwise would have been a dangerous combat for them and forever changed my ideas about what players were able to come up with given the opportunity to think about it.

Now when I design a dungeon environment myself I always try to include opportunities for out of the box thinking and hope players will surprise me by doing something even beyond what I had imagined.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Board Games - Speed Circuit

With the Baltimore Grand Prix coming up on the first weekend of September it only seems appropriate to mention an old favorite of mine among board games. (If my LL campaign had crapped out I would have tried to get tickets to go to the race.)

Speed Circuit is a board game simulation of Formula 1 racing. The game has seen many incarnations over the years, though there isn't a current one. Wizards of the Coast/ Hasbro bought the Avalon Hill Game Company which I believe last held the rights to the game.

A couple years ago a number of us ressurected this game and ran a 6 race circuit.
I bought a set of Micro Machine Indy 500 collectible cars of a larger size than the metal, plastic or wooden tokens from the actual set, and one group member created scaled up versions of 6 courses in scale with the cars. We got together one weekend a month for three months and ran a circuit of 6 races, one on each of the tracks we had gotten upsized.

As we played, points were awarded based on the place each "driver" finished and total scores were used to determine starting positions for the championship race. Through the course of it, various players had their time in the spotlight and there were numerous blown engines, damaged brakes, spinouts, and even two crashes.

Here's a picture of someone else using cars from the same Micro Machines set of Indy 500 cars like the set that I bought being used on a home made track that the players of that game paid to have put on a plastic banner. I'm thinking of trying to get the files cleaned up and spending the money to do the same with my tracks for the purpose of longevity.

If you get some time you should definitely follow this link to the Board Game Geeks website and read up on it as well as looking through the photos people have posted. Some are pretty impressive, showing terrain and tracks made for the game. These folks take it just as serious as some of us take our fantasy terrain.

There is even a group of at times up to 20 players that races by sending moves through email, one move per day. Here's a picture from one of their races.

The game is a blast and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good beer and pretzels time killer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One Medium Shake Please

We experienced a bit of an earthquake this afternoon that resulted in some damage in DC and further south into Virginia closer to where the epicenter was, but where I am it was an easier ride. It did however get me thinking about the mechanics of a quake if it happened during an encounter.

Something minor like what I felt might disconcert people and creatures a little, but wouldn't impact combat or maneuvering much. A thief trying to do somthing delicate like disarming a trap might feel otherwise and should definitely suffer a penalty. Let's assign the thief a 5% penalty to most skills, and 10% to disarming traps or picking locks, and to climbing.

As we get more violent shaking, but not yet at the epicenter or major tremors, increase the thief penalties to 10 and 20 percent, and begin assigning combat penalties to hit of -2. Also, if a wizard or elf is under threat, make them roll under their dex to cast, but failure doesn't wipe out the spell.

At the epicenter of a moderate quake or feeling major tremors, bump everything up dramatically. Thief penalties go up to 20 and 40 percent, penalties to hit become -4, and spell casters need to roll a check under their dex to cast, and this time failure does cost them the spell. Also, everyone is forced to move in a random direction 1" (or 5 feet). Roll a d8 (or d6 if on a hex map) to determine the direction. Movement is also halved.

At the epicenter of a major quake or feeling incredible tremors forget climbing, and all other thief skills are penalized by 80%. Fighting is nearly impossible with penalties to hit of -8. Don't even try to cast a spell. Everyone is randomly moved 1d4 inches, roll for direction as above.

The one I experienced today felt like it lasted about 30 seconds to a minute. I wasn't counting since I was more fascinated by the experience.

To determine the length of tremors in a quake, roll 1d10 times rounds for each phase. A minor quake is just 1d10 rounds. Bigger quakes roll another 1d10 for the length of each step up the scale. If it reaches major, roll another 1d10 worth of minor trembling as a calm down.

Decide on aftershocks as you wish.

This could be useful if the adventure is in a volcano that is seizmically active at random intervals. Determine your own periodic random table for shakes and the violence of them. Since some combats can draw encounters, consider a quake one of the possible random events.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges!

Something new and interesting has been dropped into the OSR realm within the last 24 hours or so and is generating some interesting discussion. It is the concept of GM/DM "merrit" badges as a means of giving folks an idea of their DMing style.

The idea appears to have originated over on Strange Magic where a nifty list of icons and meanings for them was posted. (Full list on Strange Magic). I was first made aware of them on Warlock's Homebrew and have since read a different viewpoint over on Dungeons and Digressions.

I'm also of the opinion that while nifty looking and a neat idea, it leaves something not quite settled and potentially more confusing than before. A self evaluation of DMing style will certainly cover some of the bases, but will it tell the whole story?

Giving it some thought and a little nap time allowed the following idea to ease into the cranial dice box. Since none of these seems to fit 100% to any DM all of the time why not use this as a basis for players to evaluate a DM on a rolling basis? Treat it like an alignment chart for the current campaign. Present players with the list and have them grade the game they are in each session or two in each icon category based on their perceptions.

For example by giving each icon category a grade from 1 to 5 with 1 being once in a while to 5 being most of the time. You could get something like this:

3    Mirrors back player ideas a fair amount of the time.

5    Rolls dice in the open and doesn't fudge results most of the time.

Players could possibly include notes on where they would like modifications and why.

