Thursday, July 31, 2014

Revised GURPS Magic: Hush and Mage-Stealth

This one is an easy change, and one I alluded to earlier.

Hush and Mage Stealth have their own special effect (+3 to Stealth, -5 to be heard) but it's just as easy to define the spell in terms of Silence, the advantage.

Regular, Resisted by Will.

Subject cannot make any sound, accidentally or on purpose. For purposes of stealth or being heard, this counts as 3 levels of Silence (p. B85).

Everything is as the spell Hush in GURPS Magic.

Mage Stealth

Subject gains 1 level of Silence per energy point in the spell.

Cost: 1 per level of Silence, half cost to maintain (round up.)
Time to Cast: 1 second per energy point.
Item: 200 per level of Silence.

I think that makes the spells more broadly useful and mechanically consistent.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Minis Show & Tell 2014: I Want to See the Dragon

A year back, I did some minis show-and-tell with my students.

This year, I'm teaching that camp again, and the repeat students asked me to bring in my figures again.

I did that yesterday, bringing the best of last year plus some new ones (pictures, possibly, to follow).

One thing I didn't bring to the camp was a dragon.

The only dragon minis I have are pre-painted cheap-o plastics, and a partly-assembled dragon and a partly-painted metal dragon.

Yet one kid immediately complained I didn't bring him - nevermind I have no easy way to transport the figures. I really do need to finish them up, just because.

But yes, even kids who don't know D&D or GURPS know that if you have miniature figures, you must have a dragon.

I have resolved to finish painting my metal dragons for next year's camp.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Which 1st edition modules should I review?

If there are any of the 1st edition adventures I listed yesterday that anyone would especially like reviewed, war stories written about, etc., let me know!

I'll get to some of my favorites as I go, but I'll prioritize by request.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My 1st edition module collection, listed

I decided to do an inventory of my 1st edition AD&D/D&D adventures, just to see what I have. There are holes in this collection, but some are just adventures that never grabbed my interest (C3+, for example, or some of the N series). Others I'd love to get my hands on, like the CA series, CB1, DA3 and DA4, or a copy of ADQ1-7 to replace the one that someone stole from me in High School. Others I owned but got rid of (WG7 Castle Greyhawk, for example), and others I own out of nostalgia mostly.

Where I did a review or something, I linked to it below.

I have at least one copy each of:

A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity
A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade
A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords
A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords
A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords
B1 In Search of the Unknown (Monochrome and color versions)
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (Otus minotaur version, Willingham minotaur version)
B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (PDF printout of the orange version, green version)
B4 The Lost City
B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond
C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan
C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness
CB2 Conan Against Darkness
D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (monochrome)
D2 Shrine of the Koa-Toa (monochrome)
D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (color)
D3 Vault of the Drow
DA1 Blackmoor
DA2 Temple of the Frog
EX1 Dungeonland
EX2 Land Beyond the Magic Mirror
G1-2-3 Against the Giants
G1, G2, G3 Monochrome Reprints (from the Silver Anniversary boxed set)
H1 Bloodstone Pass
H2 The Mines of Bloodstone
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City
I2 Tomb of the Lizard-King
I3 Pharoah
I4 Oasis of the White Palm
I5 The Lost Tomb of Martek
I6 Ravenloft
I8 Ravager of Time
L1 The Secret of Bone Hill
L3 Deep Dwarven Delve (from the Silver Anniversary release)
M1 Blizzard Pass (no pen, anymore, and the pen text is barely readable)
M2 Maze of the Riddling Minotaur (same)
M3 Twilight Calling
MV1 Midnight on Dagger Alley (I have the Magic Viewer . . . somewhere)
N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God
N2 The Forest Oracle
N4 Treasure Hunt
OA3 Ochimo the Spirit-Warrior
Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits
S1 Tomb of Horrors
S2 White Plume Mountain (monochrome, color)
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
S1-4 Realms of Horror
T1 The Village of Hommlet
T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil
U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
U2 Danger at Dunwater
U3 The Final Enemy
UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave
UK2 The Sentinel
UK3 The Gauntlet
UK4 When A Star Falls
UK5 Eye of the Serpent
UK7 Dark Clouds Gather
WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun
WG5 Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure
WG6 Isle of the Ape
X1 The Isle of Dredd (blue cover, red cover)
X3 Curse of Xanathon
X10 Red Arrow, Black Shield

And a bunch of Dragonlance adventures. All of DL1-8 plus 11-12.

And I'm pretty sure I have I14 Swords of the Iron Legion but it's not cataloged with my modules. It may be with my FR stuff or sold off. Probably the former.

I also have:
Physical copies of the first year or so of Dungeon magazine.
Ruins of Undermountain I and II
Vortex of Madness
Return to White Plume Mountain
Return to the Keep on the Borderlands
and possibly some other stuff. Some of those are 2nd edition AD&D,

That doesn't begin to list game settings. Yeesh. I'm not even going to try to list all of that right now.

I trailed off near the end, or with series that I didn't enjoy after a while. The C series, the RPGA adventures, and Dragonlance, to name a few, are incomplete because of declining interest in them.

But that's not bad. And like I said, "at least one of." I'm surprised how many copies of S1 and S3 I still own, despite giving some away. Mostly I kept originals too tattered to foist off on others, and the most pristine copy I could find new or used.

Not trying to brag or show off here. I was just thinking, what do I really own from the old stuff? And I figured I'd share it once I'd typed it for easier reference.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Revised GURPS Magic: Magic Resistance

This is technically an expansion, not a revision, of an existing spell. This exists in my Felltower game.

Normally I don't like to multiply by fractions, but Improved Magic Resistance is a +150% modifier, and I'd like to keep the character point cost and energy cost consistent with each other.

Magic Resistance

As written in Magic, p. 123, except that this does affect using magic items and potions.

Cost: 1 to 5 to cast. Same cost to maintain. For 2.5x cost (round up), the subject gains Improved Magic Resistance (see p. B67)

Item: An Improved Magic Resistance item costs 750, not 300, per point.

Note that B67 says "you may roll against HT + Magic Resistance to resist the effects of magical elixirs" but DF1 says " Targets with Magic Resistance must fail a HT + MR roll for drinkables or fumes to affect them." The specific genre rule - the one in DF - absolutely trumps the general case - the one in Basic - in my game. Must fail trumps may roll. If you want to guzzle healing potions while under Magic Resistance, you need the Improved version.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Poetic and Prose Edda print recommendations?

Can anyone recommend a good, complete, reader-friendly book version of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda?

Bonus points if it also includes Egil's Saga.

It's about time I finally read the thing, having read so many bastardized versions, edited versions, kids versions, and homage-to versions of the Norse myths (including one by David Drake, two by Glen Cook, and others.) I'm interested in seeing the original material, such as is out there. Without learning 13th-16th century Icelandic, though.

Reading all of this in text form off my laptop screen, like from Project Gutenburg, is pretty intimidating. I'll get distracted - print will be better, and printing that out will cost me way too much in ink or toner.

The libraries my inter-library loan system only have the edited and shortened version of the Prose Edda.

I've heard good things about this version: Edda (Everyman's Library). I may get that, but it doesn't have all the bits that I want, as far as I can tell.

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Simplified Rapid Strike and Dual-Weapon Attack

Last night, Doug Cole did a very thorough analysis of Rapid Strike vs. Dual-Weapon Attack, trying to figure out a fair way to merge the two and make DWA a special case of RS.

It's well worth reading, and with tweaks well worth implementing.

Naturally, I have a simpler solution.

A while back, when GURPS Martial Arts wasn't even on the drawing board yet, my players and I tried the following rule, which I put up in the comments. I've edited it for clarity. Where this version contradicts the comment, this version takes precedence. I wrote quickly there, but took my time here.

Dual-Weapon Attack is a special form of Rapid Strike (see p. B370). You may use this if you have two ready weapons or unarmed strikes. If you direct both attacks against the same defender, that defender gets a -1 to all Active Defenses against the attacks, even if one of the attacks misses. If you direct both attacks against the same defender, however, you may not make either half of the Dual-Weapon Attack into a feint - splitting your foe's attention works against this!

And that's it. That works with all of the existing rules options for 3+ attacks, multiple defenses, Dual-Weapon Defense, etc. It just nixes DWA as its own thing. The benefit of a DWAs are small but can be significant - the built in (and free!) level of Deceptive Attack, the fact that if you drop or break a weapon or critically miss with one attack, the other proceeds normally (they're simultaneous), for example. You really need Ambidexterity or Off-Hand Weapon Training to make it work, generally, which I don't think is even slightly bad.

How does this work in actual play? It was fine in playtest for our "Universal Combat System" stripped-down system. I still use this in my DF game. You won't notice this, because very few monsters and so far no PCs use two-weapon attacks. The rare times someone has done a shield bash-and-strike I've run it this way.

