Monday, August 31, 2009

New Class - Megadungeon Explorer

Megadungeon Explorer

Prime Attribute - Int 13+ (+5% xp)
Hit Dice - 1d6+1/lvl (max 9, 2hp/lvl after)
Weapons Allowed - All
Armor - Chain or lighter
Shield - Yes

Some adventurers make a whole career of exploring the depths of the Underworld in search of riches, lost magic, and forgotten lore. Some delve simply because, as mountain climbers say, "its there". These aggressive treasure hunters must hone a wide variety of skills to survive in the underworld, and their abilities reflect this. They fight only when they must, relying rather on their quick wits, but can wield a blade with aplomb when forced to do so. Megadungeon Explorers use the same combat progression as the Cleric, but will favor only the lightest armors, never wearing anything more restrictive than chainmail, and seldom even that.

Megadungeon Explorers of 9th level or higher may found a stronghold (sometimes called an "Institute"), often based in the town or city closest to their Megadungeon, if not actually within the dungeon itself, and will attract 2d8+1 like-minded individuals. Megadungeon Explorers often serve as party leaders, as many adventurers are happy to rely on their expertise when exploring the dark halls below.

Lvl/ Save/ Xp Needed
1/ 15/ 0
2/ 14/ 1800
3/ 13/ 3600
4/ 12/ 7500
5/ 11/ 15000
6/ 10/ 30000
7/ 9/ 50000
8/ 8/ 80000
9/ 7/ 130000
10+/ 6/ +80000

Dungeon Sense
A Megadungeon Explorer will notice traps and secret doors simply by coming within visual range of one on a roll of 1 on a d6. If actively searching, they will detect traps or secret doors on a roll of 3 or less on a d6.

Megadungeon Explorers, if alone and wearing leather or no armor, can sneak or hide successfully on a roll of 3 or less on a d6.

Megadungeon explorers are seldom caught off-guard, and can avoid surprise 50% of the time.

Spell Use
Megadungeon Explorers of 4th level and above can use magic user scrolls, and may memorize a limited number of spells (though they do not gain bonus spells of any sort) according to the chart below:
Level: Spells
1-3: none
4-5: 1 first
6: 2 first
7-8: 2 first, 1 second
9: 2 first, 2 second
10+: 2 first, 2 second, 1 third

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Megadungeon Design and Philosophy - Part 3

The Importance of History
Adding an historical background to your Megadungeon can really draw the players deeper into your adventure, and give them a lot to do outside the dungeon, as well as help them have goals to accomplish within the dungeon itself, as opposed to just wandering haphazardly from chamber to chamber. Some good examples of history at play in the Megadungeon are available at JM's Grognardia, where he often details the sessions played in his Megadungeon, "Dwimmermount". As his campaign progresses, his players gradually learn more and more about the location and some of the strange stuff within it, and even research matters further when they are out of the dungeon.

With my own Megadungeon, the Forsaken Halls, as I designed the first upper levels, I tried to keep a basic sketch of the history of my Megadungeon in mind, and let that help me shape the actual look and physical design of the place.

The Forsaken Halls were originally an enormous bunker of sorts, the last defensible bastion of a dark empire destroyed by the forces of light roughly 150 years ago. The (known) main entrance to the dungeon is known as the Valley of Stone Faces, and lies between two rocky arms of a mountain that rises up from a barren heath, devastated all those years ago. Across the heath are the ruins of a city, once the capitol of that fallen empire.

The history of the dungeon goes back even farther, as it has been used by a long succession of masters. Before the Dread Emperor's time, the place was an underground monastary of sorts. Before that, the place lay "empty", full of dangers and hazards, much as it does now. And before that, well over a thousand years ago if the oldest texts on the place are to be believed, it was home to a lost race, vaguely human-like in appearance as depicted in some broken and weathered friezes on display.

Myth, Rumor, and Legend
Obviously, so much history can get cloudy as time passes. Much myth, legend, and rumor can take shape, obscuring the true history of the Megadungeon, and giving explorers quite a chore in figuring out what is fact and what is fiction. The towns closest to your Megadungeon should be boiling cauldrons of rumor, with every shopkeeper, horseshoer, and barmaid in possession of some bit of Megadungeon lore, from the wildly fantastic, to the strangley accurate.

It good to keep a list of these rumors handy, say 6 or 10 at a time, and keep them tucked away in your DM notebook to give out whenever your players are in town. It could look something like this:

1- Two groups of explorers entered Halls last week, neither has returned (true).
2- A war party was spotted leaving the Halls last week, headed into the wilds (true).
3- A powerful elven maiden wanders the deep Halls, looking for a worthy husband (false).
4- A dragon has taken the Troll Gardens for its own, there is a troll at the Blade & Sickle looking for help (false).
5- The stars are in alignment, the Dread Emperor shall return ere long (?).
6- A secret door has been found in one of the Stone Faces (true).

As each rumor is given, either strike it off, or modify it a bit to retell it, thereby reinforcing the rumor with repeated tellings.

Myths and legends are a bit more complicated, and need a bit more work, but are a good way to give your players a few different clues at once, as well as reinforcing the idea that they are exploring a place that truly is, well, Mythical and Legendary. A legend might look something like this:

"Guard your thoughts well, young explorer, or face the fate of Sir Lornly of Pells. Sir Lornly was a mighty warrior, and a legend in his own right before he even came to challenge the Halls. It is said that Lornly feared no man, and no beast, and was possessed of an unshakeable resolve. When he passed through the Valley of Stone Faces, it is said they all cast down their eyes in respect. He took not food nor water with him, for he swore he would only need his courage to win through to the Black Gates and beyond.

One moon later, only a single lowly retainer of Lornly's retinue emerged from the Halls. He told a tale of the brave knight hacking his way grimly through the Halls, overcoming the Trials of the Iron Paths, even cowing the Guardian of the Great Stair, only to arrive at the Grotto of the Oracle. 'Pass not this way, Warrior', the Oracle is to have said, 'for I know all things, and your ignorance is your only shield!'. Lornly scoffed at this, answering the Oracle, 'It is known far and wide that I fear no man nor beast, what can you possibly tell me that will shake my just resolve!?'. The Oracle, sighing, bade the knight draw closer, and when he did so, whispered into his ear at length.

Then Lornly is said to have cried out in anguish, and stumbling away, fled the chamber, leaving his astonished retinue gaping. They never saw him again, and without his protection, the denizons of the Halls picked them off one by one as he fled to the surface, only one making it back to civilization. To this day, no one knows Lornly's fate, but it is rumored he died in the Halls, leaving his storied blade 'Spell-Breaker' waiting, discarded, for some wiser soul to find.

When pressed to reveal what had so broken the famous knight, the maddened retainer could only remember overhearing a single name, 'Nerelee'. To this day no one who that was...".

This simple legend reveals some information I want my players to have about my Megadungeon:
1. The Stone Faces may be supernatural in origin.
2. The Oracle of the Grotto is not to be trifled with, and bears further research.
3. A legendary magic sword is lost within the Halls.
4. The name "Nerelee" may bear further research.
5. There is a Great Stair, which may or may not still have a Guardian.
6. The Iron Paths may bear further research.

Megadungeons and the Local Economy
Another important consideration is the Megadungeon's effect on the local economy. If it is far out in the Wilderness, there may be towns and villages that act as "gateways" to the dungeon, a common starting point for expeditions. Local shops and merchants will be sure to have travel gear, mounts, and livestock on hand to sell, usually marked-up considerably. Opportunistic locals may target the party for scams, or attempt to sell them maps or documents of dubious worth.

If the Megadungeon has a town or village nearby, then it is likely that the place will have whole industries based around explorers to their little tourist attraction. In my campaign it is the ruined city, not the Megadungeon, that draws the most traffic to the area, and has the greates impact on the local economy:

"The ruined city is a popular site for treasure hunting and excavations, not unlike the Valley of the Dead in Egypt, and a river town, called Tome, has sprung up around the (largely abandoned) fortress (constructed by the forces of light to watch over the place) to service the seasonal influx of traders, diggers, and antiquity dealers. The Halls are avoided by all but the most daring treasure hunters, as it is known degenerate humanoid races lair within, an infestation that has grown far worse than the local authorities realize (or would admit)."

