Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Entering the Mazes

We enjoyed a great session of some 1st Edition AD&D goodness this past Saturday.

Since our scheduled DM announced he would be unable to run our normal game, yours truly DM'ed  from my Jennerak campaign material.

The four players rolled up 1st level characters which included a priestess of Bast the Cat Goddess named Aniya from the far lands of Kishtar, an elf magic user named Belarus, a gnome thief named Hoorstenfast, and a human fighter named Desmond .

 The characters met in the sea town of White Whelm. Things looked a bit bad when Aniya bristled at a town guard and drew her weapon which led to her and Desmond being arrested and hauled to the dungeons for a night.  Aniyas feigned insanity as a defense. They were  fined and Aniya was sentenced to a lashing. However, the torturer would not actually whip her but lashed the stones instead and bid her cry out as though in pain. They were released and sought lodging at the Sinful Centaur, where Belarus was busy gathering information and Hoorstenfast was planning on thieving from some drunken dwarves.

Belarus learned that the town had become more oppressive in recent years because it was tributary to the Barony of Kor and Baron Kor had had a change of personality after fighting in the Holy Wars in the East. Kor, whose banner is a black lion, has become somewhat of a despot now, and it has trickled down to his environs and their local governments. Moreover, he has been engaged in skirmishes with the elves on the Borderlands and his men have become hostile towards any elves in his lands as possible spies of the forest Kingdom. Belarus met an elf spy named Erretas in the Sinful Centaur who warned him to beware the shields of the Black Lion.

Hoorstenfast learned of a great sea monster named Drasilisk who demanded tribute in flesh or wealth from all who crossed into his waters--the Dwarves escaped by doing obeisance to Drasilisk and feeding him orc prisoners they had aboard the vessel they had chartered.

Belarus also inquired as to the location of Shamrann, a powerful wage whom he had heard tale of in other places. Erretas told him where to find the mage.

The next morning, the party went down on the beach to a walled in cave opening which serves as the home and fortress of the wizard Shamrann. After some parleying with the bizarre Gort, the wizard's servant (an unidentifiable creature of unknown origin), they passed by the two Brass Golems guarding the cave and into the library/cave/laboratory of the preoccupied Shamrann.  They told Shamrann that they sought both employment and knowledge and so learned of the wizard's fixation upon the vanished Jennerak civilization, mostly due to his assertion that they had discovered the secret of immortality and might still be in existence somewhere.

Shamrann claimed to have traveled the planes (he had once possessed the Codex of the Infinite Planes) where he met a creature called the Speaker, who claimed to possess all knowledge of all things in time and space past, present and future. On his planar travels he had also warred with a demon and freed the creature Gort. The Speaker said that the Jennerak had found immortality and that Shamrann might have it if he were to unbury their lost relics and books.

So Shamrann hired the party to travel to the Lonely Coast and enter---The Forbidden Mazes of the Jennerak.  He outfitted them and provided a vessel but asked for 10% of any monetary treasure found to fund his research and any Jennerak relics or writings. They set sail the following morning. Shamrann sent some goodies with them--five potions of healing and two scrolls--Protection from Undead and Protection from Shapechangers.

Upon arriving at the Lonely Coast a day, a night and a day later and using a map  provided by Shamrann, the found an old hill whose summit seemed to show artifices of human or Jennerak hands. A rampart led up to the hill which might have been an old road.  Atop the hill, they could see that all of the hills in this wasteland of grasslands and gnarled trees lacked any discernible peaks except the summit they had gained. They also found a wall built into the hill with two stone doors. And they found the Guardian…the Guardian was a fat tatooed bald man wearing a diaper like loin cloth and living in a wooden tub at the dungeon entrance.  He was eating when they found him, and he looked very happy to see new faces.

The Guardian informed the party that the dungeon doors could only be opened by means of a magic password that he alone knew. He would open the doors if they would play his game. His game was that they must face him as he faced them (stripped to loin cloths and with their weapons at a distance by a rock) , seated indian style and answer a riddle put to them. They got two tries--if they won, they might pass unmolested into the Mazes of the Jennerak. They asked "What if we lose?" "You end up like them behind that rock," he replied, pointing to a boulder. Upon looking behind the rock, the party found a pile of ancient and not so ancient bones of various races. When asked if anyone ever beat him, he said yes…"one fellow did a few years back. But that one never returned from the Mazes!" upon which saying he laughed with gusto. He also told them they must play the game upon exiting the dungeon as well.

The party agreed, not having much choice and guessing the strange man was far more than he seemed to be. Much to his consternation, they unraveled his riddle and were admitted. He promised them, however, that the riddle would be much harder next time.

The odd being leaned close to the wall and whispered the magic word, and true to his words, the doors opened. However, as the party passed in, they closed fast shut behind them!

Upon getting torches and a lantern glowing, they passed into a hall filled with ornate pillars and statues of beatific looking men and women they presumed to be the Jennerak. They bore inscriptions in ancient Jennerak (which some party members took as a language when creating their characters) declaring praises to an unknown but apparently good deity called "He of the Light".  They were investigating the hall and its doors and archways as well as for any secret doors when Desmond the fighter set his lantern down in front of an open doorway.

A spear came hurling out of the shadows beyond and struck him, doing three points of damage.  The party was suddenly beset by a chorus of howls and screeches as bestial naked humanoids covered in long hair and sporting gigantic bulbous white eyes with no pupils burst into the hall from two archways. There were six in all--three of them beset Desmond at the archway and three of them attacked the remainder of the party inside the hall. The beast men had giant misshapen ears and sharp claws but were intelligent enough to wield their spears efficiently as well.

The melee went badly for the party at first due to bad rolls but they rallied and managed to defeat the beast men, although Belarus, the elf magic user, who had only 4 hit points to begin with, got down to two and it was touch and go.  The party wiped their swords on the dead aberrations but were reminded of the value of stealth and marching order--mages should stick behind other classes.  The party then heard footsteps running away in the next chamber and rushed into an even larger room that had several door-less exits and some kind of channel/reservoir filled with water apparently pumped up from below. A dark figure disappeared with a splash before they could catch up with it.  No one wanted to dive in after it. The most notable feature in the room was a giant statue --perhaps "He of the Light"--knocked off its pedestal and replaced with a small, crude demonic four armed  and cyclopean Baboon image. Desmond quite rashly kicked the statue from its place but nothing happened.

The party retreated back to the first hall and searched an adjacent chamber where some relics were found in locked chests. Hoorstenfast picked a lock on one chest and they found an old scroll written in very corrupted Jennerak and quite younger than the other goods wherein someone had apparently detailed the demise of the locale.  It could not be completely deciphered even by those who read Jennerak. It was accompanied by a map of a vast underground warren--a real "mega-dungeon". There was also some monetary and precious stone treasure as well as a long sword of old Jennerak make which seems to be magical if it's lack of aging and lightness are of any signifigance. Desmond was the only character who could wield it so he naturally fell heir to it.

And here we concluded the adventure until next time. As DM, I got to roleplay several memorable parts, my favorites being a drunken dwarf, the A.D.D. Shamrann, the Guardian, and Erettas the elf spy. The players role played well and we had a great time. My son played and took a liking to his character which was really a spur of the moment quick roll up.

I indulged my fascination with the Jennerak concept by using the actual Forbidden Mazes map from the movie of the namesake of my blog and many of my dungeons....

Thought I'd share it with you. And ask a question--what do you as a DM do when a thief fails to pick a lock but then party members smash the lock, rendering the lock picking a moot point anyway?

Friday, November 11, 2011

What I'm Playing Now

We have begun a 1st Edition AD&D campaign largely based upon Greyhawk but allowing DM personal setting material to be added. Rotating DM's every 5-7 sessions and will be doing some of the older modules as we have players who have never done early TSR. The game is every other Saturday and I am playing an elven fighter.

Omnigon is an 80's science fiction game I picked it up on a clearance shelf at a game store, intending to cannibalize it for a post apocalyptic game I've been wanting to run. The setting looked cheesy but I figured, I'll dump that. Then I got to reading it and realized it was actually a very good setting with mechanics very like the old Gamma World or Basic D&D.  It's cool. No regular campaign planned as yet, just the occasional game. We are playing this Sunday.

