Thursday, October 20, 2016

Post-Apocalypse of the Gods

This is a notion I've had for a while, sort of simmering on the back burner. I caught an old episode of Hercules Legendary Journeys yesterday though, the one where he meets the Norse gods, and so I got to thinking about it again. What follows is a thumbnail sketch of what might make for an interesting campaign that blends D&D-esque fantasy with Gamma World-esque post-apocalyptic gaming.


If you've done any reading of the Norse myths, you are undoubtedly aware of Ragnarok - the twilight of the gods. At Ragnarok, Loki leads the giants and other bad guys against the gods, and most of the major "characters" end up dead - Thor and the Midgard serpent kill one another, Odin and Frigga are swallowed by Fenris and he is in turn killed, Loki and Heimdall kill one another. Good stuff, and somewhat unique in western mythology I think. Heck, some obscure movie studio is apparently making a movie about it.

What I always found cool about Ragnarok, though, is that although it was the end of some of the gods and results in a flood that wipes out most of humanity, it is not "The End". There is a post-Ragnarok world just waiting to be explored and conquered!


From memory - so please excuse any omissions or errors - Balder returns from Hel after Ragnarok to become the new king of the gods. I also remember that Thor's sons, Magni and Modi, inherit their father's hammer - presumably they take up where dad left off as protectors of man and god. In addition, two human beings managed to take shelter in Yggdrasil and were left to repopulate Midgard, so humans are still around.

If we play around with the concept, we can maybe make a fun campaign out of it.

On the fantasy side, we have the gods, and thus we have clerics and magic. We can also preserve at least some of the monsters of mythology - Norse mythology, of course, but monsters from other mythologies are welcome as well. Since we're in a post-apocalyptic setting, we can also throw in all the original weirdness from D&D - green slime, bulettes, beholders, as well as monsters from post-apocalypse settings - maybe Magni and Modi travel around in a chariot pulled by spider-goats?

Like this, only ruined and full of mutant demigods

On the science side, we can borrow from Marvel comics and use an Asgard that is as much science as it is sorcery. Some of that technology was left behind on Midgard, perhaps, but even better stuff is hidden away in Asgard if only some high-level adventurers can figure out how to get to it. The remaining gods - maybe we can call them The New Gods - now dwell on Midgard with humanity (though a bit separated, as the gods always prefer to dwell in gated communities).

Another option would be to set Ragnarok at some point in the near future, thus allowing modern technology to exist in the ruins of the world, ruins that are now visited by the primitive people who have established settlements close to, but not too close to, those ruins, to scavenge for supplies.

The Campaign

The campaign can be set in post-apocalypse Scandinavia/Iceland/Greenland, or you could even use Minnesota. Since the world is flooded in Ragnarok, you can use some maps that show what the geography would look like with higher sea levels - that will keep things just different enough to fool the players for a while and give them the enjoyment of figuring out what world they're exploring.

New towns and cities have sprung up, blending the old and the new. The wilderness is haunted by mutants, worgs and the scattered remnants of the giant races. Perhaps the elves of Alfheim visit now and again - let them be grey elves and beautiful and judgmental - and some of the dwarves survived the apocalypse hidden away in their mountains - let them be duergar and foul and greedy.

Above is a quick sketch of a campaign world, with the sunken city of Lug inhabited by mutant amphibious englishmen (use tritons to make it easy, or sahuagin to make it scary), the Swamp People of old Paris, with their giant frogs, the Gnomes of Zurik hiding away all that gold, the City of Black Bear, which can serve as a tent-pole mega-city-state with legions of warriors threatening more peaceful folk beyond, and of course New Asgard, where the gods and their servants dwell, and from which come the paladins of Balder to spread a new enlightenment among mankind.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Word Up

From "Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves" via Wikipedia
Here are a few ideas on incorporating magical (or at least powerful) words into the treasure tables in your game.

All of these words are potential replacements for the venerable treasure map (which itself is a great piece of treasure). If you're playing a game without treasure maps on the treasure list, you might need to reexamine your life choices. Or, you could just add it to the list of magic scrolls.

"Fechtbuch" is a German word for a book that teaches warriors how to fight with word and illustrations. The fechtbuch concept can be used for all classes, of course, and it occurred to me last night that the value of one of these books could be to grant a character an XP bonus, maybe +5% or +10% at the most, while they are earning XP to gain their new level. When the new level is gained, the book is of no more use to them - they've learned everything they're going to learn from it.

The cursed version would do the opposite - a book written by a fool that makes true learning harder than it should be. Imagine trying to deal with a real hippopotamus after reading some nonsense in an old medieval bestiary.

A password gained in one room might help one get past a trap or monster in another room, or even another dungeon. "Swordfish" is a classic from the Marx Brothers movie Horse Feathers, and who can forget "open sesame" (or "open sez me" if you're a Popeye fan).

