Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z for Zappo the Wondrous

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

Zappo the Wondrous is an NPC from my current campaign, a 3rd level Magic-User the party recently rescued from the depths of Stonehell Dungeon. He has an interesting background and a slightly unusual spell selection, so I thought I would share him with you as the conclusion of my April A-Z Blog Post Challenge.

Zappo the Wondrous
Human Magic-User Lvl. 3
Alignment: neutral
STR 5, DEX 11, CON 9, INT 16, WIS 13, CHA 8
HP: 8
AC: 9
Weapons: quarterstaff (1d6 dam.)
Armor: unarmored (base AC 9)

Zappo, a native of Achelon, trained under a wizard who himself trained with legendary recluse Elzar the Horrid. This is where Zappo picked up his Stickyfoot spell, and rumor has it he possesses a transcription of the Troglodyte Stench Burst spell as well.

Zappo's current spells (those in his field spell book) include: Shield (1), Sleep (1), Levitate (2), and Stickyfoot (2).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y for Yeti

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]


The Yeti is one of my favorite D&D monsters, perhaps because I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and was, for years, scared of bigfoot (also called the sasquatch). I always felt that yeti (or abominable snowmen) were Himalayan cousins of the North American sasquatches -- a snow-adapted version of bigfoot.

So in celebration of the awesomeness of the yeti, I offer a deadly undead variant, statted for Labyrinth Lord:


Yeti, Undead
# Encountered: 1d6 (2d4)
Alignment: chaotic
Move: 90’ (30’)
AC: 6
HD: 6
Attacks: 2 (claws)
Damage: 1d6 / 1d6 plus paralysis
Save: F6
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XXI
XP: 820

The Undead Yeti possesses all ghoul defenses and capabilities, including paralysis.

[Special Thanks to Peter Regan, editor of Oubliette Magazine, for his Zombie Monster rules in Oubliette Issue #4, crucial to the creation of this monster.]


 The shocking truth finally comes out!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X for X-Factor

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

No, I am not referring to the Marvel Comics title of the same name, but rather the more general definition of the term "X-Factor," to wit:

"a hard-to-describe influence or quality; an important element with unknown consequences"

To me, this concept describes something fundamental both to my own approach to RPGs and to the old-school gaming style in general. Sure, most RPGs (old-school or no) use dice or some other form of randomizing element, but what I am talking about here is a real COMMITMENT to playing the dice as they lay, and also incorporating the ideas, suggestions, and surmises of the PCs into the fabric of the ongoing campaign in significant, consequence-changing ways.


Play the Dice as they Lay. This is an x-factor by which many old-school DM's swear. There seems to be something about randomness for old-school gamers, so much so that many of us advocate strongly for allowing the dice, not DM fiat, to have "final say" in a great many game situations. Of course the DM is still "god" or the final rules arbiter, but I think many of us in the OSR favor adapting ourselves to the result of the dice rather than "fudging" or overruling the dice.

A personal example of this would be my own recent efforts to stock the DMG Dungeon map. Prior to engaging in that project just over a month ago, I had literally never before randomly stocked a dungeon! I grew up in the age of pre-packaged adventure modules and usually played those; even when I created my own adventures and dungeons, I usually deliberately chose which monsters to place where. Of course I used the wandering monster tables, but only for actual wandering monsters; I never initially stocked a dungeon using them!

But as that random stocking project has unfolded, I have quickly realized how FUN random stocking is! Holding oneself to the outcome of a series of die rolls, then creating a justification / back story for the monsters, traps, and treasures one randomly gets, is hugely satisfying. It tests the very ability I prize most in a referee: the ability to respond creatively to x-factors on the fly. This is a skill I work to keep sharp for myself, and random dungeon stocking has been a terrific way to keep myself inventive and flexible around an unforeseen set of x-factors. In fact, I am so sold on the virtues of random dungeon stocking that I plan to utilize the technique for the adventure I am writing for play at OSRCon this year, The Tower of Death.

The d30 House Rule. Another place where I have surely introduced a big x-factor into my ongoing campaign is by having decreed a "nightly d30 roll" house rule, i.e.:

"Once per session each player may opt to roll the referee’s d30 in lieu of whatever die or dice the situation normally calls for. The choice to roll the d30 must be made before any actual rolling has occurred. The d30 cannot be rolled for generating character statistics or hit points."

This house rule, which I believe originates with Jeff Rients but that I picked up from Carl's Mutant Future game, introduces a fairly powerful x-factor into the game, especially in the hands of inventive players. As my own experiences with Uncle Junkal's charm person ability and the party's remarkable Hobgoblin Camp Raid make clear, allowing a nightly d30 roll by each player (and me as GM) can seriously disrupt "game balance," if one were into preserving such a thing. I am not. I play these games to have fun and to engage everybody's imagination as much as possible. To me, the inexplicable, out-of-the ordinary, and downright miraculous all have a place at my game table -- I want to be awed, surprised, and caught off-guard. So do the players. So we all equally submit to the randomness of the dice, and all have our chance to "beat fate" with a lucky d30 roll once per session.

