Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category


Ayn Rand vs. Aleister Crowley: FIGHT!

james, why haven’t you been boring us with your blogging lately?

Lately I have been experiencing a rolling series of professional ethical crises in my new job!  It is awesome sucky.

But gaming-wise I could tell you about the latest adventures of my beloved  Sir Carabad who went to to war on King Arthur’s behalf against Rome.  Sir Carabad was part of a peace envoy lead by Sir Gawaine to parley with the Emperor of Rome, when Gawaine went psycho-killer and beheaded one of the defenseless diplomats and then led the Romans into an ambuscade and slaughtered them.  (As related in Book V, Chapter VI of Le Morte.)  Mallory for some reason leaves out the part where Sir Carabad, who was participating in the negotiations in good faith and who has an irrepressible urge for Justice, challenged Sir Gawaine to a duel after insulting Gawaine’s family as a bunch of backstabbing sadists.

Or I could tell you about or Barbarians of Lemuria game, in which I have sworn eternal revenge on Tavis’s buxom yet treacherous barbarian Zharrna, who stole the skull-sized ruby from the Pyramid of Skulls.

But that’s a story for another time maybe.  Here’s what I’ve really been concentrating on:

watchmen ’66!  now, with more KA-POW! and SOK!

The comic book world has been roiled up for a couple months now over DC Comics’ effort to wring every last dime out of their most prestigious property by releasing a bunch of Before Watchmen comics.  Other than general disinterest, I have no strong feelings about this.  Alan Moore sternly disapproves, but I suspect Alan Moore sternly disapproves of almost everything at this point.

Mainly, I figured if DC was going to exploit this terrible idea, why couldn’t I?  And thus, I decided I wanted to run a few games of Marvel Heroic Role-Playing set in the “Silver Age” of the Watchmen setting.  It’s one of those terrible ideas that I can’t say no to.  (As one Red Boxer phrased it, “When I play super heroes, I want to be Captain America, inspiring millions by punching Hitler in the mouth.  I don’t want to be raping people to death.  Thanks but no thanks.”)  Plus, it returns Watchmen to its Charlton Comics action hero roots: Moore and Gibbons coming to pick a fight with Ditko on the man’s own turf.

(As I assume all readers know, Ditko is a die-hard Randian; Moore seems to be an acolyte of Crowley; Watchmen is, at least partially, an agon between Moore’s and Ditko’s ethical systems.  I would love to figure out a way to fit L. Ron Hubbard into this somehow, and then we could have all of the Twentieth Century’s great crackpot philosophers in one bundle.)

but watchmen isn’t a standard superhero world, is it?

I’d argue it totally is.  The first few times I read Watchmen, I was struck by how spare and under-populated its super-world was: as a Marvel Zombie, I owned The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, which listed 960 pages worth of characters, compared to the mere 6 major and 8-10 minor super-folk of Watchmen.  Also, comics fans tend to talk about Watchmen as a “realistic” setting.  But check it out:

By the mid-1980’s, you’ve got mass-produced electric cars and airships (possibly operating on anti-gravity–it’s not clear how Archie stays aloft), a bio-dome in Antarctica, cloning, a disintegration chamber, widespread genetic engineering (including the four-drumstick turkey seen in issue #1), glider wings, grapple-guns, infravision goggles, laser pistols, psychics, psychic sensitives, a “solar mirror weapon,” man-made tachyon pulsars, and teleportation blink-bombs.  All of that stuff would have been in development and even more exotic in the mid-60’s.

I think mainly what’s going on here is that super hero tech exists, but it’s expensive, and a lot of the people we see in Watchmen aren’t especially economically successful.

Ozymandias has a mutant lynx, an Antarctic Fortress with a disintegration box, multiple tachyon-pulse satellites, and a giant psychic suicidal xenomorph.  But then, Ozymandias is brilliant and has absolutely tons of money.

A rung or two down the economic ladder, Nite Owl II owns a radar-invisible submersible aircraft with missiles and flamethrowers (and a hidden runway).  Plus he’s got night-vision goggles, a laser gun, an owl-car, and a proto-type exoskeleton.  Not bad for a talented millionaire.

A rung or two lower still, Laurie Juspeczyk grew up in Beverly Hills with a super-hero for a mom and the best trainers money could buy.  By the time she’s 16, she’s evidently an extremely capable gymnast, martial artist, and detective.

In the Watchmen world, if you’re clever, rich, and motivated, you can be a super human.