Passwords can be mundane - as in a word spoken to guards to permit passage past them - or they can be magical, as in a word spoken to disarm a magic trap or lock. Perhaps every lock and trap has a mystic password given to it by its creator during the act of creation, and high level thieves have a knowledge of such passwords. While they use their picks and tools, they also whisper these words to the lock, hoping to find the one that opens it.

The "cursed" version of this would be the word that causes bad things to happen, a' la the infamous "bree-yark" in The Keep on the Borderlands.

Secret Words
Secret words are not all that different from passwords, I suppose, but with them the power of the word is definitely magical. Secret words work on living creatures, including non-sentient creatures. The words are tied to a particular type of creature and they have a single effect. The word can be used one or two or three times before it loses its power.

The effects of a secret word should be non-offensive, and could include making the creature friendly, stopping a charging or pursuing creature in its tracks, or undoing a special attack or defense of the monster (such as "turning off" a medusa's petrifying gaze) for a short period of time.

The mystical word "Nee" comes immediately to mind.

True Names
True names are not terribly different from secret words, though they are potentially more powerful. The idea is that every creature from beyond the mortal realm, demons, devils, demodands, angels, elementals, etc., has a secret true name that permits the speaker control over them. The true name should probably be treated as a spell - thus once spoken, it is forgotten. Otherwise, you're giving an adventurer a pet monster to sic on his enemies, and that's a bit more than any adventurer should get. The word, when spoken to its owner, could act as a command, suggestion or geas spell - whatever makes the GM comfortable.

Rincewind by Paul Kidby, found at Wikipedia
The true name can be used in a summoning spell to bring that specific creature to you (rather than pot luck) and put it under control. If you know the true name but don't know the owner, a GM could give a flat 1% chance that the creature you're speaking to is the owner of the true name you have learned. After all, fantasy stories and fairy tales are full of such odd coincidences. Speaking the true name to the wrong creature, however, might be disastrous - the creature will know what you were trying to do and may resent it.

A good example of a true name is Rumpelstiltskin.

Words of Power
Words of power take things up yet another level. These words are, in effect, the power word spells (and maybe a few others, such as control weather) in a form that anyone can use. Again, you are allowed one use to a customer, and perhaps that use comes with ramifications, as the keepers of cosmic order do not care to have things disordered by irresponsible adventurers.

Conceptually, I'm thinking of these being like the powerful spell that lodged itself in the head of Terry Pratchett's magic-user Rincewind. Have the word of power displace a spell that a character can normally prepare (even clerics) or a skill or maneuver a non-spellcaster can normally use. A thief, for example, learns the power word kill spell, but while it's in her head she cannot move silently, hide in shadows or pick pockets, making her a very effective murderer, but a lousy thief.

The Greek word "logos", from Wikipedia

Friday, October 7, 2016

Secret Ability Scores - My Goofy Idea of the Day

Of course he has an 18 charisma - just ask Juanita and Thelma Lou
I was recently thinking about self-awareness. How many people have you known who were not nearly as charismatic or intelligent as they thought they were? Their failings seem obvious, but are blissfully unaware of them. I thought that this might offer a fun and interesting way for veteran players to liven up their old games.

In most fantasy games, characters have ability scores. These scores are rolled by the player and known to the player. This knowledge plays a role in the player's choice of their character's class or career, and it influences their actions in the game.

But what if players did not know their character's ability scores? Might make for an interesting game, no?

(Or maybe a complete disaster)

It all hinges, to use Blood & Treasure as an example, on wisdom. Wisdom deals with awareness, not only of one's surroundings, but of oneself. A character with even average wisdom should be able to gauge how intelligent and charismatic they are ... and how wise they are. The wise man knows what he knows not, so to speak. Characters with low wisdom, on the other hand, assume natural abilities they do not actually have. If wisdom is low enough, they may even be unaware of their physical limitations. A foolish man can talk himself into anything, after all.

Here's the idea - a player rolls his or her ability scores with their eyes closed. The GM writes them down. If you're rolling ability scores in order, all the better. If not, the player can decide which score gets the highest roll, then the next highest, and so on. There will be some clues if you're doing it this way, but no system is perfect.

In all cases, the player does not know his or her character's wisdom score unless it is 13 or higher. If lower than 13, roll a dice - on a 1-3 they think it's average and on a 4-6 they think it is high.

If the character's Wisdom score is 13 or higher, the player gets to know all of her ability scores.

If the character's Wisdom score is 9 or higher, the player gets to know his physical ability scores and either his intelligence or charisma score (his choice). The mystery score is believed to be high.

If the character's Wisdom score is 6 to 8, they get to know their physical ability scores, but not their mental scores. You just tell them that their intelligence and charisma are high and leave it at that, regardless of the actual score.

If the character's Wisdom score is 3 to 5, they don't know any of their ability scores, but are simply told that they are all high, again, regardless of the actual scores.

Now, this creates a certain difficulty, as classes often have ability score requirements for entry. You could tell the player that their character, who they think has a high intelligence, cannot cut it as a magic-user, of course, but then the player should know they have an intelligence lower than 9.

