Monday, March 31, 2014

my version of Scenic Dunnsmouth

Scenic Dunnsmouth is a sandbox-style horror adventure module, and it requires a bit of legwork and design before being able to run it properly. The author, Zzarchov Kowolski, is having a little map making contest in support of the module. I had already constructed three versions of Dunnsmouth before he announced the contest, but I felt like making an all-new version for the contest.

I consider this my wife's map since she insisted on rolling the dice. To be honest she rolled really well and I think this is the best map I've produced out of the four. The adventure reminds me a lot of the Village of Hommlet so I tried to replicate some of the style of that module's map. All of the rules for building Dunnsmouth from the book were followed with a few exceptions:
1) I put the Time Cube inside a residence by drawing a card for the d4 (automatically infected)
2) I placed Magda in the farthest kicker die from Ivan
To make reference with the pdf easier I just used the card suits for the locations unless a basic description would suffice. Also, the shoreline is left ambiguously straightish because I plan on using this map as a river location within my current game.

Click on the image to make it bigger

I put the map above as well as a text-free version into this pdf for easy printing: MARIE'S VERSION OF SCENIC DUNNSMOUTH

My Ten Favorite RPG Products of All Time

In no particular order, because I can't say one book is better than another, and I'm not going to rate them on a one to ten scale, they're all good in my opinion.

Monster Manual
This wasn't my first RPG book but it was definitely the first one I read cover to cover and the first one I wore out the cover from rereading, use, and abuse. The one pictures here is the third copy I've owned. As long as I had my Monster Manual I felt I could GM anything. That kind of "give me some stats and I'll do the rest" attitude still informs my style, though when I was younger I really did not know how to string a plotline together very well.

To be eight years old again. "The wizard is turning everyone into trolls... because he's evil!"

I6 Ravenloft
When I was maybe 9 years old I knew this older kid who played D&D. He was like really old though, like 16 or 17 maybe. But anyway, he wouldn't play with me unless he was the GM and I was a PC. He ran Ravenloft as a solo adventure for me and that lasted for a couple of weeks before he got bored and stopped playing with me. But during that short game I haggled with gypsies, escaped wolves in the dark of the forest, explored the town of Barovia, and fought Count Strahd in his own castle. I thought it was the coolest thing, and playing with that older kid was the best D&D got for me until I discovered my friendly local game store. (It's a shame I can't remember his name though.)

This was also the first adventure module I ever purchased.

This is my favorite published campaign world and the Ruins of Empire book from the box set is probably the highlight of this set. There are lots of details provided for every single section of land in the world, and yet much of the world itself is left open for GMs and players to define what's going on within each country and around every established character. The rules for Bloodlines and Regency are fairly unbalanced and I've often converted the world to other RPG systems, but there's lots of good ideas and history loaded into a small space. The rules for ley lines, channeling magical power, and controlling sources of power are particularly cool.

Tony Diterlizzi's artwork does a lot to give Planescape it's edge. When the Deet stopped drawing Planescape books that's when their sales started to fall, I don't think that's a coincidence. It's also probably not a coincidence that the only Planescape books available from WOTC are ones that don't have Tony's artwork.

The rules were just 2nd edition AD&D add-ons, but the setting material is inspired and fun. My first forays into GMing took place within Sigil, the City of Doors.

Mage: the Awakening
Mage the Ascension was not my first exploration outside of D&D, but the first one that really grabbed me by the imagination and inspired me to play something else. I mention the original version of Mage because it has consistent qualities with the reboot. Sessions of Ascension would often have lengthy debates about how to best use the spheres of magic to accomplish something, and I think Awakening fixed a lot of those problems by making it all relatively straightforward. Awakening didn't have strong central villains like Ascension though, so mixing the setting of Ascension with the rules of Awakening is probably the best way to play this game. I still love both of them, but Awakening moreso.