Watchmen also contains implications of psychic phenomena.  The Giant Space Squid was cloned from a the brain of a “psychic,” and Ozymandias boasts that “sensitives” all over the world will have nightmares for years.  Nobody responds to this by saying, “WTF are you talking about, ‘psychic’?  I call bullshit on that, Ozymandias.”  (The characters object to the feasibility of other parts of his plan, but that aspect just slides by unremarked.)  Apparently it’s an accepted thing in this world, though kept entirely off the illustrated page.

Deschaines, or the xeno-organism based on his brain, could apparently transmit thoughts like telepathy, and others can receive those impressions at least on a subconscious level.

Curiously, Robert Deschaines was also described as a “clairvoyant” and a “medium.”  A medium is a term usually associated someone who makes contact with the spirit world of ghosts.  That’s an interesting concept.  Doctor Manhattan is, fundamentally, a ghost: a disembodied intelligence who took on material form but was never fully committed to the material world.  (Some of the ghosts in Inferno have a similarly screwed up perception of time.)  Are there other beings like Doctor Manhattan out there in the quantum foam, things that people like Deschaines could communicate with?

This line of thinking might imply that Moloch the Mystic was more than a mere stage magician; his act may have included genuine hypnotic abilities or mind control.  Considering he spent several decades worrying the Minutemen and the Crimebusters, and apparently his arch-foes were the omnipotent Doctor Manhattan and the extremely formidable Comedian, he probably had more going on than just a pinstripe suit and a .38 revolver.

(That’s admittedly a whole lot to infer from a stray comment about Deschaines, a character we never see.  But I think it’s self-consistent.)

The genetic engineering stuff shows up with Bubastis’s debut around 1975; Ozymandias notes that “eugenics” has taken great strides since 1960.  Via comic book logic, it’s impossible to imagine that this wouldn’t get used to genetically engineer humans or animals to perform certain tasks.  There’s the possibility of transgenic animals or people with grafts.  We don’t see any–but the plot never takes us toward genetics in any serious way.  We do see a roast turkey with four drumsticks in issue #1, though, so the technology has become sufficiently cheap and commonplace to have routine domestic applications.

The other thing we’ve got going on is cloning.  So it would be possible to mass-produce or create one-off duplicates.  Deschaines’s brain isn’t just cloned, it’s cloned and augmented in unspecified ways to create the Space Squid.

Just as importantly, Ozymandias’s plan depends on the fact that you can encode memories onto cloned brain tissue.  The volume of memories may not be very great compared to a true human, but it certainly sounds like the Giant Explodey Squid had at least an encyclopedia inside.  This suggests that cloned humans could be grown with memories of the original, or with specially encoded skill sets, or both.

Surprisingly, we don’t see much of computers in the Watchmen World.  With all the money in the world, Ozymandias is rocking what looks like an Apple IIe in his corporate HQ.  I guess most of the R&D budget went into these wackier technologies and computers are languishing behind.

Did the Comedian receive some kind of steroid treatment?  He seems to bulk up a lot over the course of 20 years, and is still a huge guy in his early 60’s.  My preferred explanation is that he’s been in the military for 40 years and it shows, but it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for him to take steroids either, and it might explain a portion of the character’s aggression.  (As a reader of the comic, I don’t like this theory, but as a gamer looking for hooks, it doesn’t sound absurd.)  The problem with this idea is that you’d think we would see other juiced folks running around, either as CIA operatives or as criminal goons.  We don’t see anything like that.

But we do hear about various villains.  Not just Moloch and the Big Figure, but Jimmy the Gimmick, the Underboss, the TWilight Lady, and Captain Carnage, as well as old-timers like Captain Axis and the Screaming Skull.  There were apparently a fair number of these guys in the early 1940’s–see Hollis’s dying flashbacks–and in 1977 the Comedian teases Nite Owl II by suggesting he’s only comfortable fighting guys in Halloween suits, which implies there are still several around.

Interestingly, there may also be super heroes unaccounted for.  During the first and only meeting of the Crimebusters, Captain Metropolis opens the meeting by saying, “Let me say I’m pleased to to see so many of you here.”  The whole cast is present for the meeting, so you’d figure Captain Metropolis would say something like, “I’m so happy you all decided to come.”  But Moore’s a careful writer, and the implication is the actual attendees are a clear majority, but not the entirety, of those invited.  Who the heck else did he invite?  Mothman’s been committed by then, Hooded Justice, Dollar Bill, and the Silhouette are all dead, and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre have sent their designated replacements.  There must be other super heroes out there who just never enter into the story for whatever reason.