By the way, having been digesting the Omnigon rules, I am impressed and will be writing a full review later next week.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A New Wild West Blog

I was glad to note that one of my fellow gamers in the OKC Metro area has a new Wild West gaming blog up and going.

 Brent has a few good posts up already and showcases some of his homemade Western paper miniatures and scenery which are certainly commercial quality.

Brent joined our players for a few very memorable fantasy gaming sessions in a home brew setting I used to host. He is a highly entertaining and innovative player and has some great accents. More recently he began a Boot Hill campaign in a neighboring city which, alas, either work schedules, limited gas funds, or my other games have left me out of attending yet. But I'll bet he's one of the best GM's around.

Check out his blog and his artwork and please encourage him to keep blogging!

Wild West RPGS

E-Book Review "The New Death and Others" by James Hutchings


            Imagine, if you will, that Queen Scheherazade, that imperiled narrator of the Tales of the Arabian Nights, had married Hans Christian Anderson and  that their child had grown up listening to a harvest of new stories co-authored by his or her illustrious  parents. Then imagine that the child's tutors had been Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft,…with a few lessons from Stephen King… and Woody Allen as an eccentric uncle.  Finally, allow that this child has a precocious personality and has grown up to be a philosopher as well as a storyteller and poet. Now, if you were to ponder what sort of fiction such a prodigy might weave,  you might have an approximation of the type of delightful smorgasbord to be sampled in James Hutchings e-anthology  The New Death and Others.

                Very near to a hundred pages, New Death is filled with a variety of poetry, flash fiction, and short stories which possess a mingling of eloquence, nerve and depth that will convince you immediately  that these are children whom Hutchings has nurtured over the period of a lifetime, giving them printed life now in prose and poetry that is as well crafted and as stylized as any I have ever read.

                 I'm not a professional editor or reviewer--however, as a lifelong reader and lover of literature, and having had a few writing courses, I know good writing when I see it, and Hutching delivers this. His writing is strong, fluid, and filled with quiet energy and lucid reflection that renders highly palatable reading.

                Quite aside from craft, though, it is the contents of the tales themselves which make The New Death  original and compelling.

                Hutchings' influences will be recognizable by fans of fantasy and horror genres.   Several  of his poems  are direct homage to the works of Lovecraft  and  Howard,   clever and abbreviated retellings of favorite stories delivered  in  measured , rhyming verse. I have not included any sampling of these poems here but at the web link which concludes this review you can read several gems. It's no easy matter to write rhyming poetry that  doesn't  come across as trite or contrived but Hutchings knows his meter and the  value of the well chosen word and the results  are pleasant and absorbing lines which faithfully distill the ingredients of the  original stories. 
                  Yet for each of these tributes, there are numerous other poems, short stories, and flash fiction pieces that showcase Hutching's  individual vision  and originality as a writer,  ranging from loosely connected, fairy tale styled pieces highlighting Telelee, a fantasy city/world of the author's creation, to excerpts of modern horror fiction,  to flash fiction bits containing brief but  wry and insightful commentary on modern cultural trends and their attendant human inconsistencies ,  hypocrisies and absurdities.  Consider this bit , entitled "Compatibility":

Once upon a time there was a man who only desired to make love in the back yard, in a wading pool filled with red wine.
He went on the internet looking for love, but found only rejection, until someone directed him to a site specifically for singles with wading pool/back yard/wine fetishes.
There he met a woman who shared his desires. They chatted online, spoke on the phone, and at last agreed to meet.
The man was very excited. He began telling the woman how he would slowly inflate the wading pool, and then equally slowly fill it with bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon.
"Wait," said the woman. "Isn't Cabernet Sauvignon a red wine?"
"Yeah. So?" said the man.
"Oh. I probably should've said. I only want to make love in someone's back yard in a wading pool filled with white wine."
"Get away from me, pervert," said the man.

Good stuff. Then there is the bit entitled  "A Date With Destiny", which uses the foibles of Internet personals dating to underscore an important life truth:

Once upon a time there was a man who had a date with Destiny. He dressed in his best clothes, made sure to put on deodorant and aftershave, and masturbated beforehand, so that he would not be led into error by lust. At the appointed time and place he presented himself, flowers in hand.
Alas, he had never met her in person, but had arranged the date through meetallegoricalfigures.com. And username hotdestinyfate69 was not Destiny at all, but Ambition, who had used Destiny's photo to get more messages. She meant to explain this before meeting him, but always decided to do it later.
So Ambition turned up, presenting herself as Destiny. She agreed with everything the man said, and the man found her delightful. In truth the man liked the idea of going out with Destiny, but probably would have found Destiny herself a bit bossy. Ambition and the man stayed together, and lived happily ever after.

Then there are scatterings of  shorter  pen pricks delivering social or political satire, like "Auto-Pope" :

In the year 20__ the College of Cardinals elected the first robot Pope.
They chose it out of desperation. All the other candidates had something horribly wrong with them. Some were child abusers. Others were members of the Mafia. Still others were women.
Sadly it exploded when someone asked it whether married gay couples should get divorced.

                The poetry  and flash fiction in New Death is a great bonus to the price of admission, but  for me the  feature attraction is Hutchings' collection of short stories,  tightly written narratives containing unique characters, evocative settings, and imagery certain to haunt you long after reading.  The Telelee stories are whimsical flights of fancy delivered in the moralistic  flavor of the Tales of the Arabian nights and the Sinbad stories but also evincing something of Lord Dunsany's  Gods of Pegana.  My favorite of these is "How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name", a narrative about an overly ambitious sorceress named Abi-Simti who, aside from sacrificing one of her feet for a cloven hoof in order to gain magical knowledge, is willing to make a compact with the infernal spirits of the underworld themselves in exchange for such arcane lore. Part of her terrible plan involves nefarious designs upon the Cats of the mystical city of Telelee, which seems to lie in the land of the same name.

                Here is a sample of Hutchings narrative from the tale's opening:

                "Death stalked the cats of Telelee.
                Throughout the city there was much hiding under couches, and a yowling fear of shadows who came in the night. These shadows gathered squint-eyed kittens and cats trembling with age. Starving alley cats like leather bags filled with bones and pampered house-cats more spherical than cat-shaped, alike were taken. The shadows asked not whether a cat was tom or queen. White cats and black, tabby and orange, grey and tortoiseshell, cats that looked like their owners and cats that looked like nothing but cats, the shadows hungered for all."

                 Abi-Simti is quite a character, and she establishes her ruthlessness by essentially kidnapping the Cats of Telelee and imprisoning them on an isle within the parts of a giant mechanical harp which makes its "music" by pricking or pinching variously pitched cats like keys in a ghoulish piano:

                "First she brought forth creatures of a far star, who looked like shadows, but had substance, and who obeyed her commands, though not willingly. She bade these creatures to go forth, and gather the cats of Telelee. This they did, with silent and terrifying efficiency.
                Having dismissed the shadows, Abi-simti then found with her arts an island that had no name, and no-one living there. She summoned a djinn of the air to carry her there, along with her feline captives. There she bound spirits of the water as her slaves. They worked day and night for many months. Nigh every tree on the island was felled, the rocks in the streams were cut and shaped, and even the sand on the beach was fused into glass. At the end of this time, there stood a huge harp. It was higher than three elephants standing one atop the other, and had hundreds of strings. There were metal fingers to pluck the strings, hundreds of fingers for hundreds of strings, so that the harp seemed to be caressed by a centipede of prodigious size.
But the strangest part of this harp was the music it made. For the strings brought forth no sound. Instead, when the mechanism was operated correctly, the metal fingers would pluck a string. This plucking would cause cogs to turn wheels and wheels to turn cogs, and at last a lever would fall. At the end of this lever was a nail, and at the end of the nail was a cat, which would yowl in pain. Abi-simti had arranged the cats so that the cry of each one was the exact pitch that the corresponding string should have made."

