Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons; Intitial Thoughts

On Saturday nights I catch a D&D game with my fiancé and her family.

 I will admit to having joined the game so I can sit at the side of my most favorite beautiful creature and touch her leg under the table, but that doesn't mean I don't thoroughly enjoy the other company and the game itself.

Her brother DM'ed for the longest time and then one of his high school buddies took over and both were running Pathfinder. Both proved excellent DMs and introduced me to great new styles of play.

I took some ribbing about this from a few of my fellow gamers because I had long affected a jaded attitude towards anything but Old School versions of the game, my favorites being Tekumel, Basic D&D (Holmes version) and 1st edition AD&D.

 I had long resisted these friends' attempts to enlist me in a Pathfinder campaign, but love conquers all. I did shed some of my prejudices against Pathfinder, although after many months I can state unequivocally that I still prefer the relic  systems--like priceless artifacts of ancient magical power, they have the same shine to me they did when I first played them as a gawky 13 year old kid.

Anyway, my love light's game group has now decided to switch to 5th Edition. I've only played in one episode thus far so I have only about four hours play from the basic starter set to base my initial opinions on.

I must say I liked it.

I think it had a very old school feel to it. What stuck out to me most was the abundance of material provided to facilitate role playing--lots of character background info and motivations and quest objectives built into your first level character. I was glad to see that as a focus.

I played a fighter named Felhaus--I don't often play fighters, but wanted something easy and simple.

I came up with the name but the prepared character sheet for Felhaus had noted his places of origins, parentage, life history, weaknesses, motives and a quest objective to revenge himself on a wayward dragon.

This is good. If a person totally new to these kind of games picks up these books, I think they will have a better grasp on the original spirit of the D&D game than fresh players of the latter editions. I don't see the new edition leaning on feats and powers so much as on roleplaying.

 Seems a little less like a free shopping spree in a candy store and more like the story based, character driven game I love.

System wise, it played very well and felt somewhat old school. I don't really have much to say about the mechanics as I had almost no time to digest them--it played like Pathfinder but with a lot less formula and factoring, but then, we were first level. Our Pathfinder campaign ended at 20th level and I don't like the endless bookwork and formulation every single player seems to have to engage in every single round.

I hope 5th Edition doesn't end up the same way at upper levels.  Still, I did enjoy the game and would not be adverse to playing it again...though I still favor the original game and probably always will.

Kudos to those who worked on the game--this edition does seem to have some thought and care put into what sort of a game experience it will provide and not to simply throw out yet another pile of glossy book covers, endless reams of ink, and garish illustrations to make a quick buck on the unsuspecting masses.

I will say of some games that their producers do with D&D what the hip hop group Atmosphere said some rappers do with that musical genre in their song "Trying to Find a Balance":

"Wait, let's prey on the blind, deaf, dumb, dead
Hustle, maybe a couple will love what you said;
MC's drag their feet across a big naked land
With an empty bag of seeds and a fake shake of hands."

I'm not a rap fan much at all but I know a good lyric when I see it and must admit that if toy companies let marketing and advertising execs mess with D&D, it has kind of the same effect.

5th edition seems to have some true gamer love in it's development and it came through.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

R.P.G. Project in the Works: "Secrets of the Mistwater"

