Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Bard

And now, last but not least, I present the final "new" character class for Adventures Dark and Deep™, the Bard:

As before, lots of new spells for this one, and I'm very pleased with the way the "feel" of the class turned out. Not as centered on lore and information as the AD&D 1E bard class, with a lot of ways to influence both subtle and not-so-subtle, magical and mundane. Still some "punch" with spells that can inflict a lot of damage, but not nearly the equal of the mage when it comes to such things. One of the big differences between the bard and other spell casters is that many of the bard's spells can be maintained for hours on end, as long as the bard can keep singing (and, of course, if the bard is singing already, who's to say he's casting a spell? Bards are subtle spell-casters if they want to be).

What remains are re-workings of the cavalier and paladin, and a very minor re-working of the assassin (to be relegated to an appendix as a purely optional class). Those won't be presented as stand-alone previews, however. As always, feel free to plop this bard in your already-extant 1E campaign, and let me know how it works. I have one in mine already. :-)

As usual, comments over in the ADD forums, if you'd be so kind.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Sorry I've not been posting as much of late as I have in the past. I'm going full-bore on Adventures Dark and Deep™, and my spare time is going towards that right now. I have posted a couple of things in the ADD forums; feel free to check them out (link over to the right).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Two Holiday Sales

Just wanted to point out two Thanksgiving sales that you might find of interest.

First, Goodman Games is offering 33% off all of their pdf products through This is going on now through the end of November, and is a great opportunity to fill in your collection of Dungeon Crawl Classics. There are even some 1E adventures mixed in there (including Iron Crypt of the Heretic); definitely worth checking out.

Second, Chaosium is offering 25% off everything in their catalog. This is going on now through "early November 30th", so I'd not wait until the last minute. I'm especially thinking of grabbing the hardcover version of Masks of Nyarlathotep...


(Hat tip to Purple Pawn)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Ultimate City of Greyhawk Map?

Regular readers will remember that, back in college I made a set of hand-drawn maps of the city of Greyhawk, based on the sketch map found in the front of Gary Gygax's book City of Hawks. A few years ago I found them and scanned them, and they've been available on this blog since then (over to the right in the "free downloads" section).

About a month ago, Alfons H., out of the goodness of his heart, cleaned up my scans, replacing the hand-done labels with easier to read text. That was a terrific surprise, coming out of the blue as it did.

However, now I (and all Greyhawk fans) have been gifted with yet another iteration of those same hand-drawn maps I did back in the 1980's. One Alex Camacho and friend took those scans and turned them into this work of absolute full-color 17"x22" beauty:

The one he originally sent me had some modified names to suit their own campaign, but he very graciously altered the labels back to the originals. So now we have a full-color map, based on Gary Gygax's original, that will fit the map key for the blue "City of Greyhawk" boxed set, all in one piece rather than four separate pages. I took the file to Staples and got an absolutely gorgeous glossy print out for $25. I might just get another to keep flat (and laminated), as I'm going to have to fold this one to take it with me as I game. But this is now my "official" City of Greyhawk map for my own game, and I cannot thank Alex enough for his efforts.

You can download the .pdf file off to the right in the "Free Resources" section.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Greyhawk Sessions #8 and 9

Apologies for not posting a recap of the last session; I'll give a very abbreviated version of that session and then get into the one we completed tonight.

Last time, the party returned once more to the Castle of the Mad Archmage. Present were Ardo, the human cleric of Pelor; Mongo, the half-orc fighter; Theric, the human paladin of Pholtus; Vellis, the gnome bard; Abo Thistlestrike, the human magic-user; and Ehrandar Dawngreeter, the elf mountebank. They first investigated some of the upper ruins, determining that the bandits they had previously encountered had indeed fled. More entrances to the underground were discovered and eventually explored, and although several scrolls and some other treasure were discovered, the party was driven out of the dungeon by determined and deadly ambushes by some foe that remained in the shadows. The paladin, Theric, was dropped below zero hit points, but his wounds were bound, and the party made for the city with the as-yet-unseen enemy at their heels. Thus ended the previous session.

