Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Castle Greyhawk Dungeons - Tragedy, Truth, Torgo, and Troy.
Possibly the most notorious dungeon in the history of D&D is Castle Greyhawk. Arguably, it is the history of D&D, along with Castle Blackmoor, as it is here the game was developed and honed from a collection of wargaming miniatures rules, the additions of two inspired referees, and a heaping helping of pulp fantasy tropes and artefacts. Why then, is this cornerstone of a 35-year old hobby, with millions of participants, so elusive?
Just for a moment, sit back and digest that whole "cornerstone of the hobby" concept, and its implications. In a sense, the original rules of D&D itself were developed to facilitate play in the dungeons below Castle Greyhawk. Compare that to how we develop our dungeons today based on those rules. Interesting, right?
So, obviously, its no wonder that Greyhawk has become such an object of fascination among gamers. What is a wonder is that, despite Gygax's immense body of published works, a completed Castle Greyhawk was never to be among them. In the very beginning, it was obvious that the dungeon was ever at the forefront of Gygax's mind. Anecdotes, play reports, and sketchy details were common in Gygax's earliest articles on D&D back in the mid-70's and, bafflingly, they remain our best source of knowledge on the subject to this day, along with a few reminiscences online from players in those original games.
That's not to say you can't go out and buy a book/module called "Castle Greyhawk" or some such. You can take your pick from among such (ahem) works as "Castle Greyhawk" (TSR 1988) (and it pains me to even reference that obscentity, but Torgo finds it amusing), Greyhawk Ruins (TSR 1990), or "Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk" (WotC 2007, released for D&D3.5 the same day 4E was announced). The one thing those books have in common is that none were written by Gygax, or from what I can tell, more than loosely inspired by the source material. Hints of the breadth of the dungeon were available in modules like "Land Beyond the Magic Mirror" and "Isle of the Ape", but were by their nature an inadequate reference point for the dungeon proper (as in, you can't "reverse engineer" the actual dungeon from what is presented in these works).
In late 2004, Troll Lord Games would seemingly come to the rescue of gamers everwhere who despaired of ever seeing the real deal in print. Gygax was finally putting the whole thing on paper in official form, albeit under the alias "Castle Zagyg", for the first time! TLG promised to make available some introductory material, Kuntz's "Castle Zagyg: Black Chateau" (an introductory module), and Gygax's "Castle Zagyg: Yggsburgh", a home town nearby the castle proper, along with some surrounding wilderness (beautifully mapped by Darlene, btw), followed shortly by the monstrous dungeons themselves "detailed in the following six volumes of this series". My group fell for it hook, line, sinker. Chateau and Yggsburg appeared on shelves as promised, and we dug in. Two groups of C&C PCs were prepared, as per Gygax's suggestion, one 1st level party to start at the Chateau before moving on to the castle, and one 4th level party to explore the lands surrounding Yggsburgh and serve as future back-up PCs when exploration of the dungeons began.
We tackled the available material furiously, wanting to be ready when the first of the six dungeon releases hit the shelves. We were in for a long wait. As the months passed, we burned through the Chateau (literally, thanks to storeroom full of oil in the basement), trampled around Yggsburgh a bit, and, as we grew to realize TLGs production schedule was based more on wishful thinking than on material, started up the "A" series of C&C modules. Increasingly bored, we put down C&C, not wanting to risk burn-out before the good stuff came out, and kept an alert eye out for release updates. Eventually, we gave up altogether, filed Castle Zagyg away in the "What If?" cabinet, and to this day bear TLG a bit of a grudge, a sour taste in the mouth, perhaps unfairly.
Today, I don't really think TLG "tricked" us into buying that introductory stuff, but the possibility was definitely discussed at our table as our disappointment in the situation deepened. For all I know, TLG was as disappointed as we were, but asses were chafed nonetheless at the advertised line of goods that was nowhere near being "in the can". Predictably, most official evidence of those six originally-planned releases has disappeared, but Greyhawk Grognard has kindly preserved the cover art and descriptions for posterity here.
What led to the demise of the product? The official line seems to lay the blame on Gary's increasingly poor health, while the rumor mill implies some sort of breakdown in relations between Gygax and Kuntz, stemming from some confusion about who did what, when. Personally, in addition to the poor health side of things, I suspect Gygax was simply not wholly enthusiastic about rehashing stuff from 30 years ago (can you blame him?). Compare the product summaries (aliases aside) from the Greyhawk Grognard link above with the short but explicit descriptions of the original Greyhawk levels here, and it seems apparent that Gary was adding in stuff that either stemmed from later development of the dungeon, or was adding wholly new material to make it personally and artisically more interesting to work on in the present.
Eventually, in 2008, the first box, "Castle Zagyg: the Upper Works", finally appeared, though its release was bittersweet. Gygax had passed, and its anyone's guess how much of that work was truly his. Jeffrey Talanian was given the task of drawing Gygax's and Kuntz's various notes and hand-drawn maps of the project into a cohesive, publishable form, and the finished work was met with mostly positive reviews (exhaustive reviews here and here). Talanian, at least, vouches for the veracity of the content, and most probably knows best. Adding insult to injury for those anticipating the release of the other five installments, with Gary's passing came the announcement that the Castle Zagyg license was being pulled from Troll Lord Games, ostensibly to allow the new company "Gygax Games" to release the products instead. "Gygax Games" is apparently a euphemism for "Limbo", as a quick glance at the company's news page reveals no updates since october of '08.
Sadly, the few printed copies of the Upper Works were snatched up long before I got around to looking for one, and no more copies are, or will be, forthcoming. Without even Talanian being involved in any possible (albeit unlikely) future releases, the integrity of those releases is bound to be even further called into doubt.
Which begs the question: Should it matter if the Dungeons of Castle Greyhawk ever appear in their entirety?
My enthusiasm to see this venerable legend in printed form has waned, and it's unlikely to ever rise again. And not just because of its rocky and seemingly cursed history of publications past, but because I'm increasingly of the opinion that Castle Greyhawk belongs precisely where it is today: in our imaginations. I'll be just fine with it remaining a topic of legends, a rumor of days gone by, a Holy Grail of old-school gaming ever-sought but never attained.
