Sunday 25 November 2012

Everyone Else IX: Transylvanian Adventures

It may seem strange to be talking about a product that is not out yet in this series, but I was lucky enough to have a chance to playtest some of Transylvanian Adventures.  In case you think it biases my opinion, I should also note that I created six illustrations for this product as well.

Transylvanian Adventures, the brain-child of S.A. Mathis, is an expansion of the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game core rules that allows you to play Gothic horror scenarios like those found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the many, many horror films based off of them – particularly those of the original Hammer Films era. 

Fantasy role-playing games have always been rife with images from this genre, going back at least as far as the inclusion of the vampire, flesh golem, werewolf, and similar monsters in Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  The first edition of Pacesetter’s Chill was the first time I encountered a game that actually made strong use of the horror elements, instead of simply using a horror gloss on what was otherwise straight adventures.

Yet, horror elements are often used to good effect in weird fantasy, and are a staple of such Appendix N authors as Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, and H.P. Lovecraft.  As has been noted by others, the Hammer Horror films had a definite impact on Gygaxian Dungeons & Dragons, with the ability to “turn undead” being based largely off of Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Van Helsing, and the abilities and limitations of vampires being based off of Dracula, as portrayed by such stalwarts as Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee.

Moreover, the Gothic era is on the cusp of the supposedly rational modern world, wherein the irrational makes inroads into the orderly conduct of the Age of Reason.  This is not only directly used in the oeuvre of Appendix N, but its opposite number is as well – modern or near-modern men who fall backwards in time, who travel to far planes of existence, or who otherwise enter secondary worlds where the rational tenets of the Age of Reason may or may not apply.  Transylvanian Adventures not only allows you to play a Jonathan Harker or a Mina Murray, but it makes strong inroads into letting you play the kinds of characters you read about in The Moon Pool, Lest Darkness Fall, The Carnelian Cube, The Dwellers in the Mirage, At the Mountains of Madness, Witch World, and so on.

I am not allowed to discuss specific mechanics, but I can say that there are some mechanics in the nascent work which will allow judges to better use the tropes of the Gothic Horror genre.  There are also mechanics that you will want to expand upon to better use the tropes of the Sword & Sorcery genre.  Like first edition Chill before it, Transylvanian Adventures wisely avoids taking the path of introspective navel-gazing – a definite danger when writing a horror role-playing game, wherein the author can so disempower the characters to increase the “horror” that they become nothing more than pawns.  No, Transylvanian Adventures is written to be one part Gothic horror to two parts ass kicking.  It is a potent mix.

Included with the playtesting materials I received from the author was an introductory adventure, a 0-level funnel for Transylvanian Adventures characters.  This adventure makes good use of the tropes of the genre, and plays well with the new rules of the main work.  I would be happy to see a line of Transylvanian Adventures supporting Transylvanian Adventures; I would certainly buy them if they were the same quality as the first.

I find myself counting the weeks until this project is finished, and in my possession.  How many weeks?  Luckily, I am not counting alone.  You can find out more about Transylvanian Adventures at

Reading Appendix N: Shadow Kingdoms

Starting in 2004, Wildside Press began to publish all of Robert E. Howard’s work from Weird Tales, sequentially as it appeared, under the sobriquet of “The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard”.  To round out the volume, they include a few other pieces of Howard’s poetry, which were published elsewhere.  Shadow Kingdoms is the first volume, and contains 24 short stories and poems.

If you have read much of what I’ve written, you will know that I am a fan of Howard’s writing, so I find it a distinct pleasure to have a volume that shows how he grew as a writer over a relatively short period of time. 

Spear and Fang is a caveman story.  Stories about cave men are actually well represented in Appendix N, including Manly Wade Wellman’s excellent Hok the Mighty stories and a lot of work by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Howard’s Spear and Fang is not going to displace the writing of these other writers here, but we are at the dawn of Howard’s career as well as at the dawn of man, so we might forgive the fact that he is not yet at the height of his powers.

In the Forest of Villefore is a werewolf story.  Again, not a perfect story, but it does have one cool idea to steal for your game:  slain as a man, the spirit of the werewolf would haunt the protagonist forever.  It is not enough to slay the werewolf; the beast must be slain in its bestial form.  Howard actually goes into this more in the next story, Wolfshead, in which his strong powers as a storyteller begin to truly come to the fore.  These two stories, together, can be used by the aspiring judge to craft a werewolf adventure that players will long remember.

The next story, The Lost Race, has yet another take on the werewolf legend…one which might work better as a lead-in to an adventure, or a portion of an adventure, but which is probably not strong enough to be the major driving force.  In a way, this story is a step back from Wolfshead.