Each category can be averaged out from player feedback and plotted on a graph if one should choose, and that might actually help a DM gain some valuable insight into their actual play style and where players feel things currently rest. I see it as a potential tool for improvement in making players and oneself happy with the game.

Of course it could also backfire horribly, but what experiment doesn't have that possibility as a potential outcome . . .

Monday, August 22, 2011

We Have Game Sign!

The usual two players are now confirmed for the first Saturday in September and I have affirmed that the game is going ahead. I also asked all the players, active and inactive for suggestions for possible additional players.
They aren't at risk yet of a visit from one of these beasts or even from the purple worm that these gargantuan monsters inspired. Hey, does anyone know if there was a Dune MMORPG? Not sure how that would work since most characters would likely get swallowed by sandworms frequently.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

White Ape

Heres a picture of an albino gorilla. CNN currently has an article up about famous albino animals with some nifty images.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Lost Baronies Flashback

My players sent me this picture of the minis used during the session where Seamus the thief was getting eaten by the owlbear. This is not a shot capturing the action, just a comparison of mini size.
That purple thing was a litter (fashioned from a small sticky note) for carting Seamus back to town.

The campaign is still not moving along. I have an email out to the players asking for committment to the next scheduled date and only one has replied. I'm bummed out by the lack of communication and commitment by the players. Hopefully that will change before too long and we can get back to playing.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Throw The Man A Rope

Poor Arkhein over on his blog Rather Gamey. The man is getting savaged for the choice of wording he used in a post where he was letting off steam from the frustrations he has as a DM with 4th edition D&D.

I will continue to keep my promise not to edition war. And at the same time I will own my comments about how I feel with regard to DMing and playing different editions and games.

You won't have me saying they're bad, or wrong, or not fun because those statements would not be true. I can have fun playing and DMing other editions however I will not shy away from letting it be known that I find it more to my liking for various reasons to DM Labyrinth Lord currently. In a recent post I explained some of those reasons.

Likewise, I fully understand where Ark was coming from in his post.  It didn't require an actual grain of salt for me to grasp the meaning and feeling behind the words he set to pixels in his post. Hopefully his readers will ease up a bit on the guy.

I will admit to finding some of his post and many of the comments amusing.

Here is a little something more from my personal perspective on 4e.

The monsters. The ideas and methods presented can be borrowed and morphed for use as a DM in the old school games to good effect. Not everything they can do is written down and shouldn't be or you'd have to write individual tomes for many of them just to cover the many ideas for ways to play them.

Something I encountered from some other gamers I know. They were laughing about the vampire being able to be out in daylight. Hello . . . some vampires from movies and literature could go out in daylight, being weaker doing it, but could do it.  On the other hand, the minion vampires are rightly prohibited. Like a fart through the flame of a butane lighter, bamf, gone in a big stinky flash. If I want a monster to do something that might seem uncharacteristic you better believe I'll do it, and there may be an explanation, though it might not be obvious.

Ark is right when he expresses that from the player side you can find yourself focusing too much on the powers presented instead of using your imagination and thinking.

That was how I felt when I was playing and had gotten up to 6th level with a character. I felt I was burning out, getting into a rut. Yes, that hangs partially on the player, but there is something to the fact that the mechanics and presentation lend themselves to that style of play. It felt like Magic: The Gathering, and honestly, while I like that card game, that isn't how I wanted my D&D to feel.

This isn't a bash against 4e. It has its place and a good number of people like it. That's cool. Good! We should all be able to enjoy different styles of games and to hell with people bashing us for our likes and dislikes.

Further, if someone needs to blow off steam and steps on a few toes, sure it might sting a little, but it heals. And Arkhein even owned the way his wording could effect readers. Good on him.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ripped From The Headlines

You CAN make this stuff up, and we do it frequently and with gusto in our games, but it is interesting to see when someone tries applying these things to the real world.

Apparently some wealthy types are planning to have floating islands built for them that they want to anchor out in international waters so they can withdraw from global society and live outside everyone else's laws.

You really need to read the article to understand exactly the intent, however if you flip it on its head and make it campaign worthy . . .

The Drifting Kingdom
Not truely a kingdom, this wandering non-nation gained the nickname in jest.

Currently anchored to an underwater mountain, this floating construction is pulled together from hundreds of barges and boats. Over time the small colony of misfits that began it have managed to collect additional followers who like them are fleeing the laws of land for the imagined freedoms of the sea.

Begun by an adventuring company seeking ways to avoid the taxes and rules they felt were too restricting, the Drifting Kingdom was intended as a refuge. Instead it rapidly accumulated many rules each inspired by incident after incident where people felt they were infringed upon by other refugees.

Most conflicts are settled by dueling, though a fair share are settled by a knife in the back and heavy stones to sink the offender beneath the waves.

The kingdom has attracted a good number of lower ranking nobles and rich merchants bringing with them slaves and indentured servants since doing for themselves is very unappealing.

Other factions include a robust number of people from fringe religions seeking to live where they aren't seen as crazy the vast majority of the population and claiming those populations were oppresing them by not seeing the "truth" of their ways. Now these very people are trying, and failing, to influence the laws of the Drifting Kingdom as they tried and failed in the lands they fled from.