Players as x-factors. I think that clever, imaginative players are the best possible x-factors, the most invigorating elements that keep me on my mental toes as a DM. Indeed, when I hear the phrase "an important element with unknown consequences," the first thing I think of is my group of players. I can never anticipate how they might respond to narrative hooks, NPCs, or campaign developments, and I like that very much. Refereeing PCs is like the old saying about herding kittens -- I could try to "control" them, but they would always slip away from my corralling, would always behave according to their own desires rather than mine. No, I can keep certain balls in play, and hope that the PCs will run with some of them, but they are always free to (and frequently do) act according to their own whims and take off in directions completely unforeseen by me. Like the dice, my players become an x-factor I must creatively and flexibly respond to, quite often on the fly. And this is where some of the most satisfying moments in the game happen for me. I LOVE what my players throw into the mix, and I look forward to new surprises from them every session.  I can't reveal specifics of course, because the campaign is still mid-stream, but some of the coolest narrative developments in the Arandish Campaign so far have emerged from the ideas, surmises, suggestions and actions of the players.  And "huzzah" for that -- it is exactly as it should be!

Long live x-factors!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W for Wereshark

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

I love sharks, and am justifiably terrified of them.  So what's not to love about the wereshark?  Here is a version statted for Labyrinth Lord:

Figurine painted and photographed by Ben at The Quiet Limit of the World.

Wereshark
No. Enc. 1d4 (1d4)
Align: Neutral
Move: 120' Swim 180'
AC: 2 (8)
HD 8 
Att: 1 (bite)
Dam: 2d10
Save: F6
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XX

The dreaded wereshark is the result of a form of lycanthropy that allows the creature to assume great white shark form at will, so long as it is in darkness. Thus the wereshark has a great white shark form (see LL p. 95) and a human form. The first AC number listed above is for its shark form, the AC in parentheses for its human form.  As a lycanthrope, the wereshark can be affected by magic or silver weapons only (see Lycanthrope, LL p. 85).

[Inspired by the "Wereshark" entry on p. 82 of the Monster Manual II by Gary Gygax.]

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V for Vampire

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

As regular readers know, I am a huge fan of vampires, and have accordingly decreed that the typical Arandish Vampire is much more powerful than the "standard" D&D vampire. I have little to add to my prior comments about the role vampires play in my D&D game, but I want to take this opportunity to explain which pop-cultural (and specifically, cinematic) vampires have been most influential to me.

Being a Generation Xer who came of age in the 80's, the first truly scary vampire I remember seeing on film (or, in this case, on TV), was Mr. Barlow, "the Master" in Tobe Hooper's 1979 mini-series adaptation of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot. That sonofabitch is SCARY looking, and when he first popped up in that jail cell sequence, he scared the crap out of me.


At the time, I was of course aware of Bela Lugosi's famous 1930 portrayal of Dracula, but I found the Salem's Lot vampire much more frightening and believable: less human or "civilized" than Lugosi and much more like a bald, rat-like, animalistic bloodsucker. Nasty!


As a young lad I did not know that Hooper's depiction of Mr. Barlow in Lot was an homage to the ORIGINAL cinematic vampire, Count Orlok, portrayed by Max Schreck in F.W. Murnau's classic silent film Nosferatu (1922).


Today, as an "adult" and a professional film scholar, I would nominate Schreck's performance in Murnau's masterpiece as the best embodiment of a screen vampire ever. So creepy, especially in the "Death Ship" sequence:



 Still images hardly do this scene justice -- it's how Schreck moves across that deck that really conveys his uncanny "undeadness."

To conclude, I would be remiss if I did not mention the second-greatest vampire portrayal ever, and surely the best one of the sound cinema era: Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula in Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of Nosferatu.

 Bruno Ganz as Harker and Klaus Kinski as Dracula.

 "Listen! The children of the night make their music!"

Note the overarching trend here: bald, ratlike vampires = scary!

I know how this guy feels!

Monday, April 25, 2011

U for Undead Stirge

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

Special Thanks to Peter Regan, editor of Oubliette Magazine, for his Zombie Monster rules in Oubliette Issue #4,  which were instrumental to the creation of this monster.

Stirge, Undead
# Encountered: 1d10 (3d12)
Alignment: chaotic
Move: 60’ (20’)
AC: 8
HD: 2
Attacks: 1 (blood sucking)
Damage: 1d3
Save: F2
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: none
XP: 29

An undead stirge cannot fly, but instead hops from place to place like a grotesque cricket. It does NOT get the +2 to hit granted to living stirges. Undead stirges have all the usual undead immunities.

A successful attack by an undead stirge deals 1d3 damage, and the stirge is then considered attached to its opponent, draining blood for 1d3 damage per round until the victim dies or the undead stirge is destroyed.

"I'm coming to kill you, Barbara!"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

OSRCon and Running Convention Games

As I indicated in this post, I am planning to run monthly open-to-the-public Labyrinth Lord games in my local game store (or perhaps more likely bookstore) starting later this fall. This is a new deal for me; I have only ever run at-home games with players I have known well. But I truly believe that James Maliszewski is spot-on correct when he says that "what we need are more gamers who are willing to share their hobby with interested newcomers. [. . .] Rulebooks and intro sets and websites can only get you so far; what’s really needed is face-to-face interaction with people actively involved in the hobby." So I am going to become an OSR activist, taking the Old Ways to new (to me and hopefully to old-school D&D) gamers. I am going to become an emissary of Labyrinth Lord and, through it, of the OSR more generally (gulp!).