I can't emphasize how much I love this book! Not really a game as much as it is a parody of a game. You can still play it and I have, but it works more as a joke and playing it should never be done seriously. It's sole expansion has rules for an awesome little LARP called "Freebase" that viciously parodies every single anti-D&D screed produced by fear-mongering churchy conservatives in the 1980s. However most gamers I know refuse to even read HOL since it's handwritten, but if you can get past the weird format it is perhaps the funniest piece of RPG writing ever produced.

Stars Without Number
I discovered the OSR by accident because of this book. I was looking for stuff to make a Traveller campaign out of and after reading about the tag system introduced in this book I decided to look for a copy. The no-art pdf is free and after I downloaded it I liked it so much that I bought a hardcover copy. I enjoy the dual familiarity and simplicity of the system presented in the rules, but the tag system is really the best part of this rulebook. Most of Kevin Crawford's other work is equally on par with this title.

Apocalypse World
Written in such a way that it tells a complete novice how to play an RPG without ever using the cliched "What is a role-playing game?" kind of introduction that almost every RPG rulebook has. It illustrates and codifies how to GM effectively by giving the GM an agenda with principles to follow and moves to make when the players fail or look to you for more action. Because I learned role-playing primarily in the 1990s I used to be one of those GMs who crafted a story and then thrust it at my players, but since reading this book I have revised my GMing style so thoroughly that whenever I think of running a new game I always default to thinking of the prospective campaign in terminology which is central to Apocalypse World's design. Nothing about the advice in this game is particularly new, but it's presentation and delivery is cut from 100% originality and that makes all the difference.

Deadlands RPG
Rather than a single book I would like to say this whole game is one of my favorite RPG things! I played in an ongoing Deadlands campaign for roughly eight years and spent so much time with the books and the setting that (even though I have only played it three times in the last decade) I can still remember all of the weird and fiddly little rules. The GM who ran our eight-year long campaign passed away in 2005 and I doubt any of us who played it will ever be able to return to the game without remembering our time with him. I can't really call this a favorite game, but it does hold many fond and bittersweet memories for me.

GURPS Illuminati
Saving the best for last! So I guess I did end up rating these titles in some way, but this is the only RPG book in my collection which I have adamantly insisted to other GMs that they purchase and read cover to cover. It is the best "How to mess with your players' heads" guide out there. The theories, tips, stories, anecdotes, and ideas in this book are not just good tips for making an Illuminati campaign, but are good tips for making any campaign deep and interesting. It's filled with useful GMing advice, but it's also a treat to read.

Also, I have a lot of gaming books.

This isn't even everything I've ever owned or read, just the stuff that I still happen to own.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dungeon Crawl Classics character sheets

When I first discovered Dungeon Crawl Classics I designed a few custom character sheets for "the basic 4" classes. I never got around to doing the demihuman classes because when I was first GMing I didn't include the demihuman races as classes. This was also before I had a pdf editor and so I made them entirely as jpgs that need to be printed as full-page images. I kept thinking I'll get around to remaking them as pdfs but honestly, my enthusiasm for finishing a project is directly related to how likely I am to using the finished product. These days I'm not playing DCC and I don't see that changing any time soon.

Click on the image to make it bigger (the big version is what you want to print if you choose to use these)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

lamentation of the gamer without a regular game

games I've recently played
  • Dungeon World (using Adventures on Dungeon Planet rules)
  • Hollow Earth Expeditions
  • Night's Black Agents
  • Sagas of the Icelanders
  • Itras By
  • Gamma World (by way of 4th edition D&D)
  • playtested a friend's game in development
  • Torchbearer
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics

    games I would like to GM
  • Stars Without Number - with my Fallout-inspired Perks and Traits
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess (with some other OSR rules added) - set in Kosranon
  • Apocalypse World (with some custom moves from Tremulus) - post-apocalyptic horror set in Nova Scotia
  • Dungeon World (with heavy hacking) - set in Birthright
  • Shadowrun (4th edition) - ignore all 'official' information about the setting

    games I want to play
  • Apocalypse World
  • Sunday, March 16, 2014


    I've been thinking a lot about what a dice roll really means within a role-playing game. What it is meant to convey and how it is applied are usually two different things. Dice usually means risk of failure, not just chance of success. If there is a risk that something bad could happen then the dice come out, or if there's a chance that something really good could happen the dice come out. Or both.