All manner of illicit trade or fetish can be found amid the great junk armada that comprises the Kingdom.

Occasionally pirates that have not yet found the place to be a valuable home port will raid a portion and attempt to ransom some of the population back to the rest. This tactic doesn't work. The wealthier people have hired guards, nobody on the island cares enough about anyone else to pay and the pirates that use the place as a safe haven do not take kindly to the risk of their welcome being revoked.

Storms are the greatest threat the Drifting Kingdom has yet faced. When a particularly nasty storm is expected large sections of the kingdom cast off and scatter for safer areas intent on returning later. Because of this, the place cannot keep much of a constant configuration and where a business or residence once was in relation to another rarely recurs.

I may expand on this later, and I welcome others to do so since it seems like it could have just about any mix and match of floating mess included.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


In an earlier post it was pointed out that Vornheim got shafted by the Ennie Award judges this year. I think I finally have more of an insight into the minds of the judges now that I have seen a product from a different category that did win an award.

The Mouselings.

Now, as a nicknack they're going to get some recognition as "cutsie", ok, I grant that. And the full set is only $30 and comes in a carrying case, but if any player of mine shows up to the game wanting to use one of these as a PC, there's gonna be a fight.

What the bloody hell people! This gets an award and something as truely useful and innovative as Vornheim can't catch a break?

Go on, call me an unsentimental, hard hearted old grouch. Finished? Good, now get off my lawn!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Prop Dusting - Dwarven Forge

I have a moderate sized collection of the Dwarven Forge fantasy sets. However compared to some collectors my set is tiny. Considering the cost (which just jumped up another 20% Monday), I cannot imagine where the money comes from. I often wince thinking about what I have spent (including the stuff I ordered last week before the price increase) compared to how infrequently I get to use it.

Be sure to check their forums and look at the pics of the setups some of their more dedicated collectors have been able to put together. There are some truely amazing setups.

I occasionally get to really cut loose with it and create some nifty scenery. I don't have enough to do my mind's eye full justice so I tend to take a different approach by using the DF stuff in combination with other materials to create a sort of scaffolding for myself and players to hang our own mental tapestries on.

Here are some pictures a friend of mine took of some Dwarven Forge setups at a game day event.
Obviously that is the Inn of the Cliche where many adventures start because a stranger walks in and hires a group of random drunkards to help with a problem.
And after the hiring, there are the places they go to get into trouble.
Such as the assorted dungeon chambers wherein many mysteries lie and many adventurers die.
And caverns deep, where savage things creep. However shall we cross that burning bridge when the door someone made into a raft is already on the other side and the very waters churn with man eating fish?

And there is always a demon idol from Otherworld Miniatures. Well, there would be if I ever get around to painting it. It comes with assorted tiny fake gems for the eyes in different colors. I think I will stick with the classic ruby scheme, though I might leave the right one out to sort of hint that the folks from the AD&D 1st edition cover got there first.

In case you are wondering about the flames on the bridge, those are from Galeforce9. They make a bunch of different odds and ends that can be useful. Among the stuff I have from them of course is flames, smoke, ice, etc.

Sandra Garrity who has sculpted a lot of miniatures for Reaper has taken on the task of sculpting the next big release for Dwarven Forge. It will be an "outdoor" sort of set that the previews on their site make look pretty interesting. I could easily see something like it being stumbled into deep in a dungeon by bewildered adventurers.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dropping Like Flies

Usually in one of these old school campaigns it is the characters that die off and leave the rotation. In the case of the Lost Baronies campaign it is players that are having to drop out for various reasons.

The current "casualty list" is now up to 4.

There were the two that were posted about previously, and as recently as a couple days ago their carpool companion indicated he was unlikely to be returning, though he isn't 100% certain, but won't return soon in any case.

This morning I got confirmation of another one dropping out due to having to watch the young'un. Understandable, but no less disappointing.

The player that had pushed the hardest earlier this year for me to get a campaign going has yet to make an appearance at the table. C'mon dude, get your dice in gear!

For me as a DM, this is the most annoying thing when trying to run a campaign. It was tough enough having only one player committed to start up the campaign until one week before go time, and now the limited number of players available is dwindling down to where there are almost too few to play.

Well, enough ranting.

Anyone out in reader land looking for a game and willing to come to Frederick Maryland to play twice a month?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Monstrous Thoughts

Been pretty busy lately and have not had the time to work on posts for the blog so my usual pre-scheduled batch ran out and nothing major is rattling around the ol' braincase.

Here then is a link to another blog where you can get another link to a wonderful pdf full of thoughts on the Monstrous Manual(2e) critter by critter.

Monsters & Manuals

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saving Throw Abuse

In a discussion that comes up once in a while about DMing technique, good, bad, or otherwise, a friend of mine was pointing out how saving throws and skill or attribute checks are frequently a target for abuse.

Here is an excerpt from the conversation.

"It's not just saving throws, its any kind of check like that. Given enough rolls, even versus silly low numbers, someone will eventually fail.

Specifically, here is the situation that has come up in our game multiple times. Very first session, we approached a dungeon entrance, having to climb a small hill, GM said "make a climb check, shouldn't be a problem for anyone". My Dex 10 Cleric in Scale Armor rolls a 3, DM declares he falls down the hill taking 1d3 damage. Did it really profit the game to make the PCs make a climb check to get up a small hill anyone could walk up and down all day long?

