Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Adventure Quickies

I like to keep a couple of small side "adventures" handy to give players something to do that doesn't owe anything to the main story arc of the campaign. These are even smaller in scope than the "side trek" concept, but seem to add a lot to the campaign and the idea of the campaign setting as a living, breathing place. Here's a couple of examples:

The Heirloom
Word gets around town about a magic item one of the PCs has recovered from the dungeon, and it is recognized as a family heirloom by a wealthy, influential member of the local citizenry. The local files a complaint in the courts, attempting to have the PCs arrested and the artifact confiscated. If the PCs handle this situation reasonably, the citizen may offer a replacement item, or better yet, provide them with a treasure map. Handled badly, outlawry or imprisonment could result.

The Dragon of the Deeps
A giant sturgeon (the average PC level +4HD) has been terrorizing fishermen in a local river or lake. The fishermen offer a reward for the PCs to hunt down and slay the beast.

Bragging Rights
A fighter of a level equal to the highest level PC+1 has heard of the PCs exploits and is jealous. He has traveled from far away to challenge the PC and assert his bragging rights. He will challenge the PC to a duel, and most of the local population will turn out to watch. If the PC wins, the fighter's companions will eventually travel to avenge him.

The Beneficiary
One of the PCs is notified that he has inherited a local brewery, one coveted by a wealthy competitor. A mysterious sealed door is found in the brewery's cellar.

The Coward of the County
One of the PCs is the subject of a lengthy song being performed by bards throughout the area, describing the PC's infinite cowardice. Who commissioned the song, and why?

What are some "adventure shorties" you've used in the past?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Get yer Old-School Art

Looks like the old-school community is pulling out all the stops to try and get Knockspell and Fight On! magazines into the top-three for a contest at LuLu.com (a print on demand service). Fight On!'s already at number 3, which is impressive to say the least, LuLu is by no means a "game" website, and its good to see this stuff making such a strong showing.

Until April 1st, you can order "Art of the Old School" and help out!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Arduin - Welcome to Sandbox Tower

As I'm slowly making my way through the excellent issue 4 of Fight On!, I'm struck by just how unique an experience Arduin really was. Now, when it comes to old-school gaming, my flavor of preference is Wilderlands of High Fantasy, has been since '79 or so, and probably always will be. But as I enjoy game development more now than I did back then, I'm starting to have a greater appreciation for just what Arduin really was - the epitomy of a D&D sandbox.

I had very little knowledge of Arduin (aside from the occasional mention in magazines) until the early 90's or so. While scouring book, comic, and game stores for missing pieces of my 1E TSR and Judges Guild collection (this is pre-ebay!) I came across a plastic bag with 4 little brown books, and one big brown books. The little brown books were reminiscent of my copies of Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry, and the price tag was only a few bucks, so I grabbed them. I think at the time I believed them to be, simply, a campaign setting of some sort.

Later I would flip through them, squinting at the tiny print, scanning over encounter tables, lists of spells, classes, and magic items, and wonder, "wtf is this!?" It seemed interesting, but was almost completely unrecognizable. Mana costs for spells? Every monster has variable HD? "Genitals torn off!?" Respectful but slightly bewildered, I tucked the books back into their plastic bag, and placed them in the vault, where they would languish for years.

It was only much later that I would realize what Arduin was - a brillant example of what a near-completely houseruled and sandboxed D&D campaign looks like.

When my appreciation finally "clicked", I devoured the little books. They are dense, and complicated, and arcane, but full of little details and reimaginatings that are an invaluable creative resource for any DM. Hargrave was never afraid to take things one step farther than many DMs would have found acceptable. He customized his game to the point that it was nearly unrecognizable from its starting point, yet still undeniably D&D. And as an Erol Otus fan, its a delightful look at some of his (extremely) early art.

Some of his ideas took root in my own games, and some remain there still. Lizardmen as PCs. Wizards allowed to use magic swords after level 5. I've even afflicted Veluna with the Curse of the White Eyes as a plot point in a campaign.

It must have been a riot to participate in Hargrave's game. This was a game were every monster was unknown, as were most spells and magic items. Where Elric the Hell-Lost, Kazamon the Ring Bearer, Frederick the Bold, and the Seven Spartans adventured and fought against Phraint pirates, deadly Hell Maidens, and 36HD Maggoths.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dar Taru's Emporium

Goods for your Sci-Fantasy Pulp-style S&W or LL campaign!

Dar Taru's Emporium is a dome-like structure made of opaque, smoke-colored glass, about a hundred feet in diameter. At night, the emporium raises up sixty feet into the air on four stilt-like steel legs. Inside, the Emporium is mainly composed of one large sales floor crammed with racks and shelves, and a couple of offices in the back.

