Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: LotFP WFRP Rules and Magic

This post constitutes Part 2 of a three-part review of James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition. Part 1 covered the game's Tutorial book; this portion will discuss the Rules and Magic volume. I will review the third and final volume, Referee, in the near future.*

If the Tutorial book was somewhat hit-and-miss in terms of addressing the veteran gamer well-versed in D&D's terminology and conventions, Rules and Magic gets right down to business. This is in fact one of the great strengths of Raggi's three-volume organizational scheme: all the introductory material is confined to the Tutorial, thereby allowing the Rules and Magic installment to run lean and mean. Immediately following the Table of Contents is a short chargen summary, instructions for rolling ability scores, a universal ability score modifier table, brief ability score descriptions, and character classes -- in other words, just what the veteran gamer would expect, very efficiently and clearly laid out. I am especially fond of Raggi's use of a single ability score modifier table -- it is indicative of the streamlined way Raggi presents all the rules herein.

In terms of character classes, most of Raggi's versions conform to "standard" D&D expectations, so I will only mention the two standouts: Fighters and Specialists. In LotFP WFRP, Fighters get a "to hit" bonus that exceeds that of all other classes, AND increases every time the Fighter levels up. This is such a simple and elegant "fix" to the common complaint that fighters gain less power at higher levels than, say, the spellcasting classes, that I wish the writers of 2nd Edition AD&D had thought of it instead of heading down the "weapon proficiencies" road instead. Maybe that would have kept later editions from degenerating into the whole "feats" mess. But I digress.

LotFP Grindhouse Edition provides further balm to the wounded soul of a skill-system hater by finally building one that feels simple enough (10 skills only!) and old-school enough (it uses d6s!) not to rankle a curmudgeonly old grognard like myself. The system is based on a "x in 6 chance" mechanic -- my favorite!** -- and exists in a kind of "default mode" for all PCs. That is, all PCs use the "x in 6 chance" rule for many common adventuring actions, such as climbing, searching, sleight of hand, and bushcraft (foraging for food etc.). But the Specialist, LotFP's substitute for the D&D Thief class, gets extra "points" with which to improve his or her chances to perform some of these skills; a specialist is simply "better at certain activities that all characters are able to do at a basic level" (p. 10). This "diffuse" skill mechanic (available to all PCs but enhanced for Specialists) avoids the stupidity of thief-only d% skill tables and is so elegantly common-sensical that this feature alone provides a huge lure for me to want to play this game. Well done Raggi!

In another example of Raggi's commitment to efficient information design, the table accompanying each class description provides not only level advancement and hit die data, but saving throws as well. What a revelation! This makes so much more sense, and would be far easier to track down during game play, than the "usual" practice of locating saving throw tables in some separate section of the rulebook. This is not meant as a slam against other game designers who have opted for that more traditional mode, but I admit I am really fond of Raggi's choice to list saving throws with the class descriptions, on the same table as the other level advancement numbers.

I have noted elsewhere how amenable I am to Raggi's "cosmic" take on the threefold alignment system, and won't repeat that assessment here.

Others have praised LotFP's encumbrance system, and it looks great to me as well. But I am a pretty damn laissez-faire tracker of encumbrance, and so may not be the ideal reviewer to comment on that subsystem in much depth. Instead, let me praise the "Adventuring: The Rules of the Game" (pp. 30-37) section of the rulebook more generally. As Jeff Rients has written:

LotFP shines as pretty much the tightest version of D&D I've ever seen. This virtue comes across most clearly in the section devoted to what I call "operations", i.e. how to open a door or check for traps or crap like that. Most reviews of most D&D descendants (and many whole games!) completely skip this stuff because it's usually boring to read, but in actual dungeoneering play these mechanics are crucial. LotFP delivers the best, most coherent set of operations rules I've ever seen.

Agreed! Highlights for me include the game's foraging and hunting rules (based upon the Bushcraft skill), its precise description of what constitutes "defeating an enemy" (and what doesn't), and its breakdown of mapping procedures. However, one rules choice described in this section puzzles me a little: a character is merely unconscious at 0 hp and does not die until reaching -4 hp. Why? I know Raggi is not the first game designer or DM to proffer such a system, but I guess this is an area where I simply prefer that hp 0 = death.

"Maritime Adventures" in Grindhouse follow similar rules to Labyrinth Lord, but with more boats listed on the table.

"Property and Finance" is an interesting section, very helpful for games with PCs approaching Name Level.  I may well borrow some of these concepts, like "Investments" and "Taxes," for my own Domain-Level Labyrinth Lord game.  We'll see.   

"Encounters" unfolds generally as one would expect it to, but with some nice enhancements not found in other games, such as rules for "Firing into Melee" (p. 59) and "Pursuit" (p. 61) which strike me as convenient, if not 100% necessary, at least not for me.  These are the kinds of things I enjoy ruling on in the moment of game play; but it is thoughtful of Raggi to include guidelines for them, especially for newer referees. 

As for "Spells," this review is getting too lengthy as it is, and I am not feeling inclined to go through the spell lists exhaustively at this point.  I know that Raise Dead and Resurrection don't exist in Grindhouse, and that Raggi has added many custom spells to the standard D&D roster.  Maybe I will post separately on this, maybe not.  

Similarly, I don't want to spend tons of time reviewing the Rules and Magic artwork, but I do want to reiterate my contention from the Tutorial book review that the layout and quality of the art throughout this game are absolutely top-notch. As usual, Raggi is setting a very high standard here, and there is really nothing I can say by way of complaint or critique. And since I am an amoral anarchist who does not believe in abstract "community standards" concerning such matters, I have nothing to contribute to the discussion of the artwork's content or subject matter, except possibly: it rocks! The art throughout vividly evokes the world Raggi wants us to see when playing this game, which is precisely what RPG rulebook art should do.

All that said, let me single out a few of my favorite pieces from Rules and Magic: its cover (by Jason Rainville, see top of post), the badass female specialist pic on pp. 12-13 (by Amos Orion Sterns), the remarkable Dean Clayton piece on p. 89 (check out the shading!), and the GREAT medusa illo on p. 70 (by Cynthia Sheppard, see cropped sample above) -- this last being a standout favorite of mine from the whole Grindhouse trilogy of volumes.

To conclude, I would echo James Maliszewski's recommendation that James Raggi "sell the Rules and Magic book separately from the [Grindhouse] boxed set" since "Rules and Magic [has] been combined into a single 168-page volume that contains everything a player would need to play the game." Agreed! I was fortunate enough to be one of the first 100 orderers of Grindhouse and as part of that deal, I got a spare copy of Rules and Magic thrown into my order. I am immensely thankful for this, since that is indeed the book GMs and players would want to refer to most during game play.  So let me say that again, just in case James Raggi is reading this review: PLEASE RELEASE THE GRINDHOUSE RULES AND MAGIC BOOK AS A STAND-ALONE PRINT PRODUCT.  There surely must be a market for that, yes?  For folks who want to play the game and own a print copy but don't wish to throw down the big bucks for the complete box?  Or would this violate Raggi's conception of the game as a three-volume entirety?

On that note, I shall conclude.  Just one more book to go. . .

[UPDATE: As JDJarvis notes below, the stand-alone Rules and Magic book is available as a free, no-art pdf downloadable here.]

* As I mentioned in the first part of my review, I am really taking my time reading these books. Raggi clearly put a great deal of effort into creating, laying out, and publishing this game, and as a bibliophile I cannot resist taking my sweet time looking through it and savoring what I find there. So don't be too surprised if a few weeks pass before you see the final installment of my review.
** Regular readers will know that I favor d6-based skill mechanics for Thieves and Bards in my current Lands of Ara campaign.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Session 37: Northward To Achelon

This session took place 6/13/2011 and was somewhat special: Spawn of Endra was back from fieldwork in Belize, and Hazel's player was visiting Eugene as well, so everybody except me was in one location! Furthermore, Uncle Junkal's player decided to once again violate his dissertation-related gaming hiatus, so we literally had the WHOLE PC group together: Innominus (Clr 6), Hazel (Ftr 4 / MU 4), Dak (Dwf 5), Yor (Dwf 5), Vivuli (Assassin 4), and Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard 4).