The nearest community to my Megadungeon is "Tome", "originally a simple garrison tower on a rocky knoll, to watch over the nearby Halls. Also, a short distance upriver, was a small monastery housing a scholarly order of monks dedicated to the study of the lore and ruins of Anslore. Slowly, as the legacy of the dark empire faded into the past, traffic to the area increased. Rich in resources such as timber and firestone (coal), Tome became a hub for scattered mining and logging camps. Then, as the antiquities trade became more profitable in the increasingly stable kingdoms to the South, more traders, tourists, and treasure hunters began to frequent the area. A profitable service industry sprang into existence to see to all these new residents and visitors.

Slowly, the land along the river between the monastary and tower filled with inns, shops, forges, and markets. Permanent wharves were set up along the river bank, the marshy shores were reinforced with stone, and a natural wide point in the river dredged out to accomadate regular barge traffic. A wooden stockade was added to the town after a series of bandit raids, and this was replaced by a permanent stone wall and four stout guard towers after the Orc Raids of 1322PA.

While the old keep fell into greater and greater disuse, the monastary thrived and became a college of ancient and esoteric lore, the Royal College of the Ebon Tome. "Tome", the township, was constitutionalized in 1335PA, and the first Sage-Mayor elected by the collegium the following year. "

As your Megadungeon takes shape, so too should the history, legends, and economy, all of these elements helping, as much as the dungeon itself, to bring your setting alive.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Megadungeon Design and Philosophy - Part 2

One of the most easily overlooked (or is that underlooked?) features of the Megadungeon is the humble ceiling. More so than walls and floors, even. Ceilings suffer from a sort of "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome, and unless detailed in explicit flavor text, just gets skipped over. Adding some discussion of the ceilings can really give depth (or height?) to your rooms, chambers, and caves. Here's a quick table to randomly determine ceiling type, or pick and choose as desired:

1. Cut from Natural Stone
2. Vaulted
3. Domed
4. Frescoed
5. Oculus (Dome w/sky-light)
6. Bas-Relief
7. Sculptured
8. Murder Holes
9. Sound Baffles
10. Flat
11. Arched
12. Decorative Molding
13. Wood Joists
14. Wood Paneled
15. Caisson (ornamental asian style)
16. Arcade (a succession of arches)
17. Rough Natural Stone
18. Dirt with Hanging Roots and Vines
19. Cavern / Stalactites
20. Illusion (appears to be open sky above, etc).

Another way to give your Megadungeon a bit more realism is to consider how your grouping the monsters within it. Encountering some orcs, then some kobolds, then some more orcs, then some trolls, and then some more kobolds, can give them impression that the setting is a bit more random than is realistic. The Megadungeon environment is a harsh one, and birds of a feather will no doubt flock together, as often as possible. If you've randomly determined several chambers are full of orcs, rearrange things so those orcs are close together. Give them some tribal insignia, maybe divide them into two or more tribes if you like.

Grouping not only gives your Megadungeon a more realistic feel, it will help open the door for more roleplaying, give your players a chance to get involved in the politics and power structures of the Underworld. If the basilisks on level four are giving the party a hard time, they may be able to negotiate with the nearby Trolls of the Roasted Halfling, who have long coveted that territory. It will also help your players focus a little more on resource management, and lead to roleplay opportunities outside the dungeon, such as seeking out a reliable source of Stone to Flesh scrolls for that expedition into the basilisk caves, or researching the religious heirarchy of Bugbears for some good ideas on negotiating or intimidating the War Tribe occupying and guarding the Grand Ramp down to level six.

Other power structures can be used for grouping as well. Like-minded or subservient creatures may cluster around religious centers, "agricultural" areas, or powerful "alpha dogs" like Liches, Dragons, or Rakshasas. This will give smart groups the opportunity to clear a large area of foes through careful planning and resourcefulness, as removing the head organizer of a grouping can cause them to flee, disorganize, or lapse into ambivelance. Diplomatically inclined parties can also negotiate for safe passage through a grouping, or even bribe their way through or offer to help out against a competing power.

The Mythical Underworld and Dungeon Ecology
In the game's earliest days, little thought was given to the "ecology" of the Megadungeon, that is to say where everyone got their food from, fresh air, breeding, or even where they poop. From an old-school perspective, these things just aren't very important, but occasionally a player may wonder about these things, or question the level of "realism" in the dungeon.

The Megadungeon as a Mythical Underworld is your best friend when these considerations arise. Philotomy Jurament discusses the subject at length here, and its an excellent thing to keep in mind as you're designing your Megadungeon. Monster's just don't need a "realistic" reason to exist, or subsist, in the Megadungeon. While the uppermost levels of the place may, indeed, be grounded in the material world, say the basements of wizard's tower or the underground fortress of a dark overlord, at its bottom-most roots, the Megadungeon is an extension of the mythical Underworld. It is a supernatural place, and need not follow the laws of our earthly plane.

Similarly, its denizens need not follow those earthly laws. At their most mundane, the humanoids in the Megadungeon are merely squatters, they need not breed and live out their lives in this environment, and their daily fight for survival may be as difficult as that of the adventuring parties that encounter them. At the other end of the spectrum, the monsters themselves can be presented as being more supernatural in origin. Rather than a tribe of goblins being shoehorned into following the earthly requirements of a tribe of aboriginal humans, as they are often presented, it can be far more rewarding to present them as explicitly unnatural. Perhaps they are spawned from the darkness in the depths of the Megadungeon, and feed on the fear and nightmares of their victims, rather than normal food and water.

Never forget, unless the party's main opponents in the dungeon are human, their adversaries are drawn almost exclusively from our own human myths and legends. There is no real reason to try and force human rules onto these creatures, who from the beginning have been presented as being beyond human understanding: elemental and capricious entities of unknowable origins, with unfathomable designs and motivations, united only in their malicious intent toward the human race.

Stay Tuned
Part three of Megadungeon Design and Philosophy will cover historical research in your campaign world, the effect of the Megadungeon on the local economy, the value of myth and rumor, and more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Torgo Tuesday!

So, last Saturday morning I noticed the wives had not been fed, which always makes them ornery, so I went in search of Torgo, who was obviously shirking his duties, yet again! After some hunting, I discovered him dancing wildly around in the courtyard. Despite several commands to stop, he ignored me and kept dancing, so I put a couple of plastic bb's across the back of his neck with my Airsoft (a fun little toy, and reasonably safe!):

Which never fails to get his attention. Apologizing obsequiously, he hobbled up and I could see that he was using my IPod! Furious, I banished Torgo to an afternoon of slopping out the lower basements of the Ravyn estate, which tend to flood during the late summer rainy season.

Curious as to what could so thoroughly distract Torgo from his duties, I checked the playlist on the IPod and discovered he had been listening to one of my favorite "gaming" albums, "Legend" by Clannad. If you don't already know, this is the soundtrack from the Legend of Robin Hood series put on by the BBC in the 80's and broadcast by PBS here in the US. When folks talk about nostalgia in gaming, this show always comes to mind.

Throughout high school, Saturday was game day, starting late in the afternoon, and usually lasting far into the night. But before gametime, I was always sure to watch Dr Who (the inimitable Tom Baker in those days) and Robin Hood before setting out for the gaming garage. If you can find this gem of a record, its a wonderful piece of Celtic fantasy music. I almost forgave Torgo. Almost.
Speaking of nostalgia, check out Atom Kid's post on Shogun Warriors! I had the one pictured below, as well as a menacing black one that shot missiles out of its knuckles. These were the best, and in perfect scale (for toy giant robots) with my beloved HO-scale toy soldiers. Fun times. I can't wait til I'm old and senile enough that the family will let me get away with sitting happily in the backyard again and whiling the day away with epic battles between giant robots (sigh)!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Megadungeon Design and Philosophy - Part 1

There are certainly many ways to design a Megadungeon. In fact, one might argue that there are as many different ways as there are DMs, and each of those DMs might actually have a few different approaches they might be working from on different projects. Nonetheless, there are some good, common sense points to be made regarding the subject:

Think Big
Think about the number of rooms you want to detail on a given level (say, 42), and then multiply that by two, or even three. That's how many rooms you really have on that level. I'm not saying you should detail three times as many rooms, but that Megadungeons need empty space. Its important to the whole concept. The Megadungeon shouldn't feel like a series of consecutive rooms, each filled with its own monster, treasure, and trap to overcome.