As the above picture of the ruins of Troy amply conveys, the truth of things is rarely as grand as the legends they spawn. The real spirit of Greyhawk lives every week around tables across the world, with friends sharing the game those dungeons gave birth to.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Another bit of Gygax Lore...
Another very interesting read!
*This just in: more archival Gygaxia from Randall!
A bit of lost Gygax lore
Interestingly, it says something about the emerging popularity of D&D at the time that this was the article chosen by the editor to place within a reminder for subscribers to pay their bill: " -----> More than 50 of you should renew their subs - please do it soon!" ;)
Friday, September 25, 2009
BtBG Reader: The Arsenal of Miracles
The Arsenal of Miracles, by Gardner F. Fox (perhaps best known as writer for a lot of original DC comics series like Batman and Flash), is an enjoyable tale of galactic intrigue and adventure. While the premise may sound like "hard" science fiction (as indeed most of the "ACE Doubles" were), the book is more aptly described as "Sword & Planet", with its wonderful melange of swordplay, mysterious princesses, and lost civilizations.
The book's protagonist is Bran the Wanderer, a disgraced former admiral of the Imperial Fleet who now haunts the backwater planets of the Empire, indulging in wine, low women, and gambling (assisted by some very special dice), as well as in brooding solitude. Bran has discovered a way to move from world to world, and visits many lost wonders, none of which cure his brooding nature:
"Some men found Lethe in the bottoms of their liqour mugs; others, in the women who flocked to the stews. Bran found his in far travels. The sandy world of Conchavar. The great green seas that roll eternally on Slithstan. The high rock mountains of Klard. He had touched them all. And yet, he wanted more. To see the marsh fires dance their blazing saraband on Duheel. To stare when the copper skies come down on Boharel and kiss the metal trees... To walk in the caves of Rann. To climb the Tors on Vomarr. A corner of his mind told him that he was a fool..."
Fox knows how to paint a picture with words: "He had been walking on for several years...travelling across the wastelands of the star worlds, appearing from out of nowhere on Costair or Uristhinn or Moorn, planets which dotted the crown of Empire which was flung across deep space. He never stayed long in any place. His feet itched for distant sands, for the waters of unseen planets and their high places that only Bran seemed able to find. After a while he became something of a legend. And then he went to Makkador..."
The narrative begins to move forward upon the appearance of the aforementioned Mysterious Princess, who interrupts Bran's lively gambling session with a wager of her own. The journey that follows is a difficult one; the heroes have anything but an easy time of it. The villains of the book are vain and overly ambitious, but cunning and competant nonetheless.
Fox does a good job of presenting an entire universe in one short novelette. This is not a brief episode, it is an adventure that fundamentally changes the universe. He has some great ideas, and manages to bring them to fruition concisely and effectively. Good stuff, and well-worth a long afternoon on the deck with a good drink close at hand.
Meet the Lady of Pain
10-foot pole, eh? ;)
Thursday, September 24, 2009
DrivethruRPG to enter POD arena
Phase One: Publishers will be able to order small runs for use at conventions, or really any other reason they might need a limited set of printed books for. This is already up and running on a “test case” basis with some of our publishers, and will be fully implemented within a few more weeks.
Phase Two: Customers will be able to select printed versions of books they purchase from us, to be directly shipped to them. This will be a strictly opt-in system for publishers; some will choose to open their entire catalog to it, some will choose only to make “out of print” older products available, and some may not opt in for these sales at all. We hope to have Phase Two active by year’s end, perhaps even for holiday sales. It may not be until early 2010 before we can get a full launch of this, though.
Phases Three and Four get into some options we intend to launch to get books into retail stores. We’ve already spoken at length with many principles and potential partners and have agreements to move forward in ways we feel will be very beneficial to all concerned. These elements won’t be in play until sometime (probably late First Quarter or early Second Quarter) of 2010.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Flagship Adventure continued
A Flagship Adventure for the OSR
When I think about these archetypal adventures, there are definately some elements they have in common:
*Introductory in nature
*Provides a starting point for a campaign
*Provides a breadth of material (not just dungeon)
Now, that last element, "breadth of material" is probably the most important, and I'm going to go into that in detail, but the first two elements are probably the most difficult obstacle the OSR will have to overcome.
Why? Because its too late. (Kind of.)
One big thing modules like Keep on the Borderlands, In Search of the Unkown, and even Temple of the Frog had in common, was that they were included with the game to begin with! That's certainly not all they had in common (again, more on that when "Breadth of Material" is discussed), but its certainly an important element. When you went out and bought your fresh new D&D boxed set, it came with a module in there. For a lot of people that module was Keep on the Borderlands, as it was included with Holmes, Moldvay Basic, and Mentzer Basic (I own one of each version, btw, how sick am I?).
Not a single one of the clones was bundled with a module, for the simple reasons that no one really expected them to be anything but a vehicle to release new supplemental materials for the games they were based on, and the fact that no one has an extra twenty grand or so to dump into a big pile of boxed sets to set adrift into the stormy and fickle seas of the Distribution Gods. However justifiable though, its a big disadvantage. The closest I've seen so far is Matt Finch's Tomb of the Iron God, which clearly states that it is an "introductory adventure for Swords & Wizardry". There is also a short dungeon included with Labyrinth Lord, and another short dungeon with the S&W quickstart rules. Now all of these would appear to have the "introductory in nature" base covered, but... they're missing some key elements (more on this later).
Fortunately, not being bundled with a ruleset is one disadvantage that is easily overcome, as the countless fans of Village of Hommlett, Secret of Saltmarsh, and other iconic adventures will attest to. But "Easily Obtained" is a necessity. Since this hypothetical "Flagship Adventure" is not bundled with a ruleset, its going to have to be visible, available in a printed, physical form (not just .pdf), and easy to get from a lot of vendors. Its also going to have to be, and clearly state that it is, usable with all old-school D&D-based rulesets.
Now, on to
Introductory in Nature
I think its all too easy to interpret "Introductory Adventure" as "Simple, Easy-to-run Dungeon". Most of what we get for introductory adventures lately would really be more appropriately classified as "example dungeons". There's a lot more involved with being "introductory" than just offering a 1st level dungeon. As we old-schoolers are fond of reiterating, this game is about a lot more than combat. Its also about exploration, role-play, character development, world building, and a whole bunch of more ephemeral and harder-to-define elements.
