Sunday, March 31, 2013

Old school gaming: better than ever!

Obviously I'm very happy that the second issue of Dungeon Crawl is now available, and hopefully in the coming days we'll see a couple of reviews from bloggers who I've sent copies, and maybe some from the kind folks who've bought them so far. If you check the product page you'll also see that submissions for issue 3 are open for the next two months, so send in your ideas!

Another thing I'm really excited about is Petty Gods. I missed out on submitting an entry when James Maliszewski was running it, but I will have an entry in what Gorgonmilk is currently calling "Expanded Petty Gods (XPG)." A goddess I wrote is going in the same book as something by Michael Moorcock? Crazy awesome. I am so high fiving my teenage self after the time I spent Spring Break plowing through the Ace editions of the six Elric books.

Petty Gods, I think, is symbolic of where things are going in a few ways. First, it's a great community project, and I've always thought that the appeal of the old school renaissance was that we were a community. With Fight On! and Grognardia both sunsetting for all intents and purposes, we've lost big places where that community used to share its ideas, but we have a Google+ group with 1,358 members who can share ideas, discuss games and even play them online. That's even better.

I do have to mention the project that has been the subject of so much discussion around the RPG world, James M's Dwimmermount. This seemed in danger of becoming a project forever stuck in beta, but things have been turned around and it's great to say that it's going to be Open Gaming Content. That's cool if for no other reason than the maps are actually pretty good, even if the dungeon itself manages to miss the mark on the megadungeon having levels that are simply weird and wondrous. Plus the draft will be substantially updated by the folks at Autarch.

Another thing is the reach of the clones, which I'll have more to say about on Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day. With Basic Fantasy we are literally at the point where $4.62 gets you all the rules you need to play for 20 levels and three adventures are available for $3.59, leaving you with a very complete basic D&D-style package for $8.21, with free shipping. That's pretty amazing. And suffice it to say that I think Swords & Wizardry Complete is a game I think has serious merit.

We are now at the point where a community creation comes out like the Hexenbracken not in months or years, but a couple of days (there's a version here where you can click the hexes to see the description). It's wild and wacky but seriously you could put that thing out as a supplement and it'd be pretty high quality.

Old school gaming is going in a heck of a direction, and I'm really excited about some of the stuff we've seen. And to be a part of what's going on today. If you or someone you know has a project that you're excited about, feel free to talk about it in the comments.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A note for print-on-demand buyers

If you buy Dungeon Crawl #2 in Print on Demand, send me the order confirmation at wrossi81 at gmail dot com, and I will send you the PDF. I can't bundle them officially but I don't want to double dip on sales, it's expensive enough as it is.

Dungeon Crawl #2 Available from Lulu and RPGNow

Dungeon Crawl #2 is available in print and on PDF from

Print on Demand: Dungeon Crawl #2

PDF: Dungeon Crawl #2 (PDF)

A watermarked PDF is available from RPGNow: Dungeon Crawl #2

If you contributed to the zine or were in the Caverns of Temeluc playtest, you will be getting a free PDF from me and do not have to purchase one.

Friday, March 29, 2013

On Ice Cream Cones and Monsters

I've been sticking pictures of monsters in the blog mostly because I want it to have some visual interest, and because I want to show the particular vibe I am aiming at. So I thought it'd be fun to kick this post off with an ice cream cone, since it's the metaphor I'm going to talk about.

There's a lot of discussion of "vanilla" in the old school gaming scene, and I've been touching on it with the whole series reinterpreting monsters. My basic philosophy is illustrated by the ice cream cone: I like vanilla, it's a good flavor. But I really like it when it's mixed with chocolate. It's the mix that makes it really work, the subtler vanilla and the more forward chocolate.

In this metaphor, obviously chocolate is "original" and "gonzo" elements while vanilla is "vanilla" fantasy a la Tolkien and the Monster Manual - and that's how I like them. An encounter with something ripped out of Tekumel is more interesting to me in a dungeon where the characters have previously fought kobolds and giant rats, to use an example I've had in a game before. The vanilla elements make it so that the gonzo parts of the game actually become interesting and set-off; if everything is weird and wonderful the world just becomes one-note.

The right balance is different for each referee and each group. But I think finding the right mix is crucial. Anomalous Subsurface Environment is an excellent work of imagination, but it goes so far in the science-fantasy direction that, for me, it loses the appeal. I want a dash of science fantasy, a ray gun or two, rather than a setting full of ray guns and more scientific stuff. This is in part because I like my fantasy world to be superstitious to the core rather than purely rational; Demon-Haunted Lands will treat how to do that.

The kind of tool I'm trying to provide, particularly in the monsters section, of that supplement is to say that it's okay to use classics, but it's also fun to play up new twists on old things, and to run with entirely new creatures. One chapter will be dedicated to the dungeon and talking about how to make the dungeon weird, expanding on Philotomy's "Dungeon as Mythic Underworld" concept, and one of the central concepts is that lower / more remote = weirder. Another idea I'm using is that the underworld takes over, insidiously, underground realms, so for instance all the weird customs and folk religions of miners are focused on stopping this process from happening. You're already underground in a mine, the last thing you need is kobolds spontaneously generating and trying to make it into a dungeon.

I'm going to try and get Dungeon Crawl #2 live in the next few days and buckle down on writing this supplement. Starting next week I may go into an idea or two that I'm working on for Demon-Haunted Lands. Also, I'd appreciate thoughts on how I should approach publication - through an existing OSR publisher or on my own?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What you fear most

The bogeyman is a figure used to scare small children. It lurks in the shadowy corners and the darkness under a bed, and generally accrues all of the attributes that a child fears. Of course, living in a safe, modern world with electric lights and advanced science, we know that bogeymen aren't real. In the D&D world, why shouldn't they be?

The bugbear was introduced in Supplement I: Greyhawk. They are described as "great hairy goblin-giants." At the end of the booklet there is a picture of a bugbear and a ghoul, which is notable for the fact that the bugbear actually has a pumpkin for a head. There is something just plain nasty about that, that got lost in the later pictures as bugbears merely became yet bigger goblins. They do retain an amazing sneakiness, adding 1 in 6 to surprise rolls, but other than that are just big and either hairy nasties or somewhere verging between creepy and goofy, as in the Monster Manual.

