Sunday, September 16, 2018

Broom Closet, Wine Cellar, Baths

Broom Closet, Wine Cellar, Baths

Being a continuation of the journal of the stalwart Green Knight of the Eldeen Reaches, Sir Jack Summerisle, and companions various and sundry, as they explore the hidden world of Pellucidar deep inside the world of Eberron and seek to awaken The Spirit of the Mountain Above so that it may rid itself of the infestation of the Ghoul Kingdom within it.

[Editor’s Note: Several pages of Summerisle’s Journal are mostly illegible. There seem to be references to urination on faces of petrified sleeping giants, battles with demonic apes on spiked cliffs, a hunt for a serpent of some sort, travel by polymorphed ‘something’, finding a lost city, and other hints of adventure. It seems as if portions of the adventure have been lost to posterity, unless another of Summerisle’s companions also kept a record of their quest.]

We huddled in the broom closet of the giant’s animated walking house as it marched its steady path to the Temple we sought were we could awaken the Spirit of the Mountain. As we tried to get some rest to recover our energies, we were discovered by one of the animated wooden caretakers of the mansion. It mistook us for kitchen pests, and sprayed us with some poisoned substance and swatted at us with a broom. We tumbled out of the closet and set to destroying the creature, as a few of our companions succumbed to the poison. Luckily, the caretaker was easy to defeat, and Yuv and I were able to revive our companions.

We relocated to the wine cellar, having found a set of keys on the caretaker. In the wine cellar, several of our companions sampled the ancient giants’ wine. I did not, and I am glad for it turned out to be a mistake. The companions who imbibed fell into a deep slumber and had strange dreams of the house. Later those dreams turned out to be of benefit. And luckily, this time our rest was undisturbed.

Now that we were in better shape, we discussed our options. Rhea the Witch had been turned to stone by a trap, and the prophetic dreams hinted at ways that she could be restored. While I dislike her interest in and meddling with the Far Realm (home of my sect’s greatest enemies of yore), she does have her uses and I still hope to one day convince her of the power of the Greensong which is greater than any twisted horror of the Far Realm. For that reason, I agreed to help with the plan to restore the witch to fleshly form.

It turns out, conversing with the walking mansion itself was the key to solving our mystery. The house told us of a “steam bath” that had magical rejuvenating properties. Using a locate objects spell, we then searched the house and eventually found the bath chamber. In it were two strange tapestries, the figures within them were following our movements with their eyes. I detected fiendish presences within the tapestries.

Just as we were attempting to remove the statue of the witch from the bag of holding (how they got it in the bag in the first place is a mystery to me), the figures in the tapestries came to life and attacked. One tapestry showed a noble’s hunting party, the other three men fishing. The noble on his horse emerged along with a demonic hunting hawk. Iggy, the stone elemental creature, tore that tapestry and prevented another hawk and one minion from emerging. The other two minions had spells and a crossbow, and sent them out of the tapestry at us. And the three fishermen sent out their hooks and lines at us, trying to drag us in.

Luck was on our side, though. The demon spell-caster’s fear spell only affected Iggy. The demons seemed to dislike Flagan the halfling pugilist, but he is quick on his feet and good at dodging blows. I had the foresight to chant a bit of the Greensong which wards one from harm just as the fight started, and Yuv was able to effect a banishment spell upon the leader, returning it to its home in the nether realms. When the next demon, with four arms and an equal number of slashing blades, emerged from the tapestry, it was unable to strike me due to the warding power of the Greensong. With help from my allies, we slew it. Also, Feldspar the Bard, a gnome if I haven’t mentioned him before, managed to remove the fear from Iggy, who returned to the battle. However, the fishermen managed to snare Flagan and were drawing him near the tapestry. The spellcaster demon also was tormenting us with fire and ice magic. A combination of spells, weapons, and my ability to Turn the Unfaithful, sent the demons running back to hell. We burnt the tapestries.

With no more challenges, we inserted the petrified remains of Rhea into the steam bath contraption and Feldspar was able to operate it with help from our more mystically inclined companions. And Rhea emerged looking not only alive but freshly cleaned. 


Been a long time since I did an actual play report like this. I've been playing Summerisle, and a few times my alternate PC the githzerai eldritch knight Ryuden Kenjumon, and missing quite a few sessions also for real world reasons. 

