Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Random Humanoid Mutation Table

Use this table to give your orcs, goblins, kobolds, hobgoblins, etc, a little more personality, and hopefully make your players a little more nervous. It can also be used to differentiate one tribe from another. Roll three or four times for maximum insanity.

Random Humanoid Mutation Table (3d12)
3. Three arms, three legs.
4. Insectoid Mandibles.
5. Eyes glow alternating flashes of green and blue.
6. Hands and feet end in birdlike talons.
7. Human faces of unearthly beauty.
8. Shaggy pelts of green, mossy fur.
9. Constantly drool glowing green ichor.
10. Tatooed head-to-toe in Cthuloid symbols and runes.
11. Impeccably dressed.
12. Big, flapping, bat-wing ears.
13. Bumpy, green, troll-like skin.
14. Sharp metal attachements in place of fingers.
15. Vestigial wings, good only for gliding from a height.
16. Emit an unnerving keening sound as they fight.
17. Scaly Purple Snakeskins.
18. Comically huge feet.
19. Vomit disgusting but harmless black bile onto their opponents.
20. Chant obscure mathematical formulae to any who'll listen.
21. Bright red skin, forked prehensile tails, and small horns.
22. Hair appears to be mass of writhing bloodworms.
23. All have heads of various animals: lions, snakes, beetles, etc.
24. Surrounded by a chilling aura of shadow.
25. Brain protudes from back of head.
26. Four, thin, insect-like arms.
27. Each has two heads.
28. Constantly leak fetid, salty water from pores.
29. Have masses of tentacles in place of legs.
30. Leave trails of slug-like slime wherever they go.
31. Grossly Obese.
32. Skin changes color like chameleon.
33. Have fins and gills, googly fisheyes, breathe water.
34. Long, waving eyestalks.
35. Albino - pink skins, red eyes, white hair.
36. Partially composed of metal and stone.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Edition Loyalty, Edition War

Over in the world of "contemporary" D&D, there was a recent flap when Clark Peterson (of Necromancer Games fame), announced that he was "swearing off 4E"... "Because Pathfinder is D&D". On the various message boards, this declaration was met for the most part with level-headed responses of "cool", or "glad you found a system you like". Scattered amongst those were less level-headed responses, ranging from petulant "what happened to our 4E cheerleader" to near-cultish chants of "welcome to the Fold"(Gooble Gobble). Lines were drawn in the sand, threads were locked, and so on.

And Clark's annoucement was extremely gentle compared to the majority of such postings.

Which got me thinking: When did gaming start requiring a declaration of loyalty?

Along with: Who wins when you make your declaration?

Don't get me wrong, I'm as guilty as anyone for engaging in the odd edition skirmish, even if primarily from the standpoint of devil's advocate. But its getting increasingly hard for me to imagine choosing one game/edition, and one game/edition only, as the One True Game. I currently run Swords & Wizardry, along with lots of stuff from OSRIC, along with lots of my own houserules. To further muddy the waters, I often use 4E-style "minions", I've recently added the option of using classes from Labyrinth Lord's Advanced Edition Characters, and I'm thinking of throwing some Pathfinder feats into the mix. Also, in the last three years alone, I've played in 3.5 and 4E campaigns, as well as a session of OD&D, 2 sessions of Microlite20 and a brief online session of HARP.

So where do I fit in? What's my place in the culture of "Brand Loyalty"? Am I some shifty double-agent, not to be trusted? Am I a gaming Switzerland, stolidly Nuetral, to my peers' undying chagrin? Am I a spineless slacker, too weak-willed to stand up and take a side?

Is it possible that, some day, I might get up on my soapbox and declare to any who'll listen, "I just can't stand Swords & Wizardry anymore; from now on, I'm only running Gamma World!"?

Well sure, anything's possible.

But for right now, at least, I can't see the point in doing so.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Best Caption Contest

Mr. Rients noted "the Creepiest VIP photo" in the GaryCon2 program booklet.