As you may have already known or guessed, "bugbear" is an English synonym for bogeyman. And I think the Greyhawk illustration, much more than later attempts to make a bugbear, hit that right on the head (excuse the pun). Katherine Briggs's Dictionary of Fairies describes them as related to the Celtic bodach, which was more of an old-man figure, and relates that illustrations from the 16th century showed them as being bear-like in appearance.

As with trolls, I think that there should be a great deal of variety within bugbears. Their origin, to me, lies further along the magical thinking path that I've been going down throughout this series on humanoids: bugbears are creatures that are outgrowths of human (and demi-human) fears of things that live in dark places. Just as children fear, their greatest delight is in snatching up humans and putting them in stewpots.

Because they are creatures that grow and thrive on fear, bugbears differ by where they live. In a village, they are under-bed creatures, flexible and able to hide in small secret places, with beady glowing eyes, and all teeth and claws when they are actually seen. In a wood, they may in fact be creatures that are bear-like and can hide as a bramble. Deep in a dungeon, they take on the aspect of larger, hulking horrors.

More specifically - bugbears change their specific appearance based on the individual facing them. A warrior who thinks himself fearless may see a bugbear as an invincible fighter; a magic-user may see it as an eldritch thing that has been haunting his nightmares. Clerics may see a demonic face. Henchmen will experience the bugbear as a compilation of all the horrors they have faced and dreamt about, and have a corresponding drop in morale.

Going toe-to-toe with a bugbear should bring out all the sights and sounds and smells that a character dreads; it may have pet snakes, rats, spiders or whatever else the character finds intolerable. Acrophobics will find that the bugbear seems to confront them at the edge of a chasm or high gap, while claustrophobics will find themselves in impossibly close quarters with the beast. In many ways the bugbear's spot on the cursus honorum with 3+1 hit dice is deeply appropriate, since it is just below the level of a Hero. It embodies all the leftover fears and dreads that the aspiring-Hero character still fears. As such, the above "psychological horror" aspect of a bugbear encounter may be dropped entirely for Heroes, or alternately they may be able to overcome it.

That finishes off the classic cursus honorum, since ogres qualify as giants rather than humanoids. It's also worth noting that, since Dungeon Crawl #2 is approaching publication, I am working on a new project that takes the direction of these recent posts towards a magical world full of weirdness and superstition, and runs with it. It will be a sourcebook, tentatively called "Demon-Haunted Lands" (after Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World), dealing with superstition, faeries, monsters, and magic based on a mix of traditional folklore and new invention. The humanoids from this recent series will be codified and written-up in full. More details when I have them.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Not Quite Merry Wanderers

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Like most of the monsters we've looked at, the hobgoblin displays a tremendous duality in its portrayal in myth and legend. In most of the pre-Puritan works, we see hobgoblins primarily as smaller, mischievous and sometimes helpful faeries. This got turned around sometime after A Midsummer Night's Dream; and hobgoblins became more vicious and demonic, wicked goblin spirits. Tolkien made them explicitly larger goblins, though this is somewhat inconsistent since goblins are just smaller orcs. OD&D ultimately stuck them in the cursus honorum of humanoids above orcs and below gnolls, with 1+1 HD, and later detailed them as being basically taller, stronger, more militaristic goblins. Hence, our stereotypical hobgoblin.

But to Shakespeare. Robin Good-fellow, or Puck, is explicitly called a hobgoblin in Midsummer. This is a powerful prankster character, more at home with fae creatures such as pixies and nixies than among the ranks of the humanoids. Puck was always a favorite of mine. Trickster characters can be annoying in RPGs, particularly if you make them a PC race, but if handled well they can be an interesting role-playing challenge. Puck was not just doing jokes, he was manipulating the characters, to the point where his pranks actually wind up driving the play. A well used prankster should be similar, moving the game in directions the players wouldn't foresee - but not as a limiting factor or railroading device.

So what do these kinds of hobgoblins have to do with one another? That's where the fun is, of course. As I have it, the original "true" hobgoblins were a servitor race kept by powerful fae beings, like Oberon and Titania of Midsummer. In some way - perhaps as part of an exchange, or as prisoners of war - some hobgoblins were captured by powerful demons and Chaos lords. They set out to corrupt the hobgoblins, running them through a breeding program with humans, orcs, beastmen, goblins, you name it - to create what was ultimately a strong, militaristic but fiercely competitive race of humanoids.

Thence of course came our D&D hobgoblins, the lesser hobgoblins. These are more or less what we expect, ugly humanoids who wind up highly militarized in nature. More than that, they are a unifying force among humanoids - it is the hobgoblins who tend to unite and create terrible warbands of all kinds of humanoids, enslaving goblins and orcs and beastmen along the way. But there's another side to them.

In a few rare hobgoblins, the fae strain of their nature shows out. This should be well under 10% of the population. In addition to acting as normal hobgoblins or even the level of a hobgoblin king, the fae-touched hobgoblins will have certain innate spell abilities. This is both a gift and a danger; on the one hand, some of these hobgoblins have the merry nature of true hobgoblins and do not fit into the society that they are born into. These often are culled before they reach maturity and are considered a shame by the hobgoblin race. A rare few make a niche for themselves by turning their pranks into the deadly cunning needed to create and maintain traps and hazards. Others gain some of the abilities of a true hobgoblin, such as faerie fire, invisibility or - in extreme cases - the polymorph type spells, but retain the war-spirit of hobgoblins. These are in many ways the most dangerous, and frequently rise to the rank of hobgoblin kings. No sensible hobgoblin will speak of the link of a powerful king to their fae progenitors, but it is often known in hushed tones.

All fae-touched hobgoblins have something odd about them to distinguish them, whether it is an excessive amount of body hair (almost furry), or cat-like eyes, extra digits, and so on. Additionally they have an allergy to cold iron, and any pure iron weapons or implements (but not steel, which is an alloy of iron) will do double damage to them on a successful hit.

That finishes the original D&D cursus honorum of humanoids. I'm not going to jump right to the bugbear, which extended it in Greyhawk, but in time I'll get to it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dungeon Crawl #2 in Proof

I just ordered the proof of Dungeon Crawl #2. It will be published print on demand from Later this week I'll open up a storefront and there will be a page on this blog where you can find links to purchase it. In the meantime here's the front cover.