Dar Taru (F4, AC7[12]) himself is an elderly man of slight build and a shock of white hair. He wears obsidian goggles at all times, and is clothed in a simple leather apron over his battle-harness. He carries an irradium pistol in a holster at his waist at all times. His two assistants, Blex and Harv Nar (HD3, AC6[14]), are almost always in the store with him. Blex and Harv Nar are members of a blue-skinned, three armed species called the Yevny, and they are armed with 3 shortswords each, as well as their own irradium pistols.

Some featured items at the Emporium this week:

Irradium Pistols 30gp
Range - 60'; Rate of Fire - 2; Dmg. 1d10; Weight 5; Ammunition - 10 bullets for 10gp
Irradium Pistols are hand-crafted sidearms with a whorled wood and brass stock, and a barrel of tempered steel. The pistols are named for the powdered substance in their bullets, irradium, which explodes upon contact to open air. Irradium pistol bullets do only 1d4 damage in airless environments. The pistol can contain 5 bullets at a time, and takes 1 round to fully reload. The butt of the pistol can be used as a clubbing weapon for 1d3 pts of damage.

Irradium Rifles 90gp
Range - 120'; Rate of Fire 1; Dmg. 2d6; Weight 12; Ammuntion - 10 bullets for 20gp
Irradium Rifles are hand-crafted, 8' long wood and steel weapons with a rifled barrel for greater range and accuracy. Attacks within range are made at +1 to hit. As with the irradium pistol, the bullets are innefective in airless environments, and only do 1d4 pts of damage. The rifle must be loaded each round, as it only holds one bullet at a time.

Weapons Harness 30gp
Effect on AC -3[+3]; Weight 25
This traditional warrior's weapons harness is composed of interlocking leather straps with metal plates of brass, copper, or steel fixed over the sternum, shoulders, and back. The harness is made to accomodate a longsword, shortsword or handaxe, dagger, and pistol, and also includes a small ammunition pouch with enough room for 20 pistol rounds (or 10 rifle rounds).

Arm Bracers 20gp
Effect on AC -1[+1]; Weight 6
This is a set of four brass, copper, or iron armbands (two for the forearms, and two for the upper arms), that offers further protection to unarmored indivuduals, or individuals wearing weapons harness, leaving both arms free for weapon use. They offer no further protection, however, if used in conjunction with a shield.

Wilderness Shroud 10gp
Weight 2
The Wilderness Shroud is a hooded, cloak-like garment of gauzy material designed to protect the wearer in harsh environmental conditions. It keeps the wearer cool in temperatures of up to 110 degrees, and warm in temperatures as low as 20 degrees. It also protects the wearer from exposure to the effects of rain or harsh sunlight. When not in use, it may be crumpled into a small ball for easy storage.

Water Wand 25gp
Weight 1
The Water Wand is a hollow, sealed brass tube containing a portion of deluvium filaments. Deluvium is a near-weightless material that is magnetically attracted to fresh water, and the water wand will point in the direction of any source of fresh water within a half-mile.

Necrotiz Culture 10gp
Weight 1/5
Necrotiz Culture is a bacterium typically used to clean the flesh from a deceased loved one so the skeleton can be properly buried or displayed. Adventurers sometimes use the substance as a weapon to combat the undead. The Culture is contained in a disk-like glass container of jelly that can be thrown accurately up to 10 feet. If it breaks against a fleshy undead creature, such as a ghoul or zombie, the bacterium consumes the undead for 1d6 rounds, doing 1d6 points of damage per round.

Gas Belt 50gp
Weight 5
A Gas Belt is a wide leather belt with a flexible membrane in the back. When activated, the membranous pocket fills with a gravity-repellant gas, allowing the wearer to float upwards at up to 20' per round for up to 6 rounds. A small valve in the front of the belt allows the wearer to descend at a similar rate. Gas Belts can be recharged at the Emporium or other similarly-equipped locations for a fee of 10gp, though the membrane wears out after 5 uses and a new belt must then be purchased.

Grapple Charge 10gp
Weight 6
This is a special irradium-charged grappling hook that may be affixed to the barrel of an irradium pistol or rifle, and will shoot the hook and up to 50' of rope to a distance of up to 50'. The charged hook may only be used once, as the firing element is destroyed when the irriadium ignites.

Vorlum Paste 450gp
Weight 1
This is a small, stoppered clay pot containing 6 applications of Vorlum Paste, a gluey susbstance that will seal and heal wounds. Each application heals 1d4 points of damage immediately, with a further 1 point being healed each hour for 4 hours afterward. Only one application of Vorlum Paste is effective for an individual every 24 hours.