"Secrets of the Mistwater"
A Complete "Sandbox" Campaign for Levels 1-12
Having It's Own Rule System or Compatible
With Any Fantasy Role Play System
I am currently working upon the manuscript and maps for publication of the campaign which I have Dungeon Mastered for my players for the last year, tentatively entitled "Secrets of the Mistwater".
This will be a complete campaign setting with a large City Map, a Towne map, several villages and settlements, an "Outdoor" Map, and no less than six dungeon locales. It will feature all original art, some of which is complete as I write, and will be a "sandbox adventure" in the truest sense of the word.
It is a challenge but I am attempting to add several design elements to this book which I hope will make it a welcome tool to any seasoned Game Master and his or her players as well as to novice players.
One of these ideas is a complete set of simple rules that allows anyone who purchases the game to play it "as-is" without buying any other rule set. I have the rules system written and will not preview it yet but it is less than ten pages and will decidedly favor "rules light" playing. However, the creatures and treasures will be familiar enough that any system like D&D can be used.
Another feature I am building into the game is that each dungeon locale will have a keyed map that has alternate encounters depending on the level of the player characters when they actually enter that dungeon. I struggled with how to make the map truly open and not railroad players in a certain direction, because I really wanted the party to be able to go anywhere they wanted at any time.
Normally, this would lead to trouble if they decided to explore a ruin that was beyond their level of skill or ability. As a veteran DM, I'm well aware of the methods one can use to discourage a group from entering an area but I did not want the "Mistwater" campaign to use these methods--I wanted the players to feel they could go in any direction fate or choice led them so that it would unfold naturally.
The solution I came up with at this point was to have a dungeon key for each map that provided different monsters and treasure that a DM could choose from dependent upon the power level of the adventuring party at the time they enter the ruin. I call this the "Level Neutral Dungeon Approach." Basically there will be a room description that will be the same for any adventuring party but below this a list of encounters. with treasure, that will match the level of the Party.
The Devil will be, of course, in the details, and I'm still working it out right now. Feedback is therefore much appreciated, reader!
The real challenge as I see it is to not let the dungeon map and encounters become too generic, and to ensure that story flow is kept. As an example, if the players are to visit an ancient barrow that is a reputed haunt of the undead--if they decide to visit it at 1st level, there will of course be skeletons and zombies and similar monsters. But let us say they decide not to go there until much later in the saga--any map I had designed for 1st level players will be useless at that point. With a "Level Neutral Dungeon" key, I have stats for undead monsters much more commensurate with the level of the party when they finally do arrive...mid level parties might encounter wights where a higher level party would meet a vampire.
Now there will still be some areas clearly marked "Don't Come here Till You Can Kick Some Ass", but only two, and part of the mounting tension of the campaign will be players getting to a place where they feel ready to brave the ultimate lair.  But for the most part, a DM running this book will have at his or her fingertips at all times the preparation for any course of action the players may choose.
There will also be XP awards for "Quest Objectives", so that sessions that involve mostly role playing can help level up characters as much as dungeoneering.
The campaign is a locale within my larger, private world of Rysanthis--it will include world setting material such as holidays, customs, culture, and calendar, as well as major myths and known legend. However, this will be inserted in such a way as to either be of easy use to the DM or set aside in favor of his or her preferred setting. If the campaign setting is well received, I may begin work on an atlas of Rysanthis as a published setting.
The Rysanthian setting is one I invented about six years ago and have been playing with ever since. I originally created it as a realm to introduce my kids, then 11 and 12, to fantasy gaming. It was also to be the setting for some stories I began to write but did not and work intervened, alas.
Some Rysanthian differences are race, culture, and magic. In Rysanthis as I envisioned it, I created my own races and did not use any Tolkienish patterns. I was inspired by a little of everything from Tekumel to Sci Fi and sword and sandal flicks, not to mention my own readings in myth, magick, and lore. In Secrets of the Mistwater, since most will be coming from a D&D or LOTR fantasy background, I make exception so that the campaign will be compatible with D&D. I did this with my AD&D campaign that the Miswater locale was originally played by, but added the caveat that in Rysanthis is that magic comes from a source which only the Faery races can use and not be corrupted. All magic use by humans is considered "Dark Arts" and is Dragon Magic. leading to evil alignment. But the Elves have a different psyche and spiritual relationship to Illuvion, the central Deity of the Rysanthian setting, and so can use magic without being turned to the dark side and falling under the "Dragonspell".
So, in this setting, a party would have clerics or warriors/paladins of Illuvion and his Temple but no human magic users.  However, I do plan to make this optional and set up the module so that straight D&D can be played to one's content.
And what of the themes of the Mistwater campaign? I can promise lots of adventure, perfected by having run a very skilled group of players through this campaign. There is a deposed King who has gone missing with an heir who lurks somewhere within the environs of the Mistwater, a great fresh water lake with many ancient secrets. There is an ancient elven ruin unashamedly based upon Tolkien's Menegroth with plenty of peril and gold to whet the appetites of any party of adventurers. There is intrigue and betrayal within the Temple of Illuvion, the subterfuge of the Dragon Cultists, the oppression of the people by the tyranny of a despotic Overlord and his evil sorceress Queen. There are many ancient relics whose magic will tip the balance of power. There is a mysterious and forbidden isle where the forgotten past of Rysanthis is revealed. Encounters with angels and avatars, the testing of the moral fiber of any lawful party (the setting is geared towards lawful or neutral groups), visions and stronghold building--I have aimed at this setting having it all!
I have a great deal of material already written and will be finishing it up by the Fall I hope.
And as usual, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Book Review and Author Interview: Sally K. Ito's The Prison Blade

