Monday, November 30, 2009

November OSR Roundup - Just in time for the Holidays!

Yes, Virginia, there is a Cthulhu!

There's some great stuff out this month, in case you haven't noticed, perfect for those gaming fanatics on your Secret Santa list:

Knockspell #3 - The print edition is nearly sold out, so grab your copy quick if you haven't already!

The Grinding Gear - Raggi's latest old-school elf-mincer is available at Noble Knight Games.

Stonehell Dungeon - Check out this Megadungeon built on the "one-page dungeon" concept. Also free goodies available; a preview and the "Brigand Caves"!

Companion Expansion - James at the Underdark Gazette is reporting Barrataria Games' massive, 109 page Companion Expansion available for free download and hopefully for print very soon. Built for B/E, its obviously useful for most old-school games, with classes, spells, monsters, and lots of other goodies.

The Dungeon Alphabet - is available for presale. At $9.99 with a "who's who" of old-school artists inside, this is a no-brainer.

Map of the City State - This is a huge reproduction of Bob Bledsaw's original blueprint map of the City State of the Invincible Overlord! Note this is from when the campaign was still set in Middle Earth:)

Dark Fate - Check out this low-fantasy, Horror RPG inspired by Swords & Wizardry! Available in hardcover too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Expanding the Fighting Man

Sublime in its simplicity, the OD&D/Swords & Wizardry class of Fighting Man is the ultimate fantasy archetype: man with sword, ready to face down slavering dragons and cunning wizards. One of the strengths of the Fighting Man is that you can envision him to be pretty much anything you want. Knight, rogue, mercenary, crossbowman, gladiator, duelist, the list goes on and on. No specific rules additions are *necessary* to run your own Fighting Man within the specific archetype of your choice.

Nonetheless, there are times when it is desirable to more greatly reflect the differences between the various archetypes with specific rules, and this would quickly manifest itself as D&D evolved from the LBB's into AD&D. As supplements like Dragon and Greyhawk appeared, so to did classes like the Paladin and Ranger, created whole cloth as individual classes with their own individual rules.

As players in my S&W game got interested in branching out into other types of Fighting Men, I was reluctant to add more classes to the streamlined S&W ruleset. I especially wanted to avoid the apparentl tendency to give many fighting classes spells at higher levels. Instead, I decided to simply add a few rule additions to each variant of the Fighting Man. To justify paladin and ranger-flavored Fighting Men and their extra abilities, I also had to beef up the base Fighting Man class a bit, and came up with the Warrior. All the variants would use the basic saves, exp progression, experience bonuses, etc, of the Fighting Man, but would have two or three rule-based benefits to make them stand out from the crowd.

To take a look at my variant Fighting Men, click on the link here to download it. These variants are suitable for use with Swords & Wizardry, and may easily be used with B/X, OD&D, Labyrinth Lord, S&W Whitebox, and other similar rules-lite, old-school systems.

As always, any feedback is appreciated!

Past Downloads: The Thief.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Music & D&D

I don't know about you, but my introductory years with gaming seemed to coincide with my introductory years with music. To this day, there are certain albums I can't hear without strongly associating them with D&D. Styx's "Kilroy was Here", for instance, evokes a strong mental image of myself and three buddies (sadly, I can only remember one of their names, Andrew, whatever happened to those guys anyway?) exploring the Isle of Dread on the doorstep of our cabin in summer camp ('83). Zep's Zoso album seems to be inextricably linked with the memories of my first forays into Judges Guild's fantastic Wilderlands. "Back in Black" must have been stuck on "repeat" during the garage-gaming days of high school (and I seem to remember Asmodeus himself uttering the line just before a brawl between the PCs and every arch-demon in the MM). Heck, one of the guys even designed a whole adventure around the lyrics of "Hotel California".

What music reminds you of gaming?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Some good sunday reading...

Al Harron has posted a great article at the Cimmerian about the many and surprising similarities between Howard's Cimmerians and Tolkein's Dunedain. Its a very nice piece, and there's plenty of gaming inspiration to be found!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Anaxophis - Scourge of the West

Ages ago, in the Time of Legend, the Tyrant God unleashed five great dragons from his unholy Deepforge upon the world. Of the five, only one is believed to still exist: Anaxophis, known as the Scourge of the West. To the Ancients, Anaxophis was a name to inspire terror, and its deprivations are recorded in many of their darkest Sagas. The great hero, Gar Garash, known as Ironhand, sought out the beast centuries ago, carrying with him the great blade Artefex. Neither was ever seen again.

