Monday, December 28, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

Long Arm of the Outlaw: Thief-a-palooza Continues

Look at the reach on that dude!  He can stand perfectly straight and scratch the back of his knee without bending.  He can pick a pocket from the other side of the street.  He can open a trapped chest from the next room.  Who needs to climb walls when you can just reach up and haul yourself over the parapet?

I always wondered though, what's the deal with that little ringlet around his right bicep? Is it the captain's armband for some thieving competition? The last remnant of his shirt--the rest of it having been lost, along with his shoes, in a game of dice?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Furthermore... It's Thief-a-palooza '15!

Following on yesterday's thief-related post, here are a few more of my thoughts on thievery in D&D:

I'm totally in line with Hill Canton's "bonus skill levels" as I understand them: rather than improving skills in all thief abilities uniformly with each new level--essentially all 5th level thieves are equally good at all thief abilities, before racial and/or dex adjustments--the player is allowed to allocate which thief abilities they want to improve and by how much.  So a 5th level thief might actually still pick locks as well as he did when he was a 1st level thief but be as stealthy as a mo fo and read languages with remarkable literacy.  HC and I differ in that whereas he doles out 2 Bonus Levels per thief level I'm handing 'em out at a rate of 6/level.  But then you consider that 1 bonus level for HC thieves represents +1 on a 6-sider for a 16.667% improvement while one level for Dice Chucker thieves reflects a mere 5% improvement.  We're looking at 2 x 16.667 = 33.3% vs. 6 x 5 = 30%, so, dang, I actually look kinda' stingy by comparison.

I'd actually take the process one step further allowing first level thieves to divvy up 6 levels amongst their abilities, meaning that some of their abilities are going to be 0-level (+0) to start.

Other oddities of Dice Chuckerian thieves:

Read Scrolls: Rather than being linked to the character's overall thief level, i.e., you can start reading scrolls at 9th level, reading scrolls would just be a Very Difficult read languages roll: you're rolling d20 + level against 6d6.  You can try it at first level--or even 0-level--just don't expect a good result.

Hear Noise and Detect Traps: While the PC may declare his or her intent to use one of these abilities as per usual, the DM should also roll automatically against these anytime a trap or noise is worth noticing, though the challenge should be bumped up a few dice. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thief Ability Redux: Piles of Dice

Riffing on Hill Canton's post on thieves yesterday (or whenever, given the incubation period of posts around here, it may well be December of 2176 before these pixels see the light of day) I decided to post my own rant on thief abilities.

What are the odds, buddy?
One of my many grievances with thief abilities is that success is almost never influenced by conditions. That is, no matter how well concealed the trap is or how alert/inert the guards are, your chance of detecting it or bypassing them remains the same.* Sure, the DM can modify a trap or lock and say "your -20 to open it" or whatever, but it's so specific and granular that it becomes a nuisance and only dickheads ever use this method except in the odd extreme circumstance.

In an ideal world, conditional difficulty should be part of the system so the DM doesn't feel like s/he's rewording the Old Testament just so that the lock to the crypt can be a little tougher to open than the lock on your sister's diary.  It should be easy for the DM to assess difficulty without taking a lot of time, rather than trying to decide whether it's a -22% penalty or a -24% penalty, it should be broad enough that the DM can make a decision quickly and we can all get to the matter at hand: slaughtering orcs and stealing their treasure.

Here's how it goes: the thief (or the Maestro del Dungionni, depending on the circumstances) rolls d20 and a pile of six-siders at the same time.  If the 20 sider + thief's level are equal to or greater than the total of the pile of 6'ers: Success! How many six siders in a pile, you ask? Good question: depends on how difficult the DM feels the challenge is. Here's a handy table to use as a guideline:

Table IX.A.2.d(17): Dice Piles and Difficulty of Thieving Abilities

Avg. Success Rate for a Thief of:
Dice Pile   Difficulty Rating  Description 1st Level 5th Level
1d6 Super easy  Fail this and you're out of the Guild  
92% 95%**
2d6  Easy Only a newb would screw this up 75% 92%
3d6 Modestly difficult   Still, you better succeed if you want  to earn your keep  58% 77%
4d6 Difficult   We have faith in you!  40% 60%
5d6 Pretty Difficult   You might as well give it a try...  24% 43%
6d6 Very Difficult  Better have a Plan B just in case  11% 26%
7d6 Fat Chance  Give us a minute to back up a ways before you try that  4%*** 13%

Pretty fancy, right?