No sooner did I make this pledge than something amazing happened: I saw an ad for OSRCon in my print copy of Fight On #11. I fairly quickly decided that, since I live only three hours south of Toronto, I have no excuse not to attend OSRCon on August 12-13. Furthermore, clearly I should run a couple of Labyrinth Lord games there. Time to start getting my public-DM'ing feet wet!!


The game I am running at OSRCon will be straight LL, no AEC, with only two house rules:

(1) Multiple Round searching for secret doors allowed, and

(2) Shields Shall Be Splintered!

I will provide Pre-Generated PCs to all participants, and will be running a homebrewed Level 3-5 adventure scenario called The Tower of Death. I will run one game during Session One on Friday and one during Session Three on Saturday. My LL games are designated "Table 5" in OSRCon's online schedule.

I plan to treat each of my two Labyrinth Lord sessions as a stand-alone experience, that is, new players may join the second day's session without prior knowledge of the first day's game and I will NOT assume continuity between the two days' games. Yet if a critical mass of players from the first day's session come back for the second one and want to "continue" deeper into the same dungeon, and the new players consent, I will strive to work that in.

To prepare myself for this event, I am gathering some advisory resources relating to running convention / FLGS games. Some of these include:

+ Jeff''s recent advice on running games at local game stores.

+ Cyclopeatron's list of 9 Ways to Enhance Game Immersion seems timely and quite applicable to the convention game environment.

+ "One-Off Con Adventures" guest editorial by Tim Kask in Fight On! #10.

+ "Adventuring at Conventions," also by Tim Kask, in Knockspell #5.

Are there any other ideas, blog posts, or articles about running convention games that I should be aware of? Please respond in comments.

Note: As a participant in and representative of OSRCon, I want to urge all my readers to look into the event details via the OSRCon website and blog, and PLEASE consider making the trip up to Toronto to play some frikkin' GAMES! In addition to my Labyrinth Lord game, it looks like James M. will be there running Dwimmermount (!!) and there are sessions featuring Pendragon and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks as well.

OSRCon registration is only is $20 CDN until July 1.

http://www.osrcon.ca/
http://osrcon.wordpress.com/

T for Table, d30

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

Since I recently blogged about Blint, and since there is a decent chance my current group of PCs may eventually find their way through there, I have decided to create two random encounter tables for this southern Arandish territory.

I prefer d30 encounter tables, being a loyal member of the Order, so that's what's on offer here. To preserve campaign security, I will merely attach the two Blintian d30 encounter tables as a pdf rather than posting them in full to the blog; players in my campaign should avoid looking at them.

Friday, April 22, 2011

S for Sloth of Death

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

During my recent revisit of the unfinished Crimson Blades of Ara Referee section, I became reacquainted with the "Sloth of Death," a favorite monster of my 1990s gaming group. Actually, I don't recall that the group actually encountered many Tree Wildens in the course of their adventures, but they sure as hell talked about them a lot. So the "Sloth of Death" became something of a legendary creature in those early CBoA sessions, at least by player word of mouth.

And here it is, statted for Labyrinth Lord:

Illustration copyright 2011 Kelvin Green.

Tree Wilden (Sloth of Death)
# Encountered: 1d4 (1d8)
Alignment: neutral
Move: 90' (30'), Brachiation: 120’ (40’)
AC: 3
HD: 5
Attacks: 2 or 1 (2 claws or strangulate with tail)
Damage: 2d4 / 2d4 / special (see below)
Save: F5
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: none
XP: 350

The Tree Wilden, popularly known as the "Sloth of Death," is a 3 foot tall tree-dwelling primate with an incredibly strong, 3-4 foot long prehensile tail. The Wilden’s greenish skin and brownish fur make it very difficult to spot; it waits silently in trees for unsuspecting prey to pass by below. Once a victim is in range, the Wilden lowers its powerful tail and attempts to strangulate. A successful tail strangulation attack does 1d3 initial damage and indicates that the victim is now held fast; s/he takes 1d3 strangulation damage per round until s/he breaks free. Furthermore, for each round of strangulation after the first, there is a cumulative 1 in 6 chance that the victim passes out.

Breaking free from the tree wilden's stranglehold requires a successful force doors roll -- STR bonuses apply. Furthermore, any round in which the strangling sloth itself takes combat damage (or is affected by a spell) grants the victim an additional +1 to his/her force doors escape roll.

The Tree Wilden can also attack with its claws, but rarely does so, preferring its strangling tail attack to direct melee. It often hunts by twilight or night and has 30' infravision. It is a tree dweller who prefers warmer climes, and is most often encountered in Southern Achelon, Blint, and Noffel.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R for Rush

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

Rush: These Men Are Space Wizards!

Following Spawn of Endra's terrific post inaugurating an Emerson, Lake and Palmer-inspired campaign setting, Andrew asked for some D&D related comments regarding the AWESOME Canadian rock band, Rush.

I love Rush. I was first exposed to their music via one of my earliest D&D buddies, Sam Buckwalter. Moving Pictures was the first Rush album I ever heard, thanks to Sam, but my all-time favorite Rush album is 2112. While the climactic portion of this post will sketch out some campaign ideas inspired by the album's 20+ minute title track, I want to open with some words of praise for Side 2 of 2112.