I grant this is a little weird, given how tightly structured Watchmen is, and how comprehensively Moore and Gibbons designed their world around their six protagonists.  But it’s not unprecedented in comics.  Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men rarely involved other aspects of the Marvel Universe; Ditko’s Doctor Strange almost never had cross-overs.

We can theorize a leaping, capering character in Greenwich Village–the Village Idiot–possibly based around Ditko’s Creeper.  Maybe a Southern version of Hawk & Dove, Freedom Rider and the Nighthawk.  Charlton’s Nightshade never shows up in Watchmen, but might be a refugee from the paranoid Meta-Zone of Ditko’s later Shade the Changing Man series, which could be the source of all the aliens that Captain Atom was always fighting with, as well as the inter-dimensional space Doctor Manhattan teleports through.

Anyway, I do think this is a viable concept.  The trouble is thinking of a precipitating event…


the vampire strategies

The other night we played Greengoat’s delightful Devil Gut Rock one-pager (PDF), and emerged victorious.  And wealthy.  MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW.  Or I guess were implied by the title of this post.  And the pictures.  So, uh, never mind.  Sorry, people who care about spoilers.

The discussion afterward led us to think about Vampires in B/X D&D.  As noted previously, Strahd von Zarovich wasn’t much of a threat in the final analysis.  So this got me thinking about “ideal vampire strategy.”  I’m assuming that Vampires are pretty smart, and that adventuring parties, while prone to doing foolish things, have a pretty pragmatic hive-mind by the time they’re in their mid-levels.

the fight a vampire probably doesn’t want to have

Looking at the B/X Vampire mechanically, it’s got an absolutely devastating double level-drain, respectable conventional melee damage, one of the best Armor Classes for non-dragons, respectable THAC0, and lots of hit points with regeneration.  To me this suggests that the Vampire is built to slug it out with one or two targets in melee, sucking them dry.

Adventurers, of course, aren’t going to fall for that.  If there’s sufficient space to spread out, the smart play is to attack from a distance with spells, magic arrows, and Turning.  (Vampire tip: Pick a fight in a tight space.)

The Vampire’s charm ability can lure reluctant adventurers into melee range for drainage- the Cleric being an ideal target, of course, but the Magic-User a close second.  But in the meantime you’ve still got archers at a distance or an especially foolhardy warrior in your face.

The Vampire can counteract that by summoning help.  The wolf option seems like a handy choice, but Bat Swarms in B/X automatically disrupt casting and impose a -2 penalty to hit, while Rat Swarms can knock enemies prone on a failed save preventing them from attacking.  This might buy a Vampire enough time to melee.

Either way, though, it’s a dicey thing.  If the party concentrates their fire, you’re in serious trouble.   Your little monster-guys probably won’t delay that for more than a round or two.  If things start looking bad – nobody’s been charmed, targets are all spread out, enemies are hasted or there’s a lightning bolt involved, it’s time to run.

Also, fleeing applies with equal force if you get surprised by a gang of adventurers.  Once they’ve got a free round, it’s going to be extremely hard to recover from that.

(Note that this advice changes a lot if there are multiple Vampires in the encounter.  In B/X a lone Cleric probably can’t turn all of them, and if the Vampires spread out properly and deploy their minions they can probably be enormously more effective.  But a lone Vampire is surprisingly squishy under a lot of circumstances.)

targets of opportunity

The other way of handling a party of adventurers is to do the whole “fade into the jungle” thing.  Follow them along as a Bat or a cloud of vapor.  Wait until they get into some other encounter, and then assume Vampire form and charm or feast on the rear guard.  Once the party is alerted to the threat, vaporize and get out of there, only to strike again at some other time.

Another option would be a surprise raid when the party is making camp for the night, probably once spells have been used up and folks are unarmored.  That’s one hell of a dirty trick, but Vampires are supposed to be extremely fearsome, highly intelligent adversaries who can travel almost undetectably, so it’s worth trying once.


As noted above, if you’ve got several Vampires or other monsters to back you up, a Vampire can probably hold up pretty well in a dungeon environment.  But if it’s a lone Vampire, you may need to think about alternatives.  Once a group of adventurers know they’re up against a Vampire, it’s all sharpening stakes, fitting garlic cloves into slingshots, and preparing collapsible bridges over running water.

