Thursday, December 30, 2010

Living in the Classical World

A preview from the forthcoming Adventures Dark and Deep™ Game Masters Toolkit...

Broadly speaking, the “Classical World” refers to the civilizations of Greece and Rome, and those civilizations which were in turn influenced by them, such as Egypt. It spans a period of time from roughly the Bronze Age in 3,000 B.C. through the fall of Rome in the 5th century A.D. Obviously culture and technology will change enormously over such a vast period of time.

The Classical world is an important source of inspiration for the game, and an enterprising game master could set an entire campaign in a locale based on the Classical world. Jason and the Argonauts, Hercules, Spartacus, and even Gordianus the Finder can all be seen as archetypes that can be used as the basis of a campaign. The amount of information relating to the Classical world is staggering, and the below is only the most cursory of glances into this vital and fascinating piece of history.

Society and Politics

Ancient Greece began as a collection of rival city-states. Alliances would form and dissolve, rival city-states would war with one another, but throughout the turbulent times the Hellenic civilization reached enormous heights in the realms of art, architecture, and philosophy. The Trojan War became embedded in the popular consciousness as a watershed moment, and the threat posed by the encroaching Persian Empire was enough to maintain a collective Greek identity, even though the Greeks were divided politically.

Some city-states were monarchies, like Corinth and Sparta. Others were democracies, such as Athens (but it should be borne in mind that even the “cradle of democracy” did not know of universal suffrage, and the power to vote was kept in the hands of a few). The Greeks, like all ancient civilizations, practiced slavery.

The Greeks were aggressive colonizers, and Greek colonies could be found around the Mediterranean. The Greek colonies in Sicily and southern Italy were extremely influential in the development of ancient Rome.

Eventually, the Greeks were conquered (some might say consolidated) by the Macedonians to their immediate north. Alexander the Great, king of Macedon, led the Greeks on a vast war of conquest, bringing Greek civilization to a number of cultures around the Mediterranean.

Ancient Rome began as just another small city-state. By dint of their superior military technology and other factors, they eventually gained a position as the master of most of Italy. The Roman civilization borrowed much from the Greeks, and as their empire steadily grew across the Mediterranean and into western Europe, they brought their civilization, their laws, and their culture with them.

Initially, Rome was a republic, with officials being elected for year-long terms and a complex system of checks and balances on their power. Eventually, though, the Republic gave way to an Empire, and Rome grew to her greatest extent under the reigns of successive emperors. The Romans were, as a rule, quite tolerant of local customs and traditions, and conquered peoples were allowed a fair amount of self-rule.

Rome was eventually overwhelmed by hordes of Germanic tribes, initially brought in as mercenaries and auxiliaries for the Roman legions, and eventually ushering in the Dark Ages by overthrowing their once-masters.


As the name implies, the Bronze Age Greeks lacked access to iron or steel weapons and armor. Armor consisted mostly of shields and bronze and copper helmets and possibly breast-plates. By the 10th century B.C., the Greeks were using iron and eventually steel.

Greek architecture was one of the hallmarks of their civilization. They were also quite advanced in the realms of mathematics (the Greek philosopher/scientist Archimedes was a military engineer of the first order, in addition to his more academic activities).

The Greeks had access to scale armor and the cuirass, while leaders would have plated mail (but not plate armor). As hoplites were required to provide their own arms and armor, they often went into battle with no armor but a shield, or sometimes cloth armor (linothorax; AC 7). A variety of different weapons would be available to them, but the spear (doru), and occasionally the short sword (xiphos) would be the rule. Bronze armor is also available, but will have an armor class 1 “worse” than normal steel armor, and will also be less effective against rear attacks, with enemies getting an additional bonus “to hit” of +2.

The Romans were masters of engineering and architecture, and understood the importance of water in building the infrastructure of their Empire. They built great aqueducts to bring water over enormous distances to their cities. They were also fond of large and extravagant entertainments; the Coliseum in Rome was built to accommodate their gladiatorial games and other contests, and hippodromes were built for chariot racing, a very popular pastime throughout the Empire.

Plated mail (lorica segmentata) would be the standard for soldiers and veterans, while gladiators and others would have access to a variety of more exotic, but less protective, gear. Plate mail (but not jousting plate) would be available, but usually restricted to officers (and twice as expensive as the price listed in the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Guide). The long, broad, bastard, and two-handed swords were largely unknown to the Romans themselves, but their neighbors would have them, and thus such things would be possible in the Roman-themed campaign, but not common. The short sword (gladius) and dagger (puglio) would be the standard.

Neither the Romans nor the Greeks had the stirrup, which made fighting from horseback a much more difficult prospect than it was for later peoples. Without that key piece of technology, all rolls “to hit” from on horseback would be made with a -2 penalty (including missile attacks).


The sea was the primary means of moving goods and people around in the Classical world. Especially in the Greek world, roads were iffy things, and travelers would have to rely on the hospitality of strangers overnight, or else be forced to sleep outdoors. Bandits and brigands were not uncommon. Travel overland was done mostly on foot, with animals being used to haul carts, wagons, and chariots.

In ancient Rome, the situation was somewhat different, owing to the emphasis the Romans placed on creating well-designed and well-maintained roads. These roads were one of the primary means of communications, being used both for commerce and military transportation. There was even a postal service that used these roads to deliver letters from one end of the Empire to the other. Travel in the Roman Empire was relatively common; the wealthy would vacation near the sea to escape the heat of the city in the summer, and travel was easy enough to make tourism a viable industry. Major routes between the cities were served by inns where travelers could stay for the night and enjoy a meal. Travel was still primarily by either walking or by cart or wagon.

A Classical Campaign

An Adventures Dark and Deep campaign in a Classical-type setting could be quite exciting. The full assortment of equipment would not be available, naturally; a Bronze Age setting would obviously not have any sort of steel armor (mail or better), and even a late Roman-type setting wouldn’t have jousting plate.

One could imagine a setting with a myriad of city-states united by a single culture and religion, yet divided politically and giving a plethora of opportunities for the player characters to get involved in intrigues and skirmish-level battles. Perhaps neighboring these city-states would be a Romanesque empire in its expansionist phase; aggressive, yet bringing a level of order and civilization with it wherever it goes (although not necessarily universally loved!). The sea would be a prominent feature, and monsters taken from Greek mythology (centaurs, harpies, cyclopses, etc.) would predominate.

Thematically, such a campaign could take a number of directions. For those game masters wishing to evoke the spirit of Homer, the theme could be “men as playthings of the Gods”. Humans struggle against the whims of the Gods, who have a very real and not altogether welcome presence in the physical world, making their wills manifest through acts of nature, supernatural intermediaries, and their own direct involvement. In a campaign set in a later time within the Classical period, the game could be set around the notion of bringing justice and order to the benighted barbarians just beyond the border; accompanying the legions of the Empire on their quest to civilize the world. Other possibilities include exploring the position of slaves, who in historical times had a much better life than most slaves in the antebellum South, for example, and yet they still lacked what we in the modern world would consider fundamental liberties.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


A hastilude is a “martial game,” in which warriors, and especially cavaliers and paladins, engage as both practice and demonstration of their martial ability. Despite the use of the term “game” they can be as deadly as regular combat at times. It is possible for different sorts of hastiludes to be combined at large festivals and gatherings, often for the express purpose of having a tournament with a joust. Such events are also usually accompanied by feasting and possibly religious or other celebrations as well, and are sometimes called “round tables.”

Bear in mind that knighthood is an appointment by some noble or royal personage and is not otherwise dependent on class; fighters and rangers (and, on very rare occasions, other classes) can be knights as well as cavaliers and paladins. All of the special horsemanship and other abilities possessed by the cavalier and paladin classes, however, will still apply to all of the situations described below.