The whole second side of the record is golden. "A Passage To Bangkok" is a Rush classic for a reason -- such a great hook! My favorite tune on Side 2 is "Lessons," with a terrific acoustic guitar progression and an uplifting vibe. "Tears" is quite pretty, but (for me) always pales in comparison to the other, greater Geddy Lee lyrical outing, "Entre Nous" from Permanent Waves. But I get ahead of myself; we will revisit Permanent Waves in a later post, to mine "Jacob's Ladder" for adventure ideas.

The 2112 album closes with one of the all-time best Rush songs, "Something for Nothing," which exemplifies all that is great about Rush. This song says: "My song can kick your song's ass any day of the week, buddy!"

But all these great songs are mostly useless as campaign fodder, unless you include trains or the intimate intricacies of tender romances in your D&D setting.


That's where the galactic epic "2112" comes in. Consisting of seven movements, the song tells the science-fantasy story of a solitary fellow who finds an "ancient wonder" which happens to be an electric guitar. He takes it to the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx, who tell him the artifact caused nothing but trouble for the elder race of man, and that the music it makes is beneath the priests' consideration. The Priests, who seem to be the Thought Police of this futuristic culture, dismiss the guitar-finder, who has a prophetic dream about an ancient but technologically advanced race, then commits suicide.  Soon after our protagonist's death, aliens (presumably the ones he saw in his dream) come to Earth and announce that they have assumed control of all the planets ruled by the Solar Federation.  The End.

What follows are some very brief sketches of campaign ideas inspired by each movement of "2112."

I. Overture - II. The Temples of Syrinx
Priests of Temples of Syrinx = Humans / Humanoids dominated by Mind Flayers (Thought Police) or devils (Lawful). Perhaps the Priests are themselves devils or mind flayers who can disguise themselves as humans.

III.  Discovery
Our Hero = Bard. Are bardic powers the dominant "White" magic vs. evil psionics in this setting?  Is some kind of pilgrimage or quest needed before the Bard finds / constructs an instrument of power?  Spellsinging bards would have to be powerful, and perhaps even the dominant form of PC magic, in this setting.

IV. Presentation
The POWERFUL bards (sort of like the Jedi in the original Star Wars trilogy, i.e. few and rare) are singers, and use magical lutes or guitars that could be "ancient artifacts" but function as Charisma amplifiers / focusers for use with major bardic powers.

V. Oracle: The Dream
The prophet's dream: Atop a spiral staircase, an oracle leads our bard/dreamer to cosmic revelation of ancient aliens, the elder race who left Earth long ago. This introduces a strong science-fiction element to the setting, one that almost suggests that the "2112" campaign could be played using Mutant Future with Bards. The thrust of the campaign could be to gather the technological artifacts left behind by the Elder Race. The Mind Flayers or Devils (Priests of Syrinx) could even be a competing faction of aliens or extraplanar beings who took over once the Elders left the planet for some reason.

VI. Soliloquy - VII. The Grand Finale
The death of the song's (unnamed) protagonist suggests that a bard martyr figures largely in the Lore of the current crop of spellsingers.  The story of that original Bard cast out by the Priests could be the key myth and unifying tale of the spellsinger resurgence movement. But all still await the return of the elder race; that portion of the prophecy has not yet come true.

Wow, this started out as a simple thought-experiment, but now I am starting to get genuinely intrigued by this campaign idea. I hope you have found it to be inspirational too.

P.S. If you are at all interested in Rush and haven't yet seen it, I highly recommend the comprehensive documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (2010). Or, for Rush concert films, Rush in Rio (2003) is probably the best one out there.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q for Queen of the Demonweb Pits

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

Module Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits marks the conclusion of an epic series of classic D&D modules that begins with the G1-2-3 series Against the Giants and continues with the D1-2-3 Descent / Kuo-Toa / Vault of the Drow adventures. Q1 is typically thought to be somewhat inferior to its six predecessors, yet I find that for me, it has sparked a great deal of inspiration over the years. I would even say that it is my third-favorite module in that whole linked series, after D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa and D3 Vault of the Drow.

I would urge my readers to check out James Maliszewski's retrospective on Demonweb, wherein he accurately notes that Module Q1 is historically "the first official example of planar adventuring for Dungeons & Dragons" and that "the design of the Demonweb itself is extraordinarily clever." Both of these factors make this module stand out in my mind even though I have literally never run it or played it. As I have suggested before, when it comes to other planes of existence, Q1 is the most influential D&D publication I've ever read; its version of planar adventuring is the one that has stuck with me, defining how I see other planes working in the D&D game in general. Rather than putting forth a bunch of strange abstractions and diagrams (as in the Dungeon Master's Guide), Module Q1 shows us how extraplanar adventures can really work. And, appropriately to its subject matter, it is weird as hell.

Like James M., I like the weirdness and grandeur of the Demonweb, especially its Escherian overpasses and underpasses and its numerous portals to "other" Prime Material Planes. I remember first looking at that Demonweb map as a kid and thinking "what the hell IS this thing??" It just doesn't look a thing like any other module map I know of. The one part of the Q1 map package that does look anything like a typical D&D dungeon map turns out to be deck plans for a steam-powered Spider Ship -- wacked!!