The first order of business was to follow up with Sawith the Scribe of Kaladar, whom Dak hired at the end of last session to provide information about some of the recent campaign findings. While Dak initially had thought to ask Sawith about his recently acquired ivory chits called "Morag's Keys," he ultimately opted not to pursue that inquiry, since Innominus had asked Sawith about them before, to limited avail.*

So Dak asked Sawith about two other items he found in the saurian demon's pouch: the "fire gems" (and how to activate their powers) and the obsidian key. He learned that:

1. There are multiple possible commands and functions of the fire gems, of which Sawith was able to uncover two: (a) the command word "shok" causes the fire gem, when thrown, to explode in a fiery blast capable of leveling a mid-sized cottage, and (b) the command work "krok" causes the bearer of the fire gem (and anyone s/he is touching) to be instantly transported to the balrogs' home dimension.

2. The obsidian key, actually made of an extra-planar substance, is from the home dimension of the balrogs, called in the Arandish tongue "Magmatron." Sawith was unable to deduce what specific locale or building or object the key corresponds to on that plane.

In the two days it took Sawith to uncover that information, the party conducted some other business in the Free City. Uncle Junkal sold off some extra armor, Hazel paid an Enchanter to recharge her wand of paralyzation (at a rate of 500 gp per charge), and Vivuli ventured outside the city gates in order to do more snake wrangling.

Then, on day 113 of the party's Arandish adventures -- it is now late fall, only a few weeks until the onset of winter -- the group loaded up the war wagon, mounted their Mizarian steeds, and headed west out of the Free City, headed toward Riverhold, five days' travel [that is, five 36-mile hexes] due west. They encountered no hostile forces along that leg of the route, which was no surprise since the Endyn Trade route is quite well-traveled and -patrolled along that particular leg.

Eager to reach their destination in Northern Achelon, the group decided not to linger in Riverhold, and immediately turned northward, following the Endyn Trade Route due north six more days to the walled Achelonian town of Holtboro.

However, this north-south route is not so well patrolled as the stretch between Riverhold and Kaladar, and the group faced two dangerous encounters as they camped in the woods near the road on their second and third nights [hexes 1311 and 1310, respectively].

The second night, the group was encamped and asleep when the final shift's watchman, Innominus, heard some noises up in the trees. He blew on his slide whistle (acquired in Kaladar) to alert the rest of the party, and soon enough the group saw two huge, black spiders skittering through the treetops toward them. A pitched battle ensued, and Hazel and Viv, who each opted to sleep in tree branches, were almost stuck by webs the spiders cast in their direction. But a few tossed oil flasks and melee strikes later, the party managed to kill the two black widows without taking a single hit amongst them. Viv attempted to extract some venom from one of the corpses, but the dead arachnid was too mangled to make such salvage possible.

On night three the PCs had an even more disturbing encounter: once again, Innominus heard noise approaching the camp during his watch shift, and quickly recognized the five approaching figures as wights. Muttering prayers to Endra, the cleric turned two wights immediately, then set about waking the party and preparing two glyph of warding spells (in their "Blast Glyph" variation -- see AEC p. 35) with which to protect the area around the war wagon. Winning the first round's initiative, the party began shooting missile weapons at the advancing undead, and, after casting his spells, Innominus threw a Holy Water Bola at the wights as well. Within a few rounds, the wights were taken down by a combination of magical and steel missile fire, the bolas, and, ultimately, stepping on the Blast glyph inscribed around the party.

Curious about where the wights had come from, the party proceeded across the road and into the woods, tracking the path of the undead beings back to a small, rural graveyard some distance west of the Trade Route. Hazel cast ESP; Viv hid in the trees; Yor hung back to cover the group's line of retreat.

What the party discovered in the graveyard was quite strange: seven human men wearing coarse black cloaks were scattered around the graveyard, committing various sodomic acts, mostly with each other; one lone fellow was rubbing an obviously drugged black cat around on his exposed genitals. All of the orgiastic sodomizers appeared to be in a somewhat trance-like state, which was broken when the PCs entered the graveyard proper and announced their presence to the men.

Upon being so confronted, the cloaked sodomites stopped what they were doing; some of them may have even looked mildly embarrassed. Dak began questioning them about what they were doing in a graveyard in the middle of the night, and their ostensible leader, Bill, explained that they were local farmers from the village of Enhelm who were simply protecting the grave site from grave robbers. However, when Hazel scanned Bill's mind using ESP, she found that he had a recent memory of a black-cloaked figure bathed in sickly blue light, and foul, unnatural beings rising from five disturbed graves. Bill would not speak openly about this memory, though; he seemed unaware of it or unable to speak of it. He further insisted that the Arch-Deacon, a religious leader in Enhelm, would hear of this intrusion. During the verbal interrogation process, Innominus knocked Bill out cold.

Ultimately, the PCs sent the robed peasants (carrying the unconscious Bill) back south to Enhelm, and searched the graveyard for clues. Innominus cast Detect Magic and Detect Evil and found that the five recently-disturbed graves radiated lingering magical energy, and that two of the graves also radiated very strong evil. Digging in the latter two graves, the cleric found two white gold or platinum coins, inscribed with three strange runes, and the source of the potent evil emanations. He kept them, and the party left the graveyard and returned to their camp.

Three days later, on Day 125 of their Arandish adventures, the group arrived in Holtboro, and made their way to the ancestral home of Sir Boren, just an hour or two west of town. There they were greeted by Sir Boren's younger brother, Sir Barton, who thanked them profusely for returning his beloved brother's body to Achelon. The family rewarded the party with 10,000 gp and also offered to equip them for whatever venture they had planned next. The party asked for a fully crewed riverboat to take them down the Endyn River to the Bay of Noffel. Sir Barton complied.

While their riverboat was being readied, the party stayed on at Sir Barton's for five days. There they saw many locals come to the walled manor house to pay their respects to the deceased knight -- the Late Sir Boren had been immensely popular in the region. A small number of the wake's attendees bore the Bee Symbol -- the same as had marked Sir Boren's golden broach -- on some piece of jewelry or as a patch on their clothing. At one point Hazel asked a female noblewoman, Lady Skaren, about the significance of the Bee symbol. The Lady asked Hazel & Co. to meet her at the Boar's Head Pub in Holtboro the next evening, for discussing the Bee symbol in front of Sir Barton simply would not do.

The next night, the bulk of the party reported to the Boar's Head, where they met Lady Skaren and two other local aristocrats, Morgan the Brave and Sir Eagleton. All three of these folks were "dressed down" in simple traveler's garb, though all of them wore a patch with the bee symbol on it.

Lady Skaren explained that they were members of a regional group called the Bee Consortium, whose purpose was to prepare the local nobles, families, and residents for the possibility of hobgoblin incursions from the northwest. The local area, lying on the extreme northwestern frontier of Achelon, was potentially vulnerable to such attacks, since the nearest regiment of the Achelonian Queen's soldiery was some weeks away. The members of the Bee Consortium felt that it was upon them to protect and prepare themselves; certain other community members, such as Sir Barton, felt that the Consortium was needlessly alarmist and that the Achelonian military would be able to protect them if hobgoblin armies came raiding from the northwest. Indeed, the PCs learned that while Barton obviously loved and respected his brother, he would not discuss his brother's politics at all and was opposed to helping the Bee Consortium in any way.

Lady Skaren further explained that the Late Sir Boren's adventure to Stonehell had been a fact-finding mission, to confirm or deny rumors that the Hobgoblin population of the Gray Mountains (some weeks away to the west-northwest) had discovered a substance (presumably the Black Oil) that would allow them to travel by day and survive in sunlight. Sadly, as Gark and the PCs had learned, this was quite possibly true.

At the end of their meeting, the PCs requested some carrier pigeons from the members of the Bee Consortium, so that they could get back in touch if need be. This was done -- three such pigeons were provided by the good Lady -- and that is where the session ended, on Day 130 of the party's Arandish adventures.