Three poems follow:  The Song of the Bats, The Ride of Falume, and The Riders of Babylon.  Howard is a fairly good poet already, and these are worth reading, although there is no direct gaming material herein.  The Song of the Bats, in particular, might be used as a handout for another adventure, were the judge so inclined (and thanks to Sir Robilarfor the idea) .

The Dream Snake would be tough to turn into an adventure, but worthwhile if done well.  One element of horror that does not often make its way into adventure gaming is forcing the PCs to wait before they can deal with a threat.  Another is the threat that a single character must face alone, even if he surrounds himself with other.  In The Dream Snake, a character dreams of a snake coming to slay him, which, it is implied, eventually happens.  One could see this as a punishment for defying a Patron of some sort (and there is one perfect for this in the upcoming Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between sourcebook), or as the result of a curse.  I made use of the general idea in a short encounter submitted to Crawl! Fanzine, which may eventually see publication, which I called “At Least He Had Guts!”.  When you read it, you will know the inspiration.

The Hyena is a great story, marred only by the racial politics of the time it was written.  Senecoza, the festish-man in the story, would make a fantastic recurrent villain in the DCC rpg…or in any other.  This is another glimpse of the stronger writing which Howard would later produce, and it is amazing to see him writing like this so early on.  It makes one wonder, had Howard not taken his life, what he would eventually have been able to produce.

The poem, Remembrance, follows, with its theme of reincarnation and being haunted by the misdeeds of past lives.  Reincarnation is another major Appendix N theme, appearing in Howard, Burroughs, Merritt, and others.  Moorcock’s “Eternal Champion” cycle hinges upon it.

Sea Curse is a story about a curse, obviously, which includes a damned ship that would be at home in a DCC campaign.

A poem, The Gates of Ninevah, follows.

And then the first Solomon Kane story, Red Shadows, makes its appearance.  There are a lot of elements to steal here for a weird fiction campaign.  When the PCs wrong another, the idea of the pursuing avenging angel in mortal form, their own Solomon Kane, is more than appropriate.  The bandit leader, Le Loup, is a great character that I have made use of in my own online Barrowmaze campaign (using DCC rules).  The Black God, N’Longa, and the interaction between the gorilla hunter and the gorilla (itself a revenge story that parallels that of Solomon Kane and Le Loup) are worth emulating.  There are, again, racial elements in this story that 21st Century readers may well find offensive, but if you strip those elements, there is much of use to the aspiring judge herein.

Two more poems follow:  The Harp of Alfred and Easter Island.

Skulls in the Stars is another Solomon Kane story, which could easily be adapted to a role-playing scenario.  The idea of ghosts and spirits returning to avenge those who wrongfully murder them for gold is one that ought to give pause to a PC or two....

Two more poems, Crete and Moon Mockery, follow. 

Then we have a third Solomon Kane story, Rattle of Bones, which could be easily adapted to an effective role-playing game scenario.  It would be fairly easy to enlarge upon the theme – a murdered sorcerer whose bones are chained in a room, a murderous innkeeper, and an unrecognized enemy as a fellow-wayfarer. 

The next poem, Forbidden Magic, contains some imagery of use to the DCC judge.

The Shadow Kingdom is the first Kull story, which introduces the serpent people who masquerade as men.  This ancient rivalry between humans and reptilian humanoids is echoes not only in later Howard work, but in other Appendix N writers, such as the Dragon Kings of Lin Carter’s Thongor stories.  Howard’s is the original and the best.  Consider also that, at some point, players will want their characters to be something more than mere freebooters.  They will not want to merely explore the world, but to order it to their liking.  In this respect, the Kull and King Conan stories of Robert E. Howard can point the aspiring judge to elements that can make ruling as much an adventure as wandering the lands.

The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune is the second Kull story, which deals with mirrors that are both magical portals (for visions, and perhaps more) and a trap.  A good story, and a good element for a DCC adventure, but not enough action for an adventure by itself. 

Two more poems round out the collection:  The Moor Ghost (which may point to an interesting encounter, but is largely a reprisal of Skulls in the Stars), and Red Thunder.

Overall, this is a fine collection for reading, and a good collection for garnering game ideas.  The titles of Howard’s works are inspirational even if you don’t consider the stories and poems that follow.  In this collection, we see one of the greatest pulp writers of all time first approaching his craft, and rise quickly to its mastery.  This volume is very much recommended.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cross-posted from the Goodman Games Forums

Giant mutated turkey: Init +4; Atk bite +3 melee (1d6+2) or kick +1 melee (dmg 1d8+3); AC 10; HD 5d8; MV 30’ or fly 5’; Act 2d20; SP gobble, spew stuffing, induce lethargy; SV Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +5; AL N.

