Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I won D&D and it was Advanced!

My name is Abed and I'll be your dungeon master.
I know, it's been around for almost a year now, but I just finally watched the AD&D episode of Community which, by the way, just happens to be the best show on broadcast TV at the moment.  Anyway, if you haven't seen it, here's a teaser; you need a hulu membership to watch the whole episode--or get the DVDs of season 2.  You can watch recent episodes on the NBC website for free.  If you dig it as much as I do, you should write to your Congressman to make sure NBC doesn't ditch this show. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Feeding the Frogs: Phew, this smells like an adventure log

At long last my gang of (2) gamers finally embarked on adventure in the good ol'  Village of Hommlet.  Bob--my original cohort from back when this blog started nearly 2 years ago--and I have been joined by Dan the Aussie, a long time "mate" of ours who decided to join the ranks of "tremendous nerds" (it's much more charming when said with an Australian accent) and give D&D a try.

In many ways Dan, a novice to the rpg scene, is the complete opposite of Bob.  Whereas Bob is all about strategizing combats and unpuzzling traps, Dan loves the interactions of his character with the NPCs.  Not surprising now that I recall Dan was no foreigner to the theater department in his college days. 

Call to Arms
There are only 3 characters; Bob has Ponce the Paladin, Dan rolled up Jerry the Thief, and I am running Ahmad the Mage as an NPC; he'll be my PC should one of the other fellas DM a later adventure.  Of course anyone familiar with T1 knows that three first level dickheads with d6 hit points are not going to make it far in the old moathouse, so the NPCs of Hommlet strongly encouraged the boys to recruit a few more hands before they go off to meet certain death find glory and adventure at the moathouse.

Through interaction with the denizens of the Buxome Wench Inn--actual roleplaying!--the fellas have enlisted the infamous Elmo--though I ditched his drunken retard act--and his poker buddy Furnok the Ferd, a 4th level thief/card sharp, as well as Spugnoir the Evoker, Zert the Warrior who is also an evil agent of the Temple, and Kobort the also-Warrior.  They convinced dimwitted Kobort (Int 6) to ditch his unlikeable companion Turuko (Cha 5), who is now righteously pissed at the party and plotting his vengeance.  This took most of the evening, and I think even Bob enjoyed it. 

Frog Food
With the posse assembled and armored up they made for the moathouse.  Finally, the encounter I had been anxiously anticipating was upon us: the attack of the ravenous frogs!  I was giddy with excitement about running this rematch with the badass, halfling-chomping amphibians; and I felt no pity for the unsuspecting players who thought the adventure would politely wait until they entered the castle to begin.  Sadly--for me--the frogs failed to surprise the party and, indeed the party even won initiative!  Stupid slow-ass frogs.

I've given Bob and Dan a free hand in tactical deployment of the NPC party members--though as DM I retain veto power over any action that I deem inappropriate to their character--so they launched the gang into action.  Two frogs were dead and two others injured before they managed to get their tongues out of their mouths; this was not going to be the massacre I was expecting.  Indeed, between the 6 of them, the frogs inflicted a measly 7 points of damage before the party roasted up their legs for lunch.  Their vicious reputation did not go completely unwarranted--5 of the 7 points of damage came at the fatal discomfort of Spugnoir the MU who only had 4 hit points.  Why the fellas didn't bother protecting the magic users I don't know--although it was Zert the evil fighter who was in the best position to protect Spugnoir, maybe his evil intentions are showing through?--but now they're out his 2 sleep spells and they have a lot of brigands to fight pretty soon.

  • This party is unique in the entirety of my playing experience in that despite being a fairly large group--8 characters total--there is not a single non-human to be had.
  • There appears to be a paper shortage going on in the vicinity of my house.  I managed to scrounge up a few palimpsestuous index cards on which the fellas were able to write up their characters, but I had to do all my DM-ly bookkeeping on the back of envelopes and publicity fliers that I dug out of the recycling bin.  Indeed, I came blasphemously close to using the backside of my 4-year-old's fridge-mounted artwork. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Assassination Organization: Guild Archetypes

I'm guessing it's the weather--the gloom and rain have chased the sun far, far away leaving the denizens of this fair burg wondering if we'll ever see it again--but I find my mind wandering back to  assassins once again.  Last year around this time I ran a series of posts on level titles of the assassin class in AD&D; this year I find myself watching loads of movies about assassins.  The American, Red, Day of The Jackal to name a few, as well as a few spy type television series.  If you like a gritty, "realistic"* look into the world of international intrigue, I highly recommend Sandbaggers, a British series that aired in the late 70s and very early 80s that follows the travails and intrigues of the administrators that run MI6--not just the field agents.  On the lighthearted side there's Chuck and  Archer.

*I have no clue if the events depicted in this show is any more realistic than, say, "Moonraker," but it sure feels more real.

Anyway, I've developed a few archetypes of assassinry that are helping me develop how I run the class in my game.

Zealot -- Zealots are driven to kill by their passionate belief in a cause and/or deep-seeded hatred of an enemy. They are usually considered terrorists by those who don't share their beliefs, but are thought of as freedom fighters and, often, martyrs by their allies.  As their targets are always political, fanatics usually prefer to do their work with plenty of witnesses and are often not concerned with getting caught or killed in action.  The original assassins were of this fold as were the various underground movements of WWII, the old IRA, Al Qaeda, etc.

Goon --  They do their dirty work to take out rivals, settle debts, silence witnesses, or defend the honor of the "family."   Goons usually rely on the audacity of their actions and the malign reputation of their organizations for protection from the law.  Although quite effective at what they do, assassination is usually only a sideline to their actual work which might include racketeering, drug trafficking, smuggling, prostitution, usury, gambling, etc.  Think The Sopranos,  The Wire, every gangster movie ever made.

Civil Servant -- Funded and trained by the Government of whatever nation they serve, they take out politically significant targets as a service to their country--knowing full well that they will be renounced by said country if they are caught.  James Bond is the most obvious example but other worthy references include Sandbaggers, Red, and even Chuck.

Contract Killer -- Highly skilled and unaffiliated, they take professionalism very seriously; each job is a paycheck and nothing more.  They usually have an equally professional network of suppliers and associates that provide materiel and discretion, and some might have an agent who filters clients and collects payments.  They are often "retired" Civil Servants, see above.  Sources include Day of the Jackal, The American, Le Samourai, Matador, etc.

Ninja -- Ninjas are probably the closest in organization to the AD&D assassins guilds.  They're a sort of hybrid of the contract killer--in that they work solely for financial gain--and the civil servant--inasmuch as they work for a company whose primary mission is political espionage and assassination.   Historically, it was considered ignoble for the Shoguns who ruled Japan to engage in espionage and assassination so they farmed this work out to private organizations that worked in absolute secrecy; they were the ninjas.  They eventually went out of business when the government of Japan decided it might be better off handling its intelligence in house.  Blackwater, ISIS, KAOS, and other organizations follow a similar mercenary model. [Editor's Note: When this post was written in 2011, ISIS stood for International Secret Intelligence Service, the name of the independent espionage agency Archer works for in his eponymous series. The similarly named radical Islamic State militarists didn't abscond with the acronym until they branched into Syria in 2013.]

