Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Birthday Mathoms - Heads Up!

Although this picture has nothing to do with my
birthday, or with mathoms, it did get your attention!
On August 4th of this year, I am going to turn 48. 

As has become my custom, I am going to create some form of birthday "mathom" to give to folks via email. (If you don't know what a mathom is, read The Fellowship of the Ring or use Google.)  My birthday mathoms have been relatively trivial files to date, just some fun stuff for Dungeon Crawl Classics that you can get for free.  The patron I did last year became part of FT 1: Creeping Beauties of the Wood, so there is no guarantee of exclusivity lasting forever.  These are just some fun things that you can get for free because sending them out helps me celebrate the passing of another solar rotation. And because the DCC community is great.

You can get this year's mathom by performing three simple actions:  

(1) Comment in the comments section of this post. I don't care what comment you make. 

(2) Send me an email address at ravencrowking at hotmail dot com, so I can send you the mathom.

(3) Open your email browser on August 4th and see what you get.

That's it.


Monday, 28 July 2014

Purple Duck Games Wazala Store is Open!

pdg.wazala.com

http://pdg.wazala.com/category/dungeon-crawl-classics/

Negative Review!

Well, you can't win 'em all!

All reviews, good or bad, are welcome.  

15 Must-Have DCC Adventures - Part III

And, at last, here we go. Again, the rules are simple: It has to be already published (at the time I started writing this, anyway), and it has to be something that I neither wrote nor converted to DCC.  Recognizing that there is a lot of material for DCC out there, and there are a ton of adventures, this is my way of trying to "catch up" at least a little bit on reviewing them.

Again, none of this should be taken as a condemnation of any adventure published for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. I own them all, and I have never felt "ripped off" for anything that I purchased. There are products that I absolutely love for this game that did not make the list.

Without further ado, here are my Top 5 picks for DCC adventures:

5. The One Who Watches From Below (Jobe Bittman, Goodman Games):  This was the winning entry from the 2012 Goodman Games "Mystery Map" competition, so it should be no surprise that it appears in the top five.  The adventure does an excellent job of not only engaging the PCs, but engaging the players as well, by making what occurs at the table important to what occurs in the fictive space.

I don't want to give anything away about this module, so I am going to rely on someone else's review, and just add "laser harpies".

This is a contest winner that well deserves to win. I don't know anything about the other entrants. Some of them may have been just as deserving.  It would be cool to someday see a compilation of the top 25 runners-up, which individual judges could then mine for ideas.

4. Frozen in Time (Michael Curtis, Goodman Games):  My favourite published Michael Curtis romp to date. What do you get when a bunch of primitive yokels investigate a.....hush, spoilers. But there is a robot on the cover and here's a review.  Of course, when we are talking the Top 5, it isn't simply a matter of theme, but of execution. With a heavy Gardner Fox influence, and nods to such rarities of the Appendix N corpus as Jack Williamson's Legion of Time, the adventure is a treat to read. There are also pop culture references for players to recognize as they play through it, making it an equal treat from the other side of the screen.  The adventure is exactly the right length for con games, and contains some options for judges who want to spin the concepts out further. The proportion of encounter areas and events that drive the adventure also works exceedingly well.

This is a fantastic adventure that belongs in everyone's collection.

3. The Winter Home (S.A. Mathis, Land of Phantoms):  Originally published for Free RPG Day to promote the soon-to-be-released first Transylvanian Adventures volume, this adventure really delivers a dose of Hammer-style horror coupled with DCC-style ass-kicking. If this even sounds remotely like something you'd like, you should pick this up.

Even if it does not, you should pick this up to see how author Scott Mathis makes the relationships between the PCs as important as the monsters, and expresses a time limit in classic style.

Here. Read this review.

