Wednesday 31 October 2012

All Saints' Eve Miscellany

Happy Halloween! I'm on the road, but got time for a few quick cool things.

Do yourself a favor and check out this Cracked photo parade which has material for at least 10 Call of Cthulhu cases. Hail Nyarlathotep!

This is why you should never roll without backup in the medieval city:

I agree that the Purple Worm is the ultimate thing. Except for the Tatzelwurm, king of the Bavarian Underdark:

The plan to rob the wizard one coin at a time went fine, up to a point.

Monday 29 October 2012

Extremely Crass and Noisy: Gryllus for Monster Monday

The Gryllus is an interesting case for my Monstrous Monday Monster. I statted him up on a piece of typing paper in high-school, having seen him lurking under the furniture and around the bend in more than one Hieronymus Bosch painting (statuettes for sale at the EMuseum Store):

My Spanish book on Bosch identified this kind of creature as a Gryllus, etymology unknown - is it from the Latin for "cricket" or a reference to the crewman of the Odyssey who begged Circe not to change him back from pig to man? Anyway, the Gryllus appears all over in medieval iconography, whenever a manuscript-doodling monk or a cathedral carver got tired of doing torsos:

No-body on the right, no-head on the left.
And okay I'm going to let my 16 year old self take care of the rest of this post, vomit lakes, ordure bogs and all. Stats in parentheses are for the "Bakarout" sub-variety. I think these guys were meant to be the manes/larva equivalent for Tarterus. Ka-scan!

click to enlarge

As a bonus, here's a partially revised version of the gryllus, with improved (?) color illustrations, new stats, and a spiffy two-column layout - forecasting 2nd edition D&D in 1983! - that I never got around to finishing.

click to enlarge
And how would I stat them today, stripped down for generic Old School games?

Knight Gryllus: HD 3, AC 3 [16], MV 6, atk: bite d3 (wounds only heal from rest), spiked headbutt d6; def: non-magical weapons do half damage round down, mind: low, size: 0 (small), xp: 3 HD + 2 minor abilities.
(Visor down: AC 1 [18] but no bite)

Mage/Monk Gryllus: HD 2+2, AC 6 [13], MV 3, atk: bite d3 (wounds only heal from rest), spells as 4th level wizard/cleric, def: non-magical weapons do half damage round down, mind: high, size: 0 (small), xp: 2+2 hd + 1 major and 2 minor abilities.

Sunday 28 October 2012

How I Do Silhouettes

So, let's say I want to do one of my public domain silhouettes (see latest zip file, to the right.)

I took some "snapshots" of the process along the way as I was doing one for a weretiger recently. I'll take the lesson about halfway to where I have a decent tiger silhouette, but not go into what I did to "humanize" the tiger outline.

First, I do a Google search for "public domain tiger" and get this fairly clean black & white illustration. This part of the hunt is the most difficult but also the most fun. I check that it's actually in the public domain (the source site,, is pretty trustworthy).

The graphics software I use is GIMP 2, which is freeware. I'm still not fully conversant with its use of layers, but know some tricks to get around the annoying aspect of them.

First I copy the tiger from the image, then paste the tiger directly in a new GIMP window from the clipboard, using control-shift-V.

The next step is to clear away the background lines around the tiger. We want to get it to where the tiger outline floats free of the rest.

Next, a little darkening and reduction to plain black-and-white needs to be done, or the silhouette will have gray edges that interfere with the clean black line of the final transparent image. I usually accomplish this by turning the image's "brightness" down and "contrast" up using "Brightness/Contrast" in the Colors menu. Make sure the picture is in RGB format (Image > Mode menu) or this won't work.
We now have a darker-lined tiger with more complete lines. For extra assurance that the image is only black and white use the Posterize command under Colors and ask for only 2 colors. If you get weird colors, the image is not a true monochrome; use "Desaturate" under Colors to get it that way. 

Using the "fuzzy select" tool to the right of the lasso, I select the tiger, cut it out, select all, delete, and paste the tiger back in. There may be some trouble with layers here, but a control-H (to anchor the image) and control-A (to select the whole area) usually solves that. I then do some additional removal of extraneous lines and adding in dark spots to complete the outline, until the tiger is pretty solid:
Notice that this isn't the greatest stand-alone silhouette because the tiger's front legs overlap each other. You'll see that this will look a little weird in the final version. I don't mind because I want to edit out the legs and add in some human-like arms for the weretiger continuation, but having well-defined limbs is something to keep in mind when picking pictures for silhouettes.

