Thursday, December 31, 2009

Project Complete

It's almost midnight, the guests are downstairs waiting (more friends and family to celebrate New Year's's 11:12), and I have been extremely rude in order to finish my B/X Companion project.

It's Done.

64 pages (minus art). Proofed and formatted. Copyright 2009.

Happy New Year's folks!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Feliz Navidad!

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope you all are having a great holiday!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Speaking of the Nephews

Forgot to mention that my nephews, S. and Z., of whom I've blogged on several occasions are moving in, the other side of the country.

This is a sad turn of events for yours truly (and my wife, too, to be honest) as we will miss these guys a lot. But their dad got a very good promotion that entails them moving to the Washington, DC area and after February we don't anticipate seeing 'em too regularly. Though you never know...their parents may send 'em west in the summertime.

Oh, and we do get out to the DC area every now and then...maybe every other year or so...but I doubt there will be much time for gaming in our short visits.

Still, I'm pleased I have sowed the seeds I have. The kids love D&D and Labyrinth Lord. The wife and I got to attend S's birthday a couple-three weeks ago, and I got him a new set of dice and four classic B/X modules: B3: The Silver Princess, B6: The Veiled Society, X1: Isle of Dread, and something else I don't remember right now...maybe X2: Castle Amber? I know it was an Expert set module and one that I already owned, but I don't think it was X4, and I wouldn't have given him X5 without the other.

Anyway, both he and his older brother were very excited to get both. I may have mentioned earlier that they've been trying to run Labyrinth Lord but have complained that DM'ing the thing is too hard (or complaining that one or the other "doesn't do it right"). I think those of us that grew up with the original B/X take for granted the inclusion of introductory modules: B2: Keep on the Borderlands and X1: Isle of Dread for the Moldvay and Cook/Marsh rules respectively.

I feel very strongly that these adventure modules help to inform play...that is, they provide a template for beginning DM's, a "how-to" for running an adventure.

Heck, it's possible that some of the ubiquitous "okay your adventurers all start at the local tavern" scenarios descend in part from the tone set by those initial adventures set in B2 (not that the action begins in a tavern, but the tavern of the Keep is a fairly detailed location in the module, providing much in the way of assistance, hirelings, rumors, and of course food).

Anyway, I haven't had a chance to check in with those kids (busy, you know?) but I'm certain this year's winter break has featured at least some LL adventuring for them. And I'm glad I got to show them the ropes...the game is one they can carry with them wherever they go in the future.

Ok...gotta' catach a couple hours sleep now. Today is going to be a HUGE day.
: )

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vindication (For Me, At Least)

I'm starting to see there's some commercial value to elves.

So, it appears I've managed to corrupt yet another of America's youth with the lure of Dungeons & Dragons. This time a teenage girl, age 14.

I should explain that while my wife and I don't have any children of our own (yet!), we have many friends that do, for whom we often act as surrogate parents, baby sitters, or "uncle and aunt." This comes about from knowing our friends for a long time, and their kids since they were just wee little ones. My "nephews" who I've blogged about before are not actual blood relations, though they do call me Uncle even when talking of me in the third person. Hey folks, it takes a village, right?

So yesterday, yet another kid we know and love spent the day with us (well, and the night, too...she's sleeping upstairs as I type) to hang out and be merry and practice her Spanish with my in-laws. One of the reasons we haven't seen a lot of L. (as I'll call her) in recent years is she and her fam moved down to Argentina for a year...but they didn't like it too much and eventually returned to Seattle. Their two daughters (both teenaged) enjoyed it a bit more, perhaps, and did pretty good at picking up the language, but they don't get as much opportunity to practice here as they could. ANYWAY...

We had a great time and stayed up long into the night after a day of exciting fun for the whole family. However, what is pertinent to this post is L. saw my Companion project on the ol' Mac and wanted to know what I was writing. A game, I explained, which completely piqued her curiosity (L likes games) as she had never seen such a weird looking game.