2. The Jeweler that Dealt in Stardust (Harley Stroh, Goodman Games): Trust Goodman Games to not only develop fantastic adventures, but to put Class A material in even their free products. This amazing adventure initially appeared in the Goodman Games Free RPG Day 2012 offering, and later was reprinted in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book. This adventure is a heist in the noble tradition of REH's Rogues in the House and Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.  Things are not what they seem, of course, and author Harley Stroh is at his absolute creepiest with some of the encounters here. This adventure is great for mood, suspense, creepy opponents, and player choices that truly matter not only to the adventure's outcome, but even to the adventure's very beginning.  For my money, this one is even creepier than the ultra-creepy Bride of the Black Manse, and that is saying something! That it takes place in an urban setting is icing on the cake.

And the #1 spot goes to

1. The Wizardarium of Calabraxis (Claytonian, Kill It With Fire):  You keep fish in an aquarium; you keep spell-slingers in a wizardarium. Here, in a handful of pages, is an adventure that you will want to run again and again. And, luckily, the material suggests that you should, merely by opening up new areas of Calabraxis' wizardarium, using many of the supplied monsters and supplementing them with new ones of your own creation. And the odds are very good that, even if another instalment comes out, your work will not be invalidated.

Why did this get the #1 spot?

It's got creepy.  It's got funny.  It's got more than enough role-playing, problem-solving, and combat to make any group of players happy.  Depending upon player choices, the same encounter may be role-playing, problem-solving, or combat.  It has time travel, in a way that makes time travel fun, scary, and informative. It has psionics. It has ape-men. It has Vorbians. It has......well, enough spoilers, right?

Suffice it to say that The Wizardarium of Calabraxis is wrapped up in a neat package, giving you everything you need to run the adventure, and giving you lots of opportunities to make it your own.  The psionics system used is perfect for adding your own unique powers to a DCC game.

Look at it this way:  I come to DCC primarily as a writer and a game master.  All of these 15 Must-Have DCC adventures are ones that I would have been proud to have written.  This one, though, makes me wish I could go back in time, prevent myself from having read it, and find some way to a table where the author was running it.  It is that good.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

15 Must-Have DCC Adventures - Part II

In which I announce adventures that I think surpass the last five, but are still not quite to the five after.

Again, this is not a condemnation of any adventure out there, and I might have made different picks at another time.  Again, not including anything I wrote or converted to DCC.


10. The God-Seed Awakens! (Paul Wolfe, Mystic Bull Games):  I think author Paul Wolfe's favourite Appendix N author must be Robert E. Howard, because there is always a bit of an REH vibe to anything that he writes. In this case, though, I am specifically reminded of Abram Merritt, because this is a dungeon crawl in which you will encounter weird creatures and alien cultures that you might well end up talking to rather than killing. Not that you will not end up fighting plenty of monsters - it's just that the monsters all have an understandable purpose, and that they do not all necessarily need to be fought. And, as in the best of the A. Merritt stories, the characters are drawn into a battle between powerful cosmic forces - potential patrons - that they may or may not understand.

Finally, this is not an adventure that needs to be played and then tossed away; it offers potentially persistent locations, and the action in the module could take place over many game sessions.  Although they are not made explicit, I can see a lot of potential hooks for patrons and deities sending their mortal associates into harm's way here. A wizard or elf could easily be forced to seek out the god-seed to find the last component of some spell she wishes to learn....


9. Intrigue at the Court of Chaos (Michael Curtis, Goodman Games):  A group of 1st level characters is summoned before the Court of Chaos to perform a small task. If that doesn't make you want to run (or play!) this adventure, then nothing else that I say will.  Suffice it to say that Michael Curtis was doomed to be on this list, and this is not the only time he will appear.

It's difficult to write about this adventure and not damage if by revealing spoilers. The best part of this module is created entirely by the actions of the players, and in setting up a situation in which the players (and their important decisions) get to become the clear focus, this adventure excels. If the location worked as well as the intrigue, this adventure would easily make it into the Top 5. And I do not mean that the location does not work; I just mean that it is not as strong as some of the works that follow...this may in fact be intentional on the part of the author, so as to not take focus away from those important player decisions I mentioned.

