Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

D&D at the Royal Ontario Museum

I've long thought that roleplaying games would be an outstanding tool for museum programming and it turns out that some other visionary thought so, too, and actually made it happen.

The Royal Ontario Museum is hosting a Saturday morning D&D campaign for kids 11-14 years old, which utilizes material from the collections to teach kids about myths, monsters, and weapons of ancient cultures.  Talk about a great way to bring history alive!  I wish something like this had been around when I was a kid.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Delving Deeper

I had the opportunity, this past weekend, to peruse the Delving Deeper rule books, which can be downloaded for free from RPGNow (Adventurer's Handbook, Referee's Guide, Monster & Treasure Reference).  I was very impressed with what the authors, Cameron Dubeers and Simon J. Bull, have created.  This is the most faithful reproduction of the original D&D rules that we have seen yet and it is very well-written and organized.  Indeed, Delving Deeper is what D&D might have looked like if it had been written by J. Eric Holmes.  What sets Delving Deeper apart from other retro clones is the clarity of its writing, and its effective organization and layout.  Everything from the original three rule books, and more, is included and explained very clearly and simply, and the comprehensive table of contents makes it easy to quickly find the information you need.


Volume 1: The Adventurer's Handbook is what one would expect, providing character classes, equipment and spells in a compact thirty-seven pages.  The core classes: Fighter, Cleric, and Magic User are detailed, along with rules for Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings.  The Thief is also presented as an optional class.

Following the character classes are some very useful guidelines for NPCs including Hirelings, Retainers, and Mercenaries, Loyalty and Morale, Monster NPCs and Relatives, including provisions allowing characters to bequeath their possessions to their next of kin so that in the all-too-likely event that they die, they can pass on their goods to their next character.

The equipment section is short and to the point, and includes useful guidelines for the weekly cost of a character's upkeep.

Following the spell descriptions are rules for spell research and enchanting magic items.


The Referee's Guide contains all the information that a game master needs to run a campaign in just twenty-nine pages, and is especially useful for first-time game masters; I found myself wishing I'd had this book when I was starting out.  Following a short introduction to creating a campaign setting, there is an extensive section on dungeon creation, which includes an obligatory dungeon cross-section, and stocking tables for populating a dungeon on the fly, random dungeon encounter tables, trap tables, and a sample dungeon level.

Following the all-important guidelines for dungeon creation, are rules for underworld exploration and combat and, just like in the original little brown books, there are sections detailing wilderness exploration, seafaring exploration, and aerial exploration.  These include random tables for detailing wilderness hexes, encounter tables for each environment, rules for overland, oceanic, and aerial movement as well as rules for evasion and pursuit.  Taken as a whole these rules give you everything you need to run a hex-crawl campaign.  The book ends with rules for constructing strongholds - something every player will want to do at some point.

The Referee's Guide is the real gem of Delving Deeper.  The rules contained within set it apart from all other retro clones and as the name suggests, gives the game master the tools he needs to run his first campaign.

In volume three, Delving Deeper has, again, taken its cue from the original source material and presented the monster statistics in tabulated form, followed by a chapter of monster descriptions that are free of game mechanics.  This is how I like a monster book to be laid out.  I dislike the Monster Manual-style of stat block followed by description for each monster entry, and much prefer descriptions to be separate from mechanics.  The tables of monster statistics are easy to use in game, giving the game master all the monster information he needs at his finger tips without having to page through the whole book to look something up.

The monsters are followed by treasure tables and in similar fashion to the original rules, much space is devoted to magical swords, the sole province of the Fighter.

Though I've followed the development of Delving Deeper, I hadn't planned to buy it, content as I was and am, with Swords & Wizardry Whitebox.  After reading the PDF's, however, I've changed my mind - I was pleasantly surprised by the high fidelity with which Delving Deeper emulates the original rules.  I'm planning to soon begin a D&D campaign for my daughter who is now old enough to be introduced to the joys of role playing, and for several weeks I've been trying to decide which rule system to use.  Now that I've seen Delving Deeper, my search is over; it is nearly the ideal game for introducing young children to the hobby, lacking only interior illustrations to capture a child's imagination.  Consequently, these free PDFs have sold me on the game and I will soon be ordering a boxed set of my own.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Crime and Punishment in Catapesh

If you are running a city-based campaign, as I am, and the player characters habitually wake up naked in jail, you will inevitably find yourself in need of some way of dispensing justice to your merry band of scoff-laws.  It seems almost to be a universal rule that players + cities = trouble; there are just so many opportunities for mischief and it is the nature of players to exploit these to the fullest extent.

The following crime and punishment table is inspired by the one in Judge's Guild's City State of the Invincible Overlord, but has been customized to reflect life in the City States of Lemuria.

The outcome of a trial is determined by a d20 roll on Table 1.  This roll is modified according to the severity of the crime, the magistrate's temperament, bribes, and the character's Charisma score (described on the modifiers tables, below).  Once the outcome is determined, roll on the appropriate punishment table to determine the specific details.

MODIFIERS TO OUTCOME
(If subject is charged with multiple crimes, use the modifier for the most serious offense, then adjust it by -1 for each additional charge)

Severity of Crime                                                                        Outcome Modifier
Dueling, Public Nuisance, Drunkenness                                                +2
Bribery                                                                                                   +1
Public Debauchery, Trespassing, Property Damage                              +0  
Theft, Arson, Resisting Arrest, Extortion, Blackmail                                -1
Assault, Rape, Kidnapping, Tomb-Robbing, Piracy                                -2
Murder, Necromancy, Treason, Trafficking with Demons                       -3
Tax Evasion, Smuggling                                                                         -4

Roll      Magistrate's Temperament                                          Outcome Modifier
1          'Hanging Judge'                                                                        -4
2          'Tough on Crime' Crusader                                                      -3
3          Hung Over                                                                                -2
4          Irritable                                                                                      -1
5          Scrupulously Impartial                                                                0
6          Cheerful                                                                                    +1
7          Sympathetic                                                                              +2
8          'Bleeding Heart' Reformer                                                         +3

Bribes                   Charged with Bribery                                   Outcome Modifier
100 gp or more                15%                                                               +1
250 gp or more                10%                                                               +2
500 gp or more                 05%                                                              +3

Charisma                                                                                   Outcome Modifier
Below Average                                                                                        -1
Average                                                                                                   0
Above Average                                                                                       +1
                                                      

Table 1: OUTCOME OF TRIAL       

Die Roll         Outcome
1 or less         Execution
2                    Dismemberment
3-4                Imprisonment
5                    Flogging
6                    Enslavement
7                    Indenture (roll on Jail table for duration)
8-9                Jail
10-11            Fine
12                  Probation
13-17            Dismissal
18-20            Favourable Judgement


OUTCOME SUBTABLES (Roll for Result)

Execution                 Dismemberment       
1. Beheading             1. Hand                      
2. Hanging                 2. Foot                    
3. Impalement            3. Tongue                  
4. Sacrifice                 4. Eye                        

Imprisonment            Flogging (1d4 dmg per ten lashes)
1. Six Months            1. Ten Lashes
2. One Year              2. Twenty Lashes
3. Three Years          3. Fifty Lashes
4. Five Years             4. One-hundred Lashes
5. Ten Years             5. One-hundred and fifty Lashes
6. Twenty Years        6. Two-hundred Lashes

Enslavement to            Indenture to
1. City Work Gang      1. City Work Gang
2. Galley Oarsman      2. Farm Work Gang
3. Mines                      3. Mines
4. Gladiatorial Pit        4. Plaintiff
5. Brothel
6. Plaintiff
7. Overlord
8. Atlanteans

Jail Term                       Fine Amount
1. Ten Days                  1. 10 gp
2. Thirty Days               2. 100 gp
3. Sixty Days                 3. 500 gp
4. Ninety Days              4. 1,000 gp
5. Six Months                5. 5,000 gp
6. One Year                  6. All Possessions

Probation
Roll on Jail table for period of probation.  Guilty party may not bear arms or armour, and must report to the gaolers once per week.