    Consider a player who says "I want to climb a nearby tree and try to get a better look at this valley."

    GMs would handle this request differently, some might require a roll, and some might just let the PC climb a tree and draw a crude map without a roll. I'm going to focus on GMs who require rolls, and what that roll would mean.

    First, there is a simple question of success or failure. Success is "you climb the tree" and failure is "there are no decent handholds, you don't climb the tree."
    GURPS uses this method, though it also uses a complex skill system to determine where that success is achieved.

    Second there is the chance of extra benefit or complications. Extra benefit might be "you climb the tree and make a rough map quickly and efficiently" and complication might be "you fall out of the tree and take some damage."
    In D&D, and many of it's variants, this is frequently represented by rolling an unmodified result of '1' or '20'

    This is usually where most dice rolling conventions end. But there's additional possibilities within the dice roll.

    Consider the partial success, which I enjoy using. A partial success might be "you can climb the tree and make a map, but there is no safe way down and you'll have to fall most of the way" or "if you climb the tree, you'll expose yourself to pterodactyls circling overhead" or "you can only make it halfway, the branches above are thin and weak, if you climb any farther you risk breaking the branches and falling to the ground."
    Apocalypse World explicitly uses the partial success.

    Then there's extending the outcomes into an exacting range of "success with extra benefit," simple "success," "success with complication," "failure with extra benefit," simple "failure," and "failure with complications."
    Venger Satanis' VSd6 system accomplishes this.

    The results and methods of achieving them are diverse. The results however are almost always determined by the GM. The players drive the action forward but the GM lays down the roads that they follow. I think the best players are the ones who forget the roads exist, and that the best GMs are the ones who say "Where we're going, we don't need roads."

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

    short and sweet: Qelong and Scenic Dunnsmouth

    It is rare for me to read a role-playing game and feel awed. I don't gush about my favorite games or game authors the same way I do about my favorite comic books, movies, or video games. Today I'm being uncharacteristic.
    These are spoiler-free reviews.

    Qelong, by Kenneth Hite
    For the first time in years I simply could not put a book down, and it was an adventure module. I lost track of time while reading it, and was even late for work because I found myself wanting to read just one more page. Fans of Kenneth Hite are probably nodding sagely and wondering why I am so surprised. Outside of his Suppressed Transmission articles, which I found fun to read but never very useful for gaming, I haven't read anything else written solely by him. That changed after reading Qelong. I've slowly been collecting his work now that I know how good it is. Qelong is brilliant and engrossing! If you don't find inspiration from within this adventure module then you should start letting somebody else GM.
    Buy it from DTRPG!
    Buy it from LOTFP store!

    Scenic Dunnsmouth, by Zzarchov Kowolski
    I was completely gobsmacked by this module. The premise is pretty simple: mix one secluded village with a cult, sprinkle a powerful artifact into the middle, garnish with PCs and hijinks are bound to ensue. But the execution is where this seemingly cut-out scenery truly shines! The cooking metaphor above is apt given there is a lengthy set-up before the module can be used, but the random generation of key elements insures this module will never be played the same way twice. It's truly inspired work, and Scenic Dunnsmouth has made me an instant fan of Kowolski! He has crafted an adventure and setting all-in-one that oozes with menace, and I can't wait to play it.
    Buy it from DTRPG!
    Buy it from LOTFP store!

    Wednesday, March 5, 2014

    Jetsam Village

    This scenario was inspired by the map of Ravenson's Landing. When I first saw the map I thought of a game in which I had played where there were these abandoned military towers along the coastline, and that immediately led me to thinking about it as a place that could go into my Kosranon setting. Except the region I'm focusing on right now is along a northern coastline. I flipped the map, and adjusted a little bit of the artwork to make it look right, but otherwise the image is unchanged from how Dyson first posted it.

