Archive for August, 2010


It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Dungeon

Once again, the bloody-handed adventuring party has returned from the dungeon laden with gold and jewels. They spend the next few days carousing in all the local taverns, buying rounds of ale for the house and telling lurid tales of the monsters they slew and the strange magics they unearthed. Then, refreshed and ready for another go, they set out for the dungeon again.

Who else, having heard their tales and seen their gold, is heading into the same dungeon?

Roll 1d20 on the following table each week of game time. Assess an ad hoc penalty to the roll if adventurers have suffered heavy casualties and/or won little treasure of late, or add a bonus if adventurers have brought back a particularly rich haul or if multiple parties have been active in the area.

Roll Result
1-12 No one else dares to enter the dungeon.
13 A band of local peasants ventures into the dungeon. Roll 1d6. (1: None of them are ever heard from again. 2: Too scared to enter the dungeon, they return with false tales of made-up adventures. 3: Finding only empty rooms, they wonder what the fuss was about. 4: After a nasty encounter with monsters, the survivors swear off adventuring. 5: As #4, but one or two survivors are willing to sign on with an adventuring party. 6: Clearing out 1d3 rooms on the first dungeon level, they find they have a knack for adventuring and form an first-level adventuring party.)
14-16 A low-level adventuring party enters the dungeon. Roll 1d6. (1: The party clears out 1d3 rooms before being killed off, leaving their bodies, equipment and wealth in the depths. 2-3: As #1, but some survive to tell the tale. 4-5: The party clears out 1d4 rooms in the upper part of the dungeon. 6: The party clears out 1d3 rooms in the middle part of the dungeon.)
17-18 A mid-level adventuring party enters the dungeon. Roll 1d8. (1: The party clears out 1d6 rooms before being killed off. 2-4: As #1, but some survive to tell the tale. 5: The party clears out 2d4 rooms in the upper part of the dungeon. 6-7: The party clears out 1d6 rooms in the middle part of the dungeon. 8: The party clears out 1d4 rooms in the lower part of the dungeon.)
19 A high-level adventuring party enters the dungeon. Roll 1d10. (1: The party clears out 1d8 rooms before being killed off. 2-4: As #1, but some survive to tell the tale. 5-7: The party clears out 2d6 rooms in the middle part of the dungeon. 8-10: The party clears out 1d6 rooms in the lower part of the dungeon.)
20 Another adventuring party is in the dungeon right now! Roll again, disregarding this result if you roll it a second time.
21+ More than one adventuring party has entered the dungeon! Roll again. Multiple results of 21+ are cumulative.

Give each NPC adventuring party a name and roll them up on the appropriate tables; this way you’re ready in case they get in a fight with the PCs or if the PCs find and loot their corpses in a monster’s lair. When you roll that an adventuring party enters the dungeon, if a party of the appropriate level range has been inside before, there’s a 5 in 6 chance that it’s an existing party and a 1 in 6 chance that it’s a party new to the area.

When determining where the NPC adventurers go, roll randomly or choose as appropriate for the NPC party. Rival parties may stir up trouble with otherwise peaceful monsters, break useful devices and disrupt the dungeon ecology (if any). The PCs may want to ambush rival parties—and vice versa!


anybody can paint minis: part two

To be a good mini-painter, all you have to do is paint ten miniatures.

That is my bold blogging statement for the week. Usually they encourage you to say dramatic and impassioned things in your blog posts so that people keep returning to the blog to either feel passionate agreement or to progressively get more pissed off in their disagreement with the the bold statement. The problem with the above statement is that it isn’t really all that bold, it is more just a matter of truth behind what happens when you gain skill. And I don’t mean this for those who are mildly “creative” or “artistic”. Even the most graphically tone-deaf person who has never lifted a pencil or brush before in their life can do this.


Painting ten miniatures, start to finish, on separate occasions, is all you need to do to call yourself a “good” miniature painter. Those ten attempts at painting a little pewter figure will guarantee the development of at least a little bit of ongoing skill at the task. Even if you are dunking them into a pot of paint and letting them dry without any brushwork, you are bound to start dunking them in different pots of colors and start making a layer-cake arrangement of stratified colors on the mini. (That actually sound pretty cool, come to think of it.) Somehow those successive minis will get better and better until number ten. And then BAM, you are a good miniature painter.

In the process of painting your ten, maybe on miniature number four or five, dabbing at your chartreuse owl-bear, you may say to me: “This isn’t good miniature painting, this is just painting them slightly less crappy than before.” And I will reply: Yes, that is exactly so. By the time you finish number ten, it will be so “less-crappy” that it will qualify as “good”. It will all be downhill from there, nothing but learning a few slight tips and tricks after that, the hard part will be over.