The giant mutated turkey is as tall as a man, with powerful drumsticks armed with sharp claws. It is capable of limited flight despite being plucked and overweight. Each round it can make one of three special attacks as a free action:

Gobble: The giant mutated turkey can gobble, creating a sonic attack that does 1d3 damage to all within 15'.

Spew stuffing: The giant mutated turkey spews a stream of stuffing in a 30' line at a single target (+4 to hit, 1d3 damage, and the target must make a DC 10 Will save or spend its next action either cleaning the stuff off or eating it, according to how the target views stuffing). A character who knows the spell consult spirit can make use of this stuffing to contact a sage that it contains, whose areas of knowledge are cooking (especially deep frying and roasting), spice racks, and American holidays. Admittedly, these areas of knowledge are rather useless in most campaign milieus.

Induce lethargy: Every creature within 30' of the giant mutated turkey must make a DC 10 Fort save or its initiative count goes down by 2. Any creature that bites the turkey automatically suffers this effect with no save. A creature whose initiative count is reduced below 0 by this effect may still participate in the combat, but must first loosen its belt a notch and look for a couch to lay down upon.

Primordial cranberry jelly: Init +0; Atk pseudopod +5 melee (2d3); AC 8; HD 8d10; MV 5’; Act 1d20; SP 15' reach, cranberries; SV Fort +8, Ref -4, Will +0; AL N.

The primordial cranberry jelly (in some areas, known as a "sauce") is often shaped exactly like a can, down to the ridges of the can's surface.  It lashes out with a single pseudopod, but it has a 15' reach with this attack.  Not all primordial cranberry jellies have whole cranberries within them, but those which do (about 25%-50%, depending upon the region you are in) can shoot them up to 60 feet as a ranged attack with a +6 bonus to hit causing 2d5 damage, once every 4 rounds.

The primordial cranberry jelly is not often considered a very dangerous monster - most adventurers can quickly get out of the range of the average specimen - but it is known to herald, in roughly one month's time, a truly horrendous beast:  petrified fruitcake from the dawn of time!

Use 'em in an adventure if you can!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Everyone Else VIII: Attack of the Frawgs!

Attack of the Frawgs!, by Stephen Newton, is the first module from Thick Skull Adventures for the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game.  It is the first in an intended series, to be followed by the Princes of Kaimai adventure series.

This is the first DCC module I played which had direct ties back to DCC’s D&D (via the OGL) roots – the background mentions various humanoids, and the setting is the closest to a “D&D normal” setting I’ve seen with DCC.  This is neither good nor bad, and I used the connection to set my home campaign’s version of Barrowmaze I close by.

The adventure is largely a wilderness-based one.  Like Doom of the Savage Kings and The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk, it is a wilderness that you r players are not simply going to wander about in.  The encounters placed here all range around a lake, so, unless your 0-level funnel characters miraculously have a boat, there is a definite order to the encounters.  This is, again, neither good nor bad intrinsically, but I look forward to a DCC hexcrawl.  The encounters here are a bit linear for my taste, but my players definitely enjoyed it.

The module intro suggests that the action starts at dusk, but all of the area descriptions assume daytime, so make sure that you account for that in your setup when running this adventure.  It’s a pretty simple matter to tell the players that their ardour cooled with the approaching dark, and it seemed better to investigate when the sun was up.

It is also clear that this module was intended as a prologue to another adventure…it leaves some large questions in the players’ minds, which are waiting for future releases to answer.  Things happen in the adventure writing game, and in real life while you are trying to write adventure modules, so I understand why the next instalment isn’t available yet…but I am sometimes impatient. 

Okay, enough of mild complaints, and on to what I liked!

This module includes giant casteroids which seem to be a cross between a beaver and a bear.  Naturally, my players had to explore the dam/lodge of these creatures….singularly, this is what I thought was the best encounter in the module, and I hope they make an appearance in future releases.  I cannot even say exactly why I like this encounter so much.  It is just that I can really picture it in my mind, perhaps, or that the PCs are stuck in a truly unusual location.

My players are usually pretty canny, and they were able to deal with most of the lead-up encounters pretty easily.  This is not a complaint; smart play should be rewarded, and it is usually where PCs blunder in that they are lost.  The lake itself, offering a relatively clear field of view, changes the nature of encounters and allows the players an opportunity to plan for some of them at least.  It offered a very different feel, at my table at least, to have the 0-level funnel characters actually seem relatively competent.  Of course, the final encounters in the caverns more than make up for that, so all is well in terms of character attrition as well.

My players are relatively slow-going as well.  They average three sessions per module, so I was somewhat surprised when they finished Attack of the Frawgs! with enough time to start another adventure.   Partly, this is because Attack is a relatively slender module, and in part this is because the nature of the encounters around the lake make the players’ choices more obvious. 

