Beholder, a Haiku (Haiku 5)

A repost from my old blog...

serenely floating
sphere of sure and certain doom;
eyes wink at the world


And the Answer is "Hit Points"

Take one of the older editions of Dungeons & Dragons (or your favorite retroclone), strip away everything except the one most fundamental and essential element. What do you have left?


Falling Down: GURPS Session in the Majestic Wilderlands

When I was a kid, my parents subjected me to five years worth of horse riding lessons (both English and Western). My sister became a good enough rider to win some events at horse shows. Me? I preferred dirt bikes and never really got past the fact that I was on a very large animal with a very small brain. However, in all of those years of riding, I never fell off a horse.

My GURPS character, Delvin, is not so lucky. He suffered the ultimate dwarven humiliation: Fall off your horse, land on your back, and then lie their with your beautiful short arms and legs flailing away for a round or so. It is a fate that I would not wish on anyone (well, maybe an elf).

The session started out innocent enough. We continued the work we needed to do on our inn. We secured membership with the inn guild, met with our innkeep, secured our brewmaster (a task that required significant rounds of testing), met with the master mason on construction, and came up with building plans. We also debated how to settle the 24 refugees that we had rescued. We decided to set up a little farming hamlet next to the inn.

With tentative plans laid, we hopped up on our horses and headed out to the actual building site, about a day's ride from where were have been staying (Dorn). There were four PCs in the group, plus one noncombatant NPC (our innkeeper). The ride was uneventful and would have been quite pleasant, had we not observed the lack of commercial traffic. Maybe this inn wasn't such a great idea?

The land became wilder as we moved closer to our destination. Suddenly, Durgo, the most observant of our party, noticed a group of armed men hiding up ahead in the trees and brush. We stopped, checked them out from a distance, and drew our weapons. I opted to prep my crossbow. This was a bit of a mistake.

As combat ensued, I missed my target (not surprisingly) and then wasted time drawing my two-handed battleaxe. While I was diddling with my axe, the six opponents shape-changed into boars. Oh, for crap. We were outnumbered six to five (never a good thing in GURPS), with our inkeeper as a noncombant. This made him a liability rather than an asset and also made it a four-on-six battle. Half of us would be outnumbered.

As I am the sole remaining meatshield in the group, I probably should not have wasted time with my crossbow. I am a killing machine with my battleaxe, but the crossbow is always a bit of an adventure for me. As I was drawing my axe and cursing my luck, I was heartened by the telling blows made by my companions. They were making a better showing than I expected. A series of strong attacks by my companions and poor defensive moves by our opponents tilted the field in our favor.

I was able to make my first swing of my axe count, killing a boar. It looked like the fight would end quickly and in our favor. But then our luck changed. Even as I confidently looked for my next foe, a boar attacked and my horse and I were not able to dodge. My horse was gored--fatally so--and I tumbled head over heels to the ground.

Now dwarves are not graceful folk. But we are not ashamed of this. We leave the dancing and prancing to pretty-boy elves. We prefer steadiness and sturdiness to flash and dance. However, rolling off a horse presents dwarves in the worst possible light. No steadiness. No sturdiness.

I found myself lying flat on my back, arms and legs flailing to right myself before I was set upon by a boar. My heavy armor prevented injury, but it accentuated by dwarven lack of grace. My sense of vulnerability was only surpassed by my embarrassment. I heard jeers of "turtle" even as I began to right myself.

As I began to waste precious seconds getting back to my feet, I noticed a stunned boar next me. I was able to take a measured swing (telegraphic) and kill him, even while on my knees. This redeemed the situation...a bit. By time I was ready to fight on my feet, the melee was over and the few remaining boars turned back to men and surrendered. I had taken out two of the six, even with waste-of-time crossbow shot and the tumble to the ground.

My colleagues began to question our captives. We discovered them to be cursed...probably not lycanthropes. It was obvious that the rest of my party was trying to figure out to save them from their wretched state. Me? I wanted to kill them, in part because they killed my horse (horses always win out over humans in my simple dwarven mind). Even apart from my horse, however, I wanted to silence them so that they could never speak of the dwarf lying on his back. The reputation of a dwarf is much more important than the life of a human (you humans are like rabbits...kill a few and they reproduce faster than ever).

This is where our session ended.