Favourable Judgement
The accused is acquitted and receives financial compensation from the plaintiff.  Roll on the Fine table to determine the amount of the award.
               

Monday, October 1, 2012

Session 14:

After a long summer hiatus we have resumed play where we left off:  with the party enriched by an enormous trove of treasure recovered during their last foray into the catacombs beneath the necropolis.  The subsequent night of celebratory debauchery ended with Ebbin naked in jail, and no idea how he got there.

The following morning Ebbin was hauled before a magistrate, hung-over and clad in a mildewed potato sack, charged with public drunkenness.  The city watch testified that they found him passed out in a public fountain, but the magistrate was in a cheery mood and dismissed the case.

Concerned for the whereabouts of his armour, magic weapons and, most especially, his Gauntlets of Aten, Ebbin and his compatriots returned to the tavern where they had been drinking the night before, and the barkeep recalled that Ebbin left in the company of a dancing-girl named Sulma, who worked at a bawdy-house called Gilded Lilly's.

They found Sulma on stage at Gilded Lilly's, dancing for a small afternoon audience clad in naught but the tabard of a templar of Aten.  Ebbin leaped onto the stage demanding the return of his gear and attempting to take back his tabard, but was grabbed and hauled bodily off the stage by a burly, looming Khurgani barbarian in the employ of the house.  Sensing, correctly, that Ebbin was seconds away from picking a fight with the bouncer, Xuphor defused the situation by speaking to the proprietress, Lilly, who promised to speak to Sulma at the end of her set.

Sulma admitted to taking Ebbin's things after he passed out in the fountain, but only to 'keep them safe.'  Unfortunately, on the way home she was accosted by a notorious loan shark named Haroun, and his thugs, who took all of it in payment for the 100 gp debt she owed him.

Their conversation was overheard by one of the patrons lurking in the nearby shadows, a guild-thief named Roary, who just so happened to owe money to Haroun, himself.  Seizing the opportunity to eliminate his creditor and turn a profit in one stroke, Roary introduced himself and offered, for a small fee, to help the party ambush Haroun during his collection rounds.  He led them through the maze-like tenements of the poor quarter, known by the locals as Hope's End, to a narrow alley-way where he was sure that Haroun was soon to pass.  Sure enough, before long Haroun and his two body-guards did, indeed, enter the alley.  The two guards fell in the ambush, but the cunning Haroun got past Xuphor and escaped into the labyrinthine streets of Hope's End.

Roary was sure that Haroun would retreat to the safety of his offices to gather reinforcements and urged the party to head directly there.  Roary knew that Haroun had recognized him and feared that he would appeal to the master of the thieve's guild, in which case Roary would be in a great deal of trouble - the kind that ends with you floating face-down in the harbour.  Thus, he was desperate to find and kill Haroun before he could squeal to the guild.

They arrived at Haroun's offices and found a couple of his henchmen waiting for them, but no Haroun, only an open trap-door in floor Haroun's warehouse, that led to the sewers.  After dispatching the henchmen, the party descended into the sewers, but were promptly ambushed by a crocodile hiding beneath the surface of the water.  When the croc was dead they noticed that it was tethered by a length of chain - the beast was obviously a guardian for Haroun's planned escape route.  Xuphor, who stayed above to inspect the warehouse, found all of Ebbin's equipment lying in a pile awaiting liquidation.  Giving up any hope of catching Haroun before he reached the Guild Master, the party decided to lay low for a awhile and head back down to the catacombs.  It is telling commentary of one's lifestyle when an undead-packed dungeon is the safe alternative to remaining in the city.

Once in the catacombs, the party continued their exploration, but spent most of the rest of the session battering down bricked up doorways and attracting the attention of prowling Mongrel Men and Sapphire Skeletons.  Just as they were about to call an end to their exploration and return to Catapesh to rest, the party discovered a narrow, crumbling passage-way and Roary decided to investigate it.  When he disturbed the rubble he was swarmed by giant centipedes; he succumbed to their poisonous bites and died a horrible death, though perhaps not as horrible as the fate the the Thieves Guild had in store for him, so perhaps it was a blessing.

The remainder of the party returned to Catapesh and, as they were being sought by a vengeful Thieve's Guild, took the obvious course of action: a night of drinking and whoring at the nearest tavern!  Ebbin sought ought Sulma for a quick tumble, then carried on with an evening of bacchanalian revelry that found him, in the morning....naked and in jail.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I am James T. Kirk

Sweet!
Now excuse me while I take my shirt off.

Your results:
You are James T. Kirk (Captain)
James T. Kirk (Captain)
70%
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
65%
Will Riker
55%
Worf
50%
Beverly Crusher
45%
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
45%
Spock
42%
Geordi LaForge
40%
Jean-Luc Picard
40%
Mr. Sulu
35%
Chekov
35%
Deanna Troi
35%
Mr. Scott
25%
Data
15%
Uhura
15%
You are often exaggerated and over-the-top
in your speech and expressions.
You are a romantic at heart and a natural leader.
Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Test

Monday, September 17, 2012

Brushing Up on Painting

The enormously successful Reaper Bones Kickstarter has encouraged a great many people to take up the miniature-painting hobby.  The Reaper forums have seen a surge of new members; some who have gotten back into painting after a long hiatus, and others who have never painted a miniature in their lives.  Consequently there are lots of new painters with questions about what kind of brush to buy to what paints they'll need to get started, and I thought it might prove useful to share the sort of information that I wish I had when I got back into the hobby about seven or eight years ago.

It can, indeed, be a bit overwhelming when you're just getting started, and the up-front costs are substantial as well.  While you can build up your assortment of paints over time, you'll need a decent number to get you started, along with at least a few different brushes.

Since a craftsman is only as good as his tools, I believe that good brushes, as your paint-delivery-system, are of paramount importance in getting the most out of your miniatures.  It is all well and good to understand the techniques of painting, but if you can't apply the paint exactly where and how you want it, they won't do you any good.

Brushes come in a wide range of prices and qualities, from cheap craft brushes that cost a few dollars apiece to Kolinsky Sable brushes that run from twenty-five to thirty-five dollars each.  My advice here is simple: you get what you pay for, so buy the best brushes that you are able to afford.  The cheapest craft brushes, like the kind you can buy at Michael's may seem like a good deal, but they aren't; they will wear out very quickly and need to be replaced so often that your 'savings' will evaporate rather quickly.

What you want for painting miniatures are round tip water colour brushes.  These are commonly available with synthetic bristles, synthetic/sable blends (also known as 'gold sable'), and natural hair bristles (e.g. Kolinsky Sable).  I have brushes of all three types, and each has its uses.

Kolinsky Sable Brushes
Kolinsky Sable brushes are made from the tail hair from the winter coat of the Siberian weasel (Mustela sibirica).  They are the finest art brushes made and are superior to all other natural or synthetic bristles.  Because they don't breed well in captivity, the tail hair is widely-sought and, therefore, expensive.  But boy, oh boy, once you try painting with one you will know where your money went.  The fineness of the tips are unparalleled and allow you precise control and superior handling.  Upgrading to one of these fine brushes will elevate your painting to a new level and if you are serious about painting and can afford it, I strongly recommend purchasing at least one Kolinsky Sable brush for detail work at least.  They are also the most durable of bristles and, properly cared for, a Kolinsky Sable brush will outlast any other type of brush, serving you for years to come.

