Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Endless Quest #5: Revolt of the Dwarves

"You are Galen, whose family is captured by dwarven warriors revolting against human rule.  Can you put a stop to the Revolt of the Dwarves?"  --from the back cover

Revolt of the Dwarves is by Rose Estes, and is a fairly creative story.  First of all, it takes one of the main player races of D&D and turns them into the bad guys.  It gives them a serious grievance, and reasons for their revolt (although you may never learn them, depending on which paths you take).  There are quite a few other encounters that don't play out the way you'd think they should just by looking at the listed alignments of the creatures in the rulebooks.  For these reasons, I like the book.

It does have some serious flaws, though.  First of all, your protagonist Galen is an 8-year old kid with a puppy (thankfully, Woofy never talks to you, only to pixies and his voice his never heard).  There are a lot of places where you're given the sorts of choices an 8-year old might actually choose (like giving up, or attacking recklessly against overwhelming odds), and these invariably lead to a bad ending.  The writing at times also reads a bit like it is begin written for an 8-year old reader, but not consistently.  I'm not sure what the target age for the EQ series was, but I was reading them when I was 10 to 15 or so.  I never read this one as a kid, but I think those places would have bothered me as being 'too kiddie' than I was used to from the series.

Next, and the biggest flaw, is the linearity of the story.  Revolt of the Dwarves has three main branches you can take, which is a good thing.  The problem is that once you start down one, you don't have much real choice. 

The first place you can make a choice comes 3 pages in to the story.  I thought that was a good sign, until I found out that the choices were an easily telegraphed bad ending, a choice that does nothing and sends you back to make another choice, and the correct choice that leads to another 6 pages (1 illustration) of text before you get to choose one of the three branches.

Those three branches are going to the dwarves' caves, going down the river, or going to the pixie forest.  While each of these branches has some interesting stuff, it's pretty clear that the dwarf cave branch is supposed to be the correct one.  On both the river and pixie branches, the first choice or two gives you the option to give up and go to the caves.

And an awful lot of choices aren't really choices at all.  Lots of them involve choosing A or B, reading a page, and then both A and B lead to the same page to continue the story.  Sometimes that gets changed into an A, B, or C choice, where A and B both work and take you to the same continuation, and C leads to an ending.  Or as the very first choice in the book, A works, B tells you to choose again, C is an ending.  Other choices tend to be simple A works, B is a quick ending types.

When you finally get to the 'good' endings, there can be a bit of variation.  But for the main part, this book doesn't offer a lot of meaningful choice.  Despite the flaws, though, it's got some interesting encounters, and despite the 8-year old protagonist, it still feels very "D&D" to me.  You can enlist some interesting allies along the way--an old blind deposed dwarf king, a 'Huck Finn' type kid only not as cool as Huck), or a vain prankster pixie chick.  And as I mentioned, quite a few monster encounters don't play out as expected.

The art is good.  It's got the required Elmore cover--although the raiders look a bit more like humans than dwarves in their proportions--and Holloway interiors.  I like Holloway.  I've said it before.  But I think he's great at getting lots of expression into his characters and details into his pictures without overloading them.  And he does another good job here.

Overall, I find the book a bit disappointing.  There's some good stuff in it that can make for some interesting situations in your home game.  But as a game book itself, it's limited choices make it not so fun to read.

Protagonist: another helpless child
Sidekick: a puppy (with old dwarf, another kid, and pixie as possible help)
Adventure:  lots of good ideas
Endings: quite a few where you lose but don't die and 'live the rest of your life regretting not making another choice.'
Art: Good.  Decent Elmore cover, nice Holloway interiors.
Overall: Average (good ideas, poor execution)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Free RPGs!

I'm sure many of you already know about this site, but some of you may be new to the RPG blogosphere, or have just never come across it. 

There are a ton of free games you can download at 1KM1KT (1000 monkeys, 1000 typewriters).  They haven't churned out any Shakespeare yet, but give them another 995 years or so...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A productive Sunday

Today we had an American style Thanksgiving lunch at church.

Did NOT spend all afternoon surfing the web.

I read a lot more of "Revolt of the Dwarves" but still not finished with it.  EQ fans, be patient.

Drew in about half a sheet of graph paper worth of dungeon.  (My new megadungeon layout, level 3.)  I think I had some clever ideas for making the level feel different.

Also, I'll be filling in about a quarter to a third of the remaining open space on that level with a 'dungeon town.'  Some place relatively safe, maybe a dwarf lair of sorts, where the PCs can rest up and resupply, perform transactions, hire new help, etc.

Talked to the folks on Skype for the first time in over a month.

Ordered that gold dragon (the Oriental one) I was talking about the other day, along with a few Papo figures that will work nicely as giants (a caveman, viking and barbarian).  That's my Christmas present.

My wife will be ordering me the illustrated, hardback, 70th Anniversary edition of The Hobbit for my birthday present.

Didn't get to take a nap, but I'm feeling refreshed and recharged.  Bring it on, Monday!

North Korea? Game on!

ze bulette asked, in the comments to my last post, "Incidentally, I hope things cool off over there. What's the vibe on the street where you live?"

To tell the truth, here in Busan there's little to no worry about war heating up between North and South Korea (and thanks, Sarah Palin, for putting me on the wrong side in the conflict!).  Koreans aren't worried about it (angry about it, but not worried).  Ignore CNN.  They're just milking the exchange for ratings.

I do think the situation is a great way to add some conflict to a setting, however.  Two nations with a similar culture but opposing philosophy, and bad blood because of an old conflict between them where they were both pawns of greater powers?  Lots of campaign hooks there.

Throw in a despotic ruler on one side, who's anxious to make sure his son is accepted by the nobility/military elite as his successor so he's acting more belligerent than normal--sending his killbots/zombie hordes/orcs in raids across the border.

But neither side wants all out war.  The despotic ruler's side would likely collapse from the over-expenditure a war would necessitate.  The more open and free side would lose what little edge it's gained recently against the bigger powers in the world (or galaxy...).

That right there is a pretty good campaign background.  Lots of simmering tensions that the GM can exploit as adventure hooks, and as consequences of PC actions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Noir Frontiers: Murder on the Dramune Express

Had yet another idea for an adventure module I'd like to write, but the way things are going these days, I'll never get around to it.  I'm up to my eyeballs in private lessons.  Trying to save up for grad school.  But anyway, you're interested in gaming stuff, not my work.

Use Star Frontiers to run a murder mystery.  Set on a starship (with Star Frontiers' FTL rules, that would mean the characters have X days to find the killer before the ship reaches its destination, similar to the Orient Express).  Of course, it won't be simple.  With robots being reprogrammed, holobelts being used (including a few illegal doubles of real people), and several passengers with secrets to hide and possible motives for murder.

I think it could be fun, if written and played right.  And it would offer lots of chances to use not only the Bio-Social skills a lot, but also those Intuition/Logic scores and Personality/Leadership scores. 

And it would be fun to throw in some Noir type characters with a Frontiers twist.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Luddites vs. Amish

A simple question:

Do you feel that the OSR types are more like the Luddites or the Amish?

Luddites, smashing looms
Are we raging against some machine of modernization that we believe will ruin things?

Amish, growing beards
Or are we just opting out of the race for the newest, brightest, and flashiest because we believe life is better without all that?

I have no answers, only the question.

Pork Chop Sandwiches!

I'm only a short way into "Revolt of the Dwarves" the next Endless Quest book.  Haven't read this one before, so I can't skim if I want to do a good review.  And don't have much time.  May have even less time next week. 

Work sucks, but what can you do?

Sorry for the non-post here.  Have some funny video (warning, harsh language!):

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Not the Gamma Terra I know, but

It does look pretty fun.

Josh sent us a message today.  He's got the box set, is reading it over, and will be back in Korea in a couple of weeks.  He even said he got a few good ideas on how to make it work well from my blog.