I don't have time today to write up DWA as a technique in this fashion using the Technique Design System, but it would be based on RS (so -6), give -1 to all defenses (-4), require 2 ready weapons (+1), only gets the defense penalty vs. one target (+1), can't be split into a Feint/Attack vs. the same target (+1) for a -7. I'd have to think if there is another +1 to be had from other limitations. I'd personally require you to pick a single weapon and single strike type (swing, thrust, whatever), like Targeted Attack, and give styles with access to this via a Perk the usual limitations they have already in their style writeups.

If there is a difference between Doug's rule and mine, it's that his is attempting to be mathematically consistent with the rules at written. My is attempting to be simple, yet largely consistent with the intention of the rules as written. I don't really care so much if you end up with different numbers than before, as long as there are less special cases and no great harm is done dropping one.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Revised GURPS Magic page

I'm starting to compile all of my Revised GURPS Magic posts into a single page, with links to the various posts. The rough version of the page is up here:

Revised GURPS Magic for DF

I'm doing a full summary of the posts for my players, but I can't distribute it as it would violate the copyright of SJG. Having full-text spell replacements as drop-in errata on my gaming table (in lieu of scribbling in the margins of the book) is one thing, distributing it is another. Therefore, it's not going to be distributable. Still, making the page might keep all of my "Revised GURPS Magic" posts accessible to everyone.

So if you're playing DF along at home at like my rulings, you'll have one place to find them all. And not by accident, so will I.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Use Max HP or Current HP?

Tim Shorts asked this question about sleep yesterday - in D&D 5e, do you use the current HP or the max HP of creatures to determine how many HP of creatures are subject to sleep?

Here is the simple guide I'd use for all such effects, in all D&D-compatible systems.

Use Current HP when determining what happens to that creature. A sleep spell worth 7 hp will put you to sleep if you have 7 HP or less, no matter what your max is. An AD&D-style Power Word: Kill spell will kill you if your current HP is exceeded by the spell's effects.

Use Max HP if HP are used to determine an offensive effect. An 88 HP dragon would do an 88 HP of damage breath attack even when it's down to 1 HP.

Pretty simple. Effect on you? Current HP. Your effect on others? Max HP. Done. This approach opens up a lot of interesting tactics and makes a weaker fighter more vulnerable to more spells, and a weak monster still a full-strength threat. That's win-win.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How silent are those Boots of Elvenkind?

So just how effective are Mirado's Boots of Elvenkind?

S&W Complete is pretty definite on the subject:

"Boots of Elvenkind: The wearer of the boots moves with complete silence."

No word about speed restrictions, encumbrance, etc. As written, you could run in these puppies and not make a sound. It doesn't even say foot sounds, only - movement. So, breathing? Swinging swords? What's the cutoff, I wonder, for "movement." You could say they are boots, so it's obviously foot movement only, but a ring of invisibility doesn't just hide your finger or hand, and a cloak of protection works on your whole body. So it's a valid question in my mind.

AD&D was a lot more restrictive:

"Boots of Elvenkind: These soft boots enable the wearer to move without sound of footfall in virtually any surroundings. Thus the wearer can walk across a patch of dry leaves or aver a normally creaky wooden floor and make only a whisper of noise - say 95% chance of silence in the worst of conditions, 100% in the best."

That's what I was thinking of during the session, but the short version S&W went with makes it considerably better of a magic item.

Certainly they got a bit weaker in 3.x, according to the SRD:

"Boots of Elvenkind These soft boots enable the wearer to move quietly in virtually any surroundings, granting a +5 competence bonus on Move Silently checks."

But still, yeah, I need to ask our GM what effect he's thinking of.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Spanish Swordsmen, Take 2

These guys are almost finished - I brushed them with thinned Army Painter Soft Tone yesterday after doing everything but dot the eyes.

 photo SB015-2s_zps6cd92ca1.jpg

The eyes are next - I've learned to do eyes after shading, or I often obliterate the eyes instead of highlighting them.

Not that I expect much time to paint this week or next, but I did have this brief time yesterday and so I took advantage.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

DF Felltower: Slaying Weapons

My Felltower game has a couple of "Slaying" weapons. What does that mean, anyway?

Any weapon with a "Slaying" effect on it has the following effects:

- On a Critical Hit, the weapon does maximum damage to targets covered by the "Slaying" power.

- On a 3, the weapon does triple maximum damage to targets covered by the "Slaying" power.

- The weapon counts as the Achilles' Heel for Injury Tolerance (Damage Reduction), Regeneration, Supernatural Durability, Unkillable, etc. for targets covered by the "Slaying" power. So, for example, a Troll Slaying sword would count as "Fire or Acid" and thus wouldn't be easily regenerated by a troll.

The players knew the first two, and I'm pretty sure they understood the third one implicitly from seeing it work on undead that otherwise would keep getting back up or healing themselves.

Since we're using the simplified combat system for the most part, there are no rolls on the Critical Hit Table. If you combine this with the crit table, I'd recommend having the power of the slaying weapons override the table and have the specific effect, above, instead. Don't have it do both effects, or you're risking extreme stacking effects instead of - used as written - rare but powerful effects.

So far, Vryce has both of the weapons with his - his three Undead Slaying tassels* do this when combined onto one weapon. His new sword, Gram, is a dragon slayer, and does this vs. dragons. Others exist in the game, and some of the dragon materials taken last session can be used to enchant a Slaying bow for Galen. Therefore it's likely still more weapons of this nature will show up.

* Inspired by the demon-focused ones in Dungeon Fantasy 6: 40 Artifacts.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

S&W in the Southern Reaches: Session 7 - Castle of the Mad Archmage 4 - Ones Are What We Roll

We played in Erik Tenkar's S&W game last night. For a more detailed summary full of Doug whining and mocking me out of jealousy over my Boots of Elvenkind, check out this.

Minister, Half-Elf Cleric/Magic-User (lvl 3/3) (Tim Shorts)
Mirado the Slow, Human Fighter (lvl 5) (me)
Rul Scararm, Human Fighter (lvl 5) (Douglas Cole)

Only three delvers tonight, sadly, which greatly impacted our ability to get in some serious killing and looting.

We headed down to level 3 via the circular staircase instead of our usual 5% slope ramp. We opened to doors and found another 5% slope ramp. Sigh.

We went left (Map East) and down a corridor, and took the first door we found and saw a corridor ahead. So we went left and blundered into 6 giant scorpions (like, 2 HD big). They were fast, and we were not, so Mirado immediately called to Minister for a Sleep spell. Probably unnecessary, if only because Minister had the same idea. We put one down, Minister put 3 to sleep, and we eventually cut down the other two - but only after Mirado was stung (and needed Luck to save) and Minister was stung (and wounded badly.) We used magic to heal up. We'd gotten fairly mauled by what should have been an easy fight.

The scorpions had some treasure - well, two skeletal dwarves stripped to the bone (the best kind of skeletons, we agreed) had a chest. It had 2047 gold and what turned out to be 4 pieces of jewelry at 250 each. We checked some rooms past there, too, but it was a nightmare of inability to open doors for everyone until Minister busted out a crowbar and one of us managed to pry it open on a second try.

Good thing we did, as we found two more dead dwarves and not much else. Sigh. (By this point, it was around 8:45 and it was clear we had a short night in store.)

We turned back to the corridor to Map South, and Mirado naturally fell in a pit. Sigh. Even tapping with the spear is useless, he decided, and gave up on that. We continued on and bypassed a corridor, foolishly not even looking in it.

Bad move. Three carnivorous apes (the most delicious of all apes!) jumped us from behind. We managed to avoid surprise and tie initiative, so with their DX bonuses Rul and Mirado were able to reverse course and jump into between apes and Minister. We fought, and they mauled Rul and Mirado both a fair bit with their claws and teeth . . . probably more than either has taken before in a single fight. Minister saved the day with Phantasmal Force, fooling two of the apes into thinking they'd fallen into a pit that opened up underneath them. While they flailed, we kept chopping at the sole Saving Throw-making ape in the bunch. They eventually all went down, leaving us, again, badly mauled and lower on resources.

Mauled, we drank potions and moved on. We found a door to a room that stank of incense and had a statue of Mephistopheles in it. We decided the local hobgoblins (who Minister said worship the arch-devil in question) must be on The Weed They'll All Doing These Days. There was another door, so Mirado crept over with his elven boots, prompting mocking by Rul, who probably regrets not trying them on himself after we found that mummy. Mirado heard a single voice chanting, and snuck back.

We settled on an unusually nuanced plan, for us - we'd charge in an attack, but with bow support!