It’s been twenty years since I read Dracula, but as I recall he mainly hangs out in the background nibbling on NPC’s while the main characters scratch their lambchop sideburns in confusion about what’s going on.  Maybe a Vampire is simply an eccentric guy at the royal court using charm for political influence (likely against the Church?), who likes to go slumming amid the lower classes for a snack; he might simply frustrate the party through social or political means.

A more dungeon-ish option is for a Vampire to pass himself off as a Werewolf Lord.  Hey, he can change into a wolf; he can summon wolves; who’s to disagree?  Then when everyone is running at him with silver daggers and wolfsbane, it’s time for level-drain.  (This also suggests that there might be a real Werewolf in the vicinity who’s pissed at all the bad publicity this guy’s stirring up.)

The other consideration, of course, is the Vampire’s coffin.  Like the Lich’s phylactery, this isn’t something you want to display too conspicuously, and it may help to have a fake or spare coffin in case the adventurers get lucky.  One possibility: bury the coffin under a large cairn or talus, which the Vampire can reach via gaseous form but would take some time for humans to dig through.  Another: a coffin on a very high ledge, such that it isn’t normally visible unless someone could fly/levitate/climb walls.  Or, you know, just make the thing invisible.

a couple magic tricks

So far as I know, it’s an open question in B/X whether Vampires can cast spells.  Certainly a few magic items or special-purpose dungeon design elements can make the encounter more memorable.

Continual darkness is a pretty handy spell for a Vampire.  Blocks daylight, and mitigates the blinding effects of continual light.

Sticks to snakes is a mean trick to play on someone about to stake a Vampire in its coffin – maybe this is a magical trap embedded in the coffin’s lid?

Mirror Image not only keeps a Vampire alive a bit longer against concentrated fire, but might persuade the party that they’re hopelessly outmatched and should flee.

Web is a good way to immobilize a lot of pesky enemies and drink their blood spider-style.

Hold Portal or Wizard Lock, either on the lid of the coffin or on doorways to the Vampire’s lair, might frustrate escaping adventurers or otherwise buy the Vampire more time.


dark sun meets ACKS

in case you were wondering

Kalak, the mad tyrant of Tyr and the most notorious sorcerer-king of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, probably weighs in as a Level 10 Magic-User in Adventurer, Conqueror, King (ACKS).

I may not be doing the math right, though.  I’ll show my work in a minute, but I want to blither about Dark Sun for two sections.

(Disclaimer: several of my friends–Tavis, Paul, Chris H., Chris N., and Tim–have worked on ACKS in one way or another.  I apparently was an unwitting playtester.)


what’s dark sun about?

With some of our indie games wrapping up or on hiatus, I’m thinking about running some D&D that fits my work schedule and is distinct from the other New York Red Box offerings.  “Hey, maybe I’ll do a domain-level end game using 2e in Dark Sun!”

Digging around on Dragonsfoot revealed dissent about what the setting was “all about.”  Granted that the only material I ever cared about was the original Dark Sun Campaign Setting by Troy Denning, I’d say the setting involved three core elements:

  1. Brom’s pictures of a fantasy world gone horribly wrong.
  2. Kirby-ish social commentary about environmentalism and politics, a sort of Sword & Sorcery meets Green Anarchism thing.
  3. Weird mods to the D&D 2e rules, like 4d4 +4 for ability scores, new races, new classes, a huge dollop of psionics, and monsters with embarrassingly dumb names.

This may not hold true for the later supplements, but it’s my take on the original boxed set.

i want my masochism without so much fun, please

In 1992 the changes to the rules seemed exciting and x-treem.  But twenty years later, as I sink into middle age, the changes mostly seem like a headache for little net benefit.

You’ll likely have a higher Strength score, to hit more often for greater damage – but your weapons are mostly made of bone or obsidian, so they’re less accurate and weaker, which probably zeroes out.

Most items are sold at a 99% discount – but copper pieces have replaced the gold piece as the standard medium of exchange, so that zeroes out too.

But mostly my gripe about Dark Sun is that the psionics muddy up a perfectly fine metaphor.  The key setting detail in Dark Sun is that the irresponsible use of magic as a route to political power has led to an ecological catastrophe.  That clearly sets up a conflict between the corrupt Defilers and the benign but somewhat inhuman Druids.  Introducing a third source of supernatural power, one which has no bearing on the central conflict of the setting, seems unnecessary at best.  (Plus, 2e psionics make monsters a bit harder to run, because of unfamiliarity and bookkeeping.)

So my idea shifted from, “Let’s run Dark Sun out of the box” to “Let’s simplify Dark Sun a bit.”