 The Mazes have been quiet of late, but there's no better way to get the quill flowing again than for me to introduce the first book in a fantastic swords and swords series that is well underway by an author I feel very privileged to know!

Sally K. Ito is a librarian in Central Oklahoma who self-published her debut book The Prison Blade in October of last year. The Prison Blade is the first tale in a series she is writing entitled Shadows and Light.

I was very pleased to receive a print copy of her novel and I truly enjoyed reading it. I am happy to recommend it to readers of this blog as well as travelers in the various gaming forums I frequent, because while just about anyone who loves swords and sorcery will probably enjoy the Prison Blade, it will resonate especially with the old school gaming community since Ms. Ito is a life long D&D player who has played the game in it's earliest editions and traces of the aura of the gaming table are quite discernible in the Prison Blade.

The Prison Blade opens with a young princess and her brother excusing themselves from wedding festivities in the Palace of Verindii to enter a forbidden reliquary in the vaults where powerful and dangerous magic relics are stored in safekeeping. Orielle and her younger brother Kye, a boy with innate talent as a mage, are captivated by the legendary artifacts they find, but by none so much as the Prison Blade, a mysterious sword sealed by spell craft in an ornate but ominous scabbard. The two know the legend of the Prison Blade; how one of their ancestors saved the realms from devastation by imprisoning within the sword the spirit of a being half mortal, half divine, named Everie. Oreille is compelled irresistibly to draw the sword; having some magical talents herself she overcomes the locking rune on the scabbard and looses the Prison Blade, just to have a look. Curiosity proves perilous indeed as the demi-god attains a measure of freedom and also power over the young princess.

The book moves from this scene into the events of the life of Orielle many years after her fateful choice, laying the foundation for the series of catalysts that will unfold to determine both her destiny and the destiny of her kingdom, and whether the Light can outshine the Shadows or the old, dark gods instead prevail. One of the most fascinating and original elements of the Prison Blade is the unique symbiotic relationship between Everie and Orielle through the magic of the blade, and how Kye's enchantments have created an uneasy balance between the young woman Orielle's will and the greedy and destructive will of Everie. Since this drama and the unfolding nature of those enchantments form a large part of the plot I will not spoil enjoyment of it for the reader and will simply state that it is one of the most intriguing and original concepts for a magic swords that I have ever seen, making matters like the soul and the strength of the human spirit in resisting evil real themes in the Prison Blade.

Ms. Ito has joined us to talk about her book and answer some questions about this great series. Her answers and comments are italicized.

Image of K. Ito
Sally K. Ito

Tell us about your novel. What sort of stories and characters can a reader expect in the
Shadows and Light series?

It's sword and sorcery, full of epic battles and struggles of good and evil, and also some
fun and silliness. It's very character driven while being largely plot-based. I like to
throw challenges in my characters' paths and see what they'll do, so a lot of the story
highlights their personalities, and draws a clearer picture of each character while the
story keeps moving and the plot unfolds.

Tell us about Orielle, the Mad Lady of Verindii, your conflicted protagonist.

I think some people who like strong female leads my be disappointed with her at first.
She does begin the book considering herself powerless. She thinks of herself as Everie's
pawn and expects her brothers to take care of her, not much for girl power beyond
But that's really what the story's about. Orielle is in a nearly impossible position. She
is outmatched by nearly everyone around her, and it's only when she has to make a choice
that she realizes she can, and she finally finds the strength that is hers.

The book's title comes from the magical sword which is the catalyst of the epic events
that unfold in Orielle's life and provides to the reader an extremely compelling character
in the personality of the soul within the blade. Tell us about the Prison Blade and
Everie, its inhabitant.