* Dak's tiles consist of one "horned skull" symbol, one "mountain" symbol, and two "flame" symbols, all from the demon's pouch he pilfered in Session 35. Innominus' tiles consist of one "horned skull" symbol found in Session 7, and one "Five-Pointed Star" symbol found in the mouth of a mounted deer's head in the Death Cult Shrine during Session 10 [but not mentioned in that session report].

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Labyrinth Lord and d% Mechanics

I have been stocking portions of The Tower of Death, my OSRCon adventure, using the standard Labyrinth Lord Revised Dungeon Stocking Tables (LL p. 124). Not normally one to get too "hung up" on rules mechanics, I have nevertheless noticed -- perhaps because I am concurrently reading the LotfP Grindhouse Edition Rules and Magic book -- that Dan Proctor may have a penchant for d%-based tables that is not shared by other out-of-print and OSR-produced iterations of the D&D game.

Take, for example, the "Losing Direction" Table on p. 46 of LL. As you can see, this table uses percentile dice to determine the chance of a party getting lost in the wilderness, by terrain type:

These d% ranges very closely approximate the "x in 6" chances listed on the analagous "Getting Lost" table in Cook's Expert rulebook on p. X56:

That is,

15% = 0.9 in 6 = approx. 1 in 6 (Plains)
32% = 1.92 in 6 = approx. 2 in 6 (Mountains, Hills, Woods, Ocean)
and obviously, 50% = 3 in 6 (Swamp, Jungle, Desert)

This discovery made me curious, and so I consulted a couple other sources: OD&D's The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures and Gygax's Dungeon Master's Guide. [The Swords and Wizardry Core Rules are excluded from my sample because they have no "Getting Lost" rules at all.] Guess what? With one exception (that wacky DMG), these rules sets (Cook included) all deploy the same d6-based mechanic for getting lost.

The "Lost Parties" Table from The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures p. 18.

And while Raggi's Lotfp WFRP rules employ a slightly different mechanic, based upon the "Bushcraft" skill of the PCs (see Grindhouse Edition Rules and Magic p. 34), that skill system of his nevertheless uses the same "x in 6" mechanic that seems to be the prevailing choice for D&D authors.

As I just noted, the AD&D DMG is a notable outlier, for it uses an "x in 10" mechanic for lost parties -- here is the relevant part of its "Becoming Lost" Table from p. 49:

Obviously, this table disrupts the consistency of my sample, but hey, it is AD&D after all.

So, DMG aside, Proctor's Labyrinth Lord is the only classic D&D iteration I've looked at that uses a d% system for Getting Lost, and may also be the only one using percentile dice for dungeon stocking (I know Moldvay/Cook use d6's). I'm not complaining here -- for while I do generally prefer "x in 6" systems for in-game use, I have actually been enjoying using LL's d%-based dungeon stocking tables lately -- but I do wonder what made Dan Proctor go this route when basically no one else does?

Perhaps I should truck on over to the Goblinoid Games Forums and ask about this directly. But I wanted to get my thoughts out in a coherent way here first, and to see if anybody else in the blogosphere can shed light on this matter for me.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My FLBS Game's Promotional Blurb - Help!

Today I met with the owner and (subsequently) the manager of my FLBS*, Lift Bridge Books. Wow! Such pleasant and welcoming fellows. Both gentlemen were totally open to my running Old-School D&D games in the store on a once-a-month (or even every-other-week) basis.

Joe, the manager, helped me nail down some specifics. We decided that Sunday would be the best day of the week to hold the sessions, since the store closes at 8pm weeknights (a bit early if we presume a post-dinner or after-work start time) and Saturdays are already booked up with other public events. The store's regular Sunday hours are noon-5pm, so we figured 1pm Sundays would be a good start time -- that gives the group up to four hours per session if we want to game that long.

[As a reference, my "home" gaming group meets for four-hour sessions every other week, which works really well for us. We will see if the locals who attend the public FLBS game are as gung-ho as my private group.]

Joe and I agreed that the first step should be to hold an organizational / orientation meeting, to see what the interest level is like. We went ahead and set the date for that initial meeting: Sunday September 18 at 1pm.

Thus it begins.

In a move emblematic of how gracious and helpful Joe was throughout today's process, he volunteered to post an announcement of the first meeting on the store's website ASAP, and said he would also post flyers around the store and at the coffee shop across the street.

[Interestingly, Joe told me that my visit today wasn't the first time an attempt had been made to lure a regular RPG'ing group into the store. A couple years back, Joe was approached by a then-active D&D group from the nearby College, but negotiations eventually fizzled.]

Anyway, my immediate task is to compose a brief blurb for the bookstore's website, in order to give prospective attendees a flavor for what is to come. My goal is to write something that is welcoming to the general public (i.e., embracing players of all ages and degrees of RPG'ing experience) and makes clear that we are playing Old-School Basic D&D (i.e., Labyrinth Lord), NOT 4e- or Pathfinder-style D&D.**

This is what I have so far -- remember that I am trying to keep it short:

Play the Basic Dungeons and Dragons tabletop role-playing game as it was played back in 1981! Very easy to learn and great fun to play. All ages and skill levels are welcome.

Any suggestions? How can I make this as succinct, welcoming, clear, and FUN-sounding as possible?

* Favorite Local Book Store.
** As I made clear to Joe, my foregrounding of the Old-School nature of the group is NOT about promoting Edition wars but is meant to avoid disappointing those who might otherwise expect 4e as a default. Since this is a public game, I plan on being the consummate pro as a DM and host, and will keep my anti-4e opinions to myself, especially since the store does sell 4e products.
On a quasi-related note, Joe revealed to me that the store's sales of RPG products noticeably tapered off during the 3.5e period. Joe is not an RPG'er himself and has no horse in the race, but he nevertheless posited that the expense of the books and the rapidity of Edition changes (3e to 3.5e, then 3.5e to 4e) had turned off buyers. I found that observation interesting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Alignment By Raggi (and Goodman)

Alignment in D&D has always somewhat vexed me. It is a concept I am still (after all these years) trying to make sense out of / make peace with.

Dedicated as I am to learning the Old Ways, I am really determined to try to come to grips with an exciting, generative interpretation of the "alignment" concept in D&D, specifically using the standard OD&D / Labyrinth Lord / B/X Threefold Alignment System, i.e., Law - Neutrality - Chaos only.

[Those interested in my prior statements / musings on this issue may consult this post on alignment languages in Ara, as well as my previous "State of the Union" on Arandish Campaign Alignment found here.]

As it happens, I was just discussing this very topic with Spawn of Endra last weekend. He and I were talking about what his character, Innominus, a Lawfully aligned Cleric, would do (or would feel most compelled to do) with the Chaotically aligned sword the party filched off the defeated Hobgoblin General back in Session 26 of our campaign. [We never quite answered that question.]

One thing I feel strongly is that each god or deity in Ara should be unique, and may have specific idiosyncrasies that do not quite "align" with the Threefold Alignment System. That is, gods and extraplanar beings may not necessarily have alignments.

That said, I DO want Law and Chaos to be palpable forces engaged in an ancient, cosmic battle in the "big picture" of my Lands of Ara campaign setting. This is not a specific idea that has existed in Ara prior to its current Labyrinth Lord-based iteration, but I am now looking for ways to integrate a big-picture conflict between two opposed cosmic principles into the game-world. Perhaps in time I will come up with specific names for these two opposed forces -- something like Ara (Law) vs. The Demon Plane (Chaos) -- but for now I want to puzzle it out using the game's default terms, Law - Neutrality - Chaos.

Enter James Raggi's LotFP Grindhouse Edition and its take on alignment, found on pp. 21-22 of the Rules and Magic book. Both Spawn and I took a look at that section during our talk last weekend, and lo! leave it to Raggi to cut through the bullshit and issue a concise, clear definition of how alignment can work in D&D:

"Alignment is a character's orientation on a cosmic scale. It has nothing to do with a character's allegiances, personality, morality, or actions. Alignments will mostly be used to determine how a character is affected by certain magical elements in the game."