Were I seeking a game for a convention, or a demonstration, where players familiar with D&D had a limited time to generate characters and play through a scenario, Frawgs would be my top choice.  If I were looking to make use of older D&D modules, or modules for “retro-clone” games like Labyrinth Lord, Frawgs is a good introductory funnel.  I haven’t been disappointed by anything Joseph Goodman has approved yet.  I will certainly be getting the Princes of Kaimai adventure series when it becomes available.

Make no mistake, though, Attack of the Frawgs! cleaves far closer to the game’s D&D roots than does the Goodman Games or Purple Sorcerer modules.  This means that it is instantly graspable by players new to DCC (but not rpgs), but it also means that the judge might long for more of the “weird fantasy” elements of other DCC adventures.  Haunting of Larvik Island is slated as a remake of a 4th Edition module, so there will continue to be obvious ties to D&D in all likelihood. 

Personally, I would encourage the author to move farther from standard D&D tropes as the Princes of Kaimai series expands, but I am also interested in whatever Stephen Newton chooses to do with the series.  It worked quite well for me as a set-up for Barrowmaze I.

Should you get it?  I did, first in pdf and then in print when print became available.  I feel that my money was well spent.  I will continue to buy from Thick Skull when more product becomes available.  But, while waiting for Haunting of Larvik Island, I do have to warn you that you might want more answers immediately for your heroes of Dead Goblin Lake....

Friday 16 November 2012

Difficulty: Not Just For Players

What if the players one-shot your BBEG?  Do you fudge his hit points?

What if the players decide to head north, when your elaborate deathtrap dungeon is to the south?

Do you use DM-PCs to keep the party going “where it should go”?  What if the players refuse to listen to the DM-PCs?  What if they slaughter them in their sleep?

In a recent blog post, I talked about “difficulty” in role-playing game scenarios.  That post was about the kinds of difficulties players experience to make an interesting game.  But difficulty is not just for players.  The Game Master also experiences difficulty, both away from and at the table.

A lot has been written about the difficulty GMs experience away from the table – after all, designing a scenario has its own types of difficulty.  Designing a scenario well may be one of the largest challenges facing a role-playing game enthusiast.  One might even say that, the better you design your scenario away from the table, the less difficulty you will experience at the table.  But there is no getting away from difficulty at the table entirely, and the way you handle it says much about the kind of Game Master you are.

To some degree, role-playing games are built upon a fundamental tension between the people playing the game and the person running it.  The person running the game has done some heavy lifting in the design department, or spent money for a module, and wants that investment to pay off in terms of the players going along with the scenario the GM wishes to present.  The players, for their part, want to have fun, have their characters survive, and have their characters prosper.

The experienced GM knows that players have the most fun when they overcome adversity.  The blog post about difficulty was, in some ways, a discussion of what adversity is within the context of a role-playing game.  Yet the experienced GM also knows that the player goals of “survive and prosper” run counter to “meet adversity” where the outcome of that meeting is not known ahead of time.  Players want to “play smart”; the GM wants to lure them into situations where the outcome is uncertain.  Both players and GM are trying to meet the goal of making the game as fun as possible.

Trying to keep the players “on track” is trying to keep play in the zone “where the fun is”.  This is a potentially laudable goal, if the players are of the same mind as to what “the fun is”.  In this event, the GM need merely provide more context to the players in which to make their choices, and the result is good for everyone.  Sometimes, though, the GM is trying to protect his investment, and the interests of the players is not taken into account as strongly as they should be.  In such a situation, the players cannot “play smart” – they are not allowed to.  Dungeons move, die rolls are fudged, and events conspire to drive the players “where the fun is”.

I am not a big fan of this sort of thing.  When the party heads north even though they know that “the adventure” is to the south, chooses to avoid your carefully stocked dungeon, and runs like hell from your DM-PCs, maybe it is time to re-evaluate how you are running your game.

Dealing with the unexpected actions of the players generates at-the-table difficulty for the Game Master.  Want your players to deal well with the difficulties you put in their path?  Now is the time to show them how, by dealing well with the difficulties they put in your path.  Sooner or later, the players are going to diverge from the path you imagined.  Tacking with the wind is an essential skill for good GMing.

Note that this does not mean that there has to be “an adventure” anywhere the PCs go.  It does not mean that everywhere need be equally interesting.  But it does mean that there should be options and that, when it makes sense within the context of the world, going away from the expected route should be rewarded.

Why rewarded?  Doesn’t that train the players to ignore adventure hooks?

Well, it does to some degree, but it also teaches the players that their choices matter.  It teaches them that the world is not just the GM telling them where to go and what to do; when they end up in difficulties, it is not because the GM forced them into it.  If a character dies because of those difficulties, it is not because the GM forced them into it.  If there is a TPK because of those difficulties, it is not because the GM forced them into it.  By being allowed to make these kinds of choices, players become responsible for the choices that they make.