Once there, having placed the paladin in the inn to recuperate, the party happened to notice that all but Ardo were feeling slightly unwell. They were constantly thirsty, their skin was dry, and they all suffered a decrease in their charisma of 1 point. This had an immediate effect on the paladin, who lost his paladin abilities, and the bard and mountebank, many of whose abilities suffered because of the decrease. Immediately, the party's thoughts turned to the frog statuettes that mysteriously and persistently appeared some weeks before.

Through direct investigation, they were able to determine that the frog statuettes were indeed both magical and evil in nature. Consultation with the church of Pholtus confirmed that a curse was most probably at work, but unfortunately the church was in need of a new roof for its steeple, and although they were willing to do a "buy four, get the fifth free" deal for the group, the fee for casting remove curse was beyond their means. The now-fallen paladin was then admonished that such curses could well be the price for cavorting with those not yet brought into the Light of Pholtus. The church of Pelor was of little help.

Reputable sources exhausted, the party resorted to those less so. The Thieves Guild reiterated their stance that the cult of Wastri and itself had an understanding that neither was to interfere with the other, and that those places under the protection of the Guild were clearly marked to those who were familiar with such signs. A confab with Ehrandar's contact in the Beggar's Union, who usually works a corner near to the warehouse wherein the party located the cult, but which the local constabulary declared empty and harmless, begged to differ with the official report, and insisted that the place was as active as it had ever been.

Clearly, a nighttime visitation was called for. After careful planning, Salvomar, their erstwhile hireling, was stationed behind the warehouse with oil while the rest of the party entered through the front. They found 13 separate numbered "cages", each with different loads of goods from such lands as Sunndi and Idee. They soon found the warehouse office, and started to look through the various ledgers and files they found within. They sought some sort of secret door or false floor in the office, to no avail.

Theric, however, keyed in on a vital clue (and an excellent thought by his player, I must say). One of the numbered storage cages, number IV, seemed to not have any entries in the records. No goods were moved in or out of that particular area in at least a year. (One of the few times when forensic accounting was used to advance the plot of a D&D game, no doubt!) Sure enough, one of the crates in Area IV concealed a staircase leading down.

Beneath the warehouse was some sort of waiting room with an attached cloak room. Unfortunately, Ehrandar set off a trip-wire. There was no immediate effect, so it was obviously some sort of alarm. And indeed, when Mongo opened the door leading out of the waiting room, he was immediately impaled by a frog-man of some sort with a spear. More could be seen behind him in some sort of corridor. Mongo made short work of the frog-man, but its compatriots disappeared into one or more of the two doors in the corridor leading away from the waiting room. The party explored the closest, and discovered a chamber with not only a table and chairs, but a shallow pool in one corner. Adjacent to that room was an obvious armory, with scores of weapons, and many obviously missing from the racks.

Unfortunately, we had to call it an early night this session for a variety of out-of-game reasons. Everyone was left in situ, which is not something I like to do normally, but tonight's players are all coming back next time, so hopefully the continuity will be maintained. What will happen? What else lies in the chambers beneath the warehouse? What are those frog-men? What further effects might the curse of the frog-statuettes have?

We'll find out in but a fortnight.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

FLGS Update

Not too long ago, I posted about the sudden closure of my FLGS, Mighty Titans Hobbies and Games. There Friday and gone by Sunday afternoon. It looked like the place had gone under, and I was not pleased about the way the whole thing was handled vis-a-vis the customers being informed.

Well, last night word reached me that the store was indeed re-opening in a new location, and today I checked the place out. Mighty Titans has indeed re-opened (they just received their CO today, it turns out), and the new space is quite excellent. There's a huge space dedicated to gaming (although the place seems to me to be a bit smaller than the old store in toto, but that might just be the way its laid out), but in an old train station with walls of solid stone and high cathedral ceilings. I've got to say it's a very evocative locale, and should be great to game in. They lost some stock during the move, but hopefully they will be able to get back up to full capacity soon (especially with the holidays coming up).