I use Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes, mainly because they are the Kolinsky Sable brushes most readily available in Canada.  Another popular choice among serious miniature painters are Raphael 8404's, which I have long wanted to try, but have not been able to find in Canada and when I recently tried ordering some from the online retailer DickBlick.com I discovered that, due to U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulations, natural hair brushes cannot be shipped out of the U.S.A.

Winsor & Newton Series 7 pointed rounds
If you do invest in a set of Kolinsky Sable brushes, there are a few activities that I recommend you refrain using them for.  Obviously using them for rigorous painting techniques such as drybrushing or overbrushing should be avoided, but you should also avoid using them with metallic paint.  Metallic paint contains large metallic flakes that can damage the bristles and metallic paints also dry out much faster than normal acrylic paint, making it likely that paint will dry on the brush.  You should also avoid using them with washes because capillary action will draw the thin, watery wash up into the ferrule where, if it is allowed to dry, it will cause the point to separate, ruining the brush.  For these activities I use cheaper synthetic brushes.

Synthetic and 'Gold Sable' Brushes
Brushes with synthetic bristles or synthetic/sable blends (gold sable) are much less expensive than Kolinsky Sable brushes and can be had for less than ten dollars per brush.  Synthetic brushes are the least expensive, and I have a set of Grumbacher Goldenedge 4620 rounds that I use for base-coating, washing, and metallic paints that I don't want to subject my Winsor & Newtons to.  At about five dollars per brush, the Grumbachers offer decent value and last me about a year before needing replacement.  The Grumbacher Goldenedge bristles are made from Taklon fibre which is fairly durable and handles well, with a nice spring to it.  All synthetic brushes will develop a hook at the tip after a while and, assuming you paint with them regularly, a year is about the best you can hope for from them before the tip either hooks or separates.

Gold sable brushes contain mostly synthetic bristles with some sable mixed in.  They are relatively inexpensive, running about eight to ten dollars per brush and are often advertised as having the same performance as pure sable.  They don't.  They are also presumed to be more durable than synthetic, but the gold sable brushes I've tried haven't lasted any longer than the synthetics, so I'm not convinced that they are worth the extra cost.  Citadel paint brushes sold by Games Workshop, that many painters use, are synthetic/sable blends.  GW calls them Kolinsky Sable brushes, but this is outright prevarication.  Citadel brushes aren't horrible, as far as sythetic/sable blends go, and I believe that they are actually manufactured by Winsor & Newton, but Kolinsky Sable brushes they most definitely are not, and buyers should be aware that are not getting what is advertised.

Care and Feeding of Brushes
Not even the best brushes will last long if they aren't cared for, and whether you've bought a set of synthetic brushes or Kolinsky Sables, you'll want to prolong their lifespan by taking good care of them.  Here are a few tips to keep your brushes in top form:
1. Never leave them resting on their bristles in the water pot (this should go without saying).
2. Rinse them out frequently while you are painting.  This prevents paint from drying on the bristles.
3. Avoid getting paint in the ferrule.  To prevent this, dip only the tip of your brush in the paint.  Once paint drys in the ferrule you'll need to plan a trip to your art supply store for a new brush.
4. After your painting session wash your brushes thoroughly in cool water (never hot water) and reshape the point before putting them away.
5. Every now and again give your brushes a good washing with brush soap.  I use The Master's Brush Cleaner.  Don't use hand or dish soap on natural hair brushes, it will strip the oils from the bristles and destroy their suppleness.

What Sizes of Brush Should You Use?
This is a commonly-asked question and you will rarely need a smaller brush than a 00 or larger than a #2.  There will be one brush size that you prefer to do most of your painting with, but there is no conformity of size within the industry and one company's #1 will not be the same size as another company's #1.


The picture above shows three of my brushes.  The one on the left is a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #2, the red-handled brush in the middle is a Grumbacher Goldenedge #2, and the one on the right is a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #1.  You can see that the Grumbacher #2 is about the same size as a Winsor & Newton #1.  You should also be able to see the points on the Grumbacher and the W&N brushes.  I've used the W&N #1 far more than I've ever used the Grumbacher #2, but the point of the Kolinsky Sable is still pin-point sharp whereas the tip of the synthetic is not nearly so fine.

I do most of my painting with the Winsor & Newton #1; it has a large holding capacity and very fine point so I can paint both large areas and fine details with this one brush.  I use the W&N #2 mainly for big miniatures and large surface areas.  I also have a W&N 00 that I use for very fine details, such as eyes and the precision of its point allows me to paint pupils inside of irises and a light-spot across the pupil-iris boundary.  Some people like even smaller brushes, like a 000, but they hold so little paint that I can't see much use for them.  Ultimately, you'll have to decide for yourself what size of brush suits you best, but if you get a 00, 0, 1, and 2 you'll be well-set for any type of painting you want to do.

Where Should I Buy My Brushes?
I think part of the reason that so many people use Citadel brushes is that they are sold in most game stores where you buy your paints and miniatures.  But an art supply store is a better source for quality brushes at reasonable prices.  You can also buy brushes from many on-line retailers, including Amazon, and they often sell them for much less than you will pay in a brick and mortar store.  Indeed, DickBlick.com sells its brushes for about half the listed retail rate.  But there are a couple of things to keep in mind about buying brushes online: firstly, you can't examine the brush before you buy it, and this is important particularly if you are purchasing an expensive brush.  You always want to give it a good look-over to check the point and look for bent bristles.  If you order from an online retailer you are stuck with what they send you.  Another reason to beware buying online is that, as I mentioned above, sizes vary greatly among companies and, because brushes are hand-made, sizes can vary even within companies.  So you are often better off buying the brush personally so you can make sure that it is the size you want.

That about covers it.  The advice given here is based on my own experience, and I don't claim any special expertise.  Nonetheless, I do strongly feel that you should always buy the best quality brush that you can afford.  I've seen many people advise new painters to just buy cheap craft store brushes to start, but if you are serious about painting I think a good brush should be one of the first things you buy.  There is quite a learning-curve to painting, but starting out with the right tools will make that curve a little less steep.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bones Kickstarter Finale

Reaper's Bones Kickstarter project has ended with a whopping $3,429,236.00, making it the third most successful project in Kickstarter history.  The novelty of a gaming-related Kickstarter  project getting this kind of support turned a lot of heads and even warranted this article on Wired.com.

The pledges really took off in the final days of the campaign, unlocking even more cool stretch goals, which made the $100 Vampire level so attractive I just couldn't resist it.  Even though I couldn't really afford it, I couldn't afford NOT to up my contribution; a $100 pledge gets me over 240 miniatures.  This will keep me painting for a good long time.

Here's the image of all the swag with the last stretch goals added in:



Of particular interest to us Old School gamers, the perks include a free PDF of Frog God Games' Swords & Wizardry Complete.

If you're drooling over all this cool stuff, turning green with envy and kicking yourself for not jumping in, there's good news:  Reaper is setting up a post-Kickstarter pledge manager to allow people who missed out on the Kickstarter to still get in on the deal.  Simply click this link and submit your email, then Reaper will contact you when their post-Kickstarter pledge manager is up and running.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bones Kickstarter Update

The Reaper Bones kickstarter is going great guns, and backers have pledged over a million dollars, which easily funds their initial goal of $30,000.  The kickstarter project will run for another five days, and if you haven't done so recently, check out their kickstarter page.  As the stretch goals have been met, Reaper has been adding more and more perks, which are jaw-droppingly fantastic and the rewards at the Vampire Level ($100 pledge) is unbelievable.  If there was any way I could afford it I would be in at this level and have enough miniatures to keep me painting for years to come.  As it is, I've ponied up $15 for the Ghast Level, which still gets me 36 miniatures.

They've also got a number of really cool add-on options available to all contributor levels:


I put in another $25 for the carrying case, which will hold over 100 miniatures, but the paint sets are a great deal, too.