A Megadungeon level should convey a feeling of "immense", "unending", etc. In other words, there should never really be a sense that a level should be "cleared", as there is with a more conventionally sized dungeon. The motivation in delving deeper in the Megadungeon should come in your presentation - helping the party realize that the rewards in treasure and xp will grow ever larger, the deeper they dare to go.

All those empty rooms help convey that feeling of BIG, and they also give you room to flex your improvisational chops a bit. Fun DMing is not, imo, just reading off a bunch of predetermined encounters, but getting to interact with the world just like the players get to. Keeping a bunch of unfilled rooms lets you dig out the randomization charts, add stuff to further the plots that will develop in play via the characters' actions, and let you provide fresh areas to explore for new 1st level parties, whether that be from DMins multiple groups, or because of the occasional TPK!

Think Small
The best way to make the Megadungeon environment feel alive to your players, as opposed to being just a collection of random squares and rectangles, is to focus on the details. Megadungeons can take years to design; who wants their players to just rampage through it at maximum speed? If you want your players to slow down and enjoy the place, give them a reason to.

Always remember to take the players' senses into account. The Megadungeon should vary between ominous, tomblike silence, and a constant buzz of background noise. Stuff like distant screams, wails, clangs, crashes, trickles, vibrations, gongs, crackles, etc will usually prompt investigation and keep players alert and, most importantly, nervous.

The eyes are as important as the ears. Its all too easy to allow the Megadungeon to slide by as featureless gray walls. Give them some color. Make that 100' long corridor be composed of yellow and purple brickwork, held together with some bizarre inky black plaster, each stamped with a mason's rune from a bygone age. Or have the floor of that supposedly natural cavern appear to have been inset with checkerboard-like black and white marble tiles. These simple features will make even the emptiest rooms memorable, and players will no doubt want to take their time exploring further, maybe even conducting research outside of the dungeon at the local library or museum, etc.

Smells, temperatures, air quality, air flow, "weird feelings", all are vital to bringing the Megadungeon off of that sheet of graph paper and placing it deep into the players' imaginations.

One common mistake, easily made, is to place too much emphasis on the levels, and not so much on the connections between them. Without vivid, detailed, and well-thought connections between the levels, all you really have is a collection of ten different dungeons, linked weakly together by the odd stairwell.

Its important to get a three dimensional image of your dungeon. Think about where the levels connect, and design the levels around those connections. Think about how massive places in real life are organized, be it your local shopping mall, theme park, business centers, urban districts. Notice how things are grouped around and organized according to connectivity. High traffic areas are important, to vendors, police, even criminals. As you move away from those connections, things get smaller, seedier, more spread out, darker, etc.

You can apply those same grouping tendencies to the connections in your Megadungeons. Areas near the main connections between levels may often feature larger chambers, great halls, etc, with more traffic, special guardians, and depending on the amount of adventuring traffic, may not have as much in the way of treasure. Similarly, as you move away from these connection points, things will get more spread out, traffic will decrease, and many chambers may not have been disturbed for a long time, which means the possibility of greater rewards.

For the actual connections themselves, try and detail them beyond the usual "stairs down". You could use huge, ballroom-style staircases, with rich marble steps and ornate balustrades. You could have sweeping, concave ramps obviosuly suited for more alien traffic than human. Immense waterfalls, underground cliffs, rickety, swaying elevators, wind-filled chutes, platforms raised and lowered via water pressure, and anything else your imagination can devise.

Stay Tuned
Next installment will discuss Grouping, the Nature of the Underworld, the importance of ceilings, those two dirty words "Dungeon Ecology", and more.

Friday, August 21, 2009

BtBG Reader - The Complete Chronicles of Conan

Now, I've read alot of Conan stories over the years. Those by both Howard and his devotees. I've got probably fifteen or so Conan paperbacks on my bookshelf, as well as a large box of the magazine-sized comics, and the first volume of the Savage Sword of Conan compilations Dark Horse is putting out.

The problem I've had is simply getting a handle on Howard's total body of Conan works. Not bundled with stories from other authors, or "revised" versions, but simply the real thing, as the author intended it, and complete from beginning to end. Three different books might have three different collections of stories, but almost invariably you're going to get at least one story in multiple books, and miss some stories you have yet to read. Naturally, this makes enjoying these stories as one complete collection a fan's nightmare (though, admittedly, an archivist's wet dream). If you've shared that frustration, then the Complete Chronicles is for you.

This book is massive, clocking in at just under a thousand pages, what they call a "trade paperback" (hardcover-sized paperback). The cover is black and marble-textured, which I suppose is supposed to represent leather. Sitting in Starbucks reading this thing feels like you've got a big Bible in front of you.

Which, as a pulp fantasy fan, I suppose this could actually be considered.

The stories are arranged in order of their publication, as opposed to chronologically as some other compilations have attempted to do. Strangely, it feels more natural, and works better towards giving you a feel of just what Howard was doing in writing these. Howard always claimed he never so much wrote as channeled these stories, as if the ghost of Conan was speaking through him, relating stories of his life as they happened to come up in conversation.

I'm sure I need waste no time reviewing the stories themselves, they are well known, especially to an old-school gaming audience, but if you have not yet read these stories (and I do know a couple of people who haven't, mainly because the movies turned them off), you really should. Howard possessed a brilliant economy of words, conveying depths in a few paragraphs that many writers can't achieve in multiple, wordy chapters. Howard presents no qualms of morality in his work; Conan is unabashedly motivated by his desires and passions: for lust, wealth, glorious combat, and adventure.

From a gaming perspective, the first work presented in the Complete Chronicles may be the most important: a short piece Howard wrote on the history of his setting Hyboria. He detailed the background of Conan's world and always stuck to it, which gives his stories a sense of realism, of having taken place in a world that actually existed. Someone creating their own campaign setting, or even sandbox, would be well served to follow this model.

Also including some never-completed works, poetry, snippets, and a nice afterword on Howard's life and philosphies, this is very much the "Complete" Compilation it claims to be.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Megadungeon - New Spells

Of the many mages who have ventured into the Forsaken Halls, one of the most notorious, and most successful, is Feldspar the Sly. Driven by his obsession to find, and pass beyond, the legendary Black Gates, he has put together over a dozen expeditions deep into the Halls. A magical innovator, he has developed an admirable body of spells specifically directed towards achieving success in the underworld, and has been known to sell some of his work when short of funding for his ventures. Below are six of Feldspar's known works, and ambitious mages may seek out Feldspar directly to gain still more.

Feldspar's Wondrous Torch Treatment

Level: 1
Range: Not applicable
Duration: Special
One problem with carrying torches in the Megadungeon environment is that, while they illuminate the area for twenty or thirty feet around the party so they can see, the party is unfortunately visible from extremely far away to any hostiles that may be looking. Feldspar's Wondrous Torch Treatment will enspell up to one lit torch per level of the caster so that the light from the torches is not visible from more than thirty feet away, allowing the party to move more stealithly through the underworld. When the torches gutter out, the spell fizzles as well.

Feldspar's Reliable Rustproofing
Level: 1
Range: 10'
Duration: 1 Turn
Never one to venture into the underworld without an extensive posse of well-armed retainers, Feldspar tired of seeing them disarmed and nuetralized by the infamous Rustmonsters lurking on the second level, seemingly at every turn. His Reliable Rustproofing prevents rusting from occuring within a ten foot radius of himself for 1 turn, thus giving his men-at-arms enough time to dispatch the nuisances.

Feldspar's Wayfinder
Level: 1
Range: personal
Duration: 1 Hour
One of Feldspar's greatest fears was becoming lost in the underworld, stemming from the time one of his retainers stumbled into a pit filled with acid, ruining the party's map. Feldspar's Wayfinder allows the caster to unerringly know the fastest way to the surface, for one hour.