Dreza Capsules 15gp
Weight 1/10
This small match-box sized container contains 3 dreza capsules. Each capsule can sustain a man for one day as if he had consumed a normal day's rations. They will not sustain an individual indefintely, however, and will have no effect after 3 concurrent days of use.

Irradium Gum 5gp
Weight 1
This is a small block of rubbery material contained in wax-sealed paper. The block may be unwrapped and will adhere to a surface or object. After 1d6 rounds of exposure to open air, the block will ignite, doing 2d6 points of damage to whatever it has been affixed to, and setting flammable materials ablaze.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


*Disclaimer* - this is priveledged info for DM's eyes only - if you're not a DM and you read this, we will find you! ;-)

"Footsteps" is a little trick I picked up far too late in my experience as a DM. I still remember the first use of Footsteps: I was running an original adventure I had spent hours on, meticulously tooling and retooling every detail, every NPC, everything. And yet, for whatever reason, my players were having an off session. Their attention wandered, no notes were taken, the map was haphazard at best, and as they missed detail after detail, my own interest in the session began to waver.

Now, when I get bored, I begin to mess with people. Its just the way I am, and in this instance the players happened to be the most convenient to mess with. Picking out the most distracted player at the table, I hastily scribbled a note on a scrap of paper, and made a big production of passing it to him "secretly" (which of course heightened everyone's level of alertness in and of itself):

"You think you hear footsteps behind you, but when you turn to look, no one is there."

The player nodded sagely, tucked the note into his PHB, and handed a note back to me.

"I continue forward, but listen carefully to hear these footsteps again, ready to spin with weapon out if I do."

I read his note, nodded seriously at him, and continued on with the adventure. A few minutes later, I passed another note:

"You hear the footsteps again".

The player yelled out an alarm to the other players, and spun around with bare blade to see nothing. I passed him another note.

"As you spin around, you see nothing, but you feel a hot breath on the back of your neck, as if whatever is stalking you has spun around behind you."

This led to much searching around, the waste of a few spells, the checking of coin purses and backpacks, as the players frantically sought to determine what was hunting them. Of course, there was nothing to find, and eventually the adventure continued on - but I noticed the difference immediately - the players paid attention to everything! No detail was too small to escape their notice, everything was carefully noted and mapped, and the adventure proved to be a smashing success. So much so, I was surprised when it was over that no one even remembered those elusive Footsteps...

I took the lesson to heart, and began to introduce various versions of "Footsteps" in almost every adventure, regardless of the interest level. Some variations included:

"You notice faint, bleeding pinholes on your left arm."

"You suddenly feel light-headed."

"You feel as if invisible fingers have just brushed across your cheek."

Used wisely, and in a timely fashion, "Footsteps" is a great tool for any DM...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Artifacts of Legend

The Light-Spear of S'Tarius

This long spear is made of a pinkish, translucent crystalline material, shot through with gold veins or wires. Three ruby studs are set into the shaft about a foot up from the bottom. The point is sharp, but hollow, and if employed in its mundane fashion the weapon functions as a +1 spear. Depressing one or more of the ruby studs, however, cause the spear to emit a beam of light that burns through targets up to 120' away. Pressing one stud causes 1d6 points of damage (using 1 charge), two studs at once causes 3d6(using 3 charges), and all three studs at once causes 6d6 points of damage (using 7 charges).

The Light-Spear holds 10 charges at a time, and if exposed to sunlight will recharge at a rate of 1 charge per hour.

The Light-Spear's origins are shrouded in mystery, but some sages contend it was taken from the mythical Skyship of Har'ruul, a wrecked metal monstrosity, the location of which has been lost to time.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ribbit! Another friend from the Haunted Bog

Shock Frog
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: shock (see below) or bite (1d8)
Saving Throw: 13
Special: Paralysis
Move: 15
Challenge Level/XP: 5/240

Shock Frogs are blue and yellow, giant tree frogs who favor misty bogs for their hunting ground, though an albino version is also known to lurk in subterranean locales. Once per turn, Shock Frogs can emit a pulse of electricity in a radius of 30', causing 1d6 points of damage and stunning anyone who doesn't save (paralyzed 1d12 rounds). Shock Frogs will then typically attempt to hop off with a stunned victim in its mouth for a quiet feast elsewhere.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Forsaken Halls

Work continues apace on my Megadungeon, the "Forsaken Halls".