A tournament is a staged combat between two groups of knights and/or their squires and retainers. Knights and their entourages arriving for the tournament are divided into two fairly equal sides, each of which is housed together in a “settlement.” The central element of the tournament is a large pitched battle between the two settlements, which is fought mounted, with regular weapons, and in which the principal activity is to force knights from the enemy settlement to surrender, after which time a ransom can be demanded for their return.

The tournament is not intended to be fought to the death, and knights will surrender when they reach a suitably low number of hit points. However, it is certainly possible that a wounded knight who suffers a strong blow may well be slain. Such is an accepted hazard of the tournament.

Ransoms are, as a rule, 100 g.p. per level of the captured knight, plus 100 g.p. per social rank. Thus, a 6th level cavalier of lower-upper class would be worth a ransom of 900 g.p. Being captured is only a minor shame for a knight in a tournament, especially if one’s opponent is demonstrably superior in quality. Failure to pay one’s ransom, on the other hand, is a grave shame, and knights will sell their armor, horses, etc. before allowing such a blight on their honor.

Some lands (particularly those of lawful good inclination) will conduct tournaments with blunted weapons; while these would be called bohorts in game terms (see below), they may still be referred to as tournaments.


A bohort is conducted much like a tournament, except it is usually fought with blunted or wooden weapons, making it much more difficult to inflict a fatal injury. Cutting weapons will inflict one-quarter damage (round down) and blunt or stabbing weapons will inflict one-half damage (ditto).

Such contests are often (but not exclusively) held among the squires and other retainers, and the participants will wear gambesons or leather cuirasses rather than full plate armor. They are sometimes held in conjunction with tournaments as preliminaries.


A joust is a one-on-one combat between two knights (or, again, their squires and retainers), wherein each gets three blows with a set of agreed-upon weapons. The goal of the joust is to either unseat the opponent, or, failing that, to inflict the most damage without killing him. Typical weapons include the battle axe and sword, and of course the lance (although for a joust the metal tip of the lance is removed, leaving only the blunt wooden tip). As the name indicates, most participants wear jousting plate armor to help defend against the blows.

The blunted jousting lance does only half damage, but bear in mind the joust is conducted as the opponents charge at one another, so the doubling effect of the charge cancels out the halving effect of the blunted lance.

Once a jouster has lost one quarter of his hit points, he must make a STR check to remain in his saddle. He must check again when he has lost half his total hit points, and once more at three-quarters. At this point the joust will usually be called for the jouster who has inflicted the most damage on his opponent or postponed, as the idea is not to inflict fatalities but to demonstrate superior mounted combat skills.

If neither jouster is unseated by the time three passes with each weapon have been completed, the joust is called in favor of the knight who inflicted the most damage.

Pas d’Armes

A pas d’armes is an impromptu challenge set forth by a knight or knights. The challenger will position himself at a spot on a road, at a bridge or ford, city gate, etc. and issue a challenge to all other knights who pass by to single combat. Often, word will circulate of the existence of the pas d’armes, attracting knights and their retinues from the surrounding area to test their mettle. Pas d’armes are not usually done in conjunction tournaments or other hastiludes.

As with the tournament, the idea is to fight until one knight or the other surrenders, at which time the usual ransom can be demanded. However, no special rules regarding blunted weapons are used in the pas d’armes.

Refusal by a knight to participate is regarded as a great shame, and honor demands that any knight so doing surrender his spurs (or other badge of rank) as a sign of his humiliation.


A quintain is a target for the lance, intended to be used while charging on horseback. Taking turns at striking a quintain will often be found as an attachment to a tournament or bohort, but it is not unknown for some villages to set up permanent quintains against which the local youths and/or nobility will try their skill.

Basically, the quintain itself will have an armor class between 9 and 1, depending on its size and composition.

Armor Class      Quintain Construction
     9-7                      Mannequin
     6-3                      Shield or board
     2-1                      Ball or ring

Those which are easiest to hit will generally consist of a life-sized mannequin, followed by those consisting of a shield or board. The hardest to hit will be small balls or rings; the latter must be pierced through with the lance in order to score.

Shield or board type quintains are often the most popular as permanent structures, for they are most often fitted with a weight on a cord or chain, such that if the shield or board is hit, the weight at the end of the cord will swing around and hit the rider on the back of the head as he passes, unless he is quick enough. In game terms, if a hit is scored against the quintain, the attacker must make a successful DEX check. Failure means he is hit by the counter-weight and must take 1d2 h.p. of damage. Cavaliers and paladins may subtract their level from their ability check roll as a bonus, as part of their horsemanship skill.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Battle of Towton

Last week The Economist published a terrific article on the Battle of Towton, one of the critical engagements of the Wars of the Roses, and possibly the largest battle ever fought on English soil. The article focuses on the mass grave that was discovered at the site, and the clues about both the battle itself and life in medieval times that the skeletons reveal.

Because the battle was so large, there are remains of all ages and sizes to be found, giving a broad range of insights, such as:
This physical diversity is unsurprising, given the disparate types of men who took the battlefield that day. Yet as a group the Towton men are a reminder that images of the medieval male as a homunculus with rotten teeth are well wide of the mark. The average medieval man stood 1.71 metres tall—just four centimetres shorter than a modern Englishman. “It is only in the Victorian era that people started to get very stunted,” says Mr Knüsel. Their health was generally good. Dietary isotopes from their knee-bones show that they ate pretty healthily. Sugar was not widely available at that time, so their teeth were strong, too.
There were other fascinating tidbits as well, like traces of one of the first handguns being found on the battlefield, and the process the archaeologists went through to try to match some of the injuries they found on the skeletons with the damage done by actual medieval weaponry. Fascinating stuff!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Glad Yule

To all my Pagan, Wiccan, and Heathen friends (and what the heck-- everyone else, too!), I wish you Glad Yule, Io Saturnalia, and Joyous Solstice!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hexographer Does Classic Greyhawk Maps

Joe over at Inkwell Ideas has come out with a new version of Hexographer, and he's taken it out for a spin by making excellent versions of the classic Darlene World of Greyhawk maps. There's even a tutorial on how to make those wonderful hex-spanning mountains, hills, and forests using the software. Excellent stuff, and I would highly recommend it! (Click over to his site to see a much higher-res version of that map to behold just how cool it is.)

A 2010 Resolution

Hey, I've still got two weeks or so left in 2010, right? More than enough time for a quick resolution before the standard New Years resolutions kick in.

I resolve to spend a day painting miniatures, sometime between now and the end of the year. Maybe turn that one stand of Iron League halberdiers into something more.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Twilight: 2013 Bundle on Sale

I was a big fan of Twilight: 2000 when it first came out, and now it has been redone and republished under the title Twilight: 2013. I don't have the new version, but as I understand it the background information was tweaked to align better with the way history really turned out in the last 20 years or so. Basically, the world has gone to hell due to war and economic collapse, and you are a soldier stranded in a distant land, trying to get home or start a new life among the ruins. Very gritty.

Now you can get the entire line of Twilight: 2013 products in pdf format for only $10, as a special holiday promotion. That is just incredible, as it includes not only the core rules, but all the sourcebooks, modules, adventures, addenda, etc. Wow!

