Thursday, March 31, 2011

April A-Z Blogging Challenge: New Reader Introduction

Since one of the stated goals of the April A-Z Blogging Challenge is to possibly "[find] new blog friends, and [increase] followers to each of our own blogs," I feel a certain responsibility to offer some introductory remarks aimed at readers who are visiting The Lands of Ara blog for the first time. Some of you may not know much about Dungeons and Dragons, role-playing gaming in general, or the particular type of "old school" gaming I engage in and blog about here -- so let me briefly explain.

I play Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) in a mode closely resembling the way the game was played when I first started playing it in the early 1980s. The D&D game rules have undergone many revisions and editions over the decades since its initial publication in 1974, and many of us who identify as "old-school" D&D players tend to favor the rules as they existed from 1974 until about 1989. For my current role-playing gaming (RPG'ing) pursuits, I use Labyrinth Lord, a rules set that "clones" the now out-of-print 1981 edition of Basic D&D.

I do not want to get too deep into the publication history of D&D here, but simply want to clue you in to my key terms: I will refer to D&D and Labyrinth Lord interchangeably when I wish to refer to the game I play. If you are interested in the history of the D&D product line, I urge you to check out a three-part series of blog posts at Grognardia, the old-school RPG'ing movement's most influential blog:

D&D Product Chronology
Thoughts on D&D Product Chronology Part 1
Thoughts on D&D Product Chronology Part 2

You could also look at my own "Top 15 List" of posts by other bloggers about the history and theory of the old-school RPG'ing hobby.

Lastly, I want to direct your attention to a few general, introductory and/or explanatory old-school gaming resources available online. Besides the Grognardia blog and the Labyrinth Lord rules themselves, I recommend that you consult:

(1) The wikipedia entry for Role-playing game,

(2) Matt Finch's Old-School Gaming Primer, a free, downloadable pdf that describes the basics of old-school gaming, and

(2) J G Halmayr's Old-School Acronym Glossary, for definitions of any RPG'ing terms you are not familiar with.

Other than that, welcome, and thanks for reading The Lands of Ara!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

DMG Sample Level Stocking Project Part 4

Despite my initial intention to crank out these installments every Monday, the last one came out on a Tuesday, and this one a Wednesday -- sue me.  But a day or two late or no, here we go with Part 4 of my stocking project for the sample dungeon level from the DMG p. 95. (See also James C.'s original announcement of the project, his updated list of participants, and my own stocking installments Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

A reminder of my 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 15 through 18:

Room 15:  Rolled and got monster, no treasure.  So next I rolled on the Level 3 Wandering Monster table (LL p. 104) and got "Gargoyle."

Rooms 16-18:  Rolled and got "unique" for all three of these rooms.  I rolled for each one on the "Random Features" and "Random Characteristics" Tables (AEC p. 148-149) and got:

Room 16: "domed ceiling decreases INT"
Room 17: "wall ages"
Room 18: "alcove burns"

So my finished key to Rooms 15-18 looks like:

15. Gargoyle Lair. 
Two gargoyles dwell here.  They will stand stock still in the northeast and southeast corners of this room, masquerading as statues, until potential victims draw close enough to attack.  They will then fight to the death, and will even chase victims out of this chamber if they have the combat advantage.  They have no treasure.

16. Dome of the Sage's Inscription.
This large chamber features a 20' high, 30' diameter circular domed ceiling [centered on the number "16" on the map] that is covered with arcane-looking runic inscriptions that glow faintly blue.  Anyone climbing or flying up to the dome and touching the runes will lose 1 point of INT, the duration of the effect determined by d6 roll:  1: permanent, 2-3: 1d4 days, 4-6: 1d8 hours.  This effect may be visited upon each rune-toucher an unlimited number of times; repeat touchings continue to cumulatively lower INT.  The runes themselves are not in any actual language and if deciphered by some means will reveal themselves to be utter gibberish.

17. Mirror of Sorrow. 
On this 10' section of north wall is a mirror that reflects an image of the viewer as ten years younger than his or her present age.  However, if touched, the mirror ages the toucher by one year.  This effect may be visited upon each mirror-toucher an unlimited number of times; repeat touchings continue to cumulatively age the victim.  The mirror cannot be removed from the wall by any means, and if broken or shattered, it will magically mend itself within 24 hours.

18. Burning Pit.
This room contains a concealed pit trap in the center.  As soon as anyone steps on the central 10' square of floor, the trap is triggered, dropping the vicitim(s) 20' down onto a patch of oil which instantly ignites upon contact with any living thing.  Victims of the trap take 2d6 falling damage initially, plus 1d8 fire damage for every round spent in the pit.  The pit walls are coated with oil as well, so egress from the pit is slippery and difficult. 

Next time: Rooms 19-23!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Other Tactile Maps: Polynesian Stick Charts

Mahalo, says thine Spawn:
Yesterday Mr. Telecanter posted an image of an Inuit tactile map carved in wood, that allowed Inuit folks to navigate shorelines by feeling the contours of the object. The beauty of this (one of the beauties anyway) is that it could be used in the dark, and of course served as a navigational aid when compass, sextant, and astrolabe weren't available. I imagine some really exquisite pieces of this kind being carved from walrus teeth, narwhal horns, and sperm whale baculums (look it up), as scrimshaw maps ... very cool treasure indeed. I like Mr. JDJarvis's example of a very literally coded map that could lead to a specific destination.

This brought to mind another tradition of navigational maps that work on different principles than most western folks are used to think about, but they obviously worked. That is, the Polynesian colonization of Pacific islands in the last 1500 years or so was the last expansion of anatomically-modern humans into uninhabited lands short of the establishment of bases in Antarctica.
These are the "stick charts" made by Polynesian sailors up until fairly recent times that represented the direction of swells, currents, and the location of reefs and islands. This blogpost seems to have concentrated a bunch of great examples in one place (and also belongs to a blogger that stopped blogging but left the blog as an archive ... a great exemplar of the no-nuke blog option).

Apparently individual sailors made their own charts, and so some of these are really idiosyncratic representations of how certain people perceived the response of their boat to the conditions of the sea. Put another way, here's a record of the kinesthetic gestalt perception of sea travel, rendered in palm fibers and shell beads (the islands). Maybe some folks could interpret another's chart for navigation, but not necessarily.  It might be too personal.

This would be an interesting hook for an adventure. Say the party finds such a thing (in a dry cave, we'll say, to explain why it's preserved) and they figure it must mean something. They find an islander to help pilot their ship on the Sea of O'SR that recognizes what it is, but isn't sure how the thing is supposed to be oriented, what scale the thing is at, whether the shell beads mean islands, treasure, danger, sea monster lairs, whirlpools of flailing mayhem, zebra congresses of vitriol spit, or so on. And so the party sails on to their particular version of glory or doom. With enough sailing and mapping maybe they can figure out the proper scale and orientation of the map and use it to find their goal. Hmmm.

Well, thanks again to Telecanter for finding images of things that I wish existed, and then sharing them.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Session 31: Rescuing Yor and Zappo

Session 31 of the Arandish Labyrinth Lord Campaign was played 3/21/11 and included PCs Innominus (Cleric-5), Dak (Dwarf-5), Vivuli (Assassin-4), Hazel (Ftr-4 / MU-3), and recently deceased comrade Yor (Dwarf-5). They were accompanied by NPCs Gorgo (Dwarf-4), Gark (Dwarf-4), and Hoark (Dwarf-2), and were carrying the shell-shocked wizard Zappo the Wondrous (MU-3) out of Stonehell.

This session picked up seconds after the last one ended, at about 6am on Day 73 of the party's Arandish adventures.

The main aim of this session was to withdraw safely from Level Four of Stonehell, where the group had just vanquished the horde of vicious rust-colored rock trolls that had been keeping Zappo prisoner (presumably for future eating). After stashing what treasure they could on their persons and in the group's Bag of Holding -- and having to leave 8,000cp behind in the troll's secret chamber due to encumbrance limits -- the group briefly debated setting the Black Oil pools on this level afire. Dak seemed in favor of such a move, and Vivuli echoed his support, but Hazel questioned the idea, wondering if there might be far-reaching consequences that would be more damaging to the dungeon or to the party than they would to the Hobgoblins who had been (until lately) harvesting the oil. So the party opted against this strategy, and moved out of the rock trolls' den, through the caverns toward the elevator up to level two.