Monday Moodsetter 8

"The Space Mariner" by Kali Ciesemier
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?


Resisting Impulsive/Compulsive RPG Purchases

Back when I was in my late 20s, I lived for a time in northern Minnesota, along the north shore of Lake Superior. The area is absolutely gorgeous and I would move back there in a heartbeat if I had the chance...Anyway, while I was there, I spent a lot of time hiking, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. I also took up fishing (or rather returned to it, as I fished a lot as a young child). I soon learned that fishing was not a cheap activity. It wasn't like it was when I was a kid, where I could bring home a bucket of panfish with a can of worms and cheap fishing pole. I needed all sorts of things just to get started--poles, reels, lures, jigs, tackle boxes--not to mention the need to have a boat, regular boat motor, trolling motor, floatation devices, sonar fish finder. I choose to be on good terms with boat owners, as I couldn't afford to drop the cash needed for even a small boat. Oh, I almost forgot the need for a trailer and a four-wheel drive truck. At the end of the day, you could buy a giant pile of Mrs. Paul's best for the price of catching one walleye.

One of my very wise fishing buddies made the simple observation that most fishing equipment is designed to catch fisherman, not fish. I think about that little gem on a regular basis as I am involved in a number of fun activities where I could easily spend way beyond my means (much to my wife's dismay). I play music (easy to drop $2K on a decent bass or $300 on an effects pedal). I read (and collect) history books and most of the topics I enjoy are only published by university publishing houses (not cheap). And then there is gaming. If you are reading this post, you need no explanation as to how easy it would be to drop a couple hundred on gaming stuff.

I have lived with myself long enough to know that when it comes to music equipment, books, and gaming stuff, I can very impulsive. Nothing like walking into a music store for a $10 instrument cable and walking out with a $600 guitar. Working in the nonprofit sector and having kids in college requires me to be bit more responsible than that.

Back in Minnesota, I would look at the fishing tackle and ask: (1) Do I actually need this to catch fish? (2) Do I need to buy this today or can I think about it for another day? I do the same thing with gaming stuff. The fact is, when it comes to gaming, all you really need is a set of dice, a pencil, and some blank paper.

It isn't that I don't ever buy gaming stuff...I do. And sometimes I buy a lot of it. And sometimes I buy things and then think the next week, what did I need with that? But I do try to avoid that sort of buyer's remorse. I think the main thing is knowing myself and not necessarily trusting that overwhelming urge to buy the latest game product. I try to only buy things I know I will actually use in the next six months.

I use online wish lists to keep me from online impulse purchases: When I feel the urge to buy something and I cannot think I will immediately use, I put it on a wish list and give it the highest priority. Almost always, I find myself going back to that list a month later and lowering the priority. My online wish lists are filled with thousands of dollars worth of stuff that I thought I had to have but then discovered I didn't really need. I figure I get the fun of shopping without an attack of buyer's remorse.

Truth be told, I have a lot of books that I will never read and piles of gaming stuff that  I will never use [Shhhh! Please keep that to yourself, as this is something I don't want to admit to my wife more often that absolutely necessary]. There a plenty of things that could have remained on a wishlist instead of being purchased by me. Lots of things sitting here that make me wonder, "Did I really pine and swone for these things?" This being said, a certain red five string bass has been sitting on my wish list for a good long time and Father's Day is just around the corner. Come on now, Daddy looks good in red.


Five for Friday 9: Groovy Lists

G-Rated Beholder
I love lists. Tallest buildings. Best batting averages. Fastest growing MSAs. Here is a list of five posts or articles, each containing a groovy list:
What gaming lists have grabbed your attention and imagination?



Monday Moodsetter 7

British Library, Add MS 11695, detail of f. 147v. Beatus of LiƩbana, Commentary on the Apocalypse. 1091-1109
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?


Weekend Update: Out and About with My Axe

Me with one of my axes
I have had a couple of busy weeks with music--3 gigs in the last two weeks plus rehearsals. Last night I was the substitute bass player for a three piece blues band. My plan is to set aside my gig money for music equipment, but it never quite works out that way. We usually raid the gig money envelope for cash for our NYC trips. Lately, the money has been going for RPG Kickstarters.