I like that -- it is cosmic and "macro" rather than nitpicky and "micro." Raggi describes each alignment category as follows:

"Lawful: The universe has an ultimate, irrefutable truth, and a flawless, unchanging plan towards which all events inevitably march. As time moves on, all distraction and resistance to this plan falters until everything is in its perfect state forevermore, without alteration or the possibility of possibilities. Those who are Lawful in alignment are part of an inevitable destiny, but have no knowledge of what that destiny is and what their role will be in fulfilling it. So they are forever look for signs and omens to show them their proper way.

"Chaotic: The howling maelstrom beyond the veil of shadows and existence is the source of all magic. It bends and tears the fabric of the universe; it destroys all that seeks to be permanent. It allows great miracles as reality alters at the whim of those that can call the eldritch forces, and it causes great catastrophe as beings we call demons (and far, far worse) rip into our reality and lay waste to all. Everything that is made will be unmade. Nothing exists, and nothing can ever exist, not in a way that the cosmos can ever recognize. Those who are Chaotic in alignment are touched by magic, and consider the world in terms of ebbing and flowing energy, of eternal tides washing away the sand castles that great kings and mighty gods build for themselves. Many mortals who are so aligned desperately wish they were not.

"Neutral: To be Neutral is merely to exist between the forces of Law and Chaos. Mortal beings exist as Neutral creatures, and remain so throughout their existence unless taking specific steps (often unwittingly) to align themselves otherwise. In fact, most beings would be rather displeased with the notion of pure Law and Chaos, as they are defined in alignment terms. Even most who would claim allegiance to Law or Chaos are not actually Lawful or Chaotic. In the real world, every human being that has ever existed has been Neutral."

And lastly, Raggi's most provocative (and useful) declaration:

Clerics must be Lawful. Elves and Magic-Users must be Chaotic. All others are free to choose their alignment.

I hereby hork Raggi's notion that all clerics are Lawful, and that all magic-users and elves are Chaotic. Clerics follow the metaphysical "laws" of Ara, paying fealty to the gods. Magic-users and arcanists are messing with the "howling maelstrom beyond the veil of shadows and existence" that is Chaos.

As it happens, this ruling fits in beautifully with the history of arcane magic use on Ara, particularly its descent into "chaos" during the Old War.

And a postscript by Joseph Goodman [from an unrelated rpg geek thread] that really sums things up nicely:

Law is an alignment with Man; Chaos is an alignment with supernatural (or supra-mortal) powers. That frequently turns into a "good vs. evil" conversation because the supernatural powers aren't always acting in mankind's best interest! But it's not always the case.

Indeed! I think this captures the vibe I'm after quite nicely.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Get Your Small Game On: The Joy of Cooking (1974 Grindhouse Ed.)

From Thoust Spawn:

In the midst of a garbagey OSR week, I found my thoughts turning to FOOD, since that is one of the few things I have never become fundamentally disillusioned by and bitter about. At one point I went over to The Happy Whisk’s blog for about an hour and just stared at all the great food pictures and read the nice comments and cheerful repartee to get a break from the BS. I have to say I consider myself an Old School cook, as well and Old School RPG player. There are many odd overlaps. For example, the copy of Joy of Cooking I own was a used copy given to me by a friend (as were my AD&D PHB and DMG), and it is the 1974 version.

People, let me tell you: This book is Old School. They give you everything you need to cook, and let your imagination do the rest. There are some very basic instructions here: e.g., they take the time to tell you how to make toast, non-judgmentally. There are also solid treatments of obscure foods you might encounter (e.g., p.512 covers Pigs’ Ears, Chitterlings [Chitlin’s], Cockscombs, and finishes with an advisory piece, “About Marrow”, wherein we learn marrow can be substituted for brains in any recipe – good to know!). Many recipes have to be house-ruled (always double or triple the amount of garlic in these recipes), and some are best ignored, like encumbrance rules. The 1974 JoC feels a lot like 1e AD&D to me: People take from it what they want, and nobody ever uses all the recipes. And despite the improved meal-resolution mechanics of later versions of JoC, some of the charm is lost in later revisions in the 90s. To wit, in a perverse Borgesian turn there's a section in the Cookbook entitled Game, just as in most RPGs you've got rules in the Gamebook for finding Wild Food.

Do people use these rules often? “Rations and Foraging” in the Labyrinth Lord Basic rules, p. 46, tells us that ‘scavenging’ for food can be “accomplished without hindering travel by gathering fruits, nuts or small animals” in the course of a day. Or you can hunt and not travel, and then you get better chances of success. Despite devoting a section to Foraging and Hunting in the rules of Mr. Raggi’s LotFP:GE (Rules and Magic, p.33) the actions described are only hunting (which is covered under the Bushcraft skill in the new rules) and not foraging. One expends d10 of missile ammunition in a day's attempt at gathering food.

For Raggi foraging = hunting = meat, unless we assume that d10 crossbow bolts are being sacrificed for a basket of elderberries, or sloe apples, or majestic camas bulbs. Or if Les Stroud is your ranger, he shot d10 servings of lichen tea off of a Douglass fir. Perhaps there are no plants in the icy Finnish wastes.

Now that you've got your quarry, what do you with it? My JoC has several recipes for Rabbit or Hare (skinning them shown above), followed by Squirrel and a nice illustration of how to deal with that little guy. Note that gray squirrels are preferred over red, which are "quite gamey" (Mr. Arkhein?).

After that we have Opossum, Porcupine, Raccoon, Muskrat, Woodchuck, Beaver (and Beaver Tail), Armadillo, and then of course Venison, Bear, Peccary, Wild Boar and Stuffed Boar's Head.

So there you have it. For those seeking some verisimilitude in foraging roleplay here's a good resource. It could also be a resource for simple hand-drawn illustrations, torture-porn, furries, and a raft of other unsavory practices. Such is the multifarious nature of a great work of literature.

[UPDATE: I just noticed a link to this great website on Christian's sidebar, The Inn at the Crossroads. Attempts to produce the great dishes of literature!]

[UPDATE 2: Here's an earlier post that would have benefited from some JoC help -- Blood Sausage Making.]

Saturday, June 18, 2011

More Public Gaming Options

I've really had public RPG'ing on the brain lately, as I prepare for my first-ever public GM'ing experience at OSRCon in Toronto in August, then for the inception of my ongoing FLBS* old-school gaming group in September.

I have therefore been reviewing the available wisdom on the subject, including Jeff Rients' post on game store games, which says that:

The biggest thing you can do for yourself is to make nice with the store owner and/or manager. Get a date set with them a couple weeks beforehand and ask them to help recruit. Briefly explain the kind of game you have in mind and ask them to steer good folks your way while discouraging the turkeys.

This sounds like a very good piece of advice, so I am planning to implement it forthwith. Time for me to meet the owners of Lift Bridge Books!

Which means I should also start looking more closely at the Labyrinth Lord Demo Team requirements as well.**

In related news, I blogged recently about a teen D&D group that meets weekly at the local public library; in that post I note that I enjoyed meeting them but ultimately decided that their weekly meeting schedule and penchant for playing D&D IV were "deal-breakers" for me in terms of joining that group and subverting it to the Old Ways.

Then, just this week I was talking with one of my summer school students about video gaming, and the subject of D&D came up. This fellow was familiar with some of the D&D based PC games and had played both AD&D 2e and 3e in pen-and-paper format. I asked him about existing RPG'ing clubs on our college's campus, and he said he thought that while there is a student computer gaming club, he had no knowledge of any extant RPG'ing club. By the end of our conversation, he came right out and said that if I started such a thing, he would very likely participate.

Interestingly, I know of at least one other friend, a faculty member in another department, who has expressed a similar sentiment. This faculty friend of mine has never played D&D, only Vampire: The Masquerade and other White Wolf games, but he has told me he would jump in if I started an Old School D&D group. So that's two players onboard already, and I haven't even started the club!