Some guidelines on how I'd adjudicate this:****
Picking a lock on a typical dungeon door: 3d6
Picking a lock to the King's treasure room: 5-7d6, depending on the wealth of the king and his security measures
Sneaking past a guard who's chatting with his buddy about the Misfits show he went to last night: 2d6
Sneaking past a guard who's on high alert: 4d6
Sneaking past a guard who just saw you a minute ago and knows that you're trying to sneak past him: 6d6
Climbing a craggly wall with ample hand/foot holds: 1 or 2d6
Climbing a rough hewn yet slick wall: 3 or 4d6
Climbing a sheer, polished, monolithic wall: you're a thief not Spiderman.
... and so forth

Some of you who are more statistically gifted than I are probably thinking "Why not just tell the dudes they've got a 75% chance to defuse an Easy bomb or 40% chance of deciphering a Difficult language or whatever?" You could do this if you have a good idea of the odds of success for every thief ability under a wide variety of circumstances. I don't have that info handy, nor do I trust myself to make up reasonable odds for such on the fly.

The beauty of the Pile o' Dice system is that as a DM I don't have to think very granularly about the odds of success, I let the dice do the dirty work. Yes, on average a 1st level thief has a ~58% chance of hiding in a 3d6 shadow, fine.  But, as DM, I don't actually have to say that.  Instead, I'm saying "your odds are somewhere between 20% and 95%, but are most likely somewhere in the middle, so let's just see what happens here..." This is probably just my laziness but I find it much easier to assign a range of probability than a single, precise value.

* The exception here being picking pockets of leveled characters, of course. Which clearly was a reaction to those dickhead players who insist that it is their thief's moral obligation to steal from his colleagues mid-dungeon, yet get indignant when their moronic character finds himself hogtied and naked while his erstwhile colleagues offer his carcass to a band of gnolls in exchange for free passage through their domain.  
** Assumes 1 is a fumble, otherwise 100% chance of success
*** 5% if you abide by the 20 always succeeds rule.  I know, I'm being inconsistent here.
**** I loathe the word adjudicate as used by gamers--though I don't deny it's usefulness. Still, I hope you appreciate the personal pain I am subjecting myself to in order to deliver this post to you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Emirikol the Neurotic: Through the Ages

Apropos of nothing, I've been perusing the pages of various Tomes of Guidance for Masters of Dungeons, Games, and Other Assorted Things Which Require Mastering.  You can't look at too many of these without noticing some similarities between the various rules, most notable being the presence of Emirikol the Chaotic.

We all know the scene: back in '79, the eponymous, deathray-wielding wizard aligned himself with chaos and blasted his way through the city streets, leaving a trail of corpses in his wake.  Fortunately, TSR's best crime-scene illustrator Dave "Tramp" Trampier was on hand to capture the event in ink; the result earned itself a full page in the original DMG.

Fast forward a couple of decades and all of a sudden people are feeling sentimental for a time when the city streets were rife with Chaotic madmen running amok.  Numerous retro-gaming publishers commissioned artists to provide tribute to Emirikol's last ride.  Or was it his first? Third? Does anyone know anything about this guy?*

Since the original there have been no less than four versions published in various fantasy gaming tomes.  While the details vary between iterations, what is constant is chaos surrounding a horseman racing through the city streets, an archway in the background, and various swordwielding do-gooders emerging from public establishments usually located on the right side (stage left) of the street.  Here's a rundown on the sequels, remakes, and knockoffs:

2001 Hackmaster: GameMaster's Guide. p. 153 In this version, Emerikol himself seems to be the victim, harassed as he is by a mob in close pursuit.  He appears to be out of death rays for the day, and indeed, a bystander has beaned him in the head with an apple [EDIT: obviously, it's a rock] while another appears to be dumping their slops on him from a window above. No respect. This mostly decent reinterpretation is somewhat marred by the bizarre method of rendering the swift movement of feet that the illustrator chose to utilize. Several short quick action strokes give the impression of rapid movement but it's as if the lower extremities of the horse and swordsman-exiting-the-tavern are vibrating back and forth, not racing to action.  Not sure what the illustrator was going for but it failed.