                As an aside, I should mention that cats and insights about the nature of cats are sprinkled throughout the anthology, and for the life of me I cannot surmise from them whether Hutchings likes or dislikes them but lest cat lovers be  needlessly offended, I should say (without spoiling) that Abi-Simti is opposed in her plans by Artimesia, a clever white moggy cat with a black patch over one eye, and all does not end as one might fear. The ironic ending of "Isle of Cats" highlights that ambition without moral restraint can be not only unrewarding but downright dangerous.

                Some of the Telelee yarns could be read out loud to children. I plan on reading "How The Isle of Cats Got Its Name"  to my young nephew and I feel it would make a good illustrated children's book in its own right. But like the Arabian tales or the stories of Hans Christian Anderson, even the tales which children would enjoy are wrought with themes  substantive and enjoyable to adults as well.  Like Aesop's fables, they have a "moral of the story" but instead of spelling this out Hutchings lets the tale itself deliver the moral to the thoughftul reader . Forget the morals though…the Telelee myths are filled with imaginative scenery and chimeras that evoke  wonder… one story features a woman who is carried each day by white apes up a perilous stair to a scriptorium high in a tower where she copies ancient manuscripts and then parachutes down, falling in love one day with a shepherd she spies from the escarpments.

                There are far more than the Telelee stories though. Another jewel is a story about a scholar from the fabled and fantastic city of Mayajat who goes on a quest to break a lunar spell which holds him bound, finding himself passing through a strange horror called the Ziggurat and winding up at a convocation of monsters. Then there is the one about a demoness who is charged with inventing  punishments in hell and, against her darker nature  and the infernal laws, ends up falling in love with an incubus assistant, the affair ending up, as so many love trysts do, complicated and filled with bitter irony. Yet another tale, one of my favorites and one which I believe would make a good basis for a horror film short,  is Todd, a terrifying yarn about a little boy who descends into the darkness of the city's drain tunnels to hold court with what might be an infernal supernatural presence or only the demented projections of the tale's narrator, Todd's friend, who follows him into the tunnels and watches him from afar. Todd is what you might get if you blended the movies Stand by Me  with The River's Edge and a dash of It…yet the story is uniquely Hutchings'. I can't write this review without including a sample from it:

One big city feature we had was a world-class system of storm-water drains. We weren't supposed to go down there. Rain could come without warning, and you'd be drowned. It totally happened to a kid who used to go to our school. Just like a kid at our school had sex with the art teacher after the prom, and a kid got caught pulling himself in the bathroom. Maybe it was all the same kid. A kid who went to every school, leaving each time he had sex with the art teacher and got caught pulling himself in the bathroom thinking about it, finally drowning himself in despair after running out of schools. A tragic hero of our times.
At the time we did believe in this drowned kid. But we went down there anyway, to explore, and smoke, and talk about the things that being in a tunnel under the ground made boys think of in those days. A lot of the time that was either nuclear war or Dungeons & Dragons (for those of you under about thirty-five, Dungeons & Dragons is like World of Warcraft played with pen and paper and dice instead of a computer). We talked about girls too, but that wasn't because of the storm water drains. We talked about girls everywhere, and I don't think anything we said was true.
Todd really took to the drains. He did something no one else did, which is go down by himself. ...like a troll in one of our games of Dungeons & Dragons, Todd went down there all the time. I don't think I could have gone in by myself. Not that anyone said he was brave. It just proved he was a freak.

Our narrator decides to follow Todd into the storm tunnels, following his torch light into terrain both spooky and vividly real to anyone who haunted such places as a youngster. A familiar modern urban setting takes on a macabre aspect as the narrator beholds strange and disturbing rites...

                The tale for which the anthology is named, The New Death, is a an ironic and amusing tale about the Grim Reaper and his alien counterpart--a very clever vehicle for contrasting two views of death and dying. You will enjoy this one. And if you came of age in the late seventies or early eighties, the whole collection will contain some very welcome scents of nostalgia as well as a lucid reminder that we don't live in that world anymore.

                It's very evident that years of hours of loving care went into crafting some of these tales. M.A.R. Barker, creator of the fantasy setting of the world of Tekumel,  wrote somewhere  that the Empire of the Petal Throne stories began to be written in his high school days but that Tekumel became more fully focused and developed much later in his life.  You get the sense in reading this anthology that these stories have been with Hutchings for a very long time, polished and smoothed over a period of years before he actually put them in print. Not one of his actual stories seems to have been a night's hacking at the keyboard but old wine in a new vessel.  I imagine that Telelee, even if it wasn't named such, is a place dreamt of by a much younger Hutchings when he was open to the spell that fairy tales and myths can weave upon people lucky enough to believe in them or at least wish they could be true.

                I  highly recommend that you obtain Hutching's e-book. It's a worthy purchase in the electronic age, since its cost is minimal and it can be bookmarked on your desktop for morning chuckles with coffee in hand or before bed time horror reading. It is loaded with hours of enjoyable reading and you will  revisit several tales.  It is available in ten different formats, including as a Kindle download. I'm only sorry there isn't a print copy available, but there is always Kinko's.

               I also recommend New Death as an example  of how e-books and online communities offer talented and creative people a relatively simple and inexpensive way to get their writing or artwork before an appreciative audience. The anthology is sure to offer ideas and inspiration to other hopeful authors and lead them to take the initiative and do the same thing Mr. Hutchings has done. I only hope they do it as well as he.

               The New Death  and Others can be obtained at Smashwords:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blogging Again!

Well, I miss blogging the Forbidden Mazes and due to big changes in life (namely that after 19 years of marriage I am single again...sigh) I've been without Internet but now that I am back online at home...if I can call this place that...I will be re-joining my brothers and sisters in arms in the blogosphere once more. Will get content up soon! Fight on!

Friday, September 9, 2011

More Artwork From My Son

My son Levi is shaping up to be quite the artist.

I am somewhat of a cartoonist and I gave him his initial lessons but he has a lot of native talent. Aside from me introducing him at a young age to fantasy stories and art, it's been his own path.

His work improved tremendously after taking some lessons from an illustrator friend of mine in Idaho. We moved out of state so the lesson ended but the few that he did get were very useful to Levi.

His art is reminiscent of that of William Blake; the figure in the corner was added as a hasty sketch simply to show scale.

This is my concept on Dragons, too. I like the serpentine dragons with the fanciful heads better than the Smaug trope. Something Levi is able to convey well in his monsters is the glimmer of intelligence in their visages. You can look at this Dragon and know he is cunning. 

You can see this in his other monster pic as well:

Good job son.

Suggestions for a proper name for the dragon? I'm thinking Giridax.

Anyone else?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Logan's Run--A Post Apocalyptic Setting...Sort Of.

When it comes to role playing games, fantasy and swords and sorcery is my cup of tea...the one exception being post apocalyptic themes.

The Book of Eli, the Planet of the Apes, Road warrior, etc....these are great stories and films and also, in my opinion, great settings for games.

Logans Run (1976) is one of those films that stuck in my consciousness as a kid. I was five years old when the movie was released and have vague memories of watching it with my parents. There were some notable scenes and concepts that stuck in my memory and I've always remembered it but never watched it again until this week.

I am glad I did.

This is a solid little film. It has some interesting sets, a plausible and frightening plot premise, very good acting, and the theme that has always interested me the most.....Man vs. the State.

It also has very sexy female lead who poses for some incredible shots during the film--but of course, that is not why I like it so much....

In a futuristic society, population is controlled in a vast domed city  by killing off everyone at 30 years of age. Your age is revealed to you by the Life Clocks which cause a crystal set within your palm to glow with an age-specific color. You don't have to work much--the city is controlled by servo-mechanisms that cater to your every pleasure and whim. The only police are called Sandmen--they are there to make sure every one submits to the policy of voluntary termination. When you are to be terminated, you go to a device called the Carousel--a select few are spared termination and are "Reborn" at the dictates of random determination.

The catch is that some people resist the policy.

These are called "Runners". Runners attempt to flee the city to the  near mythic world outside the domes. They are hunted down and killed by the Sandmen.