Now here's the trick that saves a lot of work. Making sure that the tiger outline is complete, get the bucket fill tool and choose some color neither black nor white to fill the outside area. If there are spaces inside the silhouette, like the gap between an arm and body, those need to be filled too.

Now use the "Select By color" option from the Select menu to grab the red part. Cut it, select all, delete the screen (after returning the color picker to black foreground/white background) and paste it back in, finishing with control-h control-a:

And bucket fill the white with black, then go to Layer > Transparency > Color to Alpha:

Alpha is the channel that makes your image transparent, usually a good feature in a silhouette. Here, you should pick the same color that you used to fill around the outline - in this case, red. That will give you a final silhouette that has a transparent background and can go anywhere.

And so, there you go. Not too bad in spite of the weirdness with the front legs, and by the time I've turned it into a weretiger it looks like this:

Caught mid-transformation, with a little shear applied for weirdness, and a couple of ape arms glued on ... anyway, this is how I do 'em!

Friday 26 October 2012

Denny's Hobbit Menu Proves ...

That Bored of the Rings has won.
The boggies beat it before they took effect and, per Goodgulf's instructions, headed for the orange-and-green flashing sign at the center of town. There they found a gaudy plexiglas and chrome inn, whose blinking sign portrayed a boar, rampant, devoured by a mouth, drooling. Beneath it was the name of the inn, the Goode Eats & Lodging. Passing through the revolving door, the party signaled the bell clerk, whose nametag read Hi! I'm Hojo Hominigritts!. Like the rest of the staff, he was costumed as a suckling pig with false sow's ears, tail, and papier-mache' snout.
Congratulations to Messrs. Beard and Henney of the Harvard Lampoon.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

And Now, the Next Set of Baroque Spells ...

Illustrations from Robert Fludd's Utriusque Cosmi. These tend to a more destructive bent.

The Radiating Cloud of Seven Interfering Bands...

Mattoon's Perchancical Quartermaster ...

 The Subaqueous Egg of Bellorand ...

The Destructive and Formless Chaos and Void ...

Wundite's Whirligig ...

And this ... the Facade of Apollo and Marsyas, which may have once been invoked as a spell, but now is a permanent architectural feature of the magical academy at Dol Deriun.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Flip That Dungeon Cliche

"A room with a ceiling full of webs..?"

The cliche - spiders hiding in the webs, you can burn the webs, stuff is wrapped up in the webs.

"A statue with a missing arm ...?"

The cliche - find the arm, put it on, the statue comes to life, and usually is helpful.

"A table with a meal all laid out to eat?"

Ha ha, yeah right, it's a trap.

"So there's this lair of nine rats and  2000..."

Otherworld Miniatures' familiar diorama

Well, you get the idea. When I used to write poetry, one of the things I taught myself to do was to break cliche. A poem that's made up of turns of phrase that have been said before is, at best, a song lyric. If the first thing that comes to you when describing long hair is a waterfall, then flip that into lava, falling smoke, avalanche, waves of night, anything but the obvious.

Of course, not all the cliche busters work. You have to do something new and have it be meaningful. The hair in the poem can't be a cascade of weasels, nor can you plausibly open a chest and have a horde of butterflies carrying peanuts spring out. I'm just saying that we're coming up on five years of the Old School Refinement and pretty much all the obvious homages have been paid. Time to leave homage and go on the road. An adventure author can now invert, subvert or just ignore cliches.

I was going to have humanoids as the low-level feuding groups in my mega-dungeon but now I have different clans of mutant rats. I tried to give the bandit gang in the caves some more sinister secret than the usual robbing and looting. The race of crow-men that used to inhabit the rest of the caves and left its mark there is pretty different from the usual run.

So, trying to flip the cliches I started with ...

The webs are all there is. It's a web monster. Oh, and it burns ... but its pieces thrash about, fall, flap and float down to you like sticky sheets of napalm. If you're feeling nasty you can put a golden spider up in there - burning reduces it to scrap metal.