Of course, many D&D gamers have expressed dissatisfaction with Q1, especially in comparison to the awesome G- and D-series modules that precede it.  I myself admit that it would take very special circumstances and a very special party for me to actually want to run Demonweb.  But it is an essential part of my D&D module collection, and one I turn to for inspiration and ideas more than practically any other.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P for Planes

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]


This will be a somewhat brief and/or "lazy" blog post, as I do not really have anything comprehensive or concrete to say about adventuring on other planes of existence (i.e., alternate dimensions that somehow adjoin my campaign's home dimension of Ara).  As I have previously discussed in my earlier post on planes,

"I have never felt a need to explain or justify how or why the planes work, nor have I ever felt the need to catalogue, categorize, or otherwise elucidate the 'facts' about the extant planes in my campaigns. In fact, I deliberately leave that stuff pretty damn open-ended and nebulous, since the average PC knows shit-all about other planes, and even those rare individuals who investigate or engage in planar travel do not widely share their hard-earned knowledge with the public. In short, in my campaigns, visiting other planes is rare and requires the help of a specialist who knows what he/she/it is doing. Thus precious little 'common knowledge' about other planes or how to reach them exists."

So instead I would like to defer to two cleverer bloggers than myself who have posted some very insightful ideas about how to deal with other planes in D&D:

+ Talysman, Doing Without Planes and the follow-up, Ethereal and Astral. These are really terrific posts with which I basically agree, especially his contention in the first one that:

"I've long thought it might be easier and more interesting to do away with other planes of existence. [. . .] There's no real need for something like the Outer Planes, just some very remote places in the mundane world like Mount Olympus. Similarly, elementals can congregate in large pockets of elemental stuff right there in the "real" world: volcanoes (or maybe the sun) for fire elementals, the sea for water elementals, cloud islands for air elementals, deep underground for earth elementals."

Hear, hear!

+ NetherWerks, Plane Speaking. Taking the opposite tack from Talysman, NetherWerks here expands upon the underlying logic of the other planes: what they are, how to justify them in your game-world, etc. This may be a bit too in-depth for me -- I prefer Talysman's minimalist / reductionist approach -- but it is essential reading nonetheless.

Note also that I will be discussing Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits, my favorite extra-planar TSR adventure module, in tomorrow's April A-Z post.

Monday, April 18, 2011

O for Oubliette Fanzine

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

As regular readers know, I am a big fan of Peter Regan's Oubliette Old-School Fantasy Roleplaying Magazine -- see my previous review here. Oubliette Issue Number 5, released last month, does nothing to diminish my enthusiasm for this superb publication.

As usual, Oubliette #5 is chock full of inventive and usable gaming material. Let me give you a brief rundown of some (NOT all) of its key features:

Monster Club #8 - "The Monstermark System." This method for determining how challenging a given monster is to kill is a bit too number-crunchy for my tastes, but I can absolutely see its use-value for DMs who want a more accurate benchmark than Hit Dice. Adapted from an original concept found in White Dwarf #s 1-3, the Monstermark system accounts for monster toughness by estimating how long a monster can survive in direct combat with a 5th Level fighter, and how much damage that monster can deal per round. Regan explains the system very well and provides charts and many relevant examples to clarify how the system may be used.

The Vampire.  My favorite offering of Issue #5, this substantive article about how to create PC vampires is really a long-overdue concept IMO.  We all know that D&D vampires can create other vampires, but how exactly does one stat up a PC-turned-vampire?  Moreover, how does one make one's vampires, PC or no, unique?  This article provides answers, outlining a thoroughgoing system for generating unique vampires.  Attribute adjustments, special abilities, a sanity mechanic -- it's all here.  This article alone is worth the cover price of the mag. 

Good Shop /Bad Shop and Dungeon in a Box.  These two pieces are interrelated: the first (which is part of an ongoing series) presents another unique magic shop, "Mad Varto's," while the second expands upon one of the devious magical items found therein.  While I am not typically a big fan of "tournament-y" or "gimmicky" one-off adventure scenarios, I must tip my hat to Regan for the "Dungeon in a Box" concept.  I don't want to give too much away here, just suffice to say that the "Dungeon in a Box" would fit in to practically any campaign and, with slight adaptation / modification, could be used to test the PCs in a wide variety of ways.  It is s simple but highly expandable idea. 

Paladin Persecution by Lam McGra.  This article, which could (and probably should) be taken somewhat tongue-in-cheek, nevertheless delivers a very usable set of suggestions for how to DM paladins in your D&D game.  It offers many ideas for how to keep paladins "in line," adhering to their strict moral code and discussing how to penalize them if they stray too far from Lawful Goodness.  I do not even allow paladins in my own Labyrinth Lord game, but I am in agreement with the thrust of this article and can imagine it being delightfully deployable by DMs who allow paladin PCs.

The Art.  As usual, The Marg's artwork in Oubliette #5 is just terrific, my favorite pieces in this issue being the cover image (see above) and the awesome vampire pic on p. 9.  Her smaller illustrations throughout the "Alternative Vampires" article are also spot-on -- shades of Eddie Munster!

Anyway, if you haven't already, I strongly urge you to check out Issue #5 of Oubliette (available in pdf for $2.50 or print for $4.52).  Regan & Co. continue to publish a proportionately high volume of usable game content each issue, in a very appealing and well-designed format.  Long live Oubliette

Creativity and inspiration-value: 5 out of 5, Peter Regan is still delivering the goods, and Oubliette is a model for concise, user-friendly fanzine presentation.