So I explained to her what an RPG is. She knows of World of Warcraft (she has a friend she thinks is silly for the amount of time he spends on it), but she prefers games like Rock Band and Halo, being an active kind of kid (she doesn't tweet, she plays basketball and soccer, and the latter at a high level having gone to the State finals this year). And she's HEARD of Dungeons and Dragons...apparently there's a commercial on TV for the latest version?!!

So I showed her B/X and explained how the game is played as well as the difference between B/X and the current edition and its craziness (I find my old 3rd edition hardcovers are making great visual aids for these kids).

And she's down. Oh, she is totally down. She thinks B/X is super cool, thinks my Companion project is super cool, says I should try to get black and white interior art but do a cool color cover in the style of the original Erol Otus drawings (yeah, kid, we're already on the same page).

AND she wants to play. Hell, she wanted to know if we were going to use props, like costumes! She TOTALLY wants to play an Elf...perhaps with a pet faerie. But the idea that she can play any character (and play a different character every session) and explore a fantasy world has her totally intrigued. The imagination part is what's charged her batteries.

Well, my wife's input about her elf character helped. What is it about girls and elves and fairies anyway?

So now it appears we will be organizing a game with L and my nephews sometime in the coming months so that she can have a chance to play Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe I'll have to buy her a copy of Labyrinth Lord as well.
; )

By the way, quick note to Hasbro/WotC: America's youth does not seem to have the patience to learn to play 4th edition D&D. It is too damn big, complex, and intimidating. If they want something like a video game program, they'll just play a video game. Sheesh!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Quick Housekeeping Post

I've got a new email address listed under my profile for anyone interested in contacting me outside of this blog. This is a secondary email address for me, so the frequency with which I check it will correlate to the frequency with which I update my blog (which is to say, "kind of slow over the holidays"). a truckload of in-laws to haul to the Space Needle today, so I'll check y'all later!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Full House

The bulk of our guests finished arriving Friday night, which you might have guessed from my lack of posting. Just taking a few minutes before heading out to the Seahawks game to tappity-tap a few words.

Appears I've fixed the comment seems to have been a problem with my email filters, not Blogger. Hopefully won't be a worry in the future.

Everyone appears to have slowed down somewhat in their blogging...which only makes sense given it's the last shopping weekend before Christmas and many of y'all are roughly the same slacker age as myself.

Anyhoo, with the in-laws in town, expect little from me till the 30th or so. My free time will be spent...well, I don't really have any free time! But if I DO have a chance to get to the computer in the next few, it will be to work on my B/X Companion OR to check out the various art web sites folks posted to the blog...that's the next big hurdle folks.

Have a great holdiday season! I really wish nothing but the best for all of you! And that includes all the folks I've slighted, singled-out, or otherwise bitched about on this blog and others! I could wax philosophical for pages and pages about the application of Christmas Spirit to the healing of rifts and differences between people of all stripes and such...but you guys & gals no the drill.
: )

Prost! Go Seahawks! And if you get snowed in, enjoy it!

Friday, December 18, 2009

No Love for the Blacksmith

Sometimes, it feels like I'm the only one out there that seems to notice these things.

Does no one from TSR's latter days realize B/X was a direct translation of OD&D into a coherent, well-organized format? It seems pretty obvious to me, and yet Mentzer's later BECMI seems to have ignored this in favor of simply making "Basic" its own simplistic animal. I suppose "missing it" is more excusable.

How else can I explain the exclusion of the Blacksmith from the list of specialists for hire.

All the specialists included in the Cook/Marsh Expert set are taken directly from the original Little Brown Books (Book 3, pages 22 and 23 to be exact). The same monthly costs are used for all the specialists (some of the demi-human mercs did get their prices inflated) , and their descriptions are almost word-for-word.