If I can dredge up the memories of the unrecounted sessions, I will fill in the missing pages of Summerisle's journal (and maybe a strange Ryuden journal or two!). Hey, they're good for XP in the game...

Monday, September 10, 2018

Core Mechanics

Back in 2000, when 3E was shiny and new, there was much discussion of its use of a "core mechanic" of roll a d20+modifiers versus a DC. There's been discussion of it ever since. Maybe there was discussion of it before, but I don't remember it.

Playing a lot of 5E these days, and it's obvious that to the design folks at WotC, they think die rolling is the most important part of a D&D session. Hence the focus on rolling a d20 as a "core mechanic." And yes, I am continuing to use the scare quotes for a reason. It's because WotC completely failed to understand the true core mechanic of not only D&D but of any RPG.

A few weeks ago, discussing things with some 5E people (players, not the design team), I got the distinct impression that many of them were younger and less experienced in RPGs in general than I am. Not that I'm that old. I'll be turning 45 in a few months, and I'm from the third wave of D&D players who started with the Mentzer box sets. I offered the idea that dice are there to be rolled when everything else breaks down, and gave a link to Erick Wujcik's post on The Forge about diceless roleplay. It was one of the key pieces of writing about RPGs that helped me transition out of 3.5/d20 into the OSR (much more so than any of the GNS garbage). I hope I opened a few eyes, but their reaction was hard to gauge. The topic shifted away quickly. Maybe the revelation made them lose some Sanity points! (I keed! I keed!)

Recently, reading Jon Peterson's Playing at the World - more accurately, back to reading it, I'd gotten halfway in and then found myself too busy to continue until this week - he has a section where he talks about the real core mechanic of role playing games.

And that core mechanic is dialogue.

It's one of those things I've intuitively understood from the beginning. And it's where the real fun of role playing is. Sure, there can be die rolls that are high stakes and provide a cathartic reaction when they succeed or fail. Even lower stakes die rolls can have players excited. But the real meat and potatoes is the rhythm of "description, response/question, answer/action, reaction" that comes from dialogue at the table. All of the die rolling is meaningless without it.

So let your game design freak flag fly. Add in subsystems and minigames and weird % Thief skills and weapon vs armor tables (OK, maybe that's a step too far) that don't all rely on a standard mode of resolution. Design games that don't rely only on probabilities with increments of 5%, or a pool of d6's, or whatever.

The dice mechanics are there for when the core mechanic breaks down or isn't enough, as support systems.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Dungeon Board Game as Dungeon

I'm sure this has been done by others over the years, but I decided today that I'm going to use the board game Dungeon (by TSR) map as a dungeon and stick it somewhere in my West Marches campaign.

It might be a good choice for my "8-Bit Realm" where I'll have everyone make versions of their PCs using Retro Phaze (the OSR/classic CRPG mashup game). Should be fun!

I think I've got a file somewhere listing the creature and treasure cards from Dungeon. I unfortunately don't have a copy of the game. But with the list I can make the Retro Phaze (or just normal 5E D&D if I don't use this for the 8-Bit Realm) encounter tables and random loot tables.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Paper Minis Expert Monsters Set 1 for sale

You may remember (and a few of you purchased - Thank You!) my fold-up paper minis based on the monsters from the Basic Set D&D. They're still for sale over at my DriveThruRPG page, Hidden Treasure Books.

And now, the first of three sets covering monsters from the Expert Set is up for sale!

Direct Link right here!

It's got all the monsters from the Mentzer Expert Set from Animal Herd to Griffon.

If you purchased my Basic Monsters sets, you may have been less than satisfied that there was only one image of each monster. I've reformatted this set, so there are multiple monsters of creatures you might encounter in groups, like the giants, herd animals, blink dogs, etc. Creatures that are normally encountered solo, like elementals, devil swine, and golems just get one picture each (but I have different sized elementals for each summoning method).

$5 for 20 pages full of Expert Monsters, in full color. Not bad, I think.

Set 2 should be coming out in a few months. Need to finish the images for each monster. Layout shouldn't take too long once the images are ready.