The statue doesn't have an arm to complete it. It's a statue of a one-armed adventurer. If it sees another one-armed person enter the room (even someone faking it), it will serve the person if the missing arm is the same arm, and fight him or her if the missing arm is different.

The meal ... well, here is where the subverted cliche itself becomes a cliche, the "gotcha" of the too obvious reversal, like "sympathy" characters who really are in need of help or demon idol gems that really can be looted with no problems. Here is where you might go sideways, with a mixture of good and bad effects. The demon doesn't come after you when you steal its eyes, but there's a subtle curse, starting with the thief's eyes turning the color of the gems ... yes, that really is a crying damsel in distress, but she turns out to be spoiled and annoying and a liability to the party's survival ... the meal is food of the gods, roll d6 on this table.

Any other favorite cliches or cliche-busting encounters out there?

Sunday 21 October 2012

"Thangobrind, We Will Avenge You!"

It seems that whenever people discuss the appropriateness of D&D or whatever other roleplaying system to a fictional genre - sword & sorcery, gothic horror, existential horror - the answer that I end up agreeing with is:

D&D should bring the story, the literary source should bring the setting.

The plot that D&D supports, a band of 3 or more diverse adventurers looking for discovery, gold and glory, comes from one specific kind of fiction, the adventure yarn - originated in the 19th century by the likes of H. Rider Haggard, but with precursors as far back as the Argonautica, the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Hercules! Orpheus! Jason! Castor and Pollux!).

Prof. Tolkien undoubtedly read these stories in his younger years and applied them to his tales, first the treasure hunters of The Hobbit and then the more epic yarn of Lord of the Rings. (If you ever wondered why the Woses are in Return of the King, just give them grass skirts and bones through their noses.)

The other genres don't really support this plot. Sword and sorcery is for one or two protagonists. Horror usually involves a person or group who is in distinct danger of getting killed or worse (I guess early level play supports this, if you take away the characters' ability to fight back.) Gothic horror is a completely different kettle of fish. Stories of chivalry - the kind that drove Don Quijote mad - have a lot of interwoven solo adventures, but nothing like a party adventure.

Sure, these stories can contribute creatures, landscapes, buildings, tricks, traps, enemies, situations. But ultimately, it's D&D's own posse of fighters, thinkers, healers, sneakers that gets dropped into them. Kind of like Abbott and Costello never really went all Gothic tragedy when they met Frankenstein, if your adventuring party gets dropped into Jane Austen, you had best believe they will be checking out the silver candlesticks and dueling Mr. Darcy.

Thangobrind, for those curious, is the protagonist of Lord Dunsany's great, laconic adventure story. Alone, he negotiates perils that are very D&D, gets his hands on a great luminous gem, and meets a sticky end at the hands (?) of its guardian. His story is not D&D ... but the story of the four adventurers who followed in his path and tried to take the gem, that is!

Thursday 18 October 2012

Adventure Format: All On One Spread

Just a quick sharing of an idea I had. Working on an adventure that will form the first "leg" of a larger megadungeon (and a stand-alone experience even if the whole thing is never finished), it occurred to me to banish two of the most frequent action-stoppers when I GM -

Pausing to look up monster stats

Pausing to look up the map.

So why not take a cue from one-page dungeons without being literally one-page, putting everything you need to know to play in a given section of the adventure on one two-page spread?

Below - intentionally at low resolution for now - is how that has turned out. Beside the map is a section with minimal monster stats, and space below each monster listing to mark hit points or make notes. I'm a believer in letting DMs roll their own hit points, especially because systems disagree on what a monster hit die should be.

There's going to be a larger map that shows how all the sections hook up, and probably it's a good idea to put notes about which pages the passages off map lead to, once I have that arranged.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Spell Cards: Phantasm, Harden/Soften

What can I say about the poor illusion? AD&D wrongfooted it with Phantasmal Force, spawning a thousand cries of "I disbelieve!" No, the illusion couldn't just mess with minds; it had to do psychosomatic damage. Yeah, everything had to do damage in those uncreative teenage combat-dungeons of yore, which is why the "2nd level damage gap" quickly got filled with black tentacles and flaming spheres when Unearthed Arcana came around.