A Sandman named Logan Five is given an assignment to pretend to be a Runner and infiltrate the Runner underground system and find a legendary place called "Sanctuary" , the place of Refuge all Runners seek outside the Domes. He is accompanied by a female Runner named Jessica Six who seems to have feelings for him. Logan receives information that leads him to believe that the idea of being "Reborn" on the Carousel  may be a myth created by whoever it is that actually runs Society.  The movie tales off from there and I won't spoil it for you.

I will say that the world outside the domes is a world in ruins-- a world which is for all intents and purposes "post apocalyptic", although the cities were not destroyed by any stellar or thermonuclear disaster but were apparently simply abandoned, falling into ruins through simple neglect rather than any cataclysmic events. There are implications that ecological disasters occurred, notably shortages in animal food supplies due to unspecified environmental changes.

This would be an interesting premise for a role playing game, if not for an entire campaign then perhaps for a few sessions. I possess the boxed set of the Post Apoc game from the eighties called Aftermath which allows  the GM to choose from a variety of "Endtime" scenarios provided or to create his or her own. Logan's Run is a simple and uncomplicated possibility for such a setting.

If you have never seen the film, I heartily recommend it. It did not receive highly favorable reviews from mainstream critics but did receive numerous awards from science fiction communities, spawned a very short lived comic series, and a few seasons of a TV series by the same name.

My take: good stuff for entertainment purposes or for a good watch...and thought provoking as well. The best sci fi hits a little close to home and has shades of horror film...Logan's Run does this nicely.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Roll a D6

Well, the old blog lies forgotten and forsaken for the moment--a lot going on. People in our gaming group have moved away and we shall miss them but we are revamping and the games go on. Not much time for posting lately...but lots of big life changes, some I'd rather not deal with. But life never asks us if we want to deal with it, eh? Anyway, I will try to add some worthwhile content in the near future. Until then, Roll a D6.

I have used this mechanic for a long time, even before I knew it was a mechanic. If something bad (or good) is about to happen to a random party member, I say "Roll a d6." If its a good thing, highest roll gets it. A bad thing, lowest roll takes the hit. Like when you pass under the webs of a ginat spider and I want to see who the spider lands on. When it pounces.

A player hopefully gets real interested and real nervous when the DM says roll a d6. By the way, this parody is way better than the actual song which was just, well, annoying. 


Monday, July 11, 2011

Tales From the Arabian Nights: D&D Borrowings # 1

We've a local Half Price Books store nearby my home and I often go there and check out the nice and always changing collection of role playing stuff and board games. I saw a RuneQuest Boxed Set and Three Supplements this last time but was unable to buy!!! They do their Internet homework and it was priced accordingly.

However, I did find a paperback copy of the complete Tales from the Arabian Nights lavishly illustrated by one of my new favorite artists, H.J. Ford. I find the tales delightful. I think as a parent you couldn't go wrong if you limited your children's film viewing to weekends, only let them watch DVD's you have selected, and spend the rest of the time reading books like this to them! In this age of video games, Internet, movies and I-Phones, I don't think you're going to turn a kid onto these treasures of the past unless you do so from an early age, let them get a love for such things, and then let them find pop and tech culture. Okay, that's Dr. Spock stuff, onto gaming.

Aside from the great stories there are a lot of elements in here you could adapt for games and I will be blogging some of them.  So to start of with here is a magical item from one of the tales.

The Oracles of Douban

The Oracles of Douban are a large silver, jeweled bowl with a covered item in the bowl and a great leather bound tome whose cover is wrought with silver fastenings. The book will be found to be resting under the bowl.

If the covering is removed, to the horror of the finder there will be seen a severed head of an aged man, perfectly preserved by some enchantment and appearing as it did in life. It's eyes are closed.

This is the head of Douban the Physician. Douban was unjustly executed by a great King of the East who was falsely convinced by a jealous vizier that Douban meant to usurp his throne. The king had his trusted counselor  beheaded but the head spoke after hitting the floor and told the King that magic bound Douban's life to his Book of wisdom and that he would serve as the king's Oracle--many questions cold be asked from the book which the head of Douban would be bound to answer.

Much of Douban's tale was true.

What he did not tell the king was that there was a curse associated with the book and the King fell prey to it!

Whoever locates and possesses the Oracles of Douban will find that the Book is filled with small script covering an amazing array of topics. However, the information is of such a scholarly level and references such obscure names, places and facts that it would be impossible for anyone other than the most brilliant sage alive to even guess how to make sense of it...it represents a lifetime of Douban's esoteric research.

If you as a DM are fortunate enough to possess the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide by Gary Gygax, you have a ready made source of information as to the Sage material contained within the Book. The Book has two Minor Fields of Study and Four Special categories in Major Field. The normal percentage chances applied to Sages here applies as noted on page 31-32 of the DM's Guide. If you do not have the DMG, you can simply assign a percentage chance to the possibility of the Book containing references to the subject mater in question.

The book alone is worthless as a source of knowledge--the real treasures lie within Douban's incredible brain, and it is a wondrous fact that when the book is opened, the eyes of the head of Douban open as well and fasten themselves upon the holder of the book. The head will also speak and say "Ask Thy Question, Seeker of Knowledge. Douban Will Answer Thee."

The power of the Book and Head of Douban is that once every seven days, the possessor may ask a question pertaining to the Sage's knowledge and receive a true answer. The head will converse at length on the subject of the question and relay as much information as is asked. A powerful gift indeed and a gateway to many adventures if our heroes are inquiring of Douban as to places and people associated with ancient relics or lost kingdoms. The Oracles of Douban could become a regular feature of a campaign. The Book is  a very coveted item by those aware of it's purported existence.

The Head does not converse other than to answer it's appointed questions. unless, of course, the DM wishes it to...perhaps it cajoles or curses those who use it's powers! Perhaps he is a leering old man who makes inappropriate comments to the female Player Characters! Note that the Oracles do not act as an augury spell or divine the future--its uses are confined to actual subjects researched by Douban while he was alive. Asking a question like "Where in the realms is my old friend Mension Leaf?", for example, would be a useless question and Douban might make fun of the person who asks it.

In any event, Douban will truthfully answer all queries as a matter of the Physician's pride.

Nonetheless, Douban and his book are cursed, and every time the Oracles are consulted, a saving throw vs. Spells must be made by the character using them. Failure means that some terrible thing happens, as designed by the DM.

Enjoy Douban and his Book! Future Borrowings are to come.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Forbidden Mazes of the Jinnorak

An old school romp! Here is the scene from that loveable eighties anti-D&D flick where I plagiar...er, I mean, borrowed the title of my blog from! Have I ever played in games set up like the one in this film? Absolutely, and where do you think I got the idea as a thirteen or fourteen year old D&D addict? Enjoy!

Applying D&D Alignment to Historical Figures

Example being the best teacher, I decided to set forth a list of historical figures that seemed to fit neatly into D&D alignment categories.

As a lover of history and having some small education beyond high school in the subject, I certainly realize that popular conceptions of good and evil figures of history are largely subjective and not always historically sound.

I also realize that in real life, people are individuals and there is probably no such thing as a stratified code of alignments. Does good exist? I think it does. Does evil exist? I believe it to be so. But quantifying and defining them is not always so easy as one might wish.

 Good and evil are often in the eyes of the people as they judge history--which, as we have always heard, is written by the victors.

Nonetheless, this is a blog about role playing games and not philosophical questions and so we are mainly interested in the use of alignment in the game.

To this end, I submit these examples of some of the major alignments. Subcategories may be dealt with in a second post on the subject. I have avoided any modern historical figures so as to steer clear...as much as possible...from any religious, moral or political disagreements in the community.

So here we go. Let's start with extreme good and work our way down (or up, if you prefer) the spectrum...