I know I'm usually down on 4E D&D, from what little I've tried of it.  But this looks different.  It looks like it's not pretending that it isn't a tactical war game first and an RPG second.  And it's got plenty of 'random.'  Gamma World just isn't Gamma World in my book without lots of randomness in character generation.

So I'm definitely looking forward to playing this.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Level 6 Maven

Yesterday, I reached that magic number of 80 followers, and sooner than I expected.  Now, I'm (according to Trey's great OSR blogger level titles), a "maven" which of course means an 'expert.'  I don't know how much expertise I show off on this blog--it's serious stream of conscious first drafts 90% of the time--but I'm glad all of you enjoy reading it.

And not that I really care much about such things (OK, I kinda do...) but all the followers I've gained this month will likely give me a pretty good ranking when Cyclopeatron gives us our 'followers gained' rankings for November.

And I owe it all to you guys.  But enough gushing.  Here's something entertaining that helps express how I feel better than me spouting off any more.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present:

$240 Worth of Pudding

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Random Campaign Idea: Space Vikings

Thinking about Star Frontiers, Icelandic Sagas, and Space Cowboys recently congealed into an idea--

A SF campaign set (at first) on an outpost colony which is settled in a pattern roughly similar to that of Medieval Iceland in the Sagas.  Lots of scattered settlements in inhospitable but not uninhabitable terrain.  Semi-democratic government, in which each settlement has a leader who is pretty much king on his land, but with regional judge/priests who settle local disputes, and all landholders gather periodically (or conference by computer, since this is the future) to settle important matters.

Contact with the Frontier proper would be irregular and infrequent, and what few ships there are on the planet would be mostly engaged in some piracy in addition to commerce. 

I kinda like the feel of the setting idea, but players may balk.  Especially if they learn that certain items of equipment/weaponry/ammunition may not always be available due to the lack of regular contact with the more civilized worlds.  But it would give lots of opportunity for adventures.  Disputes and feuds between landholders, raiders from other worlds, raiding other worlds, exploring the hostile planet, etc.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A new take on the Gold Dragon

I've had my eye on Papo's fairly new "Dragon of the Rising Sun" figure for a while now.  I've never really been a fan of AD&D's styling the Gold Dragon after the oriental 龍*.  I'd always imagined them as winged dragons, just like the other dragons in the Basic Set.  But it would scratch my itch to have a Gold Dragon figure to plop on the table, and would serve double duty for when I run OA campaigns.

But today I noticed that Papo has also now released their two headed dragon model (which I was considering to fill the Black Dragon niche) in gold.

Now, according to the Basic Set, Golds have a 100% chance to speak and cast spells, and a mere 5% chance to be caught napping. 

A dragon with two heads would be much less likely to be caught fully asleep.  One could rest while the other kept watch.

A dragon with two brains would be more intelligent, one would assume.  More likely to speak and be able to use magic.

A Gold dragon has two forms of breath weapon--fire and chlorine gas.  One type from each head!

A Gold dragon is lawful, and a two-headed intelligent dragon would need to have both heads operating in harmony to function.  Seems like a fairly lawful mindset to me.

The only thing that doesn't fit by the book would be that a Gold only has one bite attack.  But then at 6d6 damage, that's fairly nasty just for one bite.

I don't know that I'd actually re-envision Gold Dragons in my campaign to all be two-headed just because I may buy the figure.  If I do get the black two-header, I definitely won't be applying this logic to Black Dragons.  But it was fun to think about.

[Pimping Michigan Toy Soldier Company in my links, because I've always got great service from these guys.]

*"long" in Pinyin, "lung" in Wade-Giles for those of you who don't read Chinese.

Lasergunfight at the OK Corral

Last week, at Grognardia there were a couple of posts about how Knight Hawks, the Star Frontiers additional rules that allowed for space flight/combat, were a little too late.

I never had the Knight Hawks rules until they were 'digitally remastered' by the star frontiersman folks, but I never really missed them.  We played quite a bit of SF when we weren't playing D&D, and most of our games were basically either "Westerns with laser guns" or "Vietnam with Aliens" when they weren't blatant ripoffs of whatever sci-fi movie we'd recently seen (Aliens, Predator, Critters, various events on Star Trek TOS or early TNG, even Ghostbusters).

We sometimes commented on the fact that there weren't rules for being Luke Skywalker or Starbuck, piloting that fighter ship against the enemy fleet, but since we knew of the existence of Knight Hawks (I think I got SF in 1986), we didn't worry too much about it.  And we didn't really miss it.

Basically, we just took either the 'creature of the week' attitude, the explore the strange planet adventure (typically resulting in the Vietnam with Aliens vibe), or taking the law into our own hands to stop Sathar agents in Port Loren (Westerns with laser guns).  And it was a lot of fun.

Basically, just saying, to counterpoint Jamie Mal, that some of us didn't care about the lack of starship rules in Star Frontiers.  We just assumed that it wasn't what the game was supposed to be 'about.'

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Endless Quest #4: Return to Brookmere

"You are Brion, an elven fighter on a scouting mission for your father, the king.  Can you destroy the monsters that invaded Brookmere, your family castle?" --from the back cover

Return to Brookmere is by Rose Estes, like all the earliest EQ books.  It's quite a good one, not just in my opinion, but among many who read the EQ series as kids.  It's not a perfect book, but it is an entertaining read.

As the back cover blurb says, you've got to enter your family's castle, destroyed by monsters when you were an infant, and try to learn the strength of the monsters, and whether any of the treasures still exist.  You're sent along with some other elf warriors, who quickly die, leaving you alone with only your talking amulet Mimulus (or Mim) to aid you.

Brookmere has been overrun by a mixed horde of humanoid monsters: kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls, and a few bugbears and hill giants.  Their leader is a wererat named Frang.  All is not well for the monsters, though, as something has been attacking them from inside the ruins.

The story is an excellent setup for the adventure, and the book is well designed as a game book.  You start out quickly (the first choice, with three options, is on page 8, including page 1 as standard intro, 1 full page illustration, and three half-pages of text to get to it, and page 8 is only those choices).  You've got several paths to take at the beginning, although most paths where you survive you end up going to the same two or three 'story' sections--the gnoll meeting, the wererat meeting, and the encounter with the mysterious 'attacker within.'  Early on, if you take the right path, there's also an interesting encounter with a rather bizarre invisible stalker (who isn't invisible at the moment) and the illusionist who held off the invasion long enough for the elves to escape.

There are also a lot of fun little encounters with monsters, such as a gnoll who just wants to collect pretty things instead of ripping elves limb from limb, a kobold with a cold, some bowling hill giants, and an under appreciated orc guard.  Throw in a gelatinous cube, some green slime, and a few traps, and you've got a pretty decent little dungeon crawl book.

The only big fault I find with the book now is the lack of a clear 'best' ending.  Granted, your mission is not to destroy the monsters of Brookmere, merely to scout them out, but the best endings you can get are 'escape and bring the information home so dad can send in the army.'  A smaller fault is that it's rather inconsistent on what you can and can't do.  There are times when one kobold makes you pause to wonder if you can take it on in combat, another section where you dispatch six kobolds without even much description of how you do it.  And that's not even necessarily looking at the story from a D&D perspective.  A final small fault is that because most of the early branches converge on the exposition scenes if you don't die or run away, you sometimes miss out on some important details.  Case in point, Mim can cast sleep, but this is only revealed in one branch, but there are several ways to get to the encounter where he can use it.  These faults don't detract from the fun of the story, though.

The cover of Return to Brookmere is of course by Elmore, and it's decent.  The interior illustrations by Timothy Truman, however, are really good.  Although a few times it looks like the art director got his/her monsters mixed up (the effeminate gnoll I mentioned above gets a pic, but looks more like an orc, for example), Brion looks like a real badass, and the monsters are well depicted. 