Here's the description from a reviewer on
A complete bundle of nearly everything you would want for the excellent latest version of Twilight 2000. Some parts of the new time line are a little weak because they are too similar to the old cold war time line. The various stages of the rules vary from very easy to lean and start to play to very realistic and robust making them suitable for nearly any gaming group interested in this kind of genre.
If you have fond memories like I do of Twilight: 2000, or have heard good things about the third edition and just held off for whatever reason, there's really no excuse now not to take the plunge. Merry Christmas indeed!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Storyline vs. Sandbox

When role-playing first emerged as a hobby, most games were what are now described as “sandbox style” campaigns. That is, the game master created the campaign milieu as a sandbox in which his players could romp at their heart’s content. The sandbox allows for a maximum of player freedom; they can decide that, today they want to trek to the other side of the planet, and off they go. Megadungeons are often seen as a tentpole feature of such campaigns. Often, the sandbox style of play is seen as allowing the players and game master to explore the world together, according to their fancy.

A plot-driven campaign, on the other hand, is focused on a particular story line. Often, this story is an elaborate affair constructed by the game master, and the players are expected to follow the various clues, visit the detailed locales, and eventually the players experience the triumph of fulfilling the quest (or failing valiantly in the attempt).

This does not mean, as is sometimes erroneously assumed, that the sandbox type of campaign has no plot. In fact, it will often have many plots going on at the same time, running inexorably along their course. What distinguishes a sandbox-style game from a plot-driven game is that in a sandbox the players are free to pick up or ignore the various plots that they uncover as they see fit. In the plot-driven game, there is no game if the players decide to take a course that radically deviates from the plot the game master has devised.

It cannot be stressed enough that neither way of designing a campaign is right or wrong, or better or worse. In such matters of style, it all comes down to personal preference. If the game master and his players simply enjoy the free-wheeling style of a sandbox, or if they love the satisfaction of undertaking a months-long quest with a chance to grab glory at the end, then that style of play is the right one, for them.

Neither style is without its pitfalls, however. The sandbox campaign can, understandably, suffer from a certain lack of connection between the player characters and the campaign setting. Without some sort of meaningful anchor between them, the perils that the players encounter can lack significance unless they are directly aimed at the player characters. And that can get monotonous after a while. Sandbox does not have to equate to rudderless.

The plot-driven game, on the other hand, can fall into the trap of “railroading.” Railroading is a term to describe the phenomenon of the game master forcing the players to follow a certain pre-set course of action through heavy-handed tactics that remove even the illusion of choice on their part. In such cases, the game master turns into a narrator, while the players are simply passive participants. Such heavy-handedness is hardly conducive to a game where the player characters are supposed to be central to the game.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Adventures Dark and Deep Playtest Begins!

Q: What has 507 spells, 221 pages, 16 character classes, and is three weeks early?

A: The Adventures Dark and Deep Players Guide!

This has the real "meat" of the game. There are no magic items or monsters yet, but those are coming. In the meantime, you can use such from your favorite retro-clone with almost no adjustment necessary. The Game Masters Toolkit (with magic items) will be ready come January. The Bestiary (with, um, beasts) will follow soon thereafter.

I would ask that feedback on specific rules themselves be confined to the Adventures Dark and Deep forums, but if you have general questions or commentary, I'll leave the comments on this post open here. Many thanks, and I look forward to getting a lot of feedback!

Click --> HERE <--

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dark Dungeons: The Movie

I think this may very well be the first time a Chick Tract has been turned into a movie! Old-timers will be very familiar with Jack Chick's 1984 attack on Dungeons and Dragons, entitled, "Dark Dungeons", which was later used as the title of a 2E Rules Cyclopedia retro-clone. Well, here it is brought to life (straight, with all the self-parody of the original left intact). Enjoy!

Hat tip to Purple Pawn.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chiron Beta Prime

I'm sure some of my readers may already be familiar with Jonathan Coulton, but I just discovered him this very night. And so in the spirit of the season, I give you...

Monday, December 6, 2010

OSR Publishsers

I've tried to keep a list of OSR publishers over to the left (and down a bit). But it seems a losing battle with all the great new publishers coming out, and the unfortunate demise of some here and there.

Unfortunately, I'm just too lazy busy to keep up with it all. So I ask you, my loyal readers; please look through the list and let me know if there are any I definitely should be including, and if any that I've got listed should be taken out due to inactivity. If you'd be so kind as to include actual links in your comments, that would be most appreciated!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Greyhawk Session #10

When last we left out intrepid heroes, they were in the midst of investigating the secret temple of Wastri the Hopping Prophet, having deduced its existence by a careful examination of the ledgers found in the supposedly innocent warehouse. We left our heroes in situ, having discovered the armory and some of the guards of the place.

Present were Ardo, the human cleric of Pelor; Mongo, the half-orc fighter; Theric, the human paladin of Pholtus; Vellis, the gnome bard; Abo Thistlestrike, the human magic-user; and Ehrandar Dawngreeter, the elf mountebank.

Having determined that the armory held nothing more, the party explored the sole remaining door, through which they figured that the rest of the guards had moved. Beyond was a large chamber, obviously some sort of temple, with pillars leading down the middle of the room, two pools to either side, and atop a large dais a stone altar. And what should they find on said altar but their missing dwarf, Jhocamo, chained to the altar au naturale. And behind him, a figure in a hooded robe, dagger poised above the hapless dwarf, and obviously expecting the party's arrival.

Obviously the party could never hope to close the distance before the hooded figure could slice open the dwarf's throat. And, examining the pools to either side, it was clear that at least a half-dozen figures were within, their eyes just above the surface of the water and the points of their weapons just visible. Not a good situation.

Up stepped the mage, ignoring the figure's orders to stand still, slowly and subtly approached, presenting himself as a would-be convert. It unfolded that the hooded figure was some sort of half-man, half-frog. It was here that we saw a great test of the new ADD rules, as the mountebank used his verbal patter skills to first make the figure doubt his own preconceptions, and then reinforce the notion that the mage was, indeed, betraying the party and turning to the side of Wastri. A first-rate example of what those verbal patter skills are there for. And work they did. The figure was confused enough to allow the mage to close, and then was caught off-guard as the mountebank charged, seemingly to attack the traitorous mage, but instead hurled a barrage of daggers at the frog-priest.

The daggers hit home, and the frog-man retreated behind one of the tapestries lining the wall behind the altar as the guards leaped from the pools and engaged the party. In the ensuing brawl the cleric fell, but had his wounds bound by his fellows, bringing him back to 1 h.p., but unable to do much of anything except recuperate and drink wine.

All but one of the remaining guards were dispatched-- the last plunging back into one of the pools. Mongo, despite his vast strength, was unable to break the chains holding the dwarf, but the still-fallen paladin managed the feat (mightily impressing the half-orc). The dwarf was freed, provided with pants as a mercy to the rest of the group and a mace with which to wreak vengeance. The party then formed a consensus that the altar was to be desecrated in some way, and the mountebank then decided to act, pouring holy water upon it. It reacted in a most satisfying way, hissing and smoking. Unfortunately, he was also stricken by an immediate outbreak of hideous warts, reducing his charisma to 3 and rendering his hands almost incapable of holding any weapon.

The now-stricken mountebank remained behind with the cleric while the rest of the party explored the area beyond the concealed door. Beyond the found a large room with a pool with dozens of giant frogs, which had to be crossed in order to reach a further door. They decided to explore other options, finding a hastily-emptied bed chamber where a chest with many hundreds of gold pieces and a small pouch containing the original golden frog statuette (the very same that began their involvement with the Wastri cult in the first place). They also found a room with a half-dozen robes and various musical instruments of strange design.

However, while they were exploring the further reaches of the temple, the last remaining guard emerged from the pool and attacked the mountebank. The mountebank missed with all his daggers, and was laid low by the frog-man. Just before the guard did in the stricken cleric, the party returned, handling the guard easily and binding the mountebank's wounds, leaving him incapable of much of anything. Unfortunately, the dwarf then attempted to swim across the pool with the giant frogs, and was instantly and irrevocably consumed. The party had suffered yet another loss.