I can think of a couple ways to go with this:

1) If they pick a class for which they cannot qualify, they instead become a wash-out and end up as a fighter or thief (assuming they can qualify for those classes). They might still act like a wizard or priest, but they won't be and they'll know it and probably resent the hell out of those who actually did enter the class of their choice.

2) Another way to go is to permit them entry into the class with lower scores, and apply an XP penalty to their advancement. Maybe a -10% for every score that isn't up to muster. These are characters who try really hard, but it takes them forever to get the hang of things.

The idea here is to produce Barney Fifes in your game - characters who have to get in over their heads a few times before they slowly figure out their limitations. Characters who insist they should try to decipher the magic rune because they have the highest intelligence, even though their intelligence is actually a '6'. Characters who bumble and stumble a bit, just like we do in real life.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Trouble with Merchants

Depending on what style of fantasy campaign you are designing, merchants can be a problem. In a medieval milieu, they link villages, towns and cities together, providing important lines of communication and making items cheaper by their trade. They make maps and charts and make travel less dangerous and less mysterious. This is fine in a reality-based campaign, of course, but can present problems with a fantasy campaign.

On the other hand, merchants and their travails can be a powerful ally in building a fairy tale world of hundreds of small kingdoms, dangerous, mysterious wilderlands and, in the true Gygaxian spirit, unrealistically expensive equipment if you make them few and far between.

The real world is one in which trade may be about as old as war, or possibly older than organized warfare. In my research into the prehistoric world (i.e. pre-writing, pre-Bronze Age), I was amazed to find that stone beads manufactured in India/Pakistan had found there way at least as far as the Balkans, and that trade between groups over long distances was not terribly rare. Even when human beings had very primitive transportation - no wheels, no horses or other beasts of burden and only the simplest water craft - they managed to trade with one another over sometimes quite long trade routes. Impressive.

Of course, what those prehistoric merchants and their ancient and medieval counterparts did not have to deal with was a fantasy random encounter chart. Sure, there were storms and accidents, and probably some lions, tigers and bears, but no dragons, water elementals, genies, demons, devils or purple worms, not to mention large tribes of humanoids who might just as soon kill you as talk with you. Even a relatively weak demon or devil, immune to normal and silver weapons and with decent magic resistance, could destroy a large caravan protected by men-at-arms.

When we take these factors into account, we can make successful journeys by 0-level or low-level humanoids very rare. In fact, we can make such journeys primarily the activity of mid-level adventurers, with side jaunts into dungeons and the like along the way. Imagine if the average kingdom maybe got visitors from neighboring kingdoms (those within 50 miles, we'll say) once a year, tops. Visits from further away might occur once a decade, or once a century. People who were thought to be mythical - the two-headed purple folk of Hvaroo - might pull up one day in a large galleon loaded with spices and magic no living person in your home kingdom has ever seen, and will probably never see again in their lifetime!

By doing so, we can create a world of very small clusters of settlements - kingdoms, of course, for in fairy tales almost every ruler is a king or queen - separated by tracts of very dangerous wilderness. The settlements don't even need to be very far apart - two or three days journey with dangerous encounters in between can be enough to ruin an expedition, and each ruined expedition makes future expeditions more unlikely due to the loss of money, the loss of key personnel, etc.

Each kingdom must largely rely on its own resources, agricultural, mineral, etc., and this means you can make certain resources or items the specialty of specific kingdoms. Maybe only a few kingdoms have armorers who know how to make full plate armor, most just stick to boring old chainmail or platemail. If you want the full plate, you have to travel. Likewise, certain gemstones required by material components - diamonds are mined in Vardak and since the trade caravans and ships sent there failed to come back, you have to go there yourself to get the large diamond you need to cast the magic spell to blah blah blah. You get the idea.

Of course, we also need to ignore a little more reality and allow these petty kingdoms to develop a level of technology that would generally be impossible without trade. Hey - it's fantasy. We can fudge a few things to get the atmosphere right.

Rare trade means you get to populate your world with dozens of petty kingdoms with their own strange customs, laws and problems. Just as Australia developed some very unique animals due to its separation from other land masses, each kingdom can develop some pretty unique traits due to largely being cut off from the rest of humanity. Some random tables like the ones at Chaotic Shiny can help generate ideas - you can use unique royal titles (all hail the Grand Karnak of Carsonne), come up with one or two strange taboos (everyone knows you must not wear red in the presence of the Queen - off with their heads!), give the place something to be proud of (in Falala we have the world's foremost sage specializing in dragons ) and throw in some fun costumes (it has always been the way to wear hats upside down in Urnok), dialects, currency, cookery, etc. and travel becomes not only more interesting, but also easier to keep track of for players. A string of villages and towns that all have vaguely Medieval French names and customs might be hard to keep track of, but really odd kingdoms will stick in the mind.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dragon by Dragon - August 1981 (52)

With the 2nd edition of Blood & Treasure essentially done (well, almost done), I can get back on track with these Dragon reviews. Number 52 is from August of 1981, and features a Boris Vallejo cover of a butterfly-winged dragon and beautiful naked woman ... which of course is a rarity for a Boris painting. Boris gets a little full article inside the magazine as well.