Use-value to DM's: 3 out of 5 to 5 out of 5, depending upon the type of campaign you are running. High Fantasy or pulp fantasy = 5 out of 5. Weird fantasy, post-apocalyptic, or sci-fi = 3 out of 5 at best.  Oubliette is ostensibly geared toward the Labyrinth Lord ruleset, though its content would be easily adaptable to other similar systems.

Playability: Not yet tested, though given the "nuts and bolts" nature of most of the ideas here, and their having been playtested by Peter's own Labyrinth Lord group, I assume that most of Oubliette's content would run very well.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

DMG Sample Level Stocking Project Part 6


This post constitutes Part 6 of my effort to stock the sample dungeon level from the Dungeon Masters Guide p. 95. Interested parties should consult James C.'s original announcement of the project, his updated list of participants, and my own stocking installments Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Parameters:

(1) I am stocking this map as a Level 3 dungeon.

(2) I am using the Labyrinth Lord basic dungeon stocking tables on LL p. 124 to stock the map, with a few customized twists, i.e., I am deliberately placing a few monsters and treasures as I see fit.  I am also using Michael Curtis' Dungeon Alphabet and some of the random tables in the back of the Advanced Edition Companion to randomly generate "unique" encounters and miscellaneous and/or atmospheric room features.


Now to stock rooms 24 through 27:

Room 24:  Rolled and got empty, no treasure.  I also rolled on the "Random Original Purpose of Rooms and Chambers" table on p. 32 of Michael Curtis' The Dungeon Alphabet and got "Bedroom, Average."

Room 25: Got empty, no treasure. I subsequently rolled on the Dungeon Alphabet's "Original Purpose" table and got "Cell, Monk."

Room 26: Rolled trap, no treasure. Rolling on the random traps table on p. 147 of the Advanced Edition Companion yielded a result of "Spear Trap."

Room 27: Got empty, no treasure. The Dungeon Alphabet's "Original Purpose" table indicated that this was a "Study," and rolls on the "Random Atmospheric Details" Table (AEC p. 147) and the "Miscellaneous Room Contents" Table (AEC p. 148) got "odor of sea air, misty, with a cold breeze" for the former and "cart, broken" for the latter. This suggests to me that there is a broken cart laden with scattered (and shattered) sea shells here.

So the finished key to Rooms 24-27 looks like:

24. Abandoned Priest's Bedchamber 
A broken cot and a wooden holy symbol of some obscure, long-forgotten cult are all that remain in this bedroom.

25. Monks' Barracks and Prayer Niche
The remnants of a few cots and one moldy monk's robe lie scattered about in here. The western L-shaped passageway leads to a small (barely 10' x 10') meditation chamber with a couple of halfway-burned-down (but still usable) candles set into a niche in the west wall.

26. Spear Trap
A faint golden glow or twinkle illuminates the far eastern wall, luring the greedy into this room. The glow is produced by some illusory magic; there is no treasure here. Anyone stepping or flying into the eastern 60' x 20' rectangular section of the room will be fired upon by a deadly spear trap, which attacks as a Level 2 Fighter and inflicts 1d6 + 1 damage per hit. The spear trap fires once per round at anyone in that section of the room, and the supply of spears cannot be exhausted. Any wandering monster encountered here has a 2 in 6 chance of being the carcass scavenger from Room 39.

27. Shell Collector's Study.
A cold mist clings to the floor of this chamber. A broken cart laden with scattered (and mostly shattered) sea shells is parked in front of a splintered desk and bookcase. A few moldy (and therefore valueless) books -- treatises on marine life -- remain, piled amongst the furniture rubble. A cold breeze smelling of salt water wafts in from the northwest passageway, swirling the mists.

Next time: Rooms 28-30!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N for Noffel

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]


Noffel is the oldest human-governed land in the Lands of Ara; all humans in Ara, except the Mizarians, are directly or indirectly descended from the Ancient Noffellians.  Those readers wishing to learn about the history of Noffel are urged to consult this post, this post, and this post; those interested in present-day Noffel should read this, and those interested in one of Noffel's most legendary sailors should check this out.  In contrast, what I plan to write about today are the REAL-WORLD ORIGINS of the imaginary Land of Noffel.

The original "Noffel," really the woods behind my parents' home in Western Washington State.

Like its game-world counterpart, Noffel has "ancient" origins -- in my early childhood.  During my elementary-school years, I played in the woods behind my parents' home (in Washington State) with my brother Chad and neighbor Scott.  We three most often played in a "high fantasy" mode, building "forts" in the woods, constructing swords out of nailed-together 1 x 2's, and battling imaginary monsters.  This was, I believe, prior to my introduction to D&D; but I had read The Hobbit and we had all seen the Rankin-Bass animated version of that work. 

By 1981 or '82, I would start playing D&D, and the neighbor kid, Scott, would get into He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, thus expanding our repertoire of fantasy adventure source material. In fact, through exposure to Scott's He-Man action figures and the popular animated show, we got our first dose of gonzo science-fantasy, which surely influenced our outdoor play as much as the earlier Tolkien works had done.  I strongly suspect that "The Gleaming Sword of Noffel," an imaginary artifact we were frequently seeking in our outdoor adventures, was likely based upon that two-part magical sword used by He-Man and Skeletor.