My world of gaming looks something like this:
  • Delvin the dwarf in Rob's Majestic Wilderlands GURPS campaign. We started out as 75 point characters in a mercenary band. Having captured the enemy's king and received part of the king's ransom, we have decided to leave the mercenary business and build an inn. We had to get permission of the local bigwig, Sir Kaymus (which took up most of the last session). The next task is getting permission of the local guild. Delvin, who has spent his life as a soldier of fortune, is now faced with the task of learning how to brew ale (a specialty under the GURPS Cooking skill). Up until now, Delvin had little use for such non-martial skills.
  • Montporte Dungeon: Our next Montporte session is scheduled for March 4, with me as GM. We are using Blood & Treasure. The guys are working on their characters. I am redoing my hand-drawn maps, using AutoREALM, so that I can upload JPEGs into Roll20. All of those cartography classes I took in college are finally being put to use...although I do have 30 years of rust.
  • City of Onyx: I have a pile of notes to organize and some maps to create. Rob Conley has graciously offered to help me on the maps. I am also reading through the pile of GURPS books on our dining room table.
  • The Manor: I am reworking two of my homebrew creatures for Tim to use in the next issue of The Manor.
  • Kickstarters: Both of the Kickstarters I pledged surpassed their goals (Fate Core and Tavern Cards).


Five For Friday 8: Five Questions for Tim Shorts

Hey, kids! Today we are thrilled to have Tim Shorts as part of the blog to answer us up on 5 questions. I get to game with Tim on a regular basis and, thanks to his invitation, I am part of a groovy Monday Night Game Group. You can find Tim at his blog, Gothridge Manor, and you can check out and purchase his gaming products at GM Games.

What was your weirdest gaming experience?
Weirdest?  I think gaming is a weird experience in itself.  I remember a game at a convention where a guy (I guess more kid) got so upset his character died he slammed his head on the table.  Hard.  He caught a 4-sider on the right side of his forehead.  It was stuck there.  It bled.  He cried.  I laughed.  What can I say, I thought it was funny.  Not sure if that's weird, but it's the first thing that came to mind.

Why in God’s name do you choose to publish adventures and The Manor? Isn’t life hard enough? (a two-fer)
 I've been writing since I was 17.  Mainly fiction of various genres.  I love the process.  Gaming is such a great way to flex your creativity.  The Manor and the adventures were a natural step from there.  I've always wanted to do my own magazine.  When Christian did Lovaitar I thought "Wow, it can be done."  I live in a literary wasteland.  I'd only heard a little about zines.  Ivy comes from Jersey and she ran with a group that printed their own horror zines.  And they were great.  And all this time all I really needed was a long armed stapler.  Life is hard enough without banging my head on the wall writing The Manor, but when its done and I get to look through it and all the great art Jason Sholtis, Johnathan Bingham, Dylan Hartwell, and my ginger haired wife, Ivy, have done to support my idea it is just cool.  Plus there has been a good response to The Manor.  The OSR crew are good folks.  I'm just here to have some fun with it.  So making the zine makes life a little better not harder.

If you were an orc, what would be the name of your tribe?
Sucking Chest Wound.  First thing off my head and I like it.  Cue it up for the next Manor and get Jason on the phone for me.

What are your three favorite gaming rules or systems? Why? (another two-fer)
I'm going to cheat.  I like all the retro clones, probably Swords & Wizardry and Blood & Treasure are my favorites.  Then I have to pick what really got me into gaming and that was AD&D.  Then GURPS.  I've played a ton of games in a ton of genres rolling 3d6s.  Some people think GURPS is too crunchy, but you doesn't have to be that way.  It's a tool, a Swiss Army knife of systems.  Just use the right tool for the right situation.  You don't use them all at once.

What was the name of your favorite player character (played by you)? Give us some details (not a two-fer…a question and a command, I guess)
I've had some fun ones, Stew 'the Spike' Nool who was a thief, but thought he was a magic-user.  Ronnable, a irritable Dwarf who bit stuff as much as axed it.  I played twin half elves, Tamelight and Wildfire who kicked the crap out of an order of monks and took their temple.  Ashling a semi-psychotic elf you had the pleasure of adventuring with.  Slice Handler, a dagger throwing fiend who took advantage of Unearth Arcana when it first came out.  But the best was Draco-Lindus.  His career lasted on and off over four years.  He started out as a slaver mercenary.  Became a mercenary captain.  Somewhere in there he kidnapped a duke and ransomed him off getting throw out of the lands of the City State of the Invisible Overlord.  Become a champion of a god.  Reclaim lost lands on a back of a dragon. Building a small kingdom.  Joining the Overlord who had kicked him out.  When the Overlord died, it was the reason civil war broke out and changed the landscape of the entire campaign.  That was pretty cool.

