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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Spreading the Disease

Bad things happen when you play with the dead, but that never stops adventurers from plundering the nearest crypt, ripping the lids off of every coffin and sarcophagus they can lay a hand on.  Sure, the DM is gonna drop some skeletons, mummies, and maybe even a wraith on ya, but what about the no-seeums?  What about those dwellers in the crypt you can't see??

While working on my latest module I had plenty of time to consider the death that death induces, and below are just a few of the things one might 'pick up' while ransacking the final resting place of some gold.

  • Lich Mold - Sure, you beat that undead wizard back to the hell where he belongs, but this rotting corpse and musty robes held a terrible secret even he didn't realize.  This horrible fungal hyphae will float through the air as you relentlessly whack away at the lich, an invisible killer your characters will breathe in as they battle for their very lives.  The affects of Lich Mold are not immediately apparent.  It starts with a mild cough, a shortness of breath.  Soon after there will be fever, necrosis of the extremities that slowly creeps towards your interior, and finally a wrenching, fitful death.  But that's not the end of it.  No ordinary mold, but the magical detritus of the creature itself and an extension of that evil, the mold is turning you into an undead creature, a sub-lich, the living dead embodiment of your current incarnation.  Don't worry, it won't make you evil, just undead.  You will retain your current abilities, and gain some new ones like immunity to sleep/charm, some low-rent magical resistance, and a much wider grin that you never can shake. [50% chance to contract when in the presence of a Lich, save vs. disease or contract the disease, disease can be cured by cure disease within 2 weeks of initial contraction, fatal thereafter]

  • Coffin Crop -  "Maybe the gold is under the corpse?  Let's move it and see."  This invisible killer is a fungus that both preserves and lives off of the deceased host.  If touched by bare hands it will be absorbed by the skin in 4d6 rounds unless dissolved/washed in alcohol, lye soap, or some other antibacterial substance. Once absorbed it requires a cure disease cast at level 5+ to kill/cure. Coffin Crop will reduce a character’s hp permanently by 1/week until the infected is cured or deceased.  The infected character(s) will begin to emit a very sweet, floral aroma almost immediately upon absorption, issued from the oral cavity.  This is how the fungus aspirates. [25% chance to contract when in the presence of a corpse that is handled, save vs. disease or contract the disease, disease can be cured by cure disease(lvl5) within 4 weeks of initial contraction, fatal thereafter]

  • Mummy Miasma - Just because the desert is hot and dry doesn't mean that it's without a sense of humor. While the priests have done their best to prepare the body for the afterlife, they sometimes miss a step. Lung removal is an integral part of the process, but it's not easy getting those air sacs out without messing things up, and sometimes a bit of the lungs remain. It is here that the Miasma takes hold, a tiny creature that exists between life and death. When the mummy awakens to defend its charge or when its curse is activated, it always moans. Moaning is how you know it's a mummy, amiright? But it's not the mummy who's moaning, it's the Miasma forcing its way out the mouth-hole and past the wrappings into the air at large in order to settle in a healthy pair of lungs. The effects of the Miasma are noticeable within 24hrs, with a deep lethargy and bouts of near-comatose sleep being the primary symptoms. The Miasma will eventually sink the infected into a dark sleep from which they cannot be awakened. The disease keeps the body functioning, especially the lungs which aspirate as normal, feeding the miasma as well as allowing it do spread further.  [25% chance to contract when in the presence of a mummy, save vs. disease or contract the disease, disease can be cured by cure disease within 2 weeks of initial contraction, fatal thereafter]

I think disease in the game world is often disregarded, after all, how often do the characters catch a cold?  Get sidelined with a Flu?  I know that doing all of the housekeeping on everything everyday is a hassle, and I'm not suggesting you manage each and every meal or bathroom trip, but if the characters decide to go off and play with the dead maybe there is a chance they will leave with more than a sack of gold and a new sword...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

There's More to Life than D&D...

Yep.  I said it.  There is more to life than TTRPG's.  You wouldn't know it by the posts I normally drop here, but I do think about more than playing RPG's.

This was not a weekend for gaming.  Instead, I spent alot of my time around the house cleaning, cooking for my son (he's 11, and a foodie), and watching movies.  It's the movies I wanted to talk about today.  It's the movies that made this weekend a good one.

Yesterday, my son and I caught the matinee of Kubo and the Two Strings.  If there has been a better animated film in the last decade, I missed it (and trust me when I tell you, I didn't miss it).  This film had everything one could ask for, and with ticket prices swelling over $10 (not even gonna talk about how much popcorn costs) it's rare that I feel that my hard earned money was well spent.  This film is an exception, and it's exceptional.

I'm not going to bother with summarizing the plot, which you can read here, but instead just want to go over the things that I was impressed by.  

The animation was superb.  Meant to mimic claymation it was beautiful in all the right places, and jagged and jarring with purpose to invoke the same feeling you would have watching old Rankin/Bass Christmas tales when you (well, when I) was a kid back in the 70's.   Set in (what I think is) ancient Japan, much of the focus of the movie is on the art of Origami, which was particularly great employing this animation style.  I was drawn in from the opening scene, an ocean angry and dark.

At the heart of this film is it's story.  Deep and moving and filled with wonderful characters who were very three dimensional, the story arc is a wild ride that had me on the edge of my seat, and rooting for Kubo, the hero of the story.  It is a story about family, about duty and honor, about love...and most interestingly to me, about stories.  Again, I don't want to give too much away...but this story has an ending you may not expect.  I was able to call out a few surprises that my son didn't quite get as early on as I did, but the film managed to surprise me more than once.

I am recommending you see this film, and try and hit the local theater to do it.  Yeah yeah, I have 60" of LED in my living room too, but this movie deserves the big screen.  If you can't make it in time to see it in the movies, you should still make a note to download....ugh..I mean stream it...or whatever the kids do these days. 9/10

Later that night, dinner cooked, eaten and cleaned up, I sat and watched The Man who Knew Infinity.  

The story of the life and academic career of the pioneer Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and his friendship with his mentor, Professor G.H. Hardy.