Feldspar's Phantasmal Retreat
Level: 2
Range: 10'
Duration: 1 round
Feldspar's Phantasmal Retreat creates illusory versions of the caster and any allies within ten feet, and renders the same folks briefly invisible. This allows for an outmatched party to flee a combat that is simply not going their way, free from the devasting attacks often incurred in such a full-scale retreat.

Feldspar's Pervasive Charming
Level: 2
Range: 30'
Duration: 3 rounds
Feldspar's Pervasive Charming temporarily enchants every drawn weapon within 30' for three rounds. This is extremely helpful in situations where a hostile can only be hit by magical weapons, but bear in mind that the radius may include the enemy's weapons in well. The spell imparts no actual plus to hit or damage, but is effective against resistances of up to +3.

Feldspar's Enforced Hesitation
Level: 3
Range: 120'
Duration: 1d2 rounds
Feldpar's Enforced Hesitation effectively dazes a group of enemies in a 20' radius, leaving them uncertain of what to do, and therefore inactive for up to 2 rounds (no save!). An excellent way to turn the tide when combat just isn't going the party's way, allow the party to burst through and pass a large group of guardians, or simply to help get the drop on enemies in an ambush.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Warriors of the Red Planet - August Preview

Lest you think all the Megadungeon exploration has distracted me from my forays onto Mars, work continues apace on Warriors of the Red Planet! I expect to have the "rough rough draft" complete by the end of October, which will allow me to begin ordering art, edit and proof, and lastly, finalize the layout and get the baby set for publication. Speaking of art, click on the little pic above to get a good idea of how the real cover will look. Obviously, this isn't the "real" cover (or is it?;), but will give you a good idea of the inspiration for the real thing.

For this month's preview, I'm presenting an example of what I've been calling "Weird Science". In addition to the gadgets that are the purview of the Scientist Class, WotRP will feature a selection of flashy and useful doo-dads for all character classes to use. Not only do players love fidgeting with unkown technology, but a Swords & Planets campaign has a big void to fill with no magic items. "Weird Science" takes the place of those magical swords, cloaks, and boots.

Door Atomizer
Thought to have been developed by the notorious scientist Hin Hintos for the Assassins of Golar Vay, the Door Atomizer is a small, copper-sheathed box with a square aperture in one side made of dark glass. When a button is depressed on the top of the Atomizer, the glass emits a wavy, purplish beam, roughly rectangular in size. If this beam is projected onto a wall not further than five feet away, it will disentigrate a door-sized section (6'x3') within 1d4 rounds. The irradium battery within the device will recharge itself within 24 hours, and the Atomizer will be ready to use again. The device is harmless as a weapon, as it only affects inanimate substances, and most living targets would not stand still long enough to be affected.

Crystal Targeting Scope
The Crystal Targeting Scope was common in the days before the fall of civilization, but now the secret of their creation has been lost to science. Occasionally, though, one does turn up in a ruined city or old battlefield. The scope is a steel tube with two crystal lenses in it, one at either end. If affixed to an irradium rifle or pistol, the Scope can greatly enhance its deadliness. The crystals have a minor magnetic charge, and somehow enable the weapon it is affixed to to better "lock on" to its target, increasing both accuracy and damage potential. Unfortunately, the artifacts are delicate, suffering -2 to in situations where an item saving throw would be required. (d6: 1-3 +1, 4-5 +2, 6 +3)

Other WotRP Previews:
The Martian Underworld
Monsters of the Red Planet
WotRP Class - The Scoundrel
Weird Science!
WotRP Class - The Mentalist
Dar Taru's Emporium
John Carter and the Orcs of Mars

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Megadungeon - New Monsters for your Megadungeon

Eye Horror
The Eye Horror is a terrifying creature, appearing as a vein-filled, humanoid eye 2 feet in diameter attached to a bladder-like body covered in boar-like bristles, a clump of limp-looking arms ending in sharp claws, and a long, scorpion-style stinger hanging down in back. The Eye Horror floats through subterranean vistas, held aloft and propelled by gases produced by its digestive system. Its primary attack, its stinger, imparts a paralyzing venom that allows the Eye Horror to settle down and take its time feasting on its latest victim. While only roughly the size of a halfling, its floating capacity is great, and it can easily grasp a paralyzed victim in its many claws and float away at a movement rate of 9.
Eye Horror: HD4; AC 4[15]; Atk 1 stinger (1d8+poison); Move 15(fly); Save 13; CL/XP 5/240; Special: Poison.

The Sorcerer-Wight is a highly intelligent, spell-using wight. Like its lesser kin, it is immune to sleep or charm spells, as well as non-magical weapons (silver excluded). It also possesses the life draining touch of its lesser kin, but prefers to use its spells in combat. It typically has 3-12 normal wights in attendance, and will use them as a shield-wall and sword-fodder as it plies its victims with magic. The Sorcerer-Wight functions as a 7th-level Magic-User, and may cast 4 first level, 3 second level, 2 third level, and 1 fourth level spells. A typical spell assortment memorized may include magic missile, charm, sleep, shield, invisibility, web, stinking cloud, fireball, protection from good 10', and ice storm, and it will possess a spell book with those plus 1d2 other spells per level.
Sorcerer-Wight: HD 5; AC 5[14]; Atk 1 claw (1hp + level drain); Mover 9; Save 12; CL/XP 8/800; Special: Spells, Drain 1 level w/hit, hit only by magic or silver.

The Naxiom is a hairless, bipedal, human-shaped being with obsidian skin, glowing red eyes, and a mouthful of gleaming white fangs. It can see perfectly in the dark. It is a cunning, intelligent predator, and prefers human or demi-human meat as its food. It also has a taste for the females of these species, and will unfortunately indulge itself harshly upon such victims before ultimately consuming them. These beings are immensely strong (Str 18), and bear no weapons but their crushing fists. They speak common, in addition to 1d4 other languages, and are sly, flattering, whining, loquacious, and deceitful tricksters, doing their best through misdirection to separate party members from one another or draw them close for attack. Once per day, they can focus this natural ability into something akin to a charm person spell. If defeated, they will turn cowardly and beg for their lives, agreeing to serve their new "master" for up to thirty days, though there is a cumulative 1% chance per day that they will turn upon their master or slip away when the chance presents itself.
Naxiom: HD 5; AC 5[14]; Atk 2 fists (1d6+1), 1 bite (1d4+1); Move 12; Save 12; CL/XP 6/400; Special: Charm.

Gelatinous Behemoth
This is a monstrous-sized cousin of the Gelatinous Cube, dwelling in only the largest underground chambers and cavern complexes. While they are somewhat slower than their smaller brethren, their venom is more potent (-2 to saves), and they can attack up to four individual targets per round. Despite the obvious danger of hunting such a creature, adventurers nevertheless will make the attempt, perhaps driven by greed, as visible within the creature is up to four times the amount of treasure found in a normal Cube.
Gelatinous Behemoth: HD 10; AC 9[10]; Atk up to 4 (2d8); Move 4; Save 5; CL/XP 12/2000; Special: Paralysis, immune to lightning and cold.

Gelatinous Door
This smaller cousin of the Cube is two inches thick, and typically seven feet tall and four feet across, though they can double this size while decreasing their thickness to one inch. They typically hunt by draping themselves across a door, where they only have a one in six chance of being noticed in normal lighting conditions. They drop down and envelope prey attempting to open the door they rest upon. Like their cousins, their flesh is both acidic and paralyzing.
Gelatinous Door: HD 2; AC 8[11]; Atk 1 (1d8); Move 9; Save 15; CL/XP 4/120; Special: Paralysis, immune to lightning and cold.

Troll, Devil-Taken
The Devil-Taken Troll is a normal troll that has been infested and possessed by a sentient, diabolic entity from some unknowable abyssal plane. If the troll is "killed" and then immersed in acid, or set aflame to destroy it, the spirit is released and rises up as an amorphous, demonic-shaped entity of smoke to lash out at its enemies. It is largely insubstantial, and is only affected by magical attacks or weapons. If it escapes, it will seek out another troll to possess.
Troll, Devil-Taken, "Troll Form": HD 6+3; AC 4[15]; Atk 2 claws (1d4), 1 bite (1d8); Move 12; Save 11; CL/XP as below; Special: Regenerate 3hp.round.
Troll, Devil-Taken, "Smoke Form": HD 5; AC 2[17]; Atk 2 tendrils (1d8); Move 15(fly); Save 12; CL/XP 10/1400; Special: Hit only by magical attacks and weapons.

