Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Maze of Peril - NOT a 4e Adventure!

I've just begun reading the "Maze of Peril" by John Eric Holmes and I plan on posting a full review once I'm done.  For now, I thought I'd post a few little tidbits from the first chapter as a way of setting the tone.

This is a seriously "Old School" adventure so far.  Here are some bits --

(I suppose some minor spoilers follow; I will be revealing some plot elements from the book)

  • The adventurers meet in a tavern.
  • They are hired by a wizard.
  • They are heading down into "the fabled Underworld" -- obviously a mega-megadungeon.
  • One character has a helm "with a long Norman nosepiece" and another curses "Mother of Mithra" -- the setting is a mish-mash of sources. 
"What race or races had built the original maze no one knew.  It seemed, in the opinion of the sages and magicians of the time, that there must have been many layers of dungeons and underworlds laid down, one atop the other, as the world crust was formed, so that now no one knew, ore even guessed, how many levels it extended below the surface."

  • There's a halfling, an elf, a dwarf and a wizard in the party.
  • The enter the underworld through a "secret door".
  • They bring a pack mule down into the dungeon.
  • Once the party gets together, the elf says, "I'll buy the next round.  Now, let us talk business."
Wanna guess what they talk about?  Here's a hint -- it's not healing surges or marks or anything like that...
 "The halfling and the dwarf launched into a discussion of magical detection schemes, march distances, horse power, mercenary men-at-arms, supply dumps, and rations."
I'm really liking it so far.  It's not as polished as some, but so far it has a charm all its own.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Maze of Peril

Christmas came early for me today and I'm giddy with anticipation!


I just received my very own copy of John Eric Holmes' "Maze of Peril"

Back on July 5, James M over at GROGNARDIA mentioned that you can still order copies from Space and Time books.

Well, I clicked on the email at the bottom of the page and "natalia" suggested that I contact Gordon Linzner.  He said that he still had copies of the book and that I could send him a check.  Here's what he said in an email to me:
I've got a couple hundred left. $6.95 each, but the $2 postal charge applies to the whole order. Order 5 or more and there's no postage handling charge.
I'd verify that the offer still stands with him ( before I send my check, but I was thrilled with the price and the service.

I sent my check last week and I found it in my mailbox today!  Just in time for some Thanksgiving reading!

Get your copy/copies while the supply lasts!  This is a classic that's a must have!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Look what I found in my attic...

I recently moved into a new house.  This has its advantages and disadvantages.

Posted below are some pics of the "advantages".  I probably put these books in the attic about 15 years ago... Wow...

My Gelatinous Cube

Michael Curtis over at Torch, Pole and Rope posted about his DIY Gelatinous Cube.

Here's mine.  Its a bit smaller than his.  I made it from a clear "cube-ish" container.  I hot glued an old skeleton MageKnight fig inside and then filled it with dollar store hair gel.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Art Books

The Paladin in Citadel was musing about spending good money for an art book.  I wouldn't.

What I would do is convince my talented sister to (ahem) copy interpret some of my favorite art in prismacolor pencils.

Here they are:

She's really good.

Don't know if you can see this in the image above, but she's hidden "easter eggs" in the Raistlin pic.  See if you can find the logo of a favorite band AND if you can tell what's inside the crystal ball...

Edit:  Here's the relevant part -- probably gives it away...

Shuffling Minis Around

I don't know.  Maybe it's 4e rubbing off on me (!) but I want a little more -- animation -- during my S&W combats.

I love using minis (I've confessed this before) but most of the time the PCs move up on the monsters and then they just sit there bashing away until the monster is done.  :(  Perhaps its a shortcoming of my DMing or perhaps its something else.  I'd just rather have the representation of the combat be a little more dynamic.

This past Thursday, the adventurers were fighting with some skeletons in a narrow 10' doorway.  They had 10 PCs and about half of them were stuck in the other room, unable to get into the fight.

The paladin and the elf fighter both successfully struck their respective opponent skeletons for 5 pts each JUST AS THE PLAYERS WERE LAMENTING THIS FACT.

So, I said, "go ahead and push the skeletons back a square".  Presto!  Now a path into the room was available and more characters could get involved.

Now its great to handwave this kind of thing.  I'm totally comfortable with making this kind of of "off the cuff" ruling, but I think it would be more fun if it was codified (in a simple way) so the players could depend upon it.  A few weeks ago Fenway5 came up with a similar system and I posted about it here.

Here are my initial thoughts as a graphic.  I look forward to any comments you may have or if anyone actually playtests it -- let me know how it went.
Click to embiggen!