That's what we did. Mirado charged the flimsy, partly-open door and flew through to the floor at the feet of a hobgoblin shaman. Rul popped him with an arrow. The shaman cast Hold Person on Mirado, but he saved. Mirado couldn't get a cut in but Rul popped the shaman with another arrow. Then, Mirado cut him down.

Rul went out to watch for reinforcements while Minister and Mirado looted. We found what later turned out to be a morningstar +1 and 112 pp.

Having decapitated the hobgoblin shaman - so Mirado could throw it as a shock-inducing fight starter against hobgoblins - we wound our way around and up some stairs.

At the top was a 40' hallway with a door to the right, and a room ahead lit by a fire. Mirado sneaked up with his Boots of Elvenkind, intending to start a fight by tossing the head, then running back past the side door to where Rul and Minister awaited. But instead of a handful of hobgoblin guards he saw 5 watchful, well-armed guards, and a dozen or so women and less-alert men rolling dice. Not only that, but he caught a scent he found familiar - apes!

Mirado stealthily moved back and motioned the group around some corners before explaining what he saw. Mirado voted against attacking - likely there are dozens and dozens more hobgoblins, there are three in the group, and we had only a single Sleep spell. So we pulled back, dumping the shaman's head in the pit trap, then spiking the door shut. Screw them, that's a big fight for dubious loot, and we were low on everything.

Going the other way, Map West, we found a door and kicked it down, surprising 10 lizardmen!

We attacked, saving Sleep in case in got bad. It mostly didn't, as we started to finally get initiative as the fight rolled on. It was a messy brawl. As we whittled them down to 3, a side door burst open and 3 more lizardmen charged in.

Two were big, and armed with tridents. One was bigger, wore plate, and had a longsword. Sweet!

We cheerfully engaged. Mirado was happy - knee deep in gore, and the leader chose to fight him - especially since he was open, swinging a sword that drank blood, and waving an ogre head. The lieutenants each took on Minister and Rul, backed by a regular lizard man.

Things got a little dicey as Minister was struck down by his trident-armed foe (who did 8 damage) and the lizard man next to him (who did 3 . . . and he had 1 HP left). He dropped. But meanwhile Mirado slew the scrub near him and wounded the big lizardman, taking some hellacious hits in return. Rul worked on his foes, taking out the scrub and then the lieutenant. We then finished the others - Mirado the chief, and then Rul the other lieutenant.

Mirado and then Rul fed Minister a healing potion, getting him up enough to Cure Light Wounds himself. We searched the rooms, taking home another good score - 5617 sp, 2166 gp, 14 gems @ 120 gp each, and what turned out to be a Longsword +1, +2 vs. Mammals.

We headed home. We were even lower on HP, we had almost no reserves to bail us out if a fight went badly, and we had solid loot.

We made it back to the surface.


We had enough money for 2680 each, 1 gp left over. Since Minister got the magical morningstar, naturally, and since we were able to convince Rul that carrying an undead-slaying sword as a backup was nice but a sword vs. mammals (like orcs, humans, hobgoblins, giant rats, wombats, etc.) was a great main weapon, Mirado got the extra 1 gp.

I'm pretty sure this is my first trip into the Castle where I ended up with more loot than expended resources.

The Boots of Elvenkind were actually quite useful.

Short session overall - we finished a little after 10, instead of our usual 11:30 or later, because we simply didn't have a way to ensure going on wasn't risking everything with no backup. Still, it worked out well, because Minister leveled up and he'd set up much better for next time, at level 4/4.

Good session overall, albeit shortened by bad rolling early on that cost us spells, HP, and potions we didn't have enough of.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Minis: Spanish Sword-and-Buckler Men

I've been working on these guys. They're coming along nicely.

They're early 16th century fighters called Rodeleros.

 photo SB015s_zpse6899d02.jpg

I'm obviously not spray-sealing these guys anytime soon, but a few more touches and they'll be ready for a varnish seal so they'll be playable if shiny. Like the gladiators, they're Foundry.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Revised GURPS Magic: Phantom (VH)

Here is another spell from GURPS Magic I've chosen to modify for my DF game.

Phantom is basically Perfect Illusion with the ability to cause damage/impede movement. It's mostly okay, but:

- a Phantom can have ST and DX up to the mage's skill with the spell. That's probably okay in a game where skill 15 in a VH spell is uncommon, it's not when skill 19-20 in a VH spell is typical. DX 19 is pretty high. ST 19, well, that's okay.

- the "note the margin of success" for HP.

- An odd 5 to cast, 9 for double ST and DX (uh, yeah, because I want to allow DX 38-40?)

- it's not clear how the Phantom does its thing when cast without the Initiative spell. Which, by the way, contradicts Phantom on DX by assigning it an 8!

Here is the change:

Phantom (VH)

As written, except:

- the Phantom has ST equal to the caster's skill in the spell for purposes of attacks and damage.
- the Phantom has DX 15.
- the Phantom has 4 HP.
- a victim can actively attempt to disbelieve - success means the victim treats it from then on a Perfect Illusion. Injuries and effects inflicted previously remain.
- the caster must concentrate to have the Phantom take any active measures, such as attacking.

Base Cost: 4. For a base cost of 8, the phantom has double the normal ST and HP.

That makes it slightly cheaper (4/8, not 5/9), easier to fend off, more consistent in its effects, and yet it is still valuable and dangerous.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: D&D Starter Set - aka D&D 5th edition

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

Published July 2014, by Wizards of the Coast
32 and 64 page booklets, plus 5 pre-gen characters
MSRP $19.99
Age 12+

This is it - the first retail release of the D&D rules from the new edition. I received it yesterday, and read it almost immediately. So how is it?

The Starter Set Rulebook is aimed at both players and DMs. It's the basics of - what is roleplaying, what do these numbers on my sheet mean, and how do I resolve combat and tasks. It's done well. It's clearly written, the type isn't too small, and the magazine-gloss pages are easy to turn and don't feel fragile. There is a lot to like here - spells in alphabetical order (so you don't need to know the class and level to reference it), easy to read tables for equipment, broken out by weapon groupings for easy browsing, and plenty of . It's written like good technical writing - they aren't trying to impress you with their florid prose, just convey the game. It doesn't spend any time telling you what it isn't either. It just explains D&D to you and goes right ahead from there.

The second book, Lost Mine of Phandelver is aimed at the DM, and mixes some generic DM advice with specific advice about the adventure at hand. The adventure itself starts out on rails, although with the option to change the hook that gets it all started. After the first bit, the scope widens out, and it's less linear and more open. Towards the end, it's got the beginnings of an open adventure area. Basically, as the players and DM (in theory, both potentially totally new to RPGs) get used to the game, their options start to open up further.

The dungeons are good - there are straight-through ways to deal with them and rewards for players who look for ways to bypass encounters. Since XP is rewarded by finishing an area and accomplishing goals, avoiding unnecessary opposition doesn't reduce the worth of the adventure. No "chase down every rat" for XP or dragging away everything that isn't nailed down to ensure you don't leave gold and levels behind. Boxed sections deal with "go off the rails" bits - what if the players disguise themselves, what if they question prisoners, what if they do something cool. They give solid advice and specific rules information, too, to make it easier for a novice DM to say, "Yes, you can, and here is how that'll work."

If there is anything to complain about, it's the "read this text" admonishments not being "read or paraphrase this text." That, and perhaps the monster stats being all at the end, so you'd do well to photocopy them or write them down so you don't need to page-flip so often.

The encounters are generally interesting - monsters with cover, attempting ambush, working in unison, fleeing when they take too many losses, etc. - and the treasure is just interesting enough without being overwritten. Speaking of monsters and treasure, there are 27 statted monsters (including generic commoners, specific NPCs, and actual monster-monsters) and 13 magical treasures (some are categories, like +1 Armor, or Spell Scroll). I like the clear execution on them.

Finally, there are five characters, all starting at level 1. All of their level 2-5 choices have been made for you, so you don't need the Basic D&D document, or anything besides the sheet itself, to play all the way to level 5. That's nice, because you could conceivably hand someone just the character sheet and say, "Read this and you're ready to play." But still, if you have the document, you could easily use these with it - there is nothing non-standard about them. The characters have backgrounds but lack names, so you don't feel like it's someone else's character.

The characters are (in the form of race, class, background, alignment)

Human Fighter (Folk hero, LG)
High elf Wizard (Acolyte, CG)
Lightfoot halfling Rogue (Criminal, N)
Hill dwarf, Cleric 1 (Soldier, NG)
Human Fighter (Noble, LN)

They come on nice heavyweight paper I wouldn't let anyone use before I photocopied it, but still, I like the sturdiness.

Rules-wise, there are things I like:

- the mix between passive and active skill use, so the GM has good guidance on "so good you don't need to roll, or actively say you're trying to do this" vs. "you might fail." I like this kind of blend, where you are limited by your character's abilities but also rewarded for your own skill as a player.