Only one specialist is left out of the Expert set rules (the Assassin...don't worry, I'm putting it back in...). However, while the Smith (aka "blacksmith") was listed in the Cook/Marsh book, its description somehow got dropped off the page (in the biz we call this "errata"). For all those who've ever wondered what their 25 gp per month gets 'em (besides assistants for an armorer), here's the missing text:

"As already mentioned, a Smith is able to assist an Armorer. For every 50 horses or mules in a player/character's force there must be one Smith to maintain them."

Easy, right? Armorer's maintain the men, and Smith's maintain the horses.

But Mentzer leaves them completely out of his book, as does Aaron Alston from the Rules Cyclopedia. They both leave in the smith referencing language of the Armorer specialist ("with two assistants, one of whom must be a Smith") but don't even bother to list the Smith and his 25 gp per month price tag.

Even Proctor's Labyrinth Lord only dodges the issue by simply renaming the Armorer as "Blacksmith," kind of combining the two so the problematic language ceases to be problematic...though now the blacksmith is a crafter of armor rather than horseshoes. Jeez.

I suppose I'm just being grumpy, but little oversights like this annoy me. So easy for those that came later to say, "OH...look, a little something got left out! Let's just put it back." Instead they say, "hmm, once again the old version seems incomplete/contradictory...I'll just gloss over it."

Ah, well. Gotta' run. More later (I'm sure)...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Remembering The Water Weird

I don't really do "retrospectives" (well, in some ways this whole blog is one big retrospective), but reading the ol' Frothy Friar got me remembering and thinking about the most irritating monsters of D&, irritating from a "challenge" point of view not from a "this illustration annoys me" perspective. And I got to thinking of the water weird.

I don't know if there is a historical, folkloric, or fictional basis for this creature, or if it was just another "F You" kind of monster Gygax dreamed up. All I know is that in all my years of playing and DM'ing D&D I've used this monster maybe twice. Maybe.

I remember the damn thing being the cause of at least one TPK or very nearly. Most players simply aren't carrying a purify water spell in their repertoire (well, maybe folks that have been struck by the 'weird in the past). But drowning an entire party? Talk about going out like a chump, stuffed in the bottom of a fountain maybe two-three feet deep.

Heh. I see from the master monster list in Mentzer's Master set that a BECMI version of the water weird was presented in the module B7: Rahasia, but that's one of those I've never seen, even on the shelf. I have NOT added the 'weird to the monster list in my Companion project (no rot grub either). For all my musings over my past as a "killer DM" this is one monster that, even as a young 'un, I felt was a little unfair to include in the dungeon. Still, I would like to see how the Hickman's adapted the killer liquid pipe snake to the old BECMI rules.

Ha! There was a water weird in one of those old "Endless Quest" books, if I remember right...though I don't remember which one. Man...I wonder if I could still pick some of those up from a used bookstore.
: )

A Brief Reprieve

I actually printed up a couple pages of my Companion today to compare to the original B/X sets and it appears I've got some extra room to work margins on top are a little large. Hey, at this point every bit of space I can scrape together will mean more room for adding illos.

Also, the font seems to be the right size, but for some reason Moldvay, etc. were able to cram more lines in per paragraph...maybe I need to reduce it to 9 or 9.5? Some experimentation could definitely be worthwhile.

Talking with the Doctor tonight (my buddy, Kris) I got pretty excited about stuff. But then I went out drinking with my in-laws, and forgot all about the book in the entertainment of the moment. Maybe I'll have some time to work on it tomorrow morning...I don't have to go back to the office till the 29th but I've got a ton of plans between now and then...

Wow...Talk About Advertising...

So just saw that JM over at Grognardia gave me a shout out regarding my B/X Companion project. And whadya' know...I've picked up another half-dozen followers despite posting near nada the last two weeks.

Welp, I can only hope you interested parties stay with me the next few weeks as I go through a low posting patch. For those interested in B/X goodness, rest assured that work on the Companion continues. In fact, I'm about five or six pages from complete. Unfortunately, I've stuffed so much stuff into it that I'm barely leaving room for 4-5 pages of artwork, and my original idea was to shoot for 8 or so.