Gnoles and Gnolls

GNOLLS: A cross between Gnomes and Trolls (... perhaps, Lord Sunsany did not really make it all that clear) with +2 morale. Otherwise they are similar to Hobgoblins, although the Gnoll king and his bodyguard of from 1 - 4 will fight as Trolls but lack regenerative power. - Dungeons & Dragons, volume II: Monsters & Treasure by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
There's an obvious misspelling in the description above; it is clearly a reference to Lord Dunsany, as Edward Plunkett published his pioneering fantasy stories. Dunsany didn't actually describe gnoles in the story "How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art upon the Gnoles" but Margaret St. Clair does in her story, referencing the same creatures, "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles." They are described as looking like a Jerusalem artichoke made of India rubber, with a long thin tongue, a mouth full of fangs, and eyes which are multi-faceted rubies. The unfortunate salesman of St. Clair's story takes the spare eyes of the senior gnole and is enveloped in its network of tentacles (!), fattened, roasted and eaten - but not tortured.

Given the rubbery skin of both the D&D troll and St. Clair's gnoles, it's possible that this is what the "cross between gnomes and trolls" is referring to. Gnolls sit atop the cursus honorum of OD&D humanoids, with a full 2 HD and the highest morale. (The bugbear, with 3+1 HD, comes in Greyhawk and fills the gap between gnolls and 4+1-HD ogres.) Yet they are vague and reference a story that was obscure, and the author's name not even spelled correctly. And the name is spelled differently, to boot.

Fully fleshed out, gnolls become hyena-men. It's a classic sort of D&D-ism, and like most of them, I like it while considering it a bit tired. In a previous post, I talked about orcs taking up this role, although I'm now considering doing it the other way, making pig-man orcs into a special instance of a much larger category of beastmen. This will absorb the AD&D style of gnoll as well, increasing hit dice and so on so that your hyena-men are for all intents and purposes the basic gnoll.

This leaves room for the gnole. We know that gnomes are smaller than dwarves but otherwise similar, and with longer beards. But the gnome as the benevolent side of an earth-spirit that I discussed in my blog entry about kobolds gives us something to work with; gnoles are generally evil like trolls but share the connection to the earth that gnomes have. And trolls, well, they certainly seem to take after the more bestial sort, with skin made of rubber (perhaps literally). The eyes are of particular interest; a gnole's eyes are rubies, and should be valuable gems in and of themselves, but also have some magical properties.

Dunsany's story has the gnoles hiding in trees and looking out knots in them to spring an ambush – creatures after my own heart. St. Clair's gives them tentacles and makes them monsters with tentacles, that are unable to speak or hear, but are literate enough to read the things the salesman writes, and communicate through gestures. They are clearly and totally horrific. For comparison, this is the gnoll from the OD&D booklets:

To me, the outstretched tongue seems to hearken to St. Clair's gnoles – but this is clearly not the tentacular beast she describes, and there is no hint that its eyes are multi-faceted gems. The "out" as far as we are concerned is that St. Clair's description is of the "senior gnole," which is the oldest of the gnoles, and never leaves its house. It is possible that the gnole starts out more like a gnome - more humanoid, with arms and legs, eyes and ears and a proper tongue - and over time it is slowly corrupted into a "senior gnole," the eyes are replaced with gems, the fingers fuse and the arms become tentacles, the tongue degenerates into a serpentine ribbon. All this happens as the gnole ages and gathers wealth. It becomes more ferocious and at the same time never leaves its lair. And I like the idea that all money in a gnole's lair will be in the form of gems.

Of course, once characters take the gems from a gnole's home, they have to deal with their effects. This takes the form of a slow and subtle corruption, particularly if they hold onto gems that a senior gnole used as its eyes.

The humanoid reinterpretations will finish up with the hobgoblin.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Every Troll is a Horrible Snowflake

The D&D troll, like several other well known D&D elements (paladins, swanmays and the abilities of the dwarf character type) is ripped mainly from Poul Anderson's novel Three Hearts and Three Lions, about a character who finds himself a paladin in a world where the Matter of France is the world's history. The novel also created the basis for Law and Chaos as alignments, also used as part of Michael Moorcock's world, and ultimately in D&D.

Your prototypical D&D troll is an interesting monster in itself. Its regeneration makes it feared, and characters find ways to do acid and fire damage. It's a big horrible thing in itself, and fits as one particular embodiment of the troll. If I saw it underground I'd run. But it doesn't feel archetypal. A big part of that is Anderson's approach, which by and large D&D adopted - it's closer to fake science than the kind of "magical thinking" that I've been leaning towards. That's not to say I don't like a dose of science fantasy, but I like that for the incongruity. Magic should have its own rules.

The problem is, in fantasy, all trolls are different. The archetypal troll for some people is guarding a bridge; for others it turns to stone if exposed to sunlight. Trolls can be rubbery green things, grey cave things, and vary in the degree to which they are human-looking, although most of them tend to be humanoid. Likewise trolls can be larger or smaller than humans, but for the sake of making good D&D monsters I think larger is generally better. Smaller types are better off handled by various humanoids, like variations on the orc.

So as I see them, trolls should have two general classifications: regenerating trolls and trolls that turn to stone in sunlight. They can overlap in certain types of troll, but both types can exist independently. I think there should be some hostility between them, and in general the more horrid trolls should fall under the category of "regenerating" while the more human-like ones are vulnerable to sunlight.

Human-like trolls have a low level of civilization, based primarily on the troll family unit, that is a matriarchy; the troll mother stands at the head. These are the sort of trolls who are encountered in forests and when crossing bridges; they have a propensity to throw stones and threaten to eat humans, goats and the like. They think themselves to be very clever, but in reality they are not (in this sense they resemble another kind of troll). As such they will tend to try and bully characters before attacking, delighting in playing riddle games and seem smarter than humans. Appeals to greed and vanity are highly successful, and these trolls can be outsmarted by humans in ways that are at least as legendary as an epic fight. Of course, once they have succeeded in this, a character may only buy themselves enough time to run from the troll!

More inhuman trolls should take on various horrid aspects, of which the ugly D&D troll is just one common variant. I think the cave troll in The Lord of the Rings offers another good paradigm: an enemy with skin so thick it serves as heavy armor, beastly and lingering. Big huge brutes do not do well in the D&D combat system, and such trolls may be able to use their wide swings to attack multiple opponents per round. Moreover, regeneration makes such trolls harder to slay; each type should have its own vulnerability instead of copying the fire/acid combo particular to the D&D troll.