So, if you've been on the fence about contributing, now is a great time to jump in while you still can.

Friday, August 17, 2012

City of the Beast - Against the Giants

Among the trove of Planet Stories books that I recently purchased was Michael Moorcock's City of the Beast.  Originally published in 1965 as Warriors of Mars, under the pen name Edward P. Bradbury, City of the Beast is a tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom stories.


The premise of the story will be familiar to anyone who has read the adventures of John Carter: the protagonist Michael Kane, physicist, champion fencer, and Viet Nam veteran, tests an experimental matter transporter on himself and finds that instead of being transmitted to a receiver on the other side of his lab, he is sent through time and space to Mars in the distant past.  Almost immediately after his arrival, Kane espies the incomparable Dej... I mean the exquisite Shizala, princess of Varnala, who is clad in nothing but a wispy cloak and a broad leather belt around her waist and, of course, falls instantly in love with her.

Kane accompanies Shizala back to the city of Varnala where he receives a Matrix-style native language upload along with a healthy dose of exposition, including the backstory of how Shizala's father, the leader of Varnala disappeared while chasing off  an invading war band of blue-skinned giants called the Argzoon.

Later, while out riding alone, Kane spies an enormous horde of Argzoon headed toward the city, and he rushes back to warn the Varnalans so that they might prepare for the impending seige.  The city manages to hold off the first wave of attackers - just barely.  The discipline and tactics demonstrated by the Argzoon is uncharacteristic of the normally dim-witted and savage giants and it becomes apparent that they are being directed by some unknown leader.

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar to a D&D adventure you might once have played?

Kane proposes to assassinate this leader, assuming that the Argzoon horde will melt away without this great leader to drive them, and so Shizala pilots an aircraft over the Argzoon command tent and deposits Kane, who slays the war captain within, but disregards any complicity of a beautiful dark-haired woman named Horguhl who was also in the tent.  Because every one knows that beautiful women can't possibly be evil, or lead savage warbands in bids for global conquest.

Somehow, in all the confusion, Kane gets knocked unconcious and Shizala is taken captive and absconded with when the defeated Argzoon army retreats.  So Kane, along with Shizala's brother, Darnad, embark upon a rescue mission, ultimately tracking Shizala to the lair of the Argzoon, a subterranean mountain complex known as The Caves of Darkness.

Kane then sends Darnad for help and proceeds alone into the dungeons of the Argzoon.  Of course he is captured and taken before Horguhl who, unsurprisingly, is revealed to be the unknown mastermind.  It turns out that she is a former slave of the Argzoon who used her latent powers of compulsion to tame the dreaded N'aal Beast that dwelt within the Caves of Darkness, and intimidate the giants into following her.  She also professes to love Kane, and offers herself and kingship to him if he will join her, spiking the offer with some of those gnarly compulsion powers of hers.  Of course Kane, hero that he is, shrugs off the compulsion and spurns Horguhl's offer.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and so Horguhl has Kane tossed into the pit as a sacrifice for the N'aal Beast.  Kane slays the beast, whom the Argzoon believed was an avatar of their god, and when they see it die by his hands many of them question Horguhl's leadership.  Kane, meanwhile incites a revolt of the slaves who are led by none other than Shizala's missing father Carnak.  Horguhl's whole conquest plot starts to fall apart and she takes advantage of the confusion to get while the getting is good.

The maiden is rescued, Varnala is saved and Kane and Shizala are to become betrothed.  Just as Kane is about to live happily ever after, his lab assistants figure out how to get him back and he is suddenly whisked back to twentieth century Earth.

While City of the Beast covers no new ground, it is a fun and fast-paced action story that will appeal to fans of Burroughs as a sort extension of the John Carter stories.  What I found most intriguing was the notion of bands of giants harassing the land, led by a sinister overlord, which is much the same premise as we see in the popular G-series of AD&D modules, Against The Giants.



As Warriors of Mars was published in 1965, Gary may very well have read it and might have been influenced by it when writing the Giants adventures.  I also can't help but think that his imagination might have been peaked by the Argzoon's subterranean city in The Caves of Darkness.  It might also be a coincidence, but given Gary's voracious reading habits I find it entirely possible that he read this book and was, at least unconsciously, inspired by it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Postman's Hernia

I mentioned last week, that Paizo is selling off most of their Planet Stories books for $3.  Well, my shipment arrived in the mail yesterday! This ought to keep me going for a while.



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Is the OSR Running Out of Steam?

If you are a regular OSR blog-follower, you've probably noticed a marked decline in posting frequency throughout the community.  During my first year or so of blogging I had so much to say it was hard to find time to write it all, and I and my peak I was posting a lengthy essay about every two days.  Now that I'm into year three, however, I'm finding it a struggle to make one post per week and only about half of those have any substantial content.  The others are lazy fluff pieces (e.g. my last two posts).

It's easy to make excuses: I'm busy, it's summer time and July's extreme heat sapped my will to live, and so on, but the real reason is that I'm finding it harder and harder to come up with anything interesting to say.  The curious thing is that it isn't just me burning out, this trend is pretty much pandemic across the OSR blogging community.  Once, not so long ago, I had to strictly limit the blogs that I followed and even then, such was the furious pace of posting, I had a hard time keeping up with them and if I didn't check my blog roll at least a couple of times a day, I missed posts.  Now I can skip a couple of days and find only a few new posts.

Even James Maliszewski, the Energizer Bunny of OSR blogging, is slowing down.  Of course, this is a relative observation; he's now 'only' posting at a frequency that equals or exceeds what I achieved at my peak instead of the unbelievably prolific two to three essay-length posts per day that we used to see on Grognardia.  James is also writing about gaming less these days and is more focused on reviews, and discussions of pulp fiction, suggesting that he, too, is running out of steam.  This is hardly surprising, and by no means a criticism.  I am amazed that he was able to sustain his posting rate for as long as he did.

Nonetheless, this community-wide slow-down is an interesting phenomenon.  Have we run out of things to say?  Is our great Renaissance losing momentum?  Or are we merely shifting our creative output to other fora?

My suspicion is that we are shifting our focus away from blogs and onto other media.  First message boards and then blogs were the principle venues of communication in the early years of the OSR, during the 'getting to know you' phase of the relationship, when we were passionately discussing old school gaming, sharing house-rules and posting myriad random tables.  But now we seem to have moved on to more sophisticated projects and blogs really aren't the best format for sharing them.  The honey-moon is over and it's time for this relationship to grow and mature.

There has been a lot of great material posted on people's blogs over the years, but it was read only by people who were following that blog at the time a particular article was posted.  Blogs are great for the immediate dissemination of information, but not for preserving and making material available over the long term.

So, I think - I hope - that much of the energy that the community used to put into blogging is now being directed at bigger projects that are being published as PDF or print products that won't languish in the obscurity of a blog archive.  New 'zines are springing up left and right, such as Tim Short's recent start-up, The Manor, and they contain much of what used to be posted on people's blogs.  This is probably a good thing, because back-issues will be available for a good long time, ensuring that past issues are readily available.  While I certainly miss the exciting hey-day of old school blogging, there is no way that level of output and energy could be sustained indefinitely.

So where does that leave blogs?  In my case it means doing what I originally intended when I first started this blog: posting session reports to create an ongoing history of my campaigns for player reference, posting house rules and, of course, letting off steam with occasional rants and musings, like this one.

I may be wrong, but I think that what we are seeing is not so much a decline or slow-down in the OSR, but rather a shift in how we do things as we mature and grow as a community.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Couple Items of Interest

I meant to post this earlier, but the heat has made me apathetic and listless.  Anyway, if you haven't already heard, Reaper Miniatures has launched a Kickstarter to increase its line of Bones miniatures.  Because of the expense and time involved in sculpting and casting, miniatures lines tend to grow very slowly.  So they are trying out Kickstarter to well...kickstart bones into high gear.  The contributor perks are very nice, and you get an impressive number of miniatures at the $15 level; 36 goblins, kobolds, and rats - who doesn't need more of those?