I am very pleased with the speed with which the Mighty Titans folks got things back up and running (and I fully accept their explanation for why they left the old space so suddenly-- but I'll leave it to them to lay out the matter fully if they wish to), although I still believe the level of customer engagement could have been better. Still, the new place is great, and let's hope that the Time of Troubles is now fully behind them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Return of the Boxed Set

Scott Thorne, owner of Castle Perilous Games and Books in Carbondale, IL, has a column up today over at ICv2 on the subject of the new renaissance in RPG boxed sets. It's a good article, especially interesting because it's written from the perspective of a game store owner, and well worth reading in its entirety. One thing that really caught my eye, however, was this:
No one just getting started, unless they are a huge fan of Doctor Who and plan to drop $60 for it or $100 for Warhammer FRP will consider those two.  That leaves Dragon Age or the D&D Red Box, both fantasy RPGs, which is well and good but there’s no modern day or futuristic starter to point to a Halo or Call to Arms player, no superhero intro game to show the DC or Marvel fan, no martial arts or anime beginners set to appeal to fans of those genres.  Even those RPGs that tout ease of play as one of their main advantages, such as Fairy Tale or QAGS, don’t have a starter set.  The customer has to buy the book, then buy a set of dice, then wonder if they have bought the right set of dice.  Of course, store personnel can help with this, and they should, but still, a low priced starter set eliminates one more reason for the customer not to buy.
I'm not sure you need to include a pencil in a boxed set (ahem), but certainly the idea that a beginning gamer might not even know which dice to buy isn't something that would ordinarily occur to me, since I'm one of those who've been playing these games for literally decades, and sometimes putting myself in the shoes of someone brand new to the hobby isn't easy. Plus the noted lacunae of boxed supers, sci-fi, and other genres is one that certain publishers should probably be taking notice of.

As I said, a good article, and well worth the read.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"It Opens Up Terrifying Vistas of Reality"

I am now officially a Pundit


That sound you just heard was me gaining a new level. According to Trey's level titles for old school bloggers over at From the Sorcerer's Skull, I am now officially a Pundit, having hit the magic 160 followers for this here blog.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Mystic

The pre-playtest preview version of the Mystic class is now available for download, here:

When you read it, you will hopefully understand why it took so long to finish up. A boatload of new spells, and I really think I managed to give it a very different vibe than the other classes, and yet one that will fit in well with the other archetypes. Comments, as always, in the ADD forums, if you please.

EDIT: 120 downloads and only 1 person has commented? Seriously?

Sunday Matinee: James Bond

I'm going to deviate from my usual Sunday Matinee postings and cover an entire series of films today. I grew up with James Bond, both on television and in the theater. I believe the first one I ever saw in the movies was The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), which would have been when I was eight years old.

I will be the first to admit that there is not a lot of deep philosophy in these movies, but damn they were a lot of fun. Nor are they anything like the original Ian Flemming stories, which irritates many purists (including one friend of mine who has never seen a Bond film and flat-out refuses to do so, ever, because he is such a fan of the stories). They are something of a product of their times, of course; we see Live and Let Die (1973) coming out at the height of the "blacksploitation" craze that gave us both Shaft and Blackula. Too, both The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979) featured villains who were industrialists and businesssmen, echoing the general mistrust of big business that spiked in the later half of the 1970's. The Russians are, somewhat surprisingly, almost never the real bad-guys. Even in From Russia With Love (1963) the real villain is SPECTRE.

The conventional wisdom is usually that, much like Doctor Who, your favorite Bond actor is the one you first saw. This is true in my case, as the first Bond film I ever remember seeing on television was You Only Live Twice (1967), and Sean Connery remains my favorite 007.