The final thing I want to explore is what impact a troll has once it turns to stone. Anderson rationalized this again - making the troll's stony body actually radioactive - which isn't the way I want to go but it does suggest that there should be some effect once the sun has turned the troll into stone. I think this is a good use for a variant such as startling statues, or wild magic, or a table of weird results if a character sleeps near the stone form of a troll. They can also function as weirdness magnets, drawing different esoteric and monstrous creatures, or even become a point of weird ancestor-worship for the remaining trolls. In any case, I don't think that something as cool as the stony remains of a magical creature should just be left alone.

Now that we've talked about trolls, the next post in the monster sequence will talk about gnolls (in logic-like fashion).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

An aside on rules

I've been thinking a lot about my choice of ruleset lately. I've been running Holmes D&D for a month or so now. The games have been fun but I think there are some issues I've been having with it, and in the long run I might wind up retooling my games to look more like B/X or Labyrinth Lord with variant race/class options.

The first problem is ability scores; back when I started running OD&D several years back I wanted to de-emphasize high stat rolls. I still basically think that impulse is correct, and aesthetically I dislike AD&D's approach to ability scores. The Holmes stats are a middle ground, but wind up emphasizing extremely high Constitution in a way I don't like, and make Strength and Wisdom useless. That is particularly bad for Fighters, who have nothing to distinguish themselves. I've long been on the fence about Moldvay-style stats; I dislike them in a "4d6 drop lowest" type of ability score generation, where the bell curve that the bonuses follow gets skewed quite badly in favor of high modifiers. The 4d6 drop lowest methodology is only useful for AD&D where stats below 15 rarely give any bonus. But compared to Holmes I think the Moldvay stats make fighters much better.

I remain torn on damage dice. On the one hand, I love dice and rolling different types; on the other, I like the simplicity of having all weapons keep the d6. In long term play I am tempted to switch over to variable weapon damage just for the variety. With one-shots and the like, d6 damage is fine as a way to make things simpler.

Dexterity as initiative is another point I'm torn over. This blog's title comes from when I was running with group initiative as 1d6 roll high, and I remain fond of it. I also didn't mind Dexterity for initiative, but once again it runs a bit dry on the variety after a bunch of combats. My actual issue with this is different: neither method has a good way to interrupt a magic-user who is casting a spell.

I've come to think that two of the design cornerstones of TSR AD&D that got lost going to Wizards of the Coast D&D (both 3.x and 4e) were absolute improvement in saving throws and the ability to interrupt spellcasters. Saving throws get better as characters level up, meaning high level characters are less likely to be affected by a spell at all. Combined with the fact that magic-users could be hit during combat and lose their spells, this did a lot to level out what came to be called "caster dominance" in 3.x D&D, which removed both of these effects.

Most of the complicated stuff in AD&D combat stems from the attempt to bolt enough complexity to handle spell interrupts onto a relatively simple initiative system. There we have all kinds of complication from weapon speed and length, spell casting times, segments and so on, all so a fighter can smack a wizard with a sword and stop him from casting his spell. It's much more than I actually want to deal with in my games, but at the same time I want the impact of melee characters being able to stop a caster.

I'm thinking of just following the simpler method of ruling that a magic-user or cleric, if hit in melee before they cast a spell (i.e. lose initiative and get hit), they can't cast the spell. Or I may modify it: so that if the losing initiative die is less than or equal to the level of the spell being cast, then any hit will interrupt it. So: casting Sleep will be interrupted if the magic-user gets hit and his side rolled a 1 for initiative, but not if they lost on a 3, while casting Fireball will fail when the losing initiative roll is a 1, 2 or 3. (Using the die roll rather than the difference because I don't like penalizing high misses more than low misses; losing on a 3 should not be as bad as losing on a 1.)

So I'm looking for thoughts on these issues, both from Holmes and Moldvay fans and in general. What's the best way to achieve these goals? Am I better off hacking Holmes further or switching to Moldvay but without the race/class divide? Am I overthinking things here?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dungeon Crawl #2 Contents

This is the list of contents as they currently stand:

Caverns of Temeluc, Adventure by Wayne Rossi for low-level characters
What Trap Charts? - Setting an Ambush by Wayne Rossi
The Steel Wheel: an OSR Item by David Przybyla
Ready Reference: Random Crypt Contents by Wayne Rossi
Ready Reference: Save vs. Death Ray! by Wayne Rossi
Daily OSR: Charts by Ivan Sorensen
Dark Age Dungeons: Gaming in Late Antiquity by Wayne Rossi
Obscure Gods by Wayne Rossi
Creature Feature: New Monsters by Wayne Rossi

Featuring original art by:

John Blaszczyk

Jason Sholtis

I do need one more page of content. If you have a one-page dungeon ready to go (not already published in print) and would like it in the zine, email me at wrossi81 at gmail dot com by Saturday.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Run of Good Luck

No, I'm not suggesting that we re-envision trolls in the image of Thomas Dam's weird troll dolls. That's a step too far for me, into the goofy. These things were a fad when I was a kid, very ugly figures with long straight hair, and they are one of several modern cultural touchstones for a troll. Despite that they have no particular mythic or literary antecedents and just wind up as goofy looking things. I did check them out while looking for material to write about trolls (I intended to write a post about gnolls, but then I wanted to do one about trolls first). No, the reason I wanted to start with a picture of a troll doll was that these were originally called "Good Luck Trolls."

One of the themes that I think has come across in the last few posts, and is touched on a bit in the second issue of Dungeon Crawl, is that I feel a fantasy world should be magical deep down, not just in the magic items but in the way the world actually functions. There's an element of this in Runequest but that's different from what I am going for here; I want a fantasy world closer to what I called back four years or so ago medieval naturalism, conforming to the way that pre-modern people actually thought the world worked. After all, I just went into a series of posts last month talking about moving among the celestial spheres

So today I'm thinking about good luck charms, specifically what processes can make something into such a charm and what that might look like in a game.

If we talk about most theories of magical thinking, a good luck charm should be something that is invested with good luck at some point in its history. For instance, a charm may be something given to a character by a parent or lover shortly before their death or a long separation - either of which creates the kind of bond that generates good luck. This is one way in which good luck charms are created: a gift that becomes precious begins to accrue luck about it.