If the GM really wants the group to explore the Death Trap of Deadly Von Lich, don’t force it on them.  Entice them.  Let them know something about the treasure that might be found there.  Give them reasons to make going there a goal that they choose.  Have dangers issue from there.  Dare them.  Indeed, warning them away from the dungeon is the strongest lure to it for some players.  In other words, supply some context that motivates your particular group.  Create hooks between various locations in your game milieu, to remind players of areas yet unexplored, to pull them back to old areas, and to entice them into new.  That’s just part of good scenario design and presentation.

The GM has vast powers within the context of the game.  When things don’t go the way you planned, it is tempting – and all too easy – to merely force things back on track.  Just like experiencing difficulty makes things better for the players, doing the difficult thing, and letting the players go where they will, can make things better for you. 

Remember how the players having to change tactics denotes difficulty for them?  Well, so does the GM having to change tactics denote difficulty for you.  Have fun with it.  Keep a couple of minor lairs ready to place where you will.  Roll for wandering encounters.  Make shit up.  Keep in mind what is nearby, and important, and keep throwing hooks to those areas – towns, dungeons, castles, or whatever.  Let the PCs encounter a wandering circus. 

Although it may seem strange, I have found that the more you allow the players to take their characters wherever they will, the more attention they pay to the hooks you hand out.  After all, now it is incumbent on them to figure out where “the adventure is”!  The more choices the players feel they have, the less likely they are to avoid following your lead on principle.

Most of the difficulty the Game Master experiences is away from the table, in scenario design, selection, and/or comprehension.  There is always difficulty at the table, though, unless you demand your players to run their characters in lock-step with your wishes.  Accepting difficulty in play is less frequent for the GM than the players, but, if anything, it is more important that the GM be willing to experience difficulty for the game to be its best.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Everyone Else VII: Crawl! Fanzine

Part of the idea behind the “Everyone Else” series was to support folks creating products for the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game.  Why?  A number of reasons.  The first is that, while I wanted to promote the products I am working on for this game, it just feels better to do so within the context of other people’s products.  The second is because there are so many excellent products being produced for DCC and I have been getting them all.  It goes without saying that, having them, having read them, and in some cases having played through them (or being in the process thereof), I have opinions.  Finally, I want to encourage others to continue promoting this amazing game!

And here we come to our first check, because, as I have been doing this, I have contributed to other products.  My contributions to Crawl! start with artwork in Issue 2, and, while there is much more to Crawl! than my scanty contributions, it is important to be upfront about their inclusion.

As I write this, there are four issues of Crawl! which I have read, and another issue that is in the post on its way toward me. 

So, let’s look at the first four issues.

Issue #1:  This issue contains several truly useful articles for the aspiring DCC judge.  Wizards & Warriors! (Part I) looks at alternate rules for running DCC games without demi-humans, thieves (as a distinct class), or clerics.  These rules, as well as the alternate death and dying rules presented in Save or Die! would be appropriate for use in games with a single (or a few) higher-level PCs.  The issue has an article on easily converting spells from OSR games on the fly that is worth the cover price if there was nothing else but blank pages in the issue.  Another article looks at the DCC skill system, and offers some refinements.  Rounding this all off is part one of the first third-party published patron for this system, Van Der Dandenclanden!

Issue #2:  I got this issue and #1 at the same time, and this is the issue that gets the most regular use at my table.  It is “The Loot Issue!” and within its pages one will find many ideas on the topic of treasure.  Dungeon Crawl Classics avoided including treasure tables, but, if you want them, they are here….with some discussion about converting treasures in OSR adventures into the types of loot one might hope for in DCC.  There is an article on lucky items which is very appropriate for a game in which Luck is a real factor.  There is discussion related to how an item can become lucky…or even legendary.  Jon Marr (of Purple Sorcerer fame) contributes an article that ties into the Sunken City line of modules.  One would think that would be the whole issue, but one would be wrong.  New rules for shields and helmets, new weapons, and new equipment round out the issue….the new equipment lists being the most referenced Crawl! pages at my table.

Issue #3:  The Magic Issue!   NPC Magic is an article that uses the ideas in Issue #1 to easily stat up NPC casters using simplified spells.  Consider the Kobold offers a kobold that is not based off of reptilian dog-men (or…shudder…really weak humanoid dragon-kin).  Van Der Dandenclanden is complete in this issue where his patron spells are revealed.  Talismans of Anti-Magic are introduced, and the physical forms of familiars are expanded upon.  I wrote a version of the magic wand spell for this issue as well.  As far as I can tell, this issue marks the first third party publisher spells for DCC – a second first for Crawl! with the three patron spells and magic wand.