The Forsaken Halls was actually born of a failed freelance project. I had worked up a rough but nicely detailed map for a d20 adventure that was lost in "publishing limbo" as the d20 bubble burst a few years back. I shelved the notes, tucked the map into a folder with others of its ilk, and forgot about it. A couple of years later, as bits and pieces of the new 4E of D&D emerged on the internet, some friends and I decided to test-drive the new system. I had some pregen character sheets available, and some fast play rules, and even a pretty nice compilation of leaked monsters, but no adventure!

So I shuffled through my old maps, and was tickled to come across the Forsaken Halls of _____. I shortened the name to just the Forsaken Halls, fleshed out the first 10 or so rooms, wrote out a short table of random encounters, another of "dungeon dressings", and that was that. We had a blast, lots of PCs died, and the setting really began to gel over the course of the session.

Not long after that, Forsaken Halls got another chance to terrorize PCs when we all downloaded copies of Labyrinth Lord, and I got to design and run the rest of the 1st level under the aegis of my favorite version of D&D, B/X.

Even though we returned to my regular Wilderlands campaign, ideas and backstory for the Forsaken Halls continued to percolate, and it became a welcome diversion during the long breaks between my once-a-month table sessions. One of my intentions in starting this blog was to use it as a forum to share my new ideas as they come along, and hopefully get some feedback and new ideas from all the other great megadungeon designers out there.

"Beyond the Black Gate" refers to perhaps the most iconic location in the Forsaken Halls, the Black Gate. It may be the deepest point of the Megadungeon, or it may just be a midway point leading to even greater terrors and treasures. It may be an actual physical barrier, or it may be a more metaphysical one, one that only those initiated in the darkest mysteries of the Halls may broach.

Though I have three levels (and one sub-level!) of the Halls fully fleshed out, there still exist many iconic locations and personalities that remain to be discovered by my slow creative process, and are, so far, known only to me by the vaguest of names and descriptions. Beyond the Black Gate will hopefully feature these locations as I am able to detail them; places like the Troll Gardens, the Grotto of the Oracle, and the Tomb of the Dread Emperor.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In Praise of Planet Stories

When I was kid, a big part of my burgeoning interesting in gaming came from my voracious appetite for reading. I read every bit of genre fiction I could get my hands on, and at the time it was easy to get. Mind you, this was before the days of Eddings and Jordan and the various other 12 or 15 part "high fantasty" epics (not to knock that style, it just didn't resonate as strongly with me as, say, ERB). In the late 70's and early 80's there was still a strong presence of my favorite stuff - "pulp" sci-fi and fantasy. I could still go to the drug store or 7-11 and grab a big "Savage Sword of Conan", "Epic Illustrated", and Lankhmar and John Carter of Mars were still available in fresh new editions on the wire racks.

Time moves on though, and those Jordan and Brooks epics became predominant, and I was left combing the shelves of used book stores (and later Ebay) for my Elric, Hawkmoon, and World of Tiers. Once those books were consumed, I turned even farther back, to hunting down hard-to-get issues of the old pulp magazines, like Argosy and Weird Tales. But that kind of got to be a hassle, and I eventually became more involved with some great "newer" authors, like Glen Cook, Steven Brust, Steven Erikson, and R Scott Bakker. Naturally, what I read eventually ends up in my games, and these dark series suited my campaign style well. Nonetheless, I missed the swashbuckling sword and sorcery from the days when it was acceptable to mix some sci-fi into it all.

Its nice to see now that some of this rare pulp science-fantasy is available again, anew, in shiny fresh editions from Paizo in the form of the "Planet Stories." Only some six months into devouring these, its satisfying to see they quickly began to have a positive effect on my games. Defintely worth the subscription!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Denizens of the Haunted Bog

Ixby clawed his way through the last of the hanging moss and stumbled out into an open field, blinking in the sudden light. Turning and crouching down, he screamed at the Bog behind him, a wordless, impotent wail of fury and grief, before slumping prone onto the sun-warmed grass. Nine of them had entered the Bog, nine of them! All veterans of the Forsaken Halls. And now there was only him...what could they have been thinking?

Suddenly frantic, he clutched at his chest. But no, it was still there - the map to the Lost Vault of Haengri-Loh. Quieting the gibbering coward within himself, Ixby gritted his teeth and stood up, facing himself resolutely South. He'd just have to find some new companions in BurrBurg. But one thing was sure, he'd never set foot in that cursed Bog again...

"Some short-cut", he muttered, and started walking...