2010, C&C: Castle Keepers Guide. p. 97**  Peter Bradley's rendition of the fateful Flight Through the Archway has a gleefully buxom witch in the role of Emerikol, this time racing through the night-shrouded streets and tossing coins--or are they flower petals?--to... no one in particular.  There is a pedestrian lying in the street in the background, but he is clearly better off than the flaming corpse lying in the foreground of the original.  In further departures, the requisite samaritan who sticks his proboscis out the door on the right side of the street is bereft of a blade while the "public establishment" has moved across the street and is now a brothel named the Scarlet Pillow. This one is also unique for being in full color, cuz Bradley don't do black n' white.

2012, DCC RPG. p. 63  Emirikol--here renamed and re-aligned as "Lokerimon the Lawful"--has been forced to reign in his racing steed to avoid trodding on a conjured fiend summoned by the "samaritan" swordsman.  The tavern in this version is called the "Smoking Wyrm" and depicts a dragon who closely resembles Tramp's Wormy character of Dragon Mag fame. If one could view this image without the baggage of the original illustration, one might assume that the samaritan demon summoner is the protagonist of the scene, or perhaps even the demon itself, though the "Lawful" sobriquet doesn't support that.

* Until now I didn't even know how to spell his name; I've been spelling it Emerikol in my head for decades. As I will continue to do for the rest of this post.
** Sadly, a halfhearted inernet search yielded no useful image of this drawing.  Unless you're more ambitious than I--or have the tomes handy--you're stuck with my description. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chronology of Greyhawk Re-posted

If this seems like a repeat it's because it was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AUGUST 20, 2015. I tried to correct some punctuation in the text but instead managed to delete the entire post. Whoops. Heh heh heh.

I've finally completed my annotated chronology of the Flannaes based on the works of an unnamed group of scholars/spies and translated by E. Gary Gygax in 1980, with a second edition published 3 years later.  Big deal you say?  So-and-so has already done this?  Ha!  Here's what's super cool about my version:

What's missing?
  1. I won't waste your time with all those made up events that may or may not have happened in the year -20,000 CY or whenever.
  2. In fact, I won't bother you with CY dates at all cuz all dates are given in Oeridian Reckoning (O.R.)* 
  3. My chronology is not tainted with all the biased misinformation that has been published in publications such as From the Ashes, Living Greyhawk, or any of various modules.
  4.  My chronology is tainted with my own biased misinformation which, I'm certain you'll agree, is more informative and entertaining than anyone else's.
Anyway, you can download PDFs of it on my new downloads page.  Or at least I think you can.  Let me know if this is working or not, this is the first time I've tried this stunt.

*Why's that a positive feature when the rest of the world uses CY? A few reasons:

  • O.R. most closely conforms to the dates of the significant events detailed in the Chronology: it begins with the opening salvos of the Baksulian War in year 160, ending in 1220 with the apocalypse/publication of the Gaz, which is both economically as well as aesthetically pleasing; 
  • it avoids all the silly and mathematically challenging negative dating for events that happened before the arrogant overking of Aerdy decided to make up his own calendar; and, most importantly, 
  • when looking at the Chronology in the Gazetteer or the 1983 Guide, the Oeridian dating is physically closest to the text--no need to scan across 6 columns of numbers to find the year the Age of Great Sorrow commenced (857 O.R.).

Monday, August 3, 2015

On Choosing Your Poison: Rogues vs. Thieves

Over the weekend I had a chance to play in a game run by a colleague who actually reads my blog.  Very embarrassing, running into these sort of people, but unfortunately it does happen.

Anyway, this dude--we'll call him Carl--runs a Moldvanian Basic game.  When I rolled up my newest character--Cranston the Thief--he offered me an interesting choice: 
Carl the DM:   I know how much d4 hit-diced thieves bother you, so I'll make you an offer: you can roll Cranston's hit points with a sixer if you want, but you'll have to call him a rogue henceforth.

Me:   Hmmmm.  How deep does this rogue business have to go?  Do I just have to write it on my character sheet?

Carl:   Heh heh heh... No.  From now on he has rogue abilities, not thief abilities.  He has to join the Rogues Guild of the nearest city.  He speaks Rogue's Cant--

Me:   STOP!  Stop.  Just... hand me... the 4-sider.

