Saturday 28 December 2013

Old School/New School

I run a weekly Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign, where I am by far the oldest person in the room, and the youngest is 14.  Suffice it to say, I have found that experience in playing is the largest determinant as to whether a player prefers old or new school styles.

Prior to choosing DCC RPG as my game of choice, I was working on my own system, which was intended to provide the feel of pulp fiction and pulp fiction characters, but which did not work as well despite being far more "new school" in several respects.  There was an initial push against DCC on the basis of (1) character death and (2) lack of customization.

As to the first, the intent of the game is that it begins with a "0-level funnel" in which, say, 16 PCs go in and 4 come out.  These become the party of adventurers.  As time has gone on, my players have become very adept at using their brains rather than their die rolls to survive even these lethal challenges, with the result that they are choosing their primary characters out of a pool of seconds.  Also, the funnel has changed from a "let's see who dies in interesting ways" exercise to a "let's see how many we can keep alive" exercise.  It is a battle of wits and luck, and it is a lot of fun.

As to the second, DCC RPG has a "Quest for It" ethos that says you can customize your character however you like, but you must seek out and accomplish the means to do this.  One strikingly cool way ties back into the 0-level funnel - by playing certain funnels, you can emerge with unique character types.  For example, I have run The Albuquerque Starport as a funnel with great success - several surviving PCs then becoming mutants. This need not end with the funnel - Stars in the Darkness (3rd level) offers replacement characters (for those whose PCs die) from another universe.  In an old-school game, customization occurs through recognizing and seizing opportunities, or through seeking them out.  It is not the result of mere selection from a menu.

On the other hand, while I agree fully that s/he who runs the game is the absolute master of the game, I also agree that, if that person is not running a game you enjoy, you should not be playing in it.  If you are in, IMHO, you should accept that the person running the game has ultimate authority, and do so with good grace.  If you are not in, IMHO, you should be fully not in and not whine that the person is not running the game you want.  Run it yourself, if you can find that game no other way.  Not surprisingly, this is pretty much the advice Mr. Gygax gives players in the 1e PHB.

As an easy example of this, if you are going to fudge while running your game, I would prefer to do something else.  However, as much as I dislike fudging, I will also absolutely support your right to do so, should that be what you want, and should you be able to find even a single player who wants the same.  That's fair in my book; we all get to seek out the game we want.

I have found that, where menu options are available, players focus more on building characters and less on game play.  Game play is almost a test of the build, rather than the focus of the game.  OTOH, when building characters occurs only as the result of game play, the game takes on a vibrancy that otherwise does not exist.  Your table may differ.

I have also found that, where options exist not as a process of the game milieu, but as a result of menus, players tend to focus on outlandish options to the detriment of the game milieu overall.  In some games, a "kitchen sink" approach may work well; in many, it becomes difficult to explain why a Jedi, a gold dragon, a LEGO man, an alternate universe version of Ghandi, and a Teletubby ranger are exploring the World's Largest Dungeon together.  Such things may be fun on one level, but they lack the cohesiveness that makes a game last IME.

(As a point of fact, when I ran the World's Largest Dungeon with the d20 System books opened wide for players to make full use of the menus, only one of those example characters did not appear.  That particular campaign did not last long, as the players recognized the inherent silliness of adventuring like this.  It is worth noting that, for the majority, it was not their own character who was perceived as the problem, or part of the problem, so much as the wonkiness of the other players' characters.  There is a lesson to be learned there, I am certain.)

What all this rambling comes down to may be that the new-school style is easier to play, in that the options are based upon known quantities rather than uncovering the unknowns of the game milieu, but I find the old-school style more rewarding overall due to exactly the same factors - exploration of the milieu is not rewarded in gold and XP alone, but also by additional options for the characters (and players) bold enough to dare, lucky enough to succeed, and intelligent enough to understand.