Black Barmuth
ArmorClass: 4 [15]
Hit Dice: 6
Attacks: 6 tentacles (1d6) or bite (2d8)
Saving Throw: 11
Special: see text
Move: 3
Challenge Level/XP: 8/800

The Black Barmuth is a bog-dwelling amphibian monstrosity that lurks just beneath the surface, waiting to grab and eat unwary passersby (1-in-4 chance of surprise). The Barmuth has 6 tentacles surrounding its massive frog-like maw, each tipped with a barbed hook. A successful hit from one of the tentacles hooks deep into the victim for 1d6 damage, and the victim is held and squeezed for an additional 1d4 damage each round. Held victims will be dragged into the Barmuth's maw in 1d4 rounds and chewed upon for 2d8 points of damage. Victims forcibly freed from the hooked tentacles sustain an additional 1d4 points of damage. It is rumored that an armor-plated version of this beast, the Red Barmuth, lurks in desert areas.

Bog Zombies
Armor Class: 6 [13]
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 2 claws (1d6)
Saving Throw: 16
Special: Immune to sleep, charm; diseased
Move: 12
Challenge Level/XP: 3/60

Bog Zombies appear as black, leathery, undead humanoids with nooses pulled tight around their necks. Unlike their mundane brethren, Bog Zombies are fast and possess a malicious cunning. Any time maximum damage (6) is rolled for a Bog Zombie hit, the victim contracts a rotting disease, taking an additional hp of damage per day. The diseased wound will not heal naturally, and requires magical assistance. Bog Zombies often travel in packs of a dozen or more.

Armor Class: 7 [12]
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 2 tentacles (1d4)
Saving Throw: 16
Special: Paralysis, Flight
Move: 9
Challenge Level/XP: 3/60

Keerkas appear to be green, mossy, gas-filled jelly-fish that float in the air several feet above the ground; roughly the size of sheep, with dozens of hanging tentacles. Two of these tentacles are used for attacks, and are coated with a paralytic poison (lasts 1d4 turns unless a saving throw is made). Paralyzed victims are enveloped in the other tentacles, and digested at a rate of 1d8 points of damage per round. Keerkas typically travel in schools of 7-12, though once every 4 years they swarm together into schools numbering in the hundreds, terrorizing the lands beyond the bog.

Drill Leech
Attack: 1hp/day
Special: Numbing poison
Challenge Level/XP: 1/15

The Drill Leech is a tiny, leech-like creature that inhabits shallow waters and bogs. It possesses a drill-bit-like head that secretes a numbing agent, making it unlikely that a victim will even notice it has been made to host the parasite (1 in 10 chance), as the Drill Leech embeds itself fully into the flesh of the host's foot or leg. The victim will lose 1hp/day (this will not heal normally) until the Drill Leech is discovered and removed either through magical means (Cure Disease will work) or by a healer familiar with the parasite.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hope everyone has a fun St Patrick's Day!

What could be more old-school D&D than meeting your fellow adventurers at a tavern for a round of ales?
Just try and be nice to the bards, they've been drinking too! ;-)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Remembering the FLnon-GS

There's been quite a bit of posting in the old-school blogoshpere recently, lamenting the decline of the FLGS, both the favorite stores of days-gone-by and the decline of this niche business as a whole. As I reminisced over my favorite game purchase-points in the past, I was struck by how many were not game stores at all.

My first "official" D&D purchase was the Moldvay Basic set in 1981, which I picked up at...JC Penney! Yep, in 1981 JC Penney had a neat little game section lost in the middle of the housewares department, and D&D sat proudly amidst the Rubik's Cubes and Bridge sets. I can still remembering carrying the set across the high-rise bridge to Maas Bros, and sitting in the cafe there with breakfast, rolling up my first B/X character (an elf, of course).

I say "official" above, because before that I was picking up fantastic Judge's Guild products, like the Wilderlands of High Fantasy and City-State of the Invincible Overlord at... the local hardware store! Hard to picture now, but there was a flat table covered in JG stuff there, as well as some Arduin stuff (which I thought looked weird at the time and ignored ;-) and a glass display case of lead orcs, goblins, and knights.

In all of those formative gaming years of, say, '78 through '84, I never purchased a single D&D product in what we would consider today to be a "gaming" store. Catalogues from Sears and Penney were a mainstay, as well as the shelves at the local B. Daltons and KB Toys (which also carried a nice selection of my beloved SPI and Avalon Hill wargames). I have vague recollections of visiting a couple of "real" gaming stores, and these seemed to be populated mostly by countless napoleanic and WWII minis, and the little houses, trees, and other set-pieces to embellish your small-scale battlefields with.