Who can come up with the best caption?
You know, something along the lines of:

"Now, hold still, this won't hurt a bit.", or
"I am Torgo, I take care of the place while the Master is away!"

The winner gets a free download of the BtBG 2009 Compendium!

(Apologies to Mr. Kuntz ;)>

UPDATE: Its an 18-way tie!!! Special thanks to Ze Bullette with the Walken wristwatch story...:)

Sunday, March 21, 2010


These were the best mini sets ever! I can remember saving for weeks to buy myself the Woodland Adventurers set ($20) and painting that ranger to with my goldenrod character sheet...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Diversification and the Marketing of the OSR

Again and again I see the OSR described as a "niche within a niche".

While I understand the philosophy behind such a sentiment, and have perhaps used it myself in the past, I have to chuckle when I consider the real truth of the situation. Fact is, the OSR is booming, and selling numbers any game company would be proud of. The difference is, there's not one game company behind it all, so it looks like a bunch a little operations not really selling all that much when viewed in individual terms.

Diversification, by definition, "seeks to increase profitability through greater sales volume obtained from new products and new markets". This is something the OSR achieves through its very nature: a bunch of guys all participating in the revival of what is at its core the same game slash gaming philosophy.

Difficult to see, perhaps, because there is no company called "OSR", but the sales advantages it has are the same most companies have to work at deliberately.

Take "GURPS" for instance. Talk about a "niche" game. How does GURPS stay in business? Well, obviously you haven't seen a row of twenty copies of the GURPS Basic Set at the local big-box store. GURPS employs the strategy of Diversification. In the last six months alone, they've released a dozen game supplements. One of those titles alone might not generate a ton of revenue, but together, they add up. If there's 300 guys out there playing sci-fi GURPS, there's a new supplement for them. 400 playing fantasy, 250 playing WW2, etc. Palladium does the same thing with Rifts, etc.

Which brings me around to Marketing. Every company involved in D&D or one of its bastard children seems to get it. WotC is running out a "Red Box" set this fall, as well as "Rules Lite" version of 4E, Paizo is diving into the old-school world of Sand-boxia with its next Pathfinder Adventure Path.

Why are those companies taking notice? An issue of Knockspell only sells a few hundred copies right? But consider what's been released in the last two years: multiple issues of Knockspell and Fight On!, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, several monster books, several variant rule supplements, campaign settings, adventure modules, etc, etc. That's thousands of books altogether.

So why is the OSR having such a hard time marketing itself? I mean, there's still a thread every other day about "what are retroclones?" on the various gaming message boards. And I'm not just talking about ENWorld and such, but even frickin' Dragonsfoot!!! If the home of 1E on the internet still doesn't understand what OSRIC is all about, then there are some problems we need to address.

Any ideas?

You'll see Erol Otus's sweet cover for Fight On! #8 splashed across a lot of blogs over the next few days. Right there on the cover it states "A fanzine for the Old School Renaissance". That's a good place to start.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sword &Sorcery Greyhawk - Gnarley Forest

Gnarley Forest

The Gnarley Forest is a vast woodland extending for hundreds of miles from the southern shores of the Dyr Dvv all the way into the battle ravaged Pomarj. This write-up deals with the NE section of the forest know locally as the Twisted Wood or Moaning Deep. This is the area of the Gnarley bordered on the north by the Velverdyva and on the east by the Selintan. The trees of the forest are black wood with deep purple or dark crimson leaves, and many are twisted into almost human shapes, contorted as if tormented. When breezes blow through the trees they create an unnerving moaning sound, especially intense after dark. A few tribes of woodsmen live in the Moaning Deep, hostile to outsiders and devout followers of the Old religions of blood and stone.

Bloodvine Vale - This area of the Moaning Deep is plagued by smothering vines with sharp crimson thorns, which seem to reach toward living creatures when their attention is elsewhere. A great ruined castle lies in the heart of the vale.