So - I've got Mystery Science Theater 3000 on the television and a gin gimlet in my belly, and I'm ready to show off the bits and pieces that I found useful and/or inspirational in #52 ...

First and foremost, a nice piece of comic/advertising work by Bill Willingham, one of my favorites from the olden days.

This involves the adventurers Auric, Tirra and the wizard Khellek (who does not appear to be this guy - scroll down a bit). Auric is an ill-armored fighter, Tirra could be a thief or fighter and Khellek is a wizard. They tangle briefly with a jackalwere and then ... to be continued.

The first real article is dedicated to the much maligned cleric class. "The Role of the Cleric - Warriors with Wisdom" is by Robert Plamondon, and it does a nice job of explaining the class, some of its inspirations and ways to play it well. If the image below, by Jim Holloway, doesn't make you want to play the class, I don't know what will ...

The article has a few nice bits that might stir the creative juices of players and GM's out there, such as a list of acts of worship, in order of potency:

1. Thinking religious thoughts.
2. Formal prayer.
3. Attending rites or church services.
4. Feasts, festivals, fasts, self-punishment, vigils- as part of religious rites.
5. Sacrifice of valuables.
6. Dying in a holy conflict.
7. Killing an enemy in a holy conflict.
8. Sacrifice of an unbeliever.
9. Sacrifice of an unwilling believer.
10. Sacrifice of a willing believer.

#10 seems like a dicey prospect for Lawful clerics.

Douglas Loss adds a bit more with his article "The Land is My Land ...", including this bit about clerics and swords, including this from The Song of Roland ...

Turpin of Rheims, finding himself o’erset,
With four sharp lance-heads stuck fast within his breast,
Quickly leaps up, brave lord, and stands erect.
He looks on Roland and runs to him and says
Only one word: “I am not beaten yet!
True man never failed while life was in him left!”
He draws Almace, his steel-bright brand keen-edged;
A thousand strokes he strikes into the press.
Soon Charles shall see he spared no foe he met,
For all about him he’ll find four hundred men,
Some wounded, some clean through the body cleft,
And some of them made shorter by a head.
    — The Song of Roland, Laisse 155

So Turpin got to swing a sword, why doesn't your cleric? Well, to start off with, Turpin also doesn't get to cast spells or turn undead. Douglas thinks the rule should be thrown out, because its not "realistic" and because in AD&D the mace is as good as sword. I disagree - swords are more than just a damage range, but the "no sharp weapons" rule also takes many magic weapons out of a cleric's hands, thus helping the old fighter stay relevant.

Douglas Loss is back with "The Sense of Sacrifices", and this is a neat one about the chances of deities granting clerics spells they aren't high enough in level to cast. It all hinges on sacrifices of inanimate objects (valuable or symbolic, of course), animals and sentient creatures of a wildly different alignment than the cleric. To boil it down - 2% per 100 gp value of inanimate objects, symbol items 5%, animals 2% (or 3% if it is favored by the deity) and 5% for sentient beings. The chance shouldn't be higher than 50%, and each subsequent miracle should have a 5% penalty applied if the cleric tries this too often.

Sage Advice is cleric-centered as well. I enjoyed how this answer began:
Q: What happens when a Resurrection or a Raise Dead is cast on an undead?

A: Hmmm. It stands to reason ...
In other words - crap, we hadn't thought of that.

For lovers of the old school, the cleric stuff is followed by two articles concerning the new Basic D&D set. The first is written by J. Eric Holmes, author of the first edition, and the second by Tom Moldvay himself. Holmes has the longer article, and it explains the hows and whys of Basic D&D. Holmes fans have probably already read it, but if they haven't, I would highly suggest it.

For modern gamers, Paul Montgomery Crabaugh's "The Undercover Job Guide" can be useful ... especially if they're setting a game in 1981. Written for TOP SECRET, it covers a number of jobs and gives you some ideas on their access to travel and their salaries. Here are a couple of items:

Home Economics: travel potential moderate to high; starting salary $20,000/year (variable); almost no connection with what the field is normally thought of to include: agents in this field will very likely be chefs, or connected with the creation of fashion or decoration: female agents have a good chance of being models (salary quite variable).

Physical Education: travel potential high; starting salary quite variable; almost certainly an agent will be an athlete in this AOK: by preference, one in a sport played throughout much of the world. Tennis is an excellent choice; golf, soccer and track & field are also good.

Yeah, a pair of spies who work in a high school would be pretty fun.

This issue's Giants in the Earth by Katharine Brahtin Kerr covers Prospero (Lawful Good 14th level magic-user), his pals Ariel (a neutral "high-grade" air elemental - I would have gone sylph, mostly because Ariel is a sylph) and Caliban the chaotic evil half-orc, and Circe (chaotic neutral 18th level magic-user). Here's a nice bit ...