Tuesday 24 December 2013

Santa Claus in Appendix N

Santa Claus makes a brief cameo in Philp José Farmer’s Dark is the Sun, a novel which takes place at the end of the universe’s lifespan.  The earth is very old, and changed, having been shifted and saved many times by now-forgotten technologies.  Travelling across the world, the party discovers an ancient House:

The man sat stiffly, upright, unmoving, staring straight ahead.
Deyv had a creepy feeling that the man was looking into eternity.  Perhaps into infinity. 
He wore a cap of scarlet edged with white fur.  Its long tasselled top lay behind his head against the back of the chair.  Under it was a broad round face, red-nosed, red-cheeked, red-lipped.  The thick eyebrows were white, as was the long hair flowing from under the cap. 

A long and thick white beard fell over a large round paunch to the belt-line.  His jacket was scarlet, edged with white fur.  His belt was wide and black.  His pants were scarlet.  His calf-length boots were scarlet with white fur around the tops.  On the third finger of his left hand was a simple gold ring. 

“It certainly looks lifelike,” Sloosh said.  “It must be made of the same material as The House, though.” 

“I am not sure that it’s just a statue,” The Shemibob said. 

Deyv felt like leaving at once.  If he’d been alone, he might have.  However, if that had been the case, he wouldn’t have thought that it might be other than a figure made by the ancients. 

“Why do you say that?” Sloosh asked. 

“There’s no dust on it.  Also…” She swung the device so that they could see the floor in front of the block.  There were footprints in the dust.  They led away from the and to the block.

There is a bit more, of course, but it is a seasonal bit from an Appendix N author that, if you haven’t yet discovered, you may find in Chapter 40 (page 347 on my second printing edition).  

Compare the description with Clement Clark Moore's classic, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas:

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry.
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow. 

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly
that shook when he laughed like a bowlfull of jelly.
Coincidence?  I think not.

Happy Holidays!

Belshar of the Five Eyes

Wishing you & yours
a wonderful holiday season
& a happy new year!

Raven Crowking's Nest
proudly presents

Belshar of the Five Eyes

From where within the strange depths of space and time sprang the strange creatures known as the Brotherhood of Ten Wizards none can say.  Each appears swathed in an illusion of being a humanoid figure, whose features are hidden by a dark-shadowed cowl, in which a number of glowing and moving eyes – seemingly upon stalks or tentacles – are all that can be seen.  Those who have penetrated even part of this illusion tell of disquieting spider-like beings, although they seem keen to protect the dominion of men and the integrity of worlds.

There are only ten of these beings known, and each has a different number of apparent eyes, from none to nine.  The Eyeless Brother and the Brother of the Nine-Eyed Face are said to be the most powerful among them, but Belshar of the Five Eyes may be deemed a worthy patron in his own right.  Like his brethren, he seeks out good-hearted wizards and other champions, who he seeks to position to the benefit of his chosen milieu.  Many of the Ten enjoy meddling with each other, and Belshar of the Five Eyes is known to have such a relationship with both Mungblesh of the Three Eyes and desert-dwelling Jawag of the Two Eyes (who is perhaps the most normal-appearing of the Ten, although also the shortest). 

It is not unknown for each of these three to act as patron for three members of the same party, delighting in setting the sponsored wizards and elves against each other in minor ways for their own amusement.

The ceremony for Belshar of the Five Eyes may take place in any large urban area.

Invoke Patron check results:

The caster hears the dry, thin voice of his patron, encouraging him to his best endeavour, for no other aid is forthcoming.  This encouragement can be used to recall one lost spell to the caster’s mind, or to give the caster a +4 bonus on a single die roll, but not both.
Belshar has a moment to spare for the caster, and will psychically give the caster advice regarding his current situation, or a known situation that is upcoming.  While Belshar does not have as full a knowledge as the judge, he has broad knowledge about many subjects, and can generally offer some hidden information or excellent advice.  The nature of the advice should be determined both by the questions the caster asks, and Belshar’s motivations…which sometimes include his own amusement.  At the judge’s discretion, this advice can give a total bonus of no more than +8, to be split among one or more die rolls related to the advice given.
Belshar grants the caster a single-use magic item, such as a scroll or a potion, to aid him in his current quest.  This item is chosen for its usefulness, and can be as powerful as the judge desires.  For example, Belshar may offer a scroll that slays all other wizards within a mile radius, or a potion that can shrink the caster to a size needed to enter a maze of rat’s tunnels.  These are intended to be useful, but may result in amusing circumstances, as the Ten work to entertain themselves as well as to aid the multiverse.
The Five-Eyed One places some importance on the caster, or on the mission the caster is currently engaged in, and sends strong encouragement and an exhortation for the caster to succeed.  This is so encouraging that the caster immediately gains 5d4+CL bonus hit points.  All future damage comes from these hit points first, but damage already taken is unaffected.  Bonus hit points cannot be healed.  At the end of CLd6 x 10 minutes, whatever bonus hit points remain fade away.
Direct Intervention!  Belshar takes control of the caster, and casts a spell through him using his next Action Die.  This spell is cast with a +8 bonus on the spell check, and is determined randomly.  It does not matter if the spell caster cannot cast the spell, and there is no penalty (corruption or patron taint) to the caster for failure.  The spell otherwise acts as though the caster had cast it.  Roll 1d5:  (1) choking cloud, (2) colour spray, (3) enlarge, (4) magic missile, or (5) magic shield.
Direct Intervention!  Belshar takes control of the caster, and casts a spell through him using his next Action Die.  This spell is cast with a +10 bonus on the spell check, and is determined randomly.  It does not matter if the spell caster cannot cast the spell, and there is no penalty (corruption or patron taint) to the caster for failure.  The spell otherwise acts as though the caster had cast it.  Roll 1d5:  (1) invisibility, (2) mirror image, (3) monster summoning, (4) spider web, or (5) strength.
Direct Intervention!  Belshar takes control of the caster, and casts a spell through him using his next Action Die.  This spell is cast with a +12 bonus on the spell check, and is determined randomly.  It does not matter if the spell caster cannot cast the spell, and there is no penalty (corruption or patron taint) to the caster for failure.  The spell otherwise acts as though the caster had cast it.  Roll 1d5:  (1) fly, (2) gust of wind, (3) haste, (4) lightning bolt, or (5) planar step.
Eyes From the Overworld.  A thousand thousand glowing eyes emerge from some celestial overworld or another plane of the multiverse, surrounding the caster and up to CL allies within 100’ of the caster, protecting them from all harm and shielding them from all effects within the plane the caster currently inhabits.  The eyes transport the caster and his affected allies up to 10 miles through the overworld, emerging at a place chosen by the caster (or a random location if the caster does not choose).  The characters have CL rounds before they are transported to use spells or other means to aid themselves while so protected.  Once the characters re-emerge, the eyes fade back to the overworld.

Patron Taint:  Belshar of the Five Eyes

Dealing with Belshar is more annoying than corrupting, and most of the patron taint associated with the Brotherhood of Ten Wizards results from this.  Once all patron taints at all levels have been attained, the caster need not roll for patron taint in the future.  In addition, the caster gains a +5 bonus on all future rolls to determine corruption.