  • Ditch psionics, because it doesn’t add much other than gonzo
  • Ditch the elemental Clerics, at least as PC’s, because they aren’t very interesting
  • Replace the Athasian Bard with the 1e Assassin, which may have been the original intent
  • Merge the Templars with the Defilers; thematically Sorcerer-Kings are just “big” Defilers
  • Replace the Templar/Defiler types with Necromancers
  • Give the monsters a good once-over and maybe a redesign
  • Ah hell, get rid of most of the non-human races (because marathon Elves and workaholic Dwarves are dumb)

And then I realized, “This removes everything that is gonzo and crazy about Dark Sun.  Plus the whole idea was to avoid extra work.  I’m an idiot.”

But the idea would have been to run some 9th level guys struggling to keep Tyr together in the aftermath of Kalak’s death, scheming against ambitious aristocrats, suppressing slave revolts, exterminating Thri-Kreen raiding tribes, and bringing war to neighboring city-states.

what’s this about ACKS again?

What follows is some demographic analysis under the ACKS system, to figure out what the Tyr region looks like under that rules-variant.  The upshot is that the Sorcerer-Kings, far from being world-conquering bad-asses, are more like speed bumps to the mightiest adventurers from more heavily populated worlds.

Behold the Tablelands, the “campaign level” map of the Dark Sun setting, by Diesel.  It’s 120,000 square miles, weighing in at “kingdom” size per ACKS.  Assuming a relatively sparse 30 people per square mile, that would be 360,000 people in the Tablelands as a whole, at the very lower bound of the “kingdom” band.  This population figure is probably rather high: much of this map is uninhabitable.

A kingdom has enough space, and enough people, to support up to six “principalities,” and there are seven city-states in the Tablelands.  Close enough!  Maybe a city-state is a principality?  If so, Kalak, the tyrant of Tyr, is probably around 12th level in ACKS.

Except, a principality in ACKS means a certain amount of territory and people under your control, and the city-states likely come in much smaller.  Here’s a hexographer map of the Tyr region at 6-mile hexes, based on Diesel’s map (I made a few approximations).  Tyr, the city in the center, probably asserts a claim to all of this territory, but (per the text) its actual sphere of control is much more limited.

This map contains approximately 300 hexes, of which about half are either sand dunes or the ungovernable jungles beyond the Ringing Mountains, leaving about 150 available.  If you figure Tyr controls about half of those, it would hold sway over about 75 hexes.  Or, just eye-balling the map, Tyr obviously controls everyting within a 2-hex radius; let’s be generous and say it’s a 4-hex radius instead.  (It likely wouldn’t be a perfect circle: Kalak might cede some of the mountainous territory to control the scrubland to the southwest.)  That works out to just under 1600 square miles, about 70 hexes at 22.5 square miles per hex.  So we’re in the neighborhood of 70-75 hexes.

Let’s say the area around Tyr has about 250 families per 6-mile hex, or 8 families per square mile.  At 70 hexes, that’s 17,500 familes, or 87,500 people.  This territory and population is just at the lower bounds of a “duchy” in the ACKS rules, which is smaller than the principality-sized domain I’d discussed a few paragraphs ago.

What about the city of Tyr?  With 17.5K families, the largest settlement would normally be a large village.  However, ACKS has some rules for adjusting this based on population density.  Societies in Dark Sun tend to be urbanized due to the dangers lurking in the wilderness, and the city-states are highly centralized, so that probably shifts Tyr into a “small city” of about 1250-2500 families.  This matches up pretty well with Kalak’s personal domain of 1500 families, if he’s running a duchy.

What level is Kalak?  Well, he rules a “duchy” of just under 90,000 people.  ACKS suggests that puts him somewhere in the Level 9-10 range.  And if Tyr were a starting city, situated within a populated realm, the minimum level of its ruler would be Level 10.

Level 10 seems a little weak for a world-shaking bad guy like Kalak, but

  • Relative to maximum level, Level 10 in ACKS (capped at level 14) is probably like Level 15 in Second or Third Edition (capped at 20)
  • Dark Sun is a fallen world, where the great achievements of the Green Age are forever lost.  This could mean that there simply aren’t any truly high-level adventurers around any more.
  • Kalak enjoys a lot of infamy, but really, he owns a dying city in the middle of the waste land, in a tiny section of the planet.  He might boast about his power and everyone lives in fear of him, but in objective terms he’s simply a local warlord with a (literal) cult of personality.