The best way to get the upper hand over Circe is to possess the strange herb known as moly. The god Hermes gave Ulysses some of this herb, said to grow only in Olympus. With it, Ulysses mastered Circe’s magic and made her turn his crew back into men from swine. If the DM wants moly available in the campaign, it should either be fantastically expensive or else a gift to a cleric from his or her god.

If a character wears moly, all of Circe’s polymorph spells will fail against that character, and the power of her other spells against that character will be weakened considerably; the character should get a +2 on all saving throws against her magic. Circe cannot touch this herb to steal it away, nor can her maidservants.

For more information on moly, click HERE.

We also learn Circe's spell list: 1st-charm person, comprehend languages, friends, read magic, sleep; 2nd-detect invisibility, ESP, forget, ray of enfeeblement, web; 3rd-fly, hold person, dispel magic, slow, suggestion; 4th-charm monster, confusion, fear, polymorph other, massmorph; 5th-animal growth, feeblemind, hold monster, passwall, transmute rock to mud; 6th-control weather, enchant an item, legend lore; 7th-charm plants, mass invisibility, vanish; 8th-mass charm, polymorph any object; 9th-imprisonment.

Dragon #52 also has a groovy little Gamma World adventure by Gary Jaquet called "Cavern of the Sub-Train". This might sound like a subway romp in the ruins of New York, but it's actually a romp through something more like Elon Musk's hyperloop. This network spanned the entire North American continent.

The adventure is left open-ended, so should come in handy to folks playing post-apoc games.

Victor Selby and Ed Greenwood introduce the Rhaumbusun in Dragon's Bestiary. Here's a quick B&T-style statblock:

Rhaumbusun, Small Monster: HD 1+2; AC 13; ATK 1 bite (1d3); MV 20'; SV 16; Int Low; AL Neutral (N); NA 1d2; XP/CL 100/2; Special-Gaze attack (40' range; paralyze for 3d4 turns)

Lewis Pulsipher has some interesting, peaceful gas-filled beasts called pelins. Not much for a fight, but they're semi-intelligent, so maybe they could be helpful in completing a quest if the players are smart enough to be nice to them and attempt communication.

Michael Kluever gives a nice history of siege warfare in "Knock, Knock!". Worth a read for people new to the subject.

Up next are three - count 'em three - takes on the bounty hunter class by Scott Bennie, Tom Armstrong, and Robert L Tussey and Kenneth Strunk. Lets judge them by the most relevant part of the class - the class titles!

The use of revenger, head hunter and manhunter are nice, but the inclusion of esquire by Armstrong wins the competition. Anything that can bring Bill & Ted into the conversation can only be good for a D&D game.

Hey - what the heck is this?

A Google search brings up a computer game designed for use with the Fantasy Trip. Pretty cool!

There are reviews of some cool miniatures from Ral Partha (hill giant, storm giant, cold drake), Heritage USA (hill giant and beholder and superheroes and supervillains), Castle Creations (condor and skull splitter giant), Penn-Hurst/Greenfield (a plastic castle), Citadel (ogre, giant spider) and Grenadier (the dragon's lair), as well as Basic Role-Playing, TIMELAG and Dungeon Tiles.

Not a bad issue - more advice-centric than number-y, but you get bounty hunters and a paralyzing lizard, so what the hey!

I leave you as always with Tramp ...

Remember - never trust gamers discovered in the wild!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Player Motivation

I was recently thinking about the people I've played games with over the years, and what motivated them. I think a big part of being a successful Game Master is figuring out what gives players a thrill and then trying to find ways to work those things into your game.

Understand, I'm not talking about winning here. Most (if not all) players enjoy winning. Everyone can't be a winner all the time. But consider war games, even such a venerable war game as chess. In a game of chess, one player wins and one player loses (unless there's a draw), and yet people keep coming back to the game. Winning really isn't everything.

The motivations I'm talking about are the situations that give people a charge while playing a game. Sitting behind my GM screen, I could see, as events unfolded, the way eyes would light up. Taking note, I tried, when it was possible, to present the situations people enjoyed in every session to give people a charge and leave them smiling at the end of the night, even when things didn't go quite as planned.

Oh, and when you run into a player for whom winning is everything, don't let them into your group. Nothing but heartache and headache will follow. Unless you actually are the parent of the player in question, it's not your job to teach them how to be a good loser. Maturity matters.

Here are the player types I remember:

1) Combat Junkie - loves rolling dice. Loves a good challenge, whether it's a big monster that has to be swarmed or a mass of minor monsters that have to be waded through, or some weird challenge they have to figure out. While it is true that players in the early version of the game often did their utmost to avoid combat and walk away with the treasure (more on that in a moment), many modern players come for the dice rolling, and put up with the exposition in between.

2) Ladder Climber - loves to level up, buy the better armor, build the stronghold, etc. They love success. This doesn't mean they throw a fit when they don't win, or their character loses a level or dies. That's part of the game. But they really love moving up the ladder, getting the new skills and abilities, and generally showing progress.