Dev Patel was phenomenal.  If you enjoyed him in the Marigold Hotel films then you will very much enjoy his performance in this film as Ramanujan, the famous mathematician.  Jeremy Irons seems to have two modes...he pops up in strange, pop-ish films and throws a low-end or campy performance which is fine, but never great as the movies are not great ( I have to say it?  Profion in the first D&D movie which should never have been made?).  Then he elevates to this amazing place, a lofty performance cloud hovering above Olympus (Reversal of Fortune or Dead Ringers are just two of his best).  His performance here seems on par, an initially cold and aloof mathematician, he eventually breaks and the emotions become difficult for him to manage.

A great movie.  Watch it.  Bring tissues. 8/10

Finally, today I sat and watched The Legend of Tarzan.  I didn't expect to like this film, but instead I fucking loved it!  Ok...full disclosure here.  As a kid the late 70's/early 80's I loved me some Saturday morning cartoons, and the Filmation version of Tarzan was a BIG favorite of mine.  I used to jump around on the furniture and pretend I was Tarzan, and my dad would yell when I would call out like Tarzan at the end of the intro.

Finally a Tarzan movie where the origin story is clipped into the background so we have a good TARZAN story!  His relationship with the animals, his relationship with the natives...It was all very refreshing, and alot of fun.  This isn't a deep movie.  This movie won't win any awards.  This movie IS what a Tarzan movie should be, which is a great update to those cool Johnny Weissmuller films I enjoyed on Sunday afternoon as a kid.  Finally a movie based on an ERB property that he can be proud of (ok, maybe he didn't roll too hard in the grave about John Carter of Mars, which could have been far better). 8/10 that's it for life outside of playing.  For those who care I cooked Ground Beef Pepper Steak, Italian Pork tenderloin, and some Chicken Burrito Filling this weekend for my son and for the week ahead (I'm also a meal prepper, which I think is the way to go!).  

Next week...back to the normal posts about game stuff..which I'm sure is more interesting than my 'actual' life or my movie reviews.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Lizard-men: Savages from..the future?

"The beauty of fighting lizard-folk," said Feral as he gnashed his teeth into the chunk of charred meat, "is that after ya kills 'em, you can eat em.  Tasty bastards, a bit like chicken but a little chewier."

Gargus moaned softly and stared at the small, hairy dwarf, unable to bring himself to try the strange delicacy.  "You eat little brother", said the large man with the child's face, "I'm not very hungry."  It was a lie, he was starving, but the thought of eating the razor-toothed scalers wasn't at all appealing.  He didn't want to eat anything that had spoken to him, even if all they said was 'sssssurender'.

"Have it your way giant, but you don't know what yer missin'.  These beasties are delicious, especially with a bit o' me mothers spice-salt."  The greasy-lipped dwarf tore off another wedge of the white flesh and chewed loudly.  Gargus wondered why the dwarf's mother hadn't also taught the tunnel-fighter some manners.  He pulled a bit of stale bread from the pack and faced the other direction as he ate, but he couldn't escape the noise.

We throw Goblins at them, and Orcs at them, and Kobolds by the bushel at them...but rarely have I played or GM'd a game where Lizard-Men got alot of play.  Often relegated merely to the swamp, these foes should probably get more attention, after all lizards can live in many climates.  Forests and prairies have a good number of lizards, and of course hotter, wetter climates and deserts have  their fair share too, so there aren't too many places in your game world where lizard-folk can't play a role.

Here's the interesting thing (to me at least) our world (the real one) lizards do not really live in cultural collectives.  They are usually solitary, and though they may gather in similar places where food and sunlight are in abundance, they don't exist in a community.  The game world is another story.  It assumes that these are evolved creatures with a society, culture, norms and mores, religious affiliations, and all of the trappings of culture.  Given that these societies exist to protect the individual, it's not hard to imagine that these might be very large communities.  While mating may only occur annually, there is a good chance that these creatures birth a brood, or a clutch, and so I always imagined that these populations would be at least as large as that of orcs or goblins. In other words...THERE SHOULD BE LOTS OF THESE GUYS!

As I spent more time thinking about them, it seemed like initially investigating the culture was the way to go.  In this article I'm going to try and pull together some of my thoughts about them as a people, and then I will break out some types/sub-types.  It's really hard for me to think about lizard-men and not take a memory-trip back to 1978, Saturday morning, Land of the Lost.  Enik, Pylons, and hissing.  Pushing ahead with this line of thinking, I came to the conclusion that it would be more fun if the current lizard-folk of my world were in fact a devolved species, and that their finest days as a culture were behind them, much like the Sleestak (boy, was Enik ever pissed when he realized that the Sleestak were his future and not his past).  If this was the case, and the lizard-folk were once an advanced society of warriors, arcanists, priests and artificers then it opened up an entirely new way for me to utilize them in-game.

Let's skip the normal here, passing over what we already know or use in-game.  Sure, there are Lizard-man warriors, and Lizard Kings, and probably a few Lizard-man shaman or hedge-wizards thrown in for good measure.  Maybe if you have the players stumble across a village of these creatures, the women will defend.  Perhaps the young ones have a venomous or disease-ridden bite that's highly potent.  OK, sure, we've all walked this path before...

Now we can take a trip into the past (or maybe some Lizard-men opened a magical portal to the future...hmmm) and look at Lizard High Society, a culture of Magic, Science, Art, and all of the highest ideals.

This guy looks evil...or is that just how we view reptiles in general?

With a great regard for nature and their place in the natural world, Lizard-folk build their cities and smaller satellite communities from natural formations of rock, deep within the earth as smooth burrows, and in the treetops.  The structures they live and work in will depend upon their location, so desert lizard-folk will live in ancient Egyptian-style dwellings, those that live in jungles will live in Ancient Aztec-like structures, and those found in the more moderate plains/mountain/hill country of a temperate climate will live in burrows or caves, albeit ones that have been artfully carved or created.

These Lizard-folk will have mastered many crafts, including that of building.  It's likely that magic will have played a crucial role in building the infrastructure of Lizard-folk society, using its power to help carve, shape, and even grow larger buildings of significance such as communal dining halls, temples, centers for magic, science and learning and all manner of places where large numbers may have gathered.