Monday, November 14, 2011

Seriously Cold Text Files

If you're still out there, let us know that you're ok, man.
Scottsz's old blog as well as his new tumblr site have disappeared from the interwebz.  Anyone know the story?  Was he just a figment of my imagination?  If you loved obsessing over old school TSR modules as much as I do, then you woulda' really dug his stuff. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Character Generation

I really, really, really dig reading other folks' character generation ideas--though I despise the term "chargen" with such intensity that my keyboard melted when I typed it.  In the spirit of sharing, I thought I'd put my own latest rules--they seem to change all the time so don't expect me to hold to these for very long--out here for those who fetishize this crap like I do. Without further ado, here are my Character Generation Rules for the hybrid AD&D/C&C/S&W/Hackmaster game I occasionally run:
  1. Choose your character's race, gender, and class and give him or her a name.  Yes, you're committed to this before you even touch the dice.
  2. Roll 3d6 in order for Str, Int, Wis, Dex, Con, Cha, and Gold.
  3. So your thief has a 4 Dex? Your dwarf has a 5 Con?  You are not entirely without recourse:if your character is human, you can swap your Gold result for any one of your other 6 abilities (attributes). Non-human character races may swap there Favored/Off Abilities if the favored ability is lower than the off ability.  See below for more on this.
  4. Multiply Gold by 10, this is your starting money in gold pieces.
  5. Roll 1d6 for hit points.  Yep, everyone starts with 1d6 hit points.   Fighters (and their various subclasses) and dwarves (regardless of class) add 1, for a max of 7 HP before Con bonus.  This is an obvious holdover from our S&W beginnings, though bringing it to our AD&D campaign was never actually discussed; we just rolled up our characters with six-siders and never thought anything of it.  Also:  everyone has a min. of 3 HP at 1st level except magic users and elves (regardless of class) who have a min of only 2 HP.  Also, also: After 1st level, hit dice revert to the AD&D model, d10 for fighters, d4 for MUs, etc. 
  6. Go shopping using the AD&D PHB Equipment list, though I'll accept items from Hackmaster or C&C if they don't appear on the AD&D list. Paladins must purchase a sword and armor equal to scale mail or better.  Cavaliers must meet this requirement and  acquire a warhorse, lance, and shield.  As a result, cavaliers will always start out in debt to some patron.  As we haven't had any cavaliers yet, I haven't worked out how this would pan out.  Thieves are not required to purchase a set of "picks and tools."  I mean c'mon, 30 geepees for a set of effin' bobby pins?!  What the hell are they made out of? 

Some other pertinent modifications:

Wisdom = keenness of senses.  It has no bearing on one's ability to commune with a deity, nor does it measure your willpower, guile, intuition, or judgment.  It measures how oblivious you are to your surroundings and that is that. What, you ask, does keenness of senses have to do with the actual meaning of the word "wisdom"?  I don't give a crap anymore.  For my purposes, dwarves and orcs aren't particularly keen; elves are. While every class has reason to want be keen-sensed--less likely to be surprised, better at finding secret doors and the like--thieves and rangers in particular pride themselves on being keen.  Clerics do not benefit any more from a high wisdom than anyone else.*   Man, that's a load off my back.  Shoulda' done that years ago.

*Actually, there are no clerics in our current party. And we don't miss them at all.

Favored/Off Abilities
In the spirit of perpetuating stereotypes, I  am continuing the tradition of non-human ability preferences established long, long ago.   But rather than a straight up +/-1 to certain preferred/lamented ability rolls as is generally the case in D&D-type games, prime/off abilities provide restrictions as to how demi-humans can use the gold swap feature swap abilities.  Basically: prime abilities can never, ever be lowered in a swap with your gold roll, while off abilities, conversely, cannot be raised.

So Melfrond the elf rolls an 8 for Str, a 15 for Con, and a 9 for Gold.  Elves cannot raise their str or con with a gold swap, so he's stuck with the 8 str, but since his Con roll is higher than his gold, he could swap out the 15 Con, netting himself 60 extra gps to go shopping with.  Now he has enough to get a long bow and some chainmail.

Optional rule that I just thought of but which seems much more direct: If a non-human character's favored ability is lower than his or her off-ability, then the two can be swapped.  In the case of elves and orcs--who have 2 favored abilities--if both favored abilities are lower than one of the off abilities then the character dies of alopecia in 1d20 hours.  Any characters who have spoken to the afflicted before he dies must make a saving throw or likewise meet a hairless end. EDIT 11/2/11: After some playtesting, the focus group showed a strong preference for this rule.  Only humans can swap their gold with another ability if they so choose.  When we made up our last batch of characters not only did we not have any non-human characters, but we also found that folks were more likely to trade a low gold roll for a higher ability score than a low ability roll for high gold except in cases where the gold role was very high--say 15 or higher. Also, the alopecia thing was just a joke.  It's not really contagious.

Exp Bonus
We've done away with prime abilities; having a high strength is inherently advantageous to fighters, but it does not mean they are better at improving their fighter skills.  Same goes for everyone else.  Instead, Intelligence--in its aptitude aspect--affects experience bonus for all classes.  Int bonus x 5 = % exp bonus/penalty.  So a low Int character of any class is going to progress slower than his smarter brethren. 

Half- Races

This might not sound very sensitive but I'm gonna' say it: Just say no to mongrels!  In my world, elves are not particularly fertile--the elfmaid estrous cycle is decades long and it's unlikely in the extreme that a human female would ever succumb to the effete charms of an elfgroom--and human-elf pairings are exceedingly rare; as such half-elves are so rare that they can be dealt with on a case by case basis.  And half orcs are straight-up, full-on orcs. 


Apparently it's Halloween today which means... discount pumpkins!!!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Abjure This: Spell categories revisited

So the new guy in my group--who's also new to D&D (we're playing a mishmash of AD&D, Castles & Crusades and a bunch of house rules mostly poached from folks like you)--has been asking a lot of questions and poking a bit of fun at many of the oddities of the game that have, over the years, become invisible to me.  One topic he's getting mileage out of is all those parenthetical spell categories that are listed next to spell names in the Players Handbook, 1978 ed. (PHB).

Having long ignored these spell categories, the pejoratives of my new player have actually inspired me to go through the entire spell list for each class--clerics, druids, magic-users and illusionists--and count each occurrence of the 10 or so spell types (cue soundtrack).   Bear in mind that no explanation of the significance of these terms was given in the text of the PHB that I've found and, clearly, none is needed to play the game.  But, for my own sanity, I had to create some sense out of this stuff, and what follows is a summary of my analysis.  Any definitions or suggested re-categorizations provided are based on my own halfhearted research and should not be assumed to be sanctioned by any person or body affiliated with AD&D in any official capacity. 
  1. Alteration: These spells cause a  change in something that already exists.  Probably every spell could fall under the domain of "alteration" if you think too much about it.  But there are couple of obvious types of alteration such as Polymorph spells and Transmute Rock to Mud, which alter a person or object's physical form.  Then there are those Alterations that alter one's capacity to perform some action--Haste, Infravision, Fly, etc.  But after that, alteration devolves into the kitchen sink category including spells that involve moving things--like Levitate and Teleport--altering by relocation?--and such oddballs as Rope Trick, Magic Mouth and many, many, many more.  As if this scene weren't crowded enough, a bunch of spells that seem quite clearly to be evocations or conjurations are also lumped into the alteration group: Dancing Lights--which creates a fire or something that looks like one, making it either a phantasm or an evocation--and Create Food and Water--it's not called Alter Food and Water, right?--are prime examples.  As one might guess by the inclusiveness of this domain, this is by far the largest, representing 34% of all spells.
  2.  Conjuration/Summoning: These spells bring forth a being, object or force of some sort to do the bidding of the spell caster.  I would take it a step further and differeatiate between Conjurations and Summonings.  In my interpretation, a Summoning brings forth a being that already exists somewhere else, has its own life, and may have its own ideas about what's going to happen next.  Indeed, these ideas may be exactly why the being is summoned.  Conjurations, on the other hand, are created beings or forces that don't exist elsewhere until they are conjured.  Though they are capable of performing certain basic actions, they tend not to have much in the way of free will, instead requiring  direction from the spellcaster in order to take action, they're automatons.  Unseen Servant is a great example.  Conjurations might also be programmable objects which then require some third party input in order to take effect; the various Glyphs and Magic Mouth could be categorized as conjurations of this sort.  Spells which I believe are mislabeled as conjurations include Flame Arrow--neither flame nor arrows are actually conjured, rather, arrows touched by the spellcaster actually burst into flames--and Bless which gives your friends a to-hit bonus.
  3. Evocation: Like conjurations, these spells call stuff into being.  They differ from conjurations in that whatever is called forth generally gets told where to do its job and then does it without any further instruction.  These are either of the point-and-shoot instantaneous effect spells, or things that, once evoked, are relatively inert, such as the various Wall of- spells. The vast bulk of evocations are magic user spells and many of the classics fall into this category: fireball, lightning bolt, magic missile, web...  Druids and Clerics have only 4 and 3 evocation spells  respectively while Illusionists have no evocation spells at all, though we'll dwell on this matter more a bit later.  
  4. Invocation: There is only one spell--Spiritual Hammer--in this category.  It might have been an editorial oversight--the author may have decided to change the term to evocation since their meaning is nearly identical.  But there is a small difference in that, according to Webster,  an invocation often involves Holy assistance and, in support of that notion, the spell write-up for Spiritual Hammer specifically states that "by calling on his or her deity" the cleric creates a hammer-shaped head-bashing force.  If you go with this, it could be argued that all clerical evocations could be classified as  invocations.  Likewise druidic evocations also invoke the assistance of whatever nature spirits those tree-huggers worship.  Most/all of these evocations could even be recast as invocations with little harm done, which would then leave evocations as the purview of MUs.
  5. Illusion/Phantasm: You make stuff that isn't really there seem like it is.  Basically, you're conjuring sensory experiences.  The bread and butter of the illusionist class, 48% of spells available to illusionists are illusion/phantasms.  Significantly, Illusionists have no evocation spells.  I'm guessing this was by design to differentiate them from Magic users.  I think, given the many spells that  seem much closer, mechanically speaking, to evocations but have been labeled alterations, that the effort was a bit disingenuous. Such spells as Light and Darkness, I think, would be much more comfortable in the evocation camp than crammed into that boisterous beer garden over at alterations. Most incriminatingly, Wall of Fog, a first level illusionist spell, is classified as an alteration even though all the other Wall of- spells which are castable by non-illusionists fall under the evocation banner.  We need to accept that some of the spells available to Illusionists are evocations and get on with life.
  6. Abjuration: The word is defined as a renunciation or recanting, and spells of this sort are generally those that provide protection from something or that exorcise or purge things.  Dispel Magic and Protection from evil/good/insipid, etc. are abjurations as are some cure spells: Cure Blindness and Cure Disease, for instance: "Disease, I renounce thee!"  I would be inclined to include spells which provide resistance to certain things as partial abjurations though they're generally considered alterations in the PHB.  
  7. Divination: These spells are all about divining knowledge which one's senses are otherwise not privy to.  All detection, location,  and augury spells fall in this category.
  8. Enchantment/Charm: These are spells that screw with people's heads.  Charm Person, Command, and Hold Person, but also Sleep, Feeblemind, and, inexplicably, Pass without Trace are of this sort. 
  9. Necromantic: Usually associated with speaking with or raising the dead and other ghoulish black magix, this category is broadened to include spells which cause any revivification or restoration of bodily health, such as cure light wounds and heal, but also spells such as slow poison and feign death.  I've got no beef with lumping these spell into the same category, though it seems a little creepy to have your beneficial cure spells hanging in the baleful realm  of necromancy.
  10. Possession: Again we have a one-spell category; Magic Jar is the sole occupant. It is an exceptional spell, you're not just taking control of someone else's being--which would perhaps fall under enchantement--but your also stashing your own soul in a jar somewhere, an act which seems vaguely necromantic.  I see no need for one-spell categories, so I'd prefer to put it in one or the other and move on. 