Thanks, again, Tim.


Domesticated Gamers: A Valentine Post

D&D Wedding Cake (Retroist)
"You are about to get bitchslapped!" an unfamiliar feminine voice exclaimed during our most recent Monday Night Gaming Group session (via Skype). And it was true, one of the PCs was about to experience a beat down at the hands of an angry king. This is the usual way we meet a gamer spouse...an unexpected and wickedly funny comment floating in through our headphones.

One of the best parts of our Monday night group is the audio window we each get into each other's lives...a window that gives us a glimpse beyond the virtual gaming table. We get funny comments, interruptions for homework questions, LEGOs being put together, the occasional "brb" for refereeing sibling squabbles or tucking kiddoes into bed, and Tim's dog, Bug, grunting and growling at his feet.

Our gaming group is amazingly committed to our Monday night sessions. Getting seven married guys with responsible jobs to make that commitment is remarkable. But the sounds coming through Skype of wives, kids, and dogs are reminders that gaming is just one part of our lives...and not the most important part. It is also reminder that we each have very tolerant people around us who give us the time and space to get together on a regular basis to do something we enjoy. It is a gift to me that my wife laughs with me (and often at me) while I game. How could she not laugh when she sees a stack of books, each prominently labeled with the word "GURPS?" My guess is that not everyone has that sort of support to play a dwarf and roll dice on a weekly basis.


Montporte Dungeon Update

"The Known Universe" in the Montporte Dungeon
We decided, after our Montporte dungeon session, to try make an attempt to convert what was to be a one-shot session into an ongoing campaign. I know frequency will be insure as we are already playing in Rob's Majestic Wilderlands GURPS campaign. However, if we can get in one session a month, I think we will all be happy.

We are converting our Montporte stuff from AD&D 1e to Blood & Treasure. I am also working on creating new maps as JPEGs, using AutoREALM, for use in Roll20. It is a fun process, but it does take time.


My Random Class

Pic Source: The Handsome Nerd
I used the Custom Class Generator and ended  up with the following. Interesting that I have a charisma prime requisite and can waterbreath but I restricted to using only polearms. That seems about right.

Requirements: none
Prime Requisite: CHA
Hit Points
LevelHit Points
Members of this class may not wear any armour.
Members of this class may only use pole weapons (polearm, lance, javelin, spear).
Members of this class roll to attack as a cleric or thief.
Magic Items
Members of this class have no restrictions on the use of magic items.
Note that, for magic armour, weapons and shields, characters can only use a magic item if they could use the normal version of that item.
Breathe Underwater
Members of this class can breathe underwater.
Members of this class save as a magic-user of their level.
LevelXP required


Your Dice Are On The Way!

Weeping Angels (Happy BDay!)
Today is my daughter's 20th birthday ("Happy Birthday!"). I am very proud of her and the person that she is. A recent text from her, while at college, makes this request: "Can you send me my gaming dice?" Heartwarming.

It is hard to believe that I am no longer the father of teenagers. I am not sure where this puts me on the dragon age scale: Old, Very Old, or Ancient?


The Dungeon 2: Comparing GURPS and D&D on Dungeon Design

My very first view of a dungeon via Dr. Holmes' edition of Dungeons & Dragons
I have been working my way through the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy material and I have also been following Peter D's Dungeon Fantastic and Patrick's Renovating the Temple. While I cannot speak from personal experience, it is clear to me that running a GURPS fantasy dungeon campaign is not only doable, it could be very groovy. That being said, it is also clear to me that Dungeons & Dragons is a hand-to-glove fit for dungeoneering while GURPS requires a few tweaks. Despite the need for tweaking, GURPS offers up an approach to dungeon adventuring that Dungeons & Dragons cannot readily duplicate as it allows the GM to set aside the most fundamental controlling element of dungeon adventuring in D&D.