To truly be "Introductory" an adventure needs to present these elements to the fledgling referee, both in advisory terms and through examples, and even the experienced referee can benefit from a "refresher" on many key elements of running a game. While it gets something of a "cookie-cutter" reputation these days, Keep on the Borderlands is an excellent example of all the elements I'll be discussing, so I'll stick to that adventure as a reference point, no slight intended to similarly excellent Introductory adventures like Village of Hommlett, Secret of Saltmarsh, or even Crucible of Freya. It also helps that KotB is by Gary Gygax, who was at the top of his game (no pun intended) at the time of this adventure's release.
Pages 2-5 (a good portion of its 22 pages of text) of KotB are "Notes for the Dungeon Master", in which Gygax gives an excellent summary of the rules of the game, including:
*Determining Armor Class
*Using the Combat Tables
*Movement in Combat
*How to be an effective Dungeon Master
*Dividing Treasure and Computing Experience
*Preparation for the use of the module
Remember that this adventure was included, in a box, with the basic rules. Why reiterate them when they're right there in that other book? Because they're crucial elements of running a game, and so deserve to be reiterated. Gygax also interjects alot of general refereeing advice into this section, like being sure to allow the players ample time to wander their home base, interact with locals, and so on. He encourages the referee to limit classes or races based on their vision of the setting, or to add stuff as well.
It could be argued that it is the non-dungeon material in this adventure that makes it such a good Introductory Module. Providing all this information on how to effectively run things outside the dungeon is just as important as the rules for running the dungeon/subject of the module itself. This is what makes the adventure more than just a static location, and brings us to the next important part of an iconic and enduring adventure - being a good
Starting Point for a Campaign.
Another important element of an enduring adventure is its effectiveness at being a starting point for a campaign. An adventure is more likely by its very nature to have a lasting impact if it is the beginning of an entire campaign, the "place where it all began".
This doesn't necessarily mean the adventure has to be for 1st level adventurers, as I'm using the term "campaign" it its specific sense, rather than as a term to denote the entirety of adventuring groups career. "Campaign" can even be used to denote a referee's entire game setting, with several adventuring groups. For our purposes, "campaign" will hew more closely to "story-arc". This could indeed span the entire career of an adventuring party, but it could just as likely be an episode of their career, like a "season" of a TV series.
Do provide a workable starting point for a campaign, the adventure should have at least some of the following elements:
*A home base
*Multiple adventuring locations
*Some surrounding wilderness
*A place in the campaign setting's mythology
*A sense of history
*A replenishable source of new PCs, hirelings, and NPCs
*A definable villain or group of antagonists
Obviously, an experienced referee can be handed a basic dungeon and build all this stuff around it, either beforehand or on the fly, but that same referee can just as competently build the dungeon itself, so this is beside the point. A big difference between "old-school" and "new school" adventures is that with "new-school" adventures, you are typically given an adventure that consists, in its most fundamental form, of a series of carefully constructed encounters to be conquered, which will provide an appropriate amount of treasure, and the requisite amount of experience points to attain the next couple of levels. To "win" this type of adventure, you basically want to get through as many of these encounters as possible as quickly as possible so you can get on to that all-important goal of advancing the power level of your character (and I'm generalizing things here, obviously not every newer edition game is run this way).
Conversely, much of what is important to an "old-school" adventure happens outside the dungeon or in-between trips to the dungeon. Also, exploration of the dungeon itself is the experience, not simply a means to an end. That's why having all those above elements are so important. If you want to enjoy haggling over the price of daggers, you obviously need a local arms merchant. If you want the players to take an interest in those complex murals on level four, you obviously need some history to exploit. Since the focus of the old-school adventure is not supposed to be on just "killing things and taking their stuff", you need to have all these elements in place as much as you need that exquisitely mapped and populated dungeon.
As the players discover, explore, and exploit all these elements, the "campaign" takes shape around them, organically. Its like giving them a pile of wood, bricks, and tools and seeing what they build. Which brings us to
Breadth of Material
Going back to Keep on the Borderlands as our example, lets take a look at the actual contents of this venerable little booklet:
Detached Cover w/map inside: A lot of referees used this cover as a sort of DM's screen, its got some art on the outside for the players to look at, and a nice big map on the inside, separate from the module itself, so the referee isn't flipping back and forth from page to page as he runs the game. The simple utility of this is often overlooked, and while its probably a bit of a hassle nowadays from a printing standpoint, in my opinion the extra effort is worth it, transforming the module from "booklet" to bonafide "play aid".
Pages 2-5: Introduction and Notes for the Dungeon Master, as detailed above.
Pages 6-7: Player Background, some general notes on "Home Base", the keep.
Pages 8-12: Description of the Keep, the locations within it, notable NPCs, even a menu for the local Inn.
Pages 12-13: Some wilderness encouter areas.
Pages 14-23: Description of the 64 locations within the Caves of Chaos.
Pages 24-25: Addional NPCs, How to desgin floorplans, Tips for the Players, and a Glossary.
Pages 26-28: A example floorplan map, a blank sheet of graph paper, and a chart for creating and listing yet more NPCs.
Also, in the center of the book are four removable pages with a map of the wilderness surrounding the keep, a map of the keep itself, and a two-sided reference sheet with combat tables, lists of equipment, spells, armor, saving throws, and wandering monsters.
All that information in such a small package. And only nine pages of it detailing the dungeon itself. It only takes a quick review of these contents to see why this module, and others like it, was so valuable, enduring, and iconic. It basically contains everything the D&D rulebooks talk about what you can do with the game, and fits it neatly into one slim package designed specifically to be played with at the table. There's enough material here for each referee to take and run with, make it wholly their own, and yet still remain a shared experience from group to group.
So hopefully, all that clarifies what I feel would be the crucial elements in designing a flagship adventure for the OSR. Everyone's tastes are different, but I'd like to think I at least touched on what elements the most memorable modules of yore had in common, and what contributed to them being appealing to so many gamers, regardless of all those different tastes.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Whenever Torgo gets all his chores done early, I like to reward him with an hour of play. His favorite is my old Dungeons and Dragons "Hand Defender" set (he can be a little protective of his remaining hand). Interestingly, this is the "Advanced" Dungeons and Dragons Hand Defender Set, making it, obviously, far superior to the "Basic" Hand Defender Set.