Cavern Creeper
The Cavern Creeper looks like a hideous amalgam of giant centipede and ferret, its bristly hide jutting up from between the armored segments of its body, and its multi-faceted eyes glowing with a disturbing predatory intelligence. They crawl across walls and ceilings on their many legs, making them unpredictable opponents. Cavern Creepers are silent, and camouflaged to suit their underworld environment, and gain surprise 3 out of 6 times. The scissoring bite of the creature imparts a vicious, painful poison that causes 2d6 points of damage if a save is not made.
Cavern Creeper: HD 2; AC 4[15]; Atk 1 bite (1d6+1); Move 12; Save 16; CL/XP 2/30; Special: Poison

Monday, August 17, 2009

Megadungeon - Most annoying monster. Ever.

Tolthas wearily dropped his pack to the floor of the small shrine, idly watching as Grimbeard spiked the door of the chamber shut. He hated when they overextended themselves, forcing them to seek a safe place to rest within the dungeon.

"You two sleep first," he said to Markos and Brother Cletus, "we'll need your spells tomorrow for the trek back out..."

An hour or so into his watch, Tolthas began to hear a noise in the hall outside, faint at first, but growing louder and louder. Cursing, he nudged his companions awake, and, drawing his sword, went to stand along one side of the door. In an instant, the noise became frightfully loud, a cacophany of pounding, thunderous drums, droning noise, and arcane chanting.

Then, the noise began to die down again. Whatever it had been was going past their door, without stopping. The party stood silent, holding their breath for a few minutes, but whatever it had been did not return. Sighing in relief, Tolthas resumed his watch as the others returned to their bedrolls, resentful of their interrupted rest.

Not an hour and a half later, the noise began to approach again. Swearing roundly, Tolthas awakened his friends yet again, and directed Grimbeard to un-spike the door so he could peek out.

What he saw would haunt him the rest of his days: Six or seven corpulent, gaudily dressed entities with demonic visages were hurtling down the hall, aided by some sort of mechanisms attached to their boots. Each held some arcane apparatus upon their shoulders, black boxes affixed with bizarre wires and dials, and the horrid sound issued from gaping holes in the sides of the devices. Tolthas crouched, paralyzed with uncertainty, and would have been easy prey, but the bizarre party merely passed him by, mocking expressions on their faces as they continued down the hall on their unknown errand.

The party would get no rest that night, and the creatures' unholy chant would haunt Tolthas's memory for the rest of his days, "Yeah! Yeah! Baby! Wo! Wo! Rock! Roll! Yeah! Yeah!..."

Roller Disco Devils
Armor Class: 7 [12]
Hit Dice: 1
Attacks: none
Saving Throw: 16
Special: noise
Move: 24 (flat surfaces only)
Challenge Level/XP: 1/15
Roller Disco Devils are mindless gangs who tour the underworld unendingly, blaring their unholy music from contraptions only they know how to manipulate. Though their aspect is fearsome, they are largely defenseless, save for their great speed. If attacked, they will simply attempt to flee. Once slain, their cacophany ceases, as their arcane devices will not function for other beings. No one may rest when they are in the area, and the chances for wandering monsters are tripled, as predators seem to haunt their wake, trolling for whatever easy meal may be stirred from its hiding hole by the Devils' passage. The meaning of their endless diabolic song, "Yeah! Yeah! Baby! Wo! Wo! Rock! Roll! Yeah! Yeah!", has yet to be deciphered.

For more on Roller Disco Devils, go here!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Return of the Silver Dragon?

In the early 80's Microgames released an adventure called Treasure of the Silver Dragon. From Wikipedia: "The game contained clues to a real silver dragon hidden somewhere in the U.S. The 31 troy oz. dragon was found by Mr. Thomas Davidson, who was afterwards awarded with a $10,000 check to boot."

Fast forward almost 30 years into the future, and now Goodman Games (publisher of the Dungeon Crawl Classics line) is releasing "The $1000.00 Module", next summer, and the adventure will contain clues to the whereabouts of an "object of interest". If you find it and hand it over, you win the $1000.00! I've got an idea in my head about this and a bit of fun for the OSR, but I'll cover more on that when the release date is confirmed.

On a side note, while the Silver Dragon was found, the Golden Dragon never was... Check out the clues here and see if you can figure it out! I've got a pretty good idea, but the travel costs would seriously eat into the prize money, assuming I could even find Howard Thompson to hand it in. What do you think?

Speaking of Howard Thompson, here's a cool letter he wrote to fan, apparently in response to concerns over the growing complexity of the game. I get the impression that if Thompson were still the "Gaming Game" today, he'd be a strong supporter of the OSR.

PS - when I did an image search for the pic of Treasure of the Silver Dragon above, this is one of the results I got. WTF!?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Megadungeon: Random Trap Disarming Table.

Occasionally, I find myself at a bit of a loss to describe how the players need to disarm a trap they've found, or how they must open a secret door, so I put this together to give those situations a little more flavor. For instance, rather than stating "You disarm the trap", its a bit more interesting to make them clean out a series of small metal gears concealed beneath a festering compost pile.

Use this table to determine how a trap has to be disarmed, regardless of whether you use a percentage roll or S&W-style trapfinding. Alternately, with little modification, the table can be used to determine how a secret door is opened.

Roll d100:

1. Rusty chains snake across the ceiling, disappearing into holes on either wall.
2. Three brass floor plates, nearly invisible beneath the dust and detritus.
3. An eroded bas-relief of a grinning Pan-like figure, its fingers appear to be moveable.
4. A shallow gutter runs along the far wall, with a loose brick restricting the flow of water through it.
5. What appears to be a keyhole is discover behind a loose stone.
6. A rusted and jammed lever is found beneath a discarded pile of clothing.
7. A row of fake-emerald buttons on the wall, covered in cobwebs.
8. Three stones are arranged in a circle on a lead pressure plate.
9. A painting of an octopus is found in a far corner, three of its arms appear depressible.
10. A foot-long strip of iron is set into the ceiling, with a small magnet at one end.
11. A small wooden door opens to a panel filled with strange metal gears.
12. Three tiny brass levers in a hand-sized hole in the floor.
13. A moldy rope lies on the floor, leading to a pulley lost in the shadows of the ceiling.
14. Four keyhole sized openings along the bottom of a door.
15. A magical rune glows red when touched.
16. A small statuette of an elephant lies beside a small stone pedestal.
17. A loose block in the ceiling appears to be hooked to a chain above.
18. Three counterweights hang on ropes just inside the door.
19. A bas-relief of a demonic face has depressible eyes.
20. A camouflaged metal door on one wall conceals a copper lever.
21. A magic mouth appears and demands a password.
22. Magic runes spell out “Erase Me” with Read Magic.
23. A statue of a wizened sage has moveable arms.
24. An abandoned bottle contains a key matching a concealed hole in the wall.
25. A loose brick has fallen out of the wall and must be replaced.
26. A ghostly apparition appears and demands a song be sung to him.
27. A pulley disarms the trap, but the rope is missing.
28. A empty gourd hangs from a hook on the wall and must be filled with water.
29. Three couplets of an old poem are scrawled on the wall; the missing couplet must be recited aloud.
30. Two orcs are painted on the floor; erasing one disarms, erasing the other sets off trap again.
31. The trap is not disarm-able, but a detailed schematic of the next trap is drawn in chalk upon the floor.
32. Four loose bricks must be straitened.
33. Water must be poured upon a leather strap hanging over the door to loosen it.
34. A ceramic cap over the disarming panel must be broken open.
35. A filthy wax seal over the panel must be melted away.
36. A magic mouth appears and demands to know the meaning of life.
37. Five pewter runes in the ceiling must be depressed in order.
38. A console of brass buttons is a decoy; the real trap release is hidden beneath.
39. Detect Magic must be cast to reveal the invisible lever.
40. A statuette of a dog must be broken open to reveal a key.
41. A silver floor panel (20gp value) covers a stone lever crawling with centipedes.
42. A stone chest must be opened to a precise degree.
43. An empty hourglass must be filled with sand and turned upside down.
44. Three wall levers: two set off the trap again, one disarms.
45. A candle in a wall sconce must be burned down to disarm.
46. A wall sconce must be turned to a right angle.
47. A chandelier must be pulled down to floor, revolved 180 degrees, and sent back up again.
48. Every candle on a seventeen candle-candelabra must be lit; seven candles are missing.
49. A torch must be applied to a heat-sensitive floor panel.
50. An invisible statue in the corner must have both arms lowered.
51. An imp appears and demands payment to disarm the trap.
52. A globe hangs from the ceiling; Light must be cast upon it.
53. A hollow needle emerges from the wall; pricking a finger upon it disarms trap.
54. A ceramic alligator statue with gaping maw: will close maw if fed meat and disarm trap.
55. A snake-filled pit contains the release lever.
56. A small ochre jelly (1+1HD) must be coerced off the pressure plate it rests upon.
57. The open mouth of a gargoyle must be filled with wine or beer.
58. An illusory wall conceals a control panel.
59. A release lever at the bottom of a sludge-filled well.
60. Four small toilets line the far wall; all must be flushed.
61. A dagger must be placed into the hand of the statue of an impish child.
62. A complex set of gears is concealed within an armoire.
63. A lever is hidden behind a wine rack.
64. An empty, moveable bookcase conceals a set of rope pulleys.
65. A fake toadstool, among a patch of real ones, may be turned like a doorknob.
66. A patch of mildew conceals a diagram detailing how to disarm the trap.
67. An unlit torch on the wall must be lit.
68. The release lever has a hive of angry wasps built around it.
69. An acid-filled crystal ewer on a pedestal must be carefully emptied.
70. A row of clever brass gears is concealed just under the plaster on one wall.
71. A wick leading into a hole in the wall must be lit.
72. A row of skulls upon a ledge high on one wall; one contains the detached lever deactivating the trap.
73. An immense chalk maze drawn into the floor must be carefully walked through to completion.
74. A magic circle scribed into one wall must have a corpse placed within it.
75. A blackened steel wire stretches across the ceiling and must be cut.
76. Forty feet of chain must be pulled from a hole in the ceiling; very noisy (check for wandering monsters).
77. An iron spike must be pulled out of the stone wall it’s driven into (very difficult!).
78. A leprechaun is geased to guard the release and must be appeased with gold.
79. A complex set of archaic runes must be deciphered and read aloud.
80. A frayed rope pull-cord is concealed behind infested cobwebs.
81. A nine-headed hydra statue must have its heads hacked off.
82. Acid must be applied to a soapstone plug.
83. Seven locks must be picked, or the proper keys found.
84. A rude drawing of an elven maiden conceals a wall plate.
85. A magic mouth appears and demands an immediate dance recital.
86. A shallow pool of filthy water conceals rusty mechanism; must be dry, clean, and oiled.
87. A brazier must be filled with coal and lit.
88. A chair attached to a hidden floor lever must be tipped back.
89. A slimy stone in the wall must be removed, turned, and replaced.
90. A dagger must be placed into a hole; cannot be removed afterwards.
91. A hand-shaped depression in the high ceiling must be depressed.
92. Dust-covered elvish runes on the far wall must be read aloud.
93. A froglike idol must be knelt in front of, depressing a hidden floor plate.
94. A rudely fashioned ceramic face on the wall must be broken away to reveal a lever.
95. Acid must be poured upon a series of thin copper filaments.
96. Three ceiling hooks must be chained together and pulled; the chain is missing.
97. The apparition of a pirate appears and demands a bawdy tune.
98. Three silver wires, nearly invisible, run across the floor from either wall.
99. Five brass levers are concealed behind the painting of a grinning ettin.
00. Rows of colored circles dot the floor. A spinning wheel depicts the colors, and hands or feet must be placed on the corresponding colors until the trap releases. May require multiple participants.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Megadungeon - Random Area Name Generator

These 5 tables are useful for naming (and thereby inspiring the contents of) all those empty little boxes on your new Megadungeon map. I also use stuff like this when I'm using Dungeon Geomorphs or an unfilled map like these from Judges Guild.

Simply roll two to five d20's and arrange as appropriate, fill in the blanks: The _____ ______ of _____, or mix and match as desired, then you get to decide what exactly is in the Forbidden Chamber of Maddening Mirrors, or the Haunted Lake of Green and Purple Statues.

1- Black
2- Fiery
3- Red
4- Bloody
5- Haunted
6- Forgotten
7- Forbidden
8- Ancient
9- Golden
10- Cursed
11- Wondrous
12- Frozen
13- Green and Purple
14- Lost
15- Fabled
16- Deadly
17- Elder
18- Mysterious
19- Petrified
20- Screaming

B(d20 50% this chart, 50% chart C)
1- Vault
2- Cave
3- Cavern
4- Chamber
5- Tomb
6- Lake
7- Fountain
8- Pool
9- Hall
10- Crypt
11- Maze
12- Gate
13- Stair
14- Statue
15- Shrine
16- Gallery
17- Pit
18- Redoubt
19- Temple
20- Mural

1- Door
2- Arch
3- Well
4- Cistern
5- Lagoon
6- Prison
7- Mausoleum
8- Catacombs
9- Wall
10- Lounge
11- Garrison
12- Garden
13- Grotto
14- Chasm
15- Church
16- Barracks
17- Harem
18- Baths
19- Museum
20- Mines

D(d20, or use Chart E, or combine)
1- Doom
2- Blood
3- Kings
4- Statues
5- Slime
6- Ghosts
7- Gods
8- Legend
9- Death
10- Endless Gold
11- Blessings
12- Tomes
13- Souls
14- Magic
15- Curses
16- Echoes
17- Ancients
18- Slime
19- Crystal
20- Wisdom

E(1 or 2d20 pick/one and roll again or use both)
1- Brass / Faces
2- Stone / Mouths
3- Crystal / Knives
4- Bone / Hands
5- Copper / Eyes
6- Silver / Runes
7- Obsidian / Swords
8 - Cruel / Lies
9- Misty / Mirrors
10- Pale / Hieroglyphs
11- Mesmerizing / Lights
12- Ever-Changing / Books
13- Impenetrable / Closets
14- Inscrutable / Wells
15- Maddening / Doors
16- Never Ending / Ladders
17- Moldy / Fangs
18- Encrusted / Talons
19- Mildewed / Ladies
20- Singing / Stones

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

I enjoyed screening the Abominable Dr. Phibes this weekend with my 11-yr-old, who had not yet had the pleasure of viewing this subversive and self-deprecating Price vehicle. I believe I first saw it when I was 11 or so, most likely on a weekly show called "Creature Feature" (hosted by "Doctor Paul Bearer"), which aired every Saturday afternoon, right after "Little Rascals" and the "Tarzan Matinee", which I usually watched, too. Some other gems from Creature Feature during that era were Attack of the Giant Leeches and, of course, The Raven.

What surprised me at that age about Dr. Phibes was that I found myself on the side of the villain! Dr. Phibes has lost his wife during an operation performed by a group of world-famous surgeons, and he seeks his revenge, in biblical proportions. While the viewer understands the failed surgeons weren't necessarily malicious or even inept, none can deny that Phibes is due his pound of flesh, and take morbid pleasure in watching him go about his bloody business. With bees, bats, and constricting frog masks, no less. This reminded me of Jim's post on Good vs Evil last month. Was Phibes "Evil"? Could he, in some sense at least, even be considered "Lawful Good"? If you root for Phibes' continued success as he traps and kills victim after victim, are you evil as well? Or looking for justice?

Thankfully, the film wastes no time moralizing, and simply follows events to their (un)natural conclusion.

This week, I suspect I'll find myself plotting out 10 creative, devious, and icky new ways to kill the player characters in my Megadungeon. They're good enough PCs, not necessarily inept or malicious, but I don't think anyone can deny that, as a hard-working DM, I'm due my pound of flesh...;)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Upcoming Release to look out for

Advanced Edition Characters, A Player's Handbook of Advanced Edition Character Options for Labyrinth Lord. As Dan says, "It's very much an exercise in alternative evolution. "What if" the basic game, or really Oe, had evolved or added complexities but without the compatibility hiccups?