Overall, this is an entertaining book, with lots of good game play.  There are also plenty of interesting ideas you could snag for your RPGs, and quite a few areas where monsters are defeated by cunning rather than just by the sword.

Finally, I'd like to thank Jaquelyn Michelle Gatt, whose imprint is on the first page.  She kept this book in much better condition than any of my old EQ books that were worth reading (the sucky ones are in really good condition).

Protagonist: an elven fighter who can usually handle himself well in a fight
Sidekick: a talking amulet, who annoys the protagonist more than it annoyed me
Adventure: well done, with lots of interesting encounters and paths
Endings: a fair variety, but a little disappointing in not having a clear 'win' ending
Art: Nice Elmore cover, excellent interiors by Truman
Overall: Excellent

Friday, November 19, 2010

Connection, or coincidence?

I used to listen to White Zombie quite a bit in my college days.  Don't listen to them, or Rob Zombie's solo stuff, much anymore.

But I was wondering this morning (it was one of those shower thoughts that stuck with me)--was Erol Otis one of the influences on his art work?

I present for you to compare:



Presidents of the Apocalypse and other fun stuff

I've been piecing together some ideas I've had for the silly Presidents of the Apocalypse RPG Paul and I put together back when I was still in Japan.

I sent him the first bit of it, and he sent me some major revisions he'd done last year but never sent me.  I think it'll be a lot of work to fit them together, but we'll see.  Mine's a bit more 'loose' than Paul's version.

Got lots of great ideas for the video game bad guy book.  Some suggestions were things I was thinking of anyway, but some others were games I've never played, or had forgotten about.  This will definitely be worth doing.

That means Flying Swordsmen RPG will get pushed off the back-burner even.  Oh well.

I've started re-reading "Return to Brookmere" but I'm not sure if I'll get a review of it up tomorrow morning.  Might have to wait until Saturday, as I'll be playing board games tomorrow night.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Getting close to leveling up!

I'm up to 75 followers.  Welcome to everyone who's just joined up recently.  I've had a real surge in the past week or so.

According to Trey, that means I'm 5 away from leveling up!  If I'm lucky, and I remember to start following some of the newer or overlooked blogs, I may make it by the end of the year!

Thanks to all of you reading WaHNtHaC!

I'm a firm believer that what goes around comes around, so I'm off to find some new (to me) blogs on others' blog lists.

Random Thought

Why don't we see more about the influences and inspiration of the classic fairy tales in fantasy RPGs?

The basics are there: common folk (often young) end up meeting with supernatural monsters, and often defeat them through cleverness or persistence.  Treasure sometimes is picked up along the way.

I know there have been some attempts at 'fairy tale' RPGs, and some people have had success running fairy tale themed games with D&D or other fantasy RPGs.  But why don't we hear more about it?  Is it some childish desire to make the game seem more 'mature'?

These fairy tales, along with mythology and the Medieval romance, are what informed the Pulps AND the literature that informed D&D.  Both Frodo and Fafhrd owe a debt to Jack the Giant Killer and Hansel and Gretel.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Have your cake and eat it too?

Just a quick thought.  Lots of old school folks (and maybe some new schoolers too?) like the idea of GP=XP, as it spurs exploration and treasure hunting.  Lots of old school folks dislike the idea that adventurers end up with literally tons and tons of gold by the time they hit name level (in my experience, the new schoolers have long since converted all that cash to magic items as they go).

So why not keep the standard XP for treasure brought successfully out of the dungeon, AND use the Arneson carousing rules, where you get XP for any monies wasted in drinking and wenching, or donated to a worthy cause, etc.? 

It provides the players a bit more control over how fast they level up, gets rid of excess gold from the game, and speeds up advancement for groups that only meet every so often, as many of us on adult schedules do.

Tackling the Megadungeon: Conquest!

Continued from here.

The final round of mead was poured out.  Lord Gusorio was looking fairly tipsy, and his small audience were feeling the mead spinning in their heads as well.  But when the baron launched into one more bit of advice rolled into a tale of his adventuring days, they came to attention and made sure to remember what he said.  The stories he told could save their lives.
The baron said, "After we'd been scouting the fourth level for some time, we realized it would take too much effort to haul all of that treasure up to the surface, at least until we'd found the secret exit we'd heard rumor of.  So we ended up clearing out a small section with only one entrance.  Shalea magicked the door.  We posted a few of our men-at-arms as additional guards.  Then we had ourselves a nice little fall-back point on that level.  We went back to town, gathered as many supplies as we could, and stocked it well. 
"Whenever we found a bit of treasure on that level, or on the fifth as well--it took us some time to find that secret exit from the fourth--we would bring it to our strong point.  Of course, having that strong point meant we needed to keep it supplied, and we had to pay quite a bit extra to all the men-at-arms who guarded it.  But it saved us the trouble of having to lug all those coins all the way up every time we secured a treasure chest..."

Sometimes, you want to make the dungeon, or at least a small part of it, your own.  In Gary Gygax's original Greyhawk campaign, several of the prominent characters cleared out and took over the 1st level of that dungeon.  They stocked it with their followers, and then charged a tax on other adventurers venturing through.

Maybe you don't need to take over an entire level, but taking and holding territory within the dungeon can be beneficial.  As Zanazaz pointed out in the comments to my original post in this series, a dungeon can make a great bolt hole for PCs who've gotten in trouble back in the hometown.  It's hard enough to find men-at-arms willing to venture forth with a group of adventurers.  The local law enforcement officials will have a hell of a time trying to get a posse of Normal Men to go track them down.

As I posted in my example, strong points within the dungeon, held by a combination of magic and steel, make for the ideal place for treasure to be stored, healing and spell rememorization to be done, and so on.

And sometimes you might just want to clear out a hazardous area of monsters, then seal it shut to keep them from coming back, and to keep anything new from moving in in the future.  Most Megadungeons are so big that clearing them completely would be near impossible, but small sections can be managed in times of need.

Of course, the group venturing forth to conquer some part of the dungeon is going to need to be ready for quite a bit of combat to get rid of all the monsters in their chosen section.  Spells that can bar access, like Wizard Lock or Wall of Stone are good choices, too.  And a bunch of Elves, or a wand of secret door detection might also be a good idea.  It won't do much good to secure all the obvious entrances to your new mini-lair only to have a secret passage you don't know about inside it.

Of course, making that lair behind an already known secret door is also a great idea.  Especially if you can find an area with several small rooms behind it, and no other secret entrances, you'll have plenty of space for bunking down, storing gear and treasure, and setting up a small kitchen area.  Watch out for ventilation problems, though, especially if you have one of those types of DMs who wants you to worry about that sort of thing...

Monday, November 15, 2010

8-bit Bad Guys: Who are your favorites?

So if I'm gonna make a monster book drawing inspiration from old 'pre-Playstation' games, I want to know what are some of your favorites?

Atari/Coleco/Intellivision era, NES era, SNES/Genesis era, and of course arcade and computer games from the same eras.

Post your top 5, top 10, or whatever.  And they don't necessarily need to be fantasy themed games.  There are enough 'sci fi' beasties in D&D already (displacer beasts!), so if Megaman or Bad Dudes is your favorite, go ahead and post it.

Tackling the Megadungeon: "Specials"

Continued from here.

Baron Gusorio finished off another cup of the fine mead.  He sat quiet for a moment, gathering his thoughts.  His rapt audience waited patiently for the gray haired man to continue with his rambling advice.  Already, thoughts were spinning through their heads of the great adventures they would have.
Lord Gusorio finally continued.  "I told you about how we rescued Shalea and then had to get her werewolf curse removed.  Another time, we'd found a fountain in the dungeon--on the third or fourth level, I believe--that could cure diseases.  It was hard to get to, though.  There were lots of slimes and molds in the area, and creatures that fed off of those disgusting lowest forms of life.  Well, after we ran into a pair of mummies on the sixth level, Vertosh the Dwarf and I had caught the mummy rot.  We hauled out all the good treasures from the mummy tomb, gave the others a bit of time to rest and heal up, then set off again to find that pool so we could get rid of our affliction...