Using GURPS Dungeon Fantasy and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1e as my points of comparison, I have made the following observations:
  • GURPS DF characters start out tough (250 points) compared to AD&D 1e characters (1st level). 250 points is considerably tougher than the average low-skill militia guard whereas a 1st level character in AD&D 1e has only the slightest edge against a similarly armed 0-level human.
  • GURPS characters do advance and gain in strength but this is nothing like the huge power increase that AD&D 1e characters experience.
  • GURPS character advancement is gained per session for good play whereas character advancement in AD&D 1e is based on experience points gained through slaying monsters and bringing home treasure.
  • Encounter planning for AD&D 1e is simple as hit dice are an accurate measure of power. In GURPS, the ability to move and attack is maybe the best reflection of power but it is much more difficult to assess and compare (at least it is a challenge for me as a GURPS newbie). While old schoolers often mock the concept of encounter balance, the basic design of an AD&D 1e dungeon is built around it. It is a basic necessity.
I have summed up this comparison as a visual (very much a handwaving exercise):

Hidden in plain sight is the fact that the design of a traditional megadungeon and the most fundamental aspect of AD&D 1e, character advancement, are mirror images of each other. Monte Cook made "Things get more dangerous as you go deeper" is #1 Assumption when creating his Dungeon-A-Day project a few years ago. That is not merely a dungeon design convention, it a reflection of the most intrinsic element of the D&D  game system (regardless of edition). It is really a necessity. 1st level characters have no chance against even the wussiest of creatures on the 10th Level Wandering Monster Table.

AD&D 1e character level advancement (the reflection of power) generally matches the encounter difficulties as one goes deeper in the dungeon because it has to. It is the way the developed and it is the way the game works. 1st level characters may survive an encounter with an angry elder titan, their survival is based on running and avoiding (not that this is a bad thing). My point is that the most basic element of dungeon design, Things get more dangerous as you go deeper, is not just an adventure design approach, it is a reflection of how the game system works.

A dungeon that is actually designed around GURPS can start with different assumptions. To be sure, GURPS characters do advance in ability, but it is their starting point that is the primary determinant to their toughness.  A 250 point character and the GURPS system provides the GM (and the players) with a lot more freedom for encounters than is really possible with AD&D 1e. As a consequence, there can be a lot more variety (and surprises) to dungeon design. GMs do not have to adhere so closely to Things get more dangerous as you deeper.

This is a very elementary conclusion; one that is, in the words of my old physics textbook, "intuitively obvious to the casual observer." There are a lot of the observations that could be made and implications drawn. I am interested to gain a deeper understand and also have the opportunity to actually play GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. I have the thought of tweaking GURPS DF along the lines of my first dungeon experience with the Holmes version of Dungeons & Dragons, at least in terms of class and race, but I am not ready to be a GURPS GM quite yet but I am getting there.


Bummer: No Trip To NYC

My wife and I cancelled our trip to New York City this weekend because of the weather. Fortunately, we were able to get refunds and vouchers for trains, hotels, etc. We'll use those soon, as we try to get to NYC once every three months or so. We are bummed that we will not be seeing (and hearing) Ron Carter at the Blue Note tonight. And, our list of restaurants to try grows ever longer with no hope this weekend of reducing the backlog (many of the recommendations come from Serious Eats: New York).

To console myself, I am going to order a few gaming items this weekend. My warped rationalization is that I would have blown a significant amount of money on history books at Strand or another used bookstore in NYC. When it comes down to it, I am saving money, right?