    So these are the 10 existing spell categories as classified in the PHB.  As you've probably guessed, I'm not entirely satisfied with it.  In particular, Alterations are needlessly bloated covering a wide variety of spells that are not at all related, including many spells which are clearly evocations but that have been classified as Alterations solely to satisfy the unstated rule that Illusionists cannot cast Evocations.  I propose 2 Alteration subcategories:
    • Transmogrification: For a very long time I thought Calvin and/or Hobbes made up this word, and it's the perfect word to describe the Polymorph and Transmute type spells that alter the physical state or properties of an object or being.  
    • Augmentation/Diminution: When I first started out on this line of inquiry, I was absolutely certain that this already was one of the spell category names.  I was shocked to find out otherwise; it should have been. Was it in Unearthed Arcana maybe?  Anyway, augmentations are performance enhancing/diminishing spells, either improving ones capacity or granting one an ability to perform an action that is normally outside their realm.    Haste, Fly, Write, and others would fall in this category.  As the dual-name implies, they can diminish performance as well, such as in the case of Slow and its ilk.
    We also need a couple of new categories to cover those spells that involve moving people around instantaneously, screwing with time, and those that allow the spellcaster to exert control over some object or non-sentient force; enchantments for the inanimate, if you will.  So here, I propose two new classifications:
    • Peregrinations:  Please, please, please find me a better name!  These are spells that allow the spellcaster to transport him/herself and/or others instantaneously from one place to another via means of some kind of discontinuity in the space-time continuum.  It also includes spells which allow the caster to move through things which normally preclude such ambulation; those weird plant-traveling druid spells.  In the PHB, spells of this nature are, of course, generally considered Alterations.
    • Agitations:  Again, not a great name, I am accepting nominations for another.  This spell group encompasses spells that garner control over forces or inanimate objects.  Heat Metal, Trip, and Dig are all examples.  I might be open to moving this whole group to Enchantments since they do seem, essentially, to be enchantments that influence inanimate objects and non-sentient forces.  Some of these already do fall in the enchantment category in the PHB.
    Which concludes  this exercise in spell nomenclature and categorization.  In summary, I've ditched 2 one-spell categories, divided Alterations into two sub-categories, determined that Conjurations are mechanically more similar to Evocations than they are to Summonings, uncovered some Evocation obfuscation regarding Illusionist spells, and added 2 brand new categories.  That's enough tinkering for one day, eh?

    Now I know you're thinking, "Wow, this entirely objective, practical, non-tedious post is going to radically alter not only the way I play, but also the way I live life for the rest of eternity!  Thanks Dice-chucker."  So let me just say, you're welcome.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Back to the Moathouse: Lareth was a Paladin!

    I just finished reading the extensive comments section of The Underdark Gazette post re: T1 Village of Hommlet--you know,  the one where Scottsz of Cold Text Files fame went to town on T1 and its younger sibling, T1-4 Union of the Snake.  Inspired as always by Scottsz's obssessively thorough scholarship, I dug out my ancient, rusty-stapled copy of T1 and gave it a gander.  The following is based solely on The Village of Hommlet published in 1979, not the 1985 Temple of Elemental Evil, which I am not familiar with.  Or at least I wasn't before I read Scottsz's diatribe.

    Anyway, there I was reading along when there, on the final page, we get our first glimpse of Lareth.  I gather that he went on to greater infamy in the expanded Temple module published in 1985, but in the original, he was basically the scout leader of an organized troop of thugs who live under the moathouse outside of town.  A 5th level cleric with mostly bitchin' stats, Lareth is described variously as "the New Master," "The Beautiful," "well endowed" [yes, it says that] and "the dark hope of chaotic evil."  Did I mention that his stats are pretty awesome?  Have a look for yourself:

    S: 18
    I: 9
    W: 18
    D: 17
    C: 16
    Ch: 18

    I got to thinking; Cleric shmeric, with such awesome stats this dude would make a great paladin.  Check it out:  He's got the royal flush at Str, Dex, and Con; any fighter's wet dream.  And he's loaded with charisma, great for clerics trying to impress upon the devoted, but absolutely essential to Paladins.  In fact an 18 just barely clears the bar; 17, as you'll recall was the minimum.  Wisdom, of course, is essential to both clerics and paladins.  The big outlier--Intelligence--is conspicuous not just for being so much lower than the rest of Lareth's inflated ability scores but for being exactly as low as it is: 9 just happens to be the minimum Intelligence for Paladins.  Was it Gygax's intent to model Lareth after the paladin class?  The evidence is scant at this point, but the seed was planted.

    Now consider what Lareth is up to in the Hommlet vicinity: according to the text, he's recruiting "men and humanoid fighters to gather loot and restore the Temple to its former glory."  So he's creating an army of mercenaries, not converting true believers.  This sounds like a great job for an accomplished, charismatic--if not particularly bright--fighter; especially one who is as devoted to the cause as a paladin would be.  A slightly dim cleric sent to live in a hole in the ground under a swamp alongside 20-odd unwashed bandits, however, does not sound like someone on the fast-track to the top of a temple hierarchy.