But their way back was not unobstructed. Just outside the rock troll lair, the party encountered a group of five albino apes, who, upon seeing the party, began beating their chests and moving forward aggressively. With Yor dead and many other party members seriously wounded from the rock troll fracas, the PCs opted to retreat submissively to the north, allowing the apes to believe they had successfully defended their territory. This strategem worked: the apes beat their chests a few more times and let the party go.

The PCs next crossed through the northern chamber with the water pool in it, only to find another group of dungeon delvers entering the same cavern simultaneously from the northwest. The other party's point man, a rodian, called out "Who goes there?" Vivuli answered that they were another group of adventurers looking to get out of Stonehell. Hazel also spoke up, saying that the PCs had no ill intentions toward the newcomers.

The other party -- which consisted of seven adventurers calling themselves "Atavar's Red Rogues" -- responded that they had just been fighting some gargoyles off to the west, but were now looking around for easier prey. Our party offered to direct them to the albino apes. The deal was brokered.

On the way south to the ape lair (which lay along the alternative route back to the elevator room), Dak offered Bart, the other party's dwarf, some dwarven whiskey; Bart politely declined. It was then that our PCs noticed that every member of that other party -- two human warriors (including party leader Atavar), a Mizarian barbarian, Bart the Dwarf, the rodian scout, a wizardy type, and a mysterious individual in a concealing yet simple brown robe -- wore the holy symbol of a local Lawful sect. In other words, Bart the dwarf refused Dak's alcohol offer because Atavar's Red Rogues were teetotalers to a man.

Hazel pressed the Red Rogues for information and rumors about the whereabouts of the still-missing Sir Boren of Achelon, and learned that they had heard he'd been killed.

Vivuli attempted to pick the mysterious brown-cloaked fellow's pockets, but came up with nothing. Vivuli did notice, however, that "browncloak" smelled of tree sap and kept not gold coins but rather herbs or plant material in his belt pouch.

After parting ways with the NPCs, the PCs made the elevator and, after a short skirmish with three giant centipedes on the first level of the dungeon, made it out of Stonehell. They headed down the mountain to where they had stashed their horses and wagon, only to find that the wagon and two of their four horses had been buried by a landslide. Hazel used a potion of plant control to manipulate nearby vines into partially digging out the wagon; the PCs were able to finish the job in fifty minutes total. Luckily the wagon was more or less undamaged and therefore road-worthy.

The party encountered one more natural event on their way back to Fortinbras: a steam geyser erupted near the roadside, inflicting heat damage on point man Dak. After that, however, it was smooth travel to Fortinbras, where the group arrived in the late evening (roughly 11pm) on Day 73 of their Arandish adventures.

Father Ouzo of the Brothers of Carcoon, still in town for the ongoing investigation into Baron Kaminster's death by exsanguination, was roused from bed and paid a 2,500gp donation to raise Yor from the dead. The group then retired to their rented home in southwestern Fortinbras, offering the shell-shocked wizard Zappo lodging there as well.

Upon the group's return to town, Gorgo the dwarf, Innominus' follower, decided to pledge himself to the party for good, becoming the cleric's Loyal Follower. Meanwhile, the party's other dwarf retainer, Hoark, decided he'd had enough of this kind of danger, and quit the party's service.

The next day, Hazel began asking around for the nearest spell library, and learned from local Fortinbras sorecerer Clarko that the nearest bona fide Council Spellcaster Library was three days north in Farn Junction. Hazel made plans to head up there sometime during the two-week window of Yor's recovery from the debilitating effects of raise dead.

Meanwhile, the PCs hired a bookbinding specialist to dry out and partially restore the waterlogged spell book that Innominus found in the stalagmite chamber the morning before. The bookbinder was able, over the course of five days' work, to dry out the pages so that they could be readable to an arcanist. Hazel then read those restored pages and found that they contained three somewhat high-level spells: Dimension Door, Telekinesis, and Project Image. Hazel was not high level enough to cast such spells yet,but was happy to have them for her own spell book. The bookbinder warned that due to the excessive water damage to the book over time, there was a chance that the wording of those spells had been altered or obfuscated.

The last key event of the session -- while various PCs went around town buying new weapons and minor magic items from vendors, and Vivuli went on a profitable pickpocketing spree -- occurred when Innominus visited the local temple of the Brothers of Carcoon to see if they had retained any of the late Baron Kaminster's clothing or possessions. Indeed, the clerics had the baron's death shroud on display in their main hall, so that local citizens could come and pay their respects to their departed leader. Innominus cast Tale of Death and touched the shroud, and recieved the impression of a dark, cloaked figure approaching the Baron in his sleep and sucking his blood like a vampire. However, although the Tale of Death spell is technically supposed to reveal all the details of the circumstances of the target's death, in this case Innominus could sense that some kind of powerful dark magic was blocking the spell's ability to reveal the identity of the killer. All the Cleric of Endra could glean was that Kaminster knew his killer personally.

And that is more or lees where the session ended.

My new DM's notebook from Cafe Press.

DM Notes and Reflections
Whereas last session I couldn't roll a Wandering Monster Encounter to save my life, this time -- when the party was pretty much beat to shit and in no mood to fight -- I rolled three or four in a row! Such can be the fickleness of the dice. But I really enjoy succumbing to the old-school principle of letting the dice fall where they may, and I showed no mercy on that count. The PCs were quite lucky that I rolled a neutral reaction roll for those five white apes, and that I came up with two "Natural Disasters" in a row once they were out in the Minochian wilderness (because I can tell you, there are some deadly-ass creatures on my new and improved Minochian Mountains d30 Encounter Table!).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More Bardery for Labyrinth Lord

I am an avid follower of Dyson Logos' A character for every game, and today he has a post on Labyrinth Lord Downloadables that I urge you to investigate and contribute to.

Amongst the various other goodies Dyson pointed me toward in that post was yet another gamer's take on a Bard class for Labyrinth Lord. I am most eager to look this over -- it is available at Djeryv's Graveyard, under "Sections" ~ "Labyrinth Lord" in the left-hand column (or direct download here). At first glance, it looks like Djeryv's Bard is geared toward the AEC's "Advanced" options for LL, whereas the Bard that Spawn of Endra and I came up with (available under the "Downloads" tab above or here) is a mish-mash of the Delving Deeper Bard class and Dyson's own 2d6 Thiefin' house rules.

Great stuff! Thanks for sharing, Dyson!

And perhaps Djeryv's Bard should be added to the Links to Wisdom wiki?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

d10 Blog Post: A Monster / Trap Combo

Rarely one to pass up an externally imposed blogging challenge, I have rolled on Zak's d10 blog post topic table, coming up with a "5" result, i.e., "Write up a monster/trap combination. Neither the monster nor the trap must be original, but the combo must be interesting."


Illustration copyright Dan Frazier.

The Ogre Acid Pool
A trapdoor or pit trap drops the victim(s) into a pool of acid, which inflicts 1d6 damage per round of exposure. Furthermore, two powerful (max. hp) ogres armed with spiked clubs (treat as flails) tend the pool, guarding its perimeter and clubbing anyone who tries to climb out, forcing them back into the acid. Each ogre wears a magical amulet that makes the wearer immune to acid damage, so the ogres can (and will) wade into the pool itself to continue beating on their victims.

Bonus Material!
Despite my enjoyment in concocting the Ogre Acid Pool above, I guess I was secretly hoping I might get result "6" on Zak's table, i.e., "Give us a spell. Just one. Or more if you're hardcore." I may not be hardcore, but I do have one fun, mischievous little spell to offer you:

Lvl. 1 MU
Range: touch
Duration: caster level in hours
This spell forces a single target's face to be frozen into a particularly stupid expression: bewildered-looking, cross-eyed, and/or with tongue lolling out of the target's mouth. This effectively lowers the victim's CHA by -3 for the spell's duration.  The target can still talk and his or her INT is unaffected, but s/he will slur speech, stutter, and cannot use any big or complicated words while the spell is in effect. This spell does not prevent spellcasters from casting spells, but does increase the chance that they will misspeak and therefore provoke unexpected results.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

April A-Z Blogging Challenge Preview

For those still unaware of this, Arlee Bird has proposed a Blogging Challenge in which participants "post something on your blog every day in April except for Sundays. In doing this you will have 26 blog posts--one for each letter of the alphabet. Each day you will theme your post according to a letter of the alphabet."

I have officially signed up for this; as you can see if you consult the original post, I'm number 331 to do so.