That's what Advanced Edition Characters will really do for Labyrinth Lord. "

I'm following the development of this very closely. I use my S&W and LL stuff interchangeably, almost seamlessly. While personally I am a great fan of S&W's three-character-class approach, I also let my players know I'm not going to shut them down if they really want to play a gnome, ranger, half-orc assassin, etc, and so this, I suspect, will become an invaluable playing aid for my campaign. And the cover art is brilliant.

Dan, if you need Torgo to run any errands for you, or sweep up, to help move this along, just let me know!

Random Thoughts

On 2E: Goaded on by the rash of posts about 2E in the internets lately, I took a rare trip to the vault and pulled out a couple of filing boxes. Both filled to the top with 2E stuff (and I know there's a least two more boxes of 2E stuff in there) and a couple of folders of character and DMing info. I was surprised that I felt a bit... uncomfortable for a moment. Sort of like running in to an ex-girlfriend who's happy to see you, but you know deep down inside you were only with her to (ahem) "love the one you're with", to coin a phrase.

At any rate, I wasn't there just to gaze in irony-fueled wonderment at the ranks of Class Guides and Boxed Campaign Expansions, but to attempt to find a module, any module, to blog about along the lines of "Hey, I found a good 2E module!". No such luck. What was up with that? Why no cool modules, Mr. 90's Era TSR Designer Guys? I mean, you guys did a whole book on Gnomes fer frik's sake. A whole box set (with expansions) on the Ecology of the Forgotten Realms (my feelings are still to raw to even attempt to examine what possessed me to purchase that one).

The one published 2E adventure I used the most was Ruins of Undermountain, but I can't really say that was a great adventure, as it was really just a big box of maps that I did 90% of the work on fleshing out. Still pretty cool, though, don't think I'm in any way disparaging big boxes of maps. Sadly, this box came at the beginning of 2E, and its sequal was sub-par in every imaginable way. I know I bought a few actual modules back then, but they must be in one of the other boxes. Maybe some day I'll work up the courage to dig deeper.

Oriental Adventures: Another subject of recent web-fury, I pulled this out for a peek while I was in the area. I ran a short campaign with this the summer between 7th and 8th grade (short campaigns for us kids was about 7 or 8 levels of gaming - Oh, to have such free time again!), and have fine memories of it, but not a lot of detail. I kept this out to read through further, but was amused to note how Gary thanks a group of "The Japanese Players" (as well as listing their names) for their playtesting and input.

Really? How exactly was this particular focus group put together? Were they flown in direct from Japan? Did there just happen to be a couple of all-Japanese gaming groups down the road in Lake Geneva? What did they tell these guys? "Ok, we have this game, based on an outline by a Frenchman and fleshed out by this guy "Zeb" here, that attempts to faithfully recreate your culture in terms D&D nerds can understand. Give it test drive and be honest, we can take it!"

How the heck did they playtest that Gnomes book, I wonder?

Making a Published Setting Your Own: My last S&W session, set, as ever, in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy saw me moving ever further from the setting-as-written. Bear in mind I've been running this monster of a setting off and on for more than 25 years, and I think one of the main reasons I never get sick of it is its malleability. As the party slowly homes in on the various clues I've left for them about the location of the Forsaken Halls (my Megadungeon!), they have at last arrived at the gateway to the Valley of the Ancients. Somewhere in this hoary wilderness lies their goal, and I quickly realized that, while enamored of the map of the region in every way, I had no interest whatsoever in the published details for these locations. And so I've been detailing these cities, villages, forests, swamps, and rivers only a few steps ahead of the players actually arriving there.

The Valley of the Ancients, to my surprise, is turning into a vaguely Hyborean, dark, pulpy land of xenophobic citadels, crumbling temples, and freebooting river pirates. I'm having a blast, and the players seem to enjoy it. It'll be fun to see how this developes, and I'm hoping there'll be plenty of time for further Wilderness exploration even after they begin their eventual investigation of the Halls.

The "Rosetta Clone": A couple of days ago I posed a question to the OSR about the odds of getting behind a single, "big name" company D&D clone, if such a thing were to be produced. Almost universally, the response was "I'm happy with what I have already", so I think its fair to say, it would have to be a monumentally good game to inspire conversion en masse. Time will tell.

Thinking about that kind of made me wonder, exactly what am I playing? Some folks put it very succinctly: "TSR Era D&D", or just "Classic Era D&D", which I think is fair enough. When I look at the modest stack of books to my left while I play what is ostensibly Swords & Wizardry, I see Labyrinth Lord, which I use for some combat system elements, the wilderness campaigning info, as well as the Thief and Elf classes. I also see OSRIC, which I use for the awesome and nearly endless wonderful charts and tables, as well as for the Ranger PC class, Illusionist & Druid NPCs, and for the expanded lists of spells and magic items. And also there is the S&W monster book, OE Reloaded, which I use for... monsters!

So am I really playing Swords & Wizardry? It might indeed be more fair to say I'm just playing "D&D"; after all, that's what my players say.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Megadungeon - Doors

In OD&D, it's stated that all doors are considered "stuck" closed, at least as far as the players are concerned. The local monsters, of course, are free to come and go as they please. I use a slightly different system, with a simple chart scribbled in the corner of my scratch pad like this:

1 - Trapped and Locked
2 - Locked
3-6 - Stuck

While not *that* much different from the standard assumption, is does add a hint more random variety, and as we all all know, randomness is a DM's best friend when it comes to keeping himself as entertained as the players. :)

From there, I use a couple more simple charts for the description of the door:

Door is made of(1d8)
1-3 - Wood
4-5 - Metal and Wood
6 - Metal
7 - Stone
8 - Special
(*10% of doors have Unusual Features, see below)

1- Oak
2- Pine
3- Teak
4- Yew
5- Ash
6- Bloodwood
7- Ironroot
8- Plywood

1- Steel
2- Iron
3- Copper
4- Tin
5- Brass
6- Pewter
7- Rusty Iron
8- Lead

1- Granite
2- Limestone
3- Basalt
4- Marble
5- Obsidian
6- Glass
7- Fieldstone
8- Sandstone

1- Leather
2- Bone
3- Cardboard
4- Recycled Shields
5- Book Covers
6- Animal Hide
7- Reptile Hide
8- Boulder
9- Tree trunk
10- Curtain
11- Tapestry
12- Loose Bricks
13- Mummies
14- Illusion
15- Magical Darkness
16- Stone Golem (argumentative but harmless)
17- Sheet of Flames
18- Ice
19- Waterfall
20- Smoke

Now, remember our locks and traps from above?

1- Magical (Wizard Locked)
2- Magical (unique key somewhere in dungeon)
3- Mundane (Extremely Difficult
4-5 Mundane (Hard to pick)
6-8 Mundane (Simple)

Traps(1d12)[damage typically 1d6 per level of dungeon, at DM's discretion]
1- Acid shower-head above door
2- Flame shoots up from holes in front of door
3- Block fall from ceiling
4- Door charged with electricity
5- Pit opens
6- Sleeping gas
7- Spiked portcullis drops from ceiling
8- Poisoned Needle in doorknob
9- Spear Trap
10 - Crossbow Trap
11- Bell Rings, roll for wandering monster
12- Teleporter

*Unusual Features (1d20)
1- arcane writing (read magic required to decipher)
2- ancient pictograms
3- obscene graffiti
4- charred corpse in front of door
5- fingernail scratches on door
6- bas relief of demonic face (10% delivers magic mouth message)
7- warning sign on door
8- sign on door reads "management" in orcish
9- peephole (50% looks in, 50% looks out)
10- water seeping from under door
11- acid scars on door
12- magic circle inscribed on door
13- human-shaped outline charred onto door
14- comedic graffiti
15- smell of rotting meat exudes from door
16- smell of delicious cooking meat exudes from door
17- smell of perfume lingers around door
18- small bouquet of flowers placed outside door
19- holy symbol on chain hangs from doorknob
20- message box hangs on door, contains 1d4-1 messages

(note, some DMs may wish to include supplementary amounts of wild ass, ymmv)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Would you rally behind a "Rosetta Clone"?