Issue #4:  The entire issue is taken over by Yves Larochelle’s module, The Tainted Forest Near Thorum, a level 5 adventure.  The issue cover is detachable, with a map of the Village of Thorum and its environs on the inside.  The adventure itself is very sandbox-y, with a lot of people to interact with, interesting monsters to fight, and an interesting overarching story that ties in well with the dangerous nature of supernatural forces in a DCC milieu.  The adventure location invites expanding upon, and Thorum could easily be used for lower-level adventures in the days before the Forest becomes Tainted.  Finally, unless I am somehow mistaken here, Hargn the River Dragon is not only the first dragon in a published third-party DCC product, but it is also the first dragon in a DCC adventure! 

(There is a “snapdragon” in Purple Sorcerer’s Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk, but I do not think that counts as an actual dragon!)

The Crawl! website says, “Crawl! is created to support the DCC RPG and its community of players and judges.  This also includes publishers and developers that support DCC RPG.”  That is a great sentiment, and one I can easily get behind.  It does leave an open question, though:  Is any part of Crawl! open content under the OGL, or similarly usable? 

As I was looking through each issue to write this blog post, I began to realize just how much stuff here should be used in published adventures.  As far as I know, the official stance of Crawl! is that submissions continue to be owned by their creators,  so one should presumably contact the creators for permission.  A listing on the Crawl! page of what is allowable would be helpful; I officially offer my version of magic wand to be included on a list of Crawl! open gaming content.

In any event, this is a really good deal.  If you play DCC, but have not subscribed to Crawl! yet, you are really missing out.

Now I just need Issue #5!

EDIT:  Crawl #5 arrived last night.  Not sure what time my mail carrier is getting here these days, as it was not in the mailbox at 5 pm when I checked!  In any event, here is another first - the first new class for DCC!  Once again, an issue filled with very cool stuff.  Fung-eyes (inspired by Jim Henson's Labyrinth?) for the win!

Saturday 10 November 2012

Here, Squiddy Squiddy Squiddy!

Six days left.  Please consider it!

If not for yourself, think of the squids......

From the depths of the well comes a hissing susurrus of voices that echo within the dank stone shaft.  You cannot make out what they are saying, although they seem both feminine and strangely alien.  They have a quality that makes your flesh creep to hear it, even if you cannot make out the words.  Suddenly you can hear a man’s voice, speaking clearly, “I defy you!  I defy you!  I defy you!”  Then the voices all fade away.

(From Mermaids from Yuggoth)

Thursday 8 November 2012

Everybody Else VI: Perils of the Sunken City

Perils of the Sunken City, by Jon Marr, is the first third-party product I managed to get my hands on for the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game.  One of the first things I noticed with the module was that it set a different, but complementary, tone from the approach taken in the modules by Goodman Games.   

The tone was definitely lighter, but it held an undercurrent of menace that I found appealing.  It also offered up an entirely new setting – the Sunken City – that offered many potential adventures beyond Perils.  

And that lighter tone?  It in no way should be taken to mean that the adventure is any less deadly. 

Appendix N includes a lot of potential sources, and the tones of these sources vary considerably.   It follows, therefore, that adventures in the Appendix N vein will also vary considerably in tone, depending upon who is doing the writing and what they are trying to achieve.

Spoilers, of course, will follow.  And, I know.  We get a little blasé about spoiler warnings in the Age of the InterWebs, but, really, if you are going to be playing this instead of running it, reading ahead is going to spoil your enjoyment.  This is true for any DCC module, where the primary joy is not just facing down opponents using a carefully constructed character, but figuring out the twists in the adventure itself.  DCC adventures share an appreciation of difficulty – stretching the player’s limits as well as the characters’ limits.

I really appreciate your reading this blog.  I really appreciate your interest.  And I really, really appreciate what comments and feedback I get.  I try to limit spoilers to a minimum needed to get my point across, but I am really, really serious as well in urging you not to read these adventure reviews if you are a player.  Like the early Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventures, the joy of discovery through play is seriously harmed by foreknowledge.  Don’t diminish your fun!
Okay.  If you are still here, I am going to assume that you are a judge.

In my own campaign world, I placed the Sunken City as a future version of New Orleans.  Why?  Because that is entirely in keeping with Appendix N authors like Michael Moorcock’s future/alternate Great Britain and Sterling Lanier’s future/alternate Canada.  Plus, with creatures like crocodillos, opossum men, and a giant catfish, I couldn’t help but imagine the Bayou!