Irritation:  So irritating is Belshar’s sense of humour that it can become difficult to call upon him.  When this is first rolled, the caster must succeed in a DC 10 Will save to cast invoke patron to call upon Belshar.  If rolled a second time, the DC raises to 15.  If rolled a third time, the DC raises to 20.  Ignore all future rolls.
Spying Eyes:  When this patron taint is rolled, a glowing eye appears on a random part of the caster’s body, as determined below.  Although the eye is not functional for the character, it is an extension of Belshar’s eyes, and the patron can observe through them if he so wishes.  Once this is rolled five times, ignore all future rolls.  To determine eye location, roll 1d12:  (1) right hand, (2) left hand, (3) forehead, (4) back of the head, (5) chin, (6) chest, (7) back, (8) right knee, (9) left knee, (10) right foot, (11) left foot, or (12) nose.
Mission:  Belshar sends the caster on a mission to defend the integrity of the local world or the multiverse.  When this is first rolled, the mission requires the caster to travel no more than 1d5 hours, and requires the caster to defeat a minor threat whose Hit Dice are no more than the caster’s Caster Level (and are likely to be 1d3 less).  When this is rolled a second time, the threat is equal to the caster’s Caster Level, and the caster must travel no more than 1d5 days to meet this threat.  When this is rolled a third time, the threat is equal to the caster’s Caster Level +1d5, and the caster may be required to travel up to 1d5 weeks, or to another plane of existence, to meet it.  Once all three threats have been neutralized, ignore future rolls of this taint.
Amusement:  This seems similar to a mission, as of on a role of “3”, above, but when the caster encounters the supposed foe, it turns out to be a joke of Belshar’s.  The danger may be real, but the caster may find himself opposing a friend, discover that the adventure revolves around some horrid pun, or is otherwise designed for the amusement of the Brotherhood of Ten Wizards.  This can only be rolled three times, as with “mission”, above.
Lecture:  Belshar calls the caster to hear a lecture on some boring subject.  The first time this happens, the caster must travel for 1d5 x 10 minutes to attend Belshar, and must succeed in a DC 10 Will save, or he will fall asleep, and must repeat this level of patron taint before proceeding to the next when it is rolled again.  The next level of patron taint requires the caster to travel 1d5 hours out of his way, and requires a DC 15 Will save to stay awake.  The third (and final) level requires a DC 20 Will save and takes the character 1d5 days out of his way.  Although boring, each of these lectures has some relevance to events in the campaign milieu, or to the current adventure, and the caster gains a +4 bonus to a die roll of his choice in the next 24 hours if he manages to stay awake, as it pertains to the point Belshar was belabouring.
Mungblesh and Jawag:  If it is not enough to deal with Belshar’s sense of humour, the caster must also deal with the mad comedy of Mungblesh and Jawag.  Each time this patron taint is rolled, Belshar’s rivals play some dark joke on the caster, which is not intended to be deadly, but will make the caster’s life harder in some way.  The judge is encouraged to come up with the most twisted jests he can, and play them out against the caster in addition to the normal encounters of a given adventure.  This patron taint can only be rolled five times; ignore additional rolls.

Patron Spells:  Belshar of the Five Eyes

Belshar grants three unique spells, as follows:

Level 1:  Belshar’s Unwinking Eye.
Level 2:  Belshar’s All-Seeing Eye.
Level 3:  Belshar’s Rays of Burning Sight.

Spellburn:  Belshar of the Five Eyes

Belshar does not approve of spellburn, and grants it only reluctantly.  When a caster utilizes spellburn, roll 1d4 on the table below, or build off the ideas presented therein to create an event specific to your home campaign.

Spellburn Result
Belshar is repulsed by the idea of spellburn, and does not grant it at this time.  Unless the caster has another patron to call upon, he cannot utilize spellburn for the next hour.
Belshar reluctantly agrees to grant spellburn, but will grant no more than 5 points.  The caster’s soul is connected to a benign overworld, which drains his energy (manifesting as Strength, Agility, or Stamina loss).
Belshar grants the effect of 1d5 points of spellburn without cost.  Unless the caster has another patron to call upon, he cannot utilize spellburn for the next 1d5 hours.
Belshar grants the effect of 1d5 points of spellburn without cost.  Unless the caster has another patron to call upon, he cannot utilize spellburn for the next 1d5 days.

D.A.M.N! Issue 1

The inaugural issue of DCC RPG Adventure Magazine & News is now available at RPG Now.

Forsaken Reavers of Praeder Peak - Paul Wolfe

An adventure for 6 to 10 characters of levels 2 to 4. Taking place in the tropical setting of Praeder Island,  the players will have to brave the harsh wilderness, battle reptile ghuls and uncover a new patron, The Queen of Abominations.

The Mysterious Valley - Daniel J. Bishop

An adventure intended for use as a mini-sandbox. Inspired by the works of the late Ray Harryhausen, the players will learn of the wizard Harhasen. With laboratories beneath his tower, he bred monsters from both Men and Animals.

The Snow Queen - Garett Oliver

An adventure for 4 to 8 4th level characters,  or 4 to 6 6th level characters.

The City of Thalos, built by Elves, was said to be the City of Eternity. The city that was lost under ice,  has now been unearthed by Dwarves. The players must now battle both foes and the winter climate to uncover the mystery of The Snow Queen.

The Barbarian - Godric McKellan

A new warrior inspired class for DCC RPG,  The Barbarian offers players an alternative to the warrior class.

Converting Material to Dungeon Crawl Classics - Daniel J. Bishop

Want to run that favorite module for DCC RPG? Well now you can! Daniel offers the tools you need to convert material from other systems for use in DCC RPG.