I am not the only OSR blogger to take part in this, either, and as I have seen other gamers (like Chris, Gavin, David, and The Jovial Priest) pick up the challenge, I noticed that the majority of them are listing what the subject of each A-Z post will be in advance. I was originally planning to keep mine secret until their day of release, but now I have revised my position and hereby offer the following preview of the April offerings to come:

A for Ara
B for Blint
C for Cynidiceans
D for Dimetrodon
E for Eyepecker
F for Fight On!
G for Grinding Gear
H for Hammers of the God
I for Islet
J for Jongleur
K for Kaladar
L for Labyrinth Lord
M for Maps
N for Noffel
O for Oubliette Fanzine
P for Planes
Q for Queen of the Demonweb Pits
R for Rush
S for Sloth of Death
T for Table, d30
U for Undead Stirge
V for Vampire
W for Wereshark
X for X-factor
Y for Yeti
Z for Zappo the Wondrous

One last note: my April A-Z Blogging Challenge posts will all carry an opening caveat for non-gamer readers, directing them to a few explanatory old-school resources.  While my hopes are not super-high that I will attract (or retain) non-gamer readers, that seems to be one of the goals of the challenge, so I want to be as welcoming as possible to those non-OSR visitors I may get.  Do any of you veterans have ideas about which resources I should point to?  I was thinking Matt Finch's Old-School Gaming Primer and J G Halmayr's OSR Terminology Glossary.  Is there anything else out there easily accessible that explains in the simplest possible terms what role-playing gaming is?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Add Some Wisdom to the Links

I want to echo the challenge put forth by Jeff Rients and urge everybody reading this post to:

1. Find a post at some old school message board or blog that contains some really fun, useful or just kick-ass house rules or advice material, and

2. Copy the link and add it to the OSR Links to Wisdom wikipage.

As Jeff says, it's pretty dang easy to do -- just hit the 'Edit this Page' link at the bottom of the wiki homepage and follow the super-simple formatting as demonstrated by the other links already on the page.

What a great resource! THANKS to the Jovial Priest and Alex Schroeder of Old School RPG Planet for instigating this terrific thing!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DMG Sample Level Stocking Project Part 3

This post constitutes Part 3 of my ongoing effort to stock the sample dungeon level from the DMG p. 95. (See also James C.'s original announcement of the project, his updated list of participants, and my own stocking installments Part 1 and Part 2.)

I am stocking this map as a Level 3 dungeon and 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 "special" encounters and miscellaneous and/or atmospheric room features.

So here we go, stocking rooms 9 through 14:

Room 9:  Rolled and got "unique."  So next I rolled on the "Random Features" and "Random Characteristics" Tables (AEC p. 148-149) and got "portcullis repulses."  I therefore rule that the concealed door leading to Room 23 is in fact a magical portcullis, which shocks anyone touching it for 2d6 electrical damage, and may ONLY be raised via a knock spell being cast upon it.

Rooms 10-13:  Rolled and got "empty" for all four of these rooms. Thus I decided to assign some features myself (rooms 10-11) and to roll on the "Random Original Purpose of Rooms and Chambers" in The Dungeon Alphabet and the random "Atmospheric Details" table in the AEC (for rooms 12-13) to determine these rooms' original purpose and add some atmosphere and flavor. My results are given in the key entries below.

Room 14:  Rolled and got "unique."  I then rolled on the "Random Features" and "Random Characteristics" Tables (AEC p. 148-149) and got "alcove heals."  In response to this I posit that there is a shallow alcove in the middle of the east wall -- right across from the number "14" on the map -- which will accommodate one human-sized being at a time, and will heal 1d4 points of damage per individual, once per day, for anyone stepping fully into it.

Thus my finished key to Rooms 9-14 looks like:

9.  Magic Portcullis Chamber.
The concealed door leading to Room 23 is in fact a magical portcullis, which shocks anyone touching it for 2d6 electrical damage, and which may ONLY be raised via a knock spell being cast upon it.

10.  Cell Block Guard Post. 
A broken partial spear haft leans against the east wall here, and anyone examining the wall above the leaning haft will find some obscenities etched there in bugbear. All of the doors along the passageway to the south are locked.

11. Cell Block Guard Room.
Rusty keys to the cells in the cell block hang on a peg.  Otherwise empty.

12. Waiting Room. 
A humid breeze blows through here; splotches of foul mold coat most of the walls.  Otherwise empty.

13. Trophy Room.
A humid breeze blows through here; a ferrous smell permeates.  Many empty shelves and trophy cases here, long since looted.  Otherwise empty.

14.  Chamber of the Healing Alcove.
This otherwise empty chamber features a shallow alcove in the middle of the east wall -- right across from the number "14" on the map.  The unmarked alcove will accommodate one human-sized being at a time, and will heal 1d4 points of damage per individual, once per day, for anyone stepping fully inside it. 

Next time: Rooms 15-18!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Symbol of Porn (New Spell) + BLAH B:AH BALH

Thine Spawn McSays:

Holy hell. The world is acutely fucked up right now. Does this post that I've been saving up for a year seem relevant or topical? Well, if you're still reading this, then it's up to you to figure that out. That's your problem. Good luck. I'm putting the Joesky-nicey-nice up front and the (well-reasoned) rant in the back. Wait, read the back part! Hell....

Symbol of Porn
Level: 7
Duration: Permanent
Range: Line of sight

This terrible spell allows the caster to scribe a potent rune of power upon a surface, in the air, or on the internet. The symbol glows, lasting until dismissed. Unlike other Symbols, a character may not save versus spells to negate the effects of a Symbol of Porn, but is granted a save versus CON with a -5 penalty. WIS modifiers do not apply, no matter how wise the PC may be; such is the nature of the porn.

Symbol of Porn: PCs suffer wracking pains of shame, guilt and/or arousal that impose a –4 penalty on attack rolls, and a –2 penalty to DEX. These effects last for 2d10 turns. Each affected PC must roll 1d6. On a roll of 1-4 the PC suffers irreparable damage to the psyche and will give up adventuring after vacillating about the decision for 1d4 turns, during which they conduct a disconnected incoherent rant, apparently in response to a chorus of unheard recriminations. Unaffected PCs in the area must save vs. spells or be confused or dismayed (DMs choice) for the duration of the rant as for a Symbol of Despair. Confused PCs will vainly appeal to the ranter to explain what they are ranting about, and dismayed PCs will lurk on the sidelines quietly questioning the point of the whole adventure. Neither can take any other actions during the rant. After vacillating, a roll of 1 on 1d4 indicates that the ranting PC not only quits adventuring but destroys all equipment, treasure, magic items, spell books, lore, maps, familiars, retainers, strongholds, livestock, and poultry they have accrued. These items are lost to all other PCs, no matter how useful they may be for those continuing to adventure or how much novice adventurers would have learned from them.

The Spawn Reconvenes: Just over a year ago, I joined Carter's campaign and I began following the biggest OSR blogs of the day. I was really captivated by the Old School blogs. I didn't really know the difference between a Mali-who-ski and a Chgowiz, who was running Old School Rant or Old School Jump, or what TARGA was supposed to be, or where a certain Gazette might or should be found. On this weekend a year ago, there were a lot of words exchanged, and some folks chose to withdraw from this dreaded blogosphere. Fuck me, I'm no one to judge. But it was a profoundly dismaying few days.

I'm no heavy hitter in the OSR (R being whatever you like), but I've been happy to follow along in the last year and watch what seems to be a real explosion of ideas, voices, and products from the Old School. There was a point last year where some folks were saying "What Dwight Eisenhower* is playing isn't even Old School! It's got 3e elements in it. Tieflings! I'm not against porn, but how can this guy claim to be Old School!" For me that was a nadir. I was so confused coming back to a game that I loved and finding all this weird shit attached to it.

And when James Raggi the Forty-Third sounds like the most sensible person in the room, and starts giving PSAs on blogging etiquette, well folks, you are fucked. I'm sorry, but that's apocalyptic stuff.

I still don't fully understand what happened on this weekend a year ago, but I really don't want to know anymore. I've got the next annual version of the shitty technical report to finish this weekend. But I've also got the bursting-at-the-seams Underdark Gazette to check out. And I've got my game to look forward to on Monday night. And the Vornheim City Kit is coming. And I haven't picked up Realms of Crawling Chaos yet.... 

I feel that the hobby I re-entered last year just decided (individually, not collectively) to move past all the movement/vision BS last year, and most folks since then have been too busy creating stuff to start bitching about how retrogressive the OSR is. I could be wrong. But to me the Old School community feels stronger than it was a year ago, perhaps because of all the BS last year.  At any rate I'm happier to be a part of it now than I was before. And if it all goes to hell, then so it goes.