Another way is that something is the very first thing acquired; a broke PC might hold onto the first silver piece he ever gets, keeping it in his pocket for years. It will slowly acquire the same properties and become a magical coin. This can also happen when something saves a character's bacon, or is found shortly before the character survives some traumatic event - say, a random piece of jewelry found in a dungeon just before a PC survives a dragon's attack might be imbued with the luck of survival, and scarred in one place. If the PC hangs onto it, then it becomes a good luck charm. You can't really force these things though, this kind of good luck charm should almost seem accidental to the PC. No character should ever have more than one such charm at a time.

Over time - a month or more is a good timeframe - such possessions should have a 1-in-6 chance of becoming functionally lucky. At this point, they slowly gather up a charge, never more than one per month and never more than a total of 3, that can be used to cast a Bless spell that impacts only the character with the charm. A good luck charm can hold 1-3 charges based on its use; it cannot be overused but it only holds a second charge after the first is used, and only gains a third charge after two more are used.

When the good luck charm has at least 2 charges, it can also be sacrificed entirely to save a character's life. A blow or other event that would take a character below 1 hit point can be avoided entirely, but the charm is totally destroyed in the process and no trace of it remains. This can be a moment of intense personal reflection - and gratitude to the little object that saved your life. Which fits perfectly with medieval naturalism.

Of course there's a downside. If a character loses a good luck charm, they subsequently have bad luck until it is recovered. This should result in periodic Curse spells effective on the character at the referee's discretion. If the charm is permanently destroyed the bond is broken and no further effects, good or bad, will result from it. But hopefully it was at least memorable.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Statues and the Living Dungeon

I had hinted back in my post on monsters that turn you to stone that I would do a post on statues; I was working on it but got sick, and once I was feeling better, I sort of embarked on my recent spate of monster posts.

The picture on the right is an attempt to reconstruct what the statue of Augustus at Prima Porta would have looked like when it was painted. Residues of the ancient paints were used to get the gist of what colors were originally present in the statue. It looks surprising in two ways: one, it's much more gaudy than the statues of white marble we are used to seeing represent the ancient world; and two, it's much more human in its countenance. We tend to see them as majestic white marble, but the painted human faces are much more sympathetic. Of course they were painted regularly as a matter of course; it was only art historians who decided that the pure white forms were preferable. I disagree.

Statues have historically been one of the more important pieces of dungeon dressing. The "Startling Statues" table in the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets (you can see the table in a picture here) gives a wide variety of options, and various puzzles and enigmas have long used statuary as their focal pieces. We can think of the "Great Stone Face Enigma of Greyhawk" as a very early example. (You can see some more discussion over at Dragonsfoot.) The illustration makes it appear very similar to the distinctive Moai at Easter Island.

Historically statues were used mainly for religious and political purposes (not that these were always different things). But they were by function extremely public works of art. You don't often make a life-sized statue just to stick in a home. So what are they doing in the dungeon?

In the kobold entry I wrote up yesterday, your typical gnome statue is fully functional: it is there to prevent new kobolds from forming. This works on the view that the dungeon is a "living thing," something that isn't natural and grows of its own volition. There are a few ways that statues can work in this environment, and a few different reasons for them to be there.

As with the gnome statues preventing kobolds, some statues in the first few levels may be placed there to prevent the area from developing further "dungeon" characteristics. These are a bulwark of humanity and civilization in the underworld, an attempt to stave off the growth of the otherness in the night below. With time and interference from the dungeon's fell denizens, these statues slowly erode and are taken to pieces, or become corrupted and magical, part of the dungeon itself. Dwarves, gnomes and human miners build statues in their underground fastnesses in order to stave off the creeping underworld forces that threaten to overtake them.

Monsters will do the opposite, and a dungeon should have crude idols and evil figures that concentrate more of the foul energies that change the tunnels and crypts into a proper underworld. They may make strange and often odd curses occur to characters; a favorite of mine is a statue that forces characters to feed it coins uncontrollably until they are physically removed (save negates). Smashing these may actually cause the rate of wandering monsters to decrease. They may also be encrusted with gems, which are handy for a cursed object.

When we deal with crypts it should be clear that some statues will be funerary. These have the opposite effect: the dungeon becomes closer to the world of the dead. Inexplicable fog, or even the animation of skeletons, may be driven by the creation of an elaborate underground necropolis. Images of the dead not accompanied by appropriate holy symbols and wards are likely to become part and parcel of this corruption.

Deeper and deeper in the dungeon we find statues that are not of any human make. These are the most powerfully magical statues, as likely to depict some monster or extra-planar being as a human, and often figure in strange puzzles or have the effects show in the "Startling Statues" table. Such statues are repositories for the magical energies that have built up and do weird things such as looking or pointing in different directions when characters aren't watching them.

Those are a few different ways to use statues in a dungeon setting. I really think they're a fun trope and they offer just too much possibility to let go easily.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Moving Beyond Tucker's Kobolds

Kobolds are the lowest rung of the cursus honorum of humanoids, that list of unhappy monsters who serve as the stock dungeon threats to low-level PCs. Ever since a Dragon magazine editorial by Roger E. Moore in 1987, and compounded by a second edition boxed set called Dragon Mountain, kobolds have taken on the alternate aspect of being specialists in guerrilla warfare. With time this has itself become something of a cliché, and it can't be considered an interesting or fresh route to take the lowly kobold.

Original D&D barely even notices that it has kobolds. They're like goblins but even weaker, and that's about it. The Monster Manual expanded them into the hairless, dog-faced critters you see here. They're pretty much small, evil, vicious and hate the other short races. Particularly gnomes. And they have pet wild boars or giant weasels.

Dog-faced kobolds scream "old school" in much the same way pig-faced orcs do, particularly after 3e's rather silly attempt to make the kobold related to dragons. Though I'm also fond of the fuzzy little weirdos of Kobolds Ate My Baby!, that's not much of a stretch; I do like the idea of some tribes of kobolds being classically hairless and others being furry little sacks of teeth and murder. The mythical kobolds are closer to brownies, or else more like the knockers that I looked at back when discussing goblins.

What's most interesting about the kobold is that Gygax kept the trope that they are related to gnomes. I've been interested in gnomes for a while and they are featured in the Caverns of Temeluc (from Dungeon Crawl #2). So that's had me thinking that kobolds should in fact have dark-side parallels to the gnomes. Classical gnomes of course are earth elementals; as per Paracelsus they actually walk through earth like humans do air. In this sense I have been thinking of the kobold as virtually a dungeon elemental, that is, a creature that is totally at home in dungeons, caverns and mine shafts.