Your personal opinion on the actual roots and causes of the US war Between the States notwithstanding, John Brown is, to my thinking, a good example of this alignment.  The Chaotic good character knows what he feels is ultimate good or truth---he also realizes that human laws are weak substitutes for this Ultimate Good, being made by corrupt officials influenced by power and money or people too afraid to act up in defense of righteousness. Thus while he does not especially go out of his way to break said laws, nor will he be constrained by them from doing his Moral Duty. The use of violence and arbitrary personal justice is perfectly acceptable in pursuance of that Duty...after all, the guilty deserve to be punished, other zealots need encouragement, and the undecided need to be shown an example. Chaos in and of itself is not  necessarily evil--it can be used to destroy corrupt or noneffective social orders. Guided by righteousness it is a powerful tool for good and only when society bases its laws upon this Ultimate good...which the fearful say is only misguided idealism and maybe even delusion...should those laws be obeyed.


Martin Luther caused quite a stir in his day. His tracts and pamphlets led to some very bloody peasant revolts and uprisings. Luther, however, condemned these revolts and always remained committed to upholding the ideal of civil and social law and obedience to rulers. He sought only to reform the ecclesiastical institutions of the Catholic Church. He appealed for help from earthly princes to protect him from the edicts of the Church. The Lawful Good character is just as motivated by ideas of good and righteousness as the Chaotic Good, but he is not radical, at least not with respect to obedience to Laws. Fighting for the Ultimate Good is noble action, but it must be governed by a body of agreed upon laws or even the divine order of an Emperor. No individual has the right to play Judge, jury and Executioner--once you choose to do so, the lawful good character will condemn your actions, even if you shared a Common cause or moral belief.


I am certain that many will disagree with my choice of William the Conqueror as an example of Neutral. It was difficult for me to think of a Neutral Alignment example from any period of history! Neutrality as noted here, however, is simply with regard to moral philosophy or ethical codes. The Harrying of the North was a rather ruthless campaign that can only be termed butchery and certainly evil from the viewpoint of the Saxons. And yet there was a real unification of England and many reforms that took place under his reign--William does seem to have tried to build up the Kingdom he ruled over in it's buildings and its laws.  I think in the end he was actuated not by any morally good or evil ethos but by a naked pragmatism that allowed him to use whatever means were at his disposal--"good" or "evil"--to pursue an end that, unlike those of truly evil alignments, was not strictly about himself. The truly Neutral character is not guided by selfishness or selflessness...he chooses a course based on certain personal objectives or tasks he wishes to accomplish and uses the means at his disposal. He is not out to harm others but nor does he owe them anything unless he decides he does for his own reasons. Yet this does not mean he has no cause or life's mission. William represents a grander scale of mission perhaps, but a more lowly Neutral character might have something he wishes to do that is just as important to him and like William, he will do whatever it takes to accomplish that end.


To be determined. Who do you suggest?


The Emperor who allegedly fiddled while Rome burned...indeed, Nero is believed by many to have been the true culprit in the great conflagration which conveniently expanded  his palatial holdings. From killing close family members to torturing people for simple amusement to the most debauched of personal behavior, I was hard pressed to think of a better example of Chaotic Evil. Caligula was probably worse, but he is less famous than this man which the Apocalypse of St John may refer to in code as the "AntiChrist". A Chaotic Evil character is solely concerned with his own power, pleasure, aggrandizement, and will. Nothing and no one else matters unless he deems them to matter from his own personal prejudice or his merest whims.  He may indeed serve a deity or a cause which he believes will further advance these desires but Chaos is to him the truest philosophy, the one based upon naked power and those who are able to hold it. Ultimate Good does not exist, or, if it does, the Chaotic Evil character is indifferent to it.  Lawful notions are simply weak sentimentality at best or a means of control of the sheep by  clever elitists at worst and in any event they only protect people too weak to protect themselves. Thus they are useless!

These few examples are perhaps flawed but hopefully they can serve as  templates for alignment in D&D.

I am most interested in hearing comments on these proposed alignment models and other proposals that you may have in mind.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


The Realms of Rysanthis
Thought I would upload a map of mine I drew a few years ago as a setting for some stories I began to write.

The Map is somewhat special to me as it represents a thawing time in my life when I began to return to fiction, fantasy, and role playing games after a self imposed monastic period regarding these things for almost 20 years.

Then, one day, back in about 2007 or 2008, I started writing some medieval and fantasy themed fiction set in the world of Rysanthis. And while I was doing this, I remembered how much I had loved fantasy literature and gaming.

 I really had missed it but at the time I had devoted myself completely and exclusively to spiritual pursuits.

The only exception had been the Hobbit and the Chronicles of Narnia, both of which had been loved by my kids. I read the Hobbit to my son during a  three day camping and hiking trip when he was eight and to this day it is his favorite tale. But that was the extent of fantasy in my very austere life style.

Somehow, the Holy Grail had remained elusively and always just beyond reach, and the things I had labored long for do not seem to have ever materialized,though in their place were many life lessons for which I will be eternally grateful  and which I now count more valuable to me to the air castles I had sought to build.  I use them term air castles with regards to human endeavors alone and please do not construe it as a derogatory remark about subjects of faith.

As Rysanthis started to expand as an idea, I went to a local gaming store and bought some dice and miniatures. And having not a single rule book in my house or any other rpg resource, I sat my kids (then 11 and 12) down at our kitchen table and created basic D&D  characters from memory alone.

My son was a Merling Prince, a half Mer Folk, half human. My daughter created a swashbuckling female buchaneer. And I ran the first game I had played in for almost two decades. And we had geat fun for several games, just the three of us. They made friends with a certain Captain Hakim who piloted a cutter called the Scimitar and sailing up and down the coasts of Rysanthis had a few wonderful adventures! I recall that the above map always had to be placed prominently in view by my daughter whenever we played and she would look at it often, as if it helped her to visualize the game. Also paramount to her was the action of rolling the d20! She would get very excited when it was time to do this, even though the only mechanic was me saying, "Okay, you need such and such number to hit this monster!" Rysanthis was the name of the game, they had no conept of D&D having never seen or heard of it. They would say, "Hey Dad, can we play Rysanthis?"

Meantime, we moved states, and didn't play Rysanthis very often due to the work involved in settling into a new locale.

I should note that the city state of "Levius" was named after my son Levi and his father was the Emperor of the kingdom of Hafalla that is pictured--Alistar was his character's name,  a wayward prince who wanted to adventure instead of be bound to the duties of the throne and he was always eluding his father's men-at-arms who tried to forcibly bring him back. "Hethron" in the north is named for my daughter Heather and was where Illisa, her character, was born but she was spirited away as a bay and was unaware of her royal lineage.

The concept of Rysanthis was that Dragons had once ruled the world, heroes had driven them out and established man, and the dragon Guard, an old order of knights that fought the Dragons, maintained an army along the borderlands to prevent the incursions of these monsters which came in two sorts, those of animal itelligence which were essentially simply giant winged lizards, and the intelligent sort, once believed extinct. The latter Dragons were sorcerers and had taught mankind the black arts and were worshiped as gods by certain primitive tribes.

My daughter eventually decided she didn't care for role playing very much, though my son really took to the hobby and after paying in some groups, discovered he liked D&D best over all systems, at least as of this writing. And I have so enjoyed coming back to this fun and fascinating hobby and aside from the games, have made some important friendships and spent a lot of quality time with my son.

Anyway, I kept the map as a souvenir of our voyages aboard the Scimitar and the tales I wrote. Perhaps I will upload them some time. I will see if I can drag out some old character sheets.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Challenge and the Lure of Historical RPG Settings

Two games I am gearing up to run and will be starting this holiday weekend are Hidden Kingdom Arthurian fantasy game and...maybe...a fantasy & historical setting using Dave Arneson's Adventure in Fantasy Rules.

I have very mixed feelings about the latter. Not because of the rules, which I love, but the challenge in running a historical setting.

 The Germanic and Celtic concepts of the Faery realm and it's races are so beautifully written in AIF that I decided to take the setting back to the places where those myths were born---Britain, Ireland and the Teutonic tribal areas of Upper Germany. The difference would be that in the game setting, the mythology is real and there are monsters, magicians, and the fey.

 I wanted a feudal setting, and I didn't want to deal with Romans as the ruling power in the West, so I settled upon the Dark Ages.  That way I could have monasteries and a fledgling Celtic church but not have a domineering Roman church power.