I think most DMs and module writers have a lot of fun with the 'special' encounters within a dungeon.  They're the oddities, curiosities, magical zones, and weird stuff that tends to be fairly memorable.  Unlike 'orc encounter #38" a room with howling winds from nowhere and a narrow bridge over a lava pit tends to stick in your mind.  They're sometimes challenging, sometimes bizarre, and sometimes useful.

Often they're just discovered randomly, during exploration (scouting), or they're searched out after learning that they might exist (fact-finding).  But once they're known, and properties of them assessed, they can become useful tools for a party of adventurers.

Like in my example above, curative sites or magical 'buffing' sites can be worth visiting over and over again.  Making a small sacrifice at a shrine to a battle deity might result in a free Bless spell before tackling a dragon or other big monster.  A pool that turns the bather invisible might also be a favorite spot to visit.  There could be a machine (or monster?) that takes in coinage and spits out gems of equal value, making treasure easier to carry.  These sorts of specials are most useful if visited as part of another type of expedition.

But there are times when the 'special' might be worth going to all of itself.  Portals to distant lands or other planes may lie within the dungeon.  A monstrous sage (gold dragons, hsiao, djinn, etc.) may lair within the dungeon, and the party may need to seek out that sage's wisdom.  Perhaps a character has a curse that can only be removed at a specific special location within the dungeon.

If the former, characters will want to prepare for the expedition based on their primary type of expedition.  If visiting that invisibility pool while scouting, leather armor and utility spells are likely best.  But if getting invisible as a way to surprise the Frost Giant Ysgeir and ensure a free round to 'soften him up' then it should be plate armor, fire balls, and all that jazz.

In the later case, getting to the 'special' and then home again is the objective, so only what equipment known to be necessary to reach that area should be brought, and the party will likely not need to bring along lots of men-at-arms or the like.  The Fighters may be armored up in case of surprises, and the spell-casters may want a variety of spells, as those annoying random encounters are likely to be the only battles fought (assuming the party has scouted the area well enough to avoid any new monsters that may have moved in since they discovered the area).  But the expedition will likely tend to be a short one.

Concluded here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bit of Gaming, Bit of Prep, Bit of Procrastination

Woke up this morning wondering what I should do today.

The Board Game Group is finally starting to meet again, but we failed to get critical mass for this afternoon, so no board games.

On Wednesday, I started drawing up maps for level 3 of my 'new and improved' megadungeon.  Still need to do lots of stocking on level 1 as well.  If my son takes a nap at the right time, maybe I'll work on that.

Reading the final volume of Lankhmar stories, so I may just finish "The Mouser Goes Below" instead.

"Flying Swordsmen RPG" will eventually make it out, but I'm feeling a bit uninspired by it at the moment.  Maybe it's time to rewatch a few wuxia movies.

Got an idea, based on the popularity of my pre-Halloween Castlevania monster write-ups.  A free supplement for D&D/S&W/LL that will compile lots of video game monsters from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.  Eggplant Wizards, chicken dragons, octorocks, lobbers and more!

The November sumo tournament starts today, and with my current work schedule Sundays are the only day I can watch, so I will be sure to catch it, no matter what else.

Will be writing up the last of the planned "Tackling the Megadungeon" posts tonight, and thanks to zanazaz, I'll be posting a 'bonus mission' tomorrow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tackling the Megadungeon: Acquisition

Continued from here.

Lord Gusorio proceeded to show off some of his personal treasures to his small audience of would-be adventurers.  A large ruby ring, emerald-studded bracelet, an ebony locket on a silver chain, and of course his intricately carved wooden leg - made of rare teak, it was set with a line of pearls down the front and the etchings on it showed scenes from the baron's life as an adventurer.
"Of course you know the basics of what to do when you secure a treasure hoard.  Take the gems and jewelry, plus anything that might be magical first.  Then fill up with coins from most valuable down to least.  You need to make sure that you don't get overloaded, though.  All that treasure is heavy, and slows you down.
"Once, we managed to wipe out a nest of minotaurs on the fifth level, and they had two huge chests of treasure.  We had hired several men-at-arms, but even with their help one chest was too large to move.  So we had to get creative..."

The point of a dungeon exploration is getting the treasure.  That's where most of your experience points come from, assuming you're playing OD&D, Classic D&D, or 1E AD&D, or keeping the 1gp=1XP rule in some other edition.  By the book, coins are given an unnatural encumbrance value of 1 coin being equal to 1/10 of a pound.  Very few real world coins were ever so large.  But that's part of the logistical/resource management challenge of a megadungeon game.  It's not supposed to be easy to get all that loot to the surface.

So what is a smart party to do?  Carry out what you can the first time you defeat a monster or trap that guards some treasure, of course.  But if you can, you'll want to come back for the rest as soon as possible.  If you don't, wandering monsters, other NPCs, or just the general other-worldliness of the megadungeon will mean it all disappears.

That's why it's important, especially for low level parties, to equip hirelings and retainers with backpacks and bags.  The more people in the party, the more treasure that can be recovered.  Some groups also may elect to have one or two characters and some men-at-arms remain in the dungeon to guard the treasure while the rest of the party carries out what they can.  It's risky to split a party, and to leave some of the members below for an extended time (not to mention bad for retainer morale), but if the hoard is extremely large, then there are times when a group may decide it's worth it.

As groups gain more power, magic of course will come to the rescue.  Spells like Floating Disk increase carrying capacity.  Invisibility and illusion spells can hide a treasure in plain sight.  Bags of holding allow for large amounts of loot to be carried out easily.  Teleport can allow for quick exit and return (if the area of the treasure is studied enough beforehand to minimize the risk of error...). 

Of course, other ways to remove treasure can be to get creative.  Bring mules or carts/wheelbarrows into the dungeon, if possible.  Charm a big strong monster and get it to carry stuff for you.  Secure a small section of the dungeon and leapfrog the treasure from room to room with a 'bucket brigade' of hirelings, sealing it off with a Wizard Locked door when the party needs to return to the surface so it will still be there when you return, and it will be that much closer to the exit.

The key thing to remember on such expeditions into the dungeon is that speed is necessary to get to the treasure (assuming it's one that's already been secured through combat or disabling of a trap and you're returning for more), but the return will be slow.  It's usually best to have all the manpower possible, both to carry out more, and to better guard it until you get it home.

Continued here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Endless Quest #2: Mountain of Mirrors

"You are Landon, a brave elf on your first mission into the land of frost giants and ogres.  Will you be able to stop the evil that controls the Mountain of Mirrors?"  --from the back cover.

As the cover blurb says, you're a young Elf named Landon in the second Endless Quest book.  Written by Rose Estes, as were the other original batch of EQ books, this one starts out with a decent premise, but there's very flawed execution.

Basically, your village has been cut off, as anyone traveling the mountain pass is now being captured by the monsters in the Mountain of Mirrors.  You've been sent out on a mission to see if you can get through, and armed with a magical blade, the Sword of the Magus (unknown plusses, enemy detection, light on command).  Sounds good, right?

Unfortunately, the major flaw of this book is that it reads like it was written as a novella first, with some choices here and there thrown in after the fact.  Maybe that was the case.  This is just hearsay, but I think I remember reading from Frank Mentzer in his mammoth Q&A thread on Dragonsfoot that Ms. Estes had approached TSR with an idea to write some fantasy books for young adults, and they became the EQ series.  This story might have been written before hand, and adapted.  I'm speculating wildly here, but compared to most EQ books, this one is LINEAR!!!