Everie is shown to be evil from the beginning of the story. His plan was to steal Orielle's
body and live again, and it wasn't because of any kindness on his part that she was
Yet it's easy to forget he is a villain. He's Orielle's constant companion, and, in a way,
her only friend. He is elegant, attractive, and even helpful from time to time, and
Orielle struggles to remind herself that he cannot be trusted and that the power he
sometimes uses to protect her could just as easily destroy her.
His goals are unclear and his indifference to the suffering of others obvious, but the
past he hides so carefully may hold more than just the history of a monster.

The Prison Blade imprisons Orielle in a different way than it does Everie, doesn't it?

They are both trapped by the enchantment that binds Everie's soul to Orielle's body.
It is a new life for Everie, a step along the road of immortality.  It was not supposed to
be a trap. But he never intended to have the company of the original soul of any body he
posessed.  Everie is caught with Orielle in her body and forced to look at the world
through her eyes, an experience he doesn't at all appreciate.

For Orielle the prison is far more extensive. Her thoughts and feelings are all exposed to
him. She knows no peace or privacy. After so much time with him she doesn't even know who
she is alone. She has never had a real life or friendships. Everie is the stronger, and he
makes all the choices for the body they share.

You wrote the Prison Blade over many years--tell us about your writing process.

I actually started it ten years ago. At first I wrote simply for fun. I sent the story
chapter by chapter to a friend just because she enjoyed it, but when I finished I realized
I really had a fun story here and gave it to others to read.

I have changed things extensively due to the commentary of others. I'm not naturally a
writer, just a storyteller, and it took a lot of criticism to get it into a proper

I am very lucky to have a family that was interested in assisting in the process. I have
had help with all sorts of editing--I think my sister is one of the best editors ever if
you can manage not to be sensitive.

I think I'm pretty good about not taking things personally. I just want to make the story
better.  I doubt more than a third of it is actually the original writing.

Your writing style is more narritive and storytelling based than descriptive, isn't it?

It is. And I really feel more like a storyteller than a writer. For me it's not about the
words and the art of writing. I can appreciate beautiful writing and clever word use, but
I write to let my characters live and to get my story told. I have a habit of skipping
through books I've read before, looking for the good parts, the exciting bits and the
entertaining conversations, and that's basically what I've written, a good parts
version--or at least I hope so.

How much of your D&D gaming comes out in your writing?

I've been tempted to call my book gamer fantasy. I really feel like my world could just be
a big RPG. I use the flashy magic everybody loves, and the enchanted weapons, and even the
same sort of epic monsters you might run across gaming

I love the setting. The city of Torindii and the manner and customs of Orielle's time and space very much evoke the Renaissance cities. And yet the book has such a definite flavor of Japanese mythology in it as well. I was impressed at how neatly you blended these.

Torindii does feel Italian; I'm glad you noticed that. Italy is really the core of the
high renasance for me, and I wanted to have the feeling of that sort of sophistication for
the capital, but I do see what you mean about the Japanese elements as well. The Japanese
wasn't really intentional, except that I lived in Japan and was watching lots of anime
when I wrote the rough draft.

I like the speed of anime and manga and picked that up intentionally, but looking back I
can see that my characters, especially my villains, have a Japanese edge. There're a lot
of pride and loyalty issues that I might have dealt with a little differently if I had
never had that exposure.

I think it makes my book a little more unique, with just a slightly different flavor from
most sword and sorcery fantasy.

You don't spare readers when it comes to showing the dark. Is that why you call your
series Shadows and Light?

Sort of. I was really thinking of Orielle living constantly surrounded by both shadows and
light and also of Everie's sort of fluctuating loyalties.

I think the horror has to be there though because I want the conflict to be real. I want
readers to understand that this is a fight that has to be won because the alternative is
unthinkable. I also want the danger to be clear. There is a very real chance for
failure--and honestly, one of my biggest struggles is giving my heroes a fighting chance.

How much of a part do the gods and goddesses play in the tale?

Well, Everie is the son of a dark god, as is the Nameless One, but their father does not
activly appear in the story.
But there are prophecies and destinies and once I even have Lyaru appeal to and recieve
help from a goddess.
I plan to involve them more, but at the same time, I really think more Greek gods than
all-powerful gods, and in the end the story is a human struggle.