(*A literary reference. cf. Z.Sabbath)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Session 30: Exploration and Carnage

Personnel and PC Notes
This session we were short two players.  Uncle Junkal's player is currently hard-core into the last few months of writing his doctoral dissertation, and is therefore on gaming hiatus until he finishes in May or June.  Hazel's player bowed out of this particular session due to illness.  And lastly, our newest player, who was playing a Rodian PC for his first two sessions, decided to switch to a human assassin character instead.  To justify the PC change in-game, this player brilliantly announced that the rodian character "Jwi" had merely been a disguise that his new human assassin, Vivuli, was assuming for a brief time. I thought that that explanation was so terrific, I told the player to apply Jwi's prior experience point gains to the new character. 

Uncle Junkal's player, accompanied by his dissertation adviser.

Session Report
Session 30 was played 3/7/11 and included PCs Innominus (Cleric-5), Dak (Dwarf-4), Yor (Dwarf-4), and Vivuli (Assassin-3).  They were accompanied by NPCs Gorgo (Dwarf-4), Gark (Dwarf-4), and Hoark (Dwarf-2).  [Korak the half-orc druid should have been there as well, but we completely forgot about him. Once we realized this omission near the end of the session, I explained that Korak had left the dungeon to go outside and commune with nature.  Exeunt Korak.]

The session began seconds after the previous one ended, at approximately 4:40am on Day 73 of the party's Arandish adventures. The PCs and their minions were standing in the midst of a recently-cleared rust-colored rock troll lair. It was a three-chamber complex on the fourth level of Stonehell, consisting of a main chamber to the south, a meat-hanging chamber full of humanoid corpses in the center, then a northernmost cavern inhabited by 11 huge locust creatures tethered by 50' chains to a central iron ring.  The party knew that a couple of fleeing rock trolls had come as far as this locust chamber, and so the pursuers were eager to locate the secret door or passage that had allowed those rock trolls to escape into thin air.

But first, they needed to clear the large chamber of the insect-creatures who lived there.  They doused with oil a 20' section of passageway leading southward out of the cavern, then Dak went into the insect chamber and banged on his shield, threw rocks, and shouted at the easily-frightened locusts.  The 3' long things started hopping around the room like grasshoppers, in seemingly random directions, including a few straight into Dak!  But Dak was able to corral them slowly toward the oil-coated stretch of hall over the course of a couple of rounds.  In all, Dak drove eight of the locusts into the danger zone, and on cue the other party members started hucking oil flasks at them, setting the hapless bugs and the 20' section of passageway on fire. It was a locust barbecue!!

Many of the locusts perished in the flames, and from other missile attacks by PCs and NPCs alike.  Dak also hacked a couple locusts to death inside the main northern chamber.  A couple of rounds into the fighting, some of the bugs started attacking the PCs by spitting a horribly foul brown goo at their opponents.   Party members Dak, Innominus, Vivuli and Gorgo were all splattered, and all but Dak (who successfully saved vs. poison) spent a few rounds doubled over vomiting as a result.  Other highlights of the battle include a critical hit by Yor, resulting in a single attack of 48 damage, and NPC Gark shooting himself in the foot with his own crossbow at one point.  A fun melee.

Once the locusts were all killed, the party split into three teams to accomplish a few different goals:

1.  Vivuli went into the central corpse-filled "meat chamber" to search for treasure and personal belongings of the deceased.

2.  Yor and Dak searched the floor of the northern chamber, especially the iron ring to which the bugs were previously chained.

3.  Innominus searched the walls -- especially the eastern wall -- of the northern ex-bug chamber, looking for the presumed escape route of the last couple of rust-colored rock trolls.  Under Innominus' guidance, Gark (still limping due to his self-inflicted foot wound) also searched the walls.

In the "meat" cavern, Vivuli found a magical-seeming scroll in a discarded robe and a pouch in a body cavity with 300 gp in it.  He kept all this stuff for himself and did not tell the other party members about it. 

Dak and Yor's intuitions about the iron ring paid off: it became clear to the dwarves quite quickly that the iron ring in the center of the locust cavern was attached to a huge disc of stone that appeared to be wedged into place in the chamber floor.  Some quick calculation told experienced dwarven dungeon delvers Yor, Dak, Gorgo and Hoark that it would take them about an hour to pry the huge stone plug loose.  They got to work.

Meanwhile Innominus and Gark searched the walls of the northern chamber, to little avail.  Despite the noise and labor-intensity of the dwarves' prying operation, no wandering monsters came along -- maybe other dungeon denizens feared the rock troll lair. 

Once the stone "plug" was excavated, the party found a 6' diameter rough-hewn (probably naturally formed) vertical shaft leading downward into the darkness.   An acrid, acidic smell wafted up from below.  Innominus lowered his amulet with continual light cast upon it down upon a rope, and saw the surface of a dark, scummy pool of water 100' below.  Dak kicked a charred locust corpse down the hole, hearing a splash but seeing and hearing no other reaction to the deed.

By this time Vivuli was finished with his southern "meat chamber" pilfering and volunteered to climb down the hole to see in greater detail what lay below.  So he climbed down with a rope tied around his waist; Yor the dwarf belayed for him up top.  Meanwhile, Dak and the NPC dwarves collected the iron chains from the locust room, planning to sell the eleven 50' lengths of chain back in town for a tidy profit. 

While Viv explored the area below -- details to follow -- Innominus and some of the NPC dwarves continued to search the locust chamber for secret doors.  Innominus also searched a northern alcove containing a large stalagmite over which was draped the skeletal remains of a long-deceased wizard.  The Cleric of Endra found a waterlogged spell book and a copper-colored magic wand.  The dwarves continued not to find any secret escape routes in the locust chamber.

One hundred feet below, Vivuli the assassin dangled over the surface of a large underground pool with a mucky shoreline just to the west.  He poked an arrow around in the water, which stirred up a small layer of algeac scum on the surface but showed little else.  Viv swam over to the shore, finding a variety of different tracks leading to the pool's edge and back along a well-established "trail" leading away down a passageway south.  Those tracks included some claws that could belong to rock trolls, some huge booted feet of creatures much larger than rock trolls, and some lizard-like clawprints as well.  Viv decided to go no further.  He went back into the pool, and started to climb up, then looked back down to see if he could see any ripples or eddies on the water's surface that would indicate an underwater stream flowing into or out of the pool.  Indeed, on the north cavern wall about 20' beneath the pool's surface Vivuli detected an underground channel flowing out of the pool.  He then climbed back up to the locust chamber to report his findings to his fellows.

Serendipitously, the turn just prior to Vivuli's return from below, Innominus' and Dak's persistent efforts at searching the walls paid off: they found a secret door behind a huge rock slab embedded in the northwestern section of the locust cavern wall.  The party felt sure that this hidden door must lead to the hideout of the remaining rust-colored rock trolls.

So the party readied their weapons, Innominus and Yor took positions in the front line, and Yor flung open the huge stone door.

Behind the door was a small (20' x 20') cavern containing two adult rust-colored rock trolls, one elderly looking rock troll whose legs and foreclaws were splattered with locust goo, and two young rock trolls, smaller but no less fierce-looking than their adult counterparts.  The two adult rock trolls advanced toward the party, initiative was rolled (which my rock trolls won I believe), and combat got underway!

As Innominus and Yor went toe-to-toe with the two frontline rock trolls, Dak and Viv lobbed lit oil flasks over the front-liners' heads at the other rock trolls lurking toward the back of the secret chamber.  Those oil-throwers missed in the first round, but Yor dealt a mighty hammer blow (rolling his nightly d30 roll for "16" damage before modifiers), killing one rock troll outright!  However, vengeance was swift: within a couple of rounds, the older adult rock troll (rolling my DM's nightly d30 for a "19" natural damage roll) killed Yor the Mighty in the cavern doorway.  NPC Gark subsequently dragged Yor's fallen body back from the general area of the fray. 

Vengeance would be repaid in kind as Dak threw a handaxe at Yor's killer, rolling a natural "20" critical hit and a "23" for damage on his nightly d30 roll.  46 damage = dead rock troll.

Innominus seriously wounded the other adult rock troll, rolling a "23" for mace damage with his nightly d30 roll.  Dak lent an assist via thrown oil flask, and then Viv threw the dagger that finally dropped that rock troll.

Despite their loss of badass fighting dwarf Yor, the PCs ultimately triumphed over the remaining young rock trolls: Dak, Vivuli, and NPC Hoark entered the secret chamber, sticking to the east wall, and drove the enemy into the northwest corner.  The young trolls fought fiercely -- both Vivuli and Hoark had to splinter their shields to avoid being killed -- and Vivuli even rolled a natural "1" attack roll that broke his bowstring, but the three PCs ultimately killed the two adolescents.  Innominus hung back in the locust chamber and cast cure light wounds on himself, due to heavy rock troll claw and bite damage sustained in the first few rounds of the assault.