3) Make Believer - love to play a roll. Maybe they're wicked, maybe they're motherly or fatherly, maybe their something else, but they like the chance to interact with fictional characters and help write the game along with you.

4) Problem Solver - loves to figure things out. Sometimes these are min-maxers, who place all their focus on bending the game rules to their will. Those guys are a pain in the ass. The best ones are the ones who enjoy solving problems that are in-game - puzzles, riddles, strategy, tactics, mysteries. They love the mental challenge that does not involve dice rolling.

The tricky part about running a game, of course, is balancing these different interests. It is possible that not everybody will love every game all the time - in fact, this is likely. But throwing people a bone in the midst of an adventure that doesn't push their buttons is a good idea, and can make the game better for everyone else.

For example, we'll take the good old fashioned dungeon crawl. Dungeon crawls have been so successful over the years because they tend to make #1, #2 and #4 happy. Plenty of monsters, so plenty of opportunities for combat. Plenty of XP and treasure, so the ladder climber is happy. Problem solvers get traps, tricks, etc. to keep them interested. However, the make believer doesn't always get what they want in a dungeon crawl. What to do? Throw in the prisoner who was kidnapped by the monsters and needs help getting back to their home. Throw in the hesitant monster who wants to parlay (but can she be trusted). Give them some personalities with whom they can interact, and better yet - in whose life they can have an impact - and the rest of the dungeon crawling becomes more palatable.

Here are a couple ways to "throw players a bone" without breaking the game ...

Pointless Fights - You don't want to overdo this - and it's very easy to overdo - but once in a while throw the combat junkie a melee party. Throw a mass of minor monsters into the game who probably will not score a TPK, but who give the junkie a chance to roll some dice. Think of this as the opening scene of an action movie, where the hero and his or her prowess is introduced by them beating the crap out of a bunch of pointless mooks. It doesn't really forward the story, and since it's the first scene you know the hero is in no danger, but it's a bit of fun nonetheless. Again - don't do this too often, and if you're playing something other than an old school game where the combat can be played out with relative ease, think hard before you do it at all.

Story Arcs - A story arc that shows up as recurring characters or a situation that gradually gets dire and then gradually gets better by the players' actions can help keep the ladder climbers (who need more power to face the greater evil), make believers (who can make a fictional difference and interact with the recurring characters) and problem solvers (who must unravel the villain's master plan ... even if there isn't one*) happy, without too much extra work or time spent for the GM.

* Sometimes, the best master plan is actually created by the players. As they discuss what they think is happening, adopt their ideas, or roll randomly for who is right, and then from time to time throw in a curve ball. They think they're figuring it out, when in reality they're writing the script.

The players have some work to do as well. Much ink has been spilled over what the Game Master should do to keep players interested ... but what about the players? Think about it - the Game Master has probably invested far more time, energy and money into the game than the players, and they outnumber him or her by four or five or six to one ... but it's the GM's job to make the game successful? Doesn't sound right, and it isn't right.

What the players can do to help make a game a success is to recognize what their fellow players enjoy, and to indulge them their obsessions. In fact, try to get into those obsessions yourself. Player X likes role playing, Player Y likes rolling dice. Instead of rolling your eyes when the other player is getting what they like, try to find the fun in it yourself. Get outside the old comfort zone, fake it to make it, grow as a gamer - you never know what you're missing until you try.

Just a few thoughts on playing the game ... more crunchy stuff to come. The Monster book will be out tonight .It would be out already, but I can't use rpgnow at work ... I can't imagine why? Oh well - time to write about real estate - see you all later!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Blood & Treasure Going Hard (Cover)

Hey boys and girls, I finally have the Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Rulebook up for sale as a hard cover book! The book runs $24.99, and as always if you buy the hard cover book and email me with your Lulu receipt and I'll send you a link for the PDF.

My next steps are as follows:

* Get Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Monster book up for sale as a PDF (this week)

* Get Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Rulebook up for sale as a paperback (next week)

* Get NOD 30 up for sale as a PDF (next week)

* Get Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Monster book up for sale as a hard cover and paperback (two to three weeks from now)

* Get NOD 30 up for sale as a paperback (two to three weeks from now)

Then I get the chance to work on some mini-games and figure out how to do a B&T TK Screen!

And now, since you've suffered through the commercial, here are a couple spells to play with:

Footfalls (Divination)
Level: Cleric 1, Magic-User 2
Range: 300 feet
Duration: 1 round per level

This spell permits the caster to hear all movement on the ground within 300 feet, even if that ground is separated from the caster by thick walls, etc. The caster knows the general direction of the footfalls, the size of what is moving and the general number (single creature, small group, large group, etc.)