When will your second book be ready for readers and what is the title?

I plan to release the next book this summer. I'm still working on the title--for some
reason, for me, that's one of the hardest parts.

Tell us how to buy your book.

It is available on Amazon as both a paperback and an e-book. It is also available from the
Apple store and Barnes and Noble. I have a website at where you can
find some extra content and a few other works I have in progress.

Ms. Ito, thanks so much for taking the time to talk about your novel!

I would like to add as a final note that the printed copies of Ms. Ito's book are very sturdy with a beautiful glossy finish on a cover decorated by a very simple but beautiful original illustration of the Prison Blade. It's book store quality and at very affordable price.  I wholeheartedly recommend this great tale!


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Greetings friends, gamers and webtravelers. I always have the best of intentions in getting the Mazes up and going again but life has been busy of late.

I do have some content to upload and will try to do so after tax season.

We have enjoyed a very long campaign with a very eclectic gaming group for the last nine months or so, and I say eclectic because it has a diverse mix of game experience and ages. Our youngest player is nine, we have a preteen boy, a teen aged girl, and several middle aged folks.  So it has been very interesting from that vantage.

It has also been loads of fun and I have been working for over a year now on the material in the hopes I can soon offer a simple set of rules and a campaign module.

Now I'm kind of hungry to play some Tekumel!

A keeper for me from this campaign is an innovation I introduced to deliver myself from the headaches DM's face sometimes in mediating party relations, decision making and treasure sharing: The Thane.

The Thane is basically the party Caller for those who know what that is, as well as the official party leader and final arbiter of party decisions and treasure distribution. In the setting, it is a warrior culture and the Thane can be challenged only under four conditions that must all take place:

1. By right of arms in a non-lethal duel, though deaths can occur accidentally.

2.Only if the Challenger has at least half of the party's support.

3. The duel can only be fought at the beginning of each of the four major seasonal festivals.

4. It is nonmagical. Wizards must have a stand in.

With the Thane protocol in place, I am effectively removed from all party squabbles, any people not happy with leadership must contend for it and have some support, and if trouble does arise, it is settled in a game scenario during festival.

Drawbacks are obvious, but this has eliminated disputes over magic items and treasure in our games. It has also eliminated endless dithering over choices and path decisions. Liberty is given at times under certain conditions to not follow the Thane's edicts but you cannot try to sway others.

Give it a try if you are having problems in this area (and all groups see this from time to time, it's only human!)

Peace and good games.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

New Dungeon content coming soon...The Overlords of the Sunken Temple!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: A Coffee Table Art Book You can Use For D&D

While Christmas shopping in  a bookstore  yesterday I happened upon a very remarkable book in the young reader's section, a book entitled simply, "Fantasy; An Artist's Realm"  written and illustrated by Ben Boos in 2010 and published by Candlewick Press. You can see the very striking image it has on the 9 x 12 embossed  hardcover; that caused me to pick it up and flip through it, then read through it with interest. I managed to put it back on the shelf but when by chance my son and I returned to the same store in the evening I couldn't pass on it as it seemed a tool for any DM or the go-to book for any group  with younger players or for introducing new players.

According the credits inside, the author did art for best selling video games whose titles are not specified. I am assuming it was conceptual art since every single one of  the book's 83 pages are covered with beautiful, top quality fantasy painting illustrations by a highly skilled and trained artist.  Monsters, arms and armor, magic items, and character types are all beautifully rendered and explained textually in such a way that if a new player at your game was unfamiliar with, say, the difference between chainmail and scale mail,  or, what a hobgoblin looks like, you could just hand them the book.

 The jewel of the illustrative collection of the book are the opening pages, which look like  two ornate  banded wooden doors; when you fold each side outward you are looking at a six-panel map of the world of Perigord. It is not to scale but is instead painted in an illustrative manner, like a mural. The Map conforms perfectly to all the central features of any good D&D campaign map: small world setting, wilderness and ruins areas, several fortresses and villages, and a teeming metropolis called the City of Galliene, complete with a Thieves Quarter, a bay gated by two shining pillars, and an army of Paladins.