A little later on the characters were crossing a 3 foot wide pit... "make a jump check to get across". I fail again...

In the last session we played, the party killed a bunch of giant venomous insects. The party woodsman decided to salvage the poison glands so that the rogue could make poison. The GM made the woodsman make 3 seperate checks to harvest the poison, then three seperate checks to not poison himself, for a total of 6 rolls on a downtime scene.

In a session with another GM, we were sailing a captured ship to the adventure destination. To get there, we had to make perception checks (one per day), followed by navigation checks, followed by Profession-Pilot checks... for a grand total of 45 d20 rolls just to see if we made it to the adventure . . ."

Fourty five checks just to get to the real adventure? With those kind of odds you can almost bet that if/when they do arrive, they'll be in no shape to face the challenges the DM intended them to face. That is a recipe for boredom not to mention setting the players up to decide to delay or avoid what you worked so hard to prepare.

This is something it takes a DM/GM a little time to develope a sense for when first getting started. I know I have been guilty of this kind of thing in the past, though I work to avoid this unless there is a purpose behind it that sometimes might not be immediately apparent to the players (though in such a case it is good policy to provide a clue to it somewhere).

When it comes to outright abuse, the above are prime examples of someone either not trying to improve or unaware yet of where this falls on the DMing learning curve. It is definitely someone destined for burnout.

Saves for getting up a common hill are pointless unless there is something obviously making it more difficult. Was the party under attack? Were they running for their lives? Was the terrain more difficult due to spilled grease or lots of juttng rocks? Was there an urgency of some sort making it tougher? If not then as a DM you are wasting everyones' time.

Having a skilled woodland survivalist, in a non-combat, non-time constrained situation make those checks for the poison glands is a waste. I could understand if it was some very unfamiliar abberation he was cutting on for the first time, but not a common critter in a casual situation.

Multitudes of saves on a trip are pointless, especially if it has nothing to do with the adventure at hand.

An exception would be something like the hidden roll I made to see if the PCs got a little off course in a recent session when searching a densly wooded area, and the check to see if two of them might spot and/or trigger a hunter's small game snare. It was for flavor so I had no damage result, and barely a minute of game time was used up, plus a few seconds of laughing at the hapless thief.

The checks made while searching for secret doors in a dungeon, those are appropriate because there is a time schedule of possible random encounters and the risk of not finding that hidden passage or treasure.

Climbing down a dangerously slick cavern wall? Yes, if they didn't find an easy way down and it is germaine to the adventure.

Leaping over a 10 foot chasm? Yes.

Leaping a 5 foot wide pit? Maybe. Definitely when being chased by something or chasing something. Put a tape measure down and try it. My fat old arse just tried this in a narrow space with a wall not far beyond the destination spot and found it a close call without a running start.

That same 3 foot wide distance mentioned above from a game my friend was playing in . . . easy, even for me. For an adventurer in a non-pressure situation, it shouldn't even be given a thought.

The less you abuse saves and checks, the more actual gaming you accomplish. Your players will thank you for it and as a DM you'll enjoy your game a lot more.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ptolus - Take Two

Monte Cook's award winning D&D campaign setting Ptolus is returning to print form.

Ptolus was originally released in 2006 as a single 672 page hardcover volume weighing 6lbs (yes, six freakin' pounds!), plus extras on CD and some stuffed in an envelope. There was also, for those that pre-ordered, 5 copies of the 32 page players guide, and some adventures.

The truely amazing product won 4 Gold Ennie Awards in 2007 for: Best Production Values, Best Setting, Best Cartography, and Product of the Year.

At the time it really helped push the bar for third party products very high, and I'm happy to say since then other companies have risen to the occasion in some areas of production, etc.

Besides the incredible quantity and quality of material encompassed by this monster of a game book, what shocked a lot of people was the price. The hardcover retailed for a whopping $120 and the PDF was $60. Many people remarked that a game book couldn't possible sell for that price and Monte, much to his credit (and happily for his bank account I'm sure) proved them wrong.

Originally I was one of the skeptics, however Monte's production journals and enthusiasm won me over and I became one of the 1,000 that pre-ordered the enourmous tome.

For details on Ptolus I recommend checking this link:

I may be wrong on the total number of print copies produced, however I believe it was over 10,000.

The book sold out long ago and occasionally a copy can be found on Ebay for upwards of $300.

Well, now after a nice long wait, Ptolus is making a return to print instead of remaining PDF only. (boy are the folks trying to sell their copies potentially going to be disappointed)

It will return in a print on demand format comprising not a single 6 pound goliath, but two smaller volumes. For proof, see this tiny picture of Monte at GenCon 2011 holding them up. You can thank the folks at Paizo for this pic.

Some of my usual suspects, er, I mean gaming group were part of the Ptolus campaign I was running a few years ago. They periodically voice the request for a return to the City By The Spire. I'm not yet ready to dive back into it despite my great appreciation for the setting.

Part of my reasons for holding back is the system is one I as a DM no longer feel comfortable running.

It was written for D&D 3.5 and while it is a playable system, I find the work required by that set of rules cumbersome when it comes to preparing monsters.