Wildfire (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-user 5
Range: 30 feet
Duration: See below

This spell turns a fire or portion of fire (campfire size minimum) into a swarm of tiny fire elementals who run wild and cause as much havoc as they can before they're destroyed. The swarm has the following statistics:

Wildfire Swarm (Tiny Elemental): HD 4; AC 14 [+1]; ATK Swarm (1d4 fire); MV 30 feet; SV 15; INT Low; AL N; NA 1; XP/CL 1,200/6; SP-Immunity (fire), vulnerable to cold.

The swarm moves and attacks as a single creature. It covers a 10' x 10' area, with all creatures in that area suffering an attack from the creature, and all inflammable items in the area forced to make an item saving throw or catch fire.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Animorph, an Animal for All Seasons

How the time does fly, and the world robbed of my nonsense for a couple weeks while I prepared nonsense of another sort.

Here's a quick rundown - finished editing the B&T Monster book - yay! - so I should get it up for sale soon. Just need to work in the changes, fix some images, etc. This could be a rough week for my mom, so I have no idea how much RPG work I can get done, but the last weekend was productive, so we'll see. I'm also about half-way there on NOD 30. I've been so into writing rulebooks the last few months I'm really missing writing the fun stuff.

In the meantime, here's a little half-baked idea for gaming fun ...

The Animorph

The animorph can change into an animal.

Animorphs are skilled at handling animals and riding (which they can do with no riding equipment at no penalty).

An animorph can shift shape once per day per level (and shifting shape means from one form to another, but not back - that counts as a different shift), can only take the form of natural animals, and cannot take an animal form with more Hit Dice than they have levels. While in animal form they retain their own mentality (though not the ability to speak) and current hit points, but make attacks as though they were that animal (i.e. as a monster, with no bonuses for Strength or Dexterity, multiple attacks if the animal has them, special abilities if the animal has them, etc.) rather than as a character.

Animorphs gain an additional +1 bonus to save vs. polymorph and other transformations. They are immune to lycanthropy.

3rd level animorphs can speak to animals (non-magically). 6th level animorphs can also take the shape of giant insects, provided they do not normally have greater than animal intelligence.

Animorphs can deal damage to monsters only hit by silver or magic weapons if they have more levels than the monster has Hit Dice.

At 9th level, animorphs begin attracting animal friends. At each level from 9th to 12th level, an animorph attracts a number of HD of animals equal to their level (thus 9 HD of animals at 9th level, another 10 HD of animals at 10th level, etc.) These animals serve faithfully, but if killed are not replaced. The animorph can add these animals all at once, or over time, and they can only add animals native to the environment in which they currently reside.
Animorphs are wanderers - they cannot construct a stronghold of their own, though they can reside for up to a month at the stronghold of an ally, or in a village (but never a town or city).

Other Info:

RQ Wisdom 13+, Cha 11+
HD d6 (+2 hp per level after 10th)
W/A Can use light weapons, can wear up to leather armor (but must remove it to take animal shape)
ATK As druid
SV As druid
XP As fighter

Edit: Added a bit about hit points and such - nothing major

Monday, August 22, 2016

Lords of Light? Not Quite

I finished reading Thundar, Man of Two Worlds, last night and this is my promised book report. As always, I will keep it short and try to avoid spoiling it for folks who want to read the book themselves.

First and foremost, the book is an homage to the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was published in 1971, but reads more like something written in the 1930s (for good and ill). The author, John Bloodstone, is really writer Stuart J. Byrne. Byrne wrote pulp sci-fi back in the 1950s and 1960s, wrote a couple episodes of Men into Space (which I kind of dig) and a couple movies in the 1970s, and later wrote translations of Perry Rhodan stories.

The book concerns the adventures of Michael Storm, who is a mountain climber and swordsman (all such characters need to have a knowledge of sword fighting before they wind up in a swords and sorcery setting) who winds up in the far future through his reckless daring. Once in the far future, he gets into all sorts of trouble - again, I don't want to get into specifics, because blabbing about them would ruin all the good (which is little) this book has to offer.

Unfortunately, the book lacks ERB's creativity, or his pace reminiscent of old movie serials, with each chapter ending with the protagonists in a terrible situation, and the next beginning with how they escaped it ... only to fall into another by the chapter's end. You get a little of this in Thundar, but not enough, and like most fan fiction it doesn't completely gel. The book was clearly intended to be followed by others which, to my knowledge, did not materialize.

Now, as to whether this book could have influenced the Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon (1980-1982) ... maybe, but only in very small ways. If it had any influence, I would guess it was a matter of the creators of the cartoon having a hazy remembrance of the book. Cartoon Thundarr looks a little like the guy on the cover, but the resemblance ends there. There is no Ookla the Mok (and the Mogg in the book can only have influenced the word "mok", and nothing else about old Ookla), though there is a "dawn man" called Koom (and he's pretty cool - more Koom would have made for a better book in my opinion). There is no Princess Ariel (though there is a Princess Cylayne, who does help Thundar and mostly serves as a Dejah Thoris stand-in to motivate our hero). There is some super science, but no sorcery. There is no sun sword, though there is a blade of Damascus steel. There was a catastrophic cosmic event that screwed up the Earth, but the story is set a million years in the future, so there are no remnants of the 1980s. In short ... very little influence. There is suggestion that this world was the origin of the advanced peoples of South America, but the people we meet in this future earth don't apparently resemble them at all - I kept expecting this and was disappointed.