- the way spell slots work. The lack of automatic progression of spell power, instead being tied to how high of a level you cast it at, allows for wizards with a lot of spells at hand but a real concern about not using more than you need.

- the relatively simple but clear combat system. Lots of useful choices, but not so many it's overwhelming or depends on clear system knowledge to accomplish any given task.

- that it's hard to just die outright (especially from a weak attack), but pretty easy to get on a slippery slope to death if you're not careful, you're overwhelmed, or you're alone.

Finally, the dice seem nice. I received nice blue ones, with easy to read white numerals on them.

Overall: I think this is a good value for the money. I'd play this game, as it seems like a good meeting point between the old-school D&D clones I enjoy (like Swords & Wizardry) and the more modern versions of D&D (3.x, especially) and skill-based systems like GURPS. I'm glad I picked it up, and after seeing this and Basic D&D, I'm hoping to get a chance to play. Even if I don't, I feel like D&D has come around to what I like - a mix between a simple rules base and some expanded detail. I can use this and I'm looking forward to more.

I may just have to triple-class to GURPS/S&W/D&D if it's as fun to play as it looks like it can be.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I received my D&D 5e Starter Set

Here it is:

 photo DampD5eunboxing02_zps70a08a15.jpg

I'll try to take a good, hard look at it tonight and post details tomorrow. But for now, you can see what's in it:

 photo DampD5eunboxing01_zps4b305357.jpg

- 5 character sheets with pregenerated PCs. No names on them, which is a nice touch - you aren't playing iconic characters, you're just getting pre-done stats for your guy. Nice.

- a bag of dice. Mine are nice-enough blue color, with big clear numbers.

- a 32-page player's book. Glossy, smooth pages.

- a 64-page DM's book / starter adventure setting.

It's quite attractive. And oversized, really - half the box is taken up with a cardboard riser to keep the contents from rattling around. That's fine with me, because it means there is room in the box for other things in the future.

Tomorrow - I'll read the words in the books in the box and post about that. If you have any specific things you want me to check for you in the Starter Set, let me know and I'll try to cover that in the post tomorrow.

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare Some Testor's 1261 Glosscote?

Arrgh. None of the FLGSs by me carry Testor's, and I need some 1261 Glosscote to try de-frosting my minis. It's weird, because I got my last can of it at one place and they don't carry Testor's anymore.

The RC car places don't have it, either, and I can't seem to confirm if the craft stores do or don't. The model train shops? Nearest one is pretty far west of here. Annoying.

There is one place I could go later in the week, but they're "not sure" if they have any.

When did Testor's paints become rare around here?

I may have to order it online, which is crazy, because shipping is as much as the can of spray sealer is. I don't want to chance a new glosscote, like Rustoleum, because I'm not sure it'll do the job. Testor's might not, either, but it's done so for me in the past and for others, too.

I may have to try this, instead, from Dr. Faust, but I've had a better experience with gloss to save the mini.

Monday, July 14, 2014

DF Felltower: Dragon Notes

After yesterday's session, naturally folks are curious about my dragons, because a) DF lacks its own line-specific dragon stats, b) I'm known to write pretty good monsters, and c) because dragons are awesome and that's more important than a or b.

I can't reveal much about my dragons, because - honestly - I think I can sell them to SJG as an article or a book. But I will reveal some things here:

- I used the dragons from 3e and from the 3e/4e crossover book Dragons for inspiration. Especially rules for things like splattering (toxic) blood.

- I also took some inspiration from mythological sources, to make them more interesting.

- they aren't purely animals or mundane creatures. They aren't subject to the normal vulnerabilities of a big lizard. Basically because I didn't like the idea you could feint and then one-shot a dragon with an arrow or sword to the eye like it was a big dumb beast.

- some rough ideas of stats - that one yesterday was doing strikes in the 6d+6 to 8d+lots range, and used bite, claw, blunt horn slams, sharp horn stabs, tail swipes, and stomps. It was SM+4 (mostly due to mass, the mini was a bit thin for it), its strikes were parried as 30+ pound weapons, it had a solid Dodge (which is why the PCs were attacking it with -4 to -6 Deceptive Attacks!)

- Its breath weapon was doing moderate damage, but with with armor divisors, large area injury, and with cyclic effects. It did relatively poorly with its breath weapon and still managed to light folks on fire, burn Raggi with corrosion, and severely damage the armor of everyone it got to. And scarred Marc the laborer for life.

- I didn't like the idea that one spell could undo a dragon's main attack, so I gave it a split breath weapon. The one yesterday had either a stream of fire (a cone-shaped burning attack) or could spit globs of flaming corrosive ooze (an area attack with linked burning and corrosive damage). It also had toxic blood which splatters on those near it when it was wounded. So to fully magically seal yourself against its non-mundane attacks you would need at least 3 spells on everyone! The research of the PCs pointed to stories of dragons with poison gas, gets of corrosive acid, lightning, and others. So yeah, I did go with the D&D-inspired approach aped by so many game systems.

- yes, some speak, and some use spells. The one yesterday did neither. The ones that do are really worrisome.

- some of the vulnerabilities of the dragon from yesterday's session were due to Gram and the circumstances of the fight.

- the older they get, the stronger they get, and the more little perks of power they get. The young are just worthy, the older ones boss fights, and the sky is the limit.

- Finally, there are more dragons in the dungeon! Not just because I like to re-use minis, but also because those cheap-o "Alien Force" Chinese-made dragons were like $2, so I got a couple of them. Hurrah for the discount bin!

Basically, the way the dragon was statted yesterday, inside of one second it could reduce a 62-point warrior to automatic death in a second, or light up enough of a group with fire that they'd burn to nearly certain death. Greater heroes would be needed to stand up to it, and no amount of armor or magic or skill would be sufficient to render it truly harmless.

Although the one yesterday didn't kill anything, it wasn't easy, and I think it was about as tough as I was expecting it to be. As much as I generally do fungible monsters, I wanted to ensure the dragon had more impact. I think that it did.

Editing later: Oh yeah, one more amusing thing about yesterday's session. When the PCs arrived, I rolled on my "Where is the dragon now?" table. I came up with "out hunting, back in xDx hours." I rolled, and I came up with 2 hours. So it was amusing when the PCs spent an hour resting after the wizard eye spells, carefully checked the tracks and moved in cautiously, spent 30 minutes dealing with treasure, moved in the dragon hatchlings and spent a good bit of time dealing with them, cutting off bits, and resting . . . and then started to head out very close to the 2 hour mark . . . so I rolled again to see if it came back early or late. Early, just a bit early . . . although it might have been worse for them if it had caught them in the open. As a GM, it was very satisfying. Had I rolled much higher, they may have come and gone without the dragon spotting them, but it would have certainly seen the blood trail from its dismembered young heading out, smelled the humans, and drawn the logical conclusion that the killers came from the town . . .

Sunday, July 13, 2014

DF Session 46, Felltower 37 - Dungeon and Dragons

July 13th, 2014

Weather: Hot, humid, storms threatening.

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Bern Brambleberry, gnome artificer (265 points)
     Mark Strawngmussel, human laborer (62 points, NPC)
Dryst, halfling wizard (349 points)
     Father Keef, human initiate (125 points, NPC)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (439 points)

Still in town:
Borriz, dwarven knight (308 points)
Christoph, human scout (258 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (303 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (360 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (302 points)
     Gort of the Shining Force, dwarf adventurer (unknown point total, NPC)

We started, as always, in town. The group gathered rumors, including one about the cone-hatted cultists bribing their way past the orcs to go live in the dungeons. The cultists apparently bragged they had the keys to the depths of Felltower.

They also got some research on dragons, and on 12-legged wyrms. First, the wyrms. Apparently they speak, and are cunning. They like riddles, wordplay, and talking in general. But they aren't really very smart, nor are they trustworthy beyond a point. They also have breath weapons (to which they are immune), and "beware their coils." Second, dragons. Lots of divided opinion here. Some claimed dragons are normal animals, just smart. Others, that they are pure chaos . . . forces of destruction and the physical representation of destruction. Other legends spoke of dragons being slain by great heroes with special swords, others by powerful magic or being driven off by armies. Of course, one rumor spoke of dragons being slain with a single special arrow, but Galen had already scoffed about that last time.

They headed up the mountain, out of the north gate, across Stone Bridge over the Silver River, past the statue of Sterick's Landing with the statue of Sterick mounted on a rearing horse with his sword and axe upraised, through the slums, and up to the ruins.

They approach the orc-held castle ruins, and the orcs let them into the gatehouse, and closed the portcullis behind them. This time, however, the orcs called down that the toll was 1000 sp to enter. Or, 200 sp to leave. Heh, heh, heh. The party tried to bargain them down to 500 sp, but the orcs said they'd take weapons in lieu of cash if the PCs were broke. They ended up paying 200 sp to be let back out. Grumbling, they headed back and weighed their options.