In any event, I had to really work to order the adventures, and had to make hard decisions about which is "better" than which.  Any criticism I have of any adventure that makes it to this list is mild indeed, and this is more to explain why this one did not place better.

There is a (probably unintentional) potential link between this adventure and my own The Falcate Idol, which I recommend exploiting for all its worth.

8. Bride of the Black Manse (Harley Stroh, Goodman Games):  Creepy, creepy, creepy. One of the best "horror" adventures ever written for a "Sword & Sorcery" type game. Harley Stroh's adventure is not, shall we say, for the faint of heart.  My players showed a surprising discretion, avoiding playing around with some of the moving parts (and lucky for them it was that they did so!), which prevented me from using some of the best material in this module. That's okay, though, because what they did get to was more than adequate.

This adventure, designed for convention games, uses a real-world time limit, which creates a sense of urgency in the players that a more leisurely crawl would never achieve. Also, there are two full-page illustrations herein that you should photocopy and use as player handouts. One handout, though, could use more explanation in the text. The judge would benefit from clear notes on how to deal with the personality traits listed on the family tree.This is a minor nitpick, but, again, I am forced to rely on minor nitpicks and slight variations in excellence in order to put these adventures into a list.

7. Doom of the Savage Kings (Harley Stroh, Goodman Games): The first mini-sandbox style adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics, Doom of the Savage Kings has a single major threat, but that threat takes the PCs to a cool dungeon and forces them to deal with the politics of a remote settlement. Along the way they will make allies and enemies, and things will spin out of control more than once as the players drive the action.  There are some very cool treasures to be won, and one which the owner may eventually wish that he had left alone.

Having to deal with the same foe, over and over again, allows dread and fear to build, especially as these are mere 1st level characters trying to defeat a foe that is well beyond them. Figuring out what tools they need and how to get them fills the PC's days, and dread of the Hound fills their nights.

I wrote a bit more about this adventure here.

6. Another Man's Treasure (Ken Jelinek, Mystic Bull Games):  Found in In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer, this is almost more of an encounter than a treasure, in that it can occur in conjunction with another adventure of any level as an added complication.  And a brutal complication it is. The adventure as written is short, but perfect, and writing more than this would damage the joy and consternation of your players.

I submitted two adventures to this compilation, but it is Ken Jelinek's submission here, of all that appears in the book, that I think is best.

___________________

Next time, my Top 5 picks!


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

15 Must-Have DCC Adventures - Part I

In which I select 15 DCC adventures that I think everyone should have. I am not including anything that I wrote, or did the conversion work for - I leave that to someone else!  In addition, I am only including adventures that are available at the time of this writing.  Finally, not appearing on this list is in no way a condemnation of any other adventure!

Narrowing the list down to fifteen was heart-rending, and some extremely good material didn't make the cut.  If I was writing this a month ago, or a month from now, my selections might change, and some of that material might be on the list. This list is only a snapshot of my thinking at this time!

Still, kudos to anyone who made it, and apologies to those writers whose adventures were culled from my initial short list of 25.

Even reaching that short list required brutal sacrifices of well-loved adventures.  Forgive me.  I cried too.

15. Sailors on the Starless Sea (Harley Stroh, Goodman Games):  I am sure that nobody had any doubt that this one would be on the list.  What's not to like? It's got a great set-up, with all sorts of hidden goodies that may (or may not) be found, depending upon what the players do. It has a definite "You Will Encounter Things Out of Your League" moment. It has a wonderful climax.

14. Street Kids of Ur-Hadad (Edgar Johnson, Kickassistan Ministry of Tourism): Found in Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad #1, this is not simply an urban funnel adventure - it is a toolkit to create a nearly unlimited number of urban funnel adventures.  And there is nothing in that toolkit that demands that you stop using it once your PCs have gained a few levels, either. It is the soul of the city of Ur-Hadad in a handful of pages. Some of the things going on in Kickassistan might seem a little too "metal" (or a little too weird) for some other campaign settings, but there is enough material here to set up your own "Street Kids" adventure in any major metropolitan area. Even if you never use the material as intended, there is a lot of inspiration toward setting up your own urban areas.