First off, you don't get any choices at all for the first 22 pages (including standard intro page and 3 full page illustrations), and then that choice is one of those lame "Do you want to give up and go home, or adventure?" choices with obvious results.  Dungeon of Dread and Pillars of Pentagarn both take their time getting started, but this is a bit much.  Then you've got another 10 pages (1 illustration) before the first real interesting choice, and it's a "Try a (which will fail and send you to b), try b (which will work), or try c (which is again giving up)" kind of choice. 

That choice is related to a fairly interesting encounter, though, with a smart-ass talking door made of ice.  Once you're past that, you've given three choices: fight some monsters, run away down some steps, or run down a side corridor.  If you don't go down the steps, you get into a big run-around sort of section where you can get into an endless loop of the same rooms if you just happen to make the same choices over and over again.  There are also about ten or so ways to get to the same 'escape and vow to return with reinforcements' ending (I kept referring to it in my mind as the 'dreaded 75' because of the page it's on). 

In other words, you just run around, facing some monsters (usually ending up dead/captured or at 75 if you face them), seeing a few oddities, and eventually go down those stairs to the second part of the book.  It's reminiscent of the Water Weird room in Dungeon of Dread, in that the one encounter really separates the book into two sections.

In that second section, you manage to meet the natives of the mountain (some sort of earth elemental beings called Guardians) who tell you how to beat the monsters and give you the McGuffin, then rescue some recent captured prisoners (human, elf and halfling), meet a 'blink linx' who comes along but doesn't really do much to help, and then have some choices about what to do next (yeah, it's another long section with no choice...not gonna count the pages this time).  A couple of choices later, and you're fulfilling the mission.  There are a couple good choices at the end finally, which can determine if you get a good ending or just an okay one.

But really, this book, aside from keeping sending you in circles in the first section, doesn't really have that many choices.  Very disappointing.

Now, some of the encounters and monsters in the book are interesting.  There's definitely some good bits of inspiration that could be used in a game.  It's just a rather tedious read.

The cover is a nice Elmore (again with Frost Giant and White Dragon, but this time they're integral to the plot).  The interiors are Jim Holloway.  I like Holloway's style--nicely detailed and expressive.  But something about these pictures sometimes bugs me.  Mainly, the depiction of Landon, who's according to the text a 'teen' elf (120 years) and 5'5", looks like a stubby little Halfling in most of the pictures.  There is a nice cameo by Laurus of Dungeon of Dread among the rescuees, though, in a picture on page 61). 

Overall, this is a fairly forgettable book.  I definitely don't remember reading it when I was young.  So either I didn't read it (doubtful, as my local library had all the early EQ books) or I really did completely forget it. 

Protagonist: Elf with magic sword on first adventure.
Sidekick: a vain talking blink-linx, who doesn't show up until halfway through.
Endings: a decent mix, but too few overall (75 is overused).
Adventure: some decent ideas, but not enough real choice.
Art: Nice cover (Elmore), decent interiors (Holloway).
Overall: Mediocre to poor.

Tackling the Megadungeon: Rescue

Continued from here.

The old baron smiled broadly, a new sparkle in his weary brown eyes.  Was the mead finally getting to him?  He ordered another bottle of mead from the valet, then continued with his reminiscences.  "Did I tell you the tale of Shalea the Sorceress?  She joined our party for a time, but on her second delve she was captured by what we thought were brigands.  We had been scouting, so we weren't prepared to fight them.
"We went out, rearmed, hired a half-dozen stout men-at-arms, and returned for her.  We weren't looking to route the brigands, just to get Shalea back.  We chased off the brigands after a bit rougher fight than we were expecting, but got her.  Then we high-tailed it out of there.
"Then, as we were recovering from the battle, we noticed a few odd things about Shalea.  She was changed.  And on the next full moon, we found out how.  The men we thought to be brigands were actually werewolves.  And that's how our second rescue mission for Shalea began.."

Monsters like to capture humans and demi-humans.  Some for food, some for slaves, some to sacrifice to dark gods, some just for the fun of collecting even.  DMs love a good 'so and so has been captured' or 'I'll reward you for rescuing my daughter' type adventure hook.  So there comes a time in most adventurers' careers where they need to enter the dungeon with the goal of bringing someone back out safely.

These expeditions are usually fairly similar to combat missions.  The prisoners are likely to be guarded well, so some fighting might be in order.  But a group may want to try and sneak in and sneak out to avoid a rough battle.

Obviously each group will need to plan the entry part as best suits their needs and party strengths.  The important part of rescue missions is getting the rescued folks out alive again.

Whatever captured the victims, if not eliminated by combat, may likely pursue.  And there are plenty of other denizens of the dungeons, especially those pesky wandering monsters.  The party can't depend on the victim being combat-ready (even if they're a player character, they may be low in hit points, out of spells, stripped of their weapons and armor, etc.).  So it becomes a game of protecting the rescuees and getting them out of the dungeon as fast as possible.

Higher level groups with access to spells like teleport and word of recall will have it a bit easier, as they can use those magics to get out (or at least get the rescuees and the caster out--the rest of the party might still need to get out the old fashioned way, if there are a lot of folks to rescue).  For lower level groups, there's consolation in the fact that you're likely not that deep in the dungeon, and hopefully you've done enough scouting before hand that you know several ways up and out.

Very similar to the rescue mission is the capture mission.  Sometimes, there may be a monster or NPC in the dungeon that the party wishes to capture.  A wizard may be offering a reward for a live rhagodessa.  The Duke may wish to bring a vile necromancer to trial to show the populace he's dealt with the villain.  There's plenty of profit (and plenty of danger) in trying to subdue a dragon.  A party that does manage to capture a creature will similarly need to guard it--both to prevent it from escaping, but also prevent other creatures from getting it as a snack.  So again, how the party chooses to enter the dungeon may vary, but the important thing is being able to get out quickly.

Continued here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I've got too much work to do tonight.  The next post about Rescue Missions will have to wait until tomorrow morning (Korea time, of course).

I've gotta get on the next Endless Quest book, too.  I've finished all of the ones I've had since I was a kid.  Time to start reading and re-reading the ones I ordered recently!

To tide you over, here's some more Brad Neely (NSFW):

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tackling the Megadungeon: Combat

Continued from here.

Lord Gusorio rubbed his left knee, just above the spot where the wooden leg began.  "Yes, it was against the dragon Grondsvettir that I lost my leg.  It was our last delve into the dungeon, and for the most part it went as planned.  I didn't intend to let the dragon feast on my left foot as its last meal, but we came away from that battle with enough wealth for me to complete this castle, and for my companions to retire comfortably."
The grizzled baron pauses to have his valet refill his mead cup.  He takes a long pull and then looks into the hearth fire.  "We were just about as prepared as we could have been against old Grondsvettir.  We had all the potions and scrolls we thought we'd need.  Aldarus was wielding the dragon-slaying sword Gram.  Rashni had her ring of invisibility and winged boots.  Garus had memorized all the right spells.  We'd scouted out the lair while the wyrm was out hunting, and thought we knew exactly the right place to take it on.  
"Not everything went well in that fight, but because of that planning, we managed to pull through.  And the dragon is no more."

So many people think of combat as the heart of D&D.  And I do admit, it's quite fun.  You're risking your character's life against wicked villains and fearsome monsters.  It comes down to the luck of the dice, but the odds can be stacked in your favor.  Careful scouting can be one way to do that.  Getting all the information one can about the creatures to be faced (if known), about the layout of the dungeon (and choosing the spot to fight that's best for you), and planning some tactics before hand can help out even if the dice are being cruel.

I likely don't need to say too much more about this sort of mission.  It seems to be what most folks expect and plan for when they enter the dungeon.  Sleep and Fire Ball spells can end lots of fights quickly, so Magic-Users tend to prepare those spells 'just in case' on many dungeon delves anyway.  Fighters are there pretty much just for the fights.