Worried the bugbear caves would be a deathtrap, they elected to go in through the dragon's cave. They climbed down the steep goat's path to the mouth of the dragon cave that Galen had found scouting.

It was as he said - partly overgrown, smelling a bit of sulfur, and wide but low. They sent a Wizard Eye in to scout, using Dark Vision. The eye zoomed through a long, wide, 18-20' ceiling cave until it came to a U-shaped split. Dryst sent the eye down the left side, passed a right turn and past a narrow gap to a larger cave. There, something fluttered - maybe a big bat? - and the eye disappeared.

"Mobats." Dryst's opinion.

A second eye was sent in, and this time staying to the right it saw some wreckage and coinage, with a sword sticking out. It took the right side of the U, hooked up with the side passage, and turned right. There it saw some small red winged lizards and two big eggs. The lizards were frolicking.

They pulled the eye back and sent it along - it, too, met its destruction, with not a clue why.

The group decided to head in, after an hour's rest to recover the energy expended on the spells. They moved in, leaving Father Keef and Marc Strawngmussel at the entrance. They made their way into the tunnel, until they reached the coins.

There were a lot - they estimated between 60-75 thousand coins. More than half copper, but lots of silver, gold, and gold eagles (coins worth $100, not $20, apiece), and that sword. They set the Wizard Eye to watch, summoned their hirelings to come help, and started loading treasure.

They had a servant grab the sword, of course. The servant quivered, and started speaking in an unknown language. Gift of Tongues let Dryst understand - it was saying something about "Having returned" and "killing dragons" and whatnot. It couldn't explain itself, though, so finally Vryce decided to grab the blade.

Worried it would compel him to go and fight, Dryst insisted on Vryce drinking a strength potion and getting ready for combat. That done, Vryce stepped up and took the sword from the hapless servant.

Vryce felt the sword communicate with him, not with words but with feelings. It was a dragon-slaying sword, and it could detect dragons and dragon-kind but (and, naturally, Vryce too) was obsessed with slaying them. It was pretty good at it, too - a fine, balanced sword, but also Accuracy +1 (+3 vs. dragons), Puissance +1 (+3 vs. dragons), the detection abilities, and max damage on any critical (3x max damage on a 3). Needless to say, Vryce was well pleased, even if his Weapon Mastery doesn't include this kind of blade . . . yet.

The sword itself was a plain-looking if well-made bastard sword, with the name "Sigured" burned into the sheath. When drawn, it had runes along the ricasso. The runes on the blade could be read two ways - either as Balmung, or as Gram. Yes, Gram. (This is not a coincidence.)

Armed with the blade, Vryce used its detect and located, yes, those lizards - baby dragons. They first spent 30 minutes gathering treasure, and then headed over.

They barged into the cave and attacked. The hatchlings fought back with fire, but Resist Fire took care of that, and their claws were fairly easily fended off. They hack two to death and wounded one to unconsciousness. They decided to salvage bits. They took the heads of the slain, and Vryce scooped up the wounded one in the hopes of getting it back alive. When Raggi was tasked with getting feet (for the claws), he got some blood splashed on his arm . . . and the flesh started dying. Poison! Virulent poison, at that. It took quick work by Bern to get a poison-curing salve going (with Gizmo) and Raggi was cured.

They decided to head home, half-expecting trouble on the way.

They got it. Laden with two baby dragon heads, a baby dragon, two eggs (each 25 pounds!), and almost 300 pounds of coins heaped into every bag they could find, they headed out.

But then they head flapping, followed by a muffled and surprisingly quiet "thud" outside. The sun was darkened as something crept into the cave.

There was a dragon, in all its majesty.

It moved in, and the fight was on. The dragon saw, and smelled, the wounded dragon, the eggs, and the blood all over Vryce . . . and went into a great fury. It charged.

Vryce stood his ground, as did Raggi, and the group behind started to disperse, fearing a breath weapon. The dragon moved in and dodged Vryce's strikes and bit and clawed at him. Vryce tried to parry but the weight of the strike was too great, and - if not for luck - his new sword almost snapped! Moments later luck bailed him out of falling from a failed Dodge, and turned it into a luckily successful one. Raggi put a big gash in the side of the dragon, and barely avoided a spray of toxic blood!

The dragon stayed in close, using a tail swipe to cripple Raggi's leg and send him flying into the wall behind. It breathed a cone of flame on Vryce, but Resist Fire was proof against that, and Vryce dodged its claw.

The fight became a general melee. The dragon's breath lit Father Keef (who tried to turn it with his holy symbol, hoping it was a demonic being) and Marc (who panicked and ran) on fire. The dragon kept turning to try to maul Vryce, who tried himself to get it turned back to the party to keep it from toasting them. Dryst hurried and Shielded Vryce and cast a (critically successful) Resist Fire on Raggi.

Vryce kept at it, slashing at the dragon and hitting quite often. Raggi stayed conscious and concentrated on chugging healing potions until his leg was able to support him (no problem - he rolled a 4 on the crippling check). Bern moved to take a shot with his crossbow, occasionally pausing to throw anti-venom grenades and fire extinguishing grenades at wounded compatriots. A tail swipe put Dryst out of the action for a few seconds, hurling him 8 yards!

The dragon saw its breath - which it would spout out for 2-3 seconds at a time - was useless. So once it got a chance, it started to spit 21' across splashes of caustic napalm. Resist Fire stopped the burn, but not the corrosion, which started to burn up Vryce's armor and sizzle him beneath it. A second blast hurt Dryst greatly.

The fight continued, with Vryce - and then a recovered Raggi, who willed himself Berserk - slashed the dragon dozens of times with strokes that in Vryce's eyes should have slain it by then. He kept managing to dodge the dragon's attacks thanks to Shield and his own Dodge. As Raggi re-engaged, the dragon turned on him, allowing Vryce to put his sword away, crush a Gem of Healing, and then re-draw and re-engage. Raggi was bitten and lifted up by the dragon (20 damage and 10 CP!) but he fought free by smashing it in the head twice with his axe. Meanwhile, Bern put a crossbow bolt into it - but even his siege bow barely injured it. As it let Raggi go and turned, Vryce had decided to trust some rumors he'd heard and went for stabs to the vitals. He missed one as the dragon dodged, but the second landed home. It didn't do much, but it was enough (perhaps because of the incredible punishment they'd done!) and the dragon dropped, dead.

All in all, it was a rough fight, but no one died. It was close, but Vryce's solid tactics and the refusal of the PCs to let the NPCs just burn stopped that.

The group began to heal the wounded, de-tox Raggi (who was now at -57 HP!) and check the dragon. But they heard the sounds of big bats. They didn't want to flee, despite their horrid damage, because they wanted the dragon's corpse for loot! So Dryst set up a whirlwind in a narrow point, and Vryce called out (with Gift of Tongues) to threaten the bats. One responded - some kind of intelligent leader! It wasn't impressed by the threats, and two bats attacked. Vryce killed one, and shrugged off the poison gas stench it gave off. Since they'd buffed up Vryce - ahem - Shield, Blur, Resist Poison, Flight (x2 speed), and more, he was too much for them. They wouldn't back off so he flew at them, Great Hasted. He chased them down, killing about 10-12 of the bats before the rest had fled beyond his reach.

Having made their point, they looted the dragon. They took the head, the paws, and the wing spikes. They had plans to take more, but a lack of time, skills, and Resist Poison abilities restricted them. They expended a lot of healing magic, too, to get functional, and still took almost 2 hours to get out of there. Nothing else came in, since they'd torn up the only nearly monsters willing to take a shot.

Once they returned to town, they counted up the hundreds of pound of coins and jewelry. Some, sadly, was damaged badly when Marc was lit on fire and doused with acid. A magical scroll - some kind of protection scroll - was destroyed. Still, all told, they had two magic potions (Giant's Strength and Treasure Finding), almost 120,000 worth of coins and jewelry (including a crown that interests them mightily), a magic ring (of Animal Friendship), and two dragon eggs. The dragon eggs sold for 14000 and 18000 at auction. The rest of the dragon's bits will wait for tomorrow, when I have more time to write up the details.


Ridiculously profitable trip. After splits, each person took home north of $29K, plus the group has several magic items.

I ran Shield as conveying the knockback only for slams. I probably should have done it for all strikes - Vryce is strong, and was at ST 25 for the whole fight - but the dragon was dealing strikes doing 6d+6 or more, so it would have mattered.

The twin dragon breath types? Just because "Resist Fire" shouldn't make a dragon a melee machine against you.

MVP was Vryce, decided by a die roll. Huh.