After the battle, the PCs burned all the rock trolls' remains with flaming oil to ensure the deadly creatures would not regenerate and return.  They searched for treasure in the secret chamber and found the rock trolls' hoard: 8240 cp, 963 sp, 8001 gp, six large sapphires, four pieces of jewelry (including two symbols of the Brothers of Carcoon and an ancient white gold amulet of the Cult of Korath), a couple of potions, an ornate longsword, and the spell book belonging to Gark's recently rescued companion, Zappo the Wondrous.

 Thus the session ended.

An omen?  The much-recurring "23" result.

DM Notes and Reflections
I was of course sad to be missing two of our players, especially since those two particular gamers bring a lot of roleplaying panache and "flavor" to the events of the campaign.  As Spawn of Endra has recently blogged, Hazel's player frequently comes up with unusual tactics and approaches to in-game situations, and is an "immersive" role-player who, for example, always has Hazel wear a bear-skin into battle.  Furthermore, as I have lately documented, Uncle Junkal's player frequently suggests off-the-wall and vaguely twisted character actions, like having his bard fill a flask with urine to dump on some subterranean beetle-creatures.  We surely missed such antics from both of our absent group members this session.

However, what this meant was that we were running pretty lean and mean, with a party of only four PCs.  It also meant that Dak's player, Carl, was probably the most "gonzo" remaining player at the table -- the rest of the team generally tends to be pretty straightforward and practical in their approach to dungeoneering tactics.  This is NOT to impugn their creativity or sense of humor, which they all possess, but simply to note that two of our most outlandish, outside-the-box players were not here to keep us guessing.  Therefore the session moved along at a rapid clip, and was chock-full of action-packed, purposeful, old-school gaming goodness: dwarves prying up huge stone trapdoors, lengthy chunks of time spent searching for secret doors, the assassin crawling down a vertical tunnel to check out what lay below, and, of course, plenty of carnage, in the terrific battles with the subterranean locusts and the rust-colored rock trolls.  I would say that for me personally, this session is a total standout -- I had tons of fun.  In part this may be a result of the "variety factor," i.e., the session felt a little different than our usual ones, so it represented a refreshing change from what I've grown used to over the past year.  But it is also true that this smaller group may have upped the "dungeoneering game" a bit: Carl and Spawn are veteran roleplayers with tons of gaming experience, and Yor's and Vivuli's players, while newer to the game, tend to take a very practical and well-thought-out tactical approach to what comes up in the game.  So the group was perhaps a bit more task-oriented than usual, and this made for faster, more action-dense play (though often that "action" consisted of spending multiple turns tediously searching for secret doors and the like).

This session's near-constant bloodbathery and resultant treasure finds led to a huge xp haul at the end of the session (about 2700 per PC) which caused both Dak (now Dwarf-5) and Vivuli (now Assassin-4) to level up.

My only regret about the evening was that for the life of me I couldn't roll a wandering monster appearance!  For all the turns the PCs spent searching those two chambers for secret doors -- an hour and forty minutes (ten turns) of game-world-time altogether -- I wish I could have rolled at least one wandering monster.  But the dice weren't with me in that regard.

I hope Hazel will rejoin us next session.  I suppose next time the party will have to figure out what to do with Yor's corpse.  If they can get out of Stonehell alive!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Petty God: St. Ainless of Inocks, Patron Saint of Metal Accoutrements

[Thine Spawn submits another Petty God for your pleasure. But first an Editorial:]

I'm not a fan of St. Patrick as a historical figure, and I'm not much of a fan of St. Patrick's Day in the US as it's practiced. To me it's like Columbus Day for Native Americans. I think the peoples of Ireland could have done just as well without the Christianity, thank you very much (or better said, they could hardly have done worse). But aside from my ideological issues, I ask: Why does anyone need a calendrical excuse to get totally shit-faced drunk? Why do you wait for the sanctioned day to lose your shit completely? How free are you if you get drunk when local Eyewitness News tells you to? And do you think that's what happens in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day?
To account for this smallish rant I provide the following as Joesky-recompense to my dear readers:

 St. Ainless of Inocks, Patron Saint of Metal Accoutrements 

From his first day at the Jadist seminary in Brothback, the acolyte cleric Ainless was recognized as a savant of scriptures and an exemplary holy warrior. Everyone from hierophants to neophytes praised his precocious divine abilities. It was often joked that he could turn the undead faster than a Hedarish prostitute could turn a trick, but unlike her clients, Ainless’s would never be repeat customers! Rollicking laughter inevitably followed every telling of that hoary old chestnut, to be sure.

Having excelled in weapon- and book-learning, upon ordination Ainless was entrusted with the mighty Mace of Jado’s Convincing Wrath, a +3 mace of disruption that when used with subdual damage would convert any sentient vanquished opponent to the Way of Jado regardless of race or alignment. No candidate had proven worthy of bearing it for several centuries, and Ainless’s ascendance seemed to harbinge a renaissance for the Jadist sect. Righteously armed with Jado’s mace and a full suit of plate mail, he set forth for a dungeon whose name is now lost in the annals of infamy.

After a few encounters with zombies and giant rats that were a scanty match for Ainless, he happened upon a nest of 3 rust monsters, a creature unknown to the Jadists who had been relative home-bodies for quite some time. Viewing the trio as simply another opportunity to demonstrate the divine power of Jado to an unbelieving world, Ainless barreled into melee, beating away mercilessly. Within moments, Ainless was mortified to discover that with each strike, the mace seemed to weaken, and before he knew it he was standing in his underwear swinging a bereft mace-handle in vain at the rust monsters. Jado’s exalted mace was no more, and the half-naked Ainless fled the dungeon in disgrace. Some say he was so thoroughly beaten that even his iron rations rusted.

Upon his return to the Jadist seminary he was defrocked and thoroughly rebuked for having lost Jado’s mace, and for debasing the entire order by running across the countryside in his skivvies like a run-of-the-mill village idiot. At that time he came to be called “Brainless”, “Aimless”, or “Anus”. Thusly castigated he fled to the forests of Inocks, where despairing of a clerical career, he rejected all metal accoutrements and devoted himself to Druidic practice. Vengeful lust still drove him though, and he spent his days crafting the most lethal blackthorn shillelaghs ever known. With these in hand, he journeyed far and wide offering to exterminate rust monsters in any dungeon, anywhere, controlled by anyone, taking only donations for his services (along a suggested sliding scale). What he managed to do to rust monsters without the aid of metal weapons has run the descriptive gamut from “primitively inventive” to “coarsely perverse”.

He started on the road to sainthood when a sad little band of adventurers sought him out and begged for their array of +1 weapons to be restored after unfortunate rust monster encounters. Ainless became so vexed at rust monsters that he grabbed the weapons and struck back at the oxidizers in spirit, and drew back the usurped magical properties from their carcasses. This miracle built Ainless’s renown and attracted enough followers that he built a stronghold in Inocks, where even after his death he is revered as the saint of metal accoutrements, the restorer of all metal things that have been degraded in the pursuit of a divine (or mundane) quest.

For every two rust monster carcasses PCs bring the Shrine of St. Ainless, the priests of Inocks will restore +1 to magic weapons or armor ruined by rust monster attacks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

PC Races of Ara - Updated

Much has happened since I last issued a definitive statement of the extant PC races in the Lands of Ara. Most notably:

1. There have been some recent developments concerning Arandish Ogres that came up as a result of my revisiting the original Crimson Blades of Ara rulebook chapter-by-chapter, and

2. Goblinoid Games' Advanced Edition Companion was published, thereby making certain racial types (gnomes, half-orcs) more readily accessible for Labyrinth Lord play.

Therefore I offer this updated and amended description of all the available PC Races on Ara, as well as brief mention of a significant NPC race. The information presented here replaces and supersedes this previous post on extant Arandish races.

The Nine Arandish PC Races
All of the PC races listed in the Labyrinth Lord rulebook and the Advanced Edition Companion exist in Ara, INCLUDING Halflings (this contradicts my original post on Ara's races) but EXCLUDING Elves and Half-Elves (as PCs anyway). In Ara, halflings are somewhat rare; far more common are the rat-like humanoids called Rodians, who can be played as race-as-class or have up to four "advanced" class options available to them: Rodian Duellist, Rodian Rogue, Rodian Illusionist, and Rodian Invoker (see this post for details). Furthermore, Ara sustains Goblins as PCs as well as Arandish Ogres as PCs.