What was your favorite old licensed D&D toy or accessory?
Saturday, September 19, 2009
What every OSR publisher should have
Espresso On-demand book printer.
Just imagine this bad boy churning out copy after copy of your customized, house-ruled retroclone...
Here's a list of Espresso print machines near you! I'm guessing paper jams are a bitch with this thing.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Random Table - Skeletons in the Closet
Everyone has secrets. How those secrets influence one's life or career remains to be seen. Roll on the following table to determine the skeleton in your character's closet!
Secret Background Table (d%)
01. Unresolved Family Vendetta
02. Unfulfilled Family Quest
04. Apprentice to a murdered Master
05. Stranger from a strange land
06. Apprentice will some day challenge Master
07. Dark Family Secret
09. Exiled from homeland
10. Spy from a rival nation
11. Bastard child of local nobility
12. Reincarnated from dead hero
13. Consumed by Greed
14. Future Dark Lord
15. Fleeing failed marriage w/kids
16. Criminal incognito
17. Accidental murderer from another town
18. Fulfilling noble destiny
19. Doomed to descend to evil
20. Fated to ascend to sainthood
21. Martyr Complex
22. Deserter from local military
23. In search of dark artifact
24. Spurned by noble love-interest
25. Escaped from indentured servitude
26. Escaped Slave
27. Scion of a fallen noble house
28. Last in line to inherit
29. Failed clergyman
30. Refugee from a fallen kingdom
32. Drug Addict
33. Yearns to be Knighted
34. Thirst for power
35. Thirst for knowledge
36. Hidden at birth
37. Abandoned child
38. Must avenge mother slain by father
39. Destined to be "Chosen One" of local religion
40. Whispered to by Demons
41. Has visions
42. Motivated by dreams
43. Slave to daily horoscope
44. Obsessed with discovering lost/legendary city
45. "I'm from the Future"
46. Deposed ruler
47. Financially ruined
48. Farmboy destined for greatness
49. Seeking soulmate
50. Must adventure to fulfill psychotic urges
51. Driven from village as a witch
52. Just released from jail
53. Hunted for a crime you didn't commit
54. Reluctant heir to a noble house
55. Haunted by ghost
56. Survivor of great cataclysm
58. Driven by lusts
59. Seeks lost family member
60. Seeks lost love
61. Following portents, signs, and omens
62. Motivated by religious zealotry
63. Family cursed by the gods
64. Has taken an oath of silence
65. Twin sibling is force for evil
66. Outcast for religious beliefs
67. Fleeing an arranged marriage
68. In hiding from family
69. Seeks wine, women, and song
70. Wants to be best of character class, ever
71. Seeks mercantile opportunities
72. Traumatized ex-soldier
73. Under a powerful geas
74. Thrown out of home by spouse
75. Setting out to avenge a great wrong
76. Fleeing the vengeance of another
77. Shamed by cowardice
78. Shunned for unnatural urges
79. Determined to discover the meaning of it all
80. Last survivor of an infamous massacre
81. Had affair with spouse of dangerous rival
82. Fleeing the legacy of an evil family
83. Victim of circumstance
84. Failed academician
85. Driven from guild for incompetance
86. Wishes funding to found a temple
87. The last of your kind
88. Caused a great tragedy
89. Accidentally killed a sibling
90. Determined to establish a new world order
91. Hopeless Romantic
92. Never catches a break
93. Writing a great novel/epic
94. Aspires to godhood
95. Plagued by recurring nightmares
96. Was raised in Faerie, exiled upon puberty
97. Quixotic wanderer
98. Seeking secret of your origin
99. Betrayed by spouse
00. Human from modern Earth trying to find a way home
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
"Random" encounters for that map.
I thought it would be cool to have a set "threat" for each hex, sort of like the "lairs" listed for several hexes of every JG Wilderlands map, so I just rolled a "random" wilderness encounter for each, and made the resulting encounter "permanent" for that hex. Here's what I got:
2107(Beckshire): Men, Nomads
2108(Rough wasteland): Dragon, Red(!)
2207(The little islet NE of Beckshire): Elemental, Fire
2007(Farmlands): Sphynx, Hieraco
2008(the Bane Hills): Coeurl
2009(Lake Ifrin): Fish, Giant Pike
1906(Baeldric Mtns, the Thorpe of Black Dell pop60): Ogre Magi
1907(Baeldric Mtns, Castle Nirdrim): Spiders, Huge
1908(the Thorny Mire): Ants, Giant, Queen w/Hive
1909(Magg Forest): Werewolves
So just right there I have plenty of beasties to develop local rumors, crises, quests, and even mythologies.
Getting a result of Men, Nomads right on top of Beckshire was unexpected, I decided to make them some sort of Gypsies, a wandering clan (there are 175 or so of them) that has taken up residence just outside of town. Maybe they have some startling secrets, maybe they'll be a good source of fortune-tellers, wilderness guides, and even magic potions for the players.
Having a Red Dragon just south of town gives an obvious threat to Beckshire and its surrounding farms. It should also give the players something to work towards - maybe someday they'll be tough enough to fight off its depravations, or even track it back to its lair, which is sure to be heaped with treasure!
The Fire Elemental on the little island NE of town opens up some interesting possibilities. As elementals are Neutral and possess intelligence, albeit low, it could offer some roleplaying potential, as opposed to simply a threat. Perhaps there was once a mage school on the island, and a wayward summoning led to their destruction. Or maybe the elemental was placed there by a jealous god to guard a vault containing dangerous secrets.
The Hobgoblins on the beach SE of town (about 120 of them) I've decided are shipwrecked or ship-borne marauders of some sort (Hob-Vikings?) who have begun to make secretive raids farther and farther inland, trying to keep their presence as secretive as possible until they are ready to raid Beckshire itself. This group offers an immediate threat to the players' hometown, as well as a level-appropriate challenge for them, offering combat experience, xp's, and a chance to win some local prestige.
The hieraco-sphynx NW of town is a powerful and evil predator, second only in the region to the Red Dragon. The fact that it haunts quiet farmlands rather than a desolate wilderness means this beast must be dealt with; its lair is doubtless a charnel house of nightmarish proportions.