If you really want to power him up, you could say that Kalak is a leftover from the time when Tyr really was a principality and had the population (and high-level adventurers) that comes with it.  This would put him around Level 12, a few levels higher than almost anyone in the present era could hope to match because the economy has tanked so hard, largely due to the ecological ruin brought on by Kalak and those like him.  In that sense, the Sorcerer-Kings’ history makes a lot of sense: rise to power, and then completely destroy the economy so that no one can ever rival your might.

is there anything useful I can take from this?

Yeah, maybe.

The assumptions of Dark Sun–D&D 2 tha xtreem!!!–aren’t necessarily a great fit for ACKS, which strives for internal consistency.

ACKS achieves that self-consistent goal impressively well.  Since consistency isn’t Tavis’s strong suit as a GM (indeed, a delightful inconsistency is his watchword), I assume Alex Macris and Greg Tito did the hard work, with help from many editors like Blizack.  The system is fairly easy to use, and everything looks plausible and workable.

The themes in Dark Sun are actually accentuated by this treatment: under D&D’s instrumentalist ethics, genocide and ecological ruin are bad because they make it harder for you to level up!

Being level 10 (or, I guess level 12) is awesome enough to start a cult that worships you (your henchmen, their henchmen, and your apprentices), conquer a city, and force its inhabitants to live in fear.  And maybe make plausible claims to have destroyed the world.  If you’re approaching level 10, Kalak is one of your peers.


Some Spells

Here are a few spells or spell-like effects that could be found in a spellbook, as a one-time device or scroll, or as an effect or trap somewhere in your dungeon.  Add spell level to suit your campaign.

Expedient Quartermaster

This spell conjures, for the caster and up to six companions, a supply of personal gear appropriate to thier occupation and the surrounding environment. Each gains a fortnight of rations, a suit of clothing or armor, and general items useful to the situation. A cleric in a dungeon might gain plate, shield, mace, and a pack including spikes, rope, holy symbol, lantern and oil. A fighting man out-of-doors could expect chain, sword, bow, horse, and saddle-bags with foraging and camping gear. A magic-user in a castle would find courtly robe and hat, staff, scroll case, and portable desk full of writing materials and spell reagents. The items are always of the finest quality but are never magical in any way. Those supplied by each particluar casting of the quartermaster will appear as a matching unit, with armor or clothes of similar style and color. In certain situations a group item may also appear, for example a group near a body of water will be provided with a suitable boat or raft.

Byzal’s Windy Conveyance

The caster and up to six others grasping – or grasped by – the caster are instantly swept into an extradimensional whirlwind that transports them to the location envisioned by the caster, up to one mile away. No matter the destination, the travelers are tossed in the wind, completely out of control, for thirty seconds. All torches and lanterns will be extinguished and travelers have a 50% chance of dropping whatever they are holding. On arrival the travelers must spend a full minute regaining balance and breath before capable of anything else.

 Larkajanur’s Ominous Valediction or The Curse of Inconvienient Attention

Save versus spells or opponents faced with a choice of targets will always choose to attack you above others. Lasts until dispelled.

Ekhion’s Inflexible Reprieve

The inflexible reprieve is a one-time displacement triggered by an eminent danger (thus preventing damage from a successful attack by an enemy, exploding fireball, etc.) or the spell’s duration, whichever comes first. The spell lasts ten minutes for every two levels of the caster. Unwilling targets of the spell may save versus magic, but once the spell is successfully applied it cannot be removed. To determine the character’s new location roll d8 for compass direction, d100x10′ for distance, and place the character into the nearest unoccupied space.

 Almetor’s Petulant Arms

Will affect 1d6 beings; those who fail a save vs. spells will find weapons writhe, turn, and jump in thier hands. Those with uncooperative weapons should subtract 3 from to-hit rolls. The spell lasts for one turn.

The Mercurial Spirit of Prabacor

Casting this spell summons a mischevious, uncontrolled unseen servant-like spirit that will remain for a turn per level of the caster. Roll for reaction.

2-4: Resentfully harasses and distracts the caster, preventing spellcasting, tying shoelaces of his friends, slamming doors and so on.

5-9: Spirit neutral towards the caster, but will look for excitement at someone’s expense. In this state the spirit can be offered goods or services in exchange for favors. What could it want? Otherwise it may wander off, become interested in someone or something interesting, or simply wait to be returned wherever it came from.

10-12: Independently provides help by, e.g., opening doors, harassing or distracting enemies, setting off traps, etc.