    But here's the clincher: a sentence from the "Notes for the Dungeon Master" on page 3 where EGG explains that the module was developed to integrate new players into his existing Greyhawk campaign: "Many of the NPCs in the module are the characters and henchmen developed through play."  Elmo, Otis, and who knows how many others are more than likely based on the characters created by players from EGG's home game.  Could Lareth also be a legacy of that campaign?

    Now let's go back and pick the scab that is Lareth's low-ish Intelligence again.  If you were a player and were handed Lareth's ability scores and had the freedom to arrange them as you saw fit--as was prevalent in AD&D--wouldn't you choose to put the 9 on Intelligence too?  Normally the 3 dump stats for fighter-types were intelligence, wisdom and charisma.  Paladins of course have high pre-requisites in the Wisdom (13) and Charisma (17) categories, so they're out.  The only places an AD&D paladin can stash such a low ability score is intelligence, dexterity or constitution. No one wants a slow-ish or feeble-ish paladin, but a dumb-ish one, big whoop. So you fore-go a few extra languages in favor of missile and AC adjustments and a decent hit point bonus; anyone would have done this in a heartbeat.

    Now you're saying, "You said it yourself Caveman, Intelligence is useless in AD&D, so what's the big deal if Lareth is a lightweight in the brain-pan?" The big deal is that Int is useless to PCsThey get to decide how smart to play their character regardless of the number on their character sheet.  As long as your PC isn't utterly feebleminded, no DM is ever going to say "Dude, your character isn't smart enough to come up with that plan."  But Lareth is an NPC in a module, so his Int becomes a guideline for how the DM is going to run this guy.  Also, NPCs are not limited by dice rolls; if the DM wants to give Lareth a 9 Intelligence, he can do it just as easily as he can give him a 15 or a 6 or a 12-5/8.  So a 9 Int that, on a PC, would be slightly less prominent than a freckle on a werewolf's ass,  stands out like a sore thumb on an NPC.  Especially one such as Lareth, who has been described as "cunning." 

    Still not convinced?  How about this: there are two light warhorses and a lance in the store room of Lareth's hideout. Whose lance is it?  One of Lareth's men-at-arms, possibly.  But these dudes are brigands not knights.  So why, considering that there's no way a lance and warhorse are going to see any action in the cramped confines of the dungeon, would Gygax add such a throw-away item to the dungeon stores?   Maybe because it's Lareth's lance from his paladin days, left here as a hint to his past and a sly nod to the players of his original game.  EGG was quite prone to less subtle shout outs to his cronies, so why not?

    Now look at Lareth in this light: he's a character statted-up like a PC paladin who's doing the job of a soldier to benefit a temple hierarchy and he has a warhorse and lance on hand.  Alignment aside, this sounds like the definition of a paladin.  Too bad this particular temple espouses evil-most-foul; no paladins allowed.  But, in concocting T1, Gygax wants Lareth to retain not just bad-assedness as a tough guy but also his divine aspect as a servant to a greater force.  So he turns Lareth into a cleric; clerics are 2nd only to fighters in combat competence and armaments and up the ante with spell power.  Decked out in magic plate mail and a bitchin' staff of striking--one of the most potent melee weapons available to a cleric--Lareth is a pretty devastating opponent for a bunch of 1st level characters to handle head on.  Even more so than a paladin might be.

    Or, more interestingly,  perhaps Lareth the True was corrupted to the dark side in that original campaign.  Hear me out: we are informed that "Whomever harms Lareth had better not brag of it in the presence of one who will inform the Demoness Lolth!" 'Cuz a 10th level assassin will be sent to kill your ass!  Isn't that a somewhat extreme reaction for a potent demon to the loss of a capricious mid-level cleric of tepid intellect?  Does it sound more like the reaction of a demon who just lost something of personal value?  Like maybe a buff, young, "well endowed" boy toy?  Gygax seemed to pride himself on his openness to prurient themes in the game; is it not entirely conceivable that during that original campaign, on meeting the Demoness, Lareth succumbed to her feminine wiles, casting aside his vows in favor of the indulgent life of the darkside?  And once there, he became a favorite plaything of the Demoness?   I'm just sayin'...

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Cthulhu News: The Whisperer in Darkness

    Have all the recent historic and unprecedented Vermont floods been a publicity stunt for the recent Lovecraft flick?

    EDIT: Oh man, that was supposed to say precedented.  Grumble.
    And now

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    More News from Restenford

    Ongoing updates from my Lendore dissertation.

    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    Balrog Cthulhu: The Mountains of Madness in Middle Earth


    Yep, I'm still on a Tolkien jag.  This Lovecraftian bit is from The Two Towers when Gandalf is explaining to Aragorn, et. al., what he did over Christmas Vacation:

    "Thither I came at last to the uttermost foundations of stone.  [the Balrog] was with me still.  His fire was quenched but now he was a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake.  We fought under the living earth, where time is not counted.  Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him till at last he fled into dark tunnels.  They were not hewed by Durin's folk, Gimli son of Gloin.  Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things.  Even Sauron knows them not.  They are older than he.  Now I have walked there but I will bring no report to darken the light of day."

    Sure, JRR never mentions any tentacles, but c'mon!

    Monday, July 25, 2011

    Bilbo: Proto-thief

    Having recently re-read The Hobbit in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of my first traipse through Middle Earth I can't help but note the wealth of game-related goodies that this book has to offer novice role-players--such as I was back in '81.  One obvious and much- discussed notion is Bilbo as the proto-type for the thief class.  Sure, Cudgel, Gray Mouser, et al.'s fingerprints are all over the class, but I didn't read about their endeavors until much later; Bilbo was my first literary source for the thief.  

    Much of the arguing about Bilbo as thief has to do with what he actually did (flubbed the pocket picking, relied on a nifty ring, pissed off the dragon), but bear in mind that this was his first gig, he got by only because of ample shares of luck, cleverness, and hobbitly stealth.  But what is more important to take away from the book is what the expectations of a thief, burglar, or expert treasure hunter were, not how well Bilbo lived up to them.  Following are a few pertinent items from Chapter I "An Unexpected Party" and II "Roast Mutton" that helped my 11 year old brain figure out why a thief was someone you wanted to hang out with:

    p. 33--Gandalf justifying why he has selected Bilbo for the party:
    "[Entering through the front gate of the Lonely Mountain] would be no good... not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero. I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighborhood heroes are scarce or simply not to be found... That is why I settled on burglary--especially when I remembered the existence of a Side-door." 

    Here Gandalf differentiates the basic focus of thievery--obstacles are circumvented by stealth--from warriors and heroes who confront obstacles with force of arms to accomplish their goals.

    Note: The titles "Warrior" and "Hero" refer to distinct grades of adventurer, a precursor to level titles.  Also note that the statement presumes that the dwarves themselves are neither warriors nor heroes, leaving us wondering yet again what is their value to the venture.

    p. 38--Thorin to Bilbo, still uncertain of the hobbit's qualifications as the party breaks up for the evening:
    "Aren't you the burglar? And isn't sitting on the door-step your job, not to speak of getting inside the door?  ...I like six eggs with my ham when starting on a journey; fried not poached, and mind you don't break 'em." 
    Here Thorin suggests that a burglar should be a capable heist planner, lock picker, and short order cook.

    p. 46--Bilbo, having snuck up on the trolls eating their mutton, ponders what he should do:
    "A really first class and legendary burglar would at this point have picked the trolls' pockets... pinched the very mutton off the spits, purloined the beer, and walked off without their noticing him.  Others more practical but with less professional pride would perhaps have stuck a dagger into each of them before they observed it."
    From this we can gather that a professional burglar--in Middle Earth at any rate--was expected to provide expertise in sneaking about, pilfering things, and, when necessary, doling out the expeditious knife in the back.  Really not too different from our D&D chums. 

    It is also noteworthy that despite Bilbo's nefarious title he, in fact, was a pretty hono(u)rable little guy.  He didn't steal from his friends* and certainly didn't practice his burglary in civilized environs; it was a skillset which was put to use only in the adventure setting.  It was for this reason that I never felt any qualms about ignoring EGG's claim in the PHB that thieves must be either evil or neutral.  Honorable thieves, as exemplified by Bilbo, could exist; they just knew when to keep it in their pants.
    * Yes, he swiped the Arkenstone--or at least he hid the fact that he had found it--and then furtively delivered it to the men of Esgaroth, but Thorin was being dangerously unreasonable at the time and severely needed a boot to the head.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    The Hobbit: Why all the dwarves?