So maybe my plan for a once-a-month public game at the bookstore in town will be supplemented by the institution of every-other-week "Old-School RPG Club" sessions somewhere on campus. It seems like I might be able to easily attract college types to such a game, if the data so far is indicative of future trends.

The bookshop game will be geared toward the general public, i.e., an all-ages crowd including extreme novices, and will likely favor one-off adventures (e.g., Tim Shorts' Knowledge Illuminates and other forthcoming entries in his "One-Shot Adventure" series).  The college club could meet more frequently (every other week maybe) and adopt a more campaigny feel -- if the latter plan pans out, I know exactly which module I would use to kick things off for that particular group. 

Anyway, lots of options are presenting themselves here. Let's hope I can embrace them without driving myself too crazy or running out of time and energy.


* Favorite Local Book Store.
** I have checked out the LL Demo Team regulations and have come across two that may require my immediate action:

Identify which convention(s) you plan to attend, and be sure to note event submission deadlines. Report the convention to the Society Organizer, and when/if possible a link to the event schedule.

And then:

After each event, we ask that you submit a brief electronic report to the Society Organizer. The main purpose is to report in general how the game went and how you were received by your venue. Include any suggestions, things that were a challenge, or your plans for your next venue.

I had best report my planned participation in OSRCon to the LL Society Organizer ASAP!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review: LotFP WFRP Tutorial

Having been one of the lucky "first 100" to order James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition, I have been slowly reading through the contents of the boxed set over the past couple of weeks, relishing the riches found within. What follows is part one of a three-part review of the game; my comments will be organized in the same manner as the game itself, i.e., Part 1 will cover the Tutorial book, Part 2 the Rules and Magic tome, and Part 3 the Referee manual. Let's begin!

First, a few general comments about the overall quality of this product. I am not the first to observe that James Raggi is arguably the most quality-driven publisher in the OSR gaming business. His products (since at least Death Frost Doom) are consistently of very high production value, with evocative original artwork, superb layout, and (for the most part) a clear, effective, and engaging writing style. LotFP Grindhouse is no exception -- in fact, it is more or less the highest-quality OSR product I have yet seen, its nearest equivalent being Zak S.' Vornheim, also recently published by Raggi.* I ask the reader to bear in mind this general assessment of Raggi's work in what follows, for when I critique aspects of Grindhouse, I am in some ways judging Raggi against his own incredibly high standards, and even my negative comments should be seen against a backdrop of general awe for what Raggi's LotFP (the company) has accomplished here. Also note that I do not own and have only cursorily glanced at the previous Deluxe Edition of LotFP WFRP, so my review takes the new Grindhouse Edition at face value, on its own terms.

The Tutorial book sports my favorite cover image of the trilogy, created by Aeron Alfrey and visible in its draft stages here.

Indeed, the art in general is very good in this book, and there is a surprisingly coherent feel to the artwork throughout. My concern all along has been that by involving himself with such a wide variety of contributing artists and by emphasizing the artwork so heavily (especially leading up to Grindhouse Edition's release), Raggi might over-extend himself or get so obsessed with the artwork that it would become too much a focal point. But I don't think that that has happened. The art balances nicely with the text and there isn't too much of it. Beyond the Tutorial's excellent cover, I am particularly fond of the images found on pp. 3, 15, 50, 54, 77, and 90 -- yet the artwork is terrific throughout.

The bulk of the Tutorial volume is taken up with two introductory "adventures" presented as choose-your-own-adventure type narratives which gradually introduce core gaming concepts to the reader, like the role of attributes and what happens during melee combat. As James Maliszewski has noted in his review of Grindhouse, this CYOA-style tutorial is not necessary for veteran gamers, and may even seem counter-intuitive (why use a narrative "story" to teach gaming concepts?) or too long and involved (the two tutorial "adventures" run 41 pages taken together) even for a novice. Some would ask, "why not just plunge the neophyte gamer into the core rules mechanics, i.e., rolling 3d6 for each attribute in order?" That seems to be Maliszewski's implication and it is, at least for us grognards, a valid stance to take.

Ultimately, however, I feel unsure on this point; like Maliszewski, I learned to play D&D from a combination of reading certain books (Holmes Basic, the AD&D Player's Handbook) and playing the game with more experienced players. So I have never had to learn D&D (or any subsequent RPG) strictly from a book, and therefore I don't know how best to create that kind of interface for the type of reader at whom this section is aimed. I think what Raggi is trying to accomplish on pp. 5-46 of the Tutorial book is to get the neophyte's mental feet wet without really crunching any numbers yet, but I honestly cannot judge how effective this part of the book is at accomplishing its intended goal.

That said, I really like the various tidbits of wisdom Raggi offers on pp. 47-55, under such headings as "More About The Game," "The Process of Play," "About the Rules," and "Winning and Losing." This whole cluster of short sections was my second-favorite portion of the book, after the "Recommended Reading" segment.

Ah, the "Recommended Reading" segment. This is far and away my favorite part of the Tutorial book, for it provides what I always hoped everybody else's "Appendix N" would: a prose essay contextualizing the work being recommended. More than just a list of books to read, Raggi (and his collaborators**) discuss certain key authors and (most importantly) tell us why we should read that author's works. This approach empowers the reader with information, a strategy which allows each reader to make informed choices about which authors (and works) to read first, last, or not at all. And the write-ups of each key author are very good -- overall, a highly recommended section.

Lastly, there is the "Glossary" on the back cover -- a nice touch, conveniently placed. A very smart use of that space given the book's function as a tutorial volume.

To sum up, while there is much here for the for the veteran gamer to skip over, and while I cannot say for sure how or if the choose-your-own-adventure style tutorials would work effectively to introduce a neophyte to the game, the LotFP WFRP Grindhouse Edition Tutorial is a well-produced tome that is highly appropriate for inclusion in a boxed set. Plus there are several gems herein -- the "Recommended Readings," some gaming wisdom in the last third of the book, the impressive artwork throughout -- that are sure to at least make enjoyable reading for the veteran RPG'er. I shall withhold "scoring" Raggi's game until I have read and reviewed the second two books, but for now, let me state that I am impressed with Tutorial's aesthetics and layout, and while its content hasn't fully satisfied me as an experienced gamer, it has surely whetted my appetite to get a look at the frikkin' rules!

Next volume, here I come.

* Review forthcoming.
** The "Recommended Reading" section is co-authored by Raggi, Michael McClung, Jukka Sarkijarvi, Scott S., David Larkins, James Murphy, Chris Hogan, and Juhani Seppala.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Random Wilderness Events

Note: MY CURRENT PLAYERS SHOULD AVOID DOWNLOADING OR READING THE "WILDERNESS ENCOUNTER TABLE" PDF MENTIONED AT SEVERAL POINTS DURING THIS POST. That pdf contains possible spoilers about what's going on in the Minochian Mountains in our current campaign timeline. Aside from that pdf, however, I have kept the rest of this post spoiler-free, so please read on and enjoy!

Generating Random Wilderness Events
In my latest session report, I mentioned a technique I have been using in my Labyrinth Lord games to generate random wilderness events. There are two methods I have used in order to randomly determine whether or not a natural event occurs during wilderness travel:

1. The "Customize the Encounter Table" Method
If you download the Minochian Mountains Encounter Table pdf, you will see that I embedded "natural event" results into the table itself. In this case, it is a d30 table, and a roll of 29 on the d30 results in a natural event rather than a monster. To determine which specific natural event occurs, simply make an additional roll on the "Natural Events Sub-Table" (see below).

This approach could be adapted for use with stock Wilderness Encounter Tables as well: simply choose one monster off the list (BEFORE rolling on the table) to swap out for the "Roll on Natural Event Sub-Table" result. For example, if I were using the "Grassland" Wilderness Monster Encounter Table on page 105 of Labyrinth Lord, I could pre-designate the "Boar" result (a roll of 3 on the d20) as my "Roll on Natural Event Sub-Table" outcome. Every time I rolled a wandering monster encounter, there would be a 1 in 20 chance of the "monster" actually being a natural event.