I don't normally contribute to crowd-source campaigns, but I'm sorely tempted by this one.




 Also, you may have already heard that Paizo has put its Planet Stories line on hiatus due to poor sales.  This is truly unfortunate since the series has made many of the works of classic pulp authors available in print again.  However, the silver lining of this very dark cloud is that they are selling off their stock at bargain-basement prices.  Most of the books are going for $3.  I just ordered a dozen for a mere $36, which should keeping me in reading material for the rest of the summer and well into autumn.

You can check out the sale by clicking the link above, and stock up on great books.  I don't imagine supplies will last long at this price.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

If Chess Had a Shooting Phase...


Game Editions as Marketing Strategies

It's been a while since I've had a good cathartic rant, and I'm about due.  Since we are experiencing a brief respite from the long heat-wave that has gripped Manitoba since the end of June, I can seize the day and finally turn the computer on for more than a few minutes without it melting into a pile of toxic goo.

I had a chance, last week, to play with the new Warhammer 40K 6th edition rules.  And it got me thinking about the nature of game editions and how very differently this term has come to be used by large companies like Wizards of the Coast and Games Workshop.

Games owned by small companies tend only to publish a new edition when enough errata has been accumulated to warrant one, and those new editions only contain revisions that fixed mistakes with the game.  Thus, newer editions are fully compatible with older editions of the game.  But corporations have wormed their way into the gaming hobby, and corporations are not content to run a sustainable business; they have shareholders to satisfy, who demand annual growth.  Thus, corporations depend upon mass-consumption to fuel their lust for increasing profit.  Frequent releases of new editions is one of the ways that they achieve this in hobby publishing.  Hasbro/WotC has thrown out any pretense of making new editions of D&D.  Every few years they create an entirely new game and call it Dungeons & Dragons.  Of course each time they do so they further fracture their customer base.  Each of their "editions" has its own group of enthusiastic supporters  who are happy playing the game they like and have no incentive, whatsoever, to buy the newest iteration of D&D, which is completely unrelated to all other versions that came before it. WotC seems more concerned with attracting new players than retaining existing ones.  In fact, I think that was their strategy with 4E: to blow off existing customers and attract all those MMOG kids.  This strategy appears to have blown up in their faces and so, just a few years later, WotC is working on a new edition to win back all the customers they lost.  Most of us learned as children not to forsake old friends for new ones, and recent studies have proven what should be common sense: it is more cost effective to retain existing customers than to attract new ones, but the message hasn't gotten through to many large businesses, however, which is why we still receive abysmal customer service from many large companies: for every pissed-off customer that walks out the door forever, they reckon three new ones walk in.


Games Workshop, on the other hand, have a much more clever approach; they are the evil geniuses of the gaming world.  In each edition of Warhammer they change the rules just enough to eliminate compatibility but not so much as to alienate existing players by creating an unfamiliar game.  And they produce new editions, like clockwork, every four years with Fantasy and 40K staggered at two-year intervals like the Olympics.  Which means that if, like me, you play both Warhammer Fantasy and 40K you are obliged to shell out $90 every two years to buy a copy of a game you already own.  But that's not all: the crafty buggers change the rules of each edition so that different tactical choices become clearly superior, thus forcing you to change the complement of your army in order to stay competitive (meaning you have to buy a whole bunch of new models, too).  For example, in the 4th edition of 40K, the shooting was very decisive and everyone played 'shooty' armies.  Then in 5th edition, they changed the focus to close combat, forcing everyone to modify their armies to capitalize on this new emphasis.  Now, in 6th edition, the pendulum has swung back to ranged combat, forcing yet another modification.  From a purely objective standpoint, I have to admire this cunning marketing strategy, much as I can admire the brilliance of certain con-artists, even if I find them despicable.

The new 40K 6th edition rules, like the recent Fantasy 8th edition rules are neither good nor bad and they don't really fix anything that was wrong with the game, they are just different for the sake of being different.  Because the powers-that-be dictated that there shall be a new edition, the developers were forced to invent some new rules to justify it, which is really putting the cart before the horse and defies the very nature of what new editions are supposed to be about.  When the Warhammer Fantasy 8th edition rules were released two years ago, veteran GW designer, Jervis Johnson, admitted as much in a White Dwarf article, writing that the designers were happy with the existing rules and there was nothing that they wanted to change, so it was a challenge coming up with rules for a new edition.  If there was nothing they wanted to change why put out a new edition?  To make the company butt-loads of cash, and for no other reason.

Being both a role-player and table-top miniatures gamer, I find myself wanting to apply my role-playing philosophy to miniatures games as well.  I jumped off the D&D merry-go-round years ago and embraced the old-school do-it-yourself mentality.  So why not jump off GW's merry-go-round, too, and just pick an edition that you like and stick with that?  The problem with that is that you need to find a group of like-minded players who are willing to jump off at the same time with you.  And since a lot of people play pick-up games at the local store and play in competitions, they are forced to update to the latest rule-set.  It was easy with D&D; I'm the DM so I can be a table tyrant and force everyone to play what I want to run.  But even though I have a consistent group of people that I play Warhammer with, I seem to be the only one getting motion-sick and asking to get off the ride.  Most everyone is lining up at the register with wheelbarrows full of cash to buy a rule book that will need to be replaced again in just four years.

Why?

It seems that a lot of people have a deep-seated psychological need to conform and play an officially approved game.  It's kind of like wanting to be one of the cool kids and being part of the 'in' crowd.  Even back in the old days of D&D, which was all about doing your own thing and house-ruling your game into uniqueness, you recall that products that were labelled as 'Officially Approved for D&D' tended to sell a lot better than the unofficial products.  And even though I have paid very little attention to the development of the new edition of D&D, whatever they're calling it, I couldn't help but notice that whole bunches of folks in the old-school community started salivating like Pavlov's dog at dinner time as soon as WotC rang the bell and announced a new edition.  Even after having been let down time and time again by WotC's proven lack of understanding of D&D and the role-playing hobby, folks who should know better have expressed the optimistic hope that 'maybe this time they'll get it right,' despite the fact that past performance is the best predictor of future behaviour.  Common sense tells us that D&D 5E/Next/whatever is going to suck just as hard as the edition before it, but many of us still feel that innate need to be wrapped in the warm fuzzy blanket of officialdom.

I haven't been following what's been going on at WotC, because they have absolutely nothing to offer me: I'm happy with my old-school retroclones and the legion of old-school hobby publishers, so I don't need to spend a dime to enrich the Hasbro corporation.  Unfortunately, the same is not true of Games Workshop.  But I have neither the means nor the inclination to buy the same game over and over again, particularly at the ever increasing prices they want to charge.  On the other hand, I'm too heavily invested in the game to walk away from it - nor do I want to.  I still love Warhammer even though I'm not happy with the corporation that owns it.  Where does that leave me if I want to keep playing the game but don't want to keep upgrading to new rules just for the hell of it?  I'd rather just settle on an edition of choice then cherry-pick whatever other rules the group likes and come up with our own house-ruled game set, but that ain't going to happen; everyone still wants to be in the 'in crowd.'  So I'll probably end up as that annoying old fart in the group who will need to be reminded how to play every turn.  So be it.  At least I'll still be painting miniatures and rolling dice, even if I don't know what I'm doing.