Hence the complete list of Arandish PC Races includes: Human, Dwarf, Rodian, Halfling, Goblin, Ogre, Half-Ogre, Gnome, and Half-Orc.

Brief descriptions of the origins and geographical distribution of Arandish races -- where they differ from or add to descriptions given in LL or the AEC -- follow.

In Ara, humans predominate. They are found literally everywhere on Ara, and are all (except the Southern strain called Mizarians) thought to be descendants of the ancient humans of the area now known as Noffel.

Arandish dwarves are magically modified humans created and employed as laborers (especially miners) in the long-since-passed Old War between Telengard and Achelon. Tending to prefer underground habitation, dwarves are fairly abundant in present-day Ara, especially in the east and northeast where most of the largest mountains are found (just as rodians—see below—tend to be found in the south and southwest, near the Bay of Noffel and major seaports). Dwarves have been doing business with and living amongst humans in Ara for a long time; dwarves are well accepted in human culture, live in most major Arandish cities, and are the second-most numerous race in Ara.

Rodians are small, ratlike humanoids who constitute the third most numerous race in the Lands of Ara. For those who prefer race-as-class, Rodians may be treated as functionally identical to halflings – that is, with all the same basic abilities and Level Progression Table as Labyrinth Lord halflings. However, in my own campaigns I permit Rodians four different class options -- Duellist, Rogue, Illusionist, and Invoker -- detailed here.

Rodians (sometimes called Suhlians, after their home island) are seafaring folk who demonstrate a distinct tendency toward sea piracy and con-artistry. They tend to be quite dexterous, and get a bonus of +1 to initiative rolls when alone or in a party composed only of rodians. They have keen coordination that grants them +1 on any missile attacks. Because they are so small, rodians have a lower armor class (-2) when attacked by creatures greater than human sized.

Rodians are excellent utilizers of urban camouflage and can hide in shadows or behind other forms of cover when in cities or underground labyrinths on a roll of 1-2 on 1d6, though they must also be silent and motionless.

Arandish Ogres and Half-Ogres
Ogres are once-human creatures who were magically transformed by Telengardian magicians into powerful fighting monsters during the Old War between Telengard and Achelon. After that disastrous war ended, these mutants found that they had very little place in human society, and most of them retreated to the mountainous and wooded areas around Telengard and northern Delzar. Ogres (especially those who have lived in the wild) tend to be feared by humans, primarily due to their great physical size and often horrible appearance.  Ogrish characters cannot practice magical arts, and are predisposed toward severe near-sightedness (that is, the inability to see at distances). For more information on Ogrish PCs, see this post.

Also note that, due to ckutalik's excellent writeup of Half-Ogres as PCs, that race is now available in Ara.

NPC Race: Elves
Elves (sometimes referred to as Aldorians) should almost never be PCs in Ara. They are extremely reclusive, living in near-perfect isolation in the Northwestern forests, and do not usually see any reason to fraternize with other races. Referees wishing to stat up Aldorian elves for NPC use should use elf23's Fey class instead of standard Labyrinth Lord Elves.

Note: A comprehensive current list of Arandish PC classes will be given in a separate post.

Monday, March 14, 2011

DMG Sample Level Stocking Project Part 2

Now for Part 2 of my ongoing weekly quest to stock the sample dungeon level from the DMG p. 95. (See also James C.'s original announcement of the project, his updated list of participants, and my own stocking installment Part 1.)

I am assuming a Level 3 dungeon and 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 "special" encounters and miscellaneous and/or atmospheric room features.

So here we go, stocking rooms 5 through 8:

Room 5:  Last time I decided I wanted to place the treasure belonging to the wights from Room 4 in the adjoining room -- this would require the PCs to search for the secret trapdoor and crawl along the crawl-way from Room 4 to Room 5 in order to find that treasure, which amounts to 4,000 electrum pieces.  However, to add an extra challenge, I decided to add some lower-powered undead treasure guardians to Room 5 as well.  Ghouls felt about right; I rolled for number appearing and got "2."

Room 6:  Rolled and got monster with treasure.  Rolled randomly for the monster on the Level 3 Wandering Monster Table (LL p. 104) and got "Bugbear."  This was extremely fortuitous, since I had already established a Bugbear Priest's chamber in Room 1, and therefore I knew I wanted there to be a larger Bugbear lair somewhere else on the map.  I originally figured that I might have to artificially impose that lair somewhere along the line, but this roll saved me the trouble.  I rolled for number appearing and got eleven (11) Bugbears.  I rolled for treasure based upon the Bugbears' Hoard Class (XXI) but got nothing.

Room 7:   Rolled and got "unique."  I then rolled on the "Random Features" and "Random Characteristics" Tables (AEC p. 148-149) and got "vegetation heats."  In response to this I imagined some kind of highly inflammable / explosive fungus or dried vine clinging to the walls in this chamber.  Anyone poking a torch or other flame source into this room runs a 2 in 6 chance of setting it off.  If gathered, the dried vine can be used by herbalists to create an anti-cold remedy.   

Room 8:  Rolled and got trap with treasure.  Rolled randomly for the trap type (AEC p. 147) and got "scything blade."  I rolled for unguarded treasure and got 600 silver pieces, 700 gold pieces, and three pieces of jewelry worth 60 g.p., 400 g.p., and 200 g.p. 

So, my finished key to Rooms 5-8 looks like:

5.  Wight Treasure Hoard and Guardians.
Two ghouls dwell here, guarding the wights' treasure.  4,000 e.p. are stashed in a series of moldy sacks in one corner. 

6.  Lair of the Bugbear Tribe
This is the lair of a sizable tribe of bugbears.  There are ten (10) standard bugbears here plus their chieftain (an HD 4 bugbear with maximum hit points).  These bugbears regularly patrol the hallways between here and Room 1, and are aware of the dried vines in Room 7, which they regularly harvest for medicinal and tea-making purposes.  They also know about the existence of the wights in room 4, but never open the door leading into that area; their priest has placed divine wards on that door to keep the wights at bay.  The bugbears will fight to the death to protect their home; what treasure they possess is kept in Room 8, in order to lure unsuspecting intruders into the blade trap there.

7.  Vine-Covered Chamber.
Brownish and grayish vines completely cover the walls and ceiling of this chamber.  A few patchy areas suggest recent harvesting.  The vines are highly inflammable and explosive; anyone bringing a torch or other flame source into this room runs a 2 in 6 chance of setting off a firestorm that deals 3d6 damage to everyone in the room (save vs. breath weapon for half damage).  If (carefully!) gathered, the dried vine can be used by herbalists to create an anti-cold remedy.   

8.  Scything Blade Trap.
A large, locked chest sits in the southeast corner of this room.  Anyone stepping on the floor within 10' of the chest activates a scything blade trap that affects everyone in the whole room, dealing 1d8 damage to anyone who fails a save vs. petrify.  The chest contains 600 s.p., 700 g.p., and three pieces of jewelry valued at 60 g.p., 400 g.p., and 200 g.p., respectively.  Anyone removing the treasure from this room will incur the wrath of the bugbears from Room 6, who will subsequently hunt down the PCs in order to recover the chest and its contents. 

Next time: Rooms 9-14!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Alignment Languages Part 2: What To Do Next

Before digging into this, I recommend that you take a look at my previous post about why I am adding alignment languages to my group's Labyrinth Lord game, paying particular attention to the Moldvay and Gygax quotes about how alignment languages were intended to be used in B/X and AD&D.

Both the DMG and Moldvay passages imply that alignment languages are a kind of verbal and/or gestural shorthand, not really full-blown languages like racial tongues or common. I like that idea. In fact, I hereby posit that alignment languages are the fragmentary remnants of either (a) older, now-mostly-dead languages from ancient Arandish times (for Lawful and Neutral) or (b) tongues used on other planes of existence (Chaotic).

Before delineating my tentative plan for how this will work in the Lands of Ara, I first want to acknowledge (and quote from) some online resources that helped me hone my thinking on this subject.

First would be this concise but crucial post by Stuart Marshall over on the Robertson Games website, which puts forth the following rich proposition:
What I settled on was a language that was generally associated with each of the 3 alignments, but that could be learned by other characters if they so desired. However, starting characters were limited to learning the “alignment language” corresponding to their own alignment at the beginning of the game – unless their class provided them additional language options. . .