Dicing Up a B/X Dragon

Monochrome dice would actually be hard to use for this

Monochrome dice would actually be hard to use for this (h/t

This was a side project from a while back: Building on an earlier post, I wanted to lay out a small system for generating a dragon out of a handful of dice, with the idea of running some one shots that pitted whoever showed up against whatever dragon I generated (I think I was inspired by a short story in Dragon magazine in the early 90’s, I forget the name. Middle-aged dragon hunter.).

It’s actually not especially fast, but that was part of the point: I wanted to write the charts up by hand on a big, yellowed piece of paper, and play up the oracular reading of the dice.  I actually like how most of it turns out: Rolling six dice determines the hit dice, breath weapon, alignment, gender, lair type, whether the dragon can cast spells, and (this is the weakest part) name.  It’s also some fun with different ways to generate distributions with dice… In any case, maybe it inspires someone else to do something clever-er…

Dragon Dice Oracle


The Value of a Rerolled Die

I’ve seen a couple of blogposts about the advantage/disadvantage mechanic in WotC’s playtest materials that suggested some interest in the underlying math.  I actually find these functions useful to have around in other situations, too, so I’m reposting this bit I wrote up for our campaign wiki.

Average Value Re-rolling a N-Sided Die, Taking the Highest Result

Average Value Re-rolling a N-Sided Die, Taking the Lowest Result

So, for a D20…

The highest of two dice averages 13.825, the lowest of two dice averages 7.175.


wack(ier) Carcosa races

Richard has been running a Wacky Carcosa Races game, complete with lots of cool pictures.

Several of the contestants have interesting vehicles, but none of them scream “Carcosa!!!!!!” to me.  (Though “Joan of Shark and her Car-Charodon” is a great name.)  How about:

An intercontinental slip-n-slide made from the stitched-together hymens of Ulfire maidens, rolled out like a carpet and lubricated with feces by a pair of lobotomized mi-go.  Belly-gliding along this horrific boulevard, like a curling stone, is the Ptotic Invigilator.  At his command roving cyborg marauders sweep the environs for virgins that the causeway may be extended to the Salivary Seas. 

Oh well, there’s always next year.


Dungeon!s and Dragons

I doubt it’s news to anyone reading this blog that Wizards of the Coast is reprinting the classic TSR board game Dungeon!

For those not familiar with the game, which first came out at the dawn of D&D in ’75, it’s a straightforward old American-style boardgame just dripping with old-school flavor. Players send colorful pawns representing various Chainmail-type characters (an elf, wizard, hero and superhero — note how we’ve got PCs of different experience levels adventuring together!) into the depths of a dungeon full of traps and secret doors. There they draw cards representing monsters encountered, roll dice to defeat them and draw treasure cards. Magic item cards help your PC win fights or explore more efficiently, but it’s monetary treasure which helps you win — you need treasures of a high enough GP value, and you need to escape with them alive!

It’s amazing how well the gameplay lines up with the OSR playstyle. Killing monsters is fun, but taking their wealth is the only thing that really matters. And while the PCs don’t form a party — you’re in competition with the other players — dealing with other PCs is reminiscent of dealing with rival adventuring parties or active dungeon factions in old-school Caves of Chaos-type play, where you watch NPCs fight each other and hope to swoop in on the weakened victor to make an easy score.

What really appeals to me about the WotC re-release is the price. Whereas other companies’ recent re-releases of classic 70s and 80s games, like Steve Jackson’s OGRE and Games Workshop’s Talisman, had hefty three-digit price tags, the new Dungeon! reprint is listed as a cool $19.99. This looks like a serious effort to market the game for a new generation of kids, rather than as a cash-grab from nostalgic fortysomethings. I hope this works; Dungeon! can’t compete with today’s best Euro-style boardgames for quality of play, but it’s head and shoulders above its “classic” American competitors like Monopoly or Sorry! or what-have-you. It’d be nice to buy a few copies for my various nephews… maybe it’d encourage them to play D&D with their uncles when they’re older.


I’m a Third Level Gen Con Industry Insider Guest of Honor

I am proud to make two announcements concerning yesterday’s events:

  • My Glantri character, Gael Ur-Boss, reached third level – the greatest such achievement of any PC I’ve played in Quendalon’s campaign!
  • I was announced as one of the Industry Insider Guests of Honor for Gen Con ’12.