2. The "Extra 1 in 6 Chance" Method
As a DM I am always on the lookout for another excuse to roll d6s. There is something really satisfying for me about the "x in 6 chance" event outcome mechanic (a fact which bodes well for my interest in one day playing LotFP: WFRP, since its "skill system" is based on this very mechanic).

In the comments to that most recent session report, I mentioned that I was using the straight-up Labyrinth Lord Wilderness Encounter Tables during Session 36. The reason for this is because the custom Minochian Mountains Encounter Table mentioned above is really only appropriate for use in southern Minoch near Stonehell; for the PC's recent adventure on Blackstone Mountain in Northern Minoch, I instead used the "Mountains/Hills" Random Encounter Table on p. 105 of the LL Rulebook. But in this case I did not want to simply substitute the "Wilderness Event" result into the d20 table; I desired an even greater likelihood of a Wilderness Event on these particularly treacherous slopes! So I implemented the "Extra 1 in 6 Chance" Method.

For this method, once I have determined that a wandering monster encounter is going to take place, I impose an extra 1 in 6 chance that rather than a wandering monster, we are instead dealing with a "natural event" type encounter. Then, as usual, I use my own Wilderness Events Sub-Table (from the aforementioned pdf) to determine which specific natural event occurs.

This second method increases the chance of dangerous natural occurrences by a decent margin, but so much the better. Natural occurrences with potentially harsh outcomes make for exciting wilderness travel!

[You can read about the deadliness of my group's latest such event, a rockslide, in the Session 36 Report and DM Notes.]

The "Extra 1 in 6 Chance" Method also allows for DMs even more trigger-happy than I am to further increase the chance for a Natural Event by imposing a 2 in 6 or even a 3 in 6 chance for such an outcome after a random encounter has been indicated. I could see myself using such a tactic in a particularly seismically unstable region, for example.

Using Random Wilderness Events Sub-Tables
Since my party has been traveling in a mountainous region for the bulk of the adventure campaign so far, the Wilderness Events Sub-Table (see this pdf) I've been using since around Session 31 includes such occurrences as "Steam Geyser," "Avalanche," "Flood," "Earthquake," "Forest Fire," and even "Weird Mana Emanation" (see the pdf for full descriptions of these events).

Some suggested events for other types of wilderness regions might include:

Desert: sandstorm, drought, quicksand, flash flood, mirage

Forest/Wooded: forest fire, rainstorm, hailstorm, flood, beaver invasion, treant insurrection

Grassland: tornado, thunderstorm, insect swarm, Blood Grass

Jungle: quicksand, flood, insect swarm, tropical rainstorm, snake plague

Rivers/Lakes: current too strong, frozen, boiling

Sea: storm, whirlpool / typhoon, dead winds, seas part for a religious zealot, Ponaturi insurrection

Swamp: rainstorm, flood, drought, insect swarm, marsh gasses spontaneously explode, crocodile plague

Note that I always sneak one "wacky" or quasi-supernatural result in with the more realistic ones. That's just how I roll. Obviously, individual DMs could make their own custom Natural Event Sub-Tables for each region in their own campaign world(s).

[Thanks to The Jovial Priest for urging me to write this up.]

Here's what's nihilistic and amoral + Holy Water Bolas

Says Spawn: For all the pages of BS being written about these two concepts lately, I don't see any fucking Joesky tax being paid by anyone. So fuck you.

And since I'm just over 25 words, I'll lead by example. Here's a new weapon.

Holy Water Bolas
Holy water bolas were developed by Innominus the Follower of Endra in the Lands of Ara. Each set comprises 2 half-vials of holy water in specially blown containers on the end of two leads, and a third lead with an iron weight. When thrown against undead they can cause 1d8 damage as holy water, but will also entangle the abomination and reduce its movement. They are so bad-ass that when used against intelligent undead for the first time, they will be startled and say "Holy (or Unholy) Shit!". If the attack is successful, after the searing pain of righteous burning subsides, the undead will nod appreciatively and acknowledge the cleric's bad-assness by saying "Good one."

Monday, June 13, 2011

OSRCon Update!

OSRCon - Aug. 12-13, 2011 - Lillian H. Smith Library - Toronto, Ontario

Happily, it looks like my mention of "no Maliszewski at OSRCon" in a post of five days ago was erroneous. My apologies for the misinformation; it turns out that James Maliszewski will be at OSRCon after all. Huzzah!

As far as my own preparations go, I have almost finished stocking my OSRCon Labyrinth Lord adventure, The Tower of Death, and am planning to run a secret playtest of the module with some friends from my own gaming group in July sometime, to make ready for the August con sessions.

Come join the fun! OSRCon registration is only is $20 CDN until July 1, 2011.

I will be running Labyrinth Lord games during sessions one and three of the con. My GM code on the linked schedule is #6421; I'm at Table 5 both sessions.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stopwatch as d% Roller

Ein quick one from Thoust Spawn of Endra:

I was recently in Belize doing fieldwork and learned that you can generate random numbers from 0-99 using the 100ths of seconds on a stopwatch. I thought I'd share in case you ever find yourself without dice, or a smart phone with some cool app, or you have no electricity to charge said phone. In the event, I was with a colleague of mine laying out plots in some recently planted milpas. The purpose of these is to see how features of the soil, landform, fallow, etc., contribute to corn yields in a swidden system. Her interest is primarily in modern land use decisions by contemporary Maya farmers, mine is in the productive capacity of the land when it was cultivated by the ancient Maya. Here are some newly cleared and planted milpas:
She wanted to randomize the layout a bit more than I had been doing in previous years, so the idea was to stretch out a 100m tape, and she would run the stopwatch and then add or subtract the 100ths of seconds value (d%) or just the last digit (d10) to offset the plots from 0m, 50m, or 100m, more or less. Pretty cool.

So if you had a table like this one that Jim Pacek reworked from a truly bizarre Judges Guild chart, you could be generating any type of die roll you needed.

In fact, by running the stopwatch twice you could generate a value with 100ths of percents (or a d10000), so the problems of uneven distributions with d6, d8, and d12 could be resolved easily. If you get a 16% on a d6, you could run it again to figure out if you've rolled a 1 or a 2. If you end up with 16.66% you could run it again, and so on (though you probably need to lighten up if you're taking it that far).

One downside is most stopwatches beep when you run them and that might get annoying, but it's still better than nothing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Horse Movement Rates - The Most Significant Post On the Topic EVER.

[The Spawn of Endra returns from the wilderness of Belize:]

A few weeks back there was the episode where Blogger ate a bunch of blogs, there was rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, and then things got back on track. All that this blog lost (I believe) was a post on Horse Movement Rates that I had struggled to write over a couple of days. A few comments I got suggested the rates were way off, the horses would be dead if you rode them that hard, etc. I'll attempt to reproduce the main arguments here in brief, mostly because there are issues in translating the per round or per turn movement rates for horses to wilderness rates in B/X and Lab Lord. And also because Jovial Priest has been politely badgering the hell out of me to repost this.

So the highlights:
Horses and mules are hell of slow by the rules. One with a cart can only move at 60'/turn or 6'/min or 1' in 10 seconds (LL p.17). I had a joke about having your ass in a sling:

And if my horse moved that slow I'd give it this treatment:

Okay, having recapitulated the yuks, here's my take. I suggest that the B/X per-turn rates are useless, but also so rarely used we don't need to think about them as a basis for daily movement rates except in a sort of relative way (e.g., horses are faster than donkeys, riding horses are faster than draft horses, unencumbered horses are faster than encumbered ones, etc.). I have looked at some info that probably represents extremes of horse ability here, though in his original comments JD Jarvis had suggested that the rates here on the same website are a better guide. I leave it to you, kind reader, to sort this out according to your best judgment.

The main details:

1) The speeds for a Riding Horse are probably okay.

2) War Horses, if we use early 20th C. US cavalry races as a benchmark, ~60mi/day is probably reasonable for an unencumbered horse (just a rider).