Because the combat rules are some of the most spelled out rules in the game (even in fairly rules light versions of D&D like Basic), it's an area that's easy to get a handle on.  But there are still some pointers that adventuring parties should keep in mind when going into the dungeon intending to pick a fight.

Power in Numbers:  Don't scrimp on hiring men-at-arms or retainers to join an expedition when you're sure there's going to be combat.  They might just get in the way or tip off the monsters on a scouting or fact-finding mission, but when you're ready to tackle some monster or other, they provide extra offense (even if their chances to hit aren't great, you're still rolling attack dice more often, and that's always a good thing), extra defense (monster attacks get spread around), and if victorious extra carrying capacity to haul out more loot.

Pick Your Battles:  Often a party ventures forth into a dungeon ready to take on whatever monsters they meet.  But in a Megadungeon setting, there may be many monsters that don't need to be faced.  Friendly or indifferent reactions from some monsters can be used to your advantage.  Either try to get their help against some other hostile creatures, or just leave them be.  Hostile monsters with no treasure should be avoided as much as possible, as well.  Again, try to avoid those random encounters.  They'll wear the party down before the fight you want to face, and after you're finished with that fight you'll want to get out of the dungeon as soon as possible with that loot anyway.

Know When Enough is Enough:  If a group of creatures break morale and run, don't pursue unless they're running away with something valuable.  If you've come up victorious in a hard fought battle, but are low on hit points, spells, and magic item uses, don't push on to that 'one more room.'  Head back out, heal up, and rearm and regroup.  Yeah, that means at low levels, a smart party may want to do that after every encounter.  Well, it may not be fun for all, but it works.

Always Be Prepared:  In certain versions of the game, or certain campaign worlds, potions and scrolls can be easily purchased.  Of course healing magics are nice, but also consider things like scrolls of protective spells like Shield or Protection from Arrows, potions of growth, giant strength and heroism (nice boosts for the Fighter-types), and any of the Protection scrolls if you're up against that sort of monster.  If you've chosen the battle ground and will be instigating the fight, use these before the throw-down, so you don't waste valuable combat rounds buffing up when you could be swinging swords or casting offensive magics.

Continued here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tackling the Megadungeon: Fact Finding

Continued from here.

Lord Gusorio sipped his mead and smiled broadly.  "The finest giant bee's honey, turned into the finest drink.  You know, there's a story behind this brew."
The young treasure hunters leaned in, awaiting yet another tale of the baron's adventures with his famous companions.  Gusorio paused to savor their attention for a moment, just as he savored his honey wine.  Finally, he spoke.  "Rashni had heard a rumor from some vagabonds who'd tried their luck in the Great Dungeon.  They said there was an enormous hive of giant bees deep in the third level.  From what exploring we'd done on that level, we knew there were plenty of bees flying around here and there.
"Well, one time, we set out into the dungeon to track down that bee hive.  We wanted the honey to make healing potions.  You know Old Helga says it's good for that.  Well, we got the honey, and we fermented it and got the best mead in the kingdom instead of healing potions..."

Sometimes, a party hears a rumor about the dungeon.  Or they discover a treasure map that promises great reward.  Or they've discovered something early on that didn't benefit them at the time, but some mishap has occurred and they wonder if it might help now.  So they set out into the dungeon with the express purpose of finding out if the information at hand is correct or not.

This sort of expedition is similar to a scouting party, but differs in a few important ways.  First of all, on a scouting mission, the party may have an objective, but it's usually fairly vague.  "Let's find a stairway down to the second level."  "Let's see what's down the long corridor that leads south from the owlbear's lair."  "Let's finally map the Twisting Maze."

On a Fact Finding expedition, the party has a bit more specific information.  It may not be true (rumors often are not, and maps can be out of date), but at least it's something solid to shoot for.  The party may have found a rumor of a rich treasure, a magic item, a fountain of healing, a friendly or at least neutral monster that acts as a sage, or who knows what else?  For whatever reason, the players want to find out if it's true, and take advantage of it.  Sometimes, they may just be curious if such a thing exists (and using Jeff Rients' exploration XP awards can actually make this valuable to the players as well).

On such an expedition, the party may decide to equip themselves as if on a scouting expedition--lightly armed and armored, and with enough utility magic to tackle logistical problems.  But at the same time, a more mixed approach might be best.  To find that mystery, a few battles may be unavoidable.  In such cases, some heavy armor for the Fighters and Clerics is always good.  A sleep spell or fire ball might not hurt, either.

Fact Finding Missions are sort of like many site-based dungeon modules, in that the group usually has a certain goal, an idea of how they might achieve it, and they're not just out to bust a few skulls and fill their coin purses.  But because it's happening in a Megadungeon environment, it's often something the players decide to do themselves, rather than simply being the result of a plot hook thrown out there by the DM.

Continued here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tackling the Megadungeon 1: Scouting

Continued from here.

Lord Gusorio pulled up his seat close to the fire, and beckoned the young group of adventurers near.  A servant poured mead for the lord, then passed cups to the motley crew gathered to hear the words of the local baron, who was a renowned explorer in his own day.
"You want to explore the Great Dungeon?" the baron asked.  "Let me tell you something.  I've seen lots of young, brave but foolish folk try it.  My companions and I succeeded where they failed.  How?  By knowing what we were getting ourselves into, that's how."

When a group of adventurers first venture into any dungeon, they're often going in blind.  They have no maps, little certain knowledge of the place, and sometimes only the vaguest of goals (fight some monsters and get rich from their treasure being a common one).  It never hurts to find out what might be down there before you try to tackle it.

A smart group of players, therefor, will usually spend some time scouting a dungeon (we're assuming a megadungeon environment here, not a one-off site based adventure).  It makes sense for the party to go in, find out what's there, then go back and plan how to best tackle those challenges.  Parties should explore the unknown slowly, and as stealthily as possible.  It's best not to alert or anger any monsters that they aren't prepared to face, especially if they don't know whether those monsters have any treasure or not.  Especially in systems where gold=XP, knowing where the treasure is tells you what you need to fight and what you don't.

Scouting also has another advantage.  Dungeons tend to have traps, but well-designed dungeons will tend to have multiple ways into or out of any area.  If there's a trap blocking access to the next area, careful scouting may reveal a way around it without taking the risk of setting off the trap.  This is also true of areas guarded by creatures without any loot.

One area where characters need to weigh their options when scouting is in the choices of armor worn and spells memorized.  Those able to wear heavy armors might be tempted to go ahead and wear their plate mail. But wearing leather armor (for the Clerics, Fighters, and Demi-Humans) means the whole party is quieter, and faster.  You're not looking to pick up loads of treasure, and you're not looking for a fight.  Being faster and less noisy can be a good thing, even if not everyone in the party can Move Silently or Hide in Shadows.

Magic-Users always feel the desire to memorize the powerful low level spells like Sleep and Phantasmal Force. But there are some other good options for scouting as well.  Especially, the 2nd level spells Invisibility, Knock, and Locate Object are great for scouting missions.  Light is always a good choice for a Magic-User or Cleric to take as well, in case torches or lanterns need to be doused quickly to avoid detection.

Of course, one of the biggest challenges when scouting are wandering monsters.  They're unexpected, they rarely have treasure, and the more time you spend in the dungeon, the more likely you are to encounter them.  And a party that's equipped to scout effectively may not be best equipped to deal with them.  For that reason, scouting missions should usually be fairly quick affairs.  Go in, check out some new terrain, map it, make any notes or observations you can, and get out.  Especially if there's a wandering monster encounter that can't be avoided, after it's over it's likely time to leave.