By this time, the party had had enough, and started the process of leaving the temple with their loot, wounded comrades, and some of the dead frog-man bodies to use as proof for the constabulary.

The city watch was duly summoned, and proceeded to take charge of the investigation (!). The party's claims were easily proven, although the unfortunate Salvomar (the paladin's henchman, who had been left behind to guard the rear entrance to the warehouse with oil) had been taken into custody over the course of the evening on suspicion of casing the place for a burglary.

Eventually, the wounded members of the party were let to heal and the half-orc accompanied the paladin to the temple of Pholtus, whither he had been summoned. The half-orc converted to the faith of Pholtus (the paladin's feat of strength in freeing the dwarf being a contributing factor in proving the power of that god), and the priests removed all of the curses besetting the party as means of rewarding them for undoing the evil cult of Wastri.

The evening ended with a certain cavalier entering the Cock and Bottle, and striking up a friendship with the remaining members of the party. Perhaps the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dreamation 2011 is Upon Us!

Dreamation is one of several local conventions that I am lucky enough to have within driving distance. This one is February 24-27 in Morristown, NJ. And right now I have submitted, but not gotten final approval for, a couple of games.

First, are a couple of session of the great board game Red Dragon Inn. This is a really great game that explores what happens after the party returns from the dungeon. It's a light-hearted game where the one who wins is the one who survives an evening of drinking, gambling, and brawling.

Second, I will be running one of the ultimate classic convention modules; S2 White Plume Mountain. Can you rescue one of the three magical weapons from the evil wizard Keraptis?

And the third one I have not actually submitted because I haven't got past the outline stage. I'm not sure I'll actually be submitting it, as I'm not sure it would be ready. If I get a lot done on it in the next month and a half, I will. This is the one whose map is not based on a placemat pattern...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Bard

And now, last but not least, I present the final "new" character class for Adventures Dark and Deep™, the Bard:

As before, lots of new spells for this one, and I'm very pleased with the way the "feel" of the class turned out. Not as centered on lore and information as the AD&D 1E bard class, with a lot of ways to influence both subtle and not-so-subtle, magical and mundane. Still some "punch" with spells that can inflict a lot of damage, but not nearly the equal of the mage when it comes to such things. One of the big differences between the bard and other spell casters is that many of the bard's spells can be maintained for hours on end, as long as the bard can keep singing (and, of course, if the bard is singing already, who's to say he's casting a spell? Bards are subtle spell-casters if they want to be).

What remains are re-workings of the cavalier and paladin, and a very minor re-working of the assassin (to be relegated to an appendix as a purely optional class). Those won't be presented as stand-alone previews, however. As always, feel free to plop this bard in your already-extant 1E campaign, and let me know how it works. I have one in mine already. :-)

As usual, comments over in the ADD forums, if you'd be so kind.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Sorry I've not been posting as much of late as I have in the past. I'm going full-bore on Adventures Dark and Deep™, and my spare time is going towards that right now. I have posted a couple of things in the ADD forums; feel free to check them out (link over to the right).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Two Holiday Sales

Just wanted to point out two Thanksgiving sales that you might find of interest.

First, Goodman Games is offering 33% off all of their pdf products through This is going on now through the end of November, and is a great opportunity to fill in your collection of Dungeon Crawl Classics. There are even some 1E adventures mixed in there (including Iron Crypt of the Heretic); definitely worth checking out.

Second, Chaosium is offering 25% off everything in their catalog. This is going on now through "early November 30th", so I'd not wait until the last minute. I'm especially thinking of grabbing the hardcover version of Masks of Nyarlathotep...


(Hat tip to Purple Pawn)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Ultimate City of Greyhawk Map?

Regular readers will remember that, back in college I made a set of hand-drawn maps of the city of Greyhawk, based on the sketch map found in the front of Gary Gygax's book City of Hawks. A few years ago I found them and scanned them, and they've been available on this blog since then (over to the right in the "free downloads" section).

About a month ago, Alfons H., out of the goodness of his heart, cleaned up my scans, replacing the hand-done labels with easier to read text. That was a terrific surprise, coming out of the blue as it did.

However, now I (and all Greyhawk fans) have been gifted with yet another iteration of those same hand-drawn maps I did back in the 1980's. One Alex Camacho and friend took those scans and turned them into this work of absolute full-color 17"x22" beauty:

The one he originally sent me had some modified names to suit their own campaign, but he very graciously altered the labels back to the originals. So now we have a full-color map, based on Gary Gygax's original, that will fit the map key for the blue "City of Greyhawk" boxed set, all in one piece rather than four separate pages. I took the file to Staples and got an absolutely gorgeous glossy print out for $25. I might just get another to keep flat (and laminated), as I'm going to have to fold this one to take it with me as I game. But this is now my "official" City of Greyhawk map for my own game, and I cannot thank Alex enough for his efforts.

You can download the .pdf file off to the right in the "Free Resources" section.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Greyhawk Sessions #8 and 9

Apologies for not posting a recap of the last session; I'll give a very abbreviated version of that session and then get into the one we completed tonight.

Last time, the party returned once more to the Castle of the Mad Archmage. Present were Ardo, the human cleric of Pelor; Mongo, the half-orc fighter; Theric, the human paladin of Pholtus; Vellis, the gnome bard; Abo Thistlestrike, the human magic-user; and Ehrandar Dawngreeter, the elf mountebank. They first investigated some of the upper ruins, determining that the bandits they had previously encountered had indeed fled. More entrances to the underground were discovered and eventually explored, and although several scrolls and some other treasure were discovered, the party was driven out of the dungeon by determined and deadly ambushes by some foe that remained in the shadows. The paladin, Theric, was dropped below zero hit points, but his wounds were bound, and the party made for the city with the as-yet-unseen enemy at their heels. Thus ended the previous session.

Once there, having placed the paladin in the inn to recuperate, the party happened to notice that all but Ardo were feeling slightly unwell. They were constantly thirsty, their skin was dry, and they all suffered a decrease in their charisma of 1 point. This had an immediate effect on the paladin, who lost his paladin abilities, and the bard and mountebank, many of whose abilities suffered because of the decrease. Immediately, the party's thoughts turned to the frog statuettes that mysteriously and persistently appeared some weeks before.

Through direct investigation, they were able to determine that the frog statuettes were indeed both magical and evil in nature. Consultation with the church of Pholtus confirmed that a curse was most probably at work, but unfortunately the church was in need of a new roof for its steeple, and although they were willing to do a "buy four, get the fifth free" deal for the group, the fee for casting remove curse was beyond their means. The now-fallen paladin was then admonished that such curses could well be the price for cavorting with those not yet brought into the Light of Pholtus. The church of Pelor was of little help.

Reputable sources exhausted, the party resorted to those less so. The Thieves Guild reiterated their stance that the cult of Wastri and itself had an understanding that neither was to interfere with the other, and that those places under the protection of the Guild were clearly marked to those who were familiar with such signs. A confab with Ehrandar's contact in the Beggar's Union, who usually works a corner near to the warehouse wherein the party located the cult, but which the local constabulary declared empty and harmless, begged to differ with the official report, and insisted that the place was as active as it had ever been.

Clearly, a nighttime visitation was called for. After careful planning, Salvomar, their erstwhile hireling, was stationed behind the warehouse with oil while the rest of the party entered through the front. They found 13 separate numbered "cages", each with different loads of goods from such lands as Sunndi and Idee. They soon found the warehouse office, and started to look through the various ledgers and files they found within. They sought some sort of secret door or false floor in the office, to no avail.

Theric, however, keyed in on a vital clue (and an excellent thought by his player, I must say). One of the numbered storage cages, number IV, seemed to not have any entries in the records. No goods were moved in or out of that particular area in at least a year. (One of the few times when forensic accounting was used to advance the plot of a D&D game, no doubt!) Sure enough, one of the crates in Area IV concealed a staircase leading down.