This brings me to a concept in Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (known for the fact that it inspired the film Blade Runner): kipple. In the novel, this is trash that generates itself spontaneously, driving out nonkipple and slowly taking over. It can be fought back against but not destroyed entirely. Eventually the whole world will be filled with kipple. I've always thought that this has some particular resonance with the concept that Philotomy Jurament had pointed out years ago in his OD&D musings that the dungeon is a mythic underworld, something that was growing on its own.

All of that leads to the conclusion that the kobold is not born, and does not move into the dungeon as an invasive pest. Kobolds grow naturally in dungeons, forming out of them by spontaneous generation. When an underworld is dug or forms naturally, it will eventually begin to form kobolds after its own general characteristics. A stone dungeon will form kobolds who are hairless and classic in disposition, while a cavern will tend to make kobolds that are wild and furry. They will tend to lair in a room that is distant from the entrance, and make the area they live in more "dungeon-like." It will also tend to accumulate treasure and general dungeon-junk.

I see these kobolds being the "natural" eyes and ears and arms and legs of the dungeon. Is there a trap that uses a crossbow? It's a kobold that knows the way to get behind the dungeon walls and re-load it. Pit traps need to be covered? Kobolds will find stone from elsewhere and bring it in. What makes them even weirder is that kobold-entrances are completely impenetrable to other beings. An encounter with them should reveal how little the PCs really know about the place around them, as they appear from passages that don't seem to exist, or trap doors that the PCs cannot open, etc.

Kobolds hate gnomes for a good reason. It turns out that gnomes prevent new kobolds from forming, and even a gnome statue (such as are often left in garden grottoes) will stop the dungeon from spawning fresh kobolds. But absent this, there will always be the malevolent little creatures that personify the dungeon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Orcs, Beast-men and Monstrous Etymology

The Italian fairy-tale author Giambattista Basile wrote a number of stories which featured a creature he called "huorco" or "huerco" - probably derivatives in the Neapolitan dialect of the Latin underworld deity "Orcus." This is one of several probable etymological sources for J.R.R. Tolkien's orc, filtered through Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, where the form became "orco." It went into French through Charles Perrault, who used the form "ogre" for the same creatures. In so doing, the ogre became the popular form of the large, hairy beast who terrorized the heroes of fairy stories. Orcs went down a different road, becoming in Tolkien twisted creatures derived from elves. As is often the case, when it came to D&D, Gygax split the difference and added both to the roll of monsters. Orcs became fodder for a million fighters' swords, and ogres were considerably larger and stronger. At least in this post I want to stick with the orcs.

It is hard to deny a certain old school appeal to David C. Sutherland III's orcs. When you describe pig-men, you know these are orcs and their job is to try to stab PCs, and get stabbed in return. There's no horror to them, no moral equivalences, it's a tried and true foe that does perfectly well to say "we are in D&D fantasy."

OD&D simply describes them as tribal creatures which hate daylight like goblins do, spending more time worrying about the kind of fortifications of their lair than what the things actually look like - one of the more refreshing aspects of the OD&D books when you are interested in re-interpreting monsters. They are merely expected to live in tribes that act as the foils of human civilization; their particular organization usually revolves around some more powerful opponent. An individual orc is exactly at the point to go toe-to-toe with an average PC of first level; all this tends to make them humanity's dark mirror. If you go back to the actual play report from a convention game run by Dave Arneson that I had put up several years back, orcs are assumed to be encountered in masses in the early dungeons.

My inclination is to run with the bestial undercurrent of the orc. If you think about "beast-men" in roleplaying, several are obvious. The classic kobold is a dog-man, the gnoll is a hyena-man, the minotaur is a cow-man, the rakshasa is a tiger-man. Sutherland's orcs are pig-men, and I think that's fine - if it's one tribe of orcs. This feeds into something I've been pondering for a while, about a question of diverse and interesting creatures that resemble humans with various animal heads.

In keeping with the loose inspiration of Orcus, a human with a goat head seems to give the almost Satanic presence that is demanded by the name of an orc. Just the slit-shaped eyes should seem freakish. A donkey-man brings home the idea that this is a beastial creature (and puts us in mind of fairy tales and A Midsummer Night's Dream), and perhaps allows a bit more variation; is this a more "neutral" tribe of orcs, but one that takes on the stubbornness and ill temper of the creatures they resemble.

This is a question of "freshening up" monsters that I think is important to find a certain balance. With the creature list from Monsters & Treasure, which I think provides the majority of the "true" classic D&D monsters, I think there's a need to balance between what is familiar (sometimes to the point of cliché) and novelty merely for the sake of novelty. A deeply tribal nemesis like the orc is a perfect thing to play with: your "normal" pig-faced orcs are one tribe among many, and there are weirder orcs. Particularly this allows the freedom to really play with different tropes. The pig-faced tribe is your standard "raid and retreat" sort of orc, while the goat-headed orcs are devout Satan worshippers and perform vile rituals, and the donkey-headed tribe are open to negotiation but no friends of humanity.

Other types of orcs open for interpretation might base themselves on more or less sinister or vicious animals. I think there's something to really distinguish some of your orcs while keeping the good old familiar ones around.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Who's Afraid of a Goblin?

J.R.R. Tolkien's influence on D&D has always been a controversial subject, and in reading everything Gygax wrote, it's fairly clear that his players enjoyed the good professor's writings more than Gary did. But Tolkien's stamp lives on in D&D, particularly in the races - elves, dwarves, hobbits - and the monsters, including goblins, orcs, nazgul, ents and balrogs (some renamed).

I think Tolkien's take on elves lives on to some degree. He actively wanted to make them into powerful magical beings instead of the faerie-like creatures that he had seen them degenerate into in the English language tradition. This is partly reflected in D&D, although Poul Anderson also had variant takes on elves that were influential. But in some ways, Tolkien's The Hobbit did the opposite to goblins, making them more mundane, in a way that was reinforced and compounded by how they evolved after being adapted as a monster in D&D.

As D&D has grown there is something of a cursus honorum (the succession of magistracies that defined a Roman politician's career) of humanoids: kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, and gnolls, rising from 1/2 HD to 2 HD. As I mentioned not long ago, even making kobolds into experts in guerrilla tactics has become a cliché. But goblins deserve more than that.

Historically goblins have been a piece of folklore - they make up a wide variety of creatures that range from evil to simply mischevious. They do not run out and ambush humans, and they should have something at least vaguely mysterious about them; the D&D rules specify that they are attuned to the dark and take a penalty when fighting in the light. I think that this gives us some ground to make some more fearsome varieties of goblins rooted in folklore, but in general I think goblins should be feared for more than HP attrition.