Now, I need to be very specific about what qualifies as the “ten”. Remember that I said they had to be start to finish, on separate occasions. You can not do all ten minis at once, in one sitting. You need to begin, work on, and complete each miniature so you can learn from your mistakes and victories at each of the steps, in ten sessions. You can paint more than one miniature at each of the sessions, but you need the passage of time between sittings for the skills to sink in. Sat & Sun would work for two sessions. I recommend working on two to three minis at a session so you can switch between the choices while they dry out, but you can go with more. Ten at a sitting can be tiresome if you are doing something other than the discussed dunking method.

Once you are done with one of your ten minis, you absolutely must plop it on the table at the next game, if only to show it off. You need to take pride in your work and use your toy for playing with. Showing off and playing with friends is what it is all about.

So steel yourself for the grand creative adventure, or just get ready for your 3D coloring book. Next post I will give you the bare minimum list of materials and steps to get that mini on the table. More arcane advice to follow after that.


Blood and Guts: A Red Box Death & Dismemberment Table

Several of my fellow OSR bloggers have designed injury tables that provide a range of possible results for when a PC drops to zero hit points. (Some examples are Robert Fisher’s, Trollsmyth’s and Norman Harman’s.

I like the idea in principle; it allows for non-lethal effects that keep beloved PCs alive, while simulating some of the ugly consequences to combat that can be found both in real life and in sword & sorcery fiction. But the versions I’ve seen include a number of ineffectual results where the target is unharmed, stunned for 1 round, gains bonus hit points from adrenaline, etc. That’s too forgiving for my taste! The PC is already in trouble; the table should indicate how much trouble results. So I’ve written my own table.

When a PC (or an important NPC, at the DM’s discretion) drops below 1 hit point, roll 1d8 and consult the following table. Reduce the die size to 1d6 or even 1d4 for relatively weak attacks, or increase to 1d10, 1d12 or even 1d20 for especially powerful, destructive attacks. When using a curative spell to deal with an injury from the table, the spell provides no other benefit; no hit points are regained.

Roll Result
1 Scarring: -1 to Charisma; drops to -2 with three scars, -3 with six scars, -4 with ten scars, etc
2 Broken bone (DM chooses or roll randomly): broken ribs/collarbone/etc give -2 to attack rolls, broken arm/leg gives penalties as per severed limb; heals in 3d4 weeks or with cure serious wounds; if attack is cutting/piercing and target is unarmored, use arterial bleeding instead
3 Arterial bleeding: die of blood loss in 3d6 rounds, preventable with cauterization (1d6 damage and scarring) or any healing spell; if attack is bludgeoning, use broken bone instead
4 Disabled part (DM chooses or roll randomly): Missing eye gives -1 to attack rolls, mangled/missing fingers give -2 to attack rolls using that hand, ruined larynx/shattered jaw impairs speech and prevents spellcasting; -1 to Charisma; cure serious wounds reduces this to scarring
5 Slow death (gutted, massive internal injuries, spine shattered, etc.): incapacitated, die in 1d6 days; cure serious wounds reduces this to scarring
6 Mortal wound (heart pierced, throat cut, neck broken, etc.): incapacitated, die in 1d6 rounds; cure serious wounds reduces this to scarring
7 Limb severed (DM chooses or roll randomly): die of blood loss in 1d6 rounds, preventable with tourniquet, cauterization (1d6 damage) or any curative spell cast; -1 to Charisma; missing arm can’t be used for weapon/shield, missing leg halves movement rate; cure serious wounds reduces this to scarring
8+ Instant death (decapitated, skull crushed, torn to shreds, etc.)

Have you used an injury table, whether a full-on death and dismemberment table or a broader critical hit table? If so, how has it worked for your game? What recommendations would you make for others who’d try that approach?


Red Box Workshop: The Lizard Man PC


These humanoid reptiles dwell at the border of land and water—swamps, rivers, along the coast—where they can keep their scales damp and hunt for fish and amphibian prey. Though most are semi-intelligent at best, some are fully as intelligent as any human. Whether these are a new breed or an atavistic strain is unknown. While these ‘smart’ lizardmen tend to gather into tribes of their own ilk, some prefer to go forth on land to travel among civilized folk.

The prime requisites for a lizard man are Strength and Constitution. A lizard man character whose Strength or Constitution score is 13 or higher will receive a 5% bonus on earned experience. Lizard men whose Strength and Constitution scores are 13 or higher will receive a 10% bonus to earned experience.