Perils of the Sunken City describes Mustertown, on the outskirts of the Great City (in my campaign world, New Orleans sprawled as far as Shrieveport, which eventually became the Great City of Nawleans), as a place where 0-level funnel characters can muster themselves into a company, role-play a little, and (later) be evaluated in terms of how well they did and sell what treasures they may have found.  The Sending Stone and the associated demon named “Sender” are a clever means of starting a number of 0-level funnels in the same location, making a good portion of Perils of the Sunken City reusable throughout the life of a campaign.

The “perils” in the module are several, and they are well thought out and fun.  My players were able to avoid the crocodillos, but they did encounter the opossum men.  In fact, we had enough deaths in the upper works of the module and the area immediately below that some of the players ended up playing the opossum men funnel characters so kindly provided on the Purple Sorcerer website.  Opossum men are sort of amusing, and sort of disgusting….rather like one would expect.  When they fumble, they “play dead”!

(Let me note here that the Purple Sorcerer website also includes paper minis and printable battlemats as free bonus material….Along with its die roller and character generator, Purple Sorcerer is all about supporting your game, and I feel it is only fair to support them with my purchases!  I hope you do, too!)

Interestingly, the ruins being explored were an ancient arena, brought low because of the jealousy one patron had when a wizard took a second.  The first patron is not fully described in the module (sadly) but there is enough information in the module to make the judge wish that a patron write-up had been included.  Some of the PCs, after all, may end up tied to the patron to some degree.

My favourite encounter in the complex occurs in the latrines (!) but my players, unfortunately, bypassed it.  If you have read the module, you will know that it is not how the encounter plays out, but how it is written, that is so darn good.  Even so, it is an encounter that I will eventually echo in my home game, preferably at some point where comprehend languages can be cast!

Overall, Jon Marr is to be congratulated on such a strong adventure right out of the gate.  I found myself craving more, and was very glad when I could get my hands on Purple Sorcerer’s next offering.   Although I get ahead of myself on the “Everyone Else” series, The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk is enhanced by the Mustertown section of Perils of the Sunken City, so this module is really the “anchor” for exploring the Sunken City.  To say that I feel I got my money’s worth is an understatement – although I had bought it in pdf format, I also bought the print version when it became available.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Conan or Aragorn

A simple quiz. 

Which statement refers to Conan, which to Aragorn, which to both, and which to neither?

Original author sources only.

1. One of the greatest travellers of his era.
2. Became King of the greatest nation of his era.
3. That he was the rightful king was revealed by a broken sword.
4. Is stealthy in the wild.
5. Travelled under different names.
6. Was born on a battlefield.
7. Served in armies ruled by others.
8. Has dark hair.
9. Comes from the north.
10. Is descended from a smith.
11. Is descended from people who one dwelt in a lost civilization, and who escaped its sinking.
12. Is one of the greatest warriors of his time.
13. Has dealings with rangers.
14. Fights in a battle that includes oliphaunts.
15. Is aided by a wizard who was trapped by a rival wizard.
16. Gazes into a stone to uncover hidden knowledge.
17. Fought against hill men.
18. Is moved by music.
19. Is opposed by someone whose power is linked to possession of a singular Ring.
20. Is an able captain, both on land and on sea.
21. Speaks many languages.
22. Has moments of melancholy or fey moods.

Sunday 4 November 2012

DCC Crowdfunding

If you have been reading Tenkar’s Tavern, you will have noticed his interesting posts related to Kickstarter projects.  If you are not reading Tenkar’s Tavern, shame on you!  You should be!

I am currently involved in two Indiegogo projects:  Angels, Daemons, and Beings Between:  A Patron Sourcebook for DCC RPG, (which is funded, has its main product written, and is currently going through editing and layout) and In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer (which is currently pretty far short of its funding goal, but which has some kick-ass writing and art done for it already, and which I urge you to support). 

It is disheartening to note how many crowd funded RPG projects are behind schedule, and I am pretty sure that this affects the willingness of future crowd-funding efforts.

As far as I can tell, both projects I am involved with are on schedule.  In the case of the patron project, waiting for writing wasn't as much of a problem as determining what the best parts were, to fit into a book that is bulging at its seams.  Layout is taking a while simply because of (1) the large number of charts in a patron-based project, and (2) fitting all of this goodness into a single book of reasonable size.  

While I wrote a number of these patrons, I am more amazed by the creativity of the ones I did not write.  So, if you liked the previews on this blog, you should like the final product.  And, if you didn’t join in the crowd-funding, you should still seriously consider picking it up when it becomes available.

In the case of Squid Sorcerer, writing is proceeding extremely well, and the artwork is fantastic in my opinion.  Funding will determine more how this product comes about than if it does – and I urge you to consider funding so that the product will be in print (rather than pdf) right out of the door.  