Beneath the warehouse was some sort of waiting room with an attached cloak room. Unfortunately, Ehrandar set off a trip-wire. There was no immediate effect, so it was obviously some sort of alarm. And indeed, when Mongo opened the door leading out of the waiting room, he was immediately impaled by a frog-man of some sort with a spear. More could be seen behind him in some sort of corridor. Mongo made short work of the frog-man, but its compatriots disappeared into one or more of the two doors in the corridor leading away from the waiting room. The party explored the closest, and discovered a chamber with not only a table and chairs, but a shallow pool in one corner. Adjacent to that room was an obvious armory, with scores of weapons, and many obviously missing from the racks.

Unfortunately, we had to call it an early night this session for a variety of out-of-game reasons. Everyone was left in situ, which is not something I like to do normally, but tonight's players are all coming back next time, so hopefully the continuity will be maintained. What will happen? What else lies in the chambers beneath the warehouse? What are those frog-men? What further effects might the curse of the frog-statuettes have?

We'll find out in but a fortnight.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

FLGS Update

Not too long ago, I posted about the sudden closure of my FLGS, Mighty Titans Hobbies and Games. There Friday and gone by Sunday afternoon. It looked like the place had gone under, and I was not pleased about the way the whole thing was handled vis-a-vis the customers being informed.

Well, last night word reached me that the store was indeed re-opening in a new location, and today I checked the place out. Mighty Titans has indeed re-opened (they just received their CO today, it turns out), and the new space is quite excellent. There's a huge space dedicated to gaming (although the place seems to me to be a bit smaller than the old store in toto, but that might just be the way its laid out), but in an old train station with walls of solid stone and high cathedral ceilings. I've got to say it's a very evocative locale, and should be great to game in. They lost some stock during the move, but hopefully they will be able to get back up to full capacity soon (especially with the holidays coming up).

I am very pleased with the speed with which the Mighty Titans folks got things back up and running (and I fully accept their explanation for why they left the old space so suddenly-- but I'll leave it to them to lay out the matter fully if they wish to), although I still believe the level of customer engagement could have been better. Still, the new place is great, and let's hope that the Time of Troubles is now fully behind them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Return of the Boxed Set

Scott Thorne, owner of Castle Perilous Games and Books in Carbondale, IL, has a column up today over at ICv2 on the subject of the new renaissance in RPG boxed sets. It's a good article, especially interesting because it's written from the perspective of a game store owner, and well worth reading in its entirety. One thing that really caught my eye, however, was this:
No one just getting started, unless they are a huge fan of Doctor Who and plan to drop $60 for it or $100 for Warhammer FRP will consider those two.  That leaves Dragon Age or the D&D Red Box, both fantasy RPGs, which is well and good but there’s no modern day or futuristic starter to point to a Halo or Call to Arms player, no superhero intro game to show the DC or Marvel fan, no martial arts or anime beginners set to appeal to fans of those genres.  Even those RPGs that tout ease of play as one of their main advantages, such as Fairy Tale or QAGS, don’t have a starter set.  The customer has to buy the book, then buy a set of dice, then wonder if they have bought the right set of dice.  Of course, store personnel can help with this, and they should, but still, a low priced starter set eliminates one more reason for the customer not to buy.
I'm not sure you need to include a pencil in a boxed set (ahem), but certainly the idea that a beginning gamer might not even know which dice to buy isn't something that would ordinarily occur to me, since I'm one of those who've been playing these games for literally decades, and sometimes putting myself in the shoes of someone brand new to the hobby isn't easy. Plus the noted lacunae of boxed supers, sci-fi, and other genres is one that certain publishers should probably be taking notice of.

As I said, a good article, and well worth the read.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"It Opens Up Terrifying Vistas of Reality"

I am now officially a Pundit


That sound you just heard was me gaining a new level. According to Trey's level titles for old school bloggers over at From the Sorcerer's Skull, I am now officially a Pundit, having hit the magic 160 followers for this here blog.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Mystic

The pre-playtest preview version of the Mystic class is now available for download, here:

When you read it, you will hopefully understand why it took so long to finish up. A boatload of new spells, and I really think I managed to give it a very different vibe than the other classes, and yet one that will fit in well with the other archetypes. Comments, as always, in the ADD forums, if you please.

EDIT: 120 downloads and only 1 person has commented? Seriously?

Sunday Matinee: James Bond

I'm going to deviate from my usual Sunday Matinee postings and cover an entire series of films today. I grew up with James Bond, both on television and in the theater. I believe the first one I ever saw in the movies was The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), which would have been when I was eight years old.

I will be the first to admit that there is not a lot of deep philosophy in these movies, but damn they were a lot of fun. Nor are they anything like the original Ian Flemming stories, which irritates many purists (including one friend of mine who has never seen a Bond film and flat-out refuses to do so, ever, because he is such a fan of the stories). They are something of a product of their times, of course; we see Live and Let Die (1973) coming out at the height of the "blacksploitation" craze that gave us both Shaft and Blackula. Too, both The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979) featured villains who were industrialists and businesssmen, echoing the general mistrust of big business that spiked in the later half of the 1970's. The Russians are, somewhat surprisingly, almost never the real bad-guys. Even in From Russia With Love (1963) the real villain is SPECTRE.

The conventional wisdom is usually that, much like Doctor Who, your favorite Bond actor is the one you first saw. This is true in my case, as the first Bond film I ever remember seeing on television was You Only Live Twice (1967), and Sean Connery remains my favorite 007.

The plots, especially of the early films, are something of a mixed bag. Some of the actions that Bond takes are downright incomprehensible (such as in Goldfinger (1964), where Bond is supposed to pose as a would-be gold smuggler to get inside Goldfinger's smuggling operation, but instead goes out of his way to antagonize him). Also, some of the bad guys' plots are somewhat over-complicated at times (why, for instance, does SPECTRE bother with capturing American and Soviet spacecraft in You Only Live Twice, when they could have simply shot them down with a missile, achieving their same goal with a lot less trouble?).

For all their flaws, though, I still love the pre-Brosnan Bond films. The Pierce Brosnan films and later seem very different in tone and tenor, and tend to fall very flat to me, perhaps owing to the fact that they were all made after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the world was a very different place, and the place of Bond and MI6 wasn't what it once was. They're great fun if you don't try to turn them into something they're not, and I find them eminently re-watchable.

Plus, I like to try to find connections between the films that weren't originally there, as a sort of game. For instance, it appears that Klaus Hergesheimer (from Diamonds Are Forever (1971)) originally had a job with NASA during You Only Live Twice. And while he was with Whyte Aerospace, he worked with Tom Carter from The Spy Who Loved Me, whose reserve USN commission was apparently activated to put him in command of the submarine.USS Wayne. And what the heck was Morton Slumber doing posing as an American diplomat? Was he a SPECTRE agent all along, or did they turn him later on and set him up at the mortuary? The intricacies abound.

Anyway, to finish off this little retrospective, I give you my own Top Ten Bond Films of All Time; many of these are based on how good the villain is (Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, for example, push Diamonds Are Forever over the top). Feel free to give your own list in the comments!

10. From Russia With Love - Connery
9. Dr. No - Connery
8. You Only Live Twice - Connery
7. Live and Let Die - Moore
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Lazenby
5. Thunderball - Connery
4. The Man With the Golden Gun - Moore
3. Goldfinger - Connery
2. Moonraker - Moore
1. Diamonds Are Forever - Connery

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Question of Nomenclature

In a system where 10 is the worst armor class, why does +2 chain mail decrease your AC?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

RIP Dino De Laurentiis

Dino De Laurentiis, producer of some of the best-known films in history, died today at age 91. You might know him as the producer or executive producer of films such as Battle of the Bulge (1965), Barbarella (1968), Serpico (1973), Flash Gordon (1980), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Conan the Destroyer (1984), Dune (1984), The Bounty (1984), Hannibal (2001), and literally hundreds of others.