Perigord provides a perfect ready start campaign setting, though you would need to flesh it out considerably. Younger players would probably be satisfied with it as is for an adventure environ. The text of the book reads almost like a Marco Polo style account furnished to people who might visit the realms, giving plenty of seed ideas to any DM or players for a campaign, and the beauty of is it that every different campaign would probably grow totally differently, because there's just enough information for a common starting place but enough empty spaces to fill with homebrew material.

It becomes quickly  obvious  to an old school games reader that the author has played Dungeons and Dragons; the character types depicted and explained in the book are the basic prototype classes from OD&D/AD&D; paladins, fighters, clerics, magic users, druids, and thieves. Think of the old "Gnomes" art books (if you're familiar with them) but about character classes and other fantastic creatures besides gnomes.

Elves and faeries, as well as Dwarves, are mentioned...but no Halflings. There are some beautiful paintings of Dwarven weapon and jewelry craft, as well as of the named magical Relic Swords of the Paladin Orders.  There is a Minotaur race that shows the author's video game parentage, as does as a City of the Dead in Perigord named...what else..the Necropolis...and populated by intelligent and semi-civilized Undead. 

There are dozens of locales on the Map which could be adventure sites that would entertain a gaming group for months…ruins and labyrinths and such. Hobgoblins are to Perigord what Orcs are to Middle earth and there is some very interesting material detailing Hobgoblin culture, society, arms and armor, and racial variations. Giants feature as a very common dilemma for the realms, either as impetuous and troublesome  neighbors to keep pacified by any means possible or else as nearly unbeatable foes to try and defend against when they become angry. There is an entire bestiary of faery and fell races to furnish any curious mind with the basics of such beings and their relationship to the game. The Thieves Guild includes an order of female rogues known as the Shadowmaidens who serve the kings of Galliene as spies and burglars of enemies. There is a city on a hill accessible only by a secret mountain entrance…a city  known as Skellig where nearly all magic users go to learn their art or gather lore. There are many such potential campaign nuggets scattered all throughout the text. One neat gem is the depiction of a dark tower outisde the Necropolis called mysteriously the Tower of Seryu....throughout the book there are a few cryptic allusions to the Tower and a growing dark power emanating from it but no hard data--meaning you, the DM can fit the Tower and the name Seryu into your game in a wholly original manner. 

In fact, the entire book feels and reads like a role playing game…but without any rules. The setting, with its maps, grimoires, and bestiaries, can be plugged right into any D&D system old or new in about 20 minutes. And I intend to do just that. I know players who enjoy high fantasy will be thrilled... picture sitting in a tavern with a Minotaur on one side of you and an dwarf on the other, nonchalantly drinking together. In Perigord, a Minotaur in a tavern will stand out--he will be noticed and probably inspire some uneasiness in most--but he will not be an entirely strange sight in the cities of men. That  fact gives you an idea of the flavor of the setting. The tree palace shown on the cover is of course an Elven architecture.

I just wanted to let D&D players know about this treasure--even with no relation to the game it would be a very great read to give as a gift to a younger reader who likes art and has an imagination. If nothing else, you will pull ideas from it and enjoy the art. One of my favorite illustrations inside is a two page panel of a Paladin dueling a demon armed with a wicked vorpal sword. Some of the art looks like very realistic acrylic or water color painting and other parts look like colored medieval woodcuts, like the demon vs. the Paladin. There is a two panel realistic painting of a sylvan healing woman playing her guitar by a pond or stream that is very reminiscent of the work of John William Waterhouse.  . And the detailed border work the artist comes up with looks like the metal works adorning old illuminated manuscripts or carvings bedecking the treasure items of an ancient king. They are painted in a manner that almost looks 3-D, real illusions.

There is even a two panel map with text of a maga-dungeon in the form of an example of the Minotaur subterranean cities!

I scoured the Internet for images of the book's interior and couldn't find any but I did find an old blog apparently published by the author/illustrator. It's here:

Hopefully you can find this tome and add it to your gaming shelf--it's a real keepsake.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

This brief update is to keep my blog from being deactivated for inactivity. However, I have been at the designing table and do plan to resume blogging again. Hope everyone is having good times!