Today, rumors have drifted from the western borderlands that this ancient terror is stirring again from its last known lair, the ruins of the Night Citadel, last stronghold of the extinct race of Nef'Larim, which perished after a day and a night of flame and terror. What has stirred the dragon from its slumber is unknown. If true, it will be the first time the dragon has been seen since the cataclysmic seige of the Gates of the Forsaken Halls over a century ago.

Anaxophis appears as a dragon of the largest size, with metallic-looking scales of black iron that gleam like silver at night. It possesses a vast intellect, a legendary capacity for cruelty, and an unsurpassed arrogance.

Black Iron Dragon
Armor Class: 0
Hit Dice: 11 (88hp)
Attacks: 2 claws (1d8+2), bite (3d10)
Saving Throw: 4
Special: Breathes combustible acid
Move: 9/24 (crawl/fly)
Challenge Level/xp: 13/2300

Anaxophis' breath weapon is a cone (120' long, 30' wide) of acid that combusts upon contact with open air. This fiery breath does damage as normal for the first round, but will continue to burn and eat away any substance it has coated, causing 1d6 damage for 2d6 rounds after. Living creatures may spend a round rolling, disrobing, etc to stop this damage, but it is difficult to remove the substance from inanimate objects, so this attack often permanently ruins all it comes into contact with, such as armor, or cities.

Anaxophis casts spells as a 9th level Magic User, and typically has the following spells memorized: Charm Person, Detect Magic, Shield, Sleep, Detect Invisibility, Invisibility, Stinking Cloud, Haste, Hold Person, Suggestion, Confusion, Fear, Feeblemind.

It is possible that the dragon's hoard (rumored to be in excess of 100,000gp total worth, not including items of a magical nature) still contains the legendary sword Artefex: a +3 Two-handed sword with a pommel and crossguard resembling the head and wings of a Great Heron. The sword's blade is made of a silvery, unbreakable metal unkown to contemporary metallurgists, and is etched with runes from the Time of Legend. The sword is inimical to magic in some way, and allows a 2nd saving throw attempt if its weilder fails a save versus some magical effect or spell. If held, it allows its weilder to use the spells Clairvoyance and Darkvision at will, and will insantly heal its weilder as per the cleric spell Cure Light Wounds once per day if the weilder has suffered more than 75% of his total hit points in damage.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Megadungeon - Evolution through Play

Each time I get a chance to run my Megadungeon, The Forsaken Halls, I'm struck by how different it has become from its original form. What's most interesting is how this didn't come through sudden changes or revision, but through gradual changes made and tweaked from session to session.

For an example, I present an area of the Halls now known as the "Spider Maze". Originally, it was a sort of foyer, a fairly large open area between the bridged chasm near the dungeon's entrance, and the Halls of Madness (the "centerpiece" area of level 1). Before I moved to Swords & Wizardry, the Forsaken Halls were simply a way to test out the new 4th edition of D&D, which hadn't even been released yet; all we had were some scans of Quickplay rules from a preview at a convention, and a compilation of monsters cobbled together from peeks at early drafts of the monster manual, as well as a few pregen characters.

With these materials in hand, I dug out an old unused dungeon map, made up a quick background story, and we got down to business test driving the new edition to see if it had legs or not. That first session, it just so happened, as I was basically using monsters in order as I ticked them off on the preview sheet, that the occupants of the Foyer were something called "Deathjump Spiders". The Spiders made mincemeat of the party, forcing them to flee the Forsaken Halls altogether, and leaving one of their number behind, dead!

For the next foray into the dungeon, I knew I'd better give the players some cover, and had been reading up a little on 4E's emphasis on providing challenging terrains, so when the party next entered the chamber, it was wholly filled with sticky webs! Unphased, the party put the webs to the torch, leaving them, yet again, to the tender mercies of the deadly, leaping spiders. With some lucky rolls, they managed to win the day this time, and discovered the corpse of their fallen comrade hanging in a cocoon from the far corner of the chamber, along with several other cocoons.