    We all know the set up; Thorin and Co. enlist Bilbo as the lucky 14th member of their party.  Plus, they wisely foresaw the value of a sneaky guy in procuring a treasure hoard.  But why exactly were there so many dwarves?

    In order of appearance, here is the roster of Dwarves and their primary contribution to the adventure:  

    Dwalin--The first dwarf to arrive at Bilbo's house, he is the first dwarf to arrive at Bilbo's house.
    Balin--Dwalin's brother, he is the oldest and wisest of the dwarves.  He is also their go to look-out man.
    Kili and Fili--Twins, they are the youthful ones. They are good for doing any dirty work that required strong arms and sharp eyes--except being the lookout, which was old man Balin's job. 
    Dori--On his shoulders fell the responsibility of carrying Bilbo whenever the hobbit was unable to keep up with the pack or climb a tree or grab an eagle.
    Nori--There is no evidence to support the existence of Nori.
    Ori--Conspired to gain a double share of treasure by occasionally speaking in a funny voice whilst wearing a Nori mask.
    Oin and Gloin--Cousins to Balin and Dwalin, they carried the tinderboxes. 
    Bifur--Kept Bofur company
    Bofur--See Bifur
    Bombur--Fat and weak-willed; he sleeps a lot, needs to be hoisted on occasion, and is manipulated into assisting Bilbo's plot to betray Thorin.
    Thorin--Ostensibly the leader of the venture, in reality he always defers to Gandalf or, in the wizard's absence, relies on Bilbo to solve any problems that arise.

    So we see, here are the tasks performed by the 13 dwarves:
    • Arriving at Bilbo's house
    • Performing lookout duties
    • General labo(u)r
    • Hoisting slow hobbits
    • Pilfering extra shares of gold
    • Lighting fires
    • Providing stimulating company
    • Obstructing progress
    • Ordering Bilbo around
    Did we really need 13 dwarves to do all this? Seems like instead of adding one hobbit to avoid unlucky thirteen, they could have dropped 5 or 6 dwarves and avoided the whole triskadekaphobia matter entirely.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Mayhem & Moathouses: How to handle a bloodthirsty DM

    ...and mayhem ensued.
    Thanks to a patch of peonies in my neighbor's yard and a blog post by James over at Underdark Gazette [sadly, James has packed in the old blog {Far more sadly, James has since passed away, my condolences to his family and friends}] I feel compelled to do a write up about good ol' Village of Hommlet.  James, as you probably already know, posted a couple of times last week about everyone's favorite old school village adventure. But why the peonies, you ask? Well, the first time I played T1 it was 4th of July weekend 1982--yes, I remember this kind of crap--and my mom had just picked a bunch of peonies from the garden and put them in a vase on the dining room table which, that weekend, doubled as our gaming venue.  To this day, when I catch a whiff of the distinctive, peppery scent of peonies, I am reminded of the Village of Hommlet. 

    Smells like trouble!
    Anyway, the DM at the helm--we'll call him Byron--though fresh out of 7th grade at the time, was the most murderous referee in our gang.  Definitely aligned with Chaos, he liked to force the players out of their comfort zone. This outing would quickly prove to be no exception; indeed it may have been his crowning achievement.

    Our very first encounter as we wandered into town was with an exceptionally belligerent Elmo who--though outnumbered 8 to 1, wearing no armor, and packing only a dagger--picked a fight with our paladin. For those unfamiliar, Elmo, though posing as a moronic farmhand, was actually an enormous ~5th level ranger with some bitchin' magic armaments, including the aforementioned dagger.

    Anyway, he killed our paladin with a single, massive blow from the dagger, so the rest of the party jumped him.  We had 3 fighters and the cleric facing him while the MU blasted him with magic missiles and the halfling thief snuck around for a backstab.  Even so it was touch-and-go for a few rounds, but thanks to some crappy rolls by Elmo, we took him down without any more casualties on our side.

    However, by this time a bunch of villagers had taken up arms and were coming at us.  We ran for it, eventually finding our way to the Inn of the Buxom Wench* where we commandeered the 2nd floor, barricaded the stairs, and launched a fusillade of arrows at the militia, sending them scrambling for cover behind the wall surrounding the inn.  Leading the militia was a revived Elmo who was clearly not quite as dead as we'd hoped.

    *T1 devotees will note that this is not the real name of the establishment. The actual wench was known more for her welcoming demeanor than her cleavage but it was the name we used at the time and it has stuck.

    We were terrified that the entire town was as tough as Elmo, though this did not stop us from "errantly" lofting flaming arrows into neighboring houses.  But good-natured Ostler Gundigoot talked everyone down and, against all reason, managed to negotiate a cease fire.  After a hearing with Rufus and Byrne, we floated a canned apology for all the death and destruction we'd wrought and promised to pay reparations to include fees for raising all the dead townsfolk as well as rebuilding the razed houses.  Since we were cash-strapped 1st level n00bs, it was suggested that we go to the moathouse to secure the weregild.  Much to our dismay, R&B insisted that a fully healed Elmo accompany us; partly as punishment for his part in inciting the fracas but mostly to make sure that we didn't lose our way.

    At the moathouse I only remember a few encounters: the murderous frogs who killed off two of our party including the halfling thief and another, less memorable character; the puncture-resistant zombies--they only took 1 point of damage from piercing weapons as I recall--and the final meetup with Lareth, who was kind enough to take out Elmo for us.  For that we were very thankful.  In fact, when I look back on T1, to this day I think of Lareth not as a malignant disciple of evil but as one of those respectable bad guys who, under the circumstances, turned out to be a valued ally.

    Meanwhile, our hatred for Elmo was so intense that we cheered when Lareth bashed his head in with his staff of striking; though we were equally glad that Elmo had, by then, relieved Lareth of the vast majority of his hit points, allowing us to parley a peaceful settlement.  Not satisfied with Elmo's death, his corpse was dismembered by the surviving party members and tossed into the swamp as frog food.  To add further insult, instead of returning his possessions to his grieving parents, they were parsed out amongst the party along with the rest of the treasure haul.  But, true to our word, we paid off our debt to the town and were feted as heroes of the realm before shuffling off to our next adventure; this was 1982 remember, we still had a few years to wait for the continuation of the T-series.   

    At the time I remember being furious with Byron the DM for coercing us into such a chaotic scenario in town, but also a little ashamed that I was taking such pleasure in terrorizing the villagers with flaming arrows.  Byron loved this sort of mayhem and if the players went along with it, he would be happy and our mayhem-seeking would bring us prosperity and happiness.  If, on the other hand, we had refused to fight Elmo and/or the villagers, instead relying on our faith in a just humanity, I'm certain that within 30 minutes we would have been rolling up new characters as the corpses of our PCs swung from the gallows.  Instead, for the far more sinister crimes of mass murder, grand arson, and public mayhem, we were given a hefty but not insurmountable fine and sent off on an adventure.  I don't think we were conscious of it at the time--though we would come to be aware of this tactic in later years--but we were totally playing in a manner to placate Byron and therefore protect our characters.  And we had an incredibly fun outing--if a somewhat sociopathic one.

    On hindsight, the whole thing turned out to be a pretty clever set up to get us to the moathouse that we otherwise knew nothing about and had no reason to visit--other than the usual "thar's gold in them hills" excuse.  But more importantly, by "forcing" us into such a chaotic flurry of morally ambiguous action while simultaneously killing off the only lawful member of our party (the paladin), the behavior of that  party was ever-after skewed toward chaos in a way that we could not have done intentionally.  Or perhaps I'm giving the DM too much credit; he was, after all, only 13.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    Grievously absent from the blogosphere: DQ Anyone?