It's hard for outsiders to differentiate between male and female lizard-folk, though they have no such issue themselves.  Small identifiers might be brighter colors or slightly smaller size for males.  It is because they are so similar physically that they have moved past gender inequality in many respects (though not all).  Women are generally still highly invested in child rearing, even though the entire process is managed communally.  Lizard-folk will lay eggs or birth a brood in a centrally located nesting area that is tended by females of an age greater than child bearing.  It is this process which bonds lizard-folk to the community as a whole, and so each individual treats the group as family.  They often refer to members of the same general age group as 'sister' or 'brother' and elders as 'mother' or 'father' regardless of the original genetic line.

This is not a monogamous species.  Mating is not life-pairing, but instead an act of passion where the Lizard-folk allow themselves to be swept up in certain physical and emotional states that they generally and otherwise have purged from their society as a whole.  During the mating season when the females are most fertile, the males wear brighter colors, and can often be seen posturing in strange poses and positions that will confuse and confound outsiders.  It is only during this time that males may engage in combat among themselves, but this is highly structured and ritualized and takes place in designated locations built for just this purpose.

Not farmers by tradition, the Lizard-folk rely heavily on hunting.  They do raise some livestock, and over time have learned to farm some insects, which have always been a staple of the Lizard-folk's diet.  While they have adopted some cooking techniques, much of their diet is consumed raw, and often still alive.  Eating is something of a messy affair, which is why this too has a communal aspect.  Dining huts are commonplace, and members of the community may bring their own food or purchase food at the hut.  There are restaurants as well, preparing food for the elite classes, the priests, arcanists, lords etc., and occasional festival days where food is the key or is a large part of the celebration.

Law and order are maintained naturally, with all members of the community beholden to all others. Theft and murder within lizard-folk communities is a rarity.  It is a point of great pride that they have overcome their 'reptile mind', and violence for the sake of such is rarely an issue.  This does not mean that they have forsaken the martial ways, and in fact have a strong love and respect for martial prowess.  There are several forms of 'lizard' martial arts, and advanced practitioners also have access to strange and beautiful weaponry.  Long, softly curved blades on medium pole-arms are a common site, often wielded in a dual fighting fashion.  The tips of tails wrapped in silks and spikes another of the martial weapons frequently utilized by the lizard-men and women.

Lizard-folk do not live in a vacuum.  There are several Lizard-folk races (we will cover this a bit later on), and they live in a world rich with other races like elves, dwarves, humans, etc. but they possess a far more advanced grip on their respective regions than they might in a fantasy campaign that uses the more common lizard man-as-monster.

This is not to say that Lizard-folk are a completely peaceful lot.  They have been known to wage war, often successfully, against those who would enslave them, destroy them, or simply attempt to steal bits of technology or magic that the Lizard-folk have kept secret. Their unusual weapons, fighting style, and ancient magics makes them a powerful and feared enemy.  Rumors of an alliance with dragons, while unsubstantiated,  makes those who would bring violence to the Lizard-folk think carefully before doing so.

(wow...this is really turning into some colossal post...whew)

A culture of learning, of control, and of community, the Lizard-folk of this time and place are nothing like the savage lizard-creatures we may be more familiar with in our game worlds.  In my next post in the series, we will look at the the diversity among Lizard-folk...Specific species, castes, and a closer look at the fine details therein.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Penny for Your Thoughts: A Few Monetary Magic Items

Copper Piece of Mind Reading:   A coin minted by the Thought-Priests of Yth, when this copper piece (really, any value coin could be used in place of) is rubbed between the thumb and index finger, it will reveal the surface thoughts of the person who the holder is concentrating on.  This item cannot be used to detect outright lies unless the target thinks it (so possible but not definite).

The Priests of Yth often used such items to supplement their own natural telepathic abilities, thus lessening the strain on their personal energy reserves.

Silver Lining Purse: This small coin purse made from dark gray leather is well worn on the outside, with a patina that suggests long and heavy use.  When opened the inside has a brilliant silver silk lining.  The will always have Silver coins, though the amount can vary. 2d10 pieces of silver will be in the pouch each time it is opened, and the pouch may be opened 5 times/day.  Subsequent pouch openings are not dangerous but will not yield any new silver coins.

A unique item, the purse was the creation of Sigilus Phaos, a wizard who spent much of his life on the road in search of unusual spells and forgotten lore.  Tired of having to keep silver on hand to pay for food, lodging, and other sundry items needed on extended trips, Sigilus stumbled upon the magical theorem to produce the silver cloth that lines this magical pouch.  It is rumored that he later applied this same magical theorem to a small iron box, but utilizing a golden lining.  

Cursed Gold Piece(s): Sometimes greed goes just a bit too far.  In the case of Elias of Moonhollow, it drove him mad.  No more frugal a merchant did ever exist, and his cheapness was legendary, overshadowed only by his greed.  When he tried to swindle that hedge-witch, however, he went just a little too far.  She was pissed, and nothing is worse than a hedge-witch scorned, as we all know.  She left Elias with a parting gift...that any gold he touched would be cursed, and that passing that gold on would be impossible.  He snickered, she left, and I think you kow what happened next.

When it was time to buy that new inventory for the shop, and Elias haggled the salesman down to 5 gold for the lot, payment could not be made.  Hand the gold over as he might, it simply stuck to him, refusing to leave his palm.  What was worse, as he reached into the box to get others (thinking these bewitched), the new ones stuck as well.  He simply could not pay the man, and so no inventory could be bought.

The curse was strong, and Elias died a wealthy man who couldn’t buy a loaf of bread.  Problem is, the curse didn’t end with Elias.  It was strong, and the gold he touched remained cursed.  The men who found Elias, dead and gripping his gold-filled chest, thought they had struck the mother lode.  Nope.  That curse was going strong...and now these greedy fellows had it too.