Monday 16 December 2013

He Is Here

At the waning of every year, as the sun grows closer to the horizon, and spends less time in the sky, there comes a time of terrible cold and deep snow to the lands of the north. The world waits with hushed breath for this, the longest night of the year, to be over. 

 Soon, the sun will begin to climb higher each day, and the days grow longer. Although long stretches of cold weather are yet to come, this is the night in which winter’s back is broken. After tonight, the world turns slowly back to warmth and light. 

 But that is after tonight. 

Perils of the Cinder Claws presents two holiday-themed adventures, The Thing in the Chimney (1st level) and The Nexus of Yule (3rd level), as well as the Cinder Claws himself as a potential patron (complete except spells). 

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Angels, Daemons, & Beings Unseen

I hate to speak ill of a project that I am involved with.  I think that the reasons for that are fairly obvious.  But at some point, one has to take a hard look at the landscape. So today we’re going to look at the Indiegogo campaign for Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between. This is a hard post to write, because I don’t want to appear unprofessional, but neither do I want to become part of a conspiracy of silence while you wait and wait without any word as to what is happening.

Sean Connors posted an announcement approximately 1 month ago on the Indiegogo site 

hi all it is with great pleasure that i can tell you that everything has been dispatched.It should be with you by Christmas.
Sorry for the delays at the end but it will be worth the wait.
Thank you all for your support and we all look forward to your feedback.
If you do not not have your order by Christmas Day please email me directly to update me.
Many many thanks
Sean Connors 

There are a lot of questions about these materials, and I cannot find any reference to anyone have received these after this message.  I should have received two copies of all materials as part of my payment for involvement in the project, and as of this writing, I have received nothing.

I wrote the majority of Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between (although not necessarily the best entries – Paul Wolfe may well get that credit!), contributed some artwork, wrote and formatted The Revelation of Mulmo, and wrote Pesh Joomang, The Ultimate Patron.  In order to create the best product possible, I took a pay cut on Angels, and took no money for the module, art, or Pesh Joomang.  Actually, I paid out of pocket to increase the amount of artwork in The Revelation of Mulmo.

Now, as far as The Revelation of Mulmo goes, I received a number of requests to reformat to fit to A4 size paper and with different “bleeds” to meet printer needs.  One result of this is that I feel fairly confident that printing was, at the very least, intended, and that whatever difficulties may have arisen probably occurred at the mailing level.

I am told that Sean is no longer answering emails from those who funded the project.  I have sent him emails related to the project, including one containing the text of this blog post to give him a chance to respond.  That email was sent 48 hours ago, and Sean has not responded.

I very much dislike being involved with a project that disappoints those who invest in it.  As some of you know, I have worked with John Adams to add materials to his own Brave Halfling kickstarter when it was foundering, because John was adamant that he would make things right for supporters.  I respect that.  At some point, I may wish to use Indiegogo to fund my own Shanthopal project, or similar work.  I don’t want my name tarnished by association.

I guarantee you that I will not initiate a crowd-funded project unless 80% or more of the writing is done, and that the crowd-funding would be used primarily for maps and cartography.  Well, as well as to help pay myself or other writers for work already done.

I cannot make print copies of the Angels project appear…even if I had the funds to do so, the legal rights remain with Dragon’s Hoard Publishing.  If you were one of the funders of this project, please drop me an email at ravencrowking at hotmail dot com, and I will do what I can to help restore your faith in the creators, if not in the publisher.

Monday 9 December 2013

He Is Coming

Ho ho ho!

Rating the 0-Level Funnels

Okay, if you are looking to get into Dungeon Crawl Classics, or are just considering what 0-level funnel to run for a new or existing group, you have a lot of choices.  Which is right for you?

Well, I can’t tell you which is right for you.  What I can do is try to rank the funnels against my own personal tastes and experiences.  The following list does not include Prince Charming, Reanimator (Purple Duck Games) or The Arwich Grinder (Craw! Fanzine), because I wrote them.  If I have forgotten any published 0-level funnel, please drop me a note to remind me, and I will try to slot them in the appropriate place.