The Coerl(aka Displacer Beasts) of the Bane Hills are a common and numerous enough predator, making travel through the hills dangerous, and occasionally coming down into cultivated lands to prey on domesticated animals.
The Giant Pike of Lake Ifrin offer popular and dangerous sport fishing for the local nobility, as well as a hazard for local fishermen. Perhaps they guard a sunken ruin of some sort...
The Ogre Magi of Black Dell offers some possibilities. It could be a threat to the settlement, or due to its polymorph self ability, it could even be the leader of the place. As I haven't even determined what race this thorpe is, I'll hold off on determining this until I need to.
Who knows what the monstrous Spiders near Castle Nirdrim guard? Are they the default local predator, or do they infest the castle itself?
The Giant Ants of the Thorny Mire (a whole hive!) offers another level-appropriate challenge for the party. Clearing the hive could open up new farming lands for the locals, and their tunnels could lead to secrets below the surface...
I'm also saving the Werewolves of the Magg Forest for later, though I'm going to let the players know they are there, and that rumor says they kill and eat all who pass through the forest. But perhaps all is not as it seems...
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Back to that map...
With only a 16% chance of having a settlement in any given hex, I was expecting a big, empty frontier, but I ended up with 56! The breakdown is like this:
Single Dwellings - 12
Thorps - 9
Hamlets - 6
Castles - 8
Villages - 6
Towns - 4
Cities - 5
Ruins - 6
I was pleased how things seemed to spread themselves out, I was nervous I'd get say, 4 big cities all in a row in a swamp or something.
Obviously, I havn't detailed every little thing yet, and probably won't until needed, but I did want to determine the nature of the 5 cities. Rolling the population for these, I got two with 60,000, one with 30,000, one with 20,000, and one with 10,000.
One of the 60k cities, the one down in the southern part of the map, was surrounded by ruined villages, so I decided this would be a theocracy gone mad, devotees of a dark god scouring the countriside for sacrifice. Its far enough from the PC's "home town" that there won't be any immediate prblems to deal with, but close enough that rumors and the occasional spy or refugee may be around to make things interesting.
The next big one (NW area, in the little forest by the lake) ended up being a demihuman city (I gave each only a 5% chance of being non-human, as I wanted a humanocentric world, somewhat Vancian), and my random determination came up being Gnomes! The chart is something like this, btw:
A city of 60k gnomes! Gnomes have always been one of those "meh" races to me, sort of a mish-mash of halfling, dwarf, and elf, the guardian of flower gardens everywhere. But here in this world they are a force to be reckoned with. I decided to make them the "higher order" in this campaign world, filling the role elves normally take. Elven culture would be somewhat dark, off in the shadows, with Gnomes filling the roles of the great loremasters, healers, wizards, and fearsome non-human military. For them, I came up with the "City of Gold and Glass"(enhanced by their powers of illusion, probably), hidden away in its forested ravines, amid several waterfalls running down into their great lake, a sort of Rivendell-meets-Metropolis. As there is a gnome fighter in the party, some of this could actually come into play.
The next biggest city, pop.30k, up in the NE area, kind of out in the open, I decided would be the default "good" city of the area, good being the perception of the city, though its probably more along the lines of Lawful Neutral or even Lawful Evil. At any rate, its the center of humanity's power in this area of the continent.
The 20k city ended up in that big depression up on the top of the map. This fortuitous placement immediate brought to mind a Lost City, of perhaps a Roman level of technology and society, tucked away in their secluded rift, xenophobic to extremes, convinced the outer world is still under the sway of whatever dark cataclysm forced them into exile in the first place.
The last city, population 10k, ended up on the point between two great estuaries in the middle of the map. This, I made my haven of thieves and pirates, a lawless place, a middle ground between the forces of the lawful city to the north, and the chaotic Baalites to the south.
Next I decided to roll up an encounter for each of the 10-15 hexes around Beckshire, and got still more interesting stuff. To be continued...
Monday, September 14, 2009
Ah, more OSR debate (yay for rage)!
Dan over at Uhluht'c Awakens call our attention to a somewhat... tense... discussion over at Dragonsfoot, ostensibly about the point of this whole OSR thing.
The thread's OP, Gnarley Bones, starts out by (and I'm paraphrasing generously here) claiming something along the lines of "the retro-clone movement has co-opted the term 'old-school renaissance' from the out-of-print movement". He goes on to define the OSR as "individual OOP D&D gamers, spread far and wide and pretty out of touch with current gaming, getting together, talking shop and rolling the dice."
Now, I respect GB's work, and his moderation on DF has always seemed fair to me, but I catch a faint whiff of angst in this post. Perhaps something along the lines of "why are the retro-clones getting all the attention when we've been carrying the torch for OOP games all this time?" I could be wrong, its just the impression I get. (Kellri's response here is amusing btw).
Personally, I use the old stuff and the new RC's interchangeably, along with my own stuff, and stuff from the great blogs and old-school sites out there. I think there is a big difference between the "OOP movement" and what I consider to be the OSR.
I think a look at the definition of Renaissance is in order: "As a cultural movement, it encompassed a resurgence of learning based on classical sources..."
This is a very neat way of putting the OSR into perspective, or at least delineating it from a strict adherance to OOP materials: The OSR, as a movement, encompasses a resurgence of learning based on classical sources, using them as an inspiration and base for new things, and new ways to use old things.
This takes things a step beyond "old-school gaming". The truth is, the differences between B/X, AD&D, LL, S&W, LBBs, OSRIC is so insignifigant as to be reduced to a simple matter of taste. Its like arguing about what brand of sauce you like on your spaghetti. The big difference comes in whether you're using that classic material to keep your gaming experience alive and fresh, or are you just hanging on to the "pure" original for the sake of some sort of archival purity. Obviously I consider the OSR to be the former, not the latter, and I think that's what is making it a little more accesible to new fans, and a little more creatively active. Why take offense if a group of curious newcomers downloads and tries out Labyrinth Lord for free, rather than hunting down a Moldvay Basic set on Ebay or something? That is... silly.
As a disclaimer, I'm not putting one "side" above the other, just stating I don't really feel the term "OSR" is very applicable to the OOP movement. If you're perfectly happy with what you've had for the last 30 years and don't need anything else, that's great. But how about cheering from the sidelines, rather than booing?
And the answer is...