So now, many years later, an occasional piece of Elias’ gold hoard resurfaces.  It curses the person who touches it, and all of the gold, silver, copper or platinum he or she touches thereafter (until a remove curse cast at a high level (7) is cast upon the person and/or the gold.  Once cursed, gold and other coins cannot be used unless a Remove Curse is cast.  Such coins should be handled with care and disposed of in a manner that will not see them resurface.  Melting these coins will remove the curse, but burying them will not.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Alpha Blue Review

Outside of forming a personal opinion about a game or game-related product, I've never written a formal review.  Seems like alot of work, to be totally honest.  Still, when the opportunity arose to review the work of controversial rpg figure/publisher Venger Satanis, I decided to take the plunge.  He offered up three products for me to read through and comment on so there will be just as many reviews.  Let's start with Alpha Blue, his new game offering that focuses on the wacky goings-on of an orbital space whorehouse mashed up with Mos Eisley meets Ice Pirates.

My copy of the game is in PDF format provided by V.S., and on a standard iPad Air it looks great.  The cover art should indicate to the buyer the potential adult nature of the game inside.  I enjoy tentacle porn as much as the next guy, so without hesitation I plunged right in.  It took me about 2 hours to read cover-to-cover and I'm going to try and keep this review short and tight.  By now, there are plenty of long-winded reviews floating around.  I'm gonna break this down 3 ways (like I like my chili!).  It's gonna play out like this...First the Art, then the Layout, and then the Content.

So, the art is really great.  If you dig suggestive space-operaesque art, the illustrations scattered throughout this book will be right up your alley.  Several pieces are clearly spoofs of popular figures from the TV and Movies that the game draws inspiration from.  Tom Baker as Doctor Who seems close to striking a deal with a space hooker is one of my personal favorites.  Another one with a character who looks alot like Ming the Merciless is great, as he stokes his wispy beard and inspects his latest purchase...yup, you guessed it...naked chick.  This book is rife with boobies, both exposed or almost exposed.  If you don't like boobies then don't buy this book.  You gotta like boobies to even just peruse this one.  OK...I've typed boobies enough.  Moving on.

The layout is nice.  Nothing fancy here.  The pages all follow a simple 2-column format that many OSR gamers feel most comfortable with.  Each page has some simple background art that sets off the content nicely.  Art seems slotted in a well-thought out manner and with good frequency, making the read-though smooth, interesting and entertaining.

Content time.  Alpha Blue is both a game system and a source-book for the station and its inhabitants.  The game system feels like a bit of an afterthought, and the mechanics, while simple and easily adopted, seem to lack the depth that I enjoy in some other games.  I certainly understand what he was shooting for here, a neat, fun, wacky one-off style that would enable a group to decide to romper-room it up once in a while in between more serious sessions of a long-term campaign, or as a game to play when maybe everyone couldn't make it to the regular show.  I guess that on that level, it works.  For me, he could have left the system home and just given me a 100% source-book chock full of tables and tall tales of big-boobed hookers, orgasm-inducing machinery (hello Sleeper!) and space jockeys who don't give AF about the rules of polite society.  Alpha Blue is the Tijuana of Space Stations, and it doesn't need a game system bogging it down.  It was polite to include it, but you can use this book without it and just integrate it into whatever space-game you happen to be enjoying.  I personally would like to play some TMNT where this place was orbiting earth...yeah, my Gator-Thug likes him some cyber and bio-enhanced vijayjay.

You can't write a review of this book without talking about tables.  Some guys love tables and if you are that guy, stop reading and go pick this book up now.  There are so many tables in this book that it'll spin your head around like Linda Blair on Demon Crack!  Sometimes it's a bit disorienting, honestly.  Tables are sometimes in 2-column format, and other times full page.  You can't flip more than a page or two before encountering the next one.  Tables are like Tribbles in this book, and by the end you're looking for Harry Mudd to get them gone.  It was more table than I ever need or want in a game or source-book, but I know that there are table devotees.  For the rest of us, maybe one or two will come in handy.  They make for interesting reading, but I don't see myself rolling on them all that frequently.  I'm just not that random a dude.

In conclusion, I think Alpha Blue is a safe BUY for the over-18 crowd looking for some once-in-a-while fun.  You certainly need to have a sense of humor to play through, or use in part, Alpha Blue.  If you were a kid in the 70's and 80's, there are gonna be some solid nostalgia punches to the plexus (yup...Zulecks.  That Stern is a no good, double dealing, get the idea).  There is no lack of callbacks to those halcyon days of TV and Movies.  It hit me right in the feels.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

is it Live, or is it Memorex?

Our games might be OSR, but our content is often not, nor is the method of its delivery or the way in which we digest or utilize it.  I hear the argument frequently, the die hard lovers of actual paper declaring one media to rule them all, and the opposing view of the .PDFers who prefer to carry it all on their tablet or laptop or even their phone.

Our community isn't the only one raging about the way in which a product is released.  Many movie aficionados swear by celluloid.  Plenty of photographers prefer film.  Music lovers have created a niche market for fresh pressed vinyl.  We cling to our ancient and revered media with a death grip, and I don't think it's a bad thing...not at all.

I find myself firmly rooted in the center of this debate, interested in both arguments but living in a world where I have access to both the past & present and often choosing one over the other, sometimes for no tangible reason other than whim.  There have been times when I'm at the bookstore, I find a book I think I will enjoy and I buy it.  On other trips I may simply take a picture of it with my phone, and then acquire a digital copy at some point soon thereafter.

With music I've simply shifted to digital.  I'd have to go out of my way to spin vinyl, and CD players are just as tough to find nowadays.  I know all about loss and lossless sound, but as an attendee of many a loud concert in my youth, I doubt I could distinguish such a difference now.   Hearing vinyl spin on a Technics table through a nice Marantz amp has a certain quality of sound I certainly appreciate, but at home or in the car .mp3 is just easier to manage from my phone, iPod, or music server and a bunch of Chromecast Audio's (the poor mans Sonos).

With games I am on the fence.  I miss my game books and certainly lament that day when 24 year-old me was getting ready to leave home to live in another state and start my life with a woman I loved, and I foolishly sold off my entire collection of RPG materials.  Off went my first edition AD&D hardbacks (including the Deities & Demigods with the Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythos), my Holmes Basic, My WFRP 1st ed hardbound, my complete Palladium Fantasy set, my Runequest Boxed Set...

[pausing here to weep] get the idea.  I divested myself of those things, fit only the necessities into my car, and headed north towards the unknown.