Interestingly, although our play in the woods called "Noffel" predates my first exposure to Holmes Basic D&D, we three lads nevertheless assumed heroic "characters" in our outdoor adventures: I was "Grimmtooth," Scott was "Silverblade," and Chad was "Chadwick."  I don't recall now if we each came up with those names on our own or if I, in an early DM-like move, invented and assigned them.*

What is certain is that when I co-wrote the Crimson Blades of Ara RPG starting in the late 1980's, my early play experiences with Chad and Scott -- and the name of our fictional fantasy land -- became part of the DNA of the game.  So Noffel became the most ancient kingdom in the game-world of Ara, and Silverblade in particular became a key heroic figure in the history of Noffel. 

Scott, me, and my brother Chad.  Seen here on a ski trip, in the woods of "Noffel" we were early proto-LARPers.

Noffel forever!

--
* My character name of "Grimmtooth" suggests a connection to the Flying Buffalo publication Grimtooth's Traps, released in 1981.  It is possible that while we played in Noffel for many years prior to that, maybe we did not adopt concrete character names until after my exposure to D&D and T&T.

Friday, April 15, 2011

M for Maps

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

ckutalik over at Hill Cantons somewhat recently posted about his all-time favorite Top 5 fantasy maps. I strongly urge you to check out that post as well as his two excellent follow-up posts, What Makes a Fantasy Map Great? and How to Awesome Up Fantasy Maps. Really great stuff!

Inspired by ckutalik, I now offer my own list of Top 5 Fantasy Maps:

5. 4e Manual of the Planes - City of Brass


 You can read WotC's brief write-up about this here.

4. Thror's Map from Tolkien's The Hobbit



3. Holmes Cross-Section



2. Greyhawk



1. Hexed Ara Map


And, in case you want to pursue this topic further, here are a few more recent mapping and hexography posts:

Ark at Rather Gamey, Hex on the Borderlands

Steamtunnel at Hydra's Grotto, Hexes

Telecanter's "Sea Hexes" diagram (borrowed from this post by Charlatan at The Mule Abides)

Zak Sabbath's Formula To Figure Out Exactly How Big Your Hexes Should Be

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L for Labyrinth Lord

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]


Labyrinth Lord (written by Daniel Proctor) is a Retro-Clone of the Basic and Expert D&D rules (edited by Tom Moldvay and Dave Cook) released in 1981.  The basic Labyrinth Lord rulebook, first published in 2007 and revised in 2009, compiles all the rules contained in the D&D Basic and Expert rulebooks -- hence it is a "B/X emulator" of sorts.  As Cyclopeatron's "D&D Generations" list reveals, B/X was the highest-selling and most popular version of D&D ever released, so it is no wonder that many old-school D&D players, many of whom are of the "second generation" of D&D players who grew up with B/X and/or Holmes, favor Labyrinth Lord as our preferred retro-clone system now.


However, Dan Proctor of Goblinoid Games has been far from content to rest upon his laurels.  He has quite actively expanded the Labyrinth Lord / Goblinoid Games product line to include the Advanced Edition Companion (AEC), the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Realms of Crawling Chaos (ROCC, co-authored with Michael Curtis), and LL-compatible games such as Mutant Future (co-authored with Ryan Denison) and the forthcoming Starships & Spacemen.  Given how wisely Proctor has expanded the Labyrinth Lord gaming line, even to include the forthcoming Delving Deeper RPG by Brave Halfling Publishing, he may be justified in claiming that Goblinoid Games has provided the OSR with a so-called "Rosetta Clone."

I have been playing Goblinoid Games' products since late 2009.  It was Goblinoid's Mutant Future (an old-school game based loosely upon an old post-apocalyptic TSR game called Gamma World) that provided my introduction to the Old-School Renaissance: my friend Carl invited me to participate in his (still-ongoing) MF campaign back in fall 2009.   Indeed, it was Carl who turned me on to the existence of the OSR and to Labyrinth Lord in particular, in essence setting my current campaign and this blog in motion.  I am forever indebted to Carl for exposing me to this stuff.


Another reason (I think) for the success of Labyrinth Lord and Goblinoid Games (besides the terrific array of available products) is that Dan Proctor has supported not just the product line but the community who plays it. There are forums for players of Goblinoid Games products, the Labyrinth Lord Society (of which I am a proud member), and a "Demo Team" program whereby regional Labyrinth Lords like myself can set up games in local game stores in order to promote LL and old-school gaming in general. As old-school gaming guru James Maliszewski said in a recent online interview,

"I remain convinced that the best way to get into roleplaying is to be introduced to it by someone who already plays it. [. . .] I think what we need are more gamers who are willing to share their hobby with interested newcomers. [. . .] Rulebooks and intro sets and websites can only get you so far; what’s really needed is face-to-face interaction with people actively involved in the hobby."

I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, and I hereby pledge that sometime this fall, I will become an official Labyrinth Lord Demo Team member and begin running regular Labyrinth Lord games in a local game store, for the purpose of introducing newcomers to the joys of old-school gaming, just as Carl introduced me back in '09.