It came down to choosing an exact year.

I've been off work a few weeks now and I've been devouring as much Medieval history books and films as I can take--not for game purposes but because I love to study history. Mind you I'm not showing off and I claim no expertise in this area. I took some college history and history is my preferred reading and viewing material but I forget as much as I learn....still, I thought, a true medieval setting! Why not? There is certainly no lack of source material!

As I began to analyze what I was reading closely, though, and some previous romantic misconceptions started to fall away, I realized I had a dilemma.

 An Arthurian Britain, if one relied upon the earliest sources outside of Romantic literature, was a Britain not yet controlled by the Anglo Saxons...not England in any true sense, as I see it.

In the Middle Ages the tales of Arthur were made contemporary to the times and thoroughly Anglicized the ancient warlord, making his kingdom Christian and adorning his court with feudal trappings.

But if I wanted an Arthur who lived in the Dark Ages and was based on the earliest historical model, I would forced to begin my campaign around 500 AD.

Chivalric orders and the feudal knight and his accompanying hierarchy  would still be very far off in the future.

Out goes plate mail armor and the English longbow, away go the stone castles (aside form the old roman forts which were already in ruins), and, unless I am mistaken, the two handed sword.

Cities are run down affairs largely centered around Roman ruins, most people preferred country life, and education doesn't count for much in most areas. Feudalism existed but in a much less stratified form.

But if I instead chose to place my game in the Middle Ages, though, I feel that in such an atmosphere Celtic and German fairy tales become just that, fairy tales, instead of the real life supernatural forces the Dark Ages people believed them to be.

In the end I have decided to stick it out and go with Britain, 500 A.D. And so I have been forced to bone up on the cultures and languages of the Isles, some of the more famous British, Irish and Frankish kings. And while I originally wanted to go with the Dark Ages so I cold have a believable Camelot, it's looking like our game is going to have a decidedly Anglo-Saxon basis. It's going to wind up playing out more like Beowulf!

There is a lot of work in trying to flesh out a historical campaign--but then the whole thing becomes a learning process as well as a game and that can't be bad, at least for the DM.

As for the players, I'm going to focus on the mythological and fairy tale aspects of the setting for our game--the history will be incidental and actually irrelevant to the players since most people were illiterate and clannish then and more concerned with their own local ruler than anyone else.

I'm just going to tell them who their folk's enemies are, mention some of the more powerful warlords, and let them explore the wilderness areas just like I would in a D&D game but obviously my DM maps will be based upon the medieval atlas.

Still, any campaign requires work--as much time as I've spent pouring over fantasy maps and rules, if I put even half of that into historical study it can only be positive.

I have already decided though that if it does not work after four or five sessions, I am going back to a quasi-medieval fantasy milieu.

I hope it works, though!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Elf Queen's Hill-A 4th Level Maze (Sneak Preview Map)

The Labyrinthine Courts of the Elf Queen In the Mound Near Glastonbury  

Due to a recent operation I  find myself with a little extra time on my hands to prepare adventure material for our games. This is after a near 3 month game drought when I did not do any gaming at all. But this is my hobby, after all.

The projects I am working on are the Elf Queen's Hill, a brand new 4th-5th level adventure, and The Shrine of Poseidon's Daughter.

The Shrine is an adventure I ran several months back for an ill fated 2nd Age of Atlantis Campaign (1st edition AD&D) that I began but had to let go. The adventure was enjoyable, however and I am considering revising it for use with non-Atlantean settings...or I may it leave it as is and simply write a formal key to the dungeon. It consists of two levels for which I have completed the Maps and have only to write up, being as I ran it entirely from hastily scrawled notes the first time.

That must come after my current task, though, which is to complete the key for Anwyn, the Hill of the Elf Queen Gwynach.

This scenario is inspired in the main by Celtic myth and Arthurian related themes. I used the name of Glastonbury due to its connection to Arthurian myths and also legends about a faery mound near there ruled by a faery king and his court. 

It presents a picture of the elves that is in keeping with the oldest traditions on the subject, traditions which portray the faery races as capricious and somewhat inimical to Man. 

These are not Tolkien's elves, much as I love those tales. 

Realizing that this will not fit in with everyone's campaign milieu, I am including notes for conversion and alternative antagonists if one wishes to remain with the Tolkienish Elven race.

In keeping with the idea of the faery mound, and sacred circles, the Maze lies within a great grassy hillock in a clearing within a vast forest.

The largest oak tree the party will have ever seen crowns the summit of the hill, and in fact it's roots form the walls  and ceilings of the labyrinth,along with earth. 

The floor of the Maze is soft, packed earth, and it is lit throughout with faery lamps which bring the light of the sun into the Mound so that flowering vines hang from the walls of the rooms and passage ways of Anwyn and there are a few gardened areas.

Of course the hill can only be accessed by means of a magic door...but enter at peril of ever coming out again. And if you do come out...will 100 hundred years have passed for every day you live in the courts of the Elves?

I am still working out a few elements of the adventure and it is proving a task--creating a fun and challenging adventure in such a small and unique environment without players becoming frustrated is going to be hard!

The atmosphere will be much more in keeping with a"fairy tale" atmosphere (I hope) than the traditional, gritty stone dungeon model. I know I have players whose tastes run decidedly counter to this, but I will find a place and time to run this scenario nonetheless.

But I have completed most of the rough draft of the Maze Key and I believe it will be a fun adventure.

I will upload the key to the Elf Queen's Hill and Shrine of Poseidon's Daughter as soon as they are complete.

Hunchbacks, Hobbits and Necromancers;A Spontaneous Game Session

Let's Investigate Strange Lights in an Ancient Cemetery....

My son had a friend stay the night last night and the two of them and my daughter stayed up pretty late with me. They are ages 16-17. Growing bored with X-Box and Netflix, they were debating what to do and I nonchalantly suggested "How about a game of D&D?"

They agreed. Now my daughter has played the game maybe six times total and abandoned it long it ago as "not her thing." She has steadfastly resisted playing despite me occasionally begging her to join her brother and I for a game. So when she agreed quickly, I was under no illusions that she had a change of heart--she finds my son's friend "cute."

Hey, anything to get a player!

I have been working on several adventures but was saving them for this weekend when some friends and I have some serious gaming planned. So I decided to do what I used to do a lot as a kid playing D&D--wing it!

I keep copies of every character we ever roll up for our games and so I have a binder of characters of various levels. I let people rename them, change the sex if need be, and occasionally tweak them to fit a new game. My daughter picked a Halfling Thief ,Chinka Tumblefoot, my son ran his human Warrior Mage Eastwood, and his friend ran an Elf Fighter he had played in another game once long ago, one Verimoore.

We set the table up, put out the lights, and played by candle glow. And suddenly, we were in the mood to game!

I enjoy reading OSR blogs for many reasons, chief among them being I get a lot of inspiration, and other times I wouldn't call it inspired, I just plagiarize outright...for the gaming table only, of course.

While looking over Tombowning's Magician's Manse blog a day or so ago, I noticed a feature of his campaign environs called "The Tower of a Thousand Faces." It seized my imagination and so I had a vague idea for the adventure. From there I began to go off the cuff and with no prior planning whatsoever!

The party started off in a tavern in the great Northern city of Kravekos. They were drinking and smoking their pipes when in rushed a portly man, his clothes torn and dirty, his boots muddy with travel, and his face unshaven, sweaty, and terrified. Shaking, he walked to the bar and began to order one drink after another.

Our party approached him and asked him what was the matter. His name was Murgo, and he told them he had returned from a doomed expedition wherein three of his companions had died horribly. He was done with adventuring forever. Upon further prodding, he revealed that the object of their quest had been the Tower of a Thousand Faces, which lay in the Swamps of Ern. It was said that all the gold a man would ever want for lay beyond it's portal.

Two of Murgo's friends had perished in the swamps and the third had died inside the Tower to some horror in the dark, leaving Murgo to flee the swamps and somehow make it back alive. My daughter truly grew horrified at Murgo's description of a tower covered from top to bottom with crowded faces which were the visages of all of those who had perished within the Tower...