But I sure do miss the days when new editions were just compilations of accumulated errata that actually improved the game, and not self-serving marketing strategies designed only to enrich a corporation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Getting Rid of Text-Enhance

I noticed this morning that many of us have become infected with ad-ware called 'Text-Enhance' that has inserted hover-links into our posts.  This is a browser infection, and I was able to get rid of it by first clearing all of my browser history and cookies, then (for Google Chrome) go to Settings>Extensions and delete any extensions that you aren't absolutely certain of.  Apparently Text-Enhance sneakily inserts itself under different names, so I trashed all of my browser extensions just to be certain.  This seems to have worked and my blog is now hover-link free.

Hope this helps.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Session 13: Treasure, Treasure, Everywhere!

In which our band of intrepid ne'er-do-wells becomes fabulously wealthy.

After a period of indoctrination in the faith, Ebbin was invested as a Templar of Aten, and the powers of his magical gauntlets were revealed: they can, once per day, produce a blazing ray of sunlight that damages undead targets, and they also provide a measure of protection against level-drain.

So armed, the party resumed their exploration of the catacombs, returning to the large octagonal room where they defeated a necromancer and his skeletal minions last session.  Sets of double doors exiting from the east and west of the octagonal room opened into great halls lined with passages filled with burial alcoves.  Many of these alcoves contained animated skeletons that attacked the searchers, and one of the passages in the western hall had collapsed at one end.  From out of the collapsed passage crawled a ravenous undead horror.  Before it could so much as close to attack, Ebbin used the power of his gauntlets to incinerate the creature, leaving naught but a pile of ash.  The burial alcoves themselves, yielded a rich trove of grave goods, scrolls, and magical items.

One of the passages in the eastern hall terminated in a narrow crawl-space.  Ebbin squeezed himself into it and soon found that it branched into a maze-like tunnel network.  Keeping to his left in order to avoid getting lost, the tunnel eventually opened into an isolated chamber filled with huge mounds of gold, silver, and copper coins.  As soon as he entered the room, however, a huge maggot-like larva fell upon him from above - a writhing slug-like monstrosity armed with an array of stingers all dripping with venom.  Ironically Ebbin, with his prodigious constitution, was probably the only member of the party that could survive such an encounter, and he defeated the horror with no harm to himself.  He was now free to shovel thousands, upon thousands of coins into his Bag of Holding.

The party then decided to quit while they were ahead, and spent the rest of the evening making a dent in their  new-found wealth with a ribald bout of revelry that would have made Bacchus, himself, blush.

Ebbin woke up the next morning naked in jail, with no idea how he got there.  Balinor fell hopelessly in love yet again, this time with the daughter of a wealthy merchant.  Dekay awoke in possession of  a mysterious sword of unknown origin.  Xophur the sorcerer, however, refrained from the debauchery of his fellows and spent his time and money acquiring rare unguents to further his arcane research, which led to an insight into the nature of magic, itself!

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cowboys and Gunslingers

I just found out, and wanted to pass on to anyone interested, that Reaper now has an old west miniatures game, Cowboys and Gunslingers, which uses the miniatures from their Chronoscope line.

Sherm Whitlock, Cowboy
Painted by Martin Jones
The game uses their Warlord fantasy rules, and Reaper has published a Cowboys and Gunslingers rule supplement with data cards, which can be downloaded free from the link above.  This is particularly cool because I imagine that this means you could mix genres and have some Sixguns & Sorcery battles because, really, who hasn't always wanted to gun down orcs with a six-shooter?

I've been meaning to give Warlord a try because I'm becoming increasingly put-off by Games Workshop and I really like Reaper's Warlord miniatures line.  Now that they seem to be producing more games using the same rule system, I've got even more incentive to try it out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Session 12: In Service to the Sun God

Having put the tawdry unpleasantness of last session's blood-thirsty murders behind them, the warriors, Ebin and Balinor, joined by Xuphor the sorcerer returned to the necropolis to further their exploration of the catacombs that lie beneath.

Bands of mutant mongrel-men have been more active of late, prowling the corridors and shortly after entering the dungeon the party turned a corner and found a large band of them lurking at a four-way intersection just ahead.  Each group was surprised to see the other, but after the surprise passed they set upon one another with violence.  The feral-mongrel men were beset by a frenzied rage and fought to the last man.

Xuphor cast a will'o'wisp spell and sent his glowing orbs down each corridor to illuminate them, and hopefully draw the attention of any hostile creatures, but the corridors seemed deserted in every direction.  Just south of this intersection the party entered a large chamber full of burial niches, one of which contained a jade idol of Orcus.  East of the intersection, the corridor ended abruptly.  Xuphor was certain that this signified the presence of a secret door and as he stepped closer to search, a trap door opened beneath his feet and he tumbled to a pit below.  His fall was broken by the decaying remains of another adventurer who had apparently also been searching for a secret door and after looting some supplies from the dead man's backpack, Ebin and Balinor lowered a rope into the pit and pulled Xuphor out.

Exploring north of the intersection, the party discovered two alcoves containing stone statues of of Orcus, and Namtur, the demon lord of hatred.  The corridor ended with a quartet of crypts, one of which contained two runic tablets.  Xuphor read both tablets and was favoured with the blessing of He-Ka, the Atlantean god of mysteries and the great beyond, bestowing a +1 bonus to all attack rolls and saving throws for the remainder of the session.  The second tablet permanently enhanced his Constitution score by +1.  Luck was indeed with him.

Having fully explored that branch of the dungeon, the party moved further south to explore another branch.  They traversed a long hallway flanked by six crypts, ending in a door at the far south end.  The first crypt they opened contained four apparently fresh naked corpses, and a stone tablet in the far corner.  Xuphor went for the tablet, while Balinor prodded at the corpses with his ten-foot pole.  Ebin and the hirelings remained outside to watch the corridor.  The corpses were, in fact, ghouls who had been laying in ambush, and they now leapt up and attacked Balinor and Xuphor, who was in the corner and cut off from the entrance.  While Balinor laid into the ghouls with his sword, Xuphor cast light of Aten, in hopes that the the undead would flee before the radiant luminescence of the sun god.  Unfortunately all four ghouls passed their morale checks, leaving Xuphor out of spells with only his staff to fend off the ghouls.  He succeeded in keeping one ghoul at bay while Balinor slew the three others, and Ebin entered the crypt and killed the one menacing Xuphor.  Xuphor read the runic tablet, which he was disappointed to find inscribed with Suleiman's sovereign of purity, a spell that he already knew.

The next crypt contained a dead adventurer laying face-down in pool of congealed blood.  Balinor flipped the corpse over with his ten-foot pole, spilling entrails on the floor.  The dead man had a pair of ornate gauntlets, which Ebin immediately claimed and donned then began to test to see if he had become any stronger.  He hadn't.

Within another crypt, the party found a cowering Mongrel-man, sickly and lame, cast out by his tribe and forced to fend for himself.  Xuphor offered the mutant some food, which the twisted creature snatched and gobbled up hungrily.  The mutant agreed to accompany the party in exchange for more food.

The other crypts were empty and so the party proceeded to the end of the hallway and opened the door into a huge octagonal room with a large obelisk in the center.  Eight skeletons milled about the room searching through urns at the direction of a black-robed, skull-masked necromancer.  The two mercenary crossbowmen fired, killing the necromancer before he had a chance to act, and the skeletons were quickly dispatched by Balinor and Ebin.

Out of spells and low on hit points, the party decided to call it a night and return to Catapesh to spend some of their hard-won loot drinking and wenching.  As they made their way north up the long corridor, however, they encountered another party of six adventurers coming south.  Without even pausing to parley, Ebin hurled a throwing axe at one, killing him, and so the fight was on.  The rival party was killed to the last man and looted, though they had little gold on them.  Once they got to the dungeon entrance, they parted ways with the Mongrel-man, who refused to leave the dark recesses of the dungeon.