Either way, the product is on track to be released in a timely manner, although no funding could push that timeline back a little.  Remember that Indiegogo products are tied to meeting goals; there is no risk of funding a project that doesn’t meet its primary goal, you’ve lost nothing.

My own contributions include (but are not limited to!) Tomb of the Squonk, Mermaids From Yuggoth, and one of the stretch goal module, a 0-level funnel where cavemen investigate a crashed spaceship.  I have had the opportunity to read through several other contributions, from more than one author, and I can say unequivocally that this book is going to be cool.  Because these are adventures, rather than a supplement like the patron book, I am hesitant to post serious spoilers here….doing so might damage your enjoyment of the final product.

Jumping into the fray of publishing is a huge undertaking.  I am currently engaged by several publishers, and I take all of these projects seriously.  The people I am working with also take these projects seriously.  Dungeon Crawl Classics is a great game, and I am seriously lucky to have be able to be contribute to it.

We have no intention of letting you down.

Friday 2 November 2012

Difficulty in RPG Scenarios

If you need each post of this blog to have “IMHO” and “YMMV” written into it, this is probably not the blog post for you.  I recommend that you just move along to the next blog.  Today I’d like to talk about something that relates to the sandbox series of posts, fudging, and the Dungeon Crawl Classics role playing game.  The topic is difficulty in role-playing game scenarios.

What is difficulty?  In this context, I am talking about when the players need to strive in order to succeed.  Note that I am not talking about their characters needing to strive – “The swamp is infested with leeches” has little bearing on the players, unless the players have reason to believe that the characters will be affected mechanically.  Nor am I talking about “pretend difficulties”, which miraculously clear themselves up regardless of what the players do (through fudging, for example, or the “timely” intervention of NPCs, or whathaveyou).

Contrary to what years of WotC-D&D have told you, a “difficult fight” is not simply one where the characters’ resources are stretched or used up, it is one where the players cannot rely on their usual tactics and still win, regardless of how their characters end the scenario.  In other words, even if the characters are beaten, bruised, and bloody at the end of the scenario, if they win without the players having to stretch their imaginations to figure out some new tactic beyond what they conventionally use, the scenario is not really difficult.

Because the game is about the players’ experience; the characters’ act as a conduit to that experience.

I recently ran a modified version of the haunted house from The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh as a 0-level character funnel.  It resulted in a TPK, as the players did not decide upon a stealthy approach, and eventually ran into almost all of the potential opposition in a single go.  Having allowed intelligent opponents to know that they were there, they ended up facing those opponents acting intelligently.  When things began to go south, they failed to change their tactics to match the situation.  And they died.  Which is as it should be – changing the outcome, fudging, or those other “GM tricks” to ameliorate outcomes train players not to change tactics when things go south.  Why should they, if they are consistently rewarded with “almost failing”?

One of the most exciting things about the Dungeon Crawl Classics game is the decision to make monsters monstrous.  Not only in the core rulebook, but in the modules.  Especially as the modules contain encounters that encourage players to think laterally…or die.  Even game mechanics like the warrior’s Mighty Deed of Arms require players to think about what is happening in the game situation, and strive for outcomes that will actually affect that situation.

The entire “Quest For It” section is a breath a fresh air in a role-playing environment where PC options have become a menu to select from.  Want a caveman character?  Here is a funnel adventure; hope you survive.  Want to learn a specific spell?  Your research indicates it might be learned from the un-dead lips of a colossal sphinx.  Good luck.

This sort of difficulty does not result in characters who are “cool” just because you thought up a neat way to use the rules – these characters are “cool” because you, as a player, overcame difficulty and made them cool.  And what they have gained is cool because no one else can get the same simply by picking up a splatbook or a character generator.  It is not bought.  It is earned.

The original Dungeons & Dragons modules were the same way; if you played them without fudging, players would have to overcome difficulty or characters would die.  A lot.  And that was glorious, because when you won, you had actually accomplished something.  You had to become a cannier player, one who could read a situation, decide what response was called for, and then – should events prove your decision wrong – adapt your strategy on the fly.

I know that there are players who prefer fudging.  I know that there are players who do not want to have to adapt, and who do not wish to face difficulty.  I know that there are players who want to feel the thrill of vicariously overcoming the illusion of difficulty without ever actually having even their characters in danger.  And, obviously, if you are one of these players, you may play whatever you wish.  But the farther down this road you go, and the less difficulty included in your games, the more that game becomes one where “there is no strategy involved – players are never required to make choices, just follow directions.”

To my mind, how utterly boring.

Thankfully, I have been blessed with excellent players over the years, including those who play in my regular weekly games and in my play-by-posts.  Thank you all, current players and past!  And thank you, Joseph Goodman & crew, for making a game that encourages the sort of play where players face difficulty on a regular basis!