13. Fate's Fell Hand (Harley Stroh, Goodman Games):  Harley Stroh wrote fully 1/3rd of my top 15 picks. Consider what that means, and you will realize that anything with the "Strohdor" name on it is going to be worth picking up. Harley has a knack for setting up intriguing settings where the PCs get involved with various factions, needing to break a balance of power to succeed in their adventure. In Fate's Fell Hand, he does this in spades. It is part of the genius of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG that players don't have to wait for the "cool stuff" to happen at high levels; this one is a level 2 adventure.

12. The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk (Jon Marr, Purple Sorcerer Games):  To my mind, at least at this moment, this is the finest of the Purple Sorcerer funnels. That is not a knock on the others, but a compliment to how well this mixture of social interaction, wilderness trek, and "dungeon" crawl works. Parts of it are quite wacky, but at its heart is a mysterious Lovecraftian horror. The cool thing is that Jon Marr makes both these elements work, and the contrast between them works well. This adventure contains enough meat for several play sessions, introduces the Mist Men, and includes a bear with a fez. Fezzes are cool.

11. The Haunting of Larvik Island (Stephen Newton, Thick Skull Press):  This isn't just a dungeon plopped in the middle of a wilderness, this is a wilderness that sets the stage for the climactic dungeon. And the dungeon is cool. There is a giant albatross. There is a puzzle to figure out. There are un-dead, goblins, and ruffians. In a way, the adventure is Treasure Island meets Dungeons & Dragons meets Conan the Barbarian. There is something about the set-up, and the pay-off of the adventure that makes me imagine Conan involved in the escapades. Perhaps it is because there are things to talk to, someone to protect, a treasure to be lost or won, and plenty of things to kill. And at least one encounter that would make the burliest barbarian mutter "Crom!" when he faced it.

If you have read - or better yet, played! - any of these adventures, you know just how much fun they are. However, I think that there are ten adventures out there which are even better. I'll be getting to them anon.

Monday, 21 July 2014

7 Must-Have DCC Accessories

The Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game has some of the best adventures on the market. It is almost impossible to go wrong when selecting a DCC adventure. But DCC has a lot of non-adventure material as well, and in this post I am going to highlight some of it. Below are my Top Seven picks for non-adventure DCC materials.

I am excluding materials that I wrote, or otherwise played a significant role in the production of (although I am mentioned in or contributed artwork to some of these).  I have tried to rank these in terms of their general usefulness to the average DCC judge and players, but depending upon your campaign style and interests, YMMV considerably. I also decided to exclude any items that are not explicitly DCC, which is why James Raggi’s excellent Random Esoteric Creature Generator is not on the list (although you should own a copy!).

Please note also that, although some items did not make it onto this list, that by no means indicates that they are below par! I didn’t include Crawling Under a Broken Moon, for example, although I quite like it and think everyone should get it. On another day, it might have made the list.  This is a snapshot of what I am thinking makes the cut today.

Without further ado:

7.  Tales From the Fallen Empire (Chapter 13 Press)

This product offers a setting for DCC campaigns to take place in, new monsters, new classes, new patrons, and new spells.  It has very good rules for magic item creation and good rules for maritime adventuring.  Expanded equipment lists, ritual casting rules, and the rules for lucidity are also a real bonus, and could be used by a judge or players to great effect.

6.  Transylvanian Adventures (Land of Phantoms)

This product takes the DCC RPG and places it smack dab in the middle of a Hammer Horror film or a gothic novel, and then dials everything up to 11. The most obvious house rule that judges may steal from this to use in their non-Transylvanian DCC setting, but there are good rules here for character building and investigation as well. The Adversary Die is a rule well worth stealing, if you are working on an adventure that is not simply a dungeon crawl. Two more books are planned for this setting, and when they become available, I will be snagging them as well. Fantastic stuff! 