The plots, especially of the early films, are something of a mixed bag. Some of the actions that Bond takes are downright incomprehensible (such as in Goldfinger (1964), where Bond is supposed to pose as a would-be gold smuggler to get inside Goldfinger's smuggling operation, but instead goes out of his way to antagonize him). Also, some of the bad guys' plots are somewhat over-complicated at times (why, for instance, does SPECTRE bother with capturing American and Soviet spacecraft in You Only Live Twice, when they could have simply shot them down with a missile, achieving their same goal with a lot less trouble?).

For all their flaws, though, I still love the pre-Brosnan Bond films. The Pierce Brosnan films and later seem very different in tone and tenor, and tend to fall very flat to me, perhaps owing to the fact that they were all made after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the world was a very different place, and the place of Bond and MI6 wasn't what it once was. They're great fun if you don't try to turn them into something they're not, and I find them eminently re-watchable.

Plus, I like to try to find connections between the films that weren't originally there, as a sort of game. For instance, it appears that Klaus Hergesheimer (from Diamonds Are Forever (1971)) originally had a job with NASA during You Only Live Twice. And while he was with Whyte Aerospace, he worked with Tom Carter from The Spy Who Loved Me, whose reserve USN commission was apparently activated to put him in command of the submarine.USS Wayne. And what the heck was Morton Slumber doing posing as an American diplomat? Was he a SPECTRE agent all along, or did they turn him later on and set him up at the mortuary? The intricacies abound.

Anyway, to finish off this little retrospective, I give you my own Top Ten Bond Films of All Time; many of these are based on how good the villain is (Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, for example, push Diamonds Are Forever over the top). Feel free to give your own list in the comments!

10. From Russia With Love - Connery
9. Dr. No - Connery
8. You Only Live Twice - Connery
7. Live and Let Die - Moore
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Lazenby
5. Thunderball - Connery
4. The Man With the Golden Gun - Moore
3. Goldfinger - Connery
2. Moonraker - Moore
1. Diamonds Are Forever - Connery

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Question of Nomenclature

In a system where 10 is the worst armor class, why does +2 chain mail decrease your AC?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

RIP Dino De Laurentiis

Dino De Laurentiis, producer of some of the best-known films in history, died today at age 91. You might know him as the producer or executive producer of films such as Battle of the Bulge (1965), Barbarella (1968), Serpico (1973), Flash Gordon (1980), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Conan the Destroyer (1984), Dune (1984), The Bounty (1984), Hannibal (2001), and literally hundreds of others.

Irons in the Fire

Just wanted to give folks a quick update on what I'm up to, writing wise.

Work proceeds apace on Adventures Dark and Deep™. It's looking like I won't be meeting my self-imposed deadline of all three books by December 31, but the Players Guide is all but assured, and enough of the Game Masters Toolkit to be useful. The Bestiary will be bringing up the rear, but fortunately the nature of the effort is such that you will be able to use monsters from other similar games pretty much seamlessly.

I'm doing preliminary design work on a stand-alone adventure for higher level characters. I want to keep the contents a secret for now, but rest assured that the map will not be based on any designs found on a placemat.

I'm running through the possibility of putting together a campaign guide to the Thillronian Penninsula for the World of Greyhawk. The idea would be to have something functionally equivalent to Ivid the Undying or Iuz the Evil, but set in the Norse-esque area of the extreme northeastern Flanaess. I happen to have a passing familiarity with Scandinavian mythology and history, and thought I might apply it here.

Folks have been steadily asking for side levels for Castle of the Mad Archmage, and by far the most popular request is the Black Reservoir. Don't lose heart; I've not ignored these cries, but I don't have anything concrete to announce. Yet.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

So Much for my FLGS

For those of my loyal readers who are local, it will not be news that Mighty Titans Games and Hobbies has closed its doors. That was the FLGS at which my bi-weekly Greyhawk campaign was meeting, and as I've written in the campaign reports, it was a terrific space. I will miss it.

However, what I am specifically writing about is the way that Mighty Titans left us.