Scottish folklore gives us the redcap, a type of goblin that resembles old men wearing caps dyed red. It should hardly be a surprise that the caps take their color from being dipped in human blood, and they die if the cap dries out. These are creatures that inhabit old ruined castles (perfect for D&D), wear hob-nailed boots and carry short, heavy pikes. They make weird noises as they approach and it is impossible for a traveler who has wandered into a redcap's home to outrun it. Redcaps like to kill by pushing boulders onto unwary travelers, or pushing them from towers - almost a living spirit of rage and misfortune.

In D&D terms, the redcap makes a promising low-level encounter. As the characters explore the ruined castles, the weird and haunting sounds a redcap makes, and its attempts to lure them into death, can transform a bog-standard goblin encounter into something closer to a horror film. The climax may need some adjustment; the redcaps of folklore can only be turned back by quoting scripture at them. This may actually make another role for the cleric at the low levels, or alternatively the redcaps may wind up in a more fearsome combat role than your standard issue goblin.

The other type of goblin that seems particularly well suited to the D&D dungeon is the knocker, sometimes Tommyknocker, of Welsh and Cornish myth. These take a bit more work to make into solid monsters, since particularly in the mines of Cornwall the knockers were actually seen as helpful and necessary, knocking on the mine walls when a cave-in was imminent. For our purposes, the more malevolent variety make an interesting monster.

In the evil interpretation, knockers are types of goblins who are hammering at the walls and supports of a mine and trying to cause a cave-in. Their knocking (really caused by the creaking of wood and supports as they struggle) is meant to trap unlucky miners in place. It's not hard to see how to translate this into a D&D variant goblin; the knockers are, in fact, working away at the supports of the dungeon. This works particularly well in levels that are abandoned mines, but it could be interesting in a traditional dungeon - the knockers are working away at the whole underground complex, trying to cause a cave-in; presumably the unlucky victims may be part of the knockers' next supper. Actually stopping them might cause an interesting logistical challenge, getting the PCs into the strange and weird areas behind the dungeon walls (a theme I also hinted at with the giant rats).

As a final note, it's interesting to note the appearances of redcaps and knockers. Redcaps are like ugly, snaggle-toothed old men; knockers are relatively human in appearance. Not being specified in OD&D, I think it's interesting to run with this, but they could also be made more prototypically goblinoid in aspect. Either way I think they're a refreshing change from the kind of goblins that run rampant through so much of Dungeons & Dragons.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reactions with Crown & Anchor Dice

I recently purchased a whole bunch of dice, including three Crown & Anchor dice. They have a crown, anchor, heart, diamond, spade and club on the facets, with crown/heart/diamond as red and anchor/spade/club as black. And like most roleplayers who find funky new dice that they like, I'm searching for a way to use these things that would make sense in a game.

What they reminded me of was the passage in the first edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide where Gygax describes the dice he had with hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds on the different faces, and using them as reaction dice. I'm thinking that crown & anchor dice are even better for these purposes since they allow more spaces for interpretation. In the following, if you don't have crown & anchor dice, you can use a standard d6 with an odd/even interpretation of 1 - Crown, 2 - Anchor, 3 - Heart, 4 - Spade, 5 - Diamond, 6 - Club.

The red suits are positive reactions, just as Gygax had it, and the black suits give us the negative reactions. But the specific suit rolled gives us the quality of the reaction, the type of response that the NPC or monster encountered has.

Crown (1): For intelligent encounters, this should imply a rational reaction. An NPC or monster should be open to negotiation, relative to the situation, or able to be talked out of any kind of rash action. With unintelligent creatures, animals and such, this should mean that the object of the encounter is deferent to the characters.

Anchor (2): This indicates a territorial stubbornness. It may be of the "you shall not pass!" variety, or the growling and hissing of a wild beast, without implying outright attack. For whatever reason, the subject is simply in a bad and irrational mood and not prone to any cooperation.

Heart (3): The heart indicates that there is some immediate compatibility between the characters and the subject of the encounter. Even an otherwise implacably hostile creature will hesitate to the attack on a roll of heart, and with unintelligent animals it is possible that they will actually follow the character(s) around like a stray dog. (Not that this is always desirable.)

Spade (4): While not an "immediate attack" roll, this one means that they don't like you. The opposite of the heart, a spade roll just isn't going to warm the cockles. The character is immediately disliked and eyed with suspicion. Animals and such will growl and nip, or just run away.

Diamond (5): Keeping with the theme of what diamonds represent, this indicates that the subject is willing to be "bought off" in some way, shape or form. This may be a monetary bribe, a favor, or simply giving a bit of food to a wild creature. Town guards and such may automatically be considered to roll a diamond.

Clubs (6): And now we get to the old violence. A roll of clubs means that the subject of the encounter is immediately hostile to the point of physical attack. It pretty much had to happen on some facet, and the clubs just seem the most direct way to do it.

If you want to give a character with a high Charisma a better shot, consider re-rolling Clubs; likewise for low Charisma, re-roll Crowns because their luck is bad. The second roll should then count even if it's the same as the first.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's the Matter with Giant Rats?

"Rodents of Unusual Size? I don't think they exist." - Westley, The Princess Bride.

In a negative playtest review of James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount (I'm going to refrain from linking anything here for the time being), a player complained about facing off against a group of giant rats and being rewarded with 2000 copper pieces and some random jewelry. Giant rats are a staple monster of low-level adventuring, much like the lower levels of the undead or the humanoid food chain of kobold, goblin, orc, hobgoblin, gnoll. And it seems like most of those monsters have reached the point where they're even beyond cliche, they're just tired. Inversions of expectations aren't even fresh - it's a cliche now to Tuckerize your kobolds and make them into experts in irregular warfare.

With the giant rat, though, I think there's a problem of DMing philosophy at work. Like their smaller cousins they are basically scavengers, and will only attack if necessary to defend their lairs, or if under the command of another monster, such as a vampire or wererat. The problem with the giant rats in most commercially published dungeons is that they wind up being just another encounter to grind through, none of which makes sense from the description given to rats in early D&D materials.