    Does anyone blog about DragonQuest?  I've been beefing up my blogroll with non-D&D bloggers lately to better reflect the range of my gaming interests and, after D&D, the game I've played most is SPI's DragonQuest.  And although there are some misanthropic DQ boards and a load of pages dedicated to various people's adventure logs and house rules--like the unbelievably well done DragonQuest Frontiers--I can't seem to find anyone who, ya' know, just writes about DQ.  Sure, there's Greivous Injury, but that place seems to suffer from technical difficulties a lot lately.  Probably because they changed the spelling from the more appropriate--if technically incorrect--"grievious."  It's an unwritten rule of the game that, when playing, grievous is to be pronounced "gree-vee-us."

    For those not in the know, the Grievous Injury Table was probably the most iconic feature of the game.  It was a table used to determine the effects of exceptional attacks on you and your opponents--a "critical hit" if you must.  The unpleasant effects of the grievous assault on your being were delivered with text that often sounded as though it was swiped from a deck of Community Chest cards written for a truly morbid Monopoly game: 

    "Tsk Tsk.  A wound of the solid viscera.  Usually fatal." 
    "Your aorta is severed and you are quite dead.  Rest assured your companions will do their best to console your widow(er)"
    "A chest wound... your opponent's weapon is caught in your ribcage and has been wrenched from his grasp."

    Anyway, if you never played, these were a few of the injuries you missed out on.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Appendix NF: Avoid the flumpf, get a Dictionary of Early English

    Say you're making up monsters for your new dungeon but all your monster names tend to sound like you ripped them off from the Fiend Folio.  Or maybe you're trying to infuse your campaign with atmosphere by creating your own "common" dialect which you will force your players to learn and use during play. Try dipping into the past for inspiration by incorporating long forgotten words from our own blessed language with the help of the Dictionary of Early English.  Written by Joseph T. Shipley, and published by Littlefield, Adams & Co. in 1968--though numerous tomes of its ilk exist, this just happens to be the one I own--I highly recommend it to other word nerds.

    Sure you can look up the roots of old words on the internet without owning a good ol' fashioned paper n' ink book; which is definitely handy when you're researching, say, the level title of your favorite character classes.  But where texts like this beat out the internet and your kindle is in the serendipitous discoveries one unearths merely by flipping through the pages.  Say you've got time to kill while you download the latest OSR retroclone from Bloated Houserules Publishing; you grab the ol' dictionary and flip it open to page 439.  There's mordincancy, any old schooler is going to want to know if it has something to do with big creepy hands, right?  Nope, it means biting or pungent.  Then there's Rosencrantz's old buddy morgenstern; a spiked club, but, on hindsight, that seems obvious.   Then comes morglay, from Welsh Mawr, great + cleddyf, sword--whence Claymore. And finally, moria; folly.  With all due respect to the Professor, Sindarin for "Black Chasm" my ass! 

    Some other highlights: 
    Barbigerous--a most imposing beard
    Gnomide--female gnome
    lant--urine, another interesting tidbit: it was a common ingredient in ale; bear this in mind the next time your home-brewing buddy offers you a pint of his latest batch of double-lanted.
    Paynim--the country or lands of the heathens; Greyhawk Enthusiasts will appreciate this one
    Penster--a puny wielder of the pen. Hmmmm, I'm thinking of renaming my blog...

    and best of all: 120 different -mancies show you how to divine the future!

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Lendorology: Clergy of the Big Gamble

    At long last, there's a new post over at The Restenford Project for those inclined to read such things.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Int, Wis, Cha: Turn your head and cough

    Jeff over at Jeff's Gameblog ran a post a while back about using different descriptors of the 6 basic attribute titles in order to take a fresh look at what these terms mean.  I thought this was a pretty cool idea, and have sporadically wasted a lot of time thinking about the topic ever since.

    While the 3 "physical" attributes--Str, Dex, Con--don't stand to gain very much from this experiment, the far more ambiguous "mental" abilities--Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma*--could definitely stand a new coat of paint.  Or better yet, strip off the paint, then take off the siding, the vapor barrier, and insulation as well so that we can see what the hell kind of frame is holding these things up.

    Anyway, after months of frittering, here are my descriptors for the 3 "mental" attributes:

    Intelligence = Aptitude
    Wisdom = Sense
    Charisma = Cool

    Aptitude: this is your characters ability to learn effectively, not necessarily his or her smarts.  A low aptitude could mean you have a learning disability, but you might very well be the only person on earth smart enough to understand Quantum physics.  A high Aptitude means that you are able to quickly glean the essentials of a field of study, but you might not be capable of taking the matter too deeply. You might, for instance, quickly learn new languages, but fail to understand the significance of the differing grammatical structurezzzzz...

    Sense: this descriptor is copped directly from a comment from Talysman over at Nine And Thirty Kingdoms.**  This has a lot to do with the way I'm redefining clerics in my current campaign: they're more like unaffiliated mystics than deity-bound priests.  As such, wisdom measures ones ability to sense the presence of other things including but not limited to that ambush around the bend or the unusual book amidst all the pulp paperbacks on the shelf, but also the presence of water deep underground, the aura of the spy in the Duke's castle, and the spirits that inhabit the trees in your druid's favorite grove.    

    Cool: Not so much your ability to mimic the Fonz but, rather, Cool measures your capacity to maintain poise and bearing whether you're chatting up a hottie at the tavern, bluffing the Constable into releasing your comrades from custody, or trying to defuse a bomb with time running out. 

    * Yeah, I know, a lot of old schoolers use Charisma as a measure of physical appeal; fine, I got no beef with that. 

    ** Though I don't believe that my conception of sense here falls in line with what he was describing.  Oddly, his recent re-conception of the cleric archetype sounds sort of like what I was failing to get at in my re-conception of the Wisdom attribute as a measure of devotion and mental focus.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Vornheim: Adorable!

    So, yeah, I jumped on the ol' Pornstar Bandwagon and bought the Vornheim book.  The Lapplander Econo Delivery Service got it to me just in time for my birthday, which was a nice surprise.  I won't say too much about the contents of the book because so far I've only been monkeying around with the cover which acts as one of those clever devices that Zak S. seems to have pioneered wherein a DM can determine the attributes of NPCs, description of a locale, and the outcome of several different potential situations all in a single roll of a 4-sider. 

    But what impressed me the most about this book--and this is embarrassing for me to admit--is that it's so freaking cute!  I was expecting a softcover 8.5x11" deal with removable cover and a map on the inside; you know, like old school modules.  But no!  This is one of those tiny, slender, little hardcover books that make you want to put it on the shelf between Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop and the complete set of Little golden Books you got (as a/for your) kid.  Except that the book is all gothy black with Zak S.'s distinctive, grim, claustrophobic artwork all over the place.  In fact, just looking at the annotated elevation of the "Typical tower" on page 34 for more than 5 minutes will cause neuroses in the average reader and even vertigo in exceptional cases.  Excuse me, I have to go clear my head for a moment.

    And there on the dust jacket, though I've seen the image a million times all over the internets, is that picture of Mandy Morbid--at least I assume that the pink mohawkish hair is Mandy's--standing knee-deep in snow and taking a whack at a peryton with her flail.  But what I didn't notice until I held the book in my hands is that each of the points in the peryton's antlers has a candle burning in it--which immediately brings to mind the ol' Hand of Glory.  I'm pretty sure that the peryton was taunting Mandy who clearly has first dibs on the term "Rack of Glory."

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Greatest (number of) Hits: Popularity has never been more deceiving

    So I briefly placed the little "best of" widget on this here blog a moment ago, mostly to see which of my little rants gets the most internet action.  I removed it for a few reasons; partly because the widget was cropping the first 2 letters of each post off, which looked really stupid, and partly because I really don't want to encourage people to visit some of these "most popular" posts, but mostly because it seemed a bit grandiose on my part to post the greatest hits for a site that sees as little action as this one.  But then I couldn't let it die a quiet death so I wrote this up instead. 