Last Friday, we had a session at the store. Everything, to all appearances, was fine. In fact, one of our usual tables had been commandeered to unpack boxes of new stock that were to go on the shelves. One of the store owners was there behind the register, and said nary a word about any plans, changes, or troubles, despite the fact that we have been a regular fixture there for 4 months, and I've been a regular customer for years, going out of my way to at least buy some little something each time we game there, as a gesture of thanks. Sometimes the somethings aren't so little.

On Sunday, apparently, the store was stripped, shelves and stock removed, and a hand-written sign placed on the door promising that the store was "taking gaming to a new level in a new space-- check our website for details" (or words to that effect). It took them nearly a week to put up any sort of notice on said website. And this was after having been in the space for only 6 months after having left their previous space.

That it was an inconvenient development goes without saying. But it was the suddenness, and the complete and utter lack of information leading up to the event, that is so troubling. You don't wake up one morning, decide to close a retail store, and go rent a U-Haul. This had to have been something in the works for some time. But there was no communication, no attempt to inform their customers that anything was amiss. Hell, if I had known there was a problem, I certainly would have dropped another $100 on product last Friday, and I'm sure I'm not alone. But there was nothing. Someone just showed up on Sunday and the place was empty.

Now, I don't know the specifics behind what happened with Mighty Titans, and likely never will. But I guarantee you when we were there on Friday, that owner behind the counter knew what was going on, and kept it to himself. For all the show of trying to promote some sort of "gaming community", it was just a sham. A simple "things aren't going like we had hoped, and we're going to be moving to a less expensive location" would have been all I asked. But no. I guess what bothers me the most is that they just took us, the customers, for granted.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

AD&D's Magic Items are Fiddly

In going through the descriptions for magic items in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, I am struck by just how complex and fiddly many of the items are. So many of them have numerous enumerated powers; doing this costs so many charges, doing that costs none or three depending on the circumstances...

Honestly, before I sat down and actually read each and every one (required because I'm restating many of them for the Adventures Dark and Deep™ game), I hadn't realized just how complex, situationally dependent, and downright fiddly many of them are.

Don't believe me? Check out the ring of shooting stars, ring of elemental command, crystal ball, trident of fish command, or wand of illumination. All of those were items I had, for some reason, thought were pretty straightforward. In actually reading them, they're all fiddly. I'm pretty sure that this is not the case in 0E. But now I need to go back and check.

Fritz Lang's Metropolis On Television Tonight

Back in April, I mentioned that the fully-restored version of Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece "Metropolis" was being released in theaters. I unfortunately didn't get a chance to see it in the theater, but I am pleased to report that it will be on Turner Classic Movies tonight at 8:00 PM, followed by Metropolis Refound, which looks to be a documentary about how the missing footage was recovered and restored. This movie influenced film making (and especially science fiction film making) for a century, and now it's got an added half-hour or so of previously-missing footage. Definitely worth checking out!

Sunday Matinee: Excalibur (1981)

Of all the adaptations of the King Arthur legend, Excalibur is perhaps the least historically accurate. And for all that, it's probably one of the most visually stunning.

Famed among aficionados for the scene where the disguised King Uther has sex with Igrayne while wearing full plate armor, this film sort of takes all the bits and pieces of the Arthur legend and plucks out whatever it damn well pleases to make a story. There are pieces of Thomas Mallory, T.H. White, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Alan Jay Lerner, and a lot more besides to be found here.

The film starts with Uther Pendragon struggling to bring all of England under his rule. Merlin (who, tellingly, refers to himself as "the Merlin" at one point) has worked for years to bring peace to the land, and gives Uther the sword Excalibur to cow the reluctant warlords to accept his rule. Alas, his victory is short-lived, as lust for the lady Igrayne, wife of the duke of Cornwall, leads him to break the hard-won truce. Arthur is fathered, Cornwall is slain, and eventually Uther himself is assassinated, but not after he embeds Excalibur into a boulder, stuck there for decades.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and Arthur, serving as a squire at a tournament where the winner gets to try to pull the sword from the stone, does so accidentally and effortlessly. Merlin re-appears and mentors the young king. Most of the knights oppose his new-found kingship, but his strength and courage wins them over in the end. He weds Guenevere, breaks Excalibur trying to defeat Lancelot (the Lady of the Lake mends the sword and returns it to him, after a frantic Merlin declares that "hope is broken"), and eventually forms the Round Table, once England is brought to peace.