Back in Catapesh, Xuphor discovered that the looted gauntlets were enchanted, and so Ebin took them to the temple of Thoth in hopes that they could be identified by the scholarly monks.  They identified the markings of Aten, and recognized the gauntlets as a relic of the templars of Aten and that the gauntlet's enchantments would likely only work for a holy warrior sworn in service to the sun god.  Ebin suddenly found religion and visited the temple of Aten to swear his vows and become a templar of the order.  One must suspect that the sudden religious zeal of one of the bloodiest cut-throats since Astagar the Thrice-damned owes more to his devotion to a shiny new magic item than to the sun god, but it is said that the radiance of Aten can illuminate even the darkest soul so perhaps Ebin will leave aside his murderous ways, hold true to his vows, and adopt the code of honour and virtue that exemplifies a templar.  It could happen...

No sooner had Ebin donned his new white surcoat than he was arrested by the city guard for dueling.  His trial went well, however, and the magistrate ruled that the other party was at fault, and Ebin was awarded 500 gp in compensation.

Xuphor spent his down time engaged in arcane research and made a pact with the minor demon, Gzozzer.

Meanwhile, after a long bout of bacchanalian debauchery, Balinor awoke with an aching head to find the naked widow of Jerhyn Dragomere, the guard captain that Ebin had so recently murdered, lying next to him. Any hope of discretely extracting himself flew out the window when Balinor's paramour, Lena, entered the room and found the two of them in bed together.  Balinor's hang-over was not improved by the shrill insults nor the stoneware that Lena hurled at Zsofia Dragomere and himself, nor the fact that an awkward and embarrassing encounter was now public knowledge throughout the entire inn.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hit Points Revisited

Over the last couple of years, I've been tinkering with the Swords & Wizardry rules to create a system for running Sword & Sorcery campaigns. While, of course, D&D was heavily influenced by the Sword & Sorcery genre, it is a mish-mash that has borrowed from a wide variety of literary sources. Accordingly, D&D is kind of its own thing; a fantasy style bordering on a sub-genre that has, itself, influenced the fantasy genre. But what I'm interested in is pulp sword & sorcery and I wanted to re-imagine D&D not just as a game partially influenced by that genre, but as an actual sword & sorcery game.

 I realize that there are dedicated sword & sorcery roleplaying games, but none of them scratch my itch in quite the right way. What I really wanted was to adapt old-school D&D to sword & sorcery to create the game that I've always wanted to play. It has been a relatively easy process, because D&D was heavily influenced by sword & sorcery from its inception. Also, Swords & Wizardry is an excellent system for tinkering with; its bare-bones minimalism makes it very easy to add to. Over the last couple of years of tinkering and campaigning, my house-ruled S&W game has 'speciated' into its own game, which I have named Jeweled Thrones and Sandaled Feet, and over the next few posts I want to share some of the changes that I've adopted for my City States of Lemuria campaign.

 One of my design goals has been to develop rules that are not only true to the sword & sorcery genre, but also to the philosophical intent of D&D. One of the first rules changes I made was to the rules for hit points and healing, which I originally discussed a couple of years ago.  I've long thought that wounds and fatigue needed to be separated and, while I was on the right track with that first post, it was still a bit cumbersome.  I've been playing with the current hit point and healing system for about a year now, and I've got it just where I want it now: it embraces Gary's concept of hit points as part of an abstract combat system that represents skill and endurance, and it emulates the sword & sorcery just the way I want it.

I've always found the rate of natural healing in D&D to be at odds with the concept that a player character's hit points are more a measure of fighting skill, endurance, and luck than capacity to withstand physical damage.  And sometimes it is necessary to know just how much damage a character can sustain, when skill and fitness do not avail you, like when an assassin has a dagger pressed to your throat.  So, I've separated skill and endurance from physical damage.  Hit points are, as always, generated by the hit dice for your class, and increasing hit point totals reflect the character's growing fighting skill and canniness.  As hit points are lost in combat, the character is not being wounded, just worn down.  As his hit point total approaches zero, he is becoming more and more fatigued and less able to parry and dodge incoming attacks.

Once the character's hit point total has reached zero, any further damage now represents physical injury and is subtracted from his wound point total.  A character's wound points are equal to one-half his Constitution score, rounded up and, unlike hit points, a character's wound point total usually never increases beyond this amount (though, obviously, magical increases to Constitution would also increase wound points).

Because wound points represent physical damage, each time a character loses wound points in combat, he might be injured.  Roll 1d8 on the chart below to determine the injury, and the character makes a saving throw.  If the saving throw fails, the resulting injury is sustained in addition to wound point loss.


Injury (d8)
Effect
Critical Effect
1. Head
Unconscious
Dead
2. Right Eye
-2 to hit
Lost eye
3. Left Eye
-2 to hit
Lost eye
4. Torso
Internal bleeding
Double damage
5. Right Arm
Incapacitated
Severed/Crushed
6. Left Arm
Incapacitated
Severed/Crushed
7. Right Leg
Incapacitated
Severed/Crushed
8. Left Leg
Incapacitated
Severed/Crushed


I normally don't use critical hits in my game, except on the injury table.  If the wounding hit was a natural '20' the Critical Effect column is consulted, instead, which results in a permanent injury rather than a temporary one and can result in characters with eye patches, peg legs, and hooks.  Arrr!

Furthermore, helmets bestow a +2 bonus to save against hits to the head and eyes, which gives one a strong incentive to protect his noggin.  Common sense is needed when using the chart; not all damage will result in an injury.  Being bitten by vermin, like rats or snakes, is unlikely to sever a limb and, likewise, being exsanguinated by a stirge or giant tick might kill you but you won't sustain any injuries.

Once a character's wound point total reaches zero there is only one thing to do: go through his pockets and look for loose change.

Hit points and wound points heal at different rates.  Because hit points are merely a measure of fatigue, they can be quickly recovered.  A character will normally recover one hit point per hour of rest, but if the character is recovering in an inn with a soft bed and plenty of cold ale and warm wenches, he recovers four hit points per hour.  So a good night of drinking and wenching will usually put a tired adventurer back to rights.  Wound points, on the other hand, take much longer to heal, and recover at a rate of 1 point per two days of rest and any temporary injuries that have been sustained persist until the character's wound point total has healed up to full.

Magical healing is rare in my campaign.  I've done away with the cleric class and while sorcerers do have limited healing spells, they come at a cost.  The first level sorcerer spell Renewal of Vigour invigorates the recipient, healing 1d6 +1/level hit points, but this healing is only temporary and lasts but one turn per level of the caster, after which time the character crashes, losing double the healed hit points.  If this loss takes him below zero hit points he loses consciousness for one hour per point below zero.  It's sort of like magical Red Bull.

Wound points can be restored by sorcerer who casts the second level spell, Sympathetic Healing of the Martyr, which will heal 1d6 wound points, but the caster suffers a like amount of wound points as he transfers the damage to himself.

Restoration draughts can also be purchased for 50 gp each.  These are alchemical infusions made using the root of the Iracunda plant, which grows in the Kurgan Highlands and is chewed by kurgani tribesmen to induce states of berserk rage.  The restoration draught rejuvenates the drinker, restoring 1d6 hit points.

Healing potions are magical concoctions that cost 100 gp each and heal 1d6 wound points.

This damage and healing system has worked really well for me, and as far as I'm concerned there is no going back.  It offers a great deal of flexibility for dealing with different types of attacks.  In almost all cases, hit points must be reduced to zero before wound points are lost.  Even sneak attacks or other such threats that catch a character unawares reduce hit points first, because in most such cases I rule that 'sixth sense' warns the character in time to twist away enough to avoid a fatal blow.  But some special attacks, like an assassin's death strike, could be resolved by applying the weapon damage directly to wound points, bypassing the hit points entirely.  So, an assassin could potentially kill any character with a single hit, depending on the character's Constitution score and the amount of damage rolled.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Surviving the Apocalypse

I'm actually kind of surprised to have done this well; I was sure that living in a core neighborhood of a large city would really hurt me. Gamquistu - I could survive for 372 days in the Zombie Apocalypse! How long could you?