Ravine of Staring Statues - This deep, dark ravine is terraced on all sides, and a menacing, icy-cold creek runs down the center until it disappears into a yawning crack in the rocky earth. The terraces are lined with rusting iron statues of human figures which stare upwards at the uncaring skies above.

Wicker Hills - This row of four long hills lie on the border of the Moaning Deep nearest Dyvers the Wicked. Atop each is a great Wicker Man, which the woodsmen fill with criminals and captives each season and burn in sacrifice to their cruel gods.

Old Henge - This center of worship for the woodsmen is the haunt of a circle of grim druids and their fey acolytes. Thirteen mildew-streaked menhirs stand in a semi-circle here around a bloodstained stone altar.

Melting Caverns - Near the center of the Moaning Deep is a broken hill with many dark caves leading into the Melting Caverns, a series of natural chambers filled with weeping fungi and slime. The caverns are haunted by all manner of carnivorous jellies, oozes, and puddings, and is the source of the Silthering Trackers that infest the Gnarley. Rumor has it a great golden statue of alien demeanor squats in the deepmost chamber.

Kraken Tree - This massive black tree, the size of a small citadel, sits near the western edge of the Moaning Wood, its twisting trunk forming many natural arches and alcoves. Some of these lead into a great hall beneath the tree, the abode of the unnatural and cruel aelfs that hunt the wood for human victims to take part in their games of dark whimsy. The Hall is said to be far larger than should naturally fit beneath a tree of even the Kraken's proportions, and is ruled by an Aelfen queen of infamous sadism.

Creek of Time - No one is sure exactly where this creek lies within the wood, possibly because the slightest touch of its icy water causes one to lose all past memories.

Bald Hill - This barren hill at the NE corner of the Moaning Deep is the site of unspeakable rituals and orgies, where the witches of the Gnarley consort and cavort with demons called up from the Abyss.

The Tower of Eyes - The location of this tower seems to change upon the whim of its master, the inscrutable Sage Menek Voht, a diviner and oracle of great power.

The Silent Halls - Once a lively underground city of gentle, inhuman craftsmen (known by some as "gnomes"), the tunnels and chambers now lie silent and barren, filled with the bones of their former masters. What doom befell this gentle folk is unknown, but rumors persist of undiscovered treasure vaults filled with master-crafted jewelry and baubles.

Moaning Deep - Wandering Monster Table (1d12)
1- Ghost (1)
2- Shambling Mound (1d2)
3- Giant Slug (1)
4- Quicklings (4d4)
5- Giant Horseflies (1d6)
6- Violet Fungi (1d4)
7- Slithering Tracker (1)
8- Slithering Tracker (2)
9- Kraken Aelfs (2d10)
10- Bandits (2d10)
11- Woodsmen (as "Berserkers", 4d10)
12- Druids (1 Druid of 1d6+4 lvl, plus 2 acolytes of 1d3 lvl, plus 2d10 Woodsmen).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Holmes Expert Rules

Every so often I see someone online has created their own homebrew version of "Holmes Basic past level 3" (and even a couple of guides on how to cap a whole Holmes campaign at level 3). Well, didn't you know the Cook/Marsh expert rules were designed for use with Holmes???

I didn't.

I think I kind of always glossed over that little section, or assumed it was referring to the Moldvay basic book; yet it clearly states it is for the D&D book that "has a blue cover with a picture of a dragon on it".

Did anyone ever do this? I mean: start at 1st level with Holmes and move naturally from there to the Expert rules? If so, how did it go?

I know one thing, I shall never refer to Holmes D&D as "Holmes D&D" ever again. From now on it shall be known as "the D&D book that has a blue cover with a picture of a dragon on it".

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ha, pt2

Remember this?

Check out this...;)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lost Monsters of B/X - Caecilia

B/X had quite a few monsters unique to itself, which just never seemed to worm their way into the general monster population of D&D's other and later editions.