Particular reasons I care about these announcements:

  • Playing Glantri is fun. Having a character who is more capable will make it more fun (although it is to be noted that third level is nowhere near making Gael a force to be reckoned with in any Glantrian party these days).
  • Doing panels and workshops is fun. Having a larger audience resulting from the extra publicity from these being on the Industry Insider track will make it more fun (although it is likely that the bulk of this audience will be attracted by those GoHs more illustrious than myself: Wolgang Baur, Stan!, Dennis Detwiller, James Ernest, Matt Forbeck, Jess Hartley, Kenneth Hite, Steve Kenson, T.S. Luikart, Michelle Lyons, Ryan Macklin, Dominic McDowall-Thomas, Jason Morningstar, Susan Morris , Mark Rein-Hagen, Elizabeth Shoemaker-Sampat, Gareth-Michael Skarka, Christina Stiles, George Strayton, Richard Thomas, Rodney Thompson, and James Wyatt).
It’s a truism that no one wants to hear about your character. I’m deliberately drawing a parallel by talking about my beloved Gael (did I tell you that s/he got a +1 to Constitution just from becoming a six-year-old orc instead of a five-year-old one, even before s/he leveled up?) in the same breath as my Gen Con appearances. These are games you can play within the world of roleplaying. If you invest enough time and effort, you’ll get a recognition which is meaningful to the other players in your group.  But even should you make it to name level, it’s still a game that’s pretty uninteresting to anyone not intimately involved.
That said, here are some reasons you might care about these announcements nonetheless:
  • You will be adventuring in Glantri and need a comrade with not zero, not one, but two whole first-level cleric spells!
  • You will be at Gen Con this summer and might be interested in stuff I’ll talk about at the panels and workshops I’ll be on.

Panels etc. are yet to be determined, but here are the ones I said I “would feel comfortable hosting” in the application to be an Insider GoH:

Fund Your Game Project with Kickstarter (panel)             

From publishing your RPG or boardgame to opening a gaming café, learn how crowdfunding can help you achieve your dream from those who have succeeded (and failed) with Kickstarter.

Raising Money for Charity with Gaming Events (workshop)

Learn how you can use your gaming skills to help a good cause by studying previous examples, getting practical advice, and participating in a celebrity roleplaying event to raise money for a gaming-related charity.

Record and Share Your Roleplaying Sessions (workshop)

Podcasts and actual play videos are increasingly popular as ways to share the excitement of your games and help bring new players into the hobby. Learn how to get started!

Teaching Games (panel)

Educators, parents, and kids share their experiences with programs that introduce kids to gaming, from school curricula to homeschooling to summer camps, and pass on advice and inspiration.

Getting Paid to GM (panel)

A survey of professional opportunities for roleplaying gamemasters and advice on how to get started.

Lunch hour being over, I should get back to the business of Getting Paid to Have a Day Job, but will perhaps come back to this topic (or ones raised in comments) in future.


Everything I Need To Know About Business I Learned from D&D

I am a firm believer that the heist caper is a basic model for old-school RPG play, and ACKS encourages playing out other more legitimate kinds of enterprise (running a mercantile trading outfit, building a fortified village) as well as the established criminality of managing a thieves’ guild.

None of my real-life business dealings would make for interesting roleplaying even by the standards of Papers and Paychecks*, but they have given me the experience of trying to work with both gamers and non-gamers to set up a collaboration and get something done.

Role-playing gamers tend to have two fundamental skills. I take it for granted that we apply these skills to all areas of our life, so it is bizarre and alienating when I am in a meeting with non-gamers who don’t follow suit:

  • We are all part of the same party, working for a common goal. D&D teaches us not to let personal agendas or enmities get in the way of looting the treasure and splitting it up fairly.
  • When the dice have been rolled, you have to accept what they say. RPGs teach us to accept facts that are not what we would have wished**, and look for ways around them instead of hoping the facts will change if we complain or barging along despite all evidence to the contrary.

Folks who’ve been exposed to my conversation for any length of time are likely to have heard me say this before (unless they took sensible precautions like listening to their iPods throughout), but Tim Hutchings seemed to think this was deep and essential at breakfast during the ACA/PCA conference so I’ve posted it here. Note that it may be interesting to think about gamers who share these virtues (like you, dear reader) but not to speculate on the folks who don’t that I’m referencing here: trust me, that’s deadly dry Papers & Paychecks territory of the kind you’d venture into only in order to get paid.

*P.S. This is a worthy Papers & Paychecks scenario:

**RPGs which violate the “no backsies” design principle  advocated by Invincible Overlord are thus demonstrably morally pernicious.

Past Adventures of the Mule

July 2021

RPG Bloggers Network

RPG Bloggers Network

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog & get email notification of updates.

Join 1,052 other followers