By that same token I don't feel converting it to 4th edition would work either. Too much up-front effort to convert and the character side doesn't feel right to me. The monster part is very much to my liking, but I can take what I get from that and port it back into the old-school game.

That leaves deciding on a format and converting. I'm pretty content to wait for now while I run the Lost Baronies campaign. Especially since scheduling is a major issue. Ptolus would demand an even stronger commitment from the players and right now that isn't going to happen.

What I would love though is for someone else to run Ptolus so I could be a player in that grand environment. Anyone? Beuller?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Psst . . . Hey Buddy . . .

The latest word on the street seems to indicate that not only is Paizo getting into the miniatures market in a big way, but that Wizards wants back in as well.

Wizards has announced they will be releasing non-random sets of miniatures such as undead, goblins, orcs, drow, etc. They also plan to create a game for minis combat to go along with them by doing an open playtest and development.

I don't have details about packaging, cost, or quantity of miniatures.

This should make things interesting in the market. Competition will either break the market by spreading the available money too thin, or will help the consumers on all sides of the random versus non-random debate win through potential price competition. My bet is on the latter.

Now the debate will hopefully become one of quality. This plastic crack junkie is looking forward to his next hit.

Top pic, William S. Burroughs, Bottom pic, a scene from his book/film Naked Lunch.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Large Groups - the good, the bad, and the target rich environment.

What are your preferences as a player and a DM for group size in a campaign?

Having been at this for three decades has given me experience with groups at the table both as player and as a DM, that ranged from two players and a DM, up to 14 players and a DM. These experiences were in various game systems, though most were D&D.

The 14 player occasion was a single session during a Champions supers campaign that had 17 players. There was a core of fairly regular players and a host of people that just popped in now and then. I was the GM for that campaign and most sessions had from 4 to 6 players present.

I was hoping for something similar to happen with the Lost Baronies campaign, but as you have noticed if you have been keeping up with the blog, the peak was 7 players at the table (with 11 characters), and the norm seems to be two players. Lately it has been zero with cancelations happening too frequently for my taste.

I much prefer larger groups with 7 apparently being my comfort zone for D&D (Labyrinth Lord in this case). My 2nd edition game typically had 5 to 7, most often 6 players present.

The reasons I am comfortable with a larger group is not entirely clear to me, but it may be that it allows for more variety of encounters, puzzles, and types of interactions. It definitely gives everyone in the group a decent sized audience for the humorous and dramatic moments. Most likely it comes from sharing the fun with more people.

It has to be pointed out that the larger the group, the more deadly seeming an encounter can appear without breaking a certain perception of believability. There is also the benefit that one or two characters being incapacitated doesn't put the group at too great a risk of a total party kill compared to the effect it has on a smaller group.

Our weekly group recently reached a total of 9 members and the only real drawbacks from my perspective seems to be the limited amount of space which we all just fit into at that group size, and a recent spate of scheduling issues which fortunately the weekly group seems better adept at dealing with than my twice a month LL group.

Your thoughts on group size?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Joy Of Creative Players

In a recent post I mentioned PCs taking on the roles of bad guys during play. The action decribed briefly in that post glossed over a scene with the characters crossing a chasm amid a fog cloud and having to rescue one that had fallen in. The scene led to a very creative bit of play by some of the players and never fails to make me smile when thinking back on it.

Rashid had attempted to pursue a thieving dopplganger across the stone bridge. Not wishing to be caught the creature pulled a magical knot from his rope belt, blew across the knot creating a thick wall of fog to obscure the narrow pass over the chasm. Streamers of fog spilled into the darkness below and soon so too did Rashid.

He survived the 20 foot fall into a pile of discarded decaying corpses and other castoff waste. Standing up and trying to get his bearings he called out that he was ok. Then he heard something move amid the darkness and mist surrounding him. He made sure to convey his concerns to his companions.

Above, Elwyn and Ted prepared spells as Otis readied a rope. Ted cast light on the end of the rope and had Otis lower it down. He instructed Rashid to yank at the rope so they would know where he was. As Rashid did so, the light exposed a frightening silhouette. A large roundish creature with waving tentacles was upon him and he shouted for help "now!"

Elwyn, unable to see anything below aside from the scattered glow of the light spell in the mist, used the rope as a guide for targetting her sleep spell. It was risky since Rashid was certain to succumb, but not knowing what danger he faced meant she might be consigning him to his death if the creature resisted the spell.

The spell worked. Otis climbed down, slew the carrion eating beast which had managed to paralyze Rashid before falling asleep beside him, and tied Rashid to the rope. He climbed up and together they hauled their sleeping friend back to the stone bridge.

The scene above shows that simple things can become very useful when applied in out-of-the-box ways. Casting light on the rope to help Rashid find it was good, but then using the rope to target a spell put the icing on the cake.

This same group later used the same light on rope approach to recover another party member that had fallen through a hole into a rapidly flowing underground stream. Hoping he had managed to grab onto something and that he was also where he could breath, they strung out nearly 100 feet of rope, with the light spell on the end, into the current.

That character saw the light source floating toward him as he hung onto a jutting rock in the dark cavern and was able to tie it around himself and get pulled back through to safety.