    1.  Game Review: Eldritch Role-Playing System by Goodman Games.  Confession time: 90% of visitors to this post come by way of image searches which include the terms "Golgotha" or "Calvary."  Nothing like the ol' bait n' switch.
    2. Primordial D&D: Eric Holmes and the 11 year old's dungeon. I assume that folks are not noticing the apostrophe "s" and think they will be reading about an 11 year old dungeon which is interesting because... I have no idea. 
    3. Hello friendly Commenter(s, should others decide to speak up).  That this one--my 2nd post ever--should be on this list at all boggles the mind.  My 3rd most "popular" post was really a private message to Daddy Grognard--the only soul in the universe who knew that this blog even existed in the early days--explaining to him that I was unable to post a comment to my own post.  Why didn't I just send him an email and spare myself the humiliation of a public confession of ineptitude?  I don't know.  But apparently people really dig it.  Who knew?
    4. Death Ray Enthusiasts Rejoice If you don't like death rays then you are probably a troglodytic Nazi pederast. 
    5. Megadungeon Design Review Committee Ah yes, the ol' Design Review Committee; I wonder what they've been up to lately?
    6. Castles & Crusades: Highlights and Lowlights of an RPG  This was supposed to be a precursor to my latest adventure log about our party that has now converted to C&C--sort of.  We ditched the SIEGE engine and most of the other things that make C&C different from everything else out there, but the point is that no one likes reading adventure logs, least of all me, so why inflict more of same on the world?
    7. The Undead Strike Back: Turning Clerics Quick and dirty, yet it still draws people in. 
    8. Greyhawk Realty: Looking to buy in the Flannaes A foray into the field of real estate copywriting.
    9. Castle of the Mad Archmage Session 2 Part I: Thar be orcs!  Wow, folks do read adventure logs??
    10. Sartorial Sorcery: Pointy Hats Explained So this only came out about a week ago and yet it's already #10 on the all time list?  But then, at 11th place there's a 36 way tie with 2 hits each.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Sartorial Sorcery: Pointy Hats Explained

    I finally figured out why wizards wear those blue robes and pointy hats with the lucky charms pinned to them: the dorky duds serve as antennae for the mana that they require to cast their spells!  Hear me out: Mana floats about us unseen much like the ether that fills outer space but it can only be harnessed for magical purposes by those who can concentrate it into a useful force.  The best way to focus arcane energies is clearly to make them laugh at you.  So theurgists and thaumauturgists alike don the most garish garb they can muster in an effort to incite the mirth of mana.  An unfortunate side effect is the de facto celibacy such attire certainly causes.   

    It's the same reason MUs suck at combat and yet still won't wear armor; mana serves only those who humiliate themselves.  What better way to humiliate yourself than to pursue a career where your life is constantly at risk yet the only thing between you and the dragon's maw is a silly robe and a wooden stick?  "Hahahaha," says mana as the orcs rush your ridiculously resplendent conjurer, "ok, here's your magic missile."  Mana sure has an evil wit.

    Pointy ears and hat?!  Double the laughs!
    This also explains why elven multi-classed MUs get to cast spells whilst wearing armor: they've got those silly ears sticking out of their helmets!  HAW HAW HAW!  From there it's easy to extrapolate why half elves are weaker spell casters than either of their parent races*: their ears have been diminished in the crossbreeding,  reducing commensurately their ability to elicit the mirth of mana.

    Silliness applies to gnome illusionists as well: they've got those big-ass noses to make the mana smirk.  The forces of magic, however, apparently have an aversion to the hirsute--who doesn't?--thus halflings with their hairy feet and the profusely bearded dwarves are unable to focus the eldritch powers at all.

    *as per the PHB 1978, half elves can only achieve 8th level while full elves can achieve 11th and humans are unhindered in their advancement

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Un-postworthy: B-sides and misses

    My publicist is constantly pestering me to make an effort to boost my presence in the Blogosphere, and one of the tactics that she keeps harping on is that I actually post stuff more often than once every month or two.  Good idea, right?  She's worth every penny.  But where to find the material?  I did some soul searching and didn;t find anything so I went to my good ol' bloglist and realized that--shit!--I've got like thirty unpublished posts just sitting there!  Some dating dating all the way back to the first week I holed up in this here corner of the internet.  I went down the list of titles to see if any of these might be worth another look and wrote up a brief synopsis of each.  I didn't actually look at the posts; these are my best guesses.
    Here's the list in reverse chronological order:

    Dungeon of Liberty
    The conflict of freedom of action in the confines of the "dungeon" adventuring milieu.  Or something else.

    I'm Beginning to See the Light
    Why newer games suck.

    Kill a Rat Scenario
    A rant about rules quirks of AD&D

    Original 6
    An obvious hockey reference in a post dating from the beginning of the NHL season, but more likely an article about the 6 abilities in D&D.

    Thac0 Again?
    Wherein the Dicechucker goes off on yet another youngster who gets too close to his lawn.

    Ramblin' 'bout Modules
    Essay about the quirks of the L-series modules; the precursor to my Restenford Project site.

    Thieves Assassins & Spies
    Old Guard Accoutrements totally outdid me on this topic. 

    X2 Castle Amber
    Essay about the non-CAS influences of said module.

    Assassins revisited for the first time
    Rant about the failings of the Assassin class as penned in AD&D; most likely the precursor to the Assassin level titles series from last fall.

    Going to the Bullpen
    The pros and cons of rotating DMs

    SF: Getting drunk
    Article on intoxicants in Star Frontiers.  Ripped off wholesale from the Fronteirsman.

    Modified Advanced Game Rules
    Satirical bit about post-1e game rules.

    Zet's Tiny People
    An ode to Thundarr.

    DMing As critique:
    I plead the 5th.

    Reverse Engineered Pre-Original Rules:
    Satirical bit about the origins of D&D

    Pre-Scorn AD&D:
    Probably a rant wherein I say in a roundabout fashion that DragonLance can suck me. 

    "Cleric" is a Profession Too
    It's true; look it up if you don't believe me.

    Feral Hobbits:
    I'm hoping there are illustrations with this one.

    Greyhawk Architecture
    Self explanatory.  This one eventually became the Greyhawk Realty post.

    Long-winded article about the name of this here blog.  Eventually replaced with an entry in the Lexicon

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Lendorology: What IS the Secret of Bone Hill?

    Anyone who can read a blog archive will realize that for the last several months I've been slacking off even by my own uninspired standards.  Largely this has had to do with real world distractions like job and family but, at least initially, this also had to do with a side project that was draining off most of my game-related energies in the beginning of the year.

    Where can I buy spandex in Restenford?
    I had just received a real-live, TSR-produced copy of  Lenard Lakofka's L1 The Secret of Bone Hill set on Lendore Isle. I won't pretend to be one of those old timers who believes that this module is a classic of the golden age--indeed, I have to confess that I've neither run nor played this bad boy either back in the 80's or in my recent gaming resurgence.

    While it follows the general structure of a village setting with adventure locales nearby a la Keep on the Borderlands, Village of Hommlet, and probably some others, it is riddled with inconsistencies and odd notions that, sadly, would likely not have made it through the editorial process in latter day TSR.  And this may very well be what makes it so interesting as literature, as these odd notions and unanswered questions present fertile ground for the minds of readers to interpret. 

    A close reading raises a whole host of questions such as why is there a casino inside a nigh-impenetrable compound hidden deep in the woods?  Why does the wizard have a lease on the Baron's tower?  And who keeps the lawn mowed on top of Bone Hill? The lords of Lendore don't offer an explanation to these mysteries; some things, one must suppose, just are.  These open ended oddities make it the single most fascinating read of any old school module.

    So, using a pen and a spiral-bound notebook, I wrote a bunch of essays--warning: I was once a history major--about the mysteries of Lendore.  Some of them (actually only 2 so far) have been transcribed to non-caveman format and can be read over at The Restenford Project if you're interested.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    Appendix NF: Subterranean reading

    We've all heard more than enough about the famous Appendix N from the original DMG; if you haven't it's basically a bibliography compiled by Gary Gygax of the literature that inspired Dungeons & Dragons.   But I've long wondered what some of the nonfiction titles might have been that egged EGG along in his effort to cobble together a fantastical subterranean medieval combat and treasure seeking role playing game.  In my head I've been calling this list "Appendix NF"--pretty clever, eh?--and with my recent discovery of Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe by Sabine Baring-Gould, I've found a solid contender for my own D&D bibliography.