Set 3 will cover the 20 or so monsters in the Cook Expert Set that aren't in BECMI, and if I get ambitious also the Isle of Dread monsters. Who doesn't love more dinosaurs?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Game Mechanics: 'card' based advancement

A little while ago, there was talk (centered on Jeff's Gameblog and started by Zak I believe during G+ discussion, or maybe over at his blog...I stumbled across it from Jeff's blog anyway) about random advancement tables for D&D and similar games. The idea is to break the monotony of all characters of the same class having the same abilities, but avoid the rules onanism of full customization.

I wasn't thinking of that at first, but my line of thinking this morning brought me to it. So I'd better start at the beginning.

A few days ago, my son wanted me to download a game all his friends are playing on their phones (I use Android, my wife iPhone, and my son has my wife's old iPhone). It's a tank battle game. When he described it, it reminded me of my college days playing Scorched Earth.
Scorched Earth image via Wikipedia
The basics of this new tank game are the same. Choose your projectile. Set the cannon angle. Set the power level of the shot. Fire at the enemy.

Where it differs in that each tank starts out with six different types of projectile and you cycle through them. Once you've fired one of each your arsenal refreshes. In Scorched Earth, you earned money and could purchase whatever you liked. Also different is that when you win a match, you get a loot crate with random contents: gold, gems, or cards. The cards are for the tank itself or for the various projectiles/weapons. If you earn enough cards of one type, you can spend gold to level up that tank or weapon system.

Last year, my son had me hooked on Clash Royale. Similarly, it uses a 'card' system. Every victory gets you a loot crate with random cards and some cash. You unlock new monsters and spells by finding a card in a crate. You power up monsters and spells by collecting enough cards then spending money for the level up.

So, it got me thinking about RPGs. Would a "card" system work for character advancement in an RPG? I don't mean that the DM should be handing out actual cards (although you could), but there could be a random table to roll on at the end of every session to award points to different abilities or aspects of a character.

Zak, Jeff, & Co.'s system (linked above) is just roll randomly every time you level up. Systems like Gamma World (original and maybe 2nd edition too?) had something like this.

Where a "card" system is different is that the player still has some control over how they level up. So every adventure (or session, or boss monster slain, or any time a treasure hoard is discovered, or at "milestones"...when the fuck ever you want to give them out, DM-sama) the players get a random roll to see what abilities gain points. These of course should include hit points, attack probabilities, saving throws, defenses, and skills. They can also cover spells, fighting maneuvers, thief skills, etc.

Get a new "card" and you get a new ability. Thought you were a Fighter? Congratulations, you're now a Fighter who can cast Invisibility.

Get enough points (or cards) in Invisibility, and you can...if you choose to do so...spend money/time training to improve that ability. You also need to spend those cards. If you had more than the threshold amount, you have a few cards left over, it doesn't reset to 0.

Now, for the system, things could get a little complex. Some things like HP and attack bonuses may scale near indefinitely, while other things should be capped. How many points should each ability need to advance? How much gold/time should it require to level up? Yeah, making this system would be potentially a lot of work. But it might not be that bad. Keeping with the Invisibility example, you might get:

Pre-Invisibility (1st card): like an Elven Cloak, it's not really invisible, you just hide so well no one can see you unless you roll a 1 on 1d10.
Invisibility (5 cards, 100gp): like the 1st level spell. You're invisible until you attack once.
Invisibility II (10 cards, 500gp): like the 1st level spell, but if you save vs spells when attacking, you remain invisible until you attack again.
Invisibility III (15 cards, 1000gp): you and 1d4 allies gain Invisibility I.
Invisibility IV (25 cards, 2500gp): all allies within 10' gain Invisibility I, you gain Invisibility II.
Invisibility V (50 cards, 10,000gp): improved invisibility, you don't lose it until you decide to become visible or it's dispelled

Benefit? Balance between purely random advancement and customization. Don't want a power but you've got the cards for it? Don't spend time/money to level it up.

Drawback? It's a lot of work to bolt something like this onto an existing system. It might be best to build a new game from scratch designed around this. Could be good for a Supers game actually...

Friday, June 15, 2018

Mako Miyasuzu, Sohei

My friend Alex of the Busan Gamers, now living Stateside, got in on my online Chanbara playtest game. He created a female Bushi/Sohei named Mako Miyasuzu. She's the next character I want to highlight from Chanbara because there ended up being a lot of emergent world-building from his character creation that I added into the campaign, and it allowed me to tie together several different types of PC that otherwise might not have had any story-relevant reasons for adventuring together.