But what can a guy do? Damn charts take up a lot of space, unless I want to make the font size near illegible. Two pages in Part 2 (completed by the way), two or so pages in Part 5, approximately four pages in Part 7 (but oh so necessary). Assuming I can wrap up Part 3 in three pages (keeping my fingers crossed), I'm still nearly over my page limit depending on how I cut the DM chapter (5 pages written, but a bunch more needing to go in).

Much as I'd like the book to be perfect I understand that there's no way to satisfy everyone out there. But I'd sure as hell like to satisfy myself. And that means more than simply doing an "add-on" of new "goodies." Don't get me wrong...the goodies are there (pages and pages of new monsters, magic items, and spells...not to mention mass combat and dominion rules, some new class abilities, and a new proposed B/X class). But as a companion to the B/X game I want the thing to include some helpful and expanded definitions of certain game ideas, not just be the B/X equivalent of an Unearthed Arcana.

Reading through the Rules Cyclopedia, I come across the following passage describing the difference between AD&D and BECMI (or "D&D" as it is described here):

The AD&D game is much more detailed than the D&D game. It has more character classes, more alignment choices, more monsters, and more rules. Where the D&D rules system may reduce a situation to one die roll or a single variable, the AD&D rules system often has a more detailed rule that includes more variables, allowing it to cover situations in greater depth.

Since I don't necessarily want more crunch, I guess I've made the right choice of chucking AD&D in favor of the simpler rules. However, I can't help but feel like the passage is denigrating "D&D" and its simpler system. Certainly the players I grew up with thought the more complex AD&D was desirable.

This really strikes home for me in the section "Game Differences:"

"AD&D characters tend to have higher ability scores, especially if some of the optional character generation rules are used..."

"The AD&D system separates character class and character race. Different class and race combinations are available..."

"The AD&D alignment system adds a..."

"AD&D game magical items are more complex; many have three or more separate functions..."

The emphasis is mine. More options. More additions. Extra powers. More stuff available. Higher ability scores.

Bigger. Better. More. This is what AD&D has to offer...oh poor little old normal D&D.

I don't know why anyone would buy into that fallacy. Nothing says D&D (or B/X or OD&D or BECMI...whatever) has to be limited. "Simple" does NOT equate to "limited." I can throw a hammer of thunderbolts or cubic gate into my B/X game and it can provide the same entertainment value even without a bunch of extra facts and figures regarding the size of the lightning trail or the planar cosmology. I can write up monsters with weird and wild powers and the sky's the limit.

I think Mentzer wrote himself into a hole with BECMI. I think he tried to create a simpler form of AD&D..."dumbing it down," even as he filled in gaps left by Gygax and Arneson. That's just my opinion, but yeah...that's what I think.

My Companion set also tries to fill in blanks, but not in any limited fashion. I am not creating a closed environment where one goes to level 36, achieves immortality, goes to level 36, and considers attempting to join the Old Ones by repeating the process. There is no limited cosmology...there is a game with a simple set of systems that can be used to create a variety of game environments, limited only by one's imagination. Yeah, I finish the characters levels up to 36 but the game world is still only the beginning...questions are left unanswered, allowing players and DMs to fill in their own preferences. B/X game play gives one the ability to soar in a way that AD&D and later editions do not. More options, more definitions, simply lead to restrictions based on defined structure. I don't want my game limited.

Ugh...way past time to go to bed. Next time I check in here, I hope to have all text on the B/X Companion complete (there ain't much more to write). Then I'll get to worry about the best way to publish it.
; )

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seasons Greetings!

...and that's about it.

Sorry, but really don't expect too much out of me the next...oh, 2 to 3 weeks. I've got in-laws flying in on Wednesday, more in-laws on Friday, my own folks sometime next week, a couple Yule-time parties...oh, yeah, and several dozen Christmas cards to mail out.