These are the kinds of things that make being a DM fun for me. Seeing the creativity players exhibit when faced with difficult and dangerous situations is what gives this hobby the allure it holds for so many of us.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Magic Item - Lanthorn of Avarice

Embuk cursed the darkness. His torch was sputtering the last of its light away and there was easily a day of travel before reaching the surface. "I have but this bejeweled ring and 100 pounds of gold and gems to light my way. Surely I will die here a fool, alone with my treasure. I wish I had a reliable lanthorn, my treasure for light!"

Suddenly there before him drifted a roiling cloud of glowing vapors within which stood a figure clad in fine silks. "Your wish is granted." The figure produced a finely crafted lamp and placed it in Embuk's hand. "It requires but a single coin to produce light. With that the figure dissolved into the smoke and was drawn again into the ring.

Embuk was overjoyed by this stroke of great fortune. "I am saved!" He placed a copper coin into a tiny slot near the base and the lamp flared into light equal to a candle. "A mere candle? Perhaps silver will brighten things."

Slipping a silver coin into the slot the lamp did indeed brighten and it was as if he had a new torch with which to see his way. Though his joy was short lived for it became low as a candle after less time than a torch would burn. "Mayhaps gold will satisfy you? he remarked to the lamp as he slid another of his many coins into the greedy lamp.

This went on for another day and Embuk did indeed escape the darkness of the caverns, but with a much lessened burden of coins. He was however richer for the lesson of misguided wish making.

The lanthorn of avarice is but one of many such treasure draining items that adventurers may discover in their travels.

Copper coins fed into it provide a candle equivilent light source for 1 turn. Silver pieces provide the equal of torchlight for 4 turns. Electrum provides torchlight for 6 turns. Gold coins provide an area of light twice the area of a standard torch for 6 turns. Platinum provides the equal of daylight at the range of two torches for 6 turns and forces a turning check for undead as if faced with a level 3 cleric, although they will not be destroyed, only kept at bay.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lost Baronies of Lendore Isle - session #5 addendum

This is additional information left out of the previous post due to my being both in a hurry and forgetful.

The party paid to enter town and headed straight for the stables and inn. After securing and feeding the tired donkeys they took the chest of silver pieces and headed into the inn.

Tired and hungry, they paid for rooms, stowed the chest and then grabbed quick meals. Afterward they paid for hot baths, paid to have their clothing and boots cleaned and went to bed.

The next morning their clothing and boots were waiting for them. Everyone was happy to be free of large numbers of vermin, though their boots did have a reddish stain that had become a permanent feature. Poor Seamus seemed to fare the worst. Having fallen into the mess all of his gear and clothing now bore the reddish tint.

Those that had done the cleaning had come up with a nickname for the group which unbeknownst to them had begun to catch on. In whispered tones they were starting to be called the company of the bloody boots.

Wanting to be sure they had changes of clothing for longer trips they decided to buy new clothing and in a couple cases, even new boots.

Thorgrim was in such a hurry he tried to intimidate the cobbler/tailor in town into making him a new set of boots overnight. That resulted in him getting an even brighter red set of footwear with pointy curled toes since the only thing the cobbler had available was bright red leather he had started on for a different customer.

During the second day they went to see Olhatta to try and convert the older silver coins into spendable cash. This she was happy to do although she was only able to convert at silver weight value.

It turned out that she recognized the minter as the Silver Potentate, a long dead tyrant, infamous for his cruel rule and his most vile prison known as Stone Hell. Olhatta admitted that in her younger days she tried to find the legendary prison on this island, but she and her companions failed to determine where it was hidden.

This peaked the party's interest and they are discussing a possible search for Stone Hell after their local business is complete.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Under Dark Is Real - sort of . . .

Ancient tunnels reaching from Scotland to Turkey have been discovered.

The tunnels are believed to be over 12,000 years old. They have been found beneath hundreds of neolithic sites.

From the brief article:

'Across Europe there were thousands of them - from the north in Scotland down to the Mediterranean.
'Most are not much larger than big wormholes - just 70cm wide - just wide enough for a person to wriggle along but nothing else.
'They are interspersed with nooks, at some places it's larger and there is seating, or storage chambers and rooms.
'They do not all link up but taken together it is a massive underground network.'

'Across Europe there were thousands of them - from the north in Scotland down to the Mediterranean.
'Most are not much larger than big wormholes - just 70cm wide - just wide enough for a person to wriggle along but nothing else.
'They are interspersed with nooks, at some places it's larger and there is seating, or storage chambers and rooms.
'They do not all link up but taken together it is a massive underground network.'

Apparently these tunnels had the church freaked out and to counter the "pagan influence" they would often build chappels near the tunnel entrances. Some of the tunnels appear to have rooms with seating and other features that might have been shrines.

While there is not really anything conclusive about there having been links between them, they sure do make for a bunch of small dungeon sites all over the place. So much for the arguement that dungeons being everywhere isn't realistic. Hah!

Pathfinder Battles Miniatures

New information has been posted on the Paizo site clarifying the info that was mentioned in the most recent Prop Dusting post.

From the Paizo site:

Heroes & Monsters Standard Boosters contain 1 Medium or 2 Small miniatures.
Heroes & Monsters Large Boosters contain 1 Large miniature.
Heroes & Monsters Bricks contain 16 Standard Boosters and 3 Large Boosters.
Heroes & Monsters Cases contain 4 Bricks (64 Standard Boosters and 12 Large Boosters).