The moral of the story: Blogger beware!  There is a price to be paid for slathering the internet with your self-indulgent drivel.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Saving Throws: How many is too many?

In my game, I prefer the one universal saving throw category advanced by S&W White Box and perhaps a few other OSR ripoffs as well.  While I find the saving throw categories that Father G. devised back in the 70s to be as charmingly quirky as the next old schooler, they've always struck me as rather arbitrary, needlessly complex, and, ironically, uncomprehensive.  Instead, at my table everyone needs an 18 to save against everything.  Everyone.  Against everything.*

This doesn't mean that all saving throws are created equal however.  When I, as MC, declare that a save is in order, I don't just say "All right dickheads, make a save".  Oh no, there's always a descriptive component to the save.  Often it's "save vs. death" or "poison" or something standard like that, but it can also be extremely specific as well, here's a list of saving throws that I can remember offering to my players:
save vs. poison
save vs. traps
save vs. death
save vs. parallelization
save vs. nausea
save vs. libido
save vs. flesh-eating bile
save vs. watching-your-innards-spill-out-on-the-ground
But it really doesn't matter: in most cases the descriptor has no bearing on the saving throw. You still need to roll an 18 or higher.  As a fer instance, no PC class or race in my game has any advantage over another in watching their innards spill out on the ground.  You're still just hoping to roll an 18 or better.**

However, there are circumstances where I'd allow a bonus based on the characters race, class, or personal experience.  Thieves, I'd say, might be offered an advantage on saves vs. traps.  Or elves saving vs. libido; everyone knows how virtuously dull they are.  They get a +12 bonus in addition to level and any applicable wisdom bonus.  If, despite all that, they still manage to blow their save I'd offer them best 2 out of 3.

*You do, in most cases, get to add your level/hit dice to your die roll.  Possibly other bonuses.  Keep reading. 
** Gutless beings such as water elementals or stone golems would likely be immune to this sort of thing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Kickstarting the Rants: CKG Incoming!

No, the title of this post does not refer to some cloud fundraising operation used by unappreciated creative types to raise undeserved cash for their unworthy projects.  Rather, I am trying to figuratively kickstart my blogging endeavors by purchasing a book that I am certain will irritate me to the point where I will be forced to eloquize my misery in print.  Which is to say, I've just ordered the C&C Castle Keepers Guide,* so be prepared for a boatload of ranting when this puppy finally arrives.

I have in the past tried to express my appreciation of the Castles & Crusades game, and yet somehow each effort has yielded a blathering screed on the various stylistic deficiencies of the game's rulebooks.  Plus it doesn't help that C&C chose to join the Rogue camp.

But at this moment, I am truly and deeply open to the possibility that I will actually be impressed with this tome when it arrives.  It is my deepest hope that the Trolllord pensters have learned to hold their hands steady in the presence of a thesaurus.  And that the artwork of P.B. Radley will reveal that he may actually be in possession of a soul, or is at least able to fake it on paper.  Occasionally.  And I even have some faint glimmering hope that the content of the book might have value too.

However, none of these are my expectation.

I expect to loathe this book because the authors and artist have failed to tailor their work to my particular preferences yet again.  But my deepest fear is that I will loathe it because it will have nothing to offer.   What if they boisterously purple prose of the original C&C PHB has been tempered and replaced with something rather banal?  Will the content shine through or will it be found wanting?  What if it's just plain old boring?  That would be worst of all.

* CKG doesn't quite roll off the tongue like DMG, eh?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Rogue Rant: Suck it!

No, not her.

Like most of you, I like to pretend that I don't give a crap about the edition wars; as if they're beneath me and all that. Yet also like you, I actually prefer the older, mustier versions of the game to those 21st century editions that the kids are rabid about these days.

That's where our similarities end, however, because unlike you I've actually found indisputable evidence to support my personal bias. You see, post-Gygaxian versions of D&D are objectively inferior for one simple reason: the Rogue. Introduced, I believe, in the much-vaunted 2nd edition of Advanced Big D [EDIT: it was 3rd ed., not 2nd {EDIT EDIT: I've now been informed that rogue was introduced as an archetype in 2nd ed. but not a class, whatever that means <EDIT EDIT EDIT: Now I'm being told that Rogue was a "group" in AD&D2, not an archetype. Did this ever have any value?>}], rogues are essentially thieves with a coat of paint to give them somewhat less illegitimacy.  Or something.  