A table of Knights at meal overheard the convesration (don't ask me why Knights were eating in the tavern instead of the Castle...)and one Sir Allocon laughed at the tale, which he discounted as an old wives tale. Swamp fever was the only thing that Murgo had encountered....

Eastwood managed to convince Murgo to be their guide at least to the place where the Tower stood. The Knight was all too eager to take up a Quest, intending to prove the Tower a myth. So they agreed to meet in the morning outside the city gates and journey to the Swamps of Ern. After buying two horses and a pony, they were off.

They made camp that night on a lonely heath near an abandoned cemetery from ancient times. I decided an encounter was needed to enliven the journey!

On the Halfling's watch, she noted a strange green light in the direction of the cemetery. Rousing her companions, they debated their course of action. Sir Allocon refused to flee or shun to investigate this light, upon his knightly honor. Murgo, for his part, refused to leave camp.

Eastwood feared a trap of bandits, so he chose to wait with their horses and gear and Murgo while the other three checked it out and would promptly report back.

They shuttered the knight's lantern and he held onto Chinka's cloak since she and the Elf have Darksight. As they neared the ring of broken stones that had once been the cemetery walls, Chinka used her sneaking abilities to draw closer and from behind a tombstone she was able to discern that the green light was a magical orb which floated in the air from grave to grave, stopping over one area and hovering. She motioned to her companions, who joined her.

Verimoore and the Knight joined her and the elf, who had superior vision, was able to  make out two figures, one standing still while another dug in the earth. Verimoore told Chinka and Sr Allocon to wait while he approached to challenge these sacrilegious persons as to why they were disturbing the rest of the dead.

Turned out to be an old man dressed in wizard's robes and his hunchbacked servant who was busy digging up a corpse.

The elf startled them, but when they recovered, they answered his inquiry with a warning to leave them be. Pressed further, the Mage said something about getting a proper army assembled very soon and marching down there to show Kravekos a thing or two about what power really means. Yes, it was a tactical blunder on the mage's part, but it made for good theater!

Verimoore (played by a very green player, remember) resolutely advised the wizard and his crony to leave off their sacrilege and depart at once or there would be trouble.  Chinka meanwhile began to creep around to a place where her backstabbing ability would be of use...

But upon hearing of Kravekos, Sir Allocon could hide no more and boldly strode into the Wizard's green light, demanding he explain what he meant and assuring him he would first deal with Sir Allocon.

The Wizard was fine ith this. He raised his hands dramatically and cried..."To me, my servants...To me!" And from out of the darkness approached four animated skeletons and two ghouls!

Meanwhile, concerned that his friends had been away so long, Eastwood left the cowering Murgo and headed for the cemetery. He quickly saw the green light and made for it where he saw a terrible battle underway.

Now let me say, with a  touch of superstition, that no matter what game my daughter plays, dice love her. It is the most bizarre thing I have witnessed. She cannot but roll good. And so while I will spare you a blow by blow account of the battle, the battle lasted ten rounds and she missed only twice while Verimoore hit only twice! Yes, Austin rolled 6 misses and fumbled twice!

But I proceed to hastily. It began well enough when Eastwood cast his Sleep spell and aimed it at the Wizard. Kaboom! Wizard and hunchback both dropped, snoring soundly, but alas, so did Sir Allocon who was standing too close! But this left the Undead to deal with, and without a cleric around to try and turn them!

My son found out he doesn't like ghouls. Besides getting 3 attacks each, they have that nasty paralyzing business. So he rejoiced in getting a hit in on the ghoul he faced, but not when he was slashed by ghoul claws and teeth and not only took damage but had to save vs. poison or be paralyzed.

He failed. And mind you, in our last game, this same character was paralyzed in the first round of a battle with a  Carrion Crawler! He was not happy and his gaming mood quickly soured. Furthermore, the ghoul kept attacking him while he was down! To give him a chance, I made the rolls instead of letting the ghoul dispatch hi outright, reasoning that he was still resisting the poison and so was  rolling around as best he could as it overtook his limbs, dodging the ghoul's attacks.

Meanwhile, Chinka managed to get her +4 Sneak attack in and that with a magical sword, +2 again! So a whopping +6. She hit and did double damage and severed the ghoul's head.

For the remainder of the battle, she used her magic sword and then her bow to mop up on the enemy.

Verimoore couldn't hit the broad side of a barn! The only thing he had going for him was that he had a low Armor Class and that as an elf he was immune to the ghoul poison. Beyond that, he was dismal and believe it or not somehow managed to roll a 1 TWICE in this combat! A 1is a fumble in our game and you lose your next attack!

While all this is going on, Murgo comes charging into the melee, apparently not so base a coward that he would allow his friends to be wantonly butchered. He scored a hit on a ghoul, did very pathetic damage to it, and then got slashed with ghoul poison and failed his saving throw--down he went!! And the ghoul turned to attacking Murgo instead of Eastwood, who would be down to 3 Hit points at the end of this fracas.

The party finally triumphed thanks to Chinka and Verimoore...well, mostly Chinka. Verimoore killed one skeleton. While both Murgo and Eastwood did minimal damage to one ghoul, it was Chinka who dealt the deathblow to every enemy except Verimoore's one skeleton. So my daughter was feeling pretty triumphant, my son was being very sullen, and his buddy simply breathed a sigh of relief.

Tragically, they found that Murgo had died in his battle with the Ghoul! Alas, his dark premonitions had proved true and his earlier escape from fate was in vain!

They searched and bound the Wizard and his hireling, then waited for everyone who was either asleep or paralyzed to come to. When that was done, Eastwood angrily tried to snuff out the Wizard's life (he's Chaotic Neutral) but Sir Allocon disputed this on moral grounds (Allocon is lawful good). It was a moot point though--just as Eastwood was about to cast Charm Person on the Wizard, the evil fellow spoke some magic word and vanished, his ropes falling to the ground.

The hunchback, whose name turned out to be Urg, blubbered and pleaded for his life. I managed to get really into character with Urg and he was so pitiful that they could not but spare him, but upon finding out that he lived in a hut in the Swamps and only occasionally worked for the Wizard, the party insisted that he replace their dead guide. Sniveling, he agreed, though he feared the Necromancer, who "lives in a great tower somewhere in the Swamp."

It was an "Aha" moment to the players, admittedly cheap on my part since I had not planned it and since it made little sense plot wise but again, it was matinee stuff and the kids enjoyed it! They decided the Tower of a Thousand faces must be the Necromancer's tower! And so, of course, that is precisely what it is now...

And so the adventure ended for now (we didn't start until 2:00 am ) with the party anxious to reach the Tower of a Thousand Faces and very pleased with having found on the Wizard a Scroll with a spell of Protection from Petrification.

My son's friend really enjoyed it, my boy not as much cause he tends to get that way when he rolls badly, but I was happiest that my daughter got into it. She remarked that the game seemed much more fun when it was only 3 players and a DM. Hopefully this means she will play again, but who can tell? I certainly had a good time and it taught me that sometimes the open adventure is a lot of fun. I'm a devout Planner for my games but there was something refreshing in the spur of the moment, vaudevillian antics of an unplanned session.

I am looking forward to them reaching the Tower and the Swamps, and a big thank you to Ian/Tombownings for the adventure idea!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"You fail to find anything out of the Ordinary..." DM House Rules for Secret Doors and Traps

Have a Bottle of Wine...or a secret door to a hidden treasure room!

I am currently watching on Netflix Umberto Eco's "Name of the Rose" (1981) starring Sean Connery as a Franciscan friar investigating murders in a Benedictine abbey.  

Aside from being an excellent medieval mystery  film (which I had no interest in as a boy because it wasn't swords and sorcery or a shoot em' up) , there is a sequence with a secret door which, aside from giving me a new idea for one of those devices, inspired me to write briefly on how I handle secret doors and traps in my dungeons or other adventures.

I do not use…at least by itself…the  mechanic given in the Holmes Basic Edition or the later Basic and AD&D editions where a die roll is used to see if characters are able to detect secret doors and traps. 