    Published in 1911, the book describes in anecdotal form hundreds of different subterranean refuges and the often eccentric nature of the inhabitants.  A century ago when the book was first published, several of these caves were still home to different segments of society--a rumored druidic cult in Loire France, vacationers in the Riviera, or a society of outcasts living in benign destitution, again in France.  These and more are described in the awesomely titled chapter "Modern Troglodytes."  Other game-boner inspiring chapter titles include "Cliff Castles," "Cave Oracles," "Robber Dens," and "Rock Sepulchres."   The number of potential dungeon ideas is endless.  If snippets like this one: "I visited old Edrie--the subterranean labyrinthic residence of King Og--on the east side of the Zanite hills" aren't enough to get your dungeon-making juices flowing then I doubt you're even reading this.

    There are some illustrations in this book as well; old timey sketches by the author and occasional photographs--though not nearly enough of them to satisfy the visual demands of a 21st century gamer. But the antiquated, anglo-rific prose reeks of Lovecraft at times, such as when "A mass of cretaceous tufa has slipped bodily down to the foot of the crag."  And at a century old, this book has probably been in the public domain since well before you were born, which explains why it is readily available from numerous print-on-demand outlets as well as for those downloady computer book thingies that non-cavemen read on the bus all the time.  Hell, go over to Project Gutenberg and you'll be reading the thing for free in like 3 clicks of your mouse.

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    Assassination Resuscitation: The Old Man of the Mountain Returns!

    Sorry New Hampshire, your craggly old man is still absent from his mountaintop perch.  I'm talking, of course, about the "old man" in northern Persia, Hassan i Sabbah, who popularized the secret society movement with his devoted throng of assassins in the 11th-12th century.

    Owing to my recent obsession with the Assassin class from AD&D [see most  of my posts from October - November of last year], anything with the word assassin in it tends to catch my eye lately.  So when I was trawling the internet for cool downloads the other day, First Edition Dungeon Module I15: The Assassins of Abu-Dala by R.C. Pinnell smacked me across the oculars like an errant tether-ball.  It's a desert-based assault on a mountain fortress described as having once been "home to the old man of the mountain; better known as the father of assassins."  Nice!  Also, there's a bit about the assassins ransacking caravans and slaughtering them to a man, which may or may not be a reference to the dastardly modus operandi of the Cult of Thuggi in India--whence the term "thug"--which was yet another secret society devoted to murder.  Anyway, I dig anything with a cool historical reference that I'm even mildly knowledgeable about so I'm taking my gang of PCs through this one next.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011

    First Anniversary Fortnight Fiesta

    We're just cleaning up the cave here at Dice-Chucker Central after the fortnight-long bacchanalia that marked the first anniversary of me clogging up the internet with my vapid, pixelated fumes.  Thanks to all of you who came by to help celebrate.  Mrs. Dice-Chucker was most impressed with all of your behavior and says that you can all come back anytime.  And, though we appreciated the sentiment, despite the presence of vintage DM screens and my Robert Smith haircut, it was not an 80s theme party so whoever brought the Bartles & James and cocaine, we put them out on the back porch; feel free to claim them at any time.  Thanks again to everyone who dropped by this site over the past year.

    An actual photo from the event.  That's me holding the flaming punch bowl.

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    Death Ray Enthusiasts Rejoice!

    If, like me, your enthusiasm for death rays knows no bounds, you will want to familiarize yourself with David H. Szondy's Tales of Future Past site which documents all manner of historic death rays.  Sadly, during WWII death ray research was supplanted in favor of a device with a proven track record in mass destruction--atomic weapons--but not before crackpot scientists the world round tried their hand at the genre; most notably Mr. Nikola Tesla.  And to think there was once a time when I thought Tesla was just a band.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Castles & Crusades: Highlights and Lowlights of an RPG

    This post was originally going to be titled "Things about C&C that irritate me" but that seemed like an overly negative post for a game that I don't actually hate, so I added a few of the things that aren't sucky down at the bottom.  Which is to say that if the "Things about C&C that are kinda' cool" seem like an afterthought it's because, well, they were. 

    Things about C&C that make me cringe: 

    Rogues--What exactly are rogue's tools?  A feathered cap to be worn rakishly askew?  A rolled up sock for augmenting your cod piece?  C'mon guys, you brought back illusionists and Glaive-guisarmes but you couldn't find it in you to resuscitate thieves?
    SIEGE engine--Why is SIEGE in all caps?  Is it an acronym for something?  An encrypted message? A cry for help?
    Prime Attributes--There's already a mechanism in place for determining how well someone does at attribute-based tasks; it's called an attribute score.    
    Peter Bradley--The game is thoroughly saturated with Peter B's graphic stylings.  Indeed, C&C rulebooks are a veritable monoculture of half tone heroes captured in spasm-inducing poses, tight trousers, and cumbersome footwear.  In the Bradleyverse, the sun is a dying orb whose cold rays provide a warmth too meager to sustain mirth of any sort. It is a realm where heroes seek out isolated locales to contemplate their unfortunate wardrobe choices and where experience point bonuses are granted for crafting odes to things unworthy of oding.   
    Alea Iacta Est--In their eagerness to portray themselves as a buncha' pretentious douchebags, the Troll Lords uncovered an exception to the maxim that anything that sounds cool in English sounds even cooler in Latin.  Say "the die is cast" and "alea iacta est" out loud.  One sounds like something a badass mo'fo might say on the brink of a showdown, but the other is merely a cumbersome mishmash of consonant-deficient syllables the utterance of which will inspire your enemies and friends alike to slap you down, wrench your underpants up to the nape of your neck, and take your lunch money.
    Wisdom--It measures your ability to use good judgment, how acute your senses are, how well you resist confusion, spells, and gaze attacks, and it also "represents a spiritual connection to a deity."  You can also stack the dirty dishes in it after dinner until such time as you feel like cleaning them.
    Illusionists--Not really C&C's fault, but what's the advantage of a character class that's like a wizard, but has a more limited spell selection? At least the C&C version does not try to pass illusionist off as a prestige class by insisting that they have an excessively high dexterity score.
    Overwrought flavor text--"From the maelstrom of war and conflict great warriors arise blah blah blah..." I can imagine the guy who narrates all the movie trailers recording the audiobooks version of the C&C PHB.
    Excessive Polearms--Caught following too closely in the footsteps of AD&D, C&C offers us 15 unpronounceable and indiscernible pole-mounted weapons that completely fail to be of interest to anyone who isn't a medieval weaponry fascist.    

    Things about C&C that are kinda' cool:

    Character Sheets--They're by Darlene!

    Ascending AC--I have to admit, C&C was the first place I heard of such a thing--sort of--and I was not repulsed.
    Cheap Books--Of course this loses its significance once you've bought them.  In fact, when considering C&C vs. a game for which you had to shell out 40 bones per tome, you might play the pricey one more often just to get your money's worth. 
    k.d. lang--Tell me, is the bard on page 114 of the C&C PHB as well as on the cover of the Monsters & Treasure book not inspired by the sapphic songstress ca. 1995? 
    Hags--Have you seen these babes in the Monster & Treasure book?  With the exception of the Night Hag--who sports the quintessential warts and cronish hideousness--they all look sort of like that waitress at Hooters that you and your friends stiffed on the tip that one night back in college. 
    The Bald Monk--Mr. Miyagi! 
    Gnomes--I thought there was something kinda' cool about gnomes.  Maybe not.

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    More Creepy Reading: The Dionaea House

    The Dionaea House is like The House of Leaves in internet form; its creepiness will suck you in, but it gives the added perk that you feel like you're actually discovering something horrible all on your very own.  And maybe you are.   Another bonus: you can read this one right now, without leaving your computer, while you're supposed to be paying attention to that boring-ass conference call you're stuck on.

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    Holiday Reading

    Imagine Thomas Pynchon, working as a sports writer for the Daedalus Journal of Arts and Sciences, is covering a heavyweight bout between M.C. Escher and Jorge Luis Borges.  After quaffing a few cervezas in honor of Borges--who won by KO in the 6th round, though Escher came back in the 11th and busted a chair over his head to force a decision--Pynchon gets lost on the grounds of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado and is never seen again.  Much later, Jon Krakauer finds Pynchon's sprawling report in the restrooms of a long abandoned subway station.  Krakauer submits it to his editor, Will Shortz, who personally sets the type and runs the presses.  If you're still here then check out  House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.