There is no intention to imply that any of the following funnels are bad.  Nor is my ordering necessarily going to agree with the way anyone else would order these adventures.  There is no A-list, B-list, etc.  Anything that gets past the Goodman Games DCC Licensing process has already met a high bar.  But, if you are thinking of purchasing a new funnel, and for some unknown reason you aren’t purchasing one of mine (lol), here’s my rundown.

Sailors on the Starless Sea (Goodman Games):  This is still the iconic funnel adventure in the list, with lots of action, real strangeness, and an Appendix N feel that is hard to beat.  For any other game, this would be a high-level adventure.

Frozen in Time (Goodman Games):  Explicitly playable as both a 1st level adventure or a 0-level funnel, this is a very, very close second, and on some days I might put it first. 

The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk (Purple Sorcerer):  In turns Lovecraftian and farcical, and successful at both, this module combines social interaction, wilderness, and dungeon.  It is also our first introduction to the Mist Men, which is worth the cost of the module all by itself.

A Gathering of the Marked (Purple Sorcerer):  The longest funnel to date, this is slightly less effective than Ooze Pits, it is certainly has the potential to be a darker, and more character-defining experience for the PCs. 

Any one of these four could easily have taken the #1 spot, and, no doubt, half the people reading this think that I have these four adventures completely out of order.  The remaining modules are also good, but not quite as good.  Each of them, for different reasons, feels like the beginning of an adventure, to me, rather than a complete arc.  Which is okay, because these adventures also give you some real ideas as to what events might follow the 0-level funnel.

Perils of the Sunken City (Purple Sorcerer Games):  The actual funnel is Madazkan’s Court, and it is a great deal of fun. 

In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer (Mystic Bull; part of the In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer compilation):  A nautical theme, an interesting locale, pirates, and Cthulhu.  This funnel seems more like Lin Carter at his best than it does Lovecraft or Howard, but I like it.

The Witch of Wydfield (Brave Halfling):  She’s a witch!  Burn her!  This funnel makes good use of what might seem a real possibility in the lives of villagers in a DCC world.  The events therein could easily be part of a Poul Anderson novel.

The Portal Under the Stars (Goodman Games; part of the Core Rulebook):  There is a lot of good about this funnel, and a lot of the areas are themselves interesting, but the whole does not hang together as well as the previously ranked funnels.  There are a lot of Appendix N bits, which is great, and a lot of opportunity for PCs to do the right or the wrong thing, which is also great, but to me it did not jell as well as it could have.

The Ruins of Ramat (Brave Halfling):  As we get to the end of my list, I would like to emphasize again that I am putting great material in order, not ordering from great to mediocre.  The Ruins of Ramat has a lot going for it, but there were a few things that I thought kept it from a higher ranking.  First, the descriptions did not always match the visual aids.  Second, the khopesh swords have no damage listed.  Finally, I dislike the way D&D has handled confusion, and one encounter in this module relies upon the same handling.  That said, when I ran this module, a lot of fun was had.  The confusion bit was the only really questionable bit, and it can be fixed by treating the confusion descriptively, allowing the players to decide not to make attacks at shadows, and then allowing those shadows to attack them!  After than, any PC who attacks a shadow has an equal chance to target a friendly or enemy figure.

Attack of the Frawgs (Thick Skull):  This funnel is hampered by a somewhat linear nature, and by lingering unanswered questions.  For one-shots with a time limit, though, it easily jumps upwards to the top three.

The Long Sleep (Mystic Bull; part of the In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer compilation):  Again, nothing wrong with the funnel, but it is a bit short and linear.  On the other hand, if you picked this up, you have two funnels and a whole lot of additional material to play with.  I ran this as a side quest with 1st level PCs; it is a pretty fast playing adventure, and would work well for a pick-up game at a convention.

Remember that many older modules can be converted to 0-level funnels.  TSR-era and WotC-era D&D modules are the obvious choices, but writing stats for DCC is pretty easy, and you should consider converting modules for different systems, such as Gamma World, Traveller, MERP, Space 1889, and Stormbringer.  The results are worth the effort.

I would like to hear how you rate these funnels, what other adventures you have used, and where you think my own work slots in.

Good gaming!