This is when I'm not cleaning, shopping, wrapping, and RE-wrapping gifts (the beagles ate a perfectly gift-wrapped box for my mother's boyfriend sometime this afternoon...I don't know how they can smell socks through so much paper and cardboard, but they picked the one thing that was "fun to play with"). Ugh.

Oh, yeah...and I was sick the last two in laid up in bed, sleeping for 20 hours at a time and not even opening the ol' laptop. I did manage to knock out the cold (thank goodness...I've got too many friends and relatives showing up in the next 48 hours!), and I did manage to read the entirety of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn (what a great, great novel). But that's about it.

However, progress has been made on the B/X Companion with multiple chapters now completed: 3, 5, 6, and 7 are all complete, Chapter 2 needs charts (they're getting easier and 5 and 7) and Chapters 4 and 8 just need a bit of organization (I've already got 4 or so pages written for 8).

It's going to be close on the page count. I really don't want to edit (i.e. "cut") anything already in the chapters, but things are super-tight. I'm either going to need to skimp on the DM section, shave the introduction to 1 page, and bring Chapter 4 in under 3 pages...or I'm going to have to cheat the margins out and cut a few pages of art. But I'd rather not do the latter.

Ahh, well. I'd hoped the thing would be done by Christmas, but the only way that would happen is if I completely blew off my day job in favor of working on this thing (unlike Mr. Raggi, I am not state-subsidized). Maybe, just maybe I'll have the prototype done by New Year.

...'course I still need to get the artwork. I should probably set up some sort of email account for the folks that want to submit stuff. Hmmm...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Chapter Completed...

...and it was a real son of a bitch.

Finished Part 7: Treasure of my Companion, today. It was the day of our annual "WinterFest" at work today, which means most of us were cycling in and out of the conference room eating desserts or mingling...basically slacking. I did some actual "work" work today, but much of the day was also spent wrestling with the goddamn MS Word, trying to get various charts, columns, and chapter pages to all synch up nice and neat.

I got a Mac a couple Christmases back because I wanted to be able to use it for projects like know, creating documents with graphics and charts and stuff. Producing product. Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about my own Mac software and I haven't taken the time to use the on board tutorials to learn. What's more I've already invested a ton of time into learning MS software (like Word and Excel) which I use at work pretty much every day (I don't work in a field that requires a lot of media or graphics interface and the PCs work just fine...'course we're not on Vista yet, either).

So now I have MS Office on my Mac and...well, whatever. At work I can only use MS products anyway, and I was able to finally put together the whole treasure chapter. And it's about 10 and a quarter pages long.

Unfortunately, I only budgeted eight.

Which means that other parts of the Companion will be shorter. Hopefully this won't be too bad, but I have a feeling there's going to be some over-run in the Combat chapter...those damn charts just eat up so much space! Plus I decided the mass combat system is going to go into that chapter as well (what are field maneuvers if not simply another type of "encounter?") and they were four pages long (and in need of a couple extra paragraphs) the last time I checked. Perhaps, I'll work on that tomorrow...well, between vet appointments, car tune-ups, and driving my wife around (forgot to mention...she did NOT have to travel after all). All the other chapters are budgeted to be shorter than the three I've completed (Spells, Monsters, Treasure), though this is as much by necessity as design. We will not go over 64 pages!

Some cool things: I did figure out a lot of groovy technical stuff today with regard to page layout...I am totally excited to get this thing finished so that I can print it up!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

So...A Couple Problems...

Problema #1: I am nearly out of gin.

In recent years, martinis have been a big part of my holiday tradition...pretty much from Thanksgiving till New Year. I picked up a fifth of Bombay Saphire in November and even though I've been going easy (at least, between holiday parties) the "end is near." I'm going to have to pick up some more soon and the nearest liquor store is too far away to walk (at least not in the weather we've been having lately...brrrr!), unlike my local grocer (who's across the street). Ugh! I've been spoiled by being able to walk everywhere in my neighborhood!