The third time I ran the dungeon, it was with Labyrinth Lord, as by this time I begun exploring the retroclones a bit more. Not wanting the players to waltz through the Spider's foyer quite so easily, and wanting to add more description and exploration to what had originally been little more than a combat set piece, I changed things up again. I described the chamber to the players as a vast dark area apparently glittering with stars hovering in midair. While the area was still choked with webs, they were now nearly transluscent, and glittering with water that seeped down from somewhere high above (everyone's seen a dewey spiderweb at daybreak). No longer would the spider webs be burned away wholesale in a few short moments, the party must now hack its way through the area like an expedition from an old Tarzan Movie.

Now on its ? run, the last several with Swords & Wizardry, the area has become a winding maze through the wet, hanging webs. The players must navigate the confusing, sticky corridors in search of the way to the greater halls beyond, while some tunnels lead to secret doors, and others to the spider's abbatoir, where the dessicated corpse of that first elven ranger to die back in May of '08 still hangs alongside newer victims. All the while, spiders lurk above, below, and alongside these tunnels, ready to pick off the unwary, "Aliens 2" style.

Most of the dungeon explored thus far has been like this, shaped through the actions of the players, and my response and reactions to those actions. I can't wait to see how the countless untouched areas will change and evolve when they at last are explored as well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lejendary Adventure - The "other" Gygax RPG

As the 20th century drew to a close, D&D was being re-worked and "re-imagined" into a whole new beast: 3.0. Unlike the advent of 2E, 3E was introduced into a time when everyone, it seems, was online. A frequent query about 3.0 was whether Gygax was involved with this new edition (he wasn't, though some token "consultations" were touted). On the contrary, Gary was immersed in his newest creation: The Lejendary Adventure RPG.

Which was largely ignored, as best as I can tell.

Debuting in 1999, "The Lejendary Rules for All Players" was released under the auspices of Hekaforge Productions, with later releases coming from Troll Lord Games. Like older editions of D&D, Lejendary Adventure was intended to be "rules lite", though based on a skill system rather than stringent class archetypes. Characters were referred to as "avatars", and some basic class archetypes were presented, more as a template than anything else. You can take a look at the Quick Start rules here, though they don't seem to present more than a very general overview of the system, along with a short, encounter based adventure.

With ENWorld serving as a sort of online hub for 3E, it wasn't long before Gary made an appearance there, and a dedicated Q&A thread was set up for him, in which he very graciously spent a lot of time answering questions and keeping folks updated on what he was doing. He also gave a lot of insight into the design and history of early D&D. Inevitably, as he first appeared on the forums frequently around late 2002, a lot of questions were posed as to his involvement with 3E, was he writing anything for 3E, what did he think of 3E, etc.

To which he often answered something along the lines of "I'm busy working on Lejendary Adventure!". Though he was usually diplomatic about it, he clearly didn't care for the d20 system and its ponderous stat blocks and rules cross-referencing, and when a d20 product did appear with his name attached, it was always "co-developed" by someone else, meaning, he turned in a manuscript, and someone else did all the annoying stat work. Questions on d20 were usually given short shrift: "As far as I am concerned, I much prefer creating in the LA game system than doing so in the D20 one", while his responses to the few and far between questions on LA showed an obviously high level of enthusiasm for the game he ran weekly and was writing for in large volume.

In fact, as you read further into these early Q&A's, you can see a certain level of frustration in Gary's responses to questions on 3E, or queries about the origins of the Drow, etc, and he seemed to be trying to steer the discussion back towards LA. Big plans were afoot for awhile, including a card game (which only saw print very briefly) and an online MMORPG (which got cancelled).

So what happened? On one hand, the power of the Brand Name is evident here: D&D 3E and LA debuted at roughly the same time, and one was obviously a bigger seller than the other. Did Gary's name not have the same draw it did even a decade earlier (or seems to have again today)? Was the Lejendary system just too far removed from D&D's for gamers returning to the hobby after a long break during the 90's to grok? Perhaps it was a simple matter of visibility - Wizards of the Coast was a giant at the time, and what exactly was Hekaforge?

At any rate, the very moment Gary Gygax would suddenly return to the public consciousness of the world (his death, sadly), giving Lejedary Adventure perhaps its greatest opportunity for exposure, also seemed to spell the game's doom. By this time, the game was being handled mostly by Troll Lord Games, and as we know, all things Gygax were swiftly removed from their imprint shortly after his death, resulting in a stunted print run of Gary's perhaps most eagerly-awaited work (the "Zagyg" dungeons) and the reassignment of LA to Gygax Games. Obviously, Gygax Games has done nothing with LA in the year since, and seems to have done what it could to alienate what fan base the game had (whether this misstep was intentional or not I have no idea).