"Real" game stores were a fixture during my college years in the early 90's, and I miss the abundance of these to some extent, but not as much as I miss the heady years of the early 80's, when it seemed our hobby was amply represented just about everywhere, and where you least expected it to be!

What non-LGS places do you remember fondly?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back From the Future

I've been having a great time following the discussion over at Necromancer Games about developing "Classic 4E", a PHB companion that hews more closely to the feel of Gygax's AD&D. Only time will tell how successful they are, but until LL and S&W feature as prominantly on the shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble as 4E and Pathfinder do (and I remain optimistic that this will, in fact, happen!), I think its fair to lend our support - this is, after all, where a lot of "new" players for old-school games will ultimately come from!

At any rate, it struck me that a whole lot of people spend a whole lot of time converting old-school stuff to 3.5 or 4E rules, but seldom to I see anyone do the opposite: find a good item or idea in 3.5 or 4E and retrograde it. So here are some 4E spells for your old-school Magic-User:

Level 1
Range 30'
Duration Instantaneous
A wave of sound crashes out in a 30' cone. Anyone in its path suffers 1d6 damage and is thrown back 2d3x10', out of melee range.

Scorching Burst
Level 2
Range 120'
Duration Instantaneous
This "little cousin" to the Fireball spell causes an eruption of flames within the range of the spell, that blasts anyone within 10' of the targeted point with 1d6 points of fire damage.

Beguiling Tongue
Level 2
Range 120'
Duration 1d6 Hours
The caster gains the glibness and charm of the fey, allowing him to adjust the reaction of sentient creatures towards him by up to three steps in his favor. Even hostile orcs will treat favorably with the caster, though when the spell expires, they will be aware they have been duped and act accrodingly.

Curse of the Dark Dream
Level 3
Range 120'
Duration 1 Turn
This spell inflicts one sentient target with nightmarish visions unless it makes a successful saving throw, causing it to stumble around blindly, weeping and screaming. The target sustains 1d4 damage each round from the psychic pain of the spell and from the damage it inflicts upon itself in its terror.

Shadow Form
Level 4
Range Personal and up to 5 other creatures touched
Duration 3 rounds
The caster and up to 5 other creatures touching him are transformed into batlike shadow creatures which can fly at a rate of 120' per round, transforming back to flesh at the beginning of the fourth round.

Arcane Gate
Level 5
Range 360'
Duration Concentration
This spell opens a sustainable Dimension Door between two points no more than 360' feet apart, both of which must be visible, or have been viewed in the past, by the caster. The gateway remains open for as long as the caster concentrates on it, and closes after the caster has passed through it or stops concentrating.

Elemental Maw
Level 6
Range 240'
Duration 1 round
This spell opens a 10' wide portal into a furious elemental vortex. All creatures within 30' sustain 2d6 points of damage and must make a successful saving throw or be pulled into the maw, sustaining another 5d6 points of damage. At the end of the round, creatures pulled into the vortex reappear at a random point within 120' feet of it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mapping Resources

A big part of the fun of old-school games is the do-it-yourself ethic behind them. One one of the most enjoyable things to do yourself (for a lot of folks, anyway) is making maps. Personally, an hour spent with the iPod on, scribing fjords and pit traps, is a great way to unwind from my often stressful and highly competetive career. Throw a couple of pints of Guinness in there, and you've got a whole evening of "de-stress"!

There are several useful resources available on the web to provide both media to do your own maps on, and actual programs that do most of the mapping for you. I'm more a fan of drawing my own maps, so I'll touch on those resources first. We'll start at farthest zoom, for continent-sized maps, and work our way inwards.

For your continental maps, you're going to want hex-paper with hundreds (or even thousands) of hexes, and you're going to want them to be kind of faded in the background, so they don't crop out your own details. Here is a customizable hex-paper generator that lets you specify how much content you want on your map. I like to set mine at .05/inch and designate the hexes at approx 10miles each, which gives me about 550x400miles per map, four of these together will let you map something roughly the size of Western Europe. This is the map for your great rivers, mountain ranges, cities, and political boundaries. Link.

Zooming in from there, you're going to want to detail certain regions in greater detail, and for that I like Grim's Blank Hex Sheets, available at the Swords and Wizardry website. Here you can get a little more up close, detailing towns, villages, hamlets, landmarks, and roads, and still keep your 10-mile hex size, and the sheet lets you detail whats in each numbered hex. Link.

In some cases, you may want even more detail than that, such as the territory around your PCs' home town, or immediately around the Megadungeon. For that, I like this map available at the Judges Guild website, which lets you detail one of your 10 miles hexes, broken down into quarter-mile hexes. Perfect for the ruined city around your Megadungeon entrance, or the noble villas and little ruins surrounding the local barons' castle. These maps are also great for detailing hexes from campaign settings you already have: I used these extensively for my last Greyhawk campaign, for instance. Link.