3) Mizarian Draft Horses are as equally awesome as a generic Arandish War Horse.

4) Any Horse should move faster than a human on foot under usual circumstances. For simplicity, though, we'll say they have an equal rate of movement.

5) Riding Horses and War Horses, per se, never pull loads.

and, the final simplifying conversion:

6) Draft Horses move at -1/3 the rate while pulling a load compared to the same conditions not pulling a load. (This might be modified with load thresholds for multiple horses, etc.)

This is our working house rule for now, as unrealistic as this may be. I'm happy to have more comments on this, particularly if they can help to improve this. In general I'm more interested in having a system that is consistent even if not realistic than to get bogged down in trying to accurately model an aspect of adventure mechanics that is, frankly, pretty boring.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Session 36: A Wizard's Cave and Wandering Monsters

This session occurred on 5/30/2011. With Spawn of Endra out of the country and Hazel's player experiencing some sort of internet failure, we had a relatively small PC group this time around, i.e., the trio of Dak (Dwf 5), Yor (Dwf 5), and Vivuli (Assassin 4). What this dynamic group lacked in overall party size, they made up for in gusto for adventure!

This session picked up a few moments after the end of the last one, shortly after a demon attack in the Farn Junction town square during the early evening of Day 104 of the party's Arandish adventures.

The trio decided to stay in Farn Junction yet one more day due to a potentially profitable blackmail scheme they had set up at the very end of last session [but not mentioned in the previous session report]. It goes like this: When Hazel was pickpocketing random citizens of Farn Junction after she paralyzed them in the town square, she used her ESP spell on one particularly wealthy looking fellow who turned out to be a Farn Junction nobleman mentally obsessed his numerous sexual trysts with rent boys. While this nobleman, Lord Pfaffinfiffin, was paralyzed, Hazel, invisible, slipped him a note threatening to publicly expose his proclivity for rent boys unless he paid a blackmail fee of 6000 gp. According to Hazel's note, the payoff was to take place the following night in the Loopner Graveyard in northeastern Farn Junction.

So, having a night and a day to burn in or around Farn Junction until the next evening's payoff rendezvous, Dak and Yor asked around town about the hows and whys of regional demon lore. Why did those two big demons come to Farn Junction? Were they there to harm the Prince, or on some other dark mission? Where did they come from originally? Are there any local wizards or demonologists around who could help provide some answers?

At the Stone Mountain Inn they met an old, grizzled, one-armed dwarven warrior named Garak, who opined about the nature of the creatures he'd seen in the Town Square. He said that while the saurians' heads were more lizard-like than any demon he'd ever fought, their general demeanor and fighting style reminded him of balrogs, which were horrible shadow-demons who dwelt in deep, dark, underground places in the nearby mountains. Garak mentioned how peculiar it was to see such creatures above ground at all, let alone in the middle of town. The only place he'd ever seen a balrog was in deep caverns beneath the mountains, in ancient places best left undisturbed.

When asked about local demonologists, Garak withdrew in disgust, saying he had no truck with wizards and the like.

Dak was especially keen to locate a wizard to help identify some of the objects found in the demon's pouch he pickpocketed last session. Always a sociable drunk, the outgoing dwarf mentioned demonology to various patrons of The Frisky Bobcat, a popular adventurer's bar, and very soon heard about Warren the Black. According to a scroungy woodsman and guide named Tom, Warren was a skilled yet spooky old arcanist who lived in more or less complete solitude up on Blackstone Mountain, just a half-day's travel northwest of Farn Junction. Tom spent a fair amount of time on the mountain, had met Warren the Black personally, and spoke in somewhat awed tones about the reclusive wizard. He even advised Dak and Yor "not to tell too many townsfolk that you're seeing the man on the hill."

Warren the Black sounded to Dak like the party's demonologist, or as close as they were going to get. So on Dak's recommendation the group hired Tom (and his mule, Jerry) to guide them up Blackstone Mountain to Warren's cave. They decided to leave that very night.

Vivuli spent the first half of his evening in the nearby hills, wrangling up four Mountain Rattlers, a local breed of venomous snake. Upon returning to town just before midnight, the assassin basketed up the snakes and hurried to meet his fellows on Farn Junction's western border. [Viv's player asked if he could harvest some snake venom before leaving, but I ruled that that would constitute a time-consuming, all-night process to do safely.]

The PC trio met Tom at midnight and headed northwest, up the mountain, in darkness. Dak's whiskey flask was imbued with continual light, and Tom (and his beloved mule Jerry) were both familiar with the terrain , and sure-footed. Nevertheless, it was slow going, especially after the first hour, when the way became increasingly steep.

To make things worse, in their third hour on the trail, they were caught in a rockslide! Stones of all shapes and sizes rolled down from above, and while one of the party's horses stumbled a little and Yor sustained relatively minor injuries, their guide, Tom, was completely crushed and killed. The PCs buried Tom under a rock cairn, and decided to stop until dawn when they could move up the last stretch of mountain path more safely. They made a small camp; Viv climbed up a tree, Dak slept, and Yor took the first watch.

An hour into their rest period, they were attacked by two sabre-toothed tigers! However, while Dak and Yor fought the tigers face-to-face, Vivuli was able to drop out of his tree and surprise attack Dak's tiger, instantaneously assassinating it. He then ganged up on Yor's opponent and helped kill that creature as well. The PCs skinned the tigers and removed their prominent saber-fangs. They also butchered up part of the tiger carcasses and packed tiger steaks to bring up the mountain.

After dawn, someone in the group slapped Jerry the mule on the ass, and it hustled up the mountain along the same general path they had been following prior to Tom's death. Thus, with Jerry the mule leading the way, the PC's headed up the mountain to a flat, narrow ledge. Jerry the mule stopped there and would go no further.

Using his x-ray vision, Vivuli scanned the nearby rock slope, and found that there was a cavern inside the mountain, with an iron cookpot hanging over some smouldering embers. The group knew they must be near Warren the Black's lair, so Dak started banging on the wall and yelling that they had come to see Warren and were accompanied by Jerry the Mule.

And lo! Warren the Black did emerge from an unseen cave, and after brief words of greeting led them through an illusory "rock face" and deep into his candlelit, natural cavern complex. Warren took the group to his lab, a 30' by 30' natural cave with a crude workbench, overrun with vials of alchemical potions and littered with other strange arcane debris. The PCs plied Warren with freshly cut sabre-toothed tiger steaks and some of Dak's dwarven whiskey, and the quirky but informative wizard provided them with some explanations:

1. The saurian balrogs the PCs fought in the square the day before were indeed extra-dimensional demons, which therefore were likely in Farn Junction on a mission of vengeance. After examining one of the saurians' decapitated heads, Warren declared that the creature had not been on Ara (that is, away from the atmosphere of its home dimension) for longer than a fortnight. Vivuli also swore he heard the old arcanist mumble the word "Sarth" upon first glimpsing the demon's head.

2. Warren identified the red gems that Dak found in the pilfered demon's pouch as "fire gems." Warren had heard or read somewhere that a demonic command word (that is, a commend word literally in the demonic language) could be spoken, and certain powers would manifest in these gems. But he knew no specifics and refused to speak demonic in company.

3. Dak also showed Warren the four bone chits he found in the demon's pouch. Warren called the relics "Morag's Gate Keys" and told the PCs about Morag the Arch-Summoner, an ancient, insane demonologist who was considered Ara's greatest interdimensional traveler. According to legend, Morag forged (or maybe found) several underground Gates, which were accompanied by receptacles or panels where the "Keys" (or chits) could be placed in order to activate each dimensional Gate. Warren had never actually seen one of Morag's Gates, but believed they were supposed to have etchings all over them, UNLIKE the Gate the PCs encountered in Session 34.

After their long discussion with Warren, the party asked permission to rest for awhile in the wizard's cave before setting off again for Farn Junction. Warren granted this and the party rested and healed. Before leaving that afternoon, the PCs asked if there was anything else they could do for the wizard, and he asked them to keep him in mind if they obtained any green dragon scales. They agreed and set off down Blackstone Mountain.