I don't really know why they changed the name, but I do know that it has been scientifically proven that any edition of D&D that includes a class titled "Rogue"--regardless of any other merits it may have--is clearly the product of an inferior mind and should be derided mercilessly at every opportunity excepting only those situations when simply ignoring it seems more palatable.

I can almost rationalize why TSR [EDIT: it was Wizards, not TSR] might have decided to change the thief moniker--presumably cuz of its criminal baggage--this was around the same time that the title of Deities & Demigods was changed to Legumes & Lorries after all [EDIT: Actually it was much later than this].  But rogue?  Couldn't you try not to suck so bad at naming stuff?  Sure, thieves, by definition, tend to steal stuff; that could be kinda' off-putting to some.  But at least "thief" points to a skill set that has potential value in a dungeon setting.  Rogue, however, is just a disposition of scoundreliness. While that may be fun to run in the tavern, what the fug good is that gonna do a party of adventurers?  Who needs a jaunty-capped seducer of barmaids when your six levels down in the Acrid Tomb of Malcontents?
DM: The chamber is filled by a viscous, burbling, black blob; it reeks overpoweringly of vomit and strychnine and seems to be sliming its way toward you.  What do you do?
Roger the Rogue: I flash my most menacing grin and offer a defiant witticism.
DM: Ok, roll against your "Crack Wise in the Face of Danger" ability.  While you've got your 20-sider handy go ahead and make a save vs. flesh-eating bile.  
Truly though, the term rogue has come to mean an outlier, someone who lives beyond the norm, who is possessed of an attitude of nonconformity.  While definitely more open ended than "thief," this makes no sense at all as the name of a character class.  What you have is a class that specializes in not doing what's expected of it.  While there's no reason that you can't count on a well appellated thief to climb walls, decrypt codes, or defuse bombs for the good of the party, all you can expect from your rogue is that s/he's going to give you lip if you ask him or her to do something:
Fred the Fighter: I try to open the door on the west wall.
DM: It's locked.
[The rest of the party looks meaningfully at the "Rogue"]
Rachel the Rogue:  Stick it ya' buncha' hosebags, I'm not your lapdog. [Leaps onto a nearby table sending crockery flying and raises a fist in the air]  Fight the power!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sinister Location of Saltmarsh

I'm flying to England in a few days to meet with the location scout for the "Shakeshaft" tv series I have, of late, been hawking.  In preparation for the trip I've been researching the south coast of England since, as the U1 authors make explicit, that is the model setting for all things Saltmarshy.

Anyway, it took about 4 seconds on an internet search engine to find out that, while there doesn't appear to be a town by the name of Saltmarsh in southern England, there is a town named Seaton in Devon.  As Saltmarsh devotees will no doubt recall, Seaton was, along with Burle, one of the neighboring, more prosperous towns in the vicinity of backwater Saltmarsh.  Thinking that was pretty nifty, further investigation yielded this tidbit in an article about a grocery store opening in town:
"Sandwiched between the red and white cliffs of the Jurassic Coast and surrounded by acres of unspoilt saltmarsh, the Devon resort of Seaton has prided itself on its status as a serene backwater whose last serious skirmish with an unwanted invader was 700 years ago when it supplied Edward I with ships and sailors to fight off the Sahuagin." [Emphasis, c'est moi] The Independent, 25 March 2008.
So the town of Seaton, like U1's Saltmarsh, is a backwater village located on the seaside adjacent to a saltmarsh, and is within spitting distance of cliffs on which to position everyone's favorite haunted house.  An image search quickly revealed the cliffs upon which the Haunted House is perched:

These are the cliffs.

As well as the house itself: 

This house is haunted.

Except a closer look revealed that this cool old joint is actually in a different Seaton altogether--Seaton Delaval way up in Northumberland.  Apparently Seaton is a pretty popular name for any village within a stones throw or two from the sea, as Wikipedia lists 11 towns, villages, hamlets, dorfs and/or thorps named Seaton either wholly or in part.  The Seaton of County Durham is the most intriguing; here is its Wikipedia entry in its entirety:
"Seaton is a village in County Durham, in England. It is on the A19 road south of Sunderland. The village boasts two pubs." -- Wikipedia entry on Seaton, County Durham, 5/19/15

Anyway, I hope I get to visit both taverns on my upcoming tour of the Seatons.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shakeshaft Goes Hollywood!