    Because I'm using it for Kosranon everything written below references that world, many of the monsters have insectile features, but all of it should be easy to adapt to an OSR game, and where applicable I've included generic OSR stats or an OSR-friendly version of each location (inside parentheses). This scenario was written for 1st-level characters.

    Legalese: the map on this page is copyright 2013 by Dyson Logos

    Jetsam Village is named for the sunken wreck of a hulking ship, splintered into three pieces, that lies just beneath the surface of the water along the coast. The small inlet cannot be approached by vessels much larger than a canoe or rowboat due the wreck's size and the potential damage it could cause to any ship that seeks purchase on the shoreline. This makes the small village an ideal spot for pirates to unload their goods and barter with landlubbing inhabitants, the decrepit tower serving as a noticeable landmark that requires no maintenance.

    While not a part of any established local governance, Jetsam Village is assumed to be uninhabited by neighboring lords due to the abandoned military tower that lies in partial ruins. The collection of small buildings next to the tower were once used to store supplies and house soldiers for a war that nobody remembers. The closest villages and cities have made no claim on the tower or the grounds surrounding it, and many do not even know it exists.

    Currently the village is being used by a small group of smugglers who are the main suppliers for the black market in Marakāven and the Hidden Fortress to the south. Marakāven is the closest city, roughly 20 miles to the east of Jetsam Village. The smugglers make regular trips to the Hidden Fortress, and if the pirates are not doing well then the smugglers will turn to banditry to keep themselves supplied.

    The Tower:
    The northern side of the tower has collapsed and the interior is exposed to the wind from the ocean, and any sailing ships passing by can see inside well enough. The smugglers don't camp inside the tower at all, but instead use the ground floor as a trash receptacle and lavatory. There are two levels below the tower, including a modest number of dungeon cells, most of which are currently occupied by fist-sized maggots that are feeding off the carcass of an orsect. The orsect was drawn to the site by the feces being dumped by the smugglers, but got trapped on the lower level and starved to death. Any day the fist-sized maggots will transform into quilids (2d6 quilids, 1 HD each, and each is about 3 feet long), and the village will become infested with the pests.
    (instead of an orsect being feasted on by quilid maggots, treat as an ogre corpse being feasted on by giant ant maggots)

    The Village:
    Most of these buildings are in a foul state of disrepair. The largest happens to be both the most damaged and the current residence of the smugglers' leader, Varim. Every building has had it's windows boarded up and covered in heavy cloth to prevent any accidental light from spilling out onto the water and revealing to passing ships at night that any of the buildings might be inhabited. However there is not enough traffic to maintain a constant presence at the village, and pirates only bring stolen goods to the village once every two or three months. When PCs encounter the village a shipment should either be about to arrive or have just been traded and ready to load up in wagons for a trip south.
    Varim is a Junian from Marakāven. He has a deal with the ruler of the Hidden Fortress to the south, Captain Cassandra, that allows him to sell contraband and stolen goods in her town. Varim has two lieutenants; Set, a Junian from Cliffwater, who negotiates with pirates that make landfall near the village, and Dai, an Athomian, the thug of the group who keeps any other guards or hirelings in line and probably the most dangerous. They will always have people helping them, assume they have two more criminal thugs with them for every PC in your group.
    Sometimes the smugglers sell slaves to Captain Cassandra, but these are always Oukek or Kcaltsim Dwarves that were captured wandering near the village.
    (treat Oukek like halflings; treat Kcaltsim Dwarves like regular dwarves; treat Varim and Set like 2nd-level thieves, and Dai as a 3rd-level fighter, treat anybody working for them as 1st-level fighters)