Lawful characters may choose to learn Ancient as a bonus language (if they have one available). Much like Latin, this is a dead language that is primarily found in ancient texts and used by clerics. 
Thieves Cant 
Neutral characters are more likely to associate with outlaws, thieves and criminals. They may choose to learn Thieves Cant as a bonus language. While not used in regular day-to-day life for honest citizens, it can be heard in back alleys and seedier taverns. 
Black Tongue 
A vile, guttural language that most people would not dare to speak. It is said that merely saying a few words in this dark language attracts the attention of demonic ears. Orcs, cultists, and dark wizards are known to speak this dread language.
Very nice! This solves the problem of tying each alignment language to some game-world organization or group, and bestowing upon alignment languages a sense of history. I also tend to favor Stuart's interpretation that alignment languages should be obtainable by other, differently aligned characters, though maybe it should be difficult to find anyone who would teach a given alignment language to an outsider.

Next are some insightful comments from an interesting post on unaligned characters by The Jovial Priest. Now, much as I admire his concept here, I do not plan on adopting it whole cloth. No, I want to keep to the standard Labyrinth Lord-B/X three-part alignment system, and I think Neutral can more or less stand in for The JP's "Unaligned" category for my purposes. So allow me to quote from that post while substituting my own amendments in brackets:

"Most sentient beings are [Neutral]. That is, they have not committed themselves to the Cosmic Battle between Law and Chaos. They may have an opinion as to which they prefer and even work toward one end, but they haven’t aligned themselves wholeheartedly. [Neutral beings] are like most of us. We do good most of the time, are fairly selfish some of the time and occasionally we do evil. These are choices we make day to day. Were there to be a god of Law or demons of Chaos, most of us would side with Law but would generally prefer not to die for the cause.

"[Lawfully or Chaotically] aligned characters are different. They actively choose to side with Law or Chaos. [. . .] Those [Lawfully or Chaotically] Aligned must actively seek as one of the primary purposes of their life to advance the cause they are aligned to." [emphasis added]

Yes! What this tells me is that the Neutral alignment language should be derived from a group and/or set of historical circumstances that has no direct investment in the ancient struggle between Law and Chaos. Stuart's proposed "Thieves Cant" could fit that bill, though I might want to make that just one possible option amongst a few. If indeed the vast majority of living beings are neutral, does it really make sense that ALL those beings would know Thieves Cant? Shouldn't Thieves Cant be limited to Thieves, Assassins, and their fences, contacts, and clients?

Another useful part of The Jovial Priest's post is the bit about the Know Alignment spell:

"How can Chaos infiltrate civilisation if Know Alignment is so easily cast? I intend to adopt 2nd edition AD&D, which I have never played, reverse version of the spell which allows the caster to hide alignment for 24 hours. I would also make Chaos have many magical items, a small broach or ring perhaps, that have this identical effect."

I like that a lot. It seems to me that the moment one accepts the full implications of alignment languages -- i.e., that there is a very real Cosmic Battle between Law and Chaos raging in the game-world -- then such alignment-cloaking measures indeed become a logical necessity.

So what position will alignment languages occupy in Ara? My initial proposal, to be tested during forthcoming game play, is this:

To Begin With: All three alignment languages are in fact ancient (for Lawful and Neutral) or extraplanar (for Chaotic) languages of which only small fragments remain in circulation.


(1) Lawful is derived from Old Noffellian, the ancient language of the first Arandish humans. (This is pretty much a rip-off of Stuart's "Ancient" concept.)

(2) Neutral is derived from Old Mizarian, the ancient language of the southeastern (Mizarian) strain of humanity.* Present-day Mizarian is one derivative of Old Mizarian, as is the Neutral alignment language.

The Aldorians (elves) also developed their own Neutral language, Aldorian (or Fey), in the ancient days -- the key difference being that Aldorian Neutral is actually a living language because the Aldorian Fey still speak it. Virtually no one except the Aldorians themselves would have access to this language, so when any other Arandish racial type speaks Neutral, they are speaking the Old Mizarian version.

(3) Chaotic is a simplified version of Demonic, i.e., the language spoken by Demons from the Plane of Chaos. Most likely this alignment tongue reached Ara via the activities of the early Summoners, who brought the first Demons into contact with the Arandish dimension.

Sorting out my thoughts on this issue has inspired even more ideas about how Arandish racial and magical languages might relate to each other, but I think I've said enough for now. I need to let this Alignment Language system get some road-testing in play before I start creating elaborate Arandish Language trees and the like.

Okay, okay, I can't resist giving out one last tidbit before I lay this subject (temporarily) to rest: on Ara, the oldest extant language, the one that predates ALL of the aforementioned ancient sources for the three major alignment languages, is the language of Dragons.

*Thanks to Carl for giving me this idea.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arandish Trolls

I have posted before about the various types of Trolls that exist in the Lands of Ara, therefore I will not re-post their stats here. But, in response to James Maliszewski's proposal, I will now offer some background explanation about WHY I chose to customize trolls for the Arandish Campaign.

The classic D&D troll, re-dubbed the "Hill Troll" in the Lands of Ara.

There are three main influences / factors that steered me away from using standard D&D trolls as written:

(1) Crimson Blades of AraTrolls as they appear in Ara were first conceived for a non-D&D game, i.e., my homebrewed system Crimson Blades of Ara.  The main idea put forward in CBoA that impacted my choice to expand trollkind into a whole family of related-but-different monsters was its conception of indigenous Arandish monsters vs. extraplanar, summoned ones. Trolls were one of the few indigenous Arandish monster races (along with dragons, giants, and the undead) -- and therefore seemed to need to come in many regional varieties.  In fact, CBoA sported even more trollish types than I now use in the Labyrinth Lord iteration of Ara, including (in ascending order of power) mud trolls, tree trolls, hill trolls, rock trolls, and swamp trolls.  (Maybe one day I'll stat out those first two types for Labyrinth Lord.)

(2) The works of J.R.R. Tolkien, wherein orcs, goblins, and trolls all seemed much more powerful and dangerous than they did as statted for D&D. To be fair, D&D trolls are not much like the trolls who appear in the "Roast Mutton" chapter of The Hobbit -- the former are thin, rubbery, regenerating things, while the latter are huge, ravenous, turn-to-stone-in-sunlight type things. But nevertheless I felt from an early age that trolls -- or at least some varieties of trolls -- should be more powerful and dreaded than the standard D&D troll.

(3) Tunnels and Trolls. Although I did not consciously realize this until quite recently, Ken St. Andre's Tunnels and Trolls surely influenced my outlook on trollkind.  For example, on p. 2.7.2, in the description of the troll that inhabits the included introductory adventure "Trollstone Caverns," St. Andre writes: "This is a Cave Troll of the classic type -- direct sunlight will change him into stone."  Not only does this passage align this particular troll with Tolkien's conception mentioned above (and perhaps explains why so many mythological trolls live under bridges and the like), but it subtly implies that the "Cave Troll of the classic type" is not the only type of troll available.  I could also swear that the words "rock troll" appear somewhere in the T&T rulebook, though I cannot now locate the reference. 

Now, where exactly I got the idea for the swamp troll and the rock troll, I do not exactly know. However, I can tell you precisely what creature from pop culture LOOKS the most like a rock troll: the H.R. Giger Alien creature.

The elongated head shape of the Alien is not quite right, nor do Arandish rock trolls have that little mouth-within-a-mouth thing, but in terms of overall stature, way of moving, and relative invulnerability, rock trolls and aliens are indeed closely related.

 The Bulette: inspiration for the Arandish Swamp Troll?

Swamp trolls, which dwell mostly in the Great Western Swamp, and which constitute the only trollish strain to eschew walking bipedally, remind me somewhat of oversized, aquatic bulettes.  A direct influence?  I cannot say now, but it is a strong possibility since bulettes are (and have always been) a particular favorite monster of mine.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Top 15 Classic OSR Blog Posts: On Game Design and Campaign Resources

What follows is part two of a three-part list of individual blog entries that fulfill my criteria for being "classic." Let me again emphasize that these are MY picks for blog posts I return to again and again, posts that have been most influential to ME over time. It is therefore likely that my using the term "classic" is a misnomer, as that status should really be conferred via some process of group / community consensus.

Part one of the list included Classic OSR Posts on the subject of "Theory and History," i.e., general ruminating or ranting about what our hobby "means," discussing the role our blog community plays in the development and sustenance of that hobby, and/or documenting the real-world history of D&D, TSR, et. al.