First of all, here's Mako's description in Alex's own words:
Mako Miyasuzu is the last remaining member of the Miyasuzu family of the noble Akugiri clan. Seven years ago, on the fall equinox, the day that the walls between the worlds of the oni and akuma are closest to the world of man, the day that every family responsible for a Shrine of the Silver Bell must perform the ceremony to keep the walls strong for another year, Mako lost her family.

Mako does not know exactly what happened. She heard screams of warning, and her grandfather bundled her up and hid her under the floorboards. From her hiding place, she saw figures, perhaps humans in black, perhaps oni or akuma for some seemed to be wreathed in fire, others in unnatural blackness. Mako hates herself for cowering, listening to the beasts slaughter her family, the screams of her sister, the defiant cursing of my grandfather, the splintering crash as the bell her family was pledged to tend and defend was stolen.

For weeks Mako stayed at the shrine, trying to rebuild it, training herself in the manner her family had, torn between rage and sadness. Eventually, she was found by some pilgrims who took her to her great uncle, Lord Suzaku Akugiri. Mako was raised in the military manner of the Akugiri, but never forsook or forgot the pledge she made to herself every minute of every day she stood on that mountain in the ruins of her family's shrine. She would find whoever murdered her family. She would return the bell to the shrine. She would deliver the curses of her grandfather, to drive home into the bellies of those beasts the swords of her father and mother.
 Mako's stats are a bit out of date - a few things were modified in the final published book, but here's her character sheet:

Name:Mako Miyasuzu
Class: Bushi (Warrior)
Profile: Sohei (Warrior Monk)
Background: Buke (Warrior-Aristocracy)

Allegiances: Azuma Shinobi, Akugiri Clan, The Order of the Silver Bell

Ability Scores
Str 14 (+1)
Int 10
Wis 17 (+2)
Dex 17 (+2)
Con 11
Cha 9

AC: 17
TD: 17
HP: 10   Current: 10
Attack Bonus: +2
Encumbrance: 11 allowed Current Total: 5.75

Bonus Dice: 5   Type: combat

Background Skills

Art (High)
Craft (Weaponry)

WP: Basic, Samurai, Classical
Armor: All

Class Abilities

Frenzied Attack – By spending a combat die, the sohei may make 
additional attacks equal to the result of the combat die, but 
all attacks that round take a penalty to hit equal to the combat 
die result instead of a bonus. They gain no bonus or penalty to 

Spells Per Day: / / / /






Money and Treasure - bag of coins - 1EU
Zeni: 10
Mon: 53
Trade Bars:


Wakizashi - .25EU - d6+1 - +1 to hit
Katana - .5EU - 2d4/d10+1 - +1 to hit
Long Bow - 1EU - d8 - rate: 2 - S: 70 (+2 to hit), M: 140, L: 210 (-3 to hit)
arrows (40) - 1 EU

Backpack - 2EU
Contents: Clothes(1 set plain, 1 set fine), flint and steel, flute, tent,
weaponry tool set, silk rope-50', wineskin, preserved food (10), torch (5)

Her allegiances developed through conversation between Alex and myself. He came up with the background above in a more skeletal form. I added in a few details to tie it to my Enzan Province setting. I had pulled some (very derivative in most cases) organizations from a setting I developed back in the 3E OA days (which I ran with my old Yamanashi Group). One of them was the Azuma Shinobi, based on the 'good guy' ninja from the Tenchu video games.

I'd listed some of these organizations as ideas for the players. They could join one if they liked, and help me flesh it out more, or create their own using the ideas for inspiration. Alex and two other players liked the description of Azuma Shinobi, and we negotiated how his demon-hunting shrine protectress could also be part of a ninja clan. We must have emailed or Skyped the details, because they're not on the RPOL game and I don't remember exactly how we discussed it working out that way, but it made sense at the time.The mission the Azuma gave Mako at the start was to serve as bodyguard to the two dedicated Shinobi characters.

Since two other characters were tied to the biggest local shrine (the Mahotsukai/soryo daughter of the shrine-keeper, and the Mahotsukai/onmyoji protege of the shrine-keeper's old friend), we worked Mako's quest to retrieve the family's Silver Bell as an angle to tie her in as well. The shrine-keeper had some limited information about the bell, and was helping Mako piece together clues to its whereabouts. (Conveniently, the clues led to the adventure location...)