Jack, circa 1953.
Thanks to Claw Carver--just hired on as the casting director of "Shakeshaft: the Series"--for pointing out the striking similarity in appearance between Saltmarsh's shadiest character and the young Jack Palance, see below.  The intense stare, pronounced brow, and peaked hairline; it's really uncanny isn't it?  The producer of the upcoming tv series is in discussions to secure 1950's J. P.  for the part.  This could be a real gold mine.

Ned, circa 1981.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ned Shakeshaft: Sinister Assassin of Saltmarsh

I haven't had much time for blogging lately because I've been working on a script for a tv series based on the adventures of Ned Shakeshaft, the beleaguered assassin in U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh who gets assigned the unpleasant job of tying himself up in the haunted house in order to divert attention away from a smuggling operation going on in the basement.  A method actor to the core, Ned took the added step of stripping down to his skivvies and having some cronies beat him up before leaving him to his role.   
Insert BDSM jokes here.

Now, if you were a respected professional, would you volunteer for this gig?  Not a friggin' chance.  Not only is the scope of the operation well beneath you, but you gotta' know that there's not a lot of money in it either.  So what's Ned's motivation?

First off, he's clearly not a Respected Professional.  Likely he's got a long rap sheet of botched hits and failed enterprises--like his laughable attempt at fixing bouts on the Ulek gnome-wrestling circuit, or that time he got arrested for "attempted pimping" in Gradsul.  Whatta' Schmuck.

But still, how did he find himself hogtied and stashed like a sack of hirsute potatoes in a decrepit house waiting for a band of well-armed, sociopathic adventurers--who, it should be noted, gain XPs for killing people--to come along and free him from his bonds?  Fortunately for you I've uncovered the answer.  You see, old Ned's got gambling debts out the yang and The Receiver--the prominent Saltmarsh merchant with ties to the Smugglers Under the House--has purchased them at pennies on the dollar because, hey, you never know when your gonna' need a disposable assassin for exactly this kind of work.

The Receiver has decided to give Ned one last chance to make good on his debts so he sends him to the haunted house to wait for the meddling party of adventurers.  But do we really think that he wants Ned to stop the party from finding the smugglers?  Heck no, compadres; this is where the module-writers grossly underestimate the ruthlessness of The Receiver.  As mentioned in the module, Ned's presence will make it obvious to even the least observant party that there is something decidedly non-paranormal going on in the haunted house.  This is entirely by design because, as you'll remember, The Receiver has as yet failed to find the Smugglers den--which indicates that he's been looking for it.  And it's also clear that the Smugglers aren't being too forthcoming with their location, which makes good business sense when you deal in illegal contraband.  So what does The Receiver want with the Smugglers?  I'll tell you: he's not interested in protecting the Smugglers Under the House at all: he wants to take over their operation.  That's right, the Party has stumbled into a gangster turf war. 

So The Receiver sends Shakeshaft* not to stymie the Party but to assist them in finding the Smugglers hideout and, indeed, to encourage them to keep looking should they consider leaving without finding it.   As soon as the Party finds the secret lair of the Smugglers, Ned is to slip away and alert the gang of toughs that are hiding out in the woods across the way.  These goons will then descend on the hideout and pound any survivors on either side into submission.  Ned also knows full well that those same thugs have been tasked with doing the same to him should he fail in his mission. There, my friends, lies his motivation.

* This has got to be an alias, right?  I suspect that "Ned Shakeshaft" is the UK equivalent of "Jack Meoff."

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy St. Cuthbert's Day!

I know you're all still recovering from ol' Paddy Snakebane's Festival of Greenery on Tuesday, but get your party hats back out because today marks the feast of St. Cuthbert!  Besides knocking back a pint or three of St. Cuthbert's IPA, you might consider celebrating by being nice to animals: Ol' Cuddy was famous for his rapport with the critters of the world.  Also, get in some cudgel practice whilst sporting your favorite chapeaux.