Also, critical and fumble tables for firearms.

5.  Critters, Creatures, & Denizens (Cognitions Pressworks)

This product offers a good range of monsters, including stats for the various animals that your PCs might acquire through their occupations, making it a valuable resource.  There is a lot of information here about the various creatures listed that most judges will never need, but there is also a very good discussion of how the creature statblocks were derived for those interested in creating their own. There is a good section on travel that the wily judge can use to her advantage. There are also some strange and fun creatures hidden on these pages – I have often glanced through the book and discovered something I had forgotten, which is a hallmark of a good resource.  The book also contains a critical hit table exclusive to Fey creatures, which I have recommended in my FT Series modules.

Finally, Critters, Creatures, & Denizens has an explicit permission allowing you to use a few CCD creatures in your published DCC adventures. This permission is modeled after the permission appearing in Angels, Daemons & Beings Between as a direct result of this author talking to that author. I, personally, would like to see more of this sort of thing in DCC products.

4.  Crawljammer #3 (Moon Dice Games)

Although I am a fan of all of the DCC zines, not every zine or every issue can make it to the “top seven” list. Even if we exclude the “adventure issues” of Crawl!, we would have seven Crawl!s, three Crawljammers, two Crawling Under a Broken Moon, and one Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad. All of these are good, but Crawljammer #3 has the Psychic Knight, and deals with psionics. Many a DCC campaign can benefit from a cogent treatment of psionics.

(CrawlingUnder a Broken Moon #2  deals with mutants and mutations, and The Wizardarium of Calabraxis has some good alternative psionics rules, but the Wizardarium was excluded because it is an adventure, and I haven’t finished reading through the mutations in CUaBM #2, or it might have made this list.  There are also two “technology wizard” types available; one in Crawljammer #2 and the other in Crawling Under a Broken Moon #1. They are different enough that both might exist within the same game milieu.)

3.  Crawl! #8 (Straycouches Press)

The Firearms Issue. From Wheelock pistols to laser blasters, Crawl! has you covered.  But that is not all, because Rev. Dak Ultimak makes sure that you have some handy tables to use these weapons in your game, in the form of invaders from another world! Whether those invaders are aliens from a distant star, modern humans, or some Revolutionary Era American soldiers, you will be ready.  This issue includes some firearms rules from Transylvanian Adventures, but not all of them. It is definitely a handy at-table reference when you decide that you want the PCs to emulate the majority of Appendix N protagonists – for every Conan who may not have had a pistol, there are two Solomon Kanes who certainly did! – or when you want your PCs to head out into the wastelands of Stephen King’s Gunslinger novels.

If you are running Crawljammer or Crawling Under a Broken Moon, you will find that Crawl! #8 is your friend.

2.  Crawl #2 (Straycouches Press)

The Loot Issue contains additional equipment lists that are referred to at my table all of the time.  If my copy of Crawl! #2 isn’t available, and the PCs have reached some safe location to recover and gain new supplies, dirty looks are shot in my direction.

There are some other cool things in this issue as well – articles on random treasure, lucky and legendary items, converting OSR treasure hoards, a personality from the Sunken City by Jon Marr, new weapons, and new rules for shields and helmets. But it is Colin Chapman’s extended equipment list that my players dive into again and again.

And the most used resource at my table, apart from the Core Rules themselves?

1.  Alternate Occupations (IDD Company)

Ever since it came out, every time a character is rolled up, this reference is requested.  First off, it extends the occupation lists considerably.  Secondly, it offers some definitions for the more esoteric occupations which have long since fallen by the wayside (or never existed in some cases). Finally, if you are making higher-level characters, if offers tables that link appropriate occupations to the desired class. This is useful both to players (when, say, creating higher-level PCs to die horrible deaths kick serious ass in some higher-level DCC module, or when bringing a new PC into a higher-level party), and the harried judge when creating NPCs.