The shrine-keeper's daughter (I'll post her eventually) and another of the Azuma Shinobi characters both also had allegiance to the daimyo, so I was able to bring in a third set of characters. In that way, I brought them all together despite varied allegiances and varied purposes into a party that was prepared to explore the Ghost Castle Hasegawa.

While we never ended up completing Ghost Castle Hasegawa before my dissertation killed the game, I did work up plans for the next adventure to be about hunting down the oni/akuma who stole the bell. Alas, it never got past the idea stage. 

Fun fact: Alex had Mako only speak in haiku form. He'd told me he would do that, but not any of the other players. The first time he introduced himself, several other players also decided to answer his poetry with their own. It was a lot of fun for me to read the threads they were creating.

If reading about this character made you think "That sounds like fun!" then check out Chanbara. You can make your own crazy poetry-spouting ninja/warrior monk, or a drunken calligraphy-obsessed samurai, or a hermit master of the war-fan (always underestimated in combat until the war-fan clocks you upside the head), or a scholarly spy who uses brains and guile to infiltrate enemy camps, or hundreds...probably thousands...of other character types.

Chanbara is for sale in pdf for $10, print (softcover, full color) for $20, or print/pdf combo also for $20. Exclusively through

Friday, May 18, 2018

Jokichi the Vagabond - Chanbara Character Profiles

I've been thinking of interesting ways to promote Chanbara besides just spamming everyone's G+/Facebook feeds with links to the game. No one wants that, and I don't like doing it. So, I'm going to post some of the characters that appeared in the play testing of the game over the next few weeks. Hopefully, seeing the interesting characters that people played in the games I ran will drum up some interest in the game.

First up is Jokichi the Vagabond. Jokichi was played by Justin, who ran the awesome Vaults of Ur campaign that I posted about many years ago (I played Thidrek the Sleestak). In my first round of playtests, Justin came up with a great character so I want to highlight him first.

Jokichi the Vagabond
Class: Bushi/Abarenbo level 1
Social Status: Eta
Allegiances: (undefined)*

Str 15 (+1)
Int 12 (+0)
Wis 11 (+0)
Dex 14 (+1)
Con 13 (+1)
Cha 9 (+0)

AC 14  HP 11
TD 14  BAB +2
PD 12  SP 22
Combat Dice: 4 (d6)
Encumbrance: 1.5/11
Speed: 120(40)

Saving Throws
Wood 12
Water 13
Metal 14
Fire 15
Earth 16

Background Skills: High Sport, Low Sport, Rural Craft, Crime

Special Abilities:
Show of Strength: Spend 1 combat die to increase Str score to 18 (+3) for 10 minutes

Katana (hit +3, damage 2d4+1/1d10+1)
Partial Light Armor (AC +2)

As you can see, Jokichi was of Eta social status which Justin was happy to play up, and didn't get upset when NPCs treated him like garbage. Due to a lucky roll, though, the daimyo's niece was fond of him and there were hints of a "doomed romance" plot started that never got off the ground because Justin wasn't able to play the entire playtest campaign. Too bad, it seemed like it would have been a lot of fun.

Possibly because of the poor treatment he had at the hands of his employers, when the party went after a group of pirates, Jokichi tried to sign up. None of the players were sure if Justin was just doing it as a ruse or if he really intended for Jokichi to become a pirate. As GM, I was willing to let the campaign become one of nautical plunder if the players wanted to. In the end, though, the players managed to defeat the pirates (with Jokichi's eventual help), and continued on to serve their daimyo.

Since Justin couldn't continue playing, we decided that the authorities put the blame for the mission's blunders (they stopped the pirate leaders, but the ship and its cargo got away) on Jokichi's head, and he was confined to quarters. That way, if Justin had returned, we could roll out Jokichi again by saying he'd served his term of punishment.

He was a trouble maker of the first order, and the early playtest games were really lively because of the chaos Jokichi brought to the staid lives of the more honorable characters.

*Since I was trying to playtest the exploration, combat, and magic rules in the live game, I didn't worry about allegiances. In my play-by-post game, I did, and I'll provide some of those characters and their allegiances in future posts.