I have to price out the value of the dragon bits they took home. They include its entire head, its four clawed feet, its wingtip spikes, and a jug of blood.

Oh, and this was the first dragon that showed up in my game in maybe decades. Finally, people faced one instead of either a) me saving them too long or b) running away. It was a tough fight, but I'm glad it happened. Their research and determination to take on the dragon helped immensely, both in making the fight happen and in them winning it. I'm a bit sad the dragon didn't cause more casualties, but hey, it's just an adult dragon. There are more out there. Bigger ones out there, too.

Finally, the dragon mini? $2 at Michael's, on sale, from the "Alien Force" series of cheap-o nonsense collections of figures. Yes, "Alien Force" and a dragon. I bought a few, because, at $2, why use the same mini over and over?

Editing Later: Doug Cole had some flattering and interesting discussion of this session on his blog. I figured some of you might want to see it, and my players might draw some value from it too and I'm not sure they all read Gaming Ballistic every day. In any case, it's very nice to know my tired post-game writeups are letting on how much fun it is to run the game. Three hours of fighting the dragon (I'd thought it would be much shorter, either way), and it was so tense and interesting I had to force a break just so I could go the bathroom. No one wanted to look away from the table no matter who went!

Grr . . . Frosted Minis

I tried spray-sealing some minis yesterday. It didn't seem that humid, but I guess it was . . .

 photo FrostedMini001s_zpscbc8459c.jpg

Now I have 10 minis including that cleric that need to be gloss sealed when it's less humid, hopefully wiping out the frost, and then re-sealed. They stay in my "not done yet" pile until this humidity breaks and I can find some good gloss seal. Sigh. If that doesn't work, they stay this way - I'm not stripping and and repainting them.

Oddly, the four Bones minis I also spray-sealed didn't frost at all. Not even a tiny bit. Nothing else was different about the paints, pre-sealers, etc. yet only the metal ones frosted. Huh.

But yes, just . . . grr.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

G,D,Q series and Mission Creep

Mission Creep

Speaking of Q1 . . . G1-3, D1-3, and Q1 is possibly the most amazing mission creep you can find in Dungeon & Dragons adventures.

G1 - go deal with these raiding hill giants. Hey, they have frost giant allies.
G2 - go deal with the frost giants. Hey, they have fire giant allies.
G3 - go deal with the fire giants. Hey, look, they have evil elf allies (introducing the Drow).
D1-3 - deal with the drow, and hey, they worship a demon queen and here's a magic egg that can get you to the Abyss.
Q1 - Go kill the drow's demon-goddess.

I've read that Q1 doesn't quite fit at the end. After all, the Lolth-worshipping drow aren't the ones stirring up trouble on the surface. That's true, although, there are some things that make Q1 fit:

- the mission creep I mentioned. The forces of good aren't much better off if the PCs whack the one drow clan causing trouble and remove part of the balance of power. But they're really well off if the PCs whack the entire drow power structure and slay their demon-god once and for all.

- the EGG. No surprises here, it's cursed, and essentially you're forced to go to the Demonweb. Oops.

- It's a good chance to strike at the heart of an enemy of law and order.

Plus, you know, after the previous six adventurers you're going to do what now? Go home and rest? Nah, just keep pressing on. Still, I'm amused how big the mission gets.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits

Before I even get into this, I know Gary Gygax has talked about how he would have done this differently. But he didn't. The introduction covers this - his original idea was really close to T1-4's special feature, and DCS came along with an idea Gary Gygax really liked . . .
I'm glad it came out the way it did, because it's a fun and cool adventure.

This is spoiler-filled, too.

Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits

by David C. Sutherland III with Gary Gygax

Q1 is AD&D on hard mode.

It takes place in the Abyss, with no way back to where you came from and a curse built into the only mechanism for going forward.

Why hard mode?

Most of the big cure spells don't work so well in the Abyss, or mess with you instead of helping you. Contacting other planes for knowledge will fail, at best. Spells to warp the environment to your ends will fail, because a demon-goddess has warped them to her ends. Clerics can't get back high-level spells (or even mid-level spells). The monsters can see further than you can, and sense other levels of the demonweb and use that against you. Oh, and many magic items flat out don't work or become much less powerful.

Up against that, the enemies are tough. Not all demonic, although many are. The ones that aren't come in packs large enough to give you serious pause once you realize your resources are being drained and not easily recovered. You basically trek across a multi-level "web" of hallways with magical doors in them. Behind one on each level is the (easiest) way to the next level; behind the others are encounters.

I suspect a lot of people might see this as pure adversarial GMing, and probably as bad design. To me, though, it's part of what makes the adventure fair but hard. It's not "you fall down a pit you couldn't detect into a Sphere of Annihilation" but rather just a very hard but potentially richly rewarding adventure for high level folks. If you're 10-14th level in AD&D, you need something other than a big pile of HP to cut down and some platinum pieces to provide adventure. A warped environment built to a "T" to make non-Chaotic beings suffer with a target that uses everything it has to beat you down? That's high level adventure.

Each of the set-piece encounters is really neat, too. They generally take place on an interesting battlefield, with prepared monsters using their best abilities, and with plenty of chances for the PCs to shift the odds in their favor if they can figure out the weak points in the monsters' approach. These range from drow elves on a prepared battlefield with a load of effective spells to use to demons using illusions to make themselves effectively harder to defeat. Some feature the old "one of us is lying" gag with prisoners and guards. Most of the "hapless victims who need help" are tricks, but not all of them - and there are allies to be gained if you handle those situations right.

One level - the top level - contains gates to other worlds. This is where the adventure really takes off. Each world is special in some way, and is either being conquered by Lolth or provides her fodder for her armies. They are potential sources of allies or enemies, or just interesting encounters. One leads right to the elves from Three Hearts, Three Lions - something I didn't recognize until many years later when I finally read that book in High School, and recognized the elves! Still, I ran many memorable encounters with those elves with nothing but what DCS wrote.

At the far end is Lolth, in a spider-shaped ship made out of metal comprised of screaming souls. She has a whole series of prepared encounters and bolt-holes, so killing her takes repeated effort and forces you to fight on her terms over and over. Even then, she's not going to fight to the death unless you make her, so you can come this far and still fail to take her out. It's good stuff.

I know I ran this at least once through in elementary school. It ended, spectacularly, with the first real encounter with Lolth. I vaguely remember the fight going badly right from the start. But then my friend Jack had his elf wizard Hana jump onto Lolth and break his Staff of the Magi in a retributive strike. Booooom. She died, he plane shifted. Game over, everyone go back to Earth. Well, back to school - we played, and this happened, at lunchtime. I don't know that I ran it to its full potential - probably not. But equally I'd have run it as written, because I didn't change much in those days, either.

It's a big adventure, and good stuff.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Weapon Reach in Russia

I avoid getting too meta on my blog - that is, blogging about blogging.

But I was looking at my referrals, and I found this:,7073.0.html

Man, I should have tried harder during Russian class in college. I could chime in and help them figure out the best tactics for keeping their weapon reach! But the only words I remember are actually back-derived from Nadsat loanwords or ground into my head from listening to Naive. Heh.

It's nice to know the internet gives me a multilingual reach. Too bad I can't help more.

GURPS Horror: Madness Dossier is out

Today's new GURPS release is this one, by Ken Hite.

I got a chance to look at the m.s. before it was published, and comb through it for rules compliance and all of that. It's a very cool setting. Basically, you can be part of a small force of people keeping the ancient overlords who once enslaved mankind (through language!) back out of what we perceive as reality. It's a pretty cool setting, and one that even a non-horror fan like myself can get behind. Sure, you can wallow in the overwhelming despair of knowing how doomed we are, but meanwhile my guy can be shooting evil in the face. It's got a very Strossian feel to it, but with that typical Ken Hite flair for combining an evocative setting with an ease of slipping in PCs and finding things for them to do.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Now Zoidberg is Big!

A friend sent me this, and I'm posting here so I don't forget about it. It's just one way my campaign could be worse, much worse, for the PCs.

All hail Doctor John Zoidberg!

Note to self: Next DF campaign will be on ships using those Swords Against Evil templates.
P.S. - Or maybe next session will have ships?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Mirado the 5th, at 5th level

Yesterday I tried to re-create Mirado, my S&W fighter, in D&D 5th edition.

I was thinking - what would he be like at 5th level? So did Douglas Cole, and he seconded my silent opinion that it was worth a post.

Mirado got max HP at 1st level in S&W, just like he would in 5th edition D&D. He earned 25 more over the next four levels, out of a possible 32 additional HP. So he earned 78.125% of the maximum HP for his level gains. Switching to d10 from d8, he would earn 78.125% of the extra 40 he could have 31.25 HP. Rounded down, he would have 10+31=41 HP. His CON is good for +2 HP, not +1 HP, in D&D, so that's +10. He would have 51 HP out of a maximum possible 60 - 85% of potential max, very slightly higher than the 84.~% of max he actually has.