AC 6[13]
HD 6
Atk Bite (1d8)
Special Swallow whole
Move 15(Crawl or Dig)
Save 10 (Fighter5)
No. Appearing 1d3
Morale 9
Treasure Type B
These 30' long, slimy, gray worms are voracious predators, often lurking just behind dungeon walls, floors, or ceilings (or spongy wilderness earth) and waiting for the vibrations of passing prey to bring them forth. Their toothy maws can swollow up anything horse-sized or smaller on a natural roll of 19-20. Swallowed victims are largely helply helpless and suffer 1d8 points of damage per round until dead, though they may attack with a small weapon such as a knife or dagger (at -4 to-hit). A faint scent, reminiscent of cinnamon and ozone, may linger in caecilia hunting grounds, warning savvy dungeoneers of their possible presence. The tooth of a Caecilia is rumored to enhance spells of an earthy nature.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lost Monsters of B/X - The Sea Dragon

B/X had quite a few monsters unique to itself, which just never seemed to worm their way into the general monster population of D&D's other and later editions.

Sea Dragon
AC 1[18]
HD 8
Atk Bite (3d8)
Special Breath Weapon
Move 18(Swim or Fly)
Save 6 (Fighter8)
No. Appearing 1d4
Morale 9
Treasure Type H
These highly intelligent dragons are typically deep blue-green in color with bright green or yellow crest and fins. A fifth of sea dragons are able to speak common and employ spells. Sea Dragons can breath out a flood of sticky, burning poison (save or die) up to 100' long and 20' wide. Primarily aquatic, sea dragons can nonetheless take to the air for brief flights of 6 rounds or less. Most live in exotic sea-cave grottoes or the hulls of sunken, coral-encrusted treasure galleys. Younger (5HD) and older (11HD) sea dragons exist, but are shy of human contact.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Happy Birthday, Beyond the Black Gate!

Its been a year now since Beyond the Black Gate opened for business. 254 Posts and counting. I have to say, what started out as an amusing distraction has become an important creative outlet, and I think has actually had a good effect on the rest of my busy life. I also quite enjoy the whole shared gaming experience, its amazing how many creative, imaginative, informative, humorous old-school gaming blogs are kicking around right now! Without this community, I'm sure my enthusiasm for participating would have ebbed long ago, so thanks to all of you for the comments, encouragement, discussion, praise, and criticism.

Drop by the comments section today if you have a moment, and say "hi" to everyone.

Oh, and enjoy the festive birthday colors!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


There are reports of a big book of Talislanta art forthcoming, a cool idea for an RPG that was so strongly defined by its art. Can Skyrealms of Jorune be far behind?

In the meantime, the first edition of Talislanta is available for download, so take a look. I never played the system (released at the height of my high school 1E days), but thumbed through it enough that I have a passing familiarity with it, and once witnessed a session at a convention. There were lots of "funny voices" used at that table, I recall, which did little to inspire me to investigate further, though that was probably an idiosyncracy of that particular group rather than the game itself. I hope.

Definitely some cool monsters in there, the kind of stuff you'd expect to see haunting the ruin-filled primal jungles of one of Moorcock's bizaare worlds... Download here.

Remember this ad from Dragon?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Random Table: Atonement

This one's by request...

What happens when the Cleric, Priest, Druid, or Paladin in the party offends his or her deity or breaks a law or tenet? Traditionally, all class benefits are suspended until proper penance or atonement is performed. Roll on the table below to determine that atonement:

Atonement (2d12)
2. Fast for seven days and seven nights.
3. Eliminate an enemy of the temple.
4. Donate a magic item to the temple.
5. Convert one unbeliever per level of the penitent.
6. Donate 100gp per level to the temple.
7. Undertake a quest to recover a lost relic.
8. Subdue a powerful monster to serve the temple.
9. Spend a week spreading the word to the unwashed masses of the slums.
10. Arrange and pay for the construction of a new statue or icon for the temple.
11. Take 1d6 temple acolytes everywhere with you for the next 30 days and teach them.
12. Steal an important relic from a rival temple.
13. Establish a mission in a foreign land.
14. Petition a local ruler to favor your religion above all others.
15. Throw a gold piece into the sea every day at dawn and sunset for 30 days.
16. Undertake a quest to petition a famous oracle for seven prophesies.
17. Undergo ritual scarring and tatooing.
18. Perform a hallucinogen-fueled "Vision Quest".
19. Challenge and defeat a rival in one-on-one ritual combat.
20. Defile the tomb of long-dead enemy of the religion.
21. Be confined to stocks and ridiculed for 24 hours in front of the temple.
22. Survive a week of mental and physical torture.
23. Spend a night in a pit filled with venomous serpents, spiders, hungry lions, etc.
24. Survive a week in the wilderness with no equipment or assistance.

Monday, March 8, 2010

S&S Greyhawk - Amulet, Staff, Curvy Knife

I thought it would be cool if Magic Users and Priests in the Sword & Sorcery Greyhawk setting, perhaps known collectively as "Sorcerers" to better fit the genre, had some iconic "tools of the trade".

Staff: The staff is an important artifact in any Sorcerer's kit. A Sorcerer spends hours perfecting his staff, perhaps cutting it from a twisted ancient tree growing in a cursed graveyard, then carving into it arcane runes and symbols, imbuing it with dubious unguents and fluids, and performing weird rituals with it, such as placing it in the hands of a mummified virgin beneath a gibbous moon. Using such a staff replaces the need for material components in non-divinatory spellcasting, up to a value of 10gp. It also allows a sorcerer to re-roll any "1"s when determining damage. A broken staff robs the sorcerer of these benefits and it takes 1 week per level of the sorcerer to properly prepare a new one.

Curvy Knife: This wavy dagger, or athame in some parlance, is invested with a sorcerer's power similarly to the staff above, but conveys different benefits. If used in divination type spells it drastically reduces the chance of failure. Further, if waved at a target, it allows the sorcerer to "remotely" apply a spell that would normally require a touch, such as Shocking Grasp or a Reversed cure spell. A broken or damaged athame must be replaced as the staff above.

Amulet: This sorcerous tool may come in many different forms, such as a golden sun-shaped disk, a pewter serpent with ruby eyes, or even the shrunken head of a dispatched rival. Prepared and replaced as the items above, the Amulet conveys two important benefits. Firstly, if given to a trusted ally, it allows telepathic communication between sorcerer and agent at a range of up to one mile per level of the sorcerer. Secondly, when worn by the owner, it can hold a single protective spell cast into it, such as Shield or Protection from Evil, that may be activated immediately when the sorcerer is threatened with harm, before initiative is rolled, and does not count against any further actions the caster may take in the remainder of the round.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

S&S Greyhawk - Dyvers the Wicked!

Yet again, the mere passing thought of Sword & Sorcery Greyhawk has sent me down the rabbit hole of DIY world-building. I don't know why the idea fascinates me so much, but a Greyhawk where Vance and Leiber hold more sway than Medieval History just seems...right. So here's some ideas for Dyvers:

Dyvers the Wicked
Dyvers is a bustling port city where the black waters of the Velverdyva River empty into the Lake of Unknown Depths. Originally an outpost of the Furyondy Satrapies, the city's Thieves' Guild took preeminance in 514CY, when they took advantage of Furyondy's economic hardships during the Holy Wars with Veluna to secede under Veluna's protection. After more than a decade of refusing tribute to Veluna, the city was beseiged by vengeful King Thrommel's bloodthirsty cavalry in 526CY. The seige lasted for only two months, until Thrommel's force was almost completely destroyed by poison and disease, helped along by Dyvers' fanatic assassins of the Temple of the Eye. No state has attempted to lay claim to the city since.

Some important locations in and around Dyvers include:

The Old Docks - Legend has it that the cyclopean stone blocks that make up Dyvers' riverside docks were there long before Dyvers, the remnant of some lost civilization of unknown beings. Those willing to risk swimming down below the sea-weed choked megaliths may spot curling runes and carvings of an unsettling nature, and further ruins lurk just beneath the surface of the Velverdyva, a hazard for unwary ships.