On the way down the mountain, the party was attacked by a vicious three-headed creature: one head a lion, one a goat, one a red dragon. A vicious battle ensued, with the PCs eventually triumphing. Sadly, though they searched the nearby copse from which the beast had emerged, they found its nest but no treasure.

The gang made it back to Farn Junction in time for their midnight blackmail payoff, Viv additionally pickpocketed the lackey whom Lord Pfaffinfiffin sent with the payment, and on that profitable note, the party left town three days later, on Day 109 of their Arandish adventures.

Two days later, after a minor skirmish with a small pack of hungry wolves on the road, the PCs reached The Free City of Kaladar, entering the vast metropolis via the South Gate Ferry, across the King's Fork River. In the South Gate District they found the Green Dragon Shanty, where Gark the Dwarf awaited them with mugs of fine, imported Dwarven Beer!

Next Time: Sawith the Scribe revisited.

DM's Notes
These three worked well as a team and managed to:

(a) Accomplish the party's overarching goal of reaching The Free City of Kaladar and reuniting with Gark and Zappo, and

(b) Initiate and complete a fascinating "side journey" to Blackstone Mountain, where they learned a great deal of intriguing and possibly useful info from reclusive wizard Warren the Black. They also gathered the bulk of their xp for the session on this trip, killing the saber-toothed tigers and chimera on the slopes of Blackstone Mountain.

They also briefly met dwarven warrior Garak Grimmbrick, the eclectic uncle of the Farn Junction Grimmbrick clan. The Grimmbricks are an influential local family and join a roster of other key dwarven houses in the region including Steelsnout (Gark's clan in Fortinbras), Bricklaus (Gark's family's chief rivals in Fortinbras), Frigglestone of Farn Junction, and Yor's family, also of Farn Junction, whose family name I don't yet know.

I liked the rockslide event, which occurred as a result of a mechanic I started utilizing back when the party was prowling around on Greystone Mountain near Stonehell. I want there to be a constant threat of strange and dangerous natural occurrences in the Minochian Mountains -- it's kind of what they're famous for. So for my custom wandering monster table for the region, I embed "natural event" results into the table itself; and if I am using someone else's table (e.g., the stock "wilderness" tables in LL p. 105), I impose an extra 1 in 6 chance (once I have determined that a wandering monster encounter is going to take place) that rather than a monster, we are dealing with a "natural event" encounter instead. My favorite part of the rockslide event was its totally unexpected killing of Tom the unkempt guide. I rather liked the fellow and was a bit saddened myself when the dice conspired to kill him off so suddenly. But that element of surprise is one of the things I like most about old-school gaming.

The last surprise I should mention is the lack of treasure for that vicious chimera the PCs met and vanquished on their way off the mountain. I felt badly that they got no treasure, but that was how the dice fell!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

OSRCon Updates

OSRCon - Aug. 12-13, 2011 - Lillian H. Smith Library - Toronto, Ontario

I am getting excited about OSRCon in August. I have been mapping and stocking my con adventure, The Tower of Death, and greatly look forward to taking some Labyrinth Lord adventurers through the scenario during sessions one and three of the con (my GM code on the linked schedule is #6421; I'm at Table 5 both sessions).

Sadly, James Maliszewski has dropped out of the proceedings. However, D&D legend Ed Greenwood will be running a 2e AD&D game!

Furthermore, the schedule has shifted in such a way as to permit me to participate in the two Expedition to the Barrier Peaks sessions. This is a module I have never owned nor played before, so I greatly look forward to experiencing it firsthand as a PC for the very first time!

Come join the fun! OSRCon registration is only is $20 CDN until July 1, 2011.

Monday, June 6, 2011

DMG Sample Level Stocking Project - Complete Key

The map for Alaxxx's Pofflsnoo, a level 3 dungeon for Labyrinth Lord.

I am happy to present to you the entirety of my DMG Sample Level Stocking Project in one convenient downloadable pdf.  This fantastic, free dungeon level, called Alaxxx's Pofflsnoo, is made freely available for you to download, use, modify, run games with, and do with as you choose.

To get the whole story of how I stocked this level, please refer to James C.'s original announcement of the project, his updated list of participants, and my stocking installments Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9.

This has been a fun and educational project for me and I am very happy with the results. This is the very first time I have randomly stocked a dungeon level to this extent, and what I learned along the way is that random dungeon stocking is like a secret game-show that the DM gets to play! It is actually great FUN to roll randomly to see what goes in the rooms, then to have to make on-the-spot judgment calls about how the various random results "fit" (or don't quite fit) together. I think random dungeon stocking provides a space in which to flex one's improvisational skills and DM creativity, and I plan to do LOTS more random dungeon stocking in the future. SPECIAL THANKS to James C. at A Dungeon Master's Tale for launching this whole endeavor in the first place.

In the end, I couldn't really come up with a title that summed up the whole level very well -- the hackneyed "The Lonely Halls" was the best I could do at first. So instead I went with a more whimsical, yet more truly characteristic name for the level: Alaxxx's Pofflsnoo. Perhaps in keeping with the random fashion in which this dungeon level was stocked, it is appropriate that it should be named after The Lands of Ara's most famous proponent of arcane randomness, Alaxxx Leprongo Kulikkx.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Megadungeon Project Update

SPOILER ALERT: I will reveal one key fact about my in-progress Megadungeon Project in this post -- a fact that could spoil a major structural surprise for future delvers into that megadungeon. So if you are one of my regular players and would prefer to be totally surprised in a few years when we start playtesting this thing, you may not wish to read further. That said, the surprise revealed herein is rather general in nature and will probably be discovered by playtesters fairly rapidly I assume. So read away if you want. END SPOILER ALERT

It has be a little while since I made mention of my ongoing Megadungeon Design Project. Part of that has to do with my being in the earliest, rawest phases of the project; as I stated in my last update (in February), I am really just generating tons of maps, willy nilly, at this point. I am not even worrying about where exactly they will go or stocking them yet -- just mapping, mapping, mapping!

I have also become a bit sidetracked into preparing my tournament dungeon module for OSRCon in August, so the mapping and stocking of that dungeon has taken precedence over the long-term Megadungeon work.

But I saw a quasi-recent post of Talysman's about a dungeon concept he calls MegaChasm (I missed it during its original posting in April but caught it thanks to Dyson Logos' May 1st "Month of Awesome Maps" post) and felt compelled to say more about my own project.

One of the key questions Talysman asks in the MegaChasm post is:

What if you gave the PCs easy, central access to multiple levels of the dungeon, all at once?

Indeed, the big secret of my dungeon (or one of them anyway) is that it is a form of "open-access" megadungeon, where many levels (including some deep and dangerous ones) are available fairly immediately to adventurers finding their way into the dungeon (at least via its "main" entrance).  I was first introduced to D&D play via the Caves of Chaos and, like Jeff Rients, have been long fond of that sort of open-access design. The open-endedness of such a dungeon really speaks to me and is, IMO, one of the key things that sets tabletop RPG'ing apart from boardgames or even most computer games: players can opt to take on challenges technically "beyond" their level-based capabilities. Why the hell not?

Exterior view of the Mornlyn Spire.  Artist unknown.

So the Mornlyn Megadungeon will offer just such a scheme, in a different layout than Talysman's MegaChasm tower, but along the same general lines. And since that is so -- since future players will potentially have immediate access to some of the megadungeon's lower levels right out of the gate -- I need to have some basic maps for many levels completed BEFORE I start letting PCs visit the place. As an old-schooler, I certainly will NOT stock the whole thing beforehand, or even map the entirety of each level, but major connection points and level entrances may need to be mapped before I can open the dungeon for business. This means that the Mornlyn Megadungeon will likely be first explored by my current gaming group's NEXT batch of player characters, after Innominus, Hazel, Dak, Yor, Vivuli and Uncle Junkal have accomplished epic deeds and retired. In other words, not until at least 2012 if not later.

Which is good -- I need all the time I can get!