Its a map generated with Appendix B: Random Wilderness Generation (1E DMG p173).
While the generator seems to have been intended for use "in play" as the party moves from empty hex to empty hex, I was curious to see what a randomly generated map would look like. As an aside, if a section of this nature was included in OSRIC, I can't find it, or something like the Castle Tables in Appendix C, p.182-183. Maybe someone wants to put together an OSRIC appendix for this?
As Mr. Mishler somehow intuited (are you psychic?;) the original map was just the area detailed above, with Beckshire as its center. I used Beckshire as a "home base" several weeks back for an OSRIC one-off the day after the "One Page Dungeon" contest winners were released (goblin caves of some sort, very vicious, iirc). That same group (we usually play board games like Diplomacy or Risk) asked for a couple more sessions, and with the Wilderlands S&W game on hiatus I'm happy to oblige. With Beckshire's immediate environs penciled in, I followed with a rough coastal outline, a couple of major waterways, and then went to work with the random chart, one hex after another.
Since I usually use the Wilderlands setting, I wanted a map of similar scale and scope.
The map took maybe two hours to generate, drawing included, and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I was expecting a hodgepodge of terrains (a lake, then a plain, then a mountain, then a swamp, etc), but things turned out to make a weird sort of sense. Mountain chains emerged, often with foothills, even a great forest.
Then it was time to go back over each hex, and check for "Inhabitation". With only a 16% chance of a result, I was predicting something of a barren Wilderness. What followed was, again, surprising...(to be continued)
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Can you guess what this is?
Click on it to make it larger.
And, yes, its a map, but what kind of map, exactly?
Friday, September 11, 2009
Old School Emphasis: Character vs. Adventure
I've been following an interesting thread over at the Swords & Wizardry boards, wherein new member "Peregrin" is looking for advice on running old-school games. It's always nice, imo, to see a younger gamer "raised" on 3.5 take a look at the older editions, and Peregrin makes some very insightful observations, the kind you can probably only get from someone who is first experiencing the game, as opposed to returning to it, like a lot of us are.
This statement, in particular, struck me:
"For me, I guess, floating around in different 3.5 circles was like watching people who enjoy tuning up cars more than driving them. They got more joy out of getting new parts than they did actually going out on the road. Now, not everyone was like that. But I've met a lot of people who seem more passionate about char building than about the adventures their char goes through."
And by "struck me", I mean "blew my mind", as Peregrin has managed in 3 or 4 sentences to sum up my dissatisfaction with later editions of D&D.
While this is certainly a process that began in 2E with the addition of kits and "character options" it seems like the main focus of most of the post-2E material published has been aimed at character optimization. A character is created, optimized, tweaked, honed, min-maxed, and point-assigned, down to every minute function and aspect. Heck, in 3.5 you could even min-max your skill rating in something like Profession: Sailmaker or Perform: Poetry.
As a counterpart to this, the DM was now expected to provide appropriately challenging "Encounters" for these optimized characters to overcome. Not too hard, not too soft, just right.
Now, take a minute and digest that.
You, as a player, develop your character. Say its Bolgar the Holy, Paladin of Tyr. You optimize the hell out of him. If your Fortitude save is lacking, simply "take a level" in another class to boost that stat. Then maybe "take a level" of "Radiant Swordmaster" to improve your damage output against undead, and "take a level" of "Blistering Warshield" to boost your AC, etc, etc.
Now I, as DM, take your character's level and abilities, and that of the other players' characters, into consideration, to design the most ass-kickingly safe and appropriate series of Encounters to test their mettle in, each carefully tailored to the right CR and EL.
Obviously, this is a far different experience from running, say, Keep on the Borderlands with B/X. What's not so obvious, is why this different paradigm exists at all.
The kneejerk reaction is to blame the publisher for putting out all that character option nonsense to begin with. But for many players, character optimization isn't nonsense at all. They like it. If those splats didn't sell so well, WotC wouldn't keep churning them out. And really, its just a somewhat more math-intensive version of what we all used to collect Dragon magazine for - new classes and options and whatnot. How many of us played a class out of Dragon Annual, like the duelist or bard? Or one of the "paladins for every alignment".
No, I'm slowly coming to the realization that the difference may be a whole lot more simple and fundamental than I thought.
Lack of good, solid, adventures.
The kind that can be dropped into any campaign setting, challenge a range of levels of characters, and are widespread enough in distribution that everyone is playing them, and enjoying that "shared experience" buzz we all got from sharing our Tomb of Horrors or Lost City stories with folks from other groups. The kind that serves as a centerpiece of the game for weeks or months of play, allowing the roleplay side of the campaign to develop organically (as opposed to a recommended story line from an Adventure Path-style product) as the players begin to interact more and more with their world.
I think the OSR really needs a "showcase" adventure. It needs a Keep on the Borderlands or Temple of Elemental Evil of its very own, something shared from group to group regardless of whether they're using LL, S&W, OSRIC, or the systems that orignally inspired them. That's not to say there havn't been some great adventures released for the RCs, there certainly have been. But I think the emphasis of the last couple of years has been on honing the rule sets themselves, diligently recreating the spirit of the three big old-school games into three faithful and marvellous RCs. I'd love to see that level of commitment put into recreating something as epic and iconic as the G or A series of modules.
I've spoken in the past about a Rosetta Clone, one system for the OSR to band together around, but my opinion is changing in gradual degrees. I think a "Rosetta Dungeon" would be more appropriate. Adventure may really be the heart and soul of the old-school gaming experience, not choice of old-school systems (each one, honestly, being good enough to justify repeated play), so lets see some creative mind out there make us all a "Flagship" adventure to rally behind, and most importantly, share.
What do you think?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
A very nice Character Sheet
I've always loved cool character sheets. Maybe I romanticize them a bit because I so seldom get to use them, being so often on the other side of the screen? Or maybe its fond memories of my first Goldenrod character sheet, an elf Paladin which followed little or nothing actually presented in the rules, and sporting a rough sketch intended to resemble the Grenadier mini I used for the character.
Check out Dyson Logos's B/X Character Sheet. This little guy is quite impressive; when you fold it in half it makes a LBB-sized booklet. Not specifically tailored for S&W, but easy enough to use with that game, too, of course. Its got enough lined space inside to keep track of any character, through a great many levels. Nice work, Logos!