Not sure why he's in a boat in the photo above, but it's a somewhat common theme in non-Greyhawk Cuthbertian imagery. Check out his soccer team's crest (right).

Although Wanderers--along with the similarly themed Rovers and Rangers--is a fairly common team nickname for F.C.s in the British Isles* the name is especially appropriate for a club honoring ol' Cuddy; his posthumous wanderings are the stuff of legend.  For centuries after his death his remains were repeatedly moved from one hiding spot to another in order to avoid plundering by Minnesota Vikings.

* Despite all the Old Country emulation that goes on in MLS nomenclature--see the Uniteds, Reals, Dynamos, FCs, and, now, Cities, that clutter up the standings--no one has taken a shine to the Rovers/Rangers/Wanderers theme.  Wanderers is perhaps too desultory for modern tastes and Rangers is already taken by both a hockey and baseball team here in N. America, but Rovers, I think, would make for a damn fine futbol team.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

U2 Danger at Dunwater: The Alliteration Continues

Perhaps because U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh turned out to be a TPK, my gang never played its sequel Danger at Dunwater.  Which is to say, I have no firsthand knowledge of how this bad boy plays out.  However, that will not keep me from spoiling the crap out of this thing, so move along if you'd rather avoid that sort of confab.

U2 Danger @ Dunwater picks up where U1 left off, riffing on the presence of lizardmen on the smuggler's ship.  It turns out that the lizardmen [Aside: are lizardmen actually amphibians?] were striking a deal with the smugglers to buy bulk armaments at a discount.  The Saltmartians--concerned that the mud-wallowing lizard-freaks are planning an invasion of their despicable burg--hire/coerce the PCs into running off and dealing with the problem for them. 

Reviews of U2 (the D&D module, not the high altitude spy plane) praise this module for "not being what it appears," which is too bad, because what it appears to be is a lizard-themed dungeon crawl, and who doesn't like hackin' up lizardmen?  But it turns out that you're supposed to be helping the lizardmen, not flaying them alive.  As written though, the party probably isn't gonna figure that out until it's way too late. 

Essentially, this module is supposed to put the PCs in a moral quandary when they find out that the the heavily armed lizardmen they've been slaughtering all evening are not planning on harvesting the gizzards of the good citizens of Saltmarsh.  Yet the only indication that something unusual is up with these slithery goons is the presence of some Mermaids and other assorted aquatic types sipping tea and snarfing seaweed crumpets in their lizardy den. 

Now, if you enter through the front door you'll find this out right away.  But the front door involves swimming, so you're probably not going to opt for that one, preferring one of the land-bound entries.  Which means that by the time you get to Neptune's tea party,  you've already made a stylish belt--with matching boots and luggage--out of the wives, children, and siblings of the lizardude chief and his elite guardsmen. 

Fortunately, the Lizardians aren't too sentimental: they'll forgive and forget as long as the party goes off on a wild crocodile hunt on their behalf. Though, since the PCs are working as independent contractors for the Village of NaClmarsh, they would be entirely within their rights to point out to the Lizardmen that this is not within the scope of their agreement and will first require negotiating for additional services with the town council.  

But what if a group of PCs actually did take the time to figure out what the Lizardudes were up to instead of collecting their spleens first and asking questions later?  Would this module hold up if it was confronted with such thoughtful PCs?  Consider this scenario: 
Party [approaching the front gate of the Lizardarian Lair]: "All right you slimy, fork-tongued bastards, we know you've been stockpiling weapons for a raid on the village of Saltmarsh.  You'd better cut that crap out right now or you're gonna' be in big trouble."

Lizardudes: "Get lost ya' dandruff-ridden landlubbers, we've got a sahuagin invasion to deal with."

Party: "Say who again?"

Lizardudes: "Sahuagins.  Evil, scaly bastards?  Page 84 of the Monster Manual?  Anyway, they've been harassing us for months, moving in on our turf.  We're here negotiating with the Locathah and merdudes to team up against those creeps."
[As confirmation, Merdude chief and Locathah chief pop their heads out, smile, and wave]
Party [taken aback]: "Oh! So you're not hoarding weapons in order to raid Saltmarsh?"

Lizardudes:  "Raid Saltmarsh? Why would we do that?"

Party: "You're certain?  No assaulting the village?  No rending townspeople limb from limb?"