Can gamers get any inspiration from the book? Maybe, but I doubt it. The world building is pretty simplistic. You have mountains and a jungle and an inland sea and two rival cities on its shores, and not much else. I would expect that every DM's first stab at making up a campaign world was as good as anything you would get in this book. There's almost a cool hook involving technology's influence over the world, but it remains vague, perhaps to be dealt with in more detail in the later books that didn't happen. Even if technology had been more fully explained, it mostly shows up as a deus ex machina, which wouldn't be too handy to a DM writing a campaign world. The way Michael Storm ends up in the far future could be copied for a game - it was pretty fun,  but not revolutionary.

Final grade: C-

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Three New Monsters

Boy, have I been on a roller coaster ride lately. Work continues on the Blood & Treasure Second Edition Monster book, but has been slow due to some medical issues. Amidst the stress and activity, I'm still editing and working on some one-page dungeons that will be included in the book. Hopefully won't take too much longer, but you can't rush these things, and medical issues certainly have to take precedence over make-believe.

In the meantime, I managed to cobble together a few new monsters for your edification and enjoyment over lunch. The artwork is my half-assed sketch of a brazen godling ...

Parrot Man

Type: HumanoidSize: Medium
Hit Dice: 1
Armor Class: 12 + armor
Move: 30′
Attack: Bite (1d3) or by weapon
Save: 16; 20 vs. mental control
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Varies
No. Appearing: 1d10
XP/CL: 50/1

Parrot men look very much like human beings, except for their parrot’s beak and their brilliantly hued skin, often spotted in place or marked with whorls or jagged stripes, especially on the arms and legs. They are garbed in looks tunics, perhaps to better show off their skins with which they take a terribly amount of pride, and they rarely carry more than staff slings and truncheons to defend themselves. Warriors are almost unknown among them, though some become thieves (up to 9th level) or magic-users (up to 6th level).

Parrot men are noted for a singular lack of original thinking. What they read or hear they believe and repeat until they’ve heard something new. This makes their alignments highly variable (exposure to a new alignment has a 3 in 6 chance of persuading the parrot man to adopt it), yet always lacking in conviction.

Brazen Godling

Type: OutsiderSize: Large
Hit Dice: 9+3
Armor Class: 17
Move: 40′
Attack: 2 slams (2d6)
Save: 12; 9 vs. mental effects; MR 25%
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: Chaotic (CE)
No. Appearing: 1
XP/CL: 4,500/11

SD-Immunity (disease, poison), resistance (electricity, fire)

Brazen godlings are formed from the heroic frustrations of the weak and cowardly, becoming encased with demon stuff on the Astral Plane and then deposited in a sheath of bronzed flesh in the wastelands of the Material Plane. They are universally handsome and mad.

Brazen godlings attack with their fists or, when they have lost them, the black tentacles that lie beneath their flesh, for every brazen godling is really a black, tentacled demon heart encased in a tall, strong humanoid body. Attacks against the brazen godling that deal damage have a chance on a d20 equal to that damage of tearing away a bit of the monster’s outer flesh. Roll on the table below to discover what it has shed.

D12 Body Part
1. Leg, left lower
2. Hand, left
3. Posterior
4. Arm, right lower
5. Leg, right thigh
6. Arm, right, upper
7. Leg, left thigh
8. Arm, left lower
9. Hand, right
10. Leg, right lower
11. Arm, left upper
12. Head (reveals tentacle, giving an extra attack each round)

When head and limbs have been removed, the next attack destroys the torso and permits the demon within to be attacked directly. It has 30 hit points and the same stats presented above, save it can only be damaged by magic weapons of +1 or better. The demon heart has five black tentacles (one hidden in each limb, and one curled up in the head), which continue to ooze the creature’s black tears (see below).

A brazen godling, while it retains its head, cries tears of black ichor that have the same properties as unholy water. In melee, these tears may land on attackers, forcing them to save or fall into a terrible despair (-2 to attack and save) for 24 hours. When the being’s flesh is removed, the demon heart continues to secrete this ichor in battle.


Type: Monster
Size: Small
Hit Dice: 1
Armor Class: 13
Move: 20′ (Fly 150′)
Attack: Talons and bite (1d4) or laser rays (2d6 fire)
Save: 16
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: Neutral (N)
No. Appearing: 1d4
XP/CL: 100/2

Laserhawks are large birds of prey with scaled skin and golden feathers. They can emit laser rays from their eyes, both directed at the same target. The rays permit a saving throw, and if that is failed deal 2d6 points of fire damage to their target.
Laserhawk blood can be used to make an unguent that provides complete immunity to fire, but at the cost of one’s eyesight. Both effects last for 24 hours, even if the unguent is washed off.

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