Irons in the Fire

Just wanted to give folks a quick update on what I'm up to, writing wise.

Work proceeds apace on Adventures Dark and Deep™. It's looking like I won't be meeting my self-imposed deadline of all three books by December 31, but the Players Guide is all but assured, and enough of the Game Masters Toolkit to be useful. The Bestiary will be bringing up the rear, but fortunately the nature of the effort is such that you will be able to use monsters from other similar games pretty much seamlessly.

I'm doing preliminary design work on a stand-alone adventure for higher level characters. I want to keep the contents a secret for now, but rest assured that the map will not be based on any designs found on a placemat.

I'm running through the possibility of putting together a campaign guide to the Thillronian Penninsula for the World of Greyhawk. The idea would be to have something functionally equivalent to Ivid the Undying or Iuz the Evil, but set in the Norse-esque area of the extreme northeastern Flanaess. I happen to have a passing familiarity with Scandinavian mythology and history, and thought I might apply it here.

Folks have been steadily asking for side levels for Castle of the Mad Archmage, and by far the most popular request is the Black Reservoir. Don't lose heart; I've not ignored these cries, but I don't have anything concrete to announce. Yet.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

So Much for my FLGS

For those of my loyal readers who are local, it will not be news that Mighty Titans Games and Hobbies has closed its doors. That was the FLGS at which my bi-weekly Greyhawk campaign was meeting, and as I've written in the campaign reports, it was a terrific space. I will miss it.

However, what I am specifically writing about is the way that Mighty Titans left us.

Last Friday, we had a session at the store. Everything, to all appearances, was fine. In fact, one of our usual tables had been commandeered to unpack boxes of new stock that were to go on the shelves. One of the store owners was there behind the register, and said nary a word about any plans, changes, or troubles, despite the fact that we have been a regular fixture there for 4 months, and I've been a regular customer for years, going out of my way to at least buy some little something each time we game there, as a gesture of thanks. Sometimes the somethings aren't so little.

On Sunday, apparently, the store was stripped, shelves and stock removed, and a hand-written sign placed on the door promising that the store was "taking gaming to a new level in a new space-- check our website for details" (or words to that effect). It took them nearly a week to put up any sort of notice on said website. And this was after having been in the space for only 6 months after having left their previous space.

That it was an inconvenient development goes without saying. But it was the suddenness, and the complete and utter lack of information leading up to the event, that is so troubling. You don't wake up one morning, decide to close a retail store, and go rent a U-Haul. This had to have been something in the works for some time. But there was no communication, no attempt to inform their customers that anything was amiss. Hell, if I had known there was a problem, I certainly would have dropped another $100 on product last Friday, and I'm sure I'm not alone. But there was nothing. Someone just showed up on Sunday and the place was empty.

Now, I don't know the specifics behind what happened with Mighty Titans, and likely never will. But I guarantee you when we were there on Friday, that owner behind the counter knew what was going on, and kept it to himself. For all the show of trying to promote some sort of "gaming community", it was just a sham. A simple "things aren't going like we had hoped, and we're going to be moving to a less expensive location" would have been all I asked. But no. I guess what bothers me the most is that they just took us, the customers, for granted.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

AD&D's Magic Items are Fiddly

In going through the descriptions for magic items in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, I am struck by just how complex and fiddly many of the items are. So many of them have numerous enumerated powers; doing this costs so many charges, doing that costs none or three depending on the circumstances...

Honestly, before I sat down and actually read each and every one (required because I'm restating many of them for the Adventures Dark and Deep™ game), I hadn't realized just how complex, situationally dependent, and downright fiddly many of them are.

Don't believe me? Check out the ring of shooting stars, ring of elemental command, crystal ball, trident of fish command, or wand of illumination. All of those were items I had, for some reason, thought were pretty straightforward. In actually reading them, they're all fiddly. I'm pretty sure that this is not the case in 0E. But now I need to go back and check.

Fritz Lang's Metropolis On Television Tonight

Back in April, I mentioned that the fully-restored version of Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece "Metropolis" was being released in theaters. I unfortunately didn't get a chance to see it in the theater, but I am pleased to report that it will be on Turner Classic Movies tonight at 8:00 PM, followed by Metropolis Refound, which looks to be a documentary about how the missing footage was recovered and restored. This movie influenced film making (and especially science fiction film making) for a century, and now it's got an added half-hour or so of previously-missing footage. Definitely worth checking out!

Sunday Matinee: Excalibur (1981)

Of all the adaptations of the King Arthur legend, Excalibur is perhaps the least historically accurate. And for all that, it's probably one of the most visually stunning.

Famed among aficionados for the scene where the disguised King Uther has sex with Igrayne while wearing full plate armor, this film sort of takes all the bits and pieces of the Arthur legend and plucks out whatever it damn well pleases to make a story. There are pieces of Thomas Mallory, T.H. White, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Alan Jay Lerner, and a lot more besides to be found here.

The film starts with Uther Pendragon struggling to bring all of England under his rule. Merlin (who, tellingly, refers to himself as "the Merlin" at one point) has worked for years to bring peace to the land, and gives Uther the sword Excalibur to cow the reluctant warlords to accept his rule. Alas, his victory is short-lived, as lust for the lady Igrayne, wife of the duke of Cornwall, leads him to break the hard-won truce. Arthur is fathered, Cornwall is slain, and eventually Uther himself is assassinated, but not after he embeds Excalibur into a boulder, stuck there for decades.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and Arthur, serving as a squire at a tournament where the winner gets to try to pull the sword from the stone, does so accidentally and effortlessly. Merlin re-appears and mentors the young king. Most of the knights oppose his new-found kingship, but his strength and courage wins them over in the end. He weds Guenevere, breaks Excalibur trying to defeat Lancelot (the Lady of the Lake mends the sword and returns it to him, after a frantic Merlin declares that "hope is broken"), and eventually forms the Round Table, once England is brought to peace.

More years pass, and after Lancelot and Guenevere betray Arthur by sleeping together (at which point Arthur loses Excalibur), and Morgana (Arthur's half-sister) not only orchestrates the downfall of Merlin but fathers a son (Mordred) with Arthur, the quest for the Holy Grail, which would heal the now-wounded land, begins. Morgana, it turns out, has suborned or slain the various knights who have stumbled upon her lair, but Percival overcomes them and eventually finds the grail.

Arthur finds Guenevere, Excalibur is restored to the king, and Arthur and his few remaining loyal knights ride out to meet Morgana and Mordred. With Lancelot's unexpected return, Arthur is victorious, albeit sorely wounded, and eventually dies, taken to Albion in a viking-esque funeral scene after Excalibur is finally returned to the Lady of the Lake.

One of the most outstanding features of this film is the performance of Nicol Williamson as Merlin. With his rolling baritone voice and skull-fitting chrome helmet, he embodied the character of Merlin for me for years after seeing him. The score draws heavily on Wagner (the Ring cycle, Parsifal, and Tristan and Isolde), and works very well for such a ponderous movie.

I say "ponderous" here not in an entirely negative connotation. The film has a very "heavy" feel, partly because of the costuming (the armor worn by the knights is a very unhistorical solid iron and later chrome-plated full plate armor), and also because of the almost oppressive feel of some of the locations. Woods are always deep and thick, the castles are cyclopean in their design, and even the parts in the wastelands are dark and claustrophobic. Liberal use of fog adds to the feeling. Wagner's music feels right at home in the setting.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Jim Ward Needs Our Help

Apparently Jim Ward, one of the early luminaries of role-playing, is very sick and is currently in the Mayo Clinic. The medical bills are, quite understandably, piling up at a ruinous rate.