    The Wreck:
    Beneath the waters of the inlet lies the split apart bow and stern of an old ship, the Prideful Princess. The remains of the vessel has never been properly searched, and many salvageable items remain in the ship's hold. The heavy water damage will have destroyed most objects, but there is plenty of silver and gold to be scrounged if anybody can find a way of diving to the innards of the ship. Detecting magic may reveal that there are at least two items of note still resting within the bow of the wreckage. Vicious GMs could stock the wreckage with a large octopus, but getting to the magic items should be challenging enough for a low-level party.
    A Bottle of Lightning will be found in the pockets of a dead body just underneath the main hold in the bow. This bottle is made of pristine and clear glass, stoppered with a simple cork. When broken (or opened) will release a 5d6 lightning bolt that strikes anybody within 15 feet of the bottle.
    The Silver Platter can be found in the Captain's quarters, it is a food platter made of finest silver and looks like it was once part of a set of silverware for fine dining. Any food or drink that is left to rest on the plate will never spoil or decay. Further, any food or drink left on the plate for longer than a few seconds becomes unspoiled and freshened as if it were freshly prepared, and any poisons in the food or drink are also purified and removed.

    The Cave:
    Despite it's close proximity to the village, this cave is unknown to the smugglers living there. If the PCs approach from the east along the coast they can easily see the entrance to the cave before approaching the village. Recently a pregnant aurymite sought shelter here during a storm and gave birth to six babies. She is desperate to find a way to carry her daughters to an aurymite camp to the west, but doesn't want to become exposed to the smugglers. She has been camped here for over a week and many of the edible flora nearby has been consumed by her and her children, but the time spent here has also allowed her to spy on the smugglers. She knows their routines and can guess at some of the activities they are up to, she is a reliable source of information for the PCs and will gladly exchange her knowledge for an escort home, or another suitable course of action. If pressed into combat she will fight with a battleaxe and attempts to defend her daughters by leading attackers away from them or the cave.
    (instead of an aurymite use a troll, this encounter no longer becomes one where information can be gleaned but the six troll babies should make for a perplexing predicament)

    Tuesday, March 4, 2014

    the Oukek

    Oukek are a short, lithe people, very much like small humans but reptilian in appearance. Their faces are thin and long, and their lizard-like skin ranges in color from vibrant green or bright turquoise to dull brown or muted orange. Their typical life expectancy is approximately 50 years.

    Oukek society is rigidly defined by a caste social structure that seems impenetrably complex to outsiders. The distinctions seem to be a form of feudal nobility based on birth order, and Oukek of the same family can sometimes have wildly different roles in Oukek society. "Noble" Oukek are allowed to own weapons and property, and in general the lower castes of Oukek work for the "nobles" and do not own anything of value themselves.

    Those who have visited the Oukek homeland speak of nearly incomprehensible social orders and a rigidly martial society. An Oukek's place in society is determined by who is birthed from a clutch of eggs first, the first to emerge is the highest-born, or noble, and the last to be born are the laborer caste. The "noble" castes are in charge and consider their place a divine right, but they also consider their role to be duty bound to protect and care for the lower castes. Oukek seem to be able to tell each other apart by their keen sense of smell.

    The caste social structure is also their law, and those who rebel from the castes are no longer considered Oukek. Outsiders are not considered part of the social structure, and any who visit Oukek lands should expect to be met with disdain if not outright hostility. Masadhi are the only known outsiders who Oukek welcome with curiosity or goodwill, because they "have no smell," and thus many Masadhi can be found traveling the Oukek lands. The short stature of the Masadhi also probably doesn't hurt.

    Oukek see wealth and property as symbols of status, and members of the lower Oukek castes will refer to money and belongings not as their own but rather to a member of a higher caste whom they answer to. Oukek individually are industrious workers, generally peaceful, and eerily quiet. They enjoy physical humor and storytellers, and many outcasts will travel with Troupers.

    Most Oukek homes are burrows, usually in dirt or loamy hills, and are often surrounded by large gardens and farms which the Oukek tend diligently. In their homeland they build squat wooden homes and tall stone towers. Because Oukek are honest, friendly, and deferential they tend to get along with other races. Junians tolerate the Oukek, and they are generally considered to be somewhat soft and harmless. Dwarves enjoy Oukek company, and their Weargs have been known to act as mounts or guards for Oukek villages. Aurymites are less tolerant and they have been known to hunt and eat Oukek.