It was quite a few years later (2008) when Fantasy Grounds appeared on the scene, and with FG and Skype the gaming started again.  This time 100% digital.  Yeah, I missed my books, but the convenience of playing at the PC over the net was efficient on so many levels that I didn't question my loss too greatly.  I was again enjoying the company of friends (albeit over a distance) and playing the games I loved.

Now, eight years later, I find myself pining a bit for books.  I have an IRL gaming group, and having books at the table is something I miss.  It's exacerbated by all of the great content that is published almost daily these days, and is available in .PDF or print format via online stores like OBS.  I've invested again in some table basics...Dice, a bag or two, a customizable GM screen.  I also will often print out modules as I find having details in print at the table means I can hang on to the paper as I'm running things, make notes of changes or additions I've thrown in, that sort of thing.  I have all of my Labyrinth Lord tables printed and slotted in my GM screen, which makes combat run a bit smoother.  Paper definitely has a place at my gaming table.

In comparison, the Labyrinth Lord Rule-books are on my iPad, and with the help of the Goodreader app I've built in all of the most frequent bookmarks I need to jump to any section with relative ease.  Do I miss thumbing through a thick tome of something like the DMG?  Yeah..I do.  The convenience of not having heavy books to lug or pages to flip through pretty much cancels out my nostalgia.  I miss it, but not enough to go back to it.

Again I find myself standing on the fence.

Many old grogs are also collectors, folks who have a shelf (or shelves) full of rule-books, source-books, modules, entire systems, loose-leaf folders and other sundry texts.  I stopped collecting things long ago, as my transient nature made dragging large collections around a difficult proposition.  I think the same goes for collectors of anything really, from vinyl to paperbacks to just about anything, many people are born to collect.  With them, the nostalgia factor seems heightened.  Collectors appear far more likely to keep on collecting, so a reader of paper books who also collects seems likelier to eschew an e-reader or tablet to instead read their trusty paper books.

As a player, and as a GM, I'm happy to live in a world where I have options.  I think that's the takeaway here.  When I was a kid in the early 80's, there were only books to use at the table or read on the couch..  We listened to cassette tapes in the car and vinyl at home.  Someday (perhaps soon) paper books may cease to be.  In the future, vinyl may no longer be pressed.  Right now we have options, and I think that folks on one side of the fence or the other should hop over to the other side and grab some old media, or delve into the digital.  Enjoy it while you can, even if you don't adopt it entirely.

 We seem to be heading down an ever-more-digital landscape and I think as we move in that direction and we lose the tangible connections to our past that old media provide, we will lose something.

My son, who is 11 now, probably won't feel the same.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

NPC of the Week: Niv the Assassin

Niv thought himself a prophet.  He took shelter in the basement of the Inn of Iniquity, where his arrangement with Pholtus was keeping him safe, well fed, and to some extent even entertained.  It was chilly and a bit damp but the others weren’t going to look for him down here, and the all-clear would come directly from the mouth of the well-paid innkeeper.
Usually it was a discrepancy over turf, or a job that crossed a personal line, or even the attention of a much-desired woman that set these things in motion.  Niv had seen them often enough, fought through them all too frequently to have any desire to go to ground while war was brewing topside.  Men would die, and lots of them.  It would be a bloody mess as one side would take two for every one of theirs to fall, and the pile would grow beyond the counting.  Those at the top, the ones that had set it all in motion would remain mostly untouchable, in high towers with what they thought were impenetrable defenses.

They were dead wrong.
The noise woke Niv from the deepest and most profound sleep he had found in a week.  He quickly went through his weapons and when he got to the dagger in his belt he saw the cellar door open and heard a scuffle from above.
In a motion swift and smooth, both hands drew short swords as he prepared for the attack that must come.  His mind went quiet, a lesson from Theris, his mentor.  “It is the uncluttered mind”, he had said, “that wins the battle.  Neither rage nor fear will serve you well when blades fly.”
There was some sort of fighting above, but no sound of weapons.  He heard heavy breathing, and a woman’s voice pleading.  Then the woman's voice squeaked and shrieked and a figure tumbled through the door and landed mostly on a sack.  There was a solid thump as a head, covered in auburn hair, smacked solidly onto the edge of a barrel.
A small pouch dropped from the door above, falling onto the body below.   Then it closed just as suddenly as it had opened and its bolt slid back into place.
Niv looked down at the woman laying prone on the sack.  He quickly grabbed the pouch that sat on her chest.  It jingled with coins, heavy with the weight of gold.
Niv sheathed his swords and pocketed the pouch.  “That fat son of a whore!” he spat.  He looked again over at the woman.  The quiet of his battle mind had left, and in its place was a seething rage.  Pholtus had done the unthinkable, and Niv had no recourse.  
Again he cursed as he considered the girl.  It was a situation he was going to have to deal with, so he did the only thing that he could.  He sat down, shrugged and smirked.
At least she had nice tits.

You can't spell assassin without a couple of ass's.
Niv is in independent contractor, and during a guild war, he knows that what's best for business is to lay low until the smoke clears. There will be plenty of gold on the back end as the vendetta's surface. No point in getting killed over someone else's turf, insult, or wife.
The killer-for-hire Niv is twenty-five years of age, but his face reveals a man who's past was painful and difficult, and lived primarily on the streets. An orphan, he was raised in part by the beggars and thieves who inhabit the streets and alleyways of southern Elbion. Theris, his mentor in all things deadly, took him in at thirteen and trained him until his own death eight years later.
Standing at a small 5'5" tall and weighing only 130 lbs., Niv's skill as an assassin is all about stealth, good planning and varying degrees of good luck. His bald head has been tattoo'd with a grinning skull, an affectation he wears with pride. His size isn't indicative of his strength...he's all muscle and can hold his own against much larger combatants.
If Niv has a failing, it's that his libido is sometimes in control of his mouth. He's not boastful, and certainly doesn't share his work with new friends, but in his off time he can usually be found in the company of a lady. He's not a picky fellow...young or old, skinny or zaftig, pretty or not-so-much he enjoys women and they enjoy him. He doesn't mix work with pleasure, but he takes satisfaction in both pursuits with equal tenacity.
Game Stats: Niv is an Assassin Lvl 6 (or rogue/thief 6 if your game system doesn't support assassins, though it probably should IMHO). Niv has some Fae blood in his family tree, and those traits are very apparent in his skills/abilities as an assassin. He has a natural talent for hiding, moving silently, and general comfort in the shadows. You can add any bladed weapon to his array, and he is also comfortable with the garrote if opportunity and access to a neck present itself.
HP: 35
AC: 2 (dex+armor)
Special Skills: +4 to hit/damage from behind. Crit on 19 or 20, 50% of all crits on Humanoid combatants results in instant death, Hide in Shadows +5, Move Silently +5, scale sheer surface 75%