Most dungeons stick giant rats in the wandering monster charts or in random dungeon rooms, frequently full of trash. Real world rats do nest beneath piles of trash, or generally anywhere their nests can be hidden - and the latter should be the trope. More intriguing are the other places rats build their nests, such as walls, chimneys, vents, attics, crawlspaces, and so on. Why are most of these dungeon rats nesting in big open rooms where other dungeon denizens are likely to get territorial? The 20' x 30' room in Dwimmermount that is set aside as a giant rat nest is downright palatial compared to what should be the actual space requirements of rodents that are smaller than many dogs. In that 20' x 30' room, the PCs should have to search just to find the rats' nest in the rubble, and the rats should be in it rather than running about the room attacking PCs.

But what I'd like to see more of in dungeons is other places for rat nests, in vents and shafts and holes in the walls. Presumably fresh air is coming from somewhere, and there are places that are more or less stable in the masonry. Rats are fundamentally opportunists, and the giant rats are even bumped up to "semi-" in their intelligence ranking. Instead of mindless PC-gnawers, they should be savvy scavengers; they show up when the PCs try to go to bed for the night, stealing their rations and leaving "rat presents" in their place; gnawing at leather helmets and armor and scabbards and anything kind of edible, and carting it off if possible. And they're fast as a man when confronted.

An average encounter with a giant rat, rather than starting with "roll for initiative," should begin and end with the creature darting out of sight, and out of reach of most armored adventurers. This way they become the curious thieves of the dungeon rather than just a filler monster for the average grind. This goes along with an idea I've been building up about dungeons being a really living place, which I've hard coded into the Caverns of Temeluc.

For giant beetles, I got nothing. Just walking bundles of HP. But we should be able to at least make the giant rat an interesting and worthy denizen of the dungeon.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Turning to Stone

Going back to Dave Bowman's list of monster categories in OD&D, one thing that's surprising is the fact that there are so many monsters that turn you to stone. Basilisks, cockatrices, medusae and gorgons - these are four of the more interesting monsters in the original edition for a variety of reasons. The basilisk and cockatrice are both listed, and both are names for the same classic bestiary monster. Likewise anyone familiar with the Greek myth of Medusa knows that she was just one of several horrible sisters called the Gorgons, but the Gorgon in D&D is a bull-like monster with iron scales. The Gorgon of D&D is apparently based on this article which lists a compatible monster, although that creature's breath would be better described as poison than stone.

Being turned  to stone in D&D is an essentially reversible condition, since Stone to Flesh was in the earliest edition of the game. This was available at the highest spell level in OD&D - the same level as Death Spell - and of course implies that its opposite was possible. This makes it somewhere between "save or die" and "save or suck" in the hierarchy of D&D conditions.

But what I've been thinking about, and why I chose the picture of Perseus for this blog post, is something that Mike Curtis, author of the Dungeon Alphabet (still one of my favorite OSR books), talked about a bit in an interview recently about player skill: he sees it as failure if he actually has to roll dice. By the time you're making the roll for the saving throw, you've already failed and deserve whatever consequences that come from it, be that poison, death ray, dragon breath, petrification, polymorph, or turning to stone. This ethos is derided by a lot of new school players who don't see that as all that heroic. But again, I refer you to Perseus.

In the myth, Perseus doesn't join up with a bunch of other heroes and go off to slay the Medusa in a fight with her and her servitors. It's Perseus alone, and his brilliantly polished bronze shield, that do the trick. He does his research and figures out a way to subvert the monster's ability. As a kid I was always impressed that he actually puts the head into a sack without looking at it. I think there's something of these myths in the stories of solo adventurers heading into the dungeons and getting through them with a single character, a feat that Rob Kuntz pulled off frequently.

None of that is to say that there's no room for parties. Jason got the Argonauts together to get the Golden Fleece, and the plan of the Trojan Horse couldn't have worked if it were just Odysseus jumping out of it.  But I do feel that any definition of heroism has to rank Perseus at least as highly as the heroes who rely more on raw damage to get things done. This is also why I'm a stickler for the method of awarding XP for treasure rather than slaying monsters - it encourages this kind of in-game thinking.

If I get the time in the next few days, I want to follow this up with a related post on a quintessential D&D trope: the statue.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Playtest: The Caverns of Temeluc

The Caverns of Temeluc is the B1-style dungeon crawl that I've been working on for Dungeon Crawl #2. Set in a natural cave formation, the caverns have 31 keyed rooms, 16 encounters and 12 treasures for the referee to match together or roll randomly for. For the most part, I decided to randomize what encounter was in each room - most of the rooms had an encounter just to keep things interesting. For PCs I used, appropriately, the ones listed in the back of B1 In Search of the Unknown.

In the caverns, the players chose the western fork, which works because it's the more straightforward. I don't want to give too much away so that players can still enjoy the surprise, but here were the highlights and lowlights:

  1. The one PC fatality occurred because they tried to open a treasure they had found, which exploded violently and took out the better of the two magic-users. They recovered quickly with a fresh M-U, the last remaining pregen.
  2. I used a powered-up version of the corpse light from Zach Howard's One Hit Point Monsters which wound up in the entry cavern. It worked well for a freaky encounter.
  3. One of the NPC encounters went exactly as I thought it would.
  4. The way the dungeon is set up, druids and any character with an item like a ring of animal control will do pretty durn well for themselves.
  5. I also got to test a couple of the monsters that will be in the issue. They worked well.
  6. In the moment when I had to not burst out laughing, the PCs walked into the lair of the evil lurking in the caves, looked around and decided to keep exploring.
Overall I think it was a pretty successful playtest, and the players seemed to enjoy themselves. I'm optimistic that referees will get their money's worth out of this dungeon, even though it's only going to be about 8 pages long including the map and artwork.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

More Dungeon Crawl #2 Art

This one from John Blaszczyk. And yes, all my writing the last week+ has been for the zine, I've got an article going on historical gaming, new charts and of course a module, all of which have left zero time for blogging. I should be back to regular after a week or so.

BTW, I will be playtesting the adventure from this issue tonight on G+. Comment if you want to play but haven't added me.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dungeon Crawl #2 Art Preview

I just got this art piece of the corpse lichen (mentioned in the comments on Expanding the Clean-Up Crew) that will be going in Dungeon Crawl #2. Art is by David Lewis Johnson of Iron Image Industries. Not sure about you folks but this is getting me psyched.

As a side note, as of this post 2013 has become the single most productive year I've had since starting this blog. Hopefully folks will keep enjoying the ride, it should be a good one.