Problema #2: Too much treasure.

Today I decided it was time to finish up another chapter in my B/X Companion...this time Part 7: Treasure. I've actually had most of it written for months now, though I have added a bit here and a bit there based on some recent fantasy reading. However, I had yet to throw in the treasure charts and (even more importantly) the magic item tables...partly because I wasn't sure how to fit it into my document (MS Word on a Mac laptop can be tricky...don't get me started), partly because I hadn't finished figuring out the percentages for individual items.

Having finally completely that last bit, I struggled to squish charts into the chapter...and found that the I've got about 4 pages worth of magic item charts...that's 5 pages with the standard treasure type charts. Holy crap!

I don't know what to do here...I only budgeted 2 or 2.5 the item descriptions themselves only take 2 or 3 times that space. Of course, the charts contain almost all the items from the Basic and Expert set (with some exceptions...I consolidated some items like ALL the rings of wishes, for example)...but I wasn't even including the scroll chart (since it is unchanged from the standard editions).

Ugh. I suppose I could really minimize the font size and go crazy with the margins (crazier than I already am...half inch on the sides? Sheesh!) but I'm still doubting I can fit it in under 3 pages. Art is going to have to be cut from the chapter, is all I can figure.

Double ugh. I guess I just threw in too many groovy items. Looking at the tables in the Expert set again, I find myself thinking "Pat is right...B/X is just about perfect. Who am I to want more?" On the other hand, Mentzer's Companion set used even smaller type (and more convoluted tables) and came in at 5 pages, too (and I think I've got a way cooler selection of gear, even if I don't have +5/+8 against constructs weapons and stuff).

Triple ugh! I don't want to over-think this! It isn't going to be perfect! I just have to make it work enough! Stop second-guessing yourself JB!

Okay, okay..I've got to run to the grocery store now. I may need to work on a different chapter tonight. Later, folks.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Light, If Inspirational, Reading

Welp, the wife got home Saturday and my work on my B/X Companion tanked for the rest o the weekend, as I figured it would. Ah, well. She's heading out again for a few days come Tuesday and I should be able to get back to it (assuming I don't spend all my time watching 80's fantasy flicks). The bad news is my wife will be gone a few days and the beagles and I miss her terribly when she's gone.

Anyway, I DID get a chance to do some light re-reading, and it was nothing if not inspirational, causing me to update and several items in my Companion (I did do some work). The book: Hassan but the esteemed (or at least commercially successful) author Piers Anthony.

As a kid and teen, Mr. Anthony's novels captivated me as much as any role-playing game...I found his work to be just wht I needed even into my late teens. I read most of his Xanth novels with relish (despite my loathing of puns), his Apprentice Adept series, and the first three or four novels of his Incarnations of Immortality (always thought I'd finish those someday...). But as an adult, I've found myself somewhat cooled to his works...actually "frozen" might be a better term. For the most part, I just can't stand his stuff anymore.

The exception is Hassan. Re-reading it again...either the 3rd or 4th time I've done so...I was surprised at how enjoyable it is. Maybe because I love Arabian Nights-type entertainment (his novel is based entirely on one of the original Arabian Nights tales, Hassan and the Bird-Maiden), perhaps because it's a somewhat more mature piece of work (despite being one of his first published novels), perhaps because the story just resonates with fortunate slackers like myself. Whatever...I dig it.

And, like my recent foray into Dragonslayer, it has provided me with inspiration for my game. As I wrote earlier, I'm trying not to fall into the trap of simply making my set echo earlier works (Mentzer's BECMI, Gygax's AD&D). I've said it before and I'll say it again: I feel B/X is the true inheritor of OD&D, and as such has much more "wide open" potential than just doing "basic" knock-offs of AD&D systems and "goodies." Not that I don't do SOME knock-offs (some spells, critters, and magic items are too cool or achetypal to leave out). But when one has the opportunity to do something cool versus "same-old-same-old," well, hey, let's err on the side of something cool.