RESTRICTIONS: Lizard men use eight-sided dice (d8) to determine their hit points. They may advance to a maximum of 8th level of experience. Lizard men may wield any melee or thrown weapon, but they have no training in projectile weapons like bows and crossbows. Their scaly hides grant them a base AC of 5, but they may not wear armor or use shields. Due to their aquatic nature, they must immerse themselves in water for at least one hour per day. Failure to do so results in 1d6 damage per day. They also suffer 1d6 damage each day they spend in cold or dry environments such as snowfields or deserts. Lizard men must have a minimum score of 9 in Strength and Constitution.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Lizard men may attack with their fangs or claws; such an attack inflicts 1d6 points of damage on a successful attack. They are difficult to spot in verdant environments, blending in seamlessly with forest foliage, swamp growth and seaweed. They have only a 1 in 6 chance of being detected in this kind of cover. They can also hold their breath underwater for 1 turn/level. All lizard men speak Common, Lizard Man and the alignment language or dialect of the character.

SAVING THROWS: As dwarves.


ADVANCEMENT: As per the fighter advancement table.


Fear and Loathing in Greyhawk

His hand jerked back in instinctive repulsion. Sword shaking in his grasp, horror and revulsion and fear almost choking him, he backed away and down the glass steps with painful care, glaring in awful fascination at the grisly thing that slumbered on the copper throne. It did not move.

—Robert E. Howard, “The Devil in Iron”

Over at The Delver’s Dungeon, there’s an interesting thread about whether you can have a frightening dungeon crawl.

I’m of the opinion that while it’s very difficult to scare players who don’t want to be scared, it’s very easy to scare players who do want to be scared, as they’ll do all the heavy lifting for you. It’s a matter of personal investment; the more immersed a player is in the game, the more likely it is that they’ll react emotionally to what’s going on—whether or not you intend for that to happen!

If your players are fully engaged and you’re aiming for a bit o’ fear, there are a couple of factors you’ll want to bring in:

1) Threat: If the players actually value their characters’ lives and put themselves in their characters’ shoes, then they’ll be at least a bit scared of anything that they recognize as a serious threat to the PCs. Note that this is a matter of perception rather than fact! In my game, the players often charge into fights with powerful opponents without too much worry, but they’re chary of ghouls because several encounters with ghouls have resulted in near-TPKs.

2) Mystery: Sometimes unknown danger is more threatening than the known, because it could be anything. For at least a dozen sessions, the thing in my dungeon that most unnerved my players wasn’t a monster, but a stairway. It was an enormous thing that wound deep into the earth, its lights growing dimmer as they went down until it disappeared into darkness. They didn’t know how far down it went or what lived at its base. This allowed them to invent their own fears.

As a player, what have you found scary in a D&D session? As a DM, what have you done to scare your players during play?


Random Table: A Rising Goblin-Tide

Moved by a sudden impulse he groped for a loose stone, and let it drop. He felt his heart beat many times before there was any sound. Then far below, as if the stone had fallen into deep water in some cavernous place, there came a “plunk,” very distant, but magnified and repeated in the hollow shaft.

‘What’s that!’ cried Gandalf. He was relieved when Pippin confessed what he had done; but he was angry, and Pippin could see his eye glinting. ‘Fool of a Took!’ he growled. ‘This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!’

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The PCs attract the attention of a horde of humanoids—goblins, orcs, gnolls or what have you—which inhabit a lower level of the dungeon, possibly by means of dropping something down a well. How do the humanoids react?

Roll 1d6 on the following table. Apply an ad hoc penalty to the roll if the PCs seem especially dangerous (the booted footsteps of a score of hirelings echo through the dungeon, or the party is preceded by the flash and crack of lightning bolts), while applying a bonus if the PCs seem like a juicy target (they’re accompanied by the cries of frightened children, or they spill coins like sparkly rain down a stairwell).

    1: The humanoids withdraw and hide.
    2: A scouting party (1d4 humanoids) skulks up to investigate.
    3: A raiding party (2d6 humanoids) strafes the PCs with missiles.
    4: A war party (3d6 humanoids + 1 sub-leader) assaults the PCs.
    5: A strike force (3d6 humanoids + 1d3 sub-leaders + 1 affiliated monster [dire wolf, troll, etc]) slams into the PCs.
    6: The entire horde swarms up to overwhelm the PCs.

Keys to the (Underground) Kingdom

“I have dared much for this meeting! Look! The keys to your chains! I stole them from Shukeli. What will you give me for them?”

—Robert E. Howard, “The Scarlet Citadel”

Dungeons are littered with locked doors and locked treasure chests. (Admittedly, no old-school ruleset specifies which or how many are locked, but that many are locked is always clear.) But where are the keys to open these things? Keys aren’t listed on any of the treasure tables.