I've never owned or run Lejendary Adventures. The quickstart rules don't do much for me, but I am interested in getting ahold of the full game and giving it a whirl, as the folks who did report playing the game gave it favorable reviews, as well as simply because Gary made it. Unfortunately, the online vendors I frequent no longer have copies of the books, and the current owners of the game aren't making new ones, so it looks like I'll have to hunt the secondary market for a copy.

If you've read or run the game, I'm interested in hearing your opinion of it, and if you were aware of the game but weren't interested, I'm very interesting in hearing your opinion on why not! :)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dungeon Sets from Pied Piper

This caught my eye this morning.

Looks like a sort of "Dungeon Geomorphs" type product, with maps ready made and awaiting a DM to fill with goodies, 12 interconnecting levels. I like Andy "Atom" Taylor's cover art here, which appears to depict a couple of characters somewhat reminiscent of Mordenkainen and Robilar, perhaps a hint as to the possible pedigree of the maps within?

At any rate, I love dungeon maps, so I'll doubtless be taking a close look at these. POssibly a timely release for some as well, as there's been a bit of noise in the blogosphere lately about the difficulties of megadungeon mapping. These could likely serve as a strong starting point.

There are also some related future releases, including "a treatise—an in depth essay—on dungeon-crafting in its many facets should be of interest, so we are gathering notes to add to my already 10,000+ word MS which describes the creation of Greyhawk™ Castle, Castle El Raja Key and Maure Castle™", and Dungeon Trappings, "supplemental material of various kinds, such as new magic, spells, monsters, tricks, traps and special set pieces", "this will also include primary matter gleaned from my Original Campaign files dating back to 1973, with salient art re-rendered from my illustrations done then".

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Evolution of the D&D Cover

So what are Your top three favorite covers?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

100 Book Titles

Every so often, be it in the Forsaken Halls, or some other adventuring locale, the players come across a library, or a shelf of books. Invariably, they ask what the titles of the books are, and I'm left floundering for titles to come up with at the drop of a hat. This random table is designed to help with those situations when players want to know, specifically, what books are in that hidden case in the Necromancer's workshop.

Of course, you needn't give them up too easily. 10% or so of these should require special means to decipher them. Spells like Read Magic and Comprehend Languages are there for a reason, just be sure to reward the use of such resources with the odd scroll, treasure map, or all-new spell!