This post deals with Classic OSR Blog Posts about in-game matters like setting design, DM strategies, good role-playing, creating new game content, and the like. At times, the distinction between the two broad topics was a difficult -- and ultimately arbitrary -- one to make. For example, is Zak's "How Much Do You Want To Be A Wizard?" simply about what happens at the game table (hence justifying its inclusion here), or is it a more general philosophical manifesto about good DM-player relationships and gaming-group chemistry? (I suppose it's both.)

Criteria / selection process:

1. I went with relatively well-known or "popular" OSR blogs. My main way of determining said popularity was by consulting Cyclopeatron's December 2010 report of Old School Blog rankings -- no post could be deemed an OSR "Classic" unless it came from a blog that scored fairly high up in those rankings. I didn't have a specific numerical cutoff point in mind when I started, but in the end, the lowest-ranked blog represented in this second part of the list is in the 18th rank; some are un-rankable (i.e., Wordpress, etc.); and I make a special exception for Gorgonmilk, a new blog by a veteran blogger.

2. The "test of time" was a factor, but an extremely minor one. While some readers could (rightly) argue that "Classic" implies something that has been around for awhile, remember that this is MY fucking list so in a few cases I included much more recent posts that happened to capture the "Classic" ethos or strongly spoke to me as I was compiling this Top 15. But overall I tried to favor posts that had been around in the blogosphere for a little while.

3. I play Labyrinth Lord in a Tolkienesque / Gygaxian mode. That preference surely colors my choices here, since (for example) there are no posts listed that deal with Gamma World / Mutant Future, Traveller, T&T, etc. -- believe me, it was hard enough narrowing this thing to a mere 15 posts as it is.

4. Lastly, in terms of my engagement with the online community, I mostly just read OSR blogs. I do not visit the discussion boards, I am not an avid web-surfer, etc. So everything on this list is stuff I found via my own primitive knocking around in the OSR blogosphere. Many apologies in advance if my own ignorance diminishes the interest or accuracy of the list.

All that said, I strongly urge anyone who disagrees with what I've included here or who spots obvious omissions to offer corrective comments below, or, even better, create your own "Classic Blog Post" lists as well -- I'd love to read them!

Note that this list is NOT in order of preference or "rank," but simply organized in a way that makes for interesting reading if read in this sequence.

1. James Edward Raggi IV, LotFP, "Guide to Adventure Writing"
Still my favorite general guide to good adventure design, written by the best module writer in the OSR.

2. James Maliszewski, Grognardia, "Locale and Plot"
This characteristically sharp analysis by James M. of old-school module design principles should be required reading for anyone wishing to design adventures with an old-school feel.

3. Zak S., Playing D&D With Porn Stars, "Riddles In The Dark (or, Earn It)"
More from Zak Sabbath, this time about why game balance (in the contemporary sense) sucks (my words). This post outlines how PCs should develop during game play, NOT as a result of complex character "builds," an idea I emphatically agree with. It is a relatively recent post but one I could not resist including.

4. Greg at Gorgonmilk, "On Boiling Down Your Setting to its Essential Salts"
The most recent offering on the list, this post by Greg (formerly of Eiglophian Press fame) offers a list of possible concepts that can be used to generate a "post-Tolkien" fantasy campaign setting. The post itself may not be "classic" yet, but the ideas it proposes surely are.

5. James Maliszewski, Grognardia, "Of Ancient Empires"
James' comments in this inspiring post refer to the background of his own megadungeon project, Dwimmermount, but the core idea is applicable to all of us megadungeon creators. A terrific idea!

6. Al Krombach, Beyond the Black Gate, "Megadungeon Resources"
Al Krombach is one of the great champions of megadungeon design philosophy and toolkit provision currently working in the OSR blogosphere. His list of megadungeon design resources is succinct, accessible, and absolutely essential reading for anyone wishing to design a megadungeon. I might especially wish to single out his superb (and fun!) Random Area Name Generator, which I have used many times. Also deserving of honorable mention are Al's yearly Beyond the Black Gate Compendiums for 2009 and 2010 -- chock full of great stuff!

7. Rob Conley, Bat in the Attic, "How to make a Fantasy Sandbox"
Rob Conley's thoroughgoing series of blog posts on Sandbox Design is required (and therefore "classic") reading for anybody in the OSR who wants to sit behind the DM's screen. Indispensable!

8. Michael Curtis, The Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope, "With New Old Eyes"
Curtis' reflections about what make a good megadungeon, written just as he completed the first volume of his Stonehell, constitute "classic" and essential reading for any megadungeon creator.

9. Dyson Logos, A character for every game, "Maps"
Though my Arandish campaign owes a huge debt to many of the classic posts listed here, I would say that the biggest practical contribution has come from Dyson Logos' excellent wordpress blog, A character for every game. Dyson is a very talented cartographer, and I have used three of his maps / dungeons -- Goblin Gully, Coruvon (which I used for the Arandish town of Swampsedge), and Level 1 of his mini-megadungeon, Dyson's Delve -- in my campaign so far. I will continue to use them. And while my praise here focuses on Dyson's maps, please check out his blog's other offerings as well, such as his Random polearm Generator and his great posts about elementals.

10. Dyson Logos, A character for every game, "2d6 Thiefing"
There has been much debate about and tinkering with the thief class waged over the years. Some have argued that it is an unnecessary / oxymoronic D&D class, others have expressed dissatisfaction with the B/X thief mechanics and have offered their own versions (e.g., Al K. and James M.). Yet Dyson's simple 2d6 system for handling thief abilities is the most elegant and appealing solution to the thief "problem" that I have yet seen.  In fact, I am such a fan of "2d6 Thiefing" that I have both installed it as the standard for thieves in my Arandish campaign, and Spawn of Endra and I have borrowed the concept in order to create 2d6 Bardery.  Dyson also reprinted this piece in Dyson's Dodecahedron Vol. 1 Issue 1, which is well worth downloading in its own right!

11. bat, Ancient Vaults and Eldritch Secrets
I cannot single out one post here, but must simply include the whole blog as one huge, ongoing, excellent resource for old-school gaming ideas.  The fact that bat cranks out a new spell, monster, or magic item pretty much every day of the year astounds me, and the fact that so many of them are so goddamn good is the sweet icing on the cake.  I cannot begin to tell you how many spells I have horked from "Ancient Vaults" -- but if I ever finish those Elementalist NPCs for my Arandish campaign, my great debt to bat's work will become readily apparent.

12. Jeff Rients, Jeff's Gameblog, "How to Awesome-Up Your Players"
Great DM'ing advice helping you to "empower the players to make the game a non-stop high-octane freak-out"!  Who can resist that?

13.Zak Sabbath, Playing D&D With Porn Stars, "How Much Do You Want To Be A Wizard?"
Zak is the best blogger around when it comes to discussing the intricacies of DM-player dynamics, and this is his most "classic" post on the matter. I am also fond of his more recent posts comparing RPG groups to rock bands and discussing RPG group "Design Specs", but I still choose this earlier post on player buy-ins as more "classic," nuanced, and outright true.

14. Alexis, The Tao of D&D, "30 Ways Not To Cheat At D&D"
I admit that Alexis' work at the Tao of D&D is at times daunting to me, both due to his high level of granularity and his sometimes inflammatory prose, but I am nevertheless glad that Alexis exists. And once in awhile, he hits a nail so squarely on the head that I am glad I check in over at his blog from time to time. This list of 30 player principles is one such post -- a great assessment of what we might call "gaming table ethics" that I feel would improve play for anyone who rigorously followed them. Not quite as impactful but still deserving of honorable mention is Alexis' post on the role of the DM, "The DM is Not a Player."

15. Noisms, Monsters and Manuals, "Gaming Advice #1: Don't Be A Dick Head"
How much more succinct can one get? Noism's key piece of advice here is fundamental to keeping our time at the game table enjoyable, and is certainly deserving of timeless, "classic" status.

And a Bonus Post Deserving of Honorable Mention:

Zak Sabbath, Playing D&D With Porn Stars, "Urbancrawl Rules For Slacker DMs"
Sadly for me, this is one of those really conceptually brilliant ideas that it is very difficult to see myself ever using in play. I am a bit too much of a Gygaxian naturalist / in-depth world-builder to likely ever need to use this elegant system for figuring out city travel distances, because I already know the basic layout of most of the major Arandish cities my PCs would visit. But nevertheless, this is one of the most memorable blog posts I have ever read on any subject, and I think Zak's idea here perfectly embodies the on-the-fly, random-dice-rolling, old-school gaming spirit I so dearly love. Bad ass!

Next time: "The Best of the Rest: Classic Posts from Less-Followed Blogs"