There are several avenues being pursued to help out (including putting together a fan-compiled book of Metamorphosis: Alpha material as a fundraiser), but something that we can all do right now is to pick up some M:A stuff at Jim's store. If you're a fan of the original M:A or Gamma World games, do yourself (and Jim) a favor and pick up some pdf's there to round out your collection. I've personally been holding off getting 4th edition, but I need no more prompting than this news.

And for all you fans of 0E D&D, you should pick up the 1st edition M:A rules. You'll find a lot of stuff in their that is not only familiar, but might find its way into your game.

And lastly, here's a cute little animation someone put together. Laser eyes and rotating knives FTW!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Organization of Spells

For the longest time, I defended the AD&D organization of spells by class and level as being the best way to do things. It made more sense, I argued, when selecting a character's spells for the day.

However, at the urging of some folks here a few months ago, I decided to undertake an experiment with the Adventures Dark and Deep book. There, I simply included everything, cantrips included, alphabetically. The spell lists are still there, of course, organized by class and level. But the spell descriptions themselves are alphabetical.

I've been using my pre-prototype copy for personal use over the last couple of months, and I've got to say that the new system of organization is a huge improvement, at least in my experience. Having the spell lists makes daily spell selection just as easy. I'm experimenting with the same sort of scheme for magical items in the GMT, and it looks like it'll be equally useful.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Two-fer Convention Special in New Jersey

Double Exposure, the folks who run the Dreamation and Dexcon conventions in Morristown, NJ, are offering a special deal for folks who want to sign up early for both conventions. Save $23 off the price of "complete" memberships at both conventions, and $44 off the price of "super deluxe" memberships at both. It's a pretty good deal if you know you're going to be attending both cons. Right now I'm certainly planning on doing so, and naturally running some games. Dreamation is in February, and Dexcon is in July.

Details can be found on the Double Exposure website.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Matinee: Halloween (1978)

Last week I said there were two movies that actually scared me when I was a kid. John Carpenter's Halloween was the other one, and quite appropriate to today's auspicious date!

This is another movie that doesn't try to include any social commentary; there are no hidden messages or agendas here. The plot is simpicity itself. Fifteen years ago in a small midwestern town, a young boy, for reasons that are not explained in the film (more about that below) kills his sister with a large knife on Halloween night, seemingly without any sort of emotion. Fifteen years later, having been incarcerated in a maximum security psychiatric hospital, he escapes, and his psychiatrist (Dr. Loomis, played by Donald Pleasance) goes on the trail, trying to catch Michael while at the same time trying to convince the authorities just how dangerous he is. Michael, clad in anonymous blue coveralls and wearing a creepy blank mask, stalks the local teenagers and then goes on a killing spree while they are babysitting in various houses on Halloween night. As he tries to kill the last girl (Laurie, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her first real acting role), Dr. Loomis finally catches up to him, puts a large number of bullets in him, and Laurie is ambulanced off to safety. The camera then turns back to where Michael's body fell... and it is no longer there.

There are a lot of things that make this one of the "perfect" horror films. The music, composed by John Carpenter as a money-saving feature because of the film's miniscule budget, is instantly memorable, sets the tension in the film to maximum, and yet doesn't seem to get in the way of the film itself. The low budget led to decisions that were originally made in the interests of cost-cutting, but in the end turned out to be just right for the artistic feel of the film. Notably, the lack of extras on the streets. While the three babysitters are walking to and from school, the streets are empty, adding subliminally to the feeling that they are already cut off from the rest of the world, and thus vulnerable. Most of the film is entirely mundane. We see them walking down the street, talking like any teens would talk, and yet we know that there's a killer stalking them. The music is always there in the background, ratcheting up the tension, and we are just waiting, waiting for the Bad Things to start happening.

Almost all of the actors are unknowns (even Jamie Lee Curtis, who comes from a famous Hollywood family, had only been in a handful of television shows before the film), adding to the small town, girl next door feel. Donald Pleasance was the only "big name" actor, and he gives a wonderfully creepy performance. When your doctor is doing everything he can to shoot you, know know something's wrong...

But what really makes this film is Michael Myers himself. He's a cipher, clad in coveralls and with a mask (the creepy blank face mask was, famously, a William Shatner mask from a local hardware store). He has no motive. He is just pure evil, killing for the sake of it. He has infininte patience, seemingly fooling all of the other doctors by pretending to be completely unresponsive for a decade and a half, just awaiting his opportunity to escape and go on a rampage. He drives himself forward through sheer force of will; he's not some musclebound superman, but just an ordinary mortal who is simply so driven in his mission to kill that he overcomes being stabbed, shot, tossed off roofs, and more. This is a vital aspect of the films that I think is lost in the later sequels (where some sort of supernatural demonic-possession story is glossed onto the backstory) and in the recent remake (where Michael is presented as a very muscular and imposing physical figure).

And one of the most extraordinary things about this film is that is accomplishes its goals with almost no gore. No copious amounts of blood are needed. This film presents a perfectly reasonable mundane portrait of middle America and then puts in a mundane, non-supernatural peril. And the resulting suspense makes this a perfect horror film.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Fork in the Road

As I've been writing and writing (and writing) for Adventures Dark and Deep™, a thought has steadily lingered in the back of my mind. A question about the ultimate direction of the project.

Specifically, ADD could be its own, stand-alone game, thus entering a crowded field (and indeed one that's going to be getting only more crowded, especially as things like the upcoming Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG from Goodman Games see print). Or, ADD could be published as a supplement for an already-extant game (or games) such as OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord (much like the LL Advanced Edition Companion).

To date, I've been aiming for the former, so no real big changes there. Three books, followed by adventures and the usual accouterments. But if I go for the latter, then it would look like a single book, with the character classes, new spells, new rules for combat, and addenda for whatever monsters exist in the rules already (mainly consisting of a table to handle alterations to the hit dice and adding morale, if necessary).

I should point out that this is a question entirely occasioned by business concerns. Printing an entirely new rules system is a massive undertaking, requiring quite a bit of financing. Printing a supplement to an already-existing rules set is much more modest by comparison, and would allow me to get the salient points into print, even if the secondary goal of having everything consolidated back into three rulebooks is lost.

I'll go where my muse leads, of course, but would like to hear others' opinions on the question.

Pathfinder and D&D Tied for First!

I thought this was an incredibly interesting little factoid:

In Q3 of 2010, Dungeons and Dragons was tied in sales with Pathfinder.

I'm not sure where ICv2 gets their information from, but there doesn't seem to be any reason to suspect their numbers are in error. Pathfinder and D&D (that's 4th edition) tied for first place in sales? It sure looks like there's a lot of interest for 3.x out there. One wonders what would have happened if WotC had cleaved closer to 3.x in their design...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Mountebank

The Mountebank, a sub-class of thieves for the upcoming Adventures Dark and Deep™ game, is now available as a sneak-peek pre-playtest pdf file. He's a con-man, purveyor of patent medicines, and hustler, who picks up a smattering of spells starting in the middle levels and relies on his powers of verbal patter to turn enemies into, well... not friends, but marks.