Gamquistu - Games, Quizzes and Stuff.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Session 11: Where Should We Hide the Bodies?

Increasingly alarmed by the expanding area of necrotic flesh, growing outwards from his Huecuva wound, and the sickening stench of decay that arose from it, Balinor hastened to a temple of Mithras in search of aid.  He had heard sorcerers speak of an incantation known as Suleiman's Sovereign of Purity, which was said to remove the taint of corruption from food and drink and he hoped that it might prove effective in removing the taint that was growing within his body.  Balinor was taken before the high priest of Mithras who elected to demonstrate the power of the One True God in hopes of swaying him from the worship of false gods.  The priest laid Balinor upon an altar and prepared the tools needed to work his sorcery.  The ritual was completed and the power of Mithras had stopped the spread of corruption, but the tainted necrotic flesh would need to be removed lest infection spread.  The priest cut out the dead flesh with a sacrificial dagger, then bathed the wound with spiced wine vinegar before placing a handful of maggots in the wound and binding it with linen.

Once Balinor was feeling stronger the group set out once again for the necropolis to plumb the depths of the catcombs beneath.  They continued their exploration by searching a room full of burial alcoves, which had proved extremely lucrative in the past.  Unfortunately these ones were empty except for a grey ooze that was concealed within one.  The disturbed ooze lashed out at Ebin with a pseudopod then slithered out of the alcove to consume him.  The ooze was quickly destroyed, but Ebin's brand new plate mail was reduced to a melted ruin and was quickly discarded before the acidic ectoplasm penetrated the armour's underpadding to reach the flesh beneath.

Unwilling to remain in the catacombs unprotected, Ebin convinced the party to return to Catapesh so that he could buy new armour.  However as the group emerged from the crypt they found half a dozen city guardsmen waiting for them, led by Captain Jerhyn Dragomere.  The slighted nobleman smiled at thought of avenging himself upon Ebin, and announced that, in the name of the Overlord, they were under arrest for tomb-robbing.

Ebin responded by hurling two throwing axes in succession at his nemesis, wounding him, while one of the hireling crossbowmen fired a bolt at a guardsman, killing him instantly.  Dragomere ordered his men to retreat, and they fled back towards Catapesh.  Realizing that they had now added resisting arrest, murder, and assault upon a noble to the charge of tomb-robbing, the party realized that they could not let the guardsmen reach the city and the chase was on.  Despite the head start that the guardsmen had, Ebin, Tohm, and Chale were unarmoured and eventually caught them near the outskirts of the necropolis.  Three of the guardsmen turned to engage the pursuers while Dragomere and one other continued on towards the city to get reinforcements.  Tohm and Chale continued their pursuit, while Ebin stayed to fight the three guardsmen himself.

Tohm and Chale quickly caught their quarry, but Captain Dragomere cut down Chale the thief, killing him, while brother Tohm died upon the spear of the guardsman.  Meanwhile, Ebin had killed the three guardsmen he was fighting and arrived just in time to slay the now badly wounded Dragomere before he could get away.  Balinor and the crossbowmen finally caught up and joined Ebin and the lone remaining guardsmen.  Realizing that if brought to justice, the entire remaining party faced the death penalty, they killed the last guardsman to eliminate the last witness.  The question now was how to dispose of the bodies and after a lengthy debate it was decided that they should drag them behind a nearby crypt and leave them unlooted.

As Ebin was now badly wounded, Balinor, the hirelings, and he made their way into the city to rest, heal and recruit.  There they met a sorcerer, and his bodyguard, who wished to explore the ancient Atlantean ruins in the necropolis.  They joined the party and set out to resume the exploration of the catacombs.

Once back in the dungeon, the party set to knocking down another bricked up entrance.  The noise from the hammering drew all sorts of attention, however: first a band of mutated mongrelmen, then a pair of ravenous dead, and finally a trio Huecuva, one of which managed to inflict one of their dreaded tainted wounds upon Ebin.  When the party finally broke through the wall they found a completely empty chamber.

The session ended with the party having looted not a single coin, while losing an expensive suit of plate mail and two party members, one of whom, Tohm, had been the last original character to have survived since the beginning of the campaign.  Ebin triumphed over his adversary, Jerhyn Dragomere, but at very great cost.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Session 10: No Honour Among Thieves

Worn out and slightly hung-over from a lengthy carouse in Catapesh, the party was nonetheless eager to return to the catacombs beneath the necropolis to wrest even greater treasures from the cold, grasping hands of the dead.  They chose to explore the southwest quadrant of the dungeon, beginning with a trio of crypts just south of the dungeon's main entry chamber.

The crypts contained giant rats and skeletons that needed to be put down before looting the grave goods, which included a mysterious runic tablet.  From there they had begun to head south down a corridor when Balinor discovered a spike-filled pit trap with his ten-foot pole.  The trap extended from wall to wall with no ledge to safely walk around, and none of the characters wished to try jumping across it, so the party elected, instead, to abandon this part of the dungeon for now and explore some rooms they had previously bypassed, including a bricked-up doorway.

Soon, the preternatural silence of the catacombs was disturbed by the sound of sledgehammer on stone as the party attempted to smash down the bricked-up wall and discover what lay beyond.  Fearing that the noise would attract attention, the party posted their crossbowmen as lookouts while the characters were preoccupied with hammering.  Sure enough, the sentries reported flickering torchlight approaching and soon after a band of tomb robbers showed up, drawn by the sound of the hammering.  An uneasy standoff resulted as each side contemplated whether it would be easier to fight their rivals for pre-looted grave goods rather than having to confront the undead for them.  The standoff was broken when the party thief told the newcomers that there was an unexplored section of dungeon to the southwest that they were free to investigate.  He neglected, however, to mention the pit trap in the corridor.  The party was very pleased with themselves as they imagined the rival band impaled on the spikes that lined the hidden pit.  When the bricked up entrance was finally broken through, the party found a quartet of Shadows within.

From there, the party decided to explore to the east, and encountered a trio of Huecuva, one of which struck a telling blow upon Balinor, leaving a wound of blackened flesh.  No sooner had the Huecuva been put down than four skeletons with glowing sapphires on their foreheads staggered down the corridor toward them.  It became quickly apparent that these were no ordinary skeletons, for shortly after slaying one, it would rise again, whole, to fight once more.  Finally, when one character was able to smash a sapphire, its glow faded and the skeleton did not rise again.  Though they now knew the secret of how to defeat these sapphire skeletons, the party chose not to employ it, hoping, instead, to put all three remaining skeletons down, then smash their gems before they could rise again.  This proved to be a futile tactic as they were not able to put all the skeletons down before the fallen ones rose.  Finally, after a long battle that the party was slowly losing through attrition, they finally decided to aim their blows at the gems, instead, which ultimately proved successful.

Exhausted and bloodied, the party retired from the catacombs to the safety of Catapesh to rest and recuperate.  While sniffing out rumours in the city, Brother Tohm, the monk, heard tell of a band of tomb raiders who had just come out of the necropolis with a trove of magical treasure, though they had lost one of their group to a pit trap.  Incensed that this party of adventurers had the temerity to not only survive the pit trap, but to profit from their explorations, the PCs are now plotting to track down the rival band and steal their loot.

Meanwhile, Balinor discovered, to his alarm, that the patch of necrotic flesh surrounding the Huecuva wound  was growing larger...