Yes, yes, I know, NPCs are different. But sometimes, when you foresee the likelihood of serious ass kicking horrible deaths, you want a ready NPC or two to become PCs as needed.

And for $2.00, it’s a hell of a bargain.







Sunday, 20 July 2014

Voting is Now Open

Voting is now open in the 2014 Ennie Awards.

Please consider voting for Prince Charming, Reanimator.

I would love to see Monsters of Porphyria and The Other Side win as well.

Related note: As happy as I am to see my writing nominated, reviews like this one really bring home how much the care and effort Purple Duck Games puts into packaging their products (illustrations, maps, layout, bookmarks, etc.), and how big of an impact that has on the final product.

If Prince Charming does not win, I am sure that whatever does will be excellent, and I will be happy to congratulate the winner! If Prince Charming does win, that is as much due to the efforts of Mark GedakLuigi CatellaniKristian Richards, Perry Fehr, and Jon Marr as it is due to mine.  Not to mention Joseph Goodman and the rest of the crew at Goodman Games for putting out such an inspiring product!



Saturday, 19 July 2014

Pocket Sized Encounters

I have been remiss in not mentioning the Iron Tavern's Pocket-Sized Encounter series, even though I have bought them all. So, this is my attempt to make up for it.

Disclaimer: Jeffrey Tadlock at The Iron Tavern has reviewed a number of my project favourably, and I like both the Tavern and its owner.

The Pocket-Sized Encounter series is written for Swords & Wizardry, but translating them in to Dungeon Crawl Classics is relatively simple to do. If you have any experience in conversions, you should be able to do this even while running the adventures. These adventures are designed to be "side quests" that can be played in a single session, allowing them to be used when the PCs go "off the map", or as a part of initial world building when devising the game milieu.

Swords & Wizardry is not as "gonzo" as Dungeon Crawl Classics, but these adventures are interesting for Swords & Wizardry, which means that you can easily use them with DCC.

Kajak's Kave:  Livestock disappearing from their pastures, children discovering large humanoid footprints along the creek, rumored sightings of a lumbering giant, and Shaerie the Huntress’ disappearance several weeks ago leave only one conclusion. An ogre has taken up residence too close to town! Are you the brave adventurers to help rid the town of this threat and discover the whereabouts of Shaerie?

The Hive:  Lord Oakensun was fascinated by insects, spending hours cataloging and classifying his collection. Discontent led the man to experiment with forces he did not fully comprehend. Now farms outside the village have been found abandoned. Lord Oakensun’s daughter is missing, last seen near rocky hills a short distance away. A local thief reports his partner was snatched away in the dark amidst sounds of buzzing and chittering. Has Lord Oakensun’s experiment gone wrong? What is behind the rash of disappearances from the village?

Skull Cave: Centuries ago nomads found a cave and felt drawn to perform their death rites to dark gods within its confines. Years of ritualistic offerings to malevolent forces has fed demons deep below the cave. The nomads have long since disappeared, but a recent earth tremor has freed the demon spawn from their prison deep below the surface. Seeking blood of victims to fuel their infernal fires they have moved closer to the surface and begun their hunt.

Zedkiel's Chapel:  Two brave adventurers rescued Zedkiel the scholar on his way home from the tavern. A large bat-like creature had attacked the man and certainly would have slain him had Ulad and Frango not intervened. A month later reports of another large bat-like creature surfaced as several townsfolk were killed one night under a full moon. Ulad and Frango grew suspicious and discovered something horrid had happened to Zedkiel. The man eluded them until the pair of adventurers discovered the strange abandoned chapel Zedkiel was using as a hideout. The characters have a choice to make - seek out and destroy Zedkiel or aid him against the vigilante townsfolk.

Check them out here!