Lizardudes [somewhat miffed]: "Absolutely not."

Party [crestfallen]: "Very well. Sorry for bothering you."
[Party dejectedly turns to leave.  The Lizardudes, their annoyance turned to pity, confer with Merdude and Locathah. After some whispered debate, they turn back to the party.]
Lizardudes:  "Say, you guys wouldn't want to help us, would you?"

And so, unless the Master of Dungeons has U3 The Final Countdown on hand and prepped for play, your big Friday night gaming session is over before the pizza's even arrived. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015 Blogification News: 60 Posts, 5th Anniversary Celebration, New Name, and more.

I didn't bother with resolutions for the new year because I was so successful with my 2014 resolutions that I really don't have anything left to achieve for the next 7 years or so.  But there is one matter that I do need to tend to in the new year. In keeping with a pattern of always having a yearly total post-count that is a multiple of 6, for the last two years I've made a very conscious effort to ensure that, come Year's End, my post-count was inline with this trend.  Well, check this out and let me know if you discern another pattern:

Table II.B.3.xi: Post Counts by Year. 
2010: 42
2011: 30 
2012: 60
2013: 42
2014: 30

Yep, it looks like I might have to have to churn out 60 friggin' posts this year!  What that means to you: Expect more content-less filler posts such as this one.

Also: Last summer I streamlined the name of this blog to its current moniker (see above) from the far more cumbersome "Unfrozen Caveman Dice Chucker." Not only was the Unfrozen Caveman bit just too clunky, but it was also decreasingly relevant after having spent the last several years actively engaging the ol' hobby.  Not that it mattered, none of you noticed.  I'm a little hurt.

Also, also: The official 5th anniversary of this blog will be this Saturday, Enero 17.  I trust you all got the invitation to the party and I expect a great showing at the palatial venue we've rented for the to-do.  Did I mention there will be an OPEN BAR?  And ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT PANCAKES? See you there.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Elf Loathing: How to put an end to the elf scourge in D&D

Even though most fantasy literature portrays elves as humorless, superior dullards who would never be invited to any party that a reasonable person would want to attend, in D&D elves are so laden with mechanical advantages (Dex bonus, +1 w/ bow & sword, infravision, stealthiness, magic resistance, secret door-finding ability, etc.) and deprived of significant shortcomings (they're neither overly short nor unappealingly hirsute) that every munchkin gamer signs up for them right out of the chute.  Seriously, unless you want to run a cleric--and such an unlikely possibility is hardly worth mentioning--there's virtually no good reason not to have an elf.

So how do you keep the pointy-eared d-bags off your gaming table?  Here's how I do it:  Inform your players that the following characteristics apply to elves in your gaming world.
  1. Elven names must be at least 7 syllables long. It's impossible to have a badass character with a really long, douchey name.  To make this rule mechanically unpleasant as well, apply a -5% XP penalty to any elf PC who:
      • fails to correct anyone and everyone who mispronounces or abbreviates the elf's name in anyway on every such occurrence.
      • refers to his/her own elf character with any moniker other than its full, actual name--even in table chatter.
      • Such penalties are, of course, cumulative and permanent.
  2. Elves have OCD.  Remember that "Step on a crack and break your mother's back" business from when you were a kid?  Elves take that shit to heart.  An elf who steps on a crack or seam in the dungeon floor must save vs. parallelization* or immediately flee to his homeland to check on his mother's health.
  3. Elves are chaste.  If neither of the above has done the job, you're going to need to hit below the belt; inform the player(s) that, despite all their sexiness, Elven reproductive rites involve a fortnight spent composing love poems and weaving garlands, after which an actual stork flies in and drops off the new elfling, who likely bears a strong resemblance to Odysseus.  No clothing is removed, no groping occurs, the whole affair is rated G.  Indeed, your parents are traditionally on hand for the entire event.  And if that still isn't enough, you're going to have to drop this bomb: 
  4.  Well, some elves are chaste... Female elves can--and frequently do--mate with humans in the traditional, human fashion.**  "Male" elves, however, are not equipped with the right utensils to do the job.  That's right, Legolas = dick-o-less.  Do you really want to play a Ken-doll?
* Auto-correct often comes up with some pretty cool ideas; parallelization is one of them.
** Which explains why half elves were so prominent in AD&D.