Five for Friday 7: Constantinople for Gamers

As I continue to work on Onyx, my medieval urban fantasy campaign, I am doing a fair amount of reading. Fortunately, I have decent history library, featuring a couple of bookcases of medieval history. That can also be bane, as too much reading and research doesn't necessarily help. I have found that most history books do not provide a lot of useful information in terms of campaign design, so here are five book recommendations for gamers wanting to swipe ideas from Constantinople and Byzantium (in alphabetical order):
  • Byzantine Armies, AD 1118-1461 (by Ian Heath, Illustrated by Angus McBridge): Part of Osprey's Men-at-Arms series, I picked this one because it corresponds to my particular focus in Constantinople (c. 1150). There is not a lot of depth, but there is a lot of useful gaming info here and the illustrations are great.
  • Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium (by Jonathan Harris): If I could only read one book on Constantinople, this would be it.
  • The Digest of Roman Law (by Justinian I): Player characters in trouble with the law? Perish the thought! Here are excerpts from Justinian's codification of Roman law. The introductory material, by C.F. Kolbert, is worth the price of the book and is very useful to gamers.
  • The Oxford History of Byzantium (edited by Cyril Mango): The title is a bit misleading (which is true of many volumes in the Oxford History series). It is not a typical history book; rather it is a collection of essays on Byzantium. I wouldn't start here but if you already know a bit about Byzantium, some of the essays can be mined for gaming goodies (particularly the religion articles).
  • What Life Was Like Amid Splendor and Intrigue: Byzantine Empire AD 330-1453 (edited by Ellen Anker): A lavishly illustrated book that is part of Time-Life's What Life Was Like series, this is a great place to get a feel for Byzantine history and daily life.
If you are looking for an easy-to-read book on Byzantine history as a starting point, I would recommend A Short History of Byzantium by Julius Norwich (just don't cite it in your doctoral dissertation). I also liked Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World by Colin Wells and Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin. Both books are fun reads.

Steve Jackson Games has a groovy online bibliography of Constantinople and you can purchase their GURPS Hot Spots: Constantinople, 527-1204 A.D. as a PDF.


Dragon's Lament

I have read a couple of interesting posts recently about the wussitude of AD&D dragons (see Beedo's post here and Peter D's post here). I can remember my gaming group coming to the same conclusion back in 1977 as we were reading through our brand new copies the Monster Manual. It seems like the game's namesake--a monster that should have been at the top of the food chain--was a bit of a powderpuff (this assumes that one avoided the breath).

Our solution, at the time, was to revamp the hit points of the dragons in the following way: Instead of dragon hit points being based solely on age (X hit points per die, where X is the growth stage of the dragon), we counted original system as additional hit points added to the hit points that we rolled.

Consider the following table, which uses a red dragon of average size (10 hit dice). The column on the left shows the hit points for each dragon age, using the dragon hit point system on page 29 of the Monster Manual (AD&D 1e).
The column on the right takes the hit points in the left column and adds them to the hit points rolled for the dragon (10d8). On average, 45 more hit points are added the dragon at each age level. The example in the table uses the 1d8 average roll of 4.5 hit points and multiplying by 10, which is the number of hit dice. In game play, the 10d8 would, of course, be rolled and then added to the hit point "bonus" for appropriate dragon age.


Onyx and GURPS

I continue to work on Onyx, my embryonic medieval urban fantasy campaign setting. While I am wanting it to be as simple and as systems neutral as possible, I am thinking that, when it is my turn to be GM for our Monday night gaming group, I will use Onyx as my setting and GURPS as my system. While a d20 medieval urban fantasy campaign is doable, I don't see it as the best match of setting and system. Fate would be good match of setting and system, but I am not sure how Fate would fly with my fellow players.

I am thinking of doing a heist-based sort of campaign: Fantasy + Constantinople + Oceans 11. I think it would be a blast with GURPS.


Magnificent Miscellaneum from James Mishler

I recently picked up the first three volumes of James Mishler's Magnificent Miscellaneum from RPGNow. Each volume contains a few new spells and a handful of very creative creatures for Castles & Crusades (easily convertible to AD&D or its retroclones). James stuff is always creative, well-written, and usable so I find it to be worth the pocket change to add it to my gaming library.

Volumes 1, 2, and 3 of Magnificent Miscellaneum are already available.


GURPS Majestic Wilderlands Session Notes: From "Game of Thrones" to "Cheers"

We started our Majestic Wilderlands GURPS session tonight trying to figure out what to do with the King of the Scanadians that we had captured during our last session. We had noticed the striking resemblance between this king and the head of our mercenary band...sort of a father and son resemblance.

Our boss had no idea that the enemy King was his father, so we played up the surprise. The kings presence did create a crisis in our camp among some of the NPCs...some wondered if our boss was really after the throne instead of the more noble mission of freeing the slaves under Scanadian rule.

In the middle of all this, the leader of our PC band (our platoon leader, sort of), Sir Cei, went off on his own, leaving the rest of the player characters at a loss for our next move. The answer started to form when we found out that our big boss planned on ransoming his father back to his people. We decided to claim a portion of the king's ransom, a total of 90 gold crowns for us (lots of dough for mooks like us).