More years pass, and after Lancelot and Guenevere betray Arthur by sleeping together (at which point Arthur loses Excalibur), and Morgana (Arthur's half-sister) not only orchestrates the downfall of Merlin but fathers a son (Mordred) with Arthur, the quest for the Holy Grail, which would heal the now-wounded land, begins. Morgana, it turns out, has suborned or slain the various knights who have stumbled upon her lair, but Percival overcomes them and eventually finds the grail.

Arthur finds Guenevere, Excalibur is restored to the king, and Arthur and his few remaining loyal knights ride out to meet Morgana and Mordred. With Lancelot's unexpected return, Arthur is victorious, albeit sorely wounded, and eventually dies, taken to Albion in a viking-esque funeral scene after Excalibur is finally returned to the Lady of the Lake.

One of the most outstanding features of this film is the performance of Nicol Williamson as Merlin. With his rolling baritone voice and skull-fitting chrome helmet, he embodied the character of Merlin for me for years after seeing him. The score draws heavily on Wagner (the Ring cycle, Parsifal, and Tristan and Isolde), and works very well for such a ponderous movie.

I say "ponderous" here not in an entirely negative connotation. The film has a very "heavy" feel, partly because of the costuming (the armor worn by the knights is a very unhistorical solid iron and later chrome-plated full plate armor), and also because of the almost oppressive feel of some of the locations. Woods are always deep and thick, the castles are cyclopean in their design, and even the parts in the wastelands are dark and claustrophobic. Liberal use of fog adds to the feeling. Wagner's music feels right at home in the setting.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Jim Ward Needs Our Help

Apparently Jim Ward, one of the early luminaries of role-playing, is very sick and is currently in the Mayo Clinic. The medical bills are, quite understandably, piling up at a ruinous rate.

There are several avenues being pursued to help out (including putting together a fan-compiled book of Metamorphosis: Alpha material as a fundraiser), but something that we can all do right now is to pick up some M:A stuff at Jim's store. If you're a fan of the original M:A or Gamma World games, do yourself (and Jim) a favor and pick up some pdf's there to round out your collection. I've personally been holding off getting 4th edition, but I need no more prompting than this news.

And for all you fans of 0E D&D, you should pick up the 1st edition M:A rules. You'll find a lot of stuff in their that is not only familiar, but might find its way into your game.

And lastly, here's a cute little animation someone put together. Laser eyes and rotating knives FTW!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Organization of Spells

For the longest time, I defended the AD&D organization of spells by class and level as being the best way to do things. It made more sense, I argued, when selecting a character's spells for the day.

However, at the urging of some folks here a few months ago, I decided to undertake an experiment with the Adventures Dark and Deep book. There, I simply included everything, cantrips included, alphabetically. The spell lists are still there, of course, organized by class and level. But the spell descriptions themselves are alphabetical.

I've been using my pre-prototype copy for personal use over the last couple of months, and I've got to say that the new system of organization is a huge improvement, at least in my experience. Having the spell lists makes daily spell selection just as easy. I'm experimenting with the same sort of scheme for magical items in the GMT, and it looks like it'll be equally useful.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Two-fer Convention Special in New Jersey

Double Exposure, the folks who run the Dreamation and Dexcon conventions in Morristown, NJ, are offering a special deal for folks who want to sign up early for both conventions. Save $23 off the price of "complete" memberships at both conventions, and $44 off the price of "super deluxe" memberships at both. It's a pretty good deal if you know you're going to be attending both cons. Right now I'm certainly planning on doing so, and naturally running some games. Dreamation is in February, and Dexcon is in July.

Details can be found on the Double Exposure website.