Its no revelation that RPGs are a niche market. Somewhere within that niche, is a smaller, somewhat more insular group, the OSR. But that group is a creative lot, and what they do is getting noticed, more and more. The bigger publishers are starting to get an idea that there is a buck to be made on "going old-school", and supplemental products are trickling out. The bigger, more mainstream RPG forums have begun to argue the old "nostalgia vs. solid game design" discussion the OSR put to bed years ago, as well as stuff like "what retroclone is best for me?".

One stumbling block to Old School gaming really re-emerging back into the mainstream is the lack of a single system to stand behind. One Clone to Rule Them All? Not here, at least not yet. Currently, groups decide whether to stick to the originals: OD&D, B/X, 1E, Holmes, etc; or whether to go with an RC: Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, M74, etc. I just don't see one of these games clawing its way to the top of the old-school food chain, leaving all others smoking ruins in its wake, to emerge as the true flagship game of the OSR.

But a new game might.

Hypothetical situation: someone at WotC, or Paizo, or even Joe over at Goodman games recognizes this possibility. 2010 or 2012, etc, sees the publication of say, "Dungeons & Dragons Classic" from WotC, an amalgam of say, B/X and "lighter" elements of d20, or say, "Pathfinder '79" from Paizo, a 1E-inspired d20 variant.

Would you rally behind this (perhaps last and only) attempt to bring old-school gaming back into the mainstream? Or would you scoff and go about your business? Or would you give the game a couple of test sessions and judge from there?

Well, think about that and, please, let me know, its been on my mind a bit lately. As hypothetical as the above scenarios are, don't think for a moment that something isn't actually in the works, the signs are there if you care to look for them. And while I would prefer to see something develope organically from within the OSR, part of me shudders at the thought of such a fantastic well of creativity attempting to become a business machine, and would rather see someone else take on the grunt work 0f publication, printing, distribution, etc. Its a tough call, in my opinion.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Torgo Tuesday!

This morning I was startled to discover Torgo shirking his duties! Curious as to why he was huddled in the corner over something instead mopping out the chicken coop as ordered, I went over to see what he was so enamoured with...
It was Ze Bulette's marvellous new Labyrinth Lord Boxed Set, displayed at his blog, Dungeons and Digressions. I immediately demanded to know where Torgo had purchased this, as I desired one for myself as well. After some wailing and gnashing of teeth, Torgo finally admitted that this boxed set was unique, one of a kind.

Despite my first instinct to burn off Torgo's hand and keep the box for myself, I eventually sent him back with it, safe and sound. Next time, Ze Bulette, next time! :)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Megadungeon Equipment

Megadungeon Equipment

While plenty of adventurers make do with the mundane equipment available at the general stores common in most towns and villages, some enterprising entrepreneurs have made a cottage industry of providing and designing items specifically targeted at explorers and adventurers. While not available in every small village and hamlet, most larger settlements will have at least one merchant specializing in gear like the items detailed below.

Collapsible Pole (10gp)

The collapsible pole is a 10’ pole made of alternating ironwood and hollow brass that collapses down to a length of only three feet. Perfect for the adventurer on the go, the collapsible 10’ pole won’t bog you down in those cramped corridors and crawlspaces.

Inflatable Raft (30gp)

The inflatable raft is a round water conveyance made of oiled leather with half a dozen cork plugs opening to bladders within the raft. With only a turn of hefty blowing, four individuals can inflate the raft to a size that will float up to four individuals for up to eight hours, before some re-inflation may be necessary. The leather of the raft must be re-oiled after 24 hours of use, or it will no longer be water-resistant enough to stay afloat. The inflatable raft is the perfect tool to overcome those annoying subterranean bodies of water.

Holy Charm of Mythrior (15gp)

This little charm is a corked glass vial in the shape of a heart filled with water blessed by the clergy of Mythrior the most holy. If worn close to the heart, it offers some protection against the nefarious attacks of the undead, such as the paralyzing touch of the ghoul, or the level draining grasp of the barrow wight. The charm conveys at saving throw bonus of +3 to up to three such attacks, before its efficacy is depleted. Definitely a necessary item for any explorers of lost tombs or catacombs.

Rope Ladder (5gp)

This 20’ length of rope is perfect for the short climbs down subterranean cliffs or out of pit traps common in the megadungeon. With one end fitted with durable iron grapplers, the Rope Ladder offers risk free ascents and descents, with no knowledge of repelling required, as with the more common, mundane lengths of rope.

Phrygian Wafer (10gp)

Perfect for those overnight delves, the Phrygian Wafer allows the intrepid explorer to gain the healing effects of an entire day of rest with just four hours of sleep, as well as an additional 1d6 hp’s of healing at the end of that four hours. Though only one such wafer is effective in a 24 hour period, a pocket full of these are essential for reducing the time an adventurer must lower his guard in the lightless depths to rest.

Progar’s Lockmaster (22gp)

Designed by the infamous tomb-robber Progar the Ever Restless, the lockmaster is the perfect solution for those stubborn locks that refuse to be picked or broken. The Lockmaster is a natural rubber suction-cup with a small glass vial fitted within it. Once affixed over the belligerent lock, the cup can be forcefully compressed, which breaks the glass vial, expelling a strong acid deep into the guts of the lock, burning it away, and rendering it useless and open.

Water Purification Tablet (5gp)

This tablet contains a rare mixture of alchemical substances that will neutralize impurities and poisons in up to five gallons of water. A must-have for adventurers venturing deep below the surface, where obtaining trustworthy fresh water may be troublesome.

Terpidus Syringe (20gp)

This needle-tipped glass syringe contains a rare physikers’ compound that delivers a profound shock to a beings system. It takes one round to administer the syringe, directly into the heart of a person, and has a 50% chance of reviving someone under the influence of paralysis, unnatural sleep, trance, or other poisonous torpors. Whether successful or not, the Terpidus causes 1d3 points of damage, as it is very painful.

Gladiators’ Balm (5gp/application)

Popular among the professional fighters of the People’s Arena at Imperial City, this pasty balm will heal the damage of a single wound for 1d3 points of damage. While a person’s system will only support such healing three times a day, the balm is designed to leave a handsome, livid scar long after the wound is gone.

Silken Balloon of Nerrick Hing (50gp)

This great silk balloon fits snugly into a bedroll-sized package, and is fitted at one end with a small lamp-like device containing a strong-smelling gel. If lit, the gel burns hotly for up to five rounds, and the balloon rapidly inflates and will float a man-sized creature strait up 20’ per round before stopping, and slowly deflating again.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Megadungeon Month! Links galore...

Yep, August is Megadungeon Month here at BtBG, so stay tuned if you're into vast, sprawling Underworlds filled with dread foes, cunning traps, and unfathomable mysteries. Hopefully, you'll find something useful here for your own Megadungeon explorations as the month progresses, whether its new equipment, monsters, spells, traps, megadungeon design elements, or even a whole new character class.

First up, here's some links to some very nice inspirational reading, and a nice selection of message-board threads discussing the subject.

The last couple of years have seen a bit of a resurgence of interest in this oldest-of-old-school gaming environments, which is a good thing in my opinion. Click the following to see what other folks are doing with their Mile-Deep-PC-Grinders:

*This excellent thread at Dragonsfoot, discusses one of the most important elements of Megadungeon design: Mapping!

*A companion peice to the above discusses Filling the Megadungeon.

*One of first threads on Megadungeon design, here at Knights & Knaves Alehouse.

*A tale from one of the first Megadungeons, Castle Greyhawk, featuring the infamous Erac!

*A good thread at ENWorld on Megadungeon design.

*Another tale, the "first dungeon adventure", featuring Castle Blackmoor.

*Philotomy Jurament's excellent essay on the Dungeon as a Mythic Underworld.

*Chatty DM shows how the Megadungeon phenomenon transcends edition, developing his 4E megadungeon.

*Robilar Remembers, another tale from old Castle Greyhawk.

I've sent Torgo out to fetch me a growler of IPA, there's a lot of reading to do here!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...