Prices seem a little high.
Individual boosters (one or possibly two figures) are $3.99
Large individual boosters are $5.99
A "brick" of sixteen regular and 3 large boosters is $74.99
A case of 4 bricks is $274.99

They have begun to add more pictures of the minis and for the most part I like what I'm seeing. If the paint schemes really are this nice then the price won't seem as tough to take.

The Hot Elf Chick Is A Lie! - but the dice are real.

Ok, so I'm late to the party, sheesh!

And I really hate the changes to how pictures are loaded into the blog. Hey Google, change it back so I can edit decent posts. Twits.

This is a small fraction of the amount of dice I have accumulated over the eons. The rest are somewhere in my storage boxes. One of these days I might actually decide to look for them.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lost Baronies of Lendore Isle - session #5

The night was uneventful and the healing spell Pedro had cast on the more injured of the two donkeys seemed to be helping, though both animals remained weak. The two wounded party members had begun to regain some color and everyone decided to make another try on the door to the third floor.

They breached the third floor of the tower to discover the room covered with stirge guano. Dim light scattered into the room from the opening in the ceiling that had once had a trap door, now rotted and splintered remnants lay on the floor amid the layer of viscous droppings and decaying matter. The smell in the room was nearly overwhelming.

Not trusting the floor which they could not see beneath the filth, Tok was volunteered to make his way around the room until everyone felt secure enough to enter. Squishing and crunching his way around the room, Tok determined that it would at least hold his weight.

Centered within the room and covered in the same slurry of feces, fur, and other disgusting detritus was a pedastal upon which sat a cylinder of stained glass with a tarnished silver lid complete with an ornate handle. No light penetrated the glass and they decided something must be filling the object.

What they could see of the walls behind the streaks of stirge droppings indicated that the patterns of writing in various languages, runes, pictograms, and heiroglyphs would be present everywhere once the crap was cleared away. Some of the inscriptions were in dialects of elven, dwarven, and older tongues, long gone from memory.

The decision was made to try to clean the walls and cylinder enough to determine what the room was for. Sacrificing strips from bedrolls and using the majority of their water and some spirits, they began the long task of removing the reddish brown, slime and crust. Under foot the thick muck began turning to a smeary goo.

During the process the party received a visit from some surprise guests. Five stirges flew down through the opening and went immediately for various targets.

Quick thinking and a closely placed sleep spell from Valen within the tight space of the tower put down 4 stirges and the ever unlucky Seamus who slipped into the filth stew beneath their feet. The fifth stirge struck at Fred and then was brought low by attacks. The party killed the sleeping stirges and shook seamus awake.

Gradually the patterns began to emerge and a winding band of a single elven script became readable around the top of the walls. They had found some sort of oracular device, one which could be used to answer questions that required interpretation and might not always be accurate.

The script indicated that within the glass was another cylinder of ebony, graven with symbols within which was trapped a fey creature of brilliant radience. The interaction of the magics from the glass, the ebony cage, and the creature within could yield answers. All one needed to do was open the silver lid and raise a panel of ebony to allow the fey's brilliance to shine outward through the glass. As she turned the cage exposing her light to different sections of glass and wall, groupings of information on the walls would be highlighted.

They continued cleaning until the light made work impossible for those without good dark vision out of a desire to conserve their remaining torches. They then retired back to the floors below after capping the opening in the ceiling with the third floor door.

Another night was spent there, though the fleas and filth made it quite uncomfortable, especially for their crud covered thief. In the morning they loaded the chest of silver pieces on their donkey and did their best to use the second floor door to block part of the ground floor entrance, then they set out for town itching all the way.

They are planning a return to the tower and to continue hunting the other bandit lair. Their worst enemies this time were fleas and filth.
I might make Seamus save to avoid a disease. He has born the brunt of the mishaps for 3 sessions consecutively.

We are trying to work through the scheduling issues in order to get the overdue session #6 going. Hopefully enough people can make it on August 20th. Presently that is not certain. One of the most reliably present players has to go away that week and won't make it back in time.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Play Styles And Players In The Role Of NPC Baddies

There have been occasions when I have entrusted the role of NPCs into the hands of some players. In many cases it didn't pan out as intended while in others it made for very memorable and fun events.

It wouldn't be fair to blame players for not fully embracing that role and playing it to the hilt. For some people, it just doesn't match their style of play.

For those that do embrace the opportunities presented, the game gains immensely from the depth of interaction and the directions it can lead.

A couple of examples from campaigns of mine past:

The game was second edition D&D, and the first level characters had become entangled from instant 1 of the campaign in a chase to catch a thief that had stolen a very important item. The chase had led them through part of two kingdoms into wilderness, on into the territory of at least nine goblin tribes and the nearby homes of several other types of humanoids.

At first they didn't understand why they seemed to be chasing different people or why they didn't really know exactly who they were after, yet the clues kept them going. Time after time this miscreant slipped just beyond their reach.

Eventually they found themselves overlooking a canyon where the leaders of the nine goblin tribes and close to 1500 humanoids (mostly goblins) were gathered.