I remember reading somewhere about how Rob Kuntz would play his Fighter Robilar when he had solo sessions with Gary Gygax.  Robilar would enter Castle Greyhawk, and explore silently as possible.  He would never open any doors if he could avoid it, always listened at corners or used a mirror, and tried to see what was there to be seen.  Then, armed with whatever information he'd picked up on those solo treks, he'd come back later with a party to deal with any of the threats he'd gotten hints of on those trips.

There are benefits to scouting, to be sure.

Continued here.

How to tackle a Megadungeon

I've been thinking that I need to write up something about how to play in a Megadungeon campaign.  Likely most of you reading this will already be familiar with this sort of play style (even if it's just from reading some great posts on other blogs, or at one or another of the old school RPG forums).  But there are plenty of people out there who see a dungeon as boring hack and slash only, and to them 'Megadungeon' equates to "hack-and-slash campaign" which they want nothing to do with.

Sean of Tales from the Flaming Faggot is going to start a series of posts discussing Sun Tzu's The Art of War and how it relates to gaming.  I don't want to steal his thunder, but I will just recommend this classic treatise on strategy to all of you.  Likely he'll cover most of these points in detail.

And if there are any ideas I've missed, please chime in in the Comments below!

  • Scouting Missions:  You're going into the dungeon to explore some new territory, find out where monsters and traps are so they may be avoided, and hopefully also learn where some treasure is located.  You want to avoid fights, avoid detection, and just add a bit to your map and knowledge of the dungeon.
  • Fact Finding Missions:  You've heard a rumor of something you want to investigate in the dungeon.  Similar to scouting, but you've got a set goal to achieve, rather than just exploring as much new territory as you can.
  • Combat Missions:  There's a certain monster, or monsters, standing between you and the treasure, or just generally giving you grief.  It's time to take them down.  Load for bear, and go down there with swords blazing.
  • Rescue Missions:  A comrade fell, townspeople have disappeared, the princess has been led to be sacrificed to the dragon, etc.  You've got to go and get them back.  
  • Acquisition Missions:  You know where the treasure is (from scouting, a map, or just dumb luck), and if you're lucky what guards it.  Now's the time to bring that rich stuff up to the surface.
  • "Special" Missions:  Someone's got a curse, or was level drained, or needs a certain spell for their spellbook, etc.  There's a 'special encounter' room tailor made for this, and you're gonna find it and use it.
Of course, sometimes a party might want to tackle two or even three of these at the same time, but it's best, especially at lower levels, to stick to just one.  

I think a lot of gamers end up thinking a dungeon should just be tackled all at once because of a lot of modules.  In a tournament situation, you don't have time to go in and out of the dungeon, re-arming, changing spells, etc.  Since many early modules were tournament scenarios, this tends to skew the idea of what a 'dungeon delve' is supposed to be.  But with a Megedungeon, you're going to be going into the place time and time again, so why not tackle the dungeon in moderation?

I think I'll spend this week posting about each of these types of 'mission' in a bit more detail.  And like I said, if there are any ideas I've missed, let me know.  I could use some ideas for next week, too!

Continued Here

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Creature Catalog AC9 vs. DMR2

Will asked about the differences between the earlier AC9 Creature Catalog (green bordered cover) and the later RC era DMR2 Creature Catalog (orange cover).

A poster on Dragonsfoot had made a couple of pdf files with all the 'missing' monsters, but when I tried to find them I found threads on DF, but the files are no longer up to download.

So I went through the tables of contents of the two (I've only got AC9 on pdf), and here's hopefully the complete list:

Creatures in AC9 that didn't make it to DMR2:

Death Leech
Ghoul, Vapor
Leveller (Bodendruker)

Creatures in DMR2 that weren't in AC9:

Deep Glaurant
Lizard, Rockhome
Lycanthrope: Werejaguar
Vampire: Nosferatu

I think that's all.  Might have missed one or two, as the books have completely different layouts.  AC9 is divided into sections by monster type, while DRM2 just lists everything alphabetically.

AC9's Table of Contents also has every monster listed multiple times if it's got multiple names, or multiple words (Grey Philosopher is listed as is, but also as Philosopher, Grey later).  DMR2 also collects some of the independent listings of AC9 under groups, such as the prehistoric animals. 

But at a glance, there's what's different between the two editions.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Creature Catalog Favorites!

I've had the DMR2 version of the Creature Catalog for quite some time.  I picked it up sometime while I was in college, so between '93 (when it was published) and '96 (when I graduated).  I've gotten a lot of good use out of the book, as there are quite a few monsters that aren't well known by every gamer on the planet (unlike everything in, say any version of the Basic and either of the Expert sets).  The monsters were primarily taken from modules produced for Classic D&D, but there are apparently a few originals as well.

A few of my favorite Creature Catalog beasties include:

Aranea (originally from X1 Isle of Dread):  creepy, giant spell-casting spiders.  What's not to like?  And they were cool enough that the 3E designers decided to throw them in the 3E MM, so they're open game content now, too!

Deep Glaurant (this one may be original, I don't remember seeing them in any modules):  big, scaly, demon-like underground predators. 

Undead Dragon (again, not sure what module this is from, if any):  Having read Pillars of Pentegarn and played plenty of Castlevania as a kid, I've always liked throwing in skeletal/zombified dragons in my games from time to time.

Gray Philosopher (pretty sure it's original to the CC):  An undead cleric who doesn't do anything but ponder Cthulian mysteries while his evil animated thoughts attack you.  Creepy and cool at the same time.

Nagpa (from X4/X5 Desert Nomads modules, forget exactly which one at the moment):  Skeksis (do I need to say more?)

Tabi (not sure where they're from either):  Flying Monkeys (again, kinda speaks for itself).

Wyrd (B7 Rahasia):  Undead elves who attack by throwing glowing orbs of energy, similar to the way Venger attacks in the D&D Cartoon.

Endless Quest Crimson Crystal Adventure #4: Stop That Witch!

"Your training as a ranger hasn't quite prepared you for the day you return to your village and find all the inhabitants turned into lizards by a mysterious red dragon."  --from the back cover.

Stop That Witch!, by Mary Clark, is book 4 of the EQ spin-off series of 'Crimson Crystal' books.  Basically it's a gimmick where they include a little rectangular clear red plastic film with the book, and certain pages contain pictures in mostly red ink, but if you hold the film up to them you can see the gray lines showing the 'hidden' picture (although it's really not hard to see the gray lines without the 'crystal' actually).

I'll state up front that I wasn't a big fan of this book when I was a kid.  I got it because of the gimmick, and was rather unimpressed by it.  So I never got any more in the Crimson Crystal series.  Re-reading the book now, I realized that the story in it isn't as bad as I remember.  It's no where near as bad as Spell of the Winter Wizard.

In the book, you're Hedge, an apprentice ranger from a small village of rangers.  You and your hawk Springer are out on a training exercise when a red dragon (the evil witch Carlynn polymorphed into a dragon, actually) flies into the village and then flies away.  When you get there, everyone's been turned into a lizard.  A young, timid cleric arrives, and despite the fact that he seems hopeless, you team up with him to rescue both your master Pebo (now a chameleon), but the cleric's master who's stuck in a mirror of life trapping in Carlynn's castle.  Due to his first spell he tries to cast on you backfiring, you give the cleric the nickname Sparks.

The book starts out with a fairly linear narrative, but after a while it begins branching, and has some good options and interesting encounters.  It does have an unfortunate tendency to offer you a choice, and then if you pick the 'wrong' choice, it then gives you another choice to pick the option you didn't or continue with your original choice.  Every single time, this is telegraphing a bad ending if you continue.  These sorts of 'training wheels' are just a waste of space, in my opinion.  If I'm gonna get a bad ending, I can go back and pick the other one myself.  I don't think anyone needs the author guiding them to the right path (likely this is one of the reasons I didn't like this one as a kid--it felt too 'kidified' for my tastes).