We then debated as so whether we would continue as mercenaries or take up a different line of work. As we discussed and debated, the idea formed that we would leave the mercernary trade at the top of our game (how could we top coming back from a raid with the enemy's king?). It was the logical move if Sir Cei was no longer our band's leader. Instead, we would open up a tavern...the best tavern ever...and use it as the base for whatever comes next.

So, what started as a Game of Thrones scheming campaign, with our puny 75 point characters as mercenary pawns, has now become more like Cheers.

Monday Moodsetter 6

"Snow Castle" by Ryan Gitter
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?


The Dungeon 1: Cisterns

I have been doing some research for Onyx, my embryonic medieval urban fantasy campaign. My focus has been Constantinople, the only large city in Europe during medieval times. As Constantinople had no reliable source of water within its walls, emperors and residents built hundreds of underground cisterns to store water from aqueducts and rain. Sounds like the makings of an urban dungeon to me. Here is more info on three of the biggest cisterns:

Basilica Cistern (Source: Wikipedia)
Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern (pictured above) was built in Constantinople in the 6th century by the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian I. It is a huge underground structure. Check out the dimensions (according to Wikipedia): This cathedral-size cistern is an underground chamber approximately 138 metres (453 ft) by 64.6 metres (212 ft) - about 9,800 square metres (105,000 sq ft) in area - capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres (2,800,000 cu ft) of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 metres (30 ft) high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 4.9 metres (16 ft) apart.

For more info on the Basilica Cistern, click here and here.

Theodosius Cistern (Source: Wikipedia)
Theodosius Cistern
The Theodosius Cistern (pictured above) dates back to about 430 A.D. It is smaller than the Basilica Cistern, but it still an impressive 150 feet by 80 feet, with columns towering at around 30 feet high. Click here for more info.

Cistern of Philoxenos (Source: Wikipedia)
Cistern of Philoxenos
This was an older cistern, built under a palace and restored by Justinian I in the 6th century. Called Binbirdirek in Turkish ("Binbirdirek"="1001 columns"), this cistern actually has 224 columns, each about 50 feet tall. Click here for more info.

Cisterns as Dungeons
It seems to me that most medieval urban RPG dungeons are sewers or catacombs, but using cisterns for at least part of an undercity dungeon adds some additional flavor. If the cisterns are active, it also forces player characters to contend with water and water-bourne critters.


Tavern Cards: One of My Two Kickstarters

I really want this Kickstarter (Tavern Cards) to succeed. I have only jumped in on two Kickstarter projects and this is one of them (the other is the recently concluded and successful, Fate Core).  Be sure to check out the Tavern Card Kickstarter with an open wallet in hand.

Montporte Session Notes (AD&D 1e)

Cast of Characters
Adzeer Mattiu, Hunter of the First Circle (Half Orc, 1 Lvl Fighter/Cleric): Tim
Duncan Kern (Gnome, 1 Lvl Illusionist/Thief): Dan
Luven Lightfingers (Human, 1 Lvl Thief): Rob
Holat (Human, Woodsman/Tracker): NPC
Anders (Human, Holat's teen son): NPC
Spensol (Human, Soldier 1 Lvl Fighter): NPC
Ian (Human, Soldier 1 Lvl Fighter): NPC
Argus (Human, Militia 0 Lvl): NPC
Tomas (Human, Militia 0 Lvl): NPC

The Prelude
The Captain of the Guard of Montporte recruited the aid of the player characters to find a band of orcs and rescue the humans they have abducted. The characters have followed the orcs north from Wootspil through wooded foothills to a steep gorge carved by a small creek. The orc trail ends near a stream bed, amidst steep rock outcroppings, dense forest, scrub, and bramble (the star at the top of the above map).

The Start
As the adventuring party investigated the area, they found (a) a fresh trail of blood heading up the steep embankment away from the creek and (b) a poisoned arrow stuck in a tree (of kobold origin). After plucking the arrow out of the tree, the party followed the trail of blood and found a dying orc shaman at the end of it (he had been hit with two poisoned arrows).