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
D&D is Dead! (someone should let all those players know)
By now you have no doubt heard of Gamer's Closet's post on whether or not D&D is dead. While I have my suspicions that the blog's author is simply trying to "stir the pot", as they say, it did get me thinking, how many people still play this game?
Well, good luck finding that out.
According to wikipedia, some 20 million people have played D&D at some point, and about 6 million were still playing in 2007. Depending on who you listen to from WotC, they have anywhere from two to four million active customers supporting the current edition, and are on the fourth printing of the core Player's Handbook of the current edition.
The recent release of Pathfinder sold out its first print, though they're not saying how many books that was, exactly (I'm guessing 10k or 20k?). The most recent issue of Dragon magazine I could find in my vault (from shortly before its demise a year or two ago) had circulation info listing about 33,000 issues between subscribers, store copies, and archival copies (unless I'm reading it wrong). The most recent estimate I could find on WotC's online version of the magazine is 8000 confirmed subscribers (representing probably 25% of the total number).
D&D Online, the (laughable, imo) MMO version of D&D, claimed about 100k subscribers at its height, and has fallen to 30k or so in the last several months, which has prompted the service to go to free membership. The RPGA doesn't list any numbers I can find, so its obviously a number they aren't bragging about.
There are currently 307 Dungeons and Dragons Meetup Groups around the world, with 30,153 registered members, 24,957 interested in being members, in 257 cities, in 13 countries. Compare this to two other notable, popular hobbies, Photography and Scrapbooking, and D&D rates favorably among them in popularity, with, I imagine, a similar ratio of Meetup hobbyists to Total hobbyists. Meetup boards, in case you don't know, are used to organize actual face-to-face play, as opposed to online gaming. My local chapter has 146 players (predominantly 4E, btw), with nearby chapters in Rochester (100) , Toronto (256), and Toronto burbs(324).
So, what's the prognosis, Dr. BtBG?
Not dead yet!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Xor the Hunter
Xor the Hunter
The snow-clad wilds of the Great Icewall are an inhospitable place. Nevertheless, some hardy adventurers are still foolish enough to attempt to venture into this icy nightmare in search of lost cities, forgotten mines, and other places of unguarded fortune. This snowy landscape is anything but unguarded, though, as it is the haunt of Xor the Hunter, a renegade Snow Giant, too cruel and debauched even for his own kind.
Across the frozen plain, he rides upon his silver-clad chariot-sled, pulled by four fierce polar bears, in search of human prey for both his larder and his couch. He resides in a great frozen manor perched on the edge of the Icewall, where he holds in thrall a tribe of some two-dozen Malamute-Gnolls. In combat he weilds the sword Fjordring, a +2 blade that would be a Two-handed Sword in the hands of a normal mortal, which slows anyone cut by its edge for 1d6 rounds.
Xor has amassed an immense treasure from his decades of depredation, and currently has seven "concubines" imprisoned in his manor. One of these, Giselwe, is a witch of some accomplishment (CE MU6 Int17 Cha15), who has been trying, to no avail thus far, to manipulate and control Xor. The remains of several men hang frozen in his larder, including the corpses of the "Lost King", Hinfast IV, and his retinue, who went missing four years ago during a crusade to find the Holy Rod of Parmuul, which still hangs from his belt.
Xor the Hunter, Frost Giant: HD 10+3 (65hp); AC 3; Atk 2d8+2; Move 12; Save 8; CL/XP 9/1100; Special: Throw Boulders, Magic Sword.
Polar Bears (4): HD 7; AC 6; Atk 2 claws (1d6+1) bite (1d10+1); Move12; Save 9; CL/XP 7/600; Special: Hug (+3d6 if hit with both claws).
Malamute-Gnolls: HD 2; AC 5; Atk bite (2d4) or weapon (1d10); Move 9; Save 16; CL/XP 2/30.
Friday, September 4, 2009
The Stone Sentinels of Trepidoore
And so it was that on the Fourth day of Gainful Planting, 1022, known hereafter as Dar'girith, the Day of Blood, the four Stone Sentinels came up out of the wastes of Trepidoore. They slew all in their path, their cruel visages twisted in laughter as they did so. From dawn til night they slew, until all the lands around the Grail Citadel lay wasted, and only then did they come to stand before the Citadel's mighty gates, silent and ominous.
At dawn, the great magus of the Grail Citadel, Panramjin, came forth and conferred with the Sentinels in hushed tones, though all upon the walls strained to hear. After some discussion, the magus laid down his staff, was taken up in the four arms of Akkava, the Obsidian Sentinel, and the whole group retreated back into Trepidoore, never to be seen again.
Obsidian Sentinel (Akkava)
HD 12 (75hp)
Atk 4 daggers (2d6 each)
Special +1 or better to-hit; spell immunities
Challenge lvl/XP 16/3200
The Obsidian Sentinel is a 12' tall statue of solid, light consuming obsidian. It appears as a four-armed, fanged female with a demonic visage, wearing a belt of skulls and necklace of phalli. This Sentinel can attack with each of its four, wavy-bladed daggers each round. It is immune to all forms of magic save for magic missiles, spells that effect stone, or fire spells (which act against it as a slow spell).
Quartz Sentinel (Bilaxus)
HD 12 (75hp)
Atk 2 Eye Rays (2d8 each) or Fist (3d8)
Special +1 or better to-hit; spell immunities
Challenge lvl/XP 16/3200
The Quartz Sentinel is a 15' tall statue of solid, gleaming quartz. It appears as a powerfully muscled old man with a long beard, and is draped in a snowy white robe. This Sentinel can emit beams of black, freezing energy from its eyes at up to two individual targets each round. It is immune to all forms of magic save for magic missiles, spells that effect stone, or fire spells (which act against it as a slow spell).
Pyrite Sentinel (Somi)
HD 12 (75hp)
Atk 2 Glaive attacks (2d8 each)
Special +1 or better to-hit; spell immunities
Challenge lvl/XP 16/3200
The Pyrite Sentinel is a 8' tall statue of solid, scintillating pyrite. It appears as a broad, massive, dwarf, clad in rune-covered armor. This Sentinel wields a glaive-like weapon with blades at both ends. It is immune to all forms of magic save for magic missiles, spells that effect stone, or fire spells (which act against it as a slow spell).