    • If this is a mythic underworld, there’s no need for keys because the locks are sui generis, existing for no purpose other than to thwart adventurers.
    • For Gygaxian realism, you can add keys to DM-created treasure caches or put them in the possession of whichever creatures run the appropriate part of the dungeon.
    • Lastly, if you want keys to show up randomly, assign them to some part of the treasure table that you wouldn’t otherwise use. Personally, I rarely have treasure maps handy, so if “Treasure Map” turns up on the treasure tables I can assign a key instead.

The availability and utility of any given key depends on its use. The lock on a private room or treasure chest likely only has one corresponding key, while the lock on a display case or armory door might have several associated keys. Meanwhile, skeleton keys may exist that open a number of locks.

Of course, just because the PCs find a key doesn’t mean it will do them any good! Adventurers are in the habit of bashing down locked doors, and once a door’s been bashed in, the key associated with its lock does little good. Similarly, a key found on a body might belong to a room in its former owner’s stronghold hundreds of miles away. There’s no way to know!

Here’s an off-the-cuff table to determine a key’s utility:

    1-4: Opens a specific door in the dungeon. Roll randomly to see which level the door is on, then roll to see which room number it’s associated with, rerolling if the room doesn’t have any doors.
    5-6: Opens a treasure chest, vault, padlock, manacles, etc. Roll randomly as with #1-4 above.
    7: Skeleton key that opens all doors on a dungeon level, except for any special doors that you deem to require their own keys. Roll randomly to see which level it works on.
    8: The key doesn’t open anything in this dungeon, and never did.

Random Table: Acolytes of the Adventurer-God

So one of your PCs has become a cult leader dedicated to the divine principle of adventuring into filthy holes in the ground to kill monsters and take their stuff. What personnel benefits accrue?

Step 1: Roll 1d4! This is how many crazed followers show up to assist you with this session’s adventure.

Step 2: The DM rolls one die whose maximum value is equal to or less than your level! (Minimum 1d4, going up to 1d6 at level 6, 1d8 at level 8, etc.) This is the total number of character levels the DM will distribute among the followers. Maybe the levels will be divided up evenly, or maybe they’ll all go to one follower and the rest will be 0-level normal men. Who knows?

Step 3: For each follower, the DM rolls 1d20 twice on the following table! This indicates their key personality traits.

Random Cultist Personality Traits:

1: Ambitious
2: Bombastic
3: Craven
4: Delusional
5: Fanatical
6: Greedy
7: Impulsive
8: Insolent
9: Lazy
10: Mendacious
11: Nosy
12: Obsequious
13: Quarrelsome
14: Reckless
15: Ruthless
16: Scheming
17: Selfish
18: Taciturn
19: Treacherous
20: Wasteful

Now you’re done. Hurrah! Try not to get minion-shanked.


Red Box Beastie: The Liger


Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 9
Move: 150′ (50′)
Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
Damage: 2-8/2-8/2-16
No. Appearing: 1
Save As: Fighter: 5
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Neutral

The offspring of a male lion and a female tiger, the liger is a massive beast whose adult mass equals that of both its parents put together. Its body resembles that of its father, though without the mane, while its fur bears faint, irregular tiger-stripes and a white underbelly. Ligers do not naturally appear in the wild. However, certain beastmasters and magic-users have been known to create them either through careful breeding or by magic.


anybody can paint minis, part one

You too can paint little greedy people.

While playing in the ongoing Red Box campaigns I found that many of our tactical situations utilized miniatures and dice as markers to clarify spatial positioning and marching order and things like that. It was the natural extension of figuring things out for fights and “picturing the scene” while playing at the table. Considering D&D’s storied history, using miniatures seems to have been a staple of the hobby back in the old-school days as much as it is in the current toy-heavy iteration of fourth edition.  We all remember the prophetic cover of the Red Box D&D basic set:

This game requires no gameboard because the action takes place in the player’s imagination…”

But damn it, back in the day, those painted minis in the glass case at the game store looked so cool.

So fast-forward past my subsequent years earning a BFA and an MFA in painting and I am looking around the game table at our regular sessions. With up to ten people playing at a session, I was surprised to find that while many players had either a pre-painted D&D mini or a bare-metal representation of their character, practically no one was exhibiting the secret and profane art of miniature painting.

After bringing in my box of minis I found that there were a number of other players at the table who still thought painted minis where awesome but never had the chance to take a leap into the actual brushwork. I decided to plan for a group painting day where I could share all my hard-won information about painting little tiny people for those without the benefit of the supplies or instruction.

As a result I will be posting some outlines and advice over the coming weeks about how absolutely anybody can get started with painting their classic or new miniatures that they have collected. Hopefully this will allow even the most abominably unskilled artist to slap some colors on their nekkid mini, plop them on the table and be proud. Stay tuned.

Past Adventures of the Mule

August 2010

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