PS: thanks to Telecanter for the silhouette of the knight -- I cheated and quickly made the other silhouette myself.  From a screenshot from a MMORPG, I think.  :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

26 Years Ago TODAY! Part 2

Twenty-six years ago today, on a fall day much like this one (cool, crisp air; sunny) I woke up after a long night of dungeon building to get ready to run the adventure I'm sharing with all of you today.

My good friend Norman and I planned to get some gaming in.  It's Veteran's Day in the US and there's no school.  Today, I'm not at work because I now work for a school district.  :)

Anyway, Norman had his new fighter (or perhaps a paladin or cavalier) named Brandon Broadblade all rolled up and he was ready to go.  He had a squire sidekick and I believe BB was 2nd or perhaps 3rd level.

Brandon was the son of Duke Brandorian Broadblade, an NPC in my Queston campaign and the ruler of Fort Doom, one of the great holds of the Fyrkingdom.

Brandon had been sent to "clear out" the last resting place of King Grothegarka'an (an ancient king).  It was being used as a secret outpost by bandits and at least one sorcerer/necromancer/etc.

Thus, our hero, gathered his weapons, put on his armor and mounted his horse  to ride to the BarrowRock.

I obviously had something important planned for the "BarrowRock" because I mention "see endnote" in the text of my adventure.  There is no endnote, so whatever that was is lost to memory.

I know that Brandon entered the barrow and avoided many of the traps.  I know that he and his squire slew many brigands and juju zombies.  (Note: you can really tell I was tired and a little punchy when writing up some of this adventure!  Enjoy!)

I also know that he fell victim to the chute in room 3 on level 3, sliding all the way down into the unfinished fifth level...

...and that's where the adventure ended.  :(

Looking back on it now, I'm very disappointed in myself for not "improvising" on the spot.  Or I could have allowed Brandon to catch somewhere halfway down.  The key states that the chute goes right through room 6 on level 4.  He could have gone on from there...

Alas, I didn't know what to do when he missed his "easy" and "hard" avoidance rolls (Note: I used to have a sub-system for saving throws... maybe I'll find those rules sometime...) and down he went.

I've matured in all those years as a person and a DM.  I know that there's no sense in ending the adventure when the "key" runs out.  Hell, that's what random tables and geomorphs are for!  Perhaps someday in the future, I'll finish this thing -- maybe rebuilding it in its entirety -- and then Norman and I can pick up where BB "dropped off"...

I still think about an alternate universe where BB is stuck in limbo somewhere just before entering a nebulous, unformed fifth level of the "Barrow".

Download the adventure here

PS: there were several blank, yellowed, unused sheets of paper in the folder with the adventure.  This morning, I got up and took a shot at mapping the dungeon to see how Jacquayed it was.  By my estimation, its so-so.  The beginning is a bit of a railroad, but then you do get choices and you can avoid some encounters altogether.  You can also find multiple paths down into the other (undeveloped) areas of the dungeon.  All in all, an interesting exercise.  :)

I look forward to your comments.  I know that I enjoy reading and looking at other peoples adventures from those long gone days...  Enjoy and happy Veterans' Day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

26 Years Ago TODAY!

Twenty-six years ago right now, a younger me was scribbling on the pieces of paper RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!

I'm not kidding.

Twenty-six years ago right now I was scrambling to write an adventure for my friend Norman.  I'd just realized earlier in the week that we had Veteran's Day off from school and that meant we had some prime gaming time right in the middle of the week.

After dinner I grabbed some mechanical pencils, pens and paper and retreated to my bedroom.

I was creating for HOURS AND HOURS the very dungeon I have right here!  Amazing!

I know that I'm a packrat, but this is too cool.  :)

I just moved from my old house to a new one.  During that move, I was forced to pack up and look through my gaming stuff.  I came upon this lost adventure --

"The Barrow of King Grothegarka'an"

It's obvious to me that I was serious about this one.  It has WAAAAAY more detail than most of my other adventures.

The maps are shaded in.  I use pencil AND two colors of pen.  I name the different levels and I have an ornate key.

There's even a "cover image" of the barrow with the dark night sky above it, the three moons of Queston floating above...

I need to take a little bit of time tonight and tomorrow to write up a post-mortem for the adventure as far as I remember, then I'll post that AND the entire scan of the adventure (well, what there is of it -- I never finished it...)

More tomorrow!

Sandbox vs. Railroad -- the time factor

Like many GMs, I like being prepared for my games.

What that means these days is quite a bit different that what it used to mean.

In the old days, I used to spend hours upon hours writing out scenarios, creating detailed maps, making NPCs, etc.