Red Sandstone Sentinel (Deruthis)
HD 12 (75hp)
Atk Sandstorm Breath (3d6) or 2 Claws (2d6)
Special +1 or better to-hit; spell immunities
Challenge lvl/XP 16/3200
The Red Sandstone Sentinel is an 11' tall statue of solid, scorching-hot red sandstone. It appears as a pot-bellied old crone, with vulture-talon hands and a gaping maw. This Sentinel can breath out a cone of scorching, blasting sand at anything for 50' in front of itself. It is immune to all forms of magic save for magic missiles, spells that effect stone, or fire spells (which act against it as a slow spell).
Thursday, September 3, 2009
BtBG Reader goes shopping!
My first grab was "The Pastel City" by M. John Harrison, which I've never read but have heard good things about. Honestly, the cover featuring the cloaked, fantasy-fiction-looking character riding out of the gleaming sci-fi city into a wasteland was enough to pique my interest.
My next find is the Nonborn King, by Julian May. This is part of her Many Colored Land series, of which I only had the first two, having lent out the final two years ago, never to be seen again. If you haven't read this series, I highly recommend it, May sets up a wonderful mix of time-traveling and fantasy, weaving it into the roots of the western mythologies of magic, elves, and goblins. Good stuff.
Yep, another copy of Vance's Dying Earth. I grabbed this for a buddy of mine to read, as I feel this book is required reading for any D&D fan, as equally deserving of a place on your gaming shelf as the 1E DMG.
Edward P Bradbury's Warriors of Mars. Never heard of Edward P. Bradbury? That's because its really Michael Moorcock's pen name used when he wrote his trilogy of homages to Burrough's Mars books. He even wrote a little biography for EPB:
"Edward Powys Bradbury was born in 1924 and spent some time in the Far East, where he developed a strong interest in Sanskrit literature. He returned to England in 1955, when, in his own words, 'the demise of two elderly relatives left me with the shocking reality that I no longer had to work for a living'. He began writing fiction and continued to travel, this time in Europe, Africa and America. He has written detective stories, Westerns and weird thrillers as well as non-fiction. In fact, he cannot stop writing and is convinced that, when he dies, he will be found with a pen in his hand. His only hope is that the story will be finished!"
Wish-fulfillment through an author's characters is nothing new, but wish-fulfillment through a pen name is truely Moorcockian!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Happy Belated Birthday, ERB!
How remiss was I to mention Edgar Rice Burroughs yesterday of all days...? Born Sept 1st, 1875, ERB would have been 134 today if he had been possessed of that marvelous Martian lifespan. He's immortalized forever by the brilliant books he wrote, the father of an entire genre of fiction, a genre I believe is headed towards a bit of a resurgence. With a movie in the works by the most profitable movie production company in the US, its only a matter of time before bookshelves are happily sagging under the weight of his 70-odd novels.
In related news, Marooned is reporting a free online serialized novel by Scott Lynch, author of Lies of Locke Lamore, inspired by ERB's Sword & Planet fiction, called Queen of the Iron Sands.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
So today I took the "Which Beatle are You!?" quiz.
Apparently, I'm some unnatural mix of John and Ringo. How does that happen?
Anyway, Torgo took the test too, and the program declared him to be "Pete Best". Wtf!? I didn't even know that was an option. It specifically says "John, Paul, George, or Ringo".
Needless to say, my cloven-hoofed henchman was sorely disappointed; he was hoping to be Paul. He loves "Maxwell's Silver Hammer".
Listens to it all day, in fact.
Makes me nervous.
Warriors of the Red Planet - Sept Preview
Enric Castaigne, Olympic Fencing champion from Barcelona, now a castaway on an alien world, speeds across the Sulfur Sea of Tantaloore in his four-man flier, in hot pursuit of Tan Dranas, the Mad Scientist of Hern. Some meters to his left, his stalwart companion Liris Lir, notorious scoundrel of Carbol City, commands another flier.
The heroes' lighter airships overtake Dranas' heavier twelve-man cruiser easily, but the wily Scientist aims his Lightning Generator and a blinding blue arc of energy slices into Lir's flier, sending it careening down towards the churning yellow sea below. Enric curses roundly, and manuevers his airship above his nemesis's cruiser, unleashing a barrage of irradium bombs across the engine housing. Crippled, the cruiser drifts into a slowly descending spiral. Turning the flier back towards it, Enric gives the controls over to one of his crewmen and, sword in hand, makes a fantastic leap onto the deck below.
Snarling, Tan Dranas orders his black-bearded, ochre-skinned flunkies forward with sabres drawn, while he himself retreats to the safety of the forward cabin's doorway. Grim smile on his lips, Enric slashes about himself, a whirlwind of flashing steel, and cuts down man after man. At last only one enemy crewman is left before him, but the hapless man chooses to leap overboard, cartwheeling down through the thin Martian air to take his chances in the poisonous waters below. Enric advances towards his sworn enemy, but Tan Dranas points a heavily wired , gun-like instrument at him and Enric is frozen in place.
Cackling, Dramas strikes the blade from Enric's nerveless grip, and draws his own dagger, ready to plunge it into the Earthman's chest. Suddenly, from above, Liris Lir appears with a great whoop! Saved from the plummeting flier by his trusty jet-belt, he has flown with haste to aid his friend. Swooping in closer, he takes careful aim at the surprised scientist with his customized irradium pistol...
Above is a "narratized" version of a short combat we ran, one of a series of playtest scenarios designed to test out the new ship-to-ship combat rules from Warriors of the Red Planet, as well as a cool (imo anyway) new Warrior class ability. You'll find these new rules surprisingly familiar (hehe), but used for a whole new aspect of gaming based around the iconic airships of Sword & Planet fiction. As with the rest of the ruleset, there is nothing in WotRP more rules-intensive than anything presented in Swords & Wizardry, and easily used with that game (and similar games wink wink) as well. The battle between an immense Albino Sea-Dragon and a Zodangan Dreadnought was vicious, glorious to behold (ie imagine), and over in just a few minutes of table time.
Warriors of the Red Planet also includes simple rules for combat between groups of adversaries, so you can set up your own large-scale battles on land or in the air, with no complicated rules headaches.
Past WotRP Previews.