But anyway, what can a wiser DM and players do with a mere non-damaging Phantasm? The possibilities are endless, and it becomes a contest of wits between players and DM. As the illusionist here, you are not just trying to create something, but do a psychological bank shot - show a thing that will have an effect on someone or something else. What would a hound made of shadow do when a small fluffy white cat saunters across its field of sight? This is the phantasm a certain gnome conjured up not so long ago in a dire situation, and being on the Faerie Roads (which are halfway already to Toontown) I allowed that a 5+ on d6 would plausibly distract each hound from the combat. I place this spell at first level because it rewards creativity, aids distraction and escape - vital for the puny starting party.

The Harden/Soften spell seems at first glance to be the weakest of the first level lot - a straightforward buff/debuff. But consider that in my system, chain mail plus shield gives AC 16, to which +3 adds a very formidable barrier; kobolds can only hit that 10% of the time.

Consider further that the spell is not just written as a buff/debuff, but as a physical effect. This is crucial to encouraging creative uses. What can you do with an iron flag ... a rope turned rigid ... a rubber sword ... in the name of all that's holy, think of the hairdressing implications!

Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Half-Stork Brings Half-Orcs

Ah yes, the eternal conversation on the sexual background of Half-Orcs.

The sexual background of Halford is a far better topic.
Why is this even an issue? Why was it seen as such an inevitability, that 2nd edition D&D purged half-orcs altogether from the core game? Why does Pathfinder leave this one aspect of sexuality in canon, rather than take the much wiser approach that the individual group should be free to turn the dial on this particular topic?

To reduce it to absurdity ...

DM: All right, this setting is a fantasy version of medieval Europe. You can choose your national background, or roll.
Player 1: I'll roll ... hey, I'm Irish ... and with Viking ancestry! The blood of the Lochlannach flows in my veins!
Player 2: Yeah, you know that means a Viking raped your mom, right?
Player 1: Excuse me?
Player 2: What do you think, they asked for her hand in marriage? I'm sorry, but it's just a fact of medieval life. Your character is a bastard conceived by force.
DM: That's not necessarily true. The Viking blood could have come from an earlier generation ...
Player 2: Who still got raped. I don't know why you're acting so shocked at these natural facts that are necessarily part of the setting.
Player 1: I dunno. Do I have to ...
Player 2: Yes. It's historical canon!
DM: Player 2, what kind of GM did you play under before that gave you the impression it was OK to act this way?
Player 2: Someone who didn't knuckle under to the political correctness brigade. Hey, my own character was a product of rape due to the setting and I handled it all right.
DM: Do tell ...
Player 2: You see, logic demands that evil creatures can only reproduce through the most evil kind of sex there is. My backstory called for my father to be a necromancer and my mother an anti-paladin. They had no alternative but to rape each other.
All: They what?
Player 2: It happens. Charm spells were involved in this case. You see ...
DM: Okay, okay, let's move on.

For those completely bereft of imagination, and who don't want to make a stand on a dubious setting detail that's about as productive as random ass-boils, here are six other ways half-orcs can come into being while keeping orcs evil.

1. Humans sometimes seek out orcish partners out of decadence and perversity.
2. The orc is the most evil race there is. Those who actively promote evil willingly breed with orcs on ideological grounds.
3. Humans are not born orcs, but become that way through mutation or evil deeds. A half-orc is one who has willingly or otherwise arrested his or her orcish development.
4. Half-orcs are artificially bred by test-tube wizards.
5. Inbreeding leads to half-orcism. Inbred half-orcs in the past produced full-orcs.
6. Half-orcs are part of the normal genetic variation of orcs - they happen  to look sufficiently human, if ugly, to "pass" in human communities. Likewise, there are very ugly humans who can "pass" as half-orcs.

Monday 15 October 2012

Monster Monday: Jenny Haniver, Sea Clergy, and Morkoths

I guess it's another Monster Monday.

"Jenny Haniver" is a term with any number of possible etymological fathers but no clear origin. It refers to folk-art creations of sailors in the medium of dried skate (the fish), purporting to be preserved carcasses of fantastical monsters.

Sometimes a Haniver is made in a squid-headed humanoid form, further reinforcing age-old tales ...

of humanoid creatures under the sea with pointed and tonsured heads ...

argued by the eminent Danish scholar of cephalopods, Japetus Steenstrup*, to be little more than misidentified giant squid:

But we know better, don't we? We know about the morkoth. Does this look like a Jenny Haniver to you?

 Um ... okay, well maybe it does.