That seems a little simple  and does not allow for really challenging the players and allowing much  DM 
creativity in creating novel secret doors. 

So  here are my house rules on secret doors, which I acquaint every new player with, usually when they are about to enter a dungeon wherein I have placed secret doors.

The rules state that Dwarves can find traps one third of the time (2 in 6 chance). However, I restrict this bonus to investigations involving  engineered  stone works, as that is reasonably the domain of dwarves. In my mind, there is no reason why a Dwarf would be any more able than other character classes to detect more subtle mechanisms such as hidden bookcase latches, turning paintings, etc.

Thieves on the other hand, have a remove traps percentage chance ability as a character class benefit. I have never understood why "find traps" was not added to the table so that is house ruled in for my game as a trap must be found before it can be removed. Thieves are opposite of dwarves in this endeavor--they are of little use in searching for traps which involve engineered stone works and I do not allow them to search for such traps  (at least with a simple die roll). they are confined to searching for those traps of  a delicate mechanical nature (locks, latches, trip wires, etc.).

Elves have excellent chances for finding secret doors due to their vision--merely passing by one allows for a 2 in 6 chance. make that 4 in 6 when they are actively searching for one. However, I think it goes without saying that this is in well lit conditions and so that is a house rule. Infravision (or Darksight as I prefer to call it in my game--less technological sounding) is good for seeing room dimensions and living things but it does not bestow a clarity of the sort to see secret doors. So I only give this bonus to an elf character if there is a least torch light present.

With the aforementioned in mind, like most DM's, I make the rolls for secret door and trap detection behind my screen when a player announces they are using the ability or an elf passes by a secret door.

 If the roll fails, I simply say "You fail to find any secret door, trap, etc."

 If they do succeed, I tell them if a trap is present or a secret door and if one is not I will sometimes  give some assurance such as "You are very confident it's not there" but I do not always as sometimes this is a give away to them --if I don't give them assurance and yet say "You detected no traps" they may surmise immediately that they simply failed the roll and a trap is indeed present. So I mix that up a bit,  usually saving assurance for when they are endlessly handwringing about thinking they failed and that a trap is present when yet they succeeded and one is not!

That said, just because someone finds a secret door, elf or otherwise, it does not necessarily follow that they know how to open it. So secret doors come in two basic models  in my games: the conventional, traditional dungeon sort and the Saturday Night Special variety.

The first category are a matter of a mere die roll as is stated in the rules and I generally employ them as a means of rewarding prudent and careful adventurers who are being reasonably mindful of their environment. Also for added interest for players and especially newer players. Of course in moderating this die roll I observe all of my previously stated house rules. Sometimes I will make it a freebie that when the secret door is found, the way in is readily apparent, i.e. push on the panel, slide it, move the altar aside, etc.).

Other times, as a mixture between these two models of secret doors (or traps, at times) I will require players to discover the mechanism I have designed into the adventure.

This might be pulling down on a candelabra chandelier hanging down over the room, a magic password,  turning a statue, emptying water from a stone vessel by means of a spout, lighting a fire in a hearth which will boil away water in a  vessel behind the hearth which will in turn, when it is lightened, relieve the weight on the mechanism holding the door shut etc. The list is really as long as your imagination as a DM (or the imaginations of those you borrow from) can make it.

A S.N.S. is a more complex matter.

This is something of a  design that I took the time to construct in a fashion as to make it  (hopefully) original and to challenge my players.

I'm not giving this one up on a mere die roll, not even to a pesky elf who has a 4 in 6 chance or a dwarf with a 2 in 6 chance... not unless the construction of the door is such that it is warranted, ans sometimes, not even then!

 Instead, players aren't going beyond the S.N.S. until they find it and trigger it by interacting with the room description and actively doing things to find and/or trigger the secret door (or trap). 

The room description holds the clues--if the furniture or fixtures of the room are intriguing enough, this can be a clue in itself. 

Other times they enter the maze with some clue already that there is a secret door, such a s a hidden rune saying so, a town rumor, or a portion of map which shows features of the maze which don't fit anywhere on their existing map made through initial exploration.

 In such a case, the  furnishing s of the room holding the S.N.S. can be completely mundane and unremarkable, it matters not;  the players will seek it there eventually through sheer process of elimination.

Unless I have some very compelling reason for doing so (like trying to conclude a series of games whose time has come for wrapping that chapter up), my general rule is that if you don't find the S.N.S., you will get not one clue beyond what I have written into the adventure and it is lost to you otherwise. Whatever  was truly lying behind the S.N.S. will always remain a tantalizing mystery, if indeed it was ever real at all…only the DM knows! This can even be the basis of further adventures!

Using the above listed approaches to secret doors has created some very interesting moments in our games. 

Sometimes, I felt like a chump as a door or mechanism I had thought quite clever was unraveled in seconds by a deductive player.

 Other times, it made for some very interesting tension in the game and a great sense of reward and accomplishment to the deducing player when it was unlocked .

And there were sometimes periods of frustration when it could never be found and I asked myself if I had made it too hard or escoteric or if, and I devoutly hoped it so, I had simply outwitted them!

 I do of course want all my S.N.S.'s to be eventually found and opened, but I like matching wits with my players as well! They best me at that game often enough, a DM needs some dignity.

I'll conclude with an example of a S.N.S.

I created a favorite one which combined both magical and stone construction mechanisms .

 The party was exploring a sunken Temple of Poseidon, the sea god. They came to a chamber where there stood a ring of pillars with statues facing out from the room's center ,wherein the floor  was carven with a circle of magic runes inlaid with electrum. The statues of warriors, clutching giant steel scimitars,  had jeweled eyes .

The statues were intended by me as a red herring--first off, I wanted the party to wonder, "Will they come to life at some point, attacking us?". 

Secondly, I wanted them to be distracted by the swords--the simple fact is they were not magical at all and the hilts were so constructed as to be fastened to the stone hands and not removable without breaking them. This lured players away from thinking about secret doors at all! Finally, the jeweled eyes were there to tempt the party to pry them out (easy enough) and keep as loot.

However, they possessed a sure word from the person who had sent them on the quest that a hidden tomb lay within the Maze, one that had been searched for but never found. The tale had been told in such a way that little doubt  was left in the player's minds that it was the truth.

Thus they knew, after exploring the maze and not finding the tomb, there must be a secret door somewhere. 

The secret to the door was to turn the statutes inward towards the magic circle. When the last statue clicked into place, beams of light shot out from the jeweled eyes towards the runes, which began to glow. Then, magically, a hole appeared in the floor  in the size and shape of the magic circle. Steps led down to the hidden tomb, where the adventure's end and the treasure were both to be found!

In using this kind of a portal, I would not allow an elf or a dwarf any die roll to find it, though if they specifically declared searching for something I might make such a roll behind the screen to mislead them!

You say "How will they ever know?"

They know the die roll is not always the end of the matter because as I said I have thoroughly explained all of these rules on secret doors and traps to my players.

Some may object that this negates the elf and dwarf's special abilities ("The dwarf would see it!").

 I disagree, since I do make use of these abilities in Class 1, non- S.N.S. doors and traps, giving them ample opportunity to use their racial abilities normally.

But even allowing for those abilities, I don't think it unfeasible that some ancient civilizations or very clever architects could design mechanisms that would baffle even the trained  eyesight of the elf and the dwarf or the nimble fingers of the thief.

What do you think of these rules? Unfair? 

I disagree that it is unfair, but in any event if you go with a simple die roll you miss out on some awesome opportunities to give your dungeons a new depth, taking away the chance of both giving your players a great intellectual challenge (which to me is a major part of the dungeon adventure, not just monster bashing), and denying yourself some real fun in writing out your dungeon keys!

Comments are welcome. Now, back to the climax of my movie!

Update to Post: Excellent film! If you have not seen it you must. And if I had a party of players who had never seen it, I would not hesitate to lift the plot, events and characters whole cloth for an entire adventure of a vey different and refreshing genre. Aside from  being a great medieval story, it is stock full of great ideas from NPC's to traps, poison books, secret doors and abbey details.