The Boulevard - The economic center of Dyvers, a hundred yards wide and a mile long, this infamous chalk road is typically choked with a maze of canvas booths and tents of all color and description, selling anything and everything from across the face of Oerth.

The Groves - A century ago this lowland side of the city was a slyvan hunting preserve for a Furyondyan Satrap; now, it is a winding ghetto with streets so narrow and choked with filth that the sun is only visible for one hour, precisely at noon.

Ziggurat of Iuz - This great black step pyramid is festooned with serpent-shaped chimneys that spew smog into the sky at all times. The worship of Iuz, the living god, has sprung up only recently in Dyvers, aided of course by the Magister's constant and closest advisor, Dar Hoon (9th level EHP of Iuz).

Temple of the Eye - This massive cube of mildew-stained marble has long been the religious center of the rich and powerful of Dyvers. Bloodstained altars accept sacrifice every night, and the temple trains an Assassins Cult that is among the most feared in Oerth.

Crickhouse - Once the abode of an immeasurably wealthy Nyrondi arms dealer, this sprawling, 400-room mansion now sits "abandoned", the subject of a thousand dark rumors expounding on the horrors of its haunted halls.

Iron Plaza - The center of Dyver's slave market, one of the most prosperous in all of Oerth, with buyers from as far away as Bissel and Aerdy in attendance.

Palace of Jhegaal - This marble and gold palace is the home of Jhegaal, the ruler and Magister of Dyvers (Thief, 12th level). Its harems and baths are legendary, as are its torture chambers and an extensive network of dungeons, the Pits of Jhegaal. Jhegaal's chief advisor, Dar Hoon (9th level EHP of Iuz), is never far from his side.

The Water Gardens - Just off the Boulevard's northern end are the infamous Water Gardens, a labyrinth of fountains, parks, hidden grottoes, and silken tent-brothels where any pleasure or vice is available for the right amount of coin.

Trichean Fountain - The centerpiece of this wide fountain in front of Jhegaal's palace is a horrific bronze statue depicting a pair of maidens, possibly twins, in the final embrace of a giant fanged serpent. It is said the statue presents a riddle that, once deciphered, may lead to a treasure of dark origin.

Grogor Obelisk - This massive, tower-sized stone edifice at the midpoint of the Boulevard is carved with indecipherable heiroglyphics and images of strange, inhuman beings cavorting with demons. Though it has never been proven, rumor has it the Obelisk is hollow and filled with secret halls and chambers.

Carcoss Reservoir - Local legend has it that this reservoir was once a quarry that was dug all the way to hell. Now it is a still, depthless pool of dubious black water that many consider ill-luck to disturb.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Frickin' Fomalhaut Online!

If you're not familiar with Fomalhaut, then you're proabably not getting your Fight On! or Knockspell magazines. Gabor (aka Melan)'s stuff is the first thing I flip to when I get one of those mags, and re-read multiple times.

For the unfamiliar, Fomalhaut is a world of science-fantasy, not unlike a Wilderlands meets the Dying Earth meets Cthulhu combo, though that would be simplifying things alot. Mankind came to Fomalhaut long ago from the stars, used their technology to make it habitable, and then there was a big interstellar war and Fomalhaut got forgotten and things descended into a dark age and got... weird. The main campaign map and setting description are in Fight On! #3, btw. Its on my extremely short list of "campaign settings I'd like to run a game in if I ever get sick of Wilderlands" (2 whole settings, Fomalhaut and Sword & Sorcery Greyhawk). If you ever imagined shooting your crossbow at a Cthulhoid nighmare rising from a sunken island temple from the deck of your hovercraft, this the setting for you.

Anyway, you can now check out some Fomalhaut stuff online in English, so don't miss it. (Tip: "Tovabb" means "more" or "rest of the article" or something like that, I think, so click on that whenever you see it or you'll miss alot of each article).


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