100 Book Titles
1. Offerings to Set: A Diary
2. Cocktail Recipes of the Crimson Court
3. The Prayers of Arumfus
4. Black Nights and Red Blood: A History of Lost Harnfell
5. The Rise and Fall of the Dread Emperor
6. Limericks for an Elven Fete
7. Cistikins Foul Grimoire
8. The Last Titan
9. The Teachings of the Great Nordoolus
10. Bezum's Book of Marine Engineering
11. One Bridge Too Many: Last Stand of the Excitran Cavalry
12. The Poetry of Fars Fargrim
13. A Dwarf In Shackles: Overcoming the Curse
14. Troll Recipes for Fanciful Children
15. Anatomy of the Centaur
16. Tira and the Roper: A Tale of Forbidden Love
17. Nineteen Filthy Leprechauns
18. Maps and Floorplans of Porttown
19. The Memoirs of Grewg the Pirate
20. Bleak Happenings: A history of the Mindplague
21. Drinks to liven your Existence
22. Popular Dress and Hairstyles of the Second Age
23. Aradombular: Three Plays
24. Aradombular: A Treatise of the Meaning of Things
25. Aradombular: The Philosophy of Gromus
26. Aradombular: The Pagan Essays
27. The Battle of Orichs and the Fall of Trayle
28. The Twelve Sagas of Bronn the Hero
29. Ornamental Dogs and their uses in Modern Cuisine
30. My Five Humans: An Ogre's Tale
31. Dragons: Myth or Fact?
32. The Encyclopedia Geraximus: Volume Thirty Four Ch-Cz
33. Balls
34. Military Ensignia of the Knights Emergent
35. Juiblex: The Lost Comedies
36. Ode to the Hobgoblin Maiden
37. Fifteen Holy Relics of Ylalla
38. Pyromancy: An Urban Crisis
39. Fuanatic Poisons and Their Cures
40. Klybec's Passion
41. Otyugh and I
42. Letters to the Major: A Bordercaptain's Shame
43. The Lost Shrine of Amberdown: Found?
44. Hyrax: A Play in Seven Acts
45. Tools of the Late Jurian Age
46. Bridges: The Secrets of their lasting Construction and Maintenence
47. An argument against Necromancy
48. The Seventy-seven Quips of Borlak the Arch-Mage
49. Thirty Leagues Below Mount Grimbad
50. Shields and Bucklers of the Late Devalian Rennaisance
51. The Chemistries of Niflif the Clever
52. The Cat-Gods of Olix
53. Koepple: Ninety-nine Songs of Hate and Derision
54. A Brief History of the Orange Uprising
55. Desert Survival, A Beginner's Guide
56. The Mysteries of Dionicus
57. The Care and Feeding of the Xorn
58. Small Things and Gnomes
59. Deciphering the Language of Kobolds
60. The Humorous Letters of Mayor Barrelroom
61. Nine Sages in Hell: A Warning
62. The Flora and Fungi of the Grey Forest
63. The Thirty-Seven Useful Parts of the Catoblepas
64. The Unmasking and Trying of Witches!
65. Fifteen Fowl Recipes
66. Siege Engines and their Construction and Use
67. Engineering Secrets of the Elder Kings
68. The Sins of Father Trinicus
69. The Prophesies of the Jilgrian Sisterhood
70. Small Wonder: Rise and Fall of the Halfling King
71. Herbology: An Apprentice's Handbook
72. A Pictoral Guide to the birds of the Mossy Vale
73. The Secrets of Seduction for the Clueless and Childless
74. Naughty Gifts, the Memoires of Lady Truncheon
75. Autumn Leaves: The Diary of Woqueforte the Unloved
76. Poetry of the Lobingian Epoch
77. Seven Simple Love Charms and Potions
78. Fishing Lures for every Season
79. Preventing Pox
80. Disciplining the Wayward Child
81. Puddings and Oozes of the Sunless Realm
82. Undeath: A Treatise
83. The Saga of Eligarth the Bold
84. Flumph Recipes
85. A History of the Pale City
86. Sewage and Irrigation of the Modern Gaol
87. Courtly Manners of the Appropriate Kinde
88. Ninety-Nine Songs of Hate and Derision: Right Back Atcha, Koepple!
89. Feces: A Hunter's Guide
90. The Travels and Travails of Willus and Feng
91. The Browne Arcanum
92. The Legend of the Diamond Throne
93. Secrets of the Prax Society
94. Brewing like the Masters!
95. The Lost Erotica of the Merrow
96. Tales of the Far South
97. Twelve Habits of the Successful General
98. Misery Loves Company: The Care and Spreading of the Latest Plague
99. The Polite Prayerbook of the Penitant Pilgrim
00. Haques' Dictionary (2600 pages).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Warriors of the Red Planet - November Preview - Art!

I know what you're thinking... "Why no October Preview!?"

Well, that's because I was busy pounding out and finishing the "rough rough draft" of Warriors of the Red Planet, as well as a "spin off" of sorts, my Sword & Planet short story submission ("Exiles of the Red Planet") for the upcoming "Weird Enclaves and Black Pits". Now begins the "work" part of the project, patching the various documents together into one cohesive whole, alphabetizing the scores of monsters, items, and "spells", checking/cross-checking/re-checking rules to make sure nothing is ridiculously conflicting, redundant, or! Actually, it has been a lot of fun, especially the playtests. Not to mention how cool its been to watch this go from "idea!" to "actual game!".

But what would be cooler than a Sword & Planet RPG with old-school rules?

How about a Sword & Planet RPG with old-school rules lavishly illustrated from cover to cover by a brilliant artist? Remember how easy it was to flip through the illustrations in the 1E Monster Manual and let your imagination run wild with the possibilities for your next game?

Well, that's what we're shooting for with this book. Not just a collection of rules, but a springboard for the imagination to keep the ideas flowing. And by "we", I mean I've teamed up with artist Thomas Denmark, who I think you'll agree has a dab handle on all this Sword & Planet stuff, and a sound appreciation for what old-school gaming is all about. I'm honored to be working with Thomas on this; he's no commissioned artist, but a full-blown partner, as committed as I am to making this book something really special. Take a look:

Stay tuned for more previews here and over at Thomas's blog as this book continues to take shape!

Past Previews.


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