Magical Items: Black Leather Armor +2, Shortsword +1, Healing Draught (as per cure critical wounds 4d8+4 hp restored)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monsterous Deviation : Stepson of Kyuss

Sure, we all know about those wormy, undead bastards that the old cleric turned demi-god Kyuss uses to spread his love of all things not-quite-deceased...but no one ever discusses their lesser known relative by marriage, the Stepson of Kyuss.

A unique character, the Stepson of Kyuss (his mother calls him by his first name, Todd) is undead by association, and his powers are a mere shadow of his full-no-blood brethren, however he has abilities granted to him by his mothers blood.

The Stepson of Kyuss was still young when his parents got together, and living at home with the demi-god of Undeath (Nerull still isn't letting that half-god out of the tower) meant long days and nights stuck in the house with not too much to do.  He never really approved of the match, and certainly thought his mom could do better, but she seemed happy with Kyuss and he never hit her, yelled at her, or stepped out on her (of course, he really couldn't...soooo).

As he got older, his mother allowed him to go out, and his new stepdad frequently asked him to check in on his brothers and make sure they were spreading the word...and the worms.

Frequency: Extremely Rare
No. Appearing: 1 (and only)
Armor Class : 5
Move: 25'
% in Lair: NIL (hates going home)
Treasure Type: Might have some jewelry
NO. of Attacks: 2
Damage / Attacks: 1d8 (longsword)
Special Attacks:  See Below
Special Defenses : See Below
Magic Resistance : Pretty Good (33% chance to be unaffected by any spell, immune to sleep, charm, or hold spells of any kind)
Intelligence: High (but not as High as he thinks)
Alignment: Chaotic Annoying (just play it as chaotic with no intent, so he may even act in a good way if he can be persuaded...but no matter what, he will probably whine)
Size: M
Psionic Ability: NIL
XP Value: 1500

The Stepson of Kyuss has immunity to non-magical weapons (thanks to his helicopter mom).  He wields a long-sword with proficiency, and it is the only thing he has left from his 'real dad'.  The sword is +2, +4 vs. undead.   His new dad and his brothers are all deathly afraid of the blade, and Kyuss has often yelled at Todd for wearing it around the house, calling it an 'abomination' and a 'bothersome thing'.

His mother has taught him the basics of both fighting and spell-casting, and he is a 6th level fighter/magic user.

He can cast as a magic user 6, so 4-1st level, 2-2nd level, and 2-3rd level spells. His favorites are Sleep, Magic Missile, Levitate and Fireball, but he has access to the full list of available spells, so simply choose based on mood (that's how Todd rolls).

He saves using whichever table has better numbers.

The Stepson of Kyuss has a terrible weakness.  If attackers taunt him about his mom and stepdad, yelling such epithets as 'your mom does that thing Kyuss likes' or 'I heard your mom likes to take the worm', he will fly into a rage and immediately attack, but he will be at a -4 since he's both angry, and crying.

Influence from the Past: Edward Gorey

My Three Amphigorey Compilation Books

We all have things from childhood that have had an impact on our life, both role-playing and everyday.  Looking around my home, I realized like most folks I have amassed a small collection of things that have had such an impact.  I thought I'd reminisce out loud, in a new blog column I'm gonna call Influence from the Past.

My first exposure to the work of Mr. Gorey came in the form of the opening and closing credits of the PBS show Mystery! in 1980.  It was very close to the time when I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons, and like many things in my life a strange connection formed in my neural pathways...Edward Gorey will always be ingrained in 11 year old me as part of the wonder of the game, even though his work and life had no connection to that world (I don't think...correct me if you know something I don't).

I've only had a few visual artists affect me in such a way, that is, outside of the amazing and wonderful art found in the early source-books of D&D (especially works like Fiend Folio, where I was first exposed to the likes of Russ Nicholson or the art of Larry Elmore found throughout the TSRverse).  Edward Gorey still affects me today, and the three Amphigorey books above hold a hallowed place on my bookshelf.

His work was a reflection of his life.  A fascinating man (I also own a wonderful biographical work) who's black & white illustrations of strange creatures, curious children, and odd grown-ups in twisted and often horrifying circumstances carved images in my mind's eye that have shaped how I play RPG's, and how I process art, and even how I look at life.

Other Illustrators/Visual Artists I discovered during that time in my life were Ralph Steadman and Brian Froud, and their impact was easily comparable to Edward Gorey, with Froud very much influencing the way in which I viewed the Fairy world through my internal lens.

Next time...10 year old me finds weird music...

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Another One Bites the Dust

It’s tough to lose a good player.

As a kid, playing or running a game often meant a solid group with lasting friends.  You saw each other at school each day, lived close by, and generally had a good idea about what was going on in each others lives.  Hell, for me, a game often ran the length of a weekend as we would pack a bag and make someone’s basement basecamp until sunday afternoon.  Game sessions lasted longer and fun seemed stronger...back then.

I still love gaming, of course, and I play when I can.  I’m older...47...and life imposes itself in ways that make it difficult, if not impossible, to dedicate the amount of time to playing and running a game than those long-ago, halcyon days of youth.  Thankfully, we have a new set of tools at our disposal to make gaming (Live or Online), an easier thing to do when free time makes itself available.

It’s that lack of time, though, that makes losing a good player even tougher.