These days, I'm happy to wing it.  I usually have a map (often borrowed off the interwebs) and a vague key.  The rest I just make up on the spot.

In the old days, my players were probably railroaded a bit, but they didn't seem to mind.  Nowadays, beyond the giant megadungeon, I'm fine with the sandbox.  The players can do what they want.

Here's the rub -- I'm finding myself being very conscious of time spent at the table.  I always feel rushed.  Because I never know what they are going to do, I don't have the minis I decide to use (or randomly roll up) ready at the table.  Because they can go left or right or back, I don't have the exact terrain or dungeon tiles ready.  I have to scramble to pull it all together.

In the old days, I'd just gather all this up ahead of time and the players would knock it all down in sequence like bowling pins.  Things seemed to be smoother AT THE TABLE.

Now, its not that I'm disorganized.  I have MANY plastic bins with all my minis in them.  The bins are labeled and I have a good sense of where things are.  I have multiple battlemats and multiple sets of dungeon tiles.  I have markers, pens, lots of dice, props, etc.

Its just that if they do something and I need an ogre mage, five trolls, a chest, a fountain, a bridge, two magic circles and a wyvern -- it'll take a minute to pull it together!

I've decided that tomorrow night, I'll discuss this with my players.  Maybe the perception is all mine.  Maybe they're fine with the slight delays.  Maybe they'd prefer more tracks and less freedom.

We shall see.

What do you all do to prepare for your games?

Monday, November 8, 2010

4e Displacer Beast

Here's a sneak peek --

The displacer beast has always been a favorite of mine.  I don't know about you guys, but the new displacement rules seem pretty harsh with this new beastie...   Now you have to hit (roll high enough) AND the number has to be EVEN!

Only HALF of your successful hits are going to actually hit.  Wow!  That's tough...

Here's a page from the old 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendium -- I don't have anything else handy...
This 'beast is only AC 4 and you take a -2 penalty to hit.  Quite a bit easier to handle than AC 23 with only a 50% chance that your successful attack roll will hit.  

Hope I don't see any of these beauties in my 4e game...  :)

4e is M:tG with minis and some roleplaying

I just figured out that half the fun to 4e is the strategic use of interlocking/complimentary powers/feats.  Maybe I'm wrong, but to me, that's really the whole point to the game.

Assembling a character is much the same as deck building in Magic: the Gathering.  Then you take your character out and throw him into combat against challenges that the DM creates.  There's some story and some roleplaying thrown in there too, but mostly its about clever use of powers and strategies in battle that matters.

In one way, its not that different from some old school games.  In my S&W games, the heroes have to cleverly manage spells, magic items and mundane items to solve problems and continue the adventure.

In 4e, its just so much more... flashy!  Very little is mundane.  That's fine I guess if you want to play superheroes.  :)  You just need to understand the baseline assumptions that 4e is making.


As an aside, kudos to my friend JD for his clever 3D dungeon.  Very cool.  I especially like how you can be on multiple levels at once.  I'm gonna try something like this with my dungeon tiles (I just recently found a box of wooden blocks during my move!)

Here are some pics:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Monsters! Monsters!

Back in the early 80's, I was lucky enough to be able to play RPGs at a place called, "Flying Buffalo."

Of course, you all know this place as the home of "Tunnels and Trolls."  To me, it was just the place in a Tempe industrial park where we all went to game.

Every Saturday, I'd get up and I'd mow the lawn and take care of any chores that needed to be done around the house.  Then, by about noon, I'd pick up my buddies and we'd cruise down to Flying Buffalo in my '72 Buick Electra 225.  I was the lucky guy who had a car -- even if it was a total beater.  :)

We'd buy Skittles, Dr. Pepper, Suzie-Qs, Starbursts, and other assorted crap and we'd settle into a looong day/night of gaming.

Mostly, we played Champions, some D&D (1st Ed.), and Tunnels and Trolls.  I was lucky enough to play with Jimmy (JJ) Walker (sort of), Jason Sato and I was turned into a badger by Ugly John Carver.  :)  I think Michael Stackpole was around a lot too -- I don't know if I ever played with him -- maybe.

Well, I didn't make a lot of money back then ($3.35/hour) but I did manage to pay my car insurance, buy gas, and buy gaming stuff.

One of my early purchases was "Monsters! Monsters!"  I just rediscovered it in a box during my move.  It's in good shape.  Here are some pics...  Sorry that they're blurry -- maybe I'll do some high-res scans of a few pages sometime...

We actually played this once or twice.  Brings back some good memories!