What else would I get?

At level 2, I get a one-shot Action Surge. Nice.

Level 3, a Archetype. At least for now, I need to choose the Champion Archetype. No worries, it's pretty good for Mirado.

Level 4, Ability score improvement. +2 to one or +1 each to two. Only STR gives Mirado an immediate combat increase for +1, and he's all about combat. +2 to CON would give more HP. Hmm. And +1 to STR and CON would set me up for a nice bonus to CON later, and a solid STR increase now. So let's do that.

Level 5, An extra attack! Nice.

Mirado the Slow
Human Fighter
Level 1
XP: 0
Needs 300 for next level.

STR 18 (+4)
DEX 14 (+2)
CON 15 (+2)
INT 12 (+1)
WIS 13 (+1)
CHA 13 (+1)

HP 51
AC 19 (plate AC 18, No Dex for heavy armor, +1 from Defensive)
Move Base 30 feet
Proficiency Bonus: +2
Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Perception, Survival
Proficiencies: Gaming set (dice); Vehicles (land)
Fighting Style: Defense

Background: Soldier (Infantry)
Personality Trait (2): I can stare down a hell hound without flinching and I face problems head on.
Ideal: Live and Let Live.
Bond: Those who fight besides me are worth dying for.
Flaw: If my friends all jumped down a pit, I'd jump in after them.

Armor and Weapons:
Plate - AC 18, 65 lbs. Stealth is Disadvantaged.
Longsword "Woundlicker" -, +1 sword, drains 1 HP on a hit on a living thing, drains 1 HP from user on a 1. 1d8+5 slashing, 1d10+5 slashing two-handed - 3 lbs.
Ogre Head Flail - 1d8 bludgeoning, 2 lbs.
Light Crossbow - 1d8 piercing, 5 lbs. (technically, I use a longbow, but I'd use this in 5th edition)
20 bolts

Other significant gear:
Ring of Protection +1, 10' radius
Boots of Elvenkind (I wonder how they handed disadvantaged stealth. Personally I'd have them give stealth an advantage, and thus cancel out, but I'm not writing the rules here.)

And that's how he'd look at 5th level. Obviously, I'd have made different choices if I'd known I'd switch to 2-weapon fighting, but still, I'd have made different choices if I could re-do my original S&W guy, too. Some things I thought were good ideas there (DX high enough for Defensive Fighting instead of STR 18, for example) didn't pan out.

Overall, this was easy - even easier than the initial character generation. I felt like I had a few real choices, but not a lot to fret over.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Mirado the 5th (ed)

So I was wondering, how would Mirado (of the many titles) turn out in 5th edition D&D?

It so happens I kept my rolls, since I blogged about them here. It also just so happens that I rolled 4d6 drop lowest, arrange to taste.

The better of the two sets of stats - my first set, actually - was:


Let's arrange them and give the +1 to all of them for being human - giving 17/13/14/14/13/12 to hand around.

STR 17 (+3)
DEX 14 (+2)
CON 14 (+2)
INT 12 (+1)
WIS 13 (+1)
CHA 13 (+1)

Sweet. Mirado has some nice stats for 5e, a bit better than he'd get from the pre-rolled set (15/14/13/12/10/8)

Fighting Style? That's tough. Mirado originally was a sword-and-shield fighter with a bastard sword, so Great Weapon Fighting could fit, so could Defense, so could Dueling (assume a shield doesn't count as a weapon). But around second level he found that ogre's head and has been dual-wielding it for a while. So in retrospect Two-Weapon Fighting would suit him the best. I doubt I'd have started that way, though, and I'd probably have chosen the prosaic but simple Defense or Great Weapon Fighting. Let's go with Defense as his style.


I seem to start with a bunch of gear. Armor, weapons, gear . . .or you can roll for money. Let's just take the gear, it's all stuff I bought anyway to start with.

You can't start with both mail and a longbow. You can start with a crossbow - and they do more damage than longbows. Also nice - that's something I'm used to from GURPS . . . crossbows generally out-damaging bows at a cost of some firing speed.

A longsword replaces the S&W bastard sword, since it's the Germanic longsword I'm looking for, anyway. It's only 3 pounds, thankfully - all the weapon and armor weights are more realistic, not rated in some bizarre "GP of encumbrance" crud. And lighter than GURPS, too, which has had issues with heavier weapons and overweighted armor itself.

So here are my gear selections:

- Chain mail
- Longsword and shield
- light crossbow and 20 bolts
- dungeoneer's pack


I like the "Soldier" background - it's also Mirado's - he was a soldier who moved on to adventuring after a tragic disaster caused by the Southern Reach A-Team wiped out all high level NPCs. From the list of specialties I chose "Infantry." That's Mirado - a simple hack-and-slash fighter.

Personality traits? Hmmm.

Personality Trait (2): I can stare down a hell hound without flinching and I face problems head on.
Ideal: Live and Let Live.
Bond: Those who fight besides me are worth dying for.
Flaw: Hmm, tough. They all fail to describe Mirado. How about a new one? "If my friends all jumped down a pit, I'd jump in after them." He's loyal to his friends to a fault, even if "run away and come back later" would be a better solution.

So, here is how he looks in 5e:

Mirado the Slow
Human Fighter
Level 1
XP: 0
Needs 300 for next level.

STR 17 (+3)
DEX 14(+2)
CON 14 (+2)
INT 12 (+1)
WIS 13 (+1)
CHA 13 (+1)

HP 12
AC 17 (19 with shield) (chain mail AC 16, No Dex for heavy armor, +1 from Defensive, +2 from shield)
Move Base 30 feet
Proficiency Bonus: +2
Skills: Perception, Survival
Fighting Style: Defense

Personality Trait (2): I can stare down a hell hound without flinching and I face problems head on.
Ideal: Live and Let Live.
Bond: Those who fight besides me are worth dying for.
Flaw: If my friends all jumped down a pit, I'd jump in after them.

Armor and Weapons:
Chain mail - AC 16, 55 lbs.
Longsword - 1d8+3 slashing, 1d10+3 slashing two-handed - 3 lbs.
Light Crossbow - 1d8 piercing, 5 lbs.
20 bolts
Shield - +2 AC, 6 lbs

He needs some work, but that's a pretty good start. Anything I miss or get wrong? It's my 1st 5e guy, so I might be missing some stuff.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

DF Felltower: Valuable Dragon Bits

Or at least, what everyone thinks they know you can do with dragon bits. Not all of this is true, but most of it is, at least partly.

Dragon bits are very valuable. Not the least of which:

- dragon horns can be hollowed to make extremely good, far-carrying horns.
- dragon horns can be sliced into strips and combined with special woods and metals to make excellent bows.
- dragon horn can be ground into a sovereign cure for dragon breath damage and any poison or disease.
- dragon claws (and their incisors) can be made into excellent daggers or swords.
- dragon teeth can be made into arrows sovereign against all armors and magical protections.
- dragon teeth can be enchanted and then planted to grow into loyal warrior-servants.
- dragon hide can be made into leather armor, which is very easily enchanted.
- dragon blood, if bathed in, makes you invulnerable (either completely for a time, or partly so forever - depends who you ask.)
- dragon blood, if drunk, lets you speak with all animals and intelligent beings alike.
- dragon blood is flammable, and makes inextinguishable alchemist's fire.
- dragon blood is paut.
- dragon scales can be used to make shields that resist dragon breath and things like it.
- dragon bone, if ground up, can be made into potions of youth.
- dragon eggs can be hatched and the dragons raised as warmounts or pets.
- dragon eyes can be made into the finest lenses, for viewing or magical protection.
- dragon eyes, if taken out whole, can be made into peerless scrying crystals.
- dragon heart, if eaten fresh, makes the diner fearless. Dried and slow-cooked, it is a great delicacy in the southern city of Cashamash!
- dragon brains, if eaten, make the diner into a master wizard.

All of these apply to legends and stories of dragons, and some to dragon-like creatures. Some subset may apply to dragon-like creatures.

(By the way, these were variously inspired by Rolemaster's Creatures & Treasures, GURPS Dragons, AD&D, and everything I remember about dragon stories.)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A little bit of Boxed Text

Boxed text gets a lot of hate.

Personally, I like it. When I was starting out, I really had no clear idea of what to tell players and what not to tell players. Figuring out what to present, and how, really threw me off. To this day I still have trouble with knowing how much to say and how to say it without blurting out too much.

I found this nice quote on using Boxed Text in Return to White Plume Mountain:

"Text that appears in shaded boxed is player information, which the DM should read aloud or paraphase when appropriate."