You'll find the link in the Adventures Dark and Deep forums, here:

As usual when it comes to this sort of pre-playtest info, please post any comments, questions, etc. over in the forums. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Intro to the Mystic

It's not quite ready for prime time as a whole (hopefully next week), but here's a snippet from the introduction to the upcoming mystic class for Adventures Dark and Deep™, just to whet your appetites...
The mystic is an initiate of an inner mystery tradition that seeks direct communion with the multiverse in order to achieve enlightenment. Insight, awareness, and a deep connection with ultimate reality are the hallmarks and ultimate goals of the mystic. Most good-aligned faiths have such mystery traditions within them, even if they are not enthusiastically promoted by the hierarchy or followed by masses of people. The spells available to the mystic are centered on knowledge and defense, but his special connection with the multiverse gives him special insights into the workings of the planes as well. They are not able to deliberately craft magical items, but often times objects particularly associated with them in life, or even parts of their bodies, will become relics after their deaths.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Greyhawk session #7

After the last session was unfortunately canceled at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances, everybody was ready and raring to play last night. Indeed, we had eight players plus myself, which violated my rule about having six players as my limit, but we had a guest (a visitor from across the Oceanus Atlanticus, a friend of one of our regulars who was in town for a one shot) and a newcomer (who had been a pillar of our hex and counter wargames day, and is likely to be a regular going forward).

Present were Ardo, the human cleric of Pelor; Mongo, the half-orc fighter; Theric, the human paladin of Pholtus; Vellis, the gnome bard; Jhocamo, the dwarf fighter; Mallun, the human thief; Abo Thistlestrike, the human magic-user; and Ehrandar Dawngreeter, the elf mountebank. (Whew!) They immediately made for the Castle of the Mad Archmage, and, having decided that the first level was too infested with traps, kept going down the central staircase to the second level. Two more characters had gained a level after the last session, so the group was feeling pretty confident.

This was a session with lots of combat and exploration; the party definitely added to their maps of the place. A lot of corridors were mapped out, a magic mouth in an alcove warned them about pit traps (to no avail, as it turned out later), and they came upon a chamber whose walls were encrusted with fungus and which was home to a half-dozen giant crickets. The crickets did a number on some of the party members who entered the room, startled by the dwarf's bullseye lantern, but when a pair of 6' long centipedes came in, attracted by the noise of the crickets' chirping, the party decided to beat a retreat and left a line of flaming oil to cover their escape.

The dwarf decided to attempt cleaving a door in, rather than a more conventional entrance, and found himself in the midst of a half-dozen orcs. He charged in, weapon swinging, and although he managed to fell quite a few of the creatures, they finally brought him low. The half-orc, meanwhile, hurled the gnome into the room, trying to get her past the orcs in order to open a second front. The tactic worked (after a fashion) and eventually the orcs were all slain, but not before reinforcements started coming in through another door in the chamber. These reinforcements were well-disciplined and presented a formation of halberds which would have been difficult to overcome indeed. The half-orc parlayed with the orcs, made an offering of weregeld, and the party was able to withdraw. The dwarf was recovered before he finally expired, and the party retreated to the surface to allow him to recuperate.

Now fully healed and ready for more action, the party once again descended to the second level and explored a different portion of the level.  This time, however, the paladin carelessly fell through a pit trap and was caught in a slide down to some lower chamber, where he faced a number of skeletons. Alone, he put down a number of the creatures, but was in dire straights before his comrades made it down the chute to help him. Unfortunately, in the process another member of the party managed to get in the way of the last skeleton's sword, and was laid low. Wounds were bound, but the party needed to return to the surface for yet another week of recuperation.

Time was running short in real life, but the party made one last foray into the level before the night was through. This time, they encountered a giant tick in a half-sized room that attacked the thief, but the creature itself was dispatched. The gnome was the only one brave enough to enter the 4'-ceilinged room, found a bag of coins, and although she reported more corridors were to be found beyond, the rest of the party didn't want to travel through the narrow confines of the chamber. They backtracked, and ended up disturbing both a couple of ginormous beetles and, in the midst of trying to find an escape route, several skeletons. Once again, flaming oil allowed a fighting retreat, and the party emerged to the sunlit realms once more.

Because of the size of the group and the fact that we had missed the previous session, I was loathe to have anything "interesting" happen to the party in-between forays into the dungeon. If there had only been five players, I might well have advanced the frog-cult story (which will happen, make no mistake). Still, it did seem almost like cheating, with the required weeks' rest going by in a flash, rather than being the real penalty for almost dying that it should be. I think in the future, such intervals won't speed by in the same way. The first foray into the dungeons will be the only one, with the week in the city fully played out, thus making the hazard of going below 0 hit points something more than an inconvenience.

Sunday Matinee: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

One, two, Freddy's coming for you.
Three, four, better lock your door.
Five, six, grab your crucifix.
Seven, eight, gonna stay up late.
Nine, ten, never sleep again.
One, two Freddy's coming for you
three, four better lock your door
five, six grab your crucifix
seven, eight gonna stay up late
nine, ten he's back again.

There are two films that actually scared the bejezus out of me growing up. 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street was one of them. The 1980's were the era of "dead teenager films", where anyone over the age of 14 who dared to get intimate with anyone else was just daring some deranged killer with a machete to off them. But Wes Craven came up with something truly original in the genre, and together he and Robert Englund created a character that was iconic from the instant he hit the screen.

The plot is pretty simple. Students at the local high school are being killed in their sleep. The M.O. is that of Freddy Krueger, who molested and killed kids in the town years before. But it couldn't possibly be him, because he's dead...

Several gruesome killings later, we learn that it was the outraged parents of the town who took matters into their own hands and, after Krueger had been let off on a technicality, burned him to death. Now, he has returned from the grave to wreak his vengeance. He is finally thwarted by the heroine simply turning her back on him, ignoring him and thus depriving him of energy. Everyone is then brought back to normal (or, more, a sort of idealized normal). The film ends with the heroine and her friends, seemingly now awake from the nightmare, driving off. But suddenly the top begins to close on the car, and the colors are those of Freddy's characteristic sweater...

This is such a wonderful film in so many ways. The dream sequences are alternately surreal and realistic, just like real dreams. One of the things that really got me was when the heroine was trying to run up the stairs, and her feet sink into the staircase, slowing her to a crawl. I'd actually had that dream, and it really added to the immersion value of the film. They masterfully confuse you as to what is dream and what is reality, and the film ends ambiguously; was the whole thing a dream? Was it a dream within a dream?

The film also explores some pretty weighty issues, if only as subtext. How horrible does someone need to be before vigilantism is justifiable? It's implied, but never outright stated, that Freddy molested the kids he killed. Remember, this was at the height of the "Satanic Panic" of the mid-1980's, when daycare centers were being investigated for allegations of systematic child molestation. At one point, the heroine's parents put bars on the windows to prevent her from sneaking out (which, of course, end up preventing her from escaping Freddy's clutches).

The cast has some unexpected surprises; Johnny Depp was here as a pretty forgettable boyfriend who ends up getting his guts strewn across a bedroom, and John Saxon plays the police chief. And of course under that burn-victim makeup is John Englund, who had just played Willie in the television mini-series V and V: The Final Battle.

All in all, an instant classic addition to the horror genre, driven by wonderful characters and smart writing that blurs the line between dream and reality. There were innumerable sequels, including a television series, and of course the original was recently remade, but the 1984 film is just one of those must-see horror flicks.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New City of Greyhawk Maps

Well, not exactly new, but out of the blue in my email yesterday came these cleaned up versions of my hand-drawn maps of the City of Greyhawk, based on Gary Gygax's sketch map in the beginning of City of Hawks, but also designed to use the keys in the TSR blue boxed City of Greyhawk set. Gone are my hand-written labels of the buildings, as well as some of the masking tape show-throughs that marred the original scans. Many thanks to Alfons H. for the work he did on cleaning up my scans!

There are four different images below; one in each quarter. Click to embiggen, and then right-click to save to your drive. Enjoy!

(Maps copyright (c) 2010 all rights reserved)