They found a way into the caves of the local tribe and eventually spotted the thief. In hot pursuit the party got split up when the villain used a fog cloud scroll to obscure the stone bridge over a chasm.

Most of the party remained behind to try to rescue a member that had fallen into the chasm and was under threat by something down there with him. One party member had made it through the fog in time to see where the villain went and gave chase (you're not getting away this time!).

That one lone PC ended up in a world of hurt being outmatched by two enemies, one a doppleganger he had already experienced the power of, and the other a large creature even more powerful than an ogre (the so-called goblin king). He was taken captive and replaced by the doppleganger.

This part was played out in another room to keep secrets from those not yet exposed to the information. The player was given the chance to play the part of his imposter and took to it with aplomb.

The party was pulled back together and after some additional highjinx left the caves thinking they were safe. That is when to the surprise of everyone else the villain struck.

The player run doppleganger chose to attack the mage that was the closest character and who had his back to him. Fortunately the party had reached second level by this point and the extra hitpoints saved the day.

The looks on player faces was priceless. There was genuine confusion for a moment and eventually they got their act together and defeated this very hated foe. The PCs all survived and they killed the goblin king in the bargain too.

In the second example from a Ptolus campaign, a different set of players with a much more tactical style who aren't much for the role playing were given control of thugs in a back alley with the idea that they were going to rob a lone PC that was messing with a fellow gang member.

This story is shorter because the players thought more in board game terms of the party always needing to win and not the idea of letting story hooks develope from the possible outcome. The targeted PC was barely bruised and the entire group of thugs was easily defeated. (Boring for me, but that was their way of doing things.)

My personal style runs more to enjoying the first example than the second.

Other DMs have tried this, also with varied results. It would be nice to hear some examples. Post a little bit in the comments if you have any examples.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

So Much For That Plan

This weekend was going to be the second attempt to run session #6 of the Lost Baronies campaign. My guest players got word today that they have another obligation that has cropped up for the same day and time.

Now it is going to be August 20th as attempt number 3 to get the game going again and so far I have only one player saying the schedule then is clear enough to make it.

On a brighter note, one of the wayward players who had to take the summer off emailed and indicated a likely return in October.

About tomorrow . . . the Random Table will not be making an appearance tomorrow unless I get beat with the inspiration stick. Part of the reason is that I am slowly putting together a larger set of tables for a later post.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Prop Dusting - Return Of The Plastic Crack

And here I thought my addiction to buying cases of fantasy gaming miniatures was finished. Maybe I am not free of this dreaded shoulder riding monkey after-all. I still have not finished opening all of the stuff I bought before. There is an excuse, called not DMing for a few years, but it isn't a good excuse.

Paizo just announced that in combination with WizKidz, they will be jumping into the gaping chasm left by Wizards of The Coast when the minaitures line ceased production.

Pathfinder Battles is the name of the new pre-painted miniatures line due to hit stores in December 2011. Like the old line from WotC, these will also be sold as blind random boosters.

The first set, Heroes & Monsters, will be a 40 piece set. According to their emailed newsletter a "brick" (19 booster case) consists of "16 packs including one Medium, or 2 Small figures, and 3 large packs featuring 1 Large monster each", and "Buyers who purchase factory sealed cases(4 bricks)should get a nearly complete set of figures.

That sounds like boosters contain only 1 or 2 figures each, and there would be 76 booster packs to a case. If that is a fact then it stands to reason there will be a lot of excess packaging. And you need to think about the possibility of buying more than a case to get the set if you're a collector and not buying just to have a bunch of figures for play.

The second set will be named Rise of the Rune Lords and have 60 different figures. No word yet on how many bricks to a case for the second set. Regardless, I nearly crapped a brick thinking about the crazy packaging scheme.

However, reading further along, in another part of the newsletter it now sounds like there will be 6 figures per booster. So which is it Paizo . . . you're starting to sound like Wizards with the confusing product descriptions.

All of the above bull brick aside, the pictures of the figures look really nice, except for the gnome with bright orange hair. Bright, day-glo, orange hair. What the heck is up with that?

This could be something good for a lot of people, or it could be a nightmare depending on price and other factors. Paizo promises good collation to avoid a bunch of duplication (within reason of course).

This all has me wondering if I should bother with these. I have at least one case of all but one of WotC's pre-painted plastic crack, slowly being sorted, and definitely dusty. Do I need more miniatures?

On a side topic, when I last posted a Prop Dusting article I promised to provide info on the company I had bought the coins from. Here it is:

Monday, August 1, 2011

GenCon Here They Come!

This is an interesting week for the gaming groups.

At least three of the weekly group will be attending GenCon, and at least two players from my Lost Baronies campaign will also be there.

The weekly group appears to be taking a skip week. I feel the need to do so even though I won't be at the con, too much stuff at home to take care of.

For my weekend game there are guest players coming in to run some of the PCs so that one will be running as normal.

Hopefully we'll manage at least 4 players this time and be able to get them out of town and into trouble, er, I mean adventure, sure, that.

Posting might be a bit light this week since I plan to do a bunch of house work and some studying. I still hope to manage at least one post a day, though I have no idea yet if any of the posts aside from one Lost Baronies update will have much content.

I've got a few posts in the pipeline I've been meaning to work on and things keep causing me to delay them. Maybe next week for those posts.