JENNY HANIVER: Size S, numbers appearing 2d10, HD 1+1, AC 8 [11], MV 6 flying/6 swimming, AT d3 bite, Intelligence: animal.

This is a curious flying marine predator of far-away climes, with leathery skin, about the size of a small cat. They travel in flocks and are known to leap on board a ship en masse to harass and bite the crew. For this eventuality, wise captains keep stocks of netting on board when sailing haniverous waters. They mummify easily and some sailors make a living from selling them.

SEA MONK: Size M, numbers appearing d12 or d12x3 in lair, HD 3+1, AC 5 [14], MV 6 swimming, AT d3/d3 nonlethal flippers, spell use as 3rd level cleric, Intelligence: average.

These gregarious creatures collect in small communities to farm seaweed, raise sea snails, and serve various undersea deities, with some "abbeys" being lawful and some more sinister. Lairs are often guarded by 1d6 monk seals.

SEA BISHOP: Size M, numbers appearing d3, HD 7+1, AC 3 [16], MV 6 swimming, AT d6 headbutt nonlethal, spell use as 7th level cleric, DF ink cloud. Intelligence: high

Be they pious or debauched, these creatures have a strong connection to the kind of deities worshipped by sea monks, but prefer to lead and advise others rather than group together. They can be found in communities of sea monks, mermen, tritons, locathah, or sahuagin. In danger they can spew a 20' radius ink cloud in the water to confuse enemies and make good their escape.

* As far as I can tell Steenstrup and "Mr. Sluperius" were real guys and not fake tome authors from an off-brand Mythos tale.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Hester's Exacting Accountancy

Also known as "My last two posts met, fell in love, and had a baby together."

Another Orange-Silver School hybrid, the spell being of the third rank and comprehensible by casters of level five and above. The skinflint wizard of the nineteenth aeon, Hester Zeleny, gave this spell her name and some of her nature.

This spell creates a communicative bond with up to ten thousand coins within a 10' radius of the caster, who must handle a few of the coins to get the spell working. Groups of coins that are visually hidden from the caster are not included.. The coins may be commanded to do any of the following within the spell's three-hour duration:

1. Count themselves. After 1 minute, a spokes-coin for the hoard - the most valuable metal, the most venerable date - leaps up and gives an exact count of the stash, by material and number. Coins speak in the voice of the monarch, deity or other personage on their obverse, otherwise in the voice of whatever heraldic beast decorates either side, and lacking even that, in a tinny, emotionless voice.

2. Pack themselves. In the space of 1 minute, the coins roll and dutifully hop into whatever new containers the caster provides, organizing themselves as best they can.

3. Roll on. The coins arise en masse, balance themselves on their edges, and roll as a herd, subject to the caster's will, as long as he or she maintains eye contact with the lead coins. The mass moves at a rate from 60' to 120.' Two-legged creatures who try to move with coins underfoot must save as if standing on magical grease or fall, unless the caster commands the swarm to avoid them.

4. Tell tales. One of the coins, at the caster's choice, once per casting of the spell, will relate how it last changed hands (other than to the caster). This may include what the trade was for, who stole it or picked it up, etc.

Friday 12 October 2012

9 Rats, 2000 CP: 5 Variations On a Theme

1. The rats have built a 3' cube fort using the coins as partial material, glued together with saliva and chewed wood.  When attacking from the fort they have +4 AC against reprisal as they dart in and out of the holes. They also have set up slingshots within that launch two sharp-edged coins per round with a 50' range, each doing 1-2 hp damage. The fort is destroyed with 3 blows of melee weapons each doing 3 hp or more, but then the material and coins will tumble into a long pit below.

2. (Inversion I) This huge cavern's floor is carpeted with 2000 small rats, a quantity almost impossible to kill without extreme measures. Anyone stepping within the horde will take 6 attacks per round each doing 1 hp and having a 5% chance of disease. In the middle is a stack of nine giant copper discs, each worth 100$.

3. The party must pull an unmarked lever to open a secret door, remove the treasure in the lap of a giant demon idol to uncover a trapdoor leading down, ring a gong in the middle of a vast cavern filled with 1000 inanimate skeleton warriors in order to lower a drawbridge, and stick their naked hands in the mouth of a green devil face to open the final door that leads to ... nine rats and 2000 cp.