 Click the picture and join the Labyrinth Lord Society today!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K for Kaladar

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

The Free City of Kaladar is the most important single urban locale in all of the Lands of Ara. It is by far the largest Arandish city, with a population of over 50,000 -- only the northern dwarven mega-city of Gannar (pop. 38,000) even comes close to Kaladar in terms of geographical size and number of denizens.  The Free City of Kaladar is the central hub of most commerce in Ara, being conveniently located upriver from the Bay of Noffel and fairly accessible to the prosperous kingdoms of Noffel, Achelon, Delzar, and Blint.

Interestingly, however, no complete map of Kaladar has ever been created, despite the fact that my gaming groups have been adventuring there for almost two (real-time) decades now. The closest thing I have to a complete map of the place are a few general sketches of this stripe:

This sketch, one of the few extant maps I have of Kaladar, may not even be accurate anymore in light of some of the Kaladarian district descriptions given on this blog.

In my prior post on the Free City, I noted that:

(1) Kaladar began its existence as an Achelonian Fort called Hragdor, and was ruled by the Achelonian Queen until Old Calendar year 3020, eighteen years into the Old War between Achelon and Telengard. In that year, under the leadership of a powerful summoner named Kaladar, Fort Hragdor declared itself a Free City and elected its first Lord Mayor.

(2) The Free City is known throughout Ara as the place where practically anything can be bought, traded, hired, sold, or stolen -- kind of like the "Bazaar at Diva" from Robert L. Asprin's Myth Adventures books.

(3) Along this line, all accepted forms of human magic, and many forbidden forms, have at least a small guild or hideout within Kaladar's walls.  The Free City also houses the secret headquarters of the Red Hand, Ara's most feared and notorious assassins' guild.

Those wanting more detailed descriptions of the Free City's various districts should consult my original post on the locale. However, to facilitate use of the downloadable Encounter Tables I provide below, I will briefly list the major Kaladarian districts by their level of socio-economic affluence:

Affluent Districts: Lookout Hill, Lord Mayor's, Dragonwing (NW)

Common Districts: Dragon's Claw (SW), West Gate, North Gate, North Wall (NE)

Seedy Districts: South Gate, East Gate, Green Dragon (SE)

Despite the Free City's centrality and importance in Ara, my current PC group has not spent much time in Kaladar, having just passed through the city early in the campaign on their way from the Western Lands to Minoch. Therefore I have not had much practical need to generate any encounter tables for the place. However, in deference to Zak's Decree about how a setting should be "described," I hereby include three different downloadable Free City of Kaladar d30 Encounter Tables for your pleasure:

Free City of Kaladar - Affluent District
roll 1d30

1-2
Dwarf
3
Gargoyle
4
Halfling
5-6
Rodian
7
Lycanthrope, Werewolf
8-9
Men, Merchant
10
NPC Party (hired as local security)
11
Skeleton
12
Wolf
13
Ghoul
14
Albino Ape
15
Green Dragon
16
Eagle, Giant (AEC)
17
Red Dragon
18
Black Dragon
19
Ghost of a Murdered Noble
20
Ghost of a Murdered Commoner
21
Bat
22
Bat, Giant
23
NPC (Cleric)
24
NPC (Magic-User)
25
NPC (Sage)*
26
Men, Kaladarian Noble
27
Visiting Human or Dwarven Noble
28-29
Kaladarian Royal Guard Patrol
30
Town Event**

* This Sage may be a member of Sawith the Scribe's staff, or else one of his competitors.
** For this result I use Michael Curtis' "Random Town Events Table" available here or as pdf here.


Free City of Kaladar - Common District
roll 1d30

1-2
Dwarf
3
Goblin
4
Halfling
5-7
Rodian
8
Lycanthrope, Werewolf
9-10
Men, Merchant
11-12
NPC Party
13
Skeleton
14
Men, Beggar
15
Ghoul
16
Albino Ape
17
Green Dragon
18
Fly, Giant Carnivorous
19
Black Dragon
20
Toad, Giant
21
Ghost of a Murdered Commoner
22
Bat
23
Bat, Giant
24
NPC (Cleric)
25
NPC (Magic-User)
26-27
NPC (Fighter, mercenary)
28-29
Kaladarian Royal Guard Patrol
30
Town Event*

* For this result I use Michael Curtis' "Random Town Events Table" available here or as pdf here.


Free City of Kaladar - Seedy District
roll 1d30

1
Dwarf
2
Goblin
3
Rodian
4
Lycanthrope, Werewolf
5
Rat, Giant
6
Men, Merchant
7
NPC Party
8-9
Men, Homicidal Street Thugs (stat. as Berserkers)
10
Skeleton
11
Men, Beggar
12
Ghoul
13
Albino Ape
14
Crocodile, ordinary
15
Crocodile, large
16
Crocodile, giant
17
Fly, Giant Carnivorous
18
Black Dragon
19
Toad, Giant
20
Centipede, Giant
21
Rodian Pickpocket
22
Rodian Street Gang
23
Sailor, Drunken
24
Sailor, Murderous
25
Sailor, Undead
26
NPC (Thief)
27
NPC (Magic-User)
28
NPC (Fighter or Barbarian)
29
Mercenary Street Patrol
30
Town Event*

* For this result I use Michael Curtis' "Random Town Events Table" available here or as pdf here.