I play in two types of games.  Online, I play in a couple of Fantasy Grounds games.  I have played FG since 2008, and I credit the platform (and Skype) for making playing over the nets a reality.  It managed to bring me back to the (virtual) table with my best friend who lives in a distant state, has helped me make new and lasting friendships with some great folks, and has enabled me to keep my head/hands in the RPG world when playing at an actual table was not going to be an option (such as when my son was born, and all through his very early years, or when work became a priority that dominated a great deal of my time).

It has it’s drawbacks though, and one of them is player retention.  I love a solid campaign.  A one-off is ok, but it doesn’t quite feel the same as a long-term game played in a well-dressed setting that enables my character to enjoy some steady growth.  I dig leveling...who doesn’t?  Nothing works for me like a character I’ve built from seed, and watched grow into a mighty hero (or villain, depending on the game).  Often with a game played online, players come and go with less of a feeling of commitment, so there is generally some high turnover.  Sometimes folks just don’t mesh, other times work schedules change, and then there are just those guys who don’t take the game as seriously as you (or I) might, and bail frequently before finally giving up.  Finding reliable and steady folks to play online is a struggle many of us know.  I’m very thankful for the few people I’ve gamed with who have stuck to it, and just as thankful for those who have come back to it after needing a break when life hit them in the gut (yes Rich...talking about you.  Glad you’re back!)

It’s twice as tough for me to find the time to game IRL.  This always feels like the best way to play (for me), as it has all the elements I love, and don’t real dice feel better than just about anything else?  Recently I’ve found my way back to the table, but in order to do so I knew that I needed to host, and I had to limit my game time to 2 Sundays a month and about 4-5 hours of play.  I have a rough schedule, and my weeknights are often in flux.  Weekends are tough too, because as a divorced dad, I have my son during those times.

I managed, through a group, to find some great guys to game with, and for some time now we’ve been at it.  Gaming now is somewhat different.  Adults don’t play like kids, but that’s not a bad thing, and I find that the snacks are of an especially high quality :)

We play Labyrinth Lord + AEC and it’s alot of fun.  There are 3 of us at the table in my somewhat cramped apartment, but we manage to make ourselves comfortable and get to gaming!  Recently, however, one of my players has decided to drop out.  He was travelling quite a distance, but since he often found himself in the area on the day I had available to game, it made sense to pop over for a few hours of table-time.  This changed.  His reason for coming to my area ceased to be, and so has his ability to come to the every-other-Sunday game.

It’s a hit.  Not gonna lie.  I really, REALLY enjoyed the dynamic we had going.  Each player was managing 2 characters.  Another nice thing about playing with guys my age is that they have a great deal of experience and maturity, and playing 2 characters was easy for all of them.  They do a great job managing 2 distinct and individual PC’s so that the party size is large enough to accommodate tougher battles and sustain some character death (which does happen…).

I’m also going to miss my lost player as PERSON.  I enjoyed his company, his personality was solid and genuine, and he brought alot of fun and experience to the gaming table.

Soon, the search to find a replacement will have to start.  I know I won’t be able to fill the exact shoes I lost, but I’m hoping to find a steady, sturdy player like the one I just lost.  Thankfully there are places like and Reddit where I can post for a player.  It’s tough...seriously tough, to simply let some stranger into my home to play.  Again, as kids we mostly knew who we were playing with, but as adults we are taking risks to have someone new come into our homes, sit with our friends, and play our games.  Aside from a personal reference and introduction, there isn’t a great vetting process for new players one finds on the internets.

As before, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.  Playing at the table is so rewarding that I feel I can justify the potential downside(s).  

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Bad Side of Town: More than Meets the Eye

 "By the Gods, what is that delicious smell?!?!" said Pila, eyes closed as he inhaled deeply.
Jeram smiled wickedly, the grin of a man who knew what pleasures lie before him, and knowing too that his friend was about to start a journey from which there was no return. 
"Easy Pila, easy.  That's the roasted agurra you's spicy, meaty char is only the first of many deloicacies here.  There's the huthrooth casserole, chella tart, and oofung tea...sweet with honey and cinnamon.  Hell, now you've got me salivating too."  Jeram closed his eyes tightly, and the two friends stood still a few doors from the small colorful stall.  Jeram recovered quickly and grabbed Pila by the arm, "I told you I was going to feed you, now come on, before all the seats are taken and we need to stand at the counter with the Gara!"
Pila's eyes shot open, "Oh, the Gara!  Geez Jeram, are you sure it's safe?  Those tall bastards weren't so nice when we visited them last time.  What makes you think they will be ok with us at their stall?"
Jeram shook his head.  "Those were tribesmen of the valley Pila, and we were stealing their golden idol, you remember, the one with the big sapphire eyes?  These are transplants, refugees from the Horde.  They've been civilized, mostly, and their evening feast is not a thing to be missed.  It's fine.  I've been here five times now.  My coin is as good as any, and the agurra is worth the risk.  C'mon, before we end up standing next to some tall warrior with no manners!"
Jeram took off at a brisk pace.  Pila was concerned, and took a deep breath.  Roasted agurra filled his nose and he swallowed the smell deeply.  To hell with danger, he thought...I'm starving!

Sure, the darker side of town is where you meet your contact, the one who has the info on that job.  Perhaps it's where you know you can acquire that dangerous weapon, the one that the city guard would throw you in the dungeon if they caught you with it.  It's even the place you got jumped by footpads that last game..those bastards left you for dead and took your last bit of gold and your new boots!

The bad side of town, the wharf, wherever in your games towns and cities you put the dark element, is a place that players know well...hell, some of them gravitate directly there once inside the city walls, but that side of town is good for more.  Much more.

The 'bad' side of town, where the housing is cheap and the poor, ignorant suckers live, is actually one of the best things to happen to me personally, and my players in a long time.  Within the seeder section of town you can find some of the best food, rare and foreign delicacies, strange and interesting clothes, music,'s a treasure trove of secret worlds, all brought together under the banner of poverty.

[When I want a great, authentic Caribbean cuisine experience in my city, I go to where I know those folks live.  It may not be the prettiest place, but that oxtail is damn tasty!]

Below is my short list of things the 'bad' side of town has to offer:

  • Ethnic restaurants
  • rare spices
  • hand-made goods, of strange and unusual ethnic origin
  • cheap, often highly skilled labor
  • trade goods that have not seeped into mainstream local mercantilism
But, what else can I (the GM) do in this part of town?  A neat shopping trip is one thing, but my guys want action!