4. (Inversion II) There are nine small disks of flesh here which roll on bone-milled edges to attack, each one biting with a sharp-toothed king's face and having a heraldic shield on its other side (1/2 hd, AC 6 [13], MV 15). The treasure is 2000 miniature rats of copper, each the size and weight of one coin, which were minted as an offering of thanks after a plague.

5. The Mad Archmage has a watchful presence here. If any players - in and out of character - complain about the boring or unchallenging nature of the rats and copper pieces, each rat - alive or dead - becomes an angry mature red dragon, and the copper pieces turn to platinum. This effect can be cancelled if any of the players can produce a complete megadungeon of at least 400 rooms that they have authored, each room with contents more interesting than nine rats and 2000 cp.

Thursday 11 October 2012

The Appeal to the Seven Worthy Elders

This augury mingles Orange School with Silver School principles. Its author is lost to our knowledge, but was likely prompted by the idea that multiple authorities are more reliable than just one. The efficacy in praxis of the concept is left to the caster to judge, who must be of at least the fourth caster level, notwithstanding this being a spell of the second rank.

On casting this spell, disembodied luminous heads appear in the air before the caster, bearing portions of the intellect and personality of seven deceased sages and solons from long-forgotten kingdoms. A question may be put to them, which they will endeavor to answer. Alas! their knowledge is as dusty as their original tombs. Each of the seven Elders answers in turn. Roll a d12 if the question concerns the natural world, matters more than a thousand years old, or the secrets of the cosmos; a d20 if it concerns matters gone by between a thousand and a hundred years ago; and d100 if you trouble the Elders with the trivia of the past hundred years. If you ask them for a secret that has been known to fewer than ten people, their only true answer will be a profession of ignorance.

1-2: The Elder will give an accurate and mostly true answer.
3-4: The Elder will give a partly true answer, possibly veiled in a second meaning.
5-6: The Elder will give a completely wrong answer, which however will be the same as the wrong answers advanced by other Elders on a roll of 5-6.
7-8: The Elder will give a completely wrong answer different from any other Elder.
9-10: The Elder admits ignorance of the matter.
11: The Elder takes exception with the immediately preceding Elder's opinion, giving the true answer if the other's answer was false, or a false answer (as on a roll of 5-6) if the other Elder's answer was true. If this is rolled for the first Elder, he or she will admit ignorance.
12-100: The Elder spouts gibberish or irrelevancy.

Moreover, on an odd roll the answer of the Elder will be delivered with confidence and certitude, while on an even roll, hedging and doubts will surround it.

A great variety of personalities will reply to the call of this spell, which often creates a lively contrast of styles.Below are some of the more frequently encountered characters.

Ignoramus the Know-Nothing (self-effacing)
The Unheeded Prophetess of Yort (manic/depressive)
Zossimus (terse)
Elmo the Eclectic (wildly speculative)
Hypatia (calm)
Bonobius the Cynic of Cynics (sneering)
Abdul Alhazred (sinister)
The Violet Bard (rhyming)
Balsamo the Brazen (blustery)
Carnacq (smug)
Sophronia the Conqueror (stern)
Vingax, the Enlightened Gnome (obsequious)
Aratron Chobasion (jovially cryptic)
Grug Big-Head (words of one syllable)
The Dust Lich Vorbogue (wistful)
Quothar (argumentative)
Yi Piao the Hundred-Mother (scolding)
Xig of Fomalhaut (ineptly colloquial)
Mahalogonnis (skeptical to a fault)
NULLITY, The Philosopher Formerly Known as Baranerges (resigned, despairing)

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Megadungeon Dilemma

Well, now that Joe Bloch's Castle of the Mad Archmage is no longer freeware, in preparation for its release next year complete with an original surface and first level, I have a dilemma. Some time ago I expressed my intent to release, for free or donation, the first level I designed for Joe's Castle, Cellars of the Castle Ruins, which many groups have played in for the past two years.

I'm now considering leaving Joe the completion of his project and instead pillaging some of the better ideas from my level for a new mega-project I've started on. Manden Gouge is a fate-heavy mountain pass with a long and troubled history and several linked underground areas, including the underlevels of the ruined castle known as Karthew's Legacy, the Shrine to Saint Ferdenon, the Tower of the Azure Mage, a mountainside cave complex, and the undergalleries uniting them all.