I think that's a good thing to keep in mind. It's not there as prose, it's there as a helpful - you can read it aloud if you're not feeling inspired. You can parphase it if you are. You know nothing in there is stuff you shouldn't say out loud.

These days, I think I'd do a lot better with a few carefully chosen words to riff off of. But one problem when you write adventures is that you need to write equally for the newish GM having trouble explaining details and knowing how to improvise, and for the experienced improvisor. What I'd write for my boxed text key words might not make sense to another person. You need to be complete if you're going to write for everyone . . . and I can see how boxed text came out of that.

I know some people resent having any player-facing information at all, that the GM/DM should just make it all up - but I'm not that sort. I like the stuff, and I like it when the writers remind you it's your tool to use as you will, not a verbatim reading assignment.

Friday, July 4, 2014

What I Think of Basic D&D (5e)

Last night, I read through all of the 110-page Basic D&D document.

Overall, I'm impressed. It feels like a leaner version of 3.x, with enough dials to turn it up and down. It also feels like a more cleaned-up game than either 1st edition (full of power creep, arbitrary distinctions, and ill-explained abilities) or 2nd edition (especially once you get to the splatbooks).

I'd play this game. It's pretty cool. It looks easy to get started with, too - a set of predetermined basic stats you can just choose, lay out, and go with; prechosen gear; and not a lot of rolling or choices to make. There is even a "Quick Build" advice section that gives solid advice on how to arrange your stats and what to take and do.

Looking at the high-level characters, it seems like they generally advanced the breadth of their abilities rather than just mindlessly piling on more power. Abilities like the Rogue's "Reliable Talent" that makes all rolls below 10 count as 10 when using their skills, wizards getting specialized spells, and fighters getting to either grow into an archetype - all of that makes it seem like leveling up is broadening your powers and not simply making you overwhelmingly more powerful.

At the same time, there is more of a heroic lean, much like in later D&D editions. High level guys get to do things low-level guys don't, and not just because they have more HP and a better to hit and better spells. I'm fine with that - I like GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, after all, which sets the power level up to "awesome." Still, it seems like you can start without a long-term level by level plan to improve (3.x, ahem) and make the decisions as you go. That I like. I just want to make a guy and start to play, and not be crippled compared to the guy who mapped out 20 levels worth of progression to ensure he got to take the best feats and character levels.

There a few things I found a little negative. The HP inflation is kind of off-putting, but I suspect it plays better than it reads to someone who thinks Huge Ancient Red Dragons have 88 HP. And it does seem like healing is pretty easy and common. But if that's combined with more lethal monsters, it might put the 15 minute adventuring day to rest while still making combat dangerous and deadly. We'll see.

At the same time, the complete and clear explanations of statuses, the spells having crisp descriptions, the powers have clear limits - it doesn't seem like an inflated game. Attributes go up, but they're limited to 20s, I can't see how you start over a 17 with racial mods, and you get all of 7 of those 2-point increases with the Fighter, who gets the most.

Overall, like I said, I'd play this game. It's got a lot of what I liked about 3.x D&D with a lot less of the "know the rules before you can play effectively." It's NOT the second coming of white-box D&D or 1st edition AD&D or whatever. It seems to be a nice mesh between the various editions. And like I said - it looks like fun.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Basic D&D

In case you didn't see this elsewhere - WOTC released the 110-page PDF of Basic D&D.

DnD Basic Rules (PDF)

I'm looking forward to reading through this - especially before my Starter Set ships.

More Jeff Dee artwork

Jeff Dee is doing another artwork Kickstarter, this time his interior work from A1 and A2.

I'm in.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review: S2 White Plume Mountain

This is one of those adventures I truly love. Not like, love - Lawrence Shick's S2 White Plume Mountain.

I have two copies - a very ratty copy I got when I was really young, missing the tear-off handout sheet. I also have a copy I got when I lucked into the Silver Anniversary Boxed Set on sale. My original is full of awesome Jeff Dee artwork, as well as stuff by DCS and Erol Otus. The facsimile of the B&W version lacks the Jeff Dee pieces, more's the pity, but it's complete. Unlike my well-worn copy.

I'm trying to keep clear spoilers out of this review, because I'd really like to run it for my players someday - either converted to GURPS or straight-up using some facsimile of AD&D. So if you could avoid blatant spoilers in the comments, that would be very cool.

S2 White Plume Mountain

S2 is a classic quest/funhouse dungeon. It's full of player-facing puzzles (riddles and player-knowledge puzzles), character-facing dangers, and mixed-facing difficulties (dangerous paths, traps, tricky encounters.)

There are at least 5 nasty set-piece battles on interesting battlefields and a number of mixed puzzle-fight situations. Some puzzles can aid you, others harm you. That's the funhouse. The quest is, go recover three magic weapons from the dungeon for some rich folks. Why not keep the weapons? Well, they all come with some very significant downsides - enough that most players would probably cheerfully hand them over for a promised reward instead of having to tough it out wielding them.

I especially love that some puzzles have a clear and early solution, and others are really tricky. Still more are basically no-way-out types, where you must get out of your comfort zone (or your armor, or your ranked marching order) to get by them. Some are easily solved through powerful magic and others magic won't help with a bit. Many are combined with external dangers.

I love the details - the flooded dungeon parts, the details on the doors and walls and floors that aided play. I loved the entry point to the dungeon - through a vent in the smoking volcano between bursts of hot steam and inrushing air. Lawrence Shick does a good job giving a DM enough information that you can see the intent behind the puzzles and to react to clever solutions. Not only that, but there is little enough you'd need to guess at. No "What the hell did the writer think here?" bits or "Okay, but how does this work?" bits - you get clear guidance on breaking things, jumping things, and "what if I just do X?" solutions.

For those who like non-linear dungeons, there are some non-linear bits - sections that don't inevitably lead to one of the quest objects, and either act to distract or fill out the dungeon. A poem helps identify which is why, if you can puzzle it out.

Even the truly weird parts - guys in dead-end rooms with no way out, that kind of stuff - is easily explained since the adventure only covers a single level of a complex actively maintained by someone with access to powerful magic. I also like the idea of a wizard issuing a challenge - you want your dangerous magic items you took from me back? Come and get them.

I think this is one of those adventures people either love or hate. Love, because it's so tight (it's 12 pages original, 16 with the extra art) and challenging. Hate, because it's so tiny and funhouse-y (who puts that in their dungeon? Why do this?) and not a "realistic" dungeon. For me, it's love - the flavor, the challenging monsters paired with problems only a thoughful party can solve. It's like S1 Tomb of Horrors except less "death with no Saving Throw" and more monsters.

I must have run it at least twice - only once with a group getting any distance into the dungeon. The other, like the band I was in that play it, died or fled quickly. I know my half-elf fighter/magic-user I ran in what became a one-shot running of it by my cousin get level drained by a wandering monster and we lost like half the party. Being the stalwart elementary school kids we were, we simply played something else instead of continuing on. Lunchtime-only campaigns were like that in the "good old days."

Return to White Plume Mountain

Back in 1999, for the Silver Anniversary of D&D, TSR did a series of "Return" adventures. Loving WPM, I picked up Return to White Plume Mountain. I picked it up at "Days of Knights" down in Newark Delaware while I was down there working in (Old) New Castle. I even reviewed it for Pyramid magazine. I won't go deeply into it here, but that module did a pretty good job. It posited a partly-sacked White Plume Mountain, mapped some of the areas hinted at but purposely left off-map in the original adventure, and set a conflict within it. It also put in a fourth magic weapon that didn't quite fit, but that's neither here nor there. I stole elements from that adventure for my last campaign, because some of it was so clever. The long and short of it was, if you'd played WPM back in the day and then re-ran your old buddies through "Return," they'd have enjoyed the mix of new and old. It was enough nostalgia plus sufficient new challenges to spark the interest of players who'd long, long ago ran their favorite guy through S2.

Great adventure.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ninja kame no yoroi

Here is a new item for ninjas (based on GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja.) Why? Just because.

Kame no Yoroi (亀の鎧)

Made from the shell of a man-sized subterranean turtle, this is a piece of torso armor. It consists of a turtle-shell back and a turtle-belly front place. It gives DR 4 from the front arc, DR 8 from the back and side arcs. Anyone can wear the kame no yoroi, but ninja get additional benefits:

Ninja Talent 1+: Wearer gains either Acrobatics @ DX or Acrobatics +2, whichever is higher. Also gives +2 to Jumping skill.
Ninja Talent 3+: Wearer gains a +1 to one of the following skills - Broadsword, Flail, Jitte/Sai, or Staff. Which skill is specific to a specific suit of kame no yori.
Ninja Talent 5+: Wearer gains Rapier Wit.

The kame no yoroi is sometimes enchanted with Fortify, Deflect, and/or Lighten.

Cost: $75,000
Weight: 10 lbs.
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