Another minus is the fact that your character, Hedge, is a bit of a douche.  He's a braggart who then gets surprised that his master actually thinks he can do more than wipe his own nose.  He bullies and berates Sparks, whines and complains about his hawk's advice (which unlike many sidekick animals, tends to be a bit sensible and not overly moralizing), and his speech is full of phrases like 'criminey!' and 'yoiks!'  I don't remember  'Zounds!' in there, but it's kind of annoying.

On the plus side, one cool thing about this book is that there's a fairly coherent narrative.  No matter what path you take, there are certain particulars that don't change.  For example, Carlynn is not the real Carlynn, it's her apprentice Jenna who usurped the real Carlynn's power.  The Mirror of Life Trapping is always in the same place.  The down side of this is that many of the endings then end up being very similar.  There are actually quite a few good endings, but most are rather low key.  "OK, the witch is defeated.  Say, could anyone change my master back into a person?"  I think the fact that there are so many good endings, and not one of them really stands out as a 'best' ending, is another reason I didn't like this book as a kid.  It's too easy to get a victory.

Finally, the art in the book is fairly uninspiring.  The cover by Keith Parkinson is serviceable, but the interior art by Mario D. Macari seems rather lackluster to me.  The fact that it's pixelated like in an old Sunday newspaper cartoon doesn't help.  I like clean ink line drawings much better.  And the gimmick 'crimson crystal' pages are generally not so interesting.  One interesting side note is that the 'crimson crystal' pages are still very white, while the normal pages have tanned considerably. 

Overall, this is not a great Endless Quest book, but it's not completely worthless.  There are some interesting events and encounters, at least, so there may be some ideas worth mining for your home games.  It's also maybe a good book to start younger kids reading.  The English level didn't seem much lower than normal EQ books, but it's much more forgiving of poor choices (the telegraphing of bad endings by giving you a second chance to choose the correct option, paired with numerous good endings).

Protagonist: A conceited Ranger's apprentice on his first real mission.
Sidekicks: A hawk who isn't too preachy, a Cleric lacking self confidence, and depending on your path, your Ranger master polymorphed into a chameleon or an Elf named Wynn.
Adventure: Linear at the beginning, but with some good branches and interesting choices later.
Endings:  Too many good ones, and most of them are rather low key for a victory ending.  Only one neutral ending that I remember reading (you don't die, but don't make it to the castle either).
Art: So so cover (Parkinson), unappealing interiors (Macari).
Overall: Poor, but not worthless.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Maybe the sky falling is a good thing?

Just some random speculation on my part here, but think about it:

I believe that a gutting of the recording industry may be a good thing for all of us.  Of course, the 'industry' is never going to disappear.  People love music, and are willing to pay for it.  There will always be ways for musicians to make a buck.

But the whole 'recording industry' as a big corporate run deal could disappear within our lifetime.  And if it does, I say hurray! 

Think about it.  We're living in a world where anything that gets recorded is soon available for free as a download/torrent.  And while there are still people out there willing to buy CDs and DVDs of their favorite bands (and even not so favorite ones), they're doing it a lot less than they used to. 

And as this happens, the 'industry' is turning more and more to crap that will make them a quick buck.

It seems like a recipe for disaster.  As soon as the teeny-boppers stop buying Jonas Brothers albums and download them instead, there goes most of the big money left to be made from CD sales.

And where will that leave us? 

Big name groups will mostly rely on concert tours and TV/streaming internet performances to make money.

Small name groups will likely rely on playing local venues, and again internet self promotion.

Mass market produced bands (including just about every pop group here in Korea) will no longer be marketable.  If the group can't actually sing or play their instruments well, they just look good on TV or have that ear-worm inducing crappy sound indiscriminate kids love, would they really survive in a more cutthroat market where musicians are competing for attention as live audiences?  I don't think so.

We, the music loving populace, would be left with a world where talent once again matters, and musicians who have that talent and dedication would make a living (maybe not rock stars, but they'd be making a living) while the posers and wannabes would be left behind.

Or maybe I'm dreaming.  Maybe the populace is stupid enough, and has poor enough taste, that the crap would remain. 

Actually, unfortunately, that's likely the case.

But it also means that the RPG industry ain't going anywhere anytime soon, either.  We're in the age where anyone can whip up an RPG, and either give it away free on the internet, sell it as a download, or use a POD service to sell actual copies.  Yeah, no one doing that is likely to earn a ton of money, or meet the sales numbers of a big publisher, but as long as there are folks out there with some passion putting out their own RPGs and RPG modules/supplements, there's going to be people making some money off of all of this.

Maybe not a gold mine, but a small corner store isn't unthinkable.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Inspiration on my DVD Shelf

Having recently posted an alternate 'Appendix N' based on one of the shelves on my book case, here's another based on some of the DVDs on another shelf of the next bookcase over.

Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)
Kagemusha (Kurosawa, 1980)
Musa (Korean period action movie, 2001)
Sakuya (Japanese manga-based live action fantasy, 2000)
Hero (Jet Li, 2002)
Red Shadow (Japanese ninja live action, 2001)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
Enter the Dragon (Bruce Lee, 1973)
Owl's Castle (Japanese ninja live action, 1999)
Vagabond Trilogy (Toshiro Mifune as Miyamoto Musashi, 1951, 1955, 1956)
Azumi (Japanese manga-based live action, 2003)
The Seven Swords (Chinese wuxia, 2005)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (pirate fantasy, 2003)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (pirate fantasy, 2006)
Willow (George Lucas, 1988)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (Errol Flynn, 1938)
Arabian Nights (Hall/Sabu, 1942)
Red Sonja (Nielsen/Schwarzenegger, 1985)
Conan the Barbarian (Schwarzenegger, 1982)
Conan the Destroyer (Schwarzenegger, 1984)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Disney, 2005)
The Princess Bride (Reiner, 1987)
Dragonslayer (MacNichol, 1981)
Legend (Cruise/Curry, 1985)
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (Hall, 1944)
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Harryhausen, 1958)
Samson and Delilah (DeMille, 1949)
The Vikings (Douglas/Curtis, 1958)
Excalibur (Boorman, 1981)
The Scorpion King (The Rock, 2002)
Brahm Stoker's Dracula (Oldman, 1992)
Dracula (Lugosi, 1931)
Van Helsing (Jackman, 2004)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Cleese/Idle/Jones/Chapman/Gilliam/Palin, 1975)
Ben Hur (1925)
The Wizard of Oz (Garland, 1939)
The Three Musketeers (Kelly, 1948)

Not all of them are good movies, but they've likely all got at least a little something that could inspire adventures (or at least interesting encounters or NPCs) in a game.

[By the way, I have the Lord of the Rings movies on DVD, and the TV mini-series Shogun as well, but being boxed sets, they're on another shelf.]

Who is the best villain on TV?

Back in high school, our social studies teacher asked that question to our class.  Then he offered up a few suggestions:

Back then, the season-long story arc was a rarity in TV.  It was mostly episodic TV, with mostly unrelated stories linked only by the fact that they happened to the same characters. 

And villains like the above were typically defeated in comical fashion, rather than dramatic fashion.  If there was drama involved with a villain, typically it was on a one-shot episode (or occasionally a 'to be continued' two-shot).

What's all this got to do with RPGs?  Well, I think it's just another way of saying "if the PCs find a way to defeat your villain early, let them."  There are tons of monsters, and NPCs are a dime a dozen.  If your players end up offing your BBEG, it's not that hard to make up a new one. 

Sure, there are times when letting a villain escape, comic-book or soap opera style, is appropriate.  And a good recurring villain can be fun, if used properly.  But if the PCs decide to actually put the hurt on the Green Goblin, Stephano or Skeletor rather than just capture, humiliate, and then put in an easily escaped prison/sanatorium, let them.

Yeah, let them kill Bargle.  He deserves it.