Did the party just steal the Lord Mayor's magical silver seal of office?  They can get out of town, but maybe it makes more sense to lay low in the dregs for a bit, and those folks ain't talking to the cops.  Nope.

Of course.  I know.  The players are bored spending their gold.  So what sort of stranger fun and trouble can be found on the other side of the 'tracks'?

Well, it's a great place for people to hide from prying eyes.  You need the players to find that crazy old wizard who cuts up things and magically mends them back together in odd shapes?  He's living in that part of town.

Where does that guy who will buy anything, regardless of origin, do his work?  Yep, in the back of that ethnic restaurant, the one with the strange black drink made from weird roots that tastes like licorice.  Those weird folks from the jungle let him rent a one bothers him there, and the guards are scared to death of those snake worshiping jungle people.

How about that fellow they accused of all those murders last summer?  They never did catch him, and they aren't even sure he did it.

Thinking about learning the art of the Hooked Sword of the Gara?  Only they can teach you it's intricacies, and they live in a small enclave on 'that' side of town.

You mean there's a guy selling children?  That's horrible...and he lives behind the livestock abattoir?  Oh, that's not a nice part of town, but hell, we gotta stop that shady business!

Anyway, you get my point.  The bad side of town isn't necessarily bad.  It's a great opportunity to add color and life to the gray and brown boredom that most towns and cities portray.  A city adventure can be as much, if not more fun than that dungeon delve, if you just remember to bring it to life with the people who make it interesting.  Not just the innkeeper, the general store owner, and the smith.  Too often, town is just a place that the players take their characters to sell off, load up, and head back out.  There's a world of wonder ready to dig into, a place as strange and mysterious as any forgotten castle in the swamp.

Every day, poor folks are living, working, and scratching out an existence on the 'bad' side of town.  They have lives, families, traditions, foods, and they want to share it all with the people who live and work near them.

Share it with your players. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Pawnbroker Part Deux: An Unusual Magical Option

IN Part 1 we discussed the basics of some fun...

I’ve found it fairly true that most folks who visit a Pawnshop walk through the door already in a bad mood, at least those looking to sell an item or take a loan.  Why?  Well, they need money.  It’s not hard to figure out really.  Folks who are down on their luck, who don’t have the rent money, who haven’t eaten in awhile...these are frequently people who find themselves standing in a pawnshop.

What I've done is created a scenario in order to convert that negative energy combined with the signing of a magical pact (the loan) as a conduit to channel and convert Soul Energy (call it whatever you like) into raw Magical Energy that the Pawnbroker takes a piece of…

You’s all one big DEAL really..One giant Loan Agreement.

Let me be a bit more specific…

A very long time ago (in my game world), a middling sorcerer managed to tap into a realm near his own, one comprised of a species of hyper-magical creatures that feed on the energy of human/demi-human souls.  Once consumed by these creatures, the waste product created is magic, which accounts for some of the magic in the game world.

This sorcerer struck a deal with these soul-consuming creatures, and thus became the first Pawnbroker, at least the first pawnbroker to utilize the loan pact as a soul-stealing device where the hyper-magical creatures return pure magical energy to the writer of the loan, in this case, the Pawnbroker.

The details:

A loan is written.

The loan will need to be registered in a log, a Book of Pawns, where the pawnbroker will write the item and description, the amount loaned and amount to repay, and the date of the loan.  He will then present the book to the customer, who will need to sign (or make their mark) in order to register the loan.  This signature ‘Locks’ the loan in the Book of Pawns, and a magical link is created between the Pawnbroker, the Book, and the Customer.  It’s like a deal with the devil, only the customer has no clue that there is anything beyond the material world occurring.

Now, if the customer redeems the loan in good time, there is no negative consequence.  The deal/pact is complete, all monies are paid and goods return to the original owner.  The small magical mark placed on the customer’s soul dissolves into ether.  It’s over.

If, however, the customer defaults on the loan, the item becomes the property of the Pawnbroker, and the piece of the soul that is required by the loan (again, of which the customer is unaware) will detach and convey itself to the Book, to then cross over and become sustenance for those hyper-magical creatures discussed earlier.  The Magic ‘runoff’ of that consumption then is channeled back into the Book, and can be manipulated by the Pawnbroker in a number of ways including use as spell power, crafting magical items, or recharge current magical items that require it.

The Book

The Pawnbrokers Book, for those true practitioners of this ancient and secret art, is the key.  It is the conduit through which defaulted loans will flow out to those hyper-magical folks (I’ve never named them, feel free to send me your ideas) and also it’s how the magical ‘runoff’ is made available to the Pawnbroker.

To take it a step further, perhaps the Pawnbroker can offer this ‘soul loan’ to certain ‘wealthier’ clients who need more than a substantial cash loan.  Of course, the size of the loan may dictate a large piece of soul consumed, up to and including the entire thing.  I think such deals would generate a great deal of magical ‘profit’ for the Pawnbroker in this instance.

What would you call this?  Pawnomancy? Loaniturgy? Hock Magic?  Well, no matter what you call it, I would say that it’s a magical tradition all it’s own, with training and learning specific to these pawnbrokers.  It’s not an art that can be discussed openly, so it will likely mean that no community exists to support it.  A Pawnbroker would need to find and train an apprentice in secrecy.

The skills taught would be both Arcane and Business oriented.  Running a pawnshop certainly requires its own set of skills, and has quite a long tradition/history.  More often than not, Pawnbrokers train their sons, much like any other person with a business or this case it would be both.

Other Magical Pawnshop Options

There are many ways to Magicalize your Pawnshop without so extreme a situation as the one I’ve outlined above.  A few examples might be:

  • Pawnshop is a secret purveyor of magic items
  • The Pawnbroker is not human, but demonic, devil, etc. in human guise
  • The Pawnshop is not a static affair, but a trans-spatial or trans-dimensional place that appears randomly or when needed
  • The Pawnshop need Adventurers to undertake quests magical or mundane

You see where I’m going with this...the Pawnshop can be both a prop or a hub in any campaign.