The idea with this project is to raise the bar on design, avoiding or subverting what has come before. The rats in this place are doing more than guarding some copper pieces, I guarantee! To be fair, that's also true of the Cellars, but its overall design is more freewheeling and gonzo, with many inside gaming and Greyhawk jokes.

So, which way should I go?

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Spell Cards: Sleep, Force Shield

Oh, the ever lovin' Sleep spell. It steps into an Old School game at level 1 and forces a decision on the house-rules writer. Do you let it stand as written, or cut it down to the equal of its peers? Many a debate on forum and blog has weighed the imponderables of the situation.

Above is my current nerfing of the classic Sleep. I've waffled back and forth, at times going for the "up to 4 HD but save" approach, which makes it less all-powerful at low levels but preserves its utility well into the mid-levels. Perhaps I did the wrong thing - my 4th level party, finding it useless, traded it away at the Faerie Market for that divinational spell of most uncertain application, the Appeal to the Nine Worthy Elders (more on this later).

Probably the biggest balancing factor I applied was to make it only affect creatures that, you know, biologically sleep. This takes away its applicability to a lot of low-level pests, leaving only soldier-types, rats, and the miscellaneous animal.

The voluntary application is my attempt to make it useful for even high level parties. Restful sleep implies a higher healing rate, but also a deeper sleep from which to be awoken in case things happen in the night. You'll sleep as deeply as if you were in a safe inn, even camping in the dungeon.

Anyway, in spite of my doubts about Sleep, I'm on firmer ground with the blue spell, combining Shield, Floating Disc, and Hold Portal capabilities. Loading all three limited-use spells into one slot seems like a winning move to me.

Monday 8 October 2012

Monsters Rejected by AD&D, Smoking and Bitching in the Back Room

I thought I'd pay homage to a whole month of Monster Mondays in my own way... These guys are known to me via the amazing public domain resource FreeDnDArt.

"So the guy convinces me, beagle kneepads, beagle elbowpads, why not go the whole nine and get lamb nipples? You gotta remember, this was 1982 and everyone was sure there was gonna be a Fiend Folio II. Okay, okay, but you'd think there'd be at least a loose leaf page for me in the 90's. Still in the game though, waiting to hear back on my Death Carnival Doom audition."

"You gotta wonder who the Tirapheg had to ... whatever it is they do. But can you believe, this agent I had back then? She actually said I should try out as a Chimerapheg. Hel-lo?"

"I met this guy in Portland at Burning Man, he's Facebook friends with the dude who made that one Mastodon video."

 "I was Beak Dog before all the hipsters got into it."


"I think we all had high hopes for Planescape."

Sunday 7 October 2012

One-Nerd Character Sheets

A game that's appealing to new and nontraditional players need not have simple rules, just a referee who's willing to take on the burden of dealing with the rules ... at least that's what I argued a few weeks ago.

I want to get specific now about ways  to tackle an issue I have special awareness of. For the past 15 years or so I've been teaching statistics and methods at the undergraduate and masters' level to psychology students. A lot of them are smart, but just have an unease or outright dislike when it comes to numbers. This is often a gender issue, but not always. Of course, to use statistics I have to deal with numbers, but try to soften the blow by using concepts and figures more than equations in teaching.

My question is, how many people like this have frozen over when they see a form to be filled in with numbers, numbers, numbers?

This resemblance can't help.

And how many would be more at ease playing a game that rewards their talents of verbal expression, imagination, logical thinking, problem solving - while only having to deal with six one-digit numbers, a hit point score, and their money and experience totals?

Here's the current character sheet I use for my games (click these to enlarge).

Now here it is split up into two: a basic player's sheet stripped of most of the statistics and numbers, and a basic referee roster where they all go.

 For extra simplicity, I suggest flipping the bonus and score areas of the ability scores, so that the 3-18 roll goes in the little dash to the right, and the bonus/penalty/0 goes into the big box on the left.

The "good at" and "not so good at" boxes are there for the player to make notes on the DM's summing up of their skills.

Most of my current players are avid roleplayers who are comfortable with the numbers and sums. Some of them would even feel uncomfortable without being able to look and see exactly what their character numbers do. But if I ever have a chance to run games for non-gamers - kids or grownups - I'll give this approach a shot.