Lastly, you want to detail your towns and dungeons. No one size of graph paper will accomodate every function you need as a creative DM, so this customizable graph paper generator is a DM's best friend. I like 4/inch for towns, buildings, and small dungeon crawls, and 10/inch for sprawiling MegaDungeon levels. Link.

Next time I talk maps, I'll show off some good computerized mapping programs!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Magic Items with Character.

Magic items should be a fun part of your game, but its all too easy to hand out a +1 shield and move on. DMing involves juggling a whole lot of things at once, and its not always convenient to stop and write up some flavor for that shield.

Here's a couple of magic items with character to keep in your back pocket in case the need for one should present itself:

The Seer-Sword of Nahr. This slim-bladed longsword is set into an ornate, white-jewelled pommel and a crossquard depicting a maiden with outstretched arms wrapped in some sort of ropy vines or mists. Faint runes are visible on the blade just above the crossguard, and magical deciphering interprets them as reading "Truth Eternal". The Seer-Sword functions in combat as a +1 longsword. Additionally, once every 33 days it can summon up the spirit of one intelligent being it has been used to kill within the last 333 days, and compel that spirit to answer 3 questions. Unfortunately, since most of the spirits called are none too happy with the weilder of the blade, there is a 1 in 20 chance per question that they give a malicious lie for an answer, designed to harm to the weilder in some way.

Glolmir, the Hammer of Life. This simple-looking warhammer is made of age-darkened iron, marred with dozens of dents and nicks, and bears a single, tiny holy rune on the business end of its head. The pommel is wrapped in sweat-darkened leather straps, and is slightly bent. Glolmir functions as a +1 warhammer, but is +2 against all forms of undead. Once per day, immediately after it has been used to strike down an undead foe, the weilder may tap a nearby friend with the Hammer of Life and grant him healing equal to the amount of damage inflicted upon the slain enemy. Glolmir is a restless weapon, and will disappear after one year, ostensibly placing itself in another dungeon somewhere for the next hero to find.

Aerys Knife. There are at least seven Aerys Knives known to exist. The weapons are made of some very light, porous metal and hilted in cork. They are said to be very ancient; relics of a lost empire. Areys Knives function as a +1 Dagger, but are +3 to hit (not damage) if the combat is taking place in water. If placed carefully into a bowl of water, the Aerys Knife will float, and will always move slowly to point to True North, so these blades can be a valuable aid to explorers lost in the Underworld.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

John Carter and the Orcs of Mars

Its a common discussion on gaming messageboards: what writers or books inspire your games?

There's a few that I always expect to see, a few I dread seeing, and a few that I hope I'll see, and among those I hope to see are always E.R. Burroughs' tales of Mars. Admittedly, this is not the pinnacle of either High Fantasy or Sword & Sorcery, in a direct sense, but Burroughs' pulp tales of science-fantasy are an excellent source of inspiration for gaming.

Burroughs' world sets some ground rules that are wise to follow in your campaign:

The World is a Dangerous Place. Except for a few havens here and there, the world at large is a dangerous place, not to be tarried in. The wilds are wild, filled with predators, and the environment itself is harsh and unforgiving.

Everyone's Out to Get You. No friend, companion, relative, or neighbor is too loyal to plot your downfall and take all your stuff and your girlfriend too. Betrayal is a standard hazard of the hero business, and its only a matter of time before your drink is drugged, and you wake up chained to an oar while your former captain-of-the-guards is enjoying your wife, lands, and titles.

Wonderful stuff is Wonderful. Why bother with the mundane? Massive flying ships sail the multi-colored skies between mile-high towers, wherein stunningly beautiful women craft tapestries from jewels with colors outside the visible human spectrum.

Science is Magical. And magic is magical. Its amazing, and scary, and flashy. And no one understands it, unless they're elderly and insane. Run away before its too late!

Monsters are Deadly. And irredeemable. The wilds are full of grotesque, snarling predators that can easily tear a battalion of trained soldiers into small, red, wet, strips of jerky in half a minute. These things are bad, and every now and then one gets trapped in the local sewer, or dungeon, or alley, and hangs out there to eat people.

Rewards are Great. Heroes put up with hazardous wilderness, deadly monsters, scary science/magic, and backstabbing manservants for a reason - the rewards are great! Heaps of gold and jewels, honorary titles and positions, and the most beautiful women around. Heroes don't work for a modest salary - the world is there for the taking (and is just as easily lost).