Two of the characters (Adzeer & Duncan) were able to speak orcish.The shaman was delirious and blind, but the party was able to find out: (a) a war party of 25 orcs had come into the area a few weeks ago, looking for kobolds; (b) one of the orcs discovered an small opening, leading into an underground area while chasing a rabbit into heavy brush; (c) the orcs moved their camp underground; (d) the orcs starting following a "new god," who was living underground (a bitter disappointment to the shaman--"blasphemy!"); (e) the orcs brought several humans to their underground lair after some raids; and (f) the shaman and 4 other orcs were jumped by some kobolds when they emerged from their lair (the 4 other orcs were dragged away). The party dispatched the shaman and sent him to meet his one-eyed goddess, as he had requested.

The characters went back down to the creek bed, searched some nearby brush, and found a small opening in the ground looking as if it just been reopened (a small pile of recently excavated stone was nearby). There was a brief debate as to whether the party should chase after the kobolds or enter the hole in the ground. Duncan settled it: "I'm a gnome, I wanna go in the hole."

The Adventure
Leaving Holat, Anders and Tomas to guard the horses (as per the Captain's instructions) the party descended into Room 1 (map below) and surprised two orcs. The battle was joined by two orcs from Room 2, one of whom began shooting arrows through one of two arrow slits between the two rooms. Duncan was able to stab a short sword into the arrow slit and broke the orc's short bow.

The party moved through the complex, finding a few orcs at a time here and there. They also found two dead human males--a half-eaten one in Room 9 and one tied to column in Room 13 (he was peppered with arrows). Room 8 featured a simple marble throne with a hole in the seat (and broken pottery underneath the hole). Rooms 13, 15, and 16 had frescoes on the walls with soldiers engaging in martial training (sort of like training posters).

In Room 17, the party met up with three skeletons and a dead singed orc. One of the skeletons toasted the party with a burning hands spell. When the party destroyed the skeletons, they disintegrated in a shower of sparks and ash.

The session ended in Room 18 where the party met up with 3 more orcs and some vague amorphous black shadowy blob creature (see pic to the left). As combat ensued, the party found themselves forced to make a saving throw each round. Failed saving throws resulted each time in a lost wisdom point and an additional -1 penalty to hit. During the combat, Argus failed a morale check and fled the scene. After a long battle, the party prevailed. Adzeer wondered if this blob being was the orcs' new "god." After searching the room, the party discovered a young adult human female laying on the ground. She was alive but in some sort of catatonic state.

Room 18 featured paintings on each of the diagonal walls--one wall had flames, another wall, waves, a third had rocks, and the fourth, clouds. There was also a strange ancient magic permeating the room.

The session ended in Room 18. Tim (Gothridge Manor) also has a post about the session.

[Editor Note: I am giving in to peer pressure and adding this as an addendum...Luven pooped in Room 8. Yes, the DM didn't really want to talk about the in-game BM in my blog, but there it is. Surely there needs to be some sort of taint rule connected with this.]

1 Square = 5 Feet


Five for Friday #6: Send in the Clones

Here are my five favorite retroclones (or simulacra, if you wish) of the world's most famous tabletop fantasy RPG game:
  • BLUEHOLME Prentice Rules: I started out my RPG career with the Holmes version of D&D. This is clone is well done (plus it is free).
  • Blood & Treasure: A quirky combination that draws on all the pre-4e material. The end result is very streamlined and playable. It hits a sweet spot for me. If we decide to make our recent Montporte session (AD&D 1e) an ongoing dungeon campaign, I think we will be going with Blood & Treasure.
  • Castles & Crusades: When I came back to gaming, at the request of then-tweener daughter, we started with D&D 3.5e and I felt like the caveman thawed out of the glacier. Totally bewildered. After doing some checking around, we ended up playing C&C and our in-house gaming group still uses it as our rule set (I quit gaming in about 1982 and was totally clueless about "editions"...my fellow gamers will tell you I still have not found a clue).
  • Crypts & Things: This is such a groovy twist on Swords & Wizardry. While the rules and accompanying setting reflect a pulpy swords & sorcery inspiration, I would be tempted to swipe the mage class and magic rules and use them in an urban fantasy setting.
  • Swords & Wizardry Complete: When I was fanatically gaming in the late 1970's, our version of D&D looked like this (more about the Holmes, Oe supplements, Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets mashup here).
Do  you a favorite(s) retroclone?