Nothing is as it Seems. Some slavering monsters are actually faithful companions. Some animated rotting corpses just want to play chess with you and help you escape from jail. Some beautiful you women are cannibalistic traitors in cahoots with the evil dictator. Take nothing for granted!

The Cursed Tome of Mar-Karakor pt2

Yxagyg Coil
Level 2
Range 120ft
Duration 1d6 rounds
The caster selects a target to be wrapped in a coiling, serpentine entity of the void, which saps its strength and intellect. The target's strength and intelligence are reduced to 3 for the duration of the spell, unless a saving throw is made.

Blessing of Og Sohoth
Level 3
Range Cast upon self
Duration 3 rounds
The caster is transformed into a vaguely humanoid being with the properties of Green Slime and a movement rate of 6 for the duration of the spell.

Talons of Yrg
Level 3
Range Cast upon self
Duration 2 Turns
The caster takes upon himself the aspect of a shadowy denizen of the lower realms. He functions as normal, but may make 2 claw attacks per round for 1d4 damage each, and strikes with them as if he were a Fighting Man of the same level.

Syblymyr's Dark Compulsion
Level 4
Range 120ft
Duration 1d20 days
Perhaps the most vile of Mar-Karakor's spells, the target of this spell is infected with a homicidal madness that takes shape slowly over a period of 1d20 days. The target becomes obsessed with taking the life of someone close to himself, and will obsess about it more and more until acting on the impulse on the final day of the spell. The spell does not make the target stupid, and it will try to be clever and avoid detection if at all possible. It is rumored this spell caused the downfall of the royal family of Anubis Rise.

Tired of knocking, Gromli the Dwarf finally broke down the door to the wizard's room, and he and Holdmar the Cutpurse rushed in. To their dismay, Felaster was crouched, nude, in his closet, babbling and giggling. Though they were able to rouse him after a while, he was never really the same after that day...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Cursed Tome of Mar-Karakor

Scowling as his companions scooped handfuls of coins into their sacks, Felaster did his best to ignore their frenzy as he peered intently around the great Vault. If the legends were true... Yes, there it was! He brushed a coil of threaded pearls aside, and lifted up a dusty book, bound in some strange copper-hued hide. A simple rune in the center of the cover confirmed the legend as true - Felaster held in his hands the long-lost Tome of Mar-Karakor.

Soon they would be safe, back in the City-State, and Felaster would be free to decipher and master the secrets of the Tome. That is, so long as madness didn't claim him first...

Mar-Karakor was a master of black sorcery in the Elder Days, and developed several foul arcane formulae of his own. The spells in the tome are difficult to master, and take an awful toll on the student's psyche. Each time a spell is successfully mastered, the Magic-User must roll a d20. If the result is a "1", he permanently loses a point of Wisdom. Furthermore, the spells are decidedly in the realm of Black Magic, and the DM may rule that mastering all seven of them results in an alignment step towards Chaos or Evil....

The Purple Pox of Inix Throll
Level 1
Range 120ft
Duration 1d6 rounds
The caster points and curses his selected human(oid) target with seeping purple boils all over his face and body. The victim is in excruciating pain, suffering a -2 penalty to hit and AC and suffering 1 point of damage each round until the curse expires.

Eyes of Barluur
Level 1
Range 40ft
Duration 1 Turn
The eyes of the caster glow with demonic promise, causing any foes within a 40' cone to make a morale check at -2 each round or flee in terror for the remaining duration of the spell (minimum 1 round).

Cloak of Shadows
Level 2
Range Cast upon self
Duration 2 Turns
The caster is draped in writhing shadows, granting a -2[+2] bonus to AC. Further, anyone attempting a melee attack against the caster takes 1d4 points of damage as the shadows lash out.

More to come...

Beyond the Black Gate

Maybe I'm jumping on a bandwagon here, but I have to admit the old-school blogging community has drawn me in over the last few weeks, and I'm hoping the format will be as good a creative outlet as it has been an inspiration.

At any rate, content you can expect to see here includes:

Old-school gaming content: New monsters, spells, and magic items for your old-school games. I plan on keeping the format as universal as possible, leaning towards use with Swords&Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and OSRIC, and maybe even something for the newest system!

Megadungeon Musings: Thoughts on my slowly developing megadungeon, the Forsaken Halls. I'll be posting the various steps, inspirations, and ideas of the process. I'll also be posting some fleshed out location, for dropping into your own dungeons.

Genre Influences: Items from genre literature, art, music, film, and games that inspire and influence the old-school "feeling".

Those and whatever other ramblings I feel I should share...


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