All right, more later (as always). ("real") Work's been pretty busy today, and promises to look the same tomorrow, but there will be more coming this week, I swear O My Brothers!

All glory to Allah! (or whomever you like to worship)
: )

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Can't Believe I Missed This...

...but then again, I have been busy lately.

Over at Sham's he's posted an excellent new tool for DM's like myself who are high on inspiration and low in the map-making skills. I'm so glad I got a second chance to notice it with Mr. Armstrong's link. Yet another justification for doubling up on the old school blog links.

I don't have time to discuss more right now (gotta' run some errands), but I'll be posting more on "w/o WALLS" later. Why? 'Cause the thing is near perfect for my personal D&D needs and can be adapted in all sorts of practical ways, specifically regarding adventure creation, not just "dungeon" creation.

Also, the Ace/trump thing? Awesome. Ya' basically just included a metagame mechanic that can be used to give narrative power back to players in a limited/controlled fashion. That shit is delicious!

Okay, okay, I really have to go. Ugh! Why are weekends so darn short?!

Later, gators!
: )

Friday, December 4, 2009

Second Chapter Complete

Finished with Part 6: Monsters, the single largest chapter in the book. Complete, finito. Well except for the addition of the art work, but it's proofed and edited: 13,537 words, 15 and a quarter pagest with extremely thin margins. I wanted to get it down to 15 to include more artwork, but I'm satisfied...there should be enough room to get almost as many pieces as Moldvay's Basic set.

81 monsters in 62 seperate entries. B/X Companion on the roll. Man, I feel like I want a toast or something...time to crack a beer!

; )

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"I've always had the greatest admiration for the Black Arts..."

Just finished re-watching one of the greatest fantasy films of all time: DRAGONSLAYER.

And let me just say, while many people (myself included) might lament that is doesn't have a lot of quality competition, it is still an excellent, excellent movie. Definitely the best fantasy film of the 80's (and I say that as both an admirer of Krull and a grand appreciator of Conan the Barbarian). I've watched Dragonslayer three or four times in my life, and every time I see it, I am amazed at how well done a film it is.

I've said more than once that anyone interested in running an Ars Magica saga would be well advised to watch Dragonslayer as a source of inspiration...the bordering of pagan spirituality and magic upon the Church and "civilized" feudalism. But these days, of course, I am more interested in D&D (specifically B/X D&D) and the movie works well as an inspiration for this, too.

Certainly I am seeing things that I wouldn't mind adding to my B/X Companion set (say, a certain magical amulet? the shield and spear are already present...). But what I find most cool is the damn dragon. That thing is the closest thing I've ever seen to a D&D dragon.

Seriously: let's look at the thing. It's big, ja? But certainly it's claws aren't big enough to warrant damage of more than 1D8 (the same as a standard red dragon). Oh, sure it can pick up a frail, old man but it ain't making off with a horse or a cow. And it's certainly not big enough to swallow anyone whole (aka a 3rd edition red dragon...see the DD3 PHB for images). On the other hand, its breath is an f'ing BLOWTORCH...and I love the sound f/x they threw in the film for this critter. Simply awesome.

Even the handling of religion in the film is great (who doesn't like Emperor Palpatine as a not-too-bright cleric?), and certainly could be put into a D&D context...these poor guys are pretty much 1st level, certainly lacking in divine "power." I know that some folks have written this film makes a mockery of Christianity (and those reviews have been positive regarding this), but as a lifelong Roman Catholic, I don't quite see it that way. God and organized religion certainly has its place in helps teach folks not to be assholes for instance...but just believing Jesus is going to save you is NOT the ticket to a nice afterlife, nor even a pleasurable life on Earth. "God helps those who help themselves" (or put another way, the Universe gives us the tools but we need to wield them)...there are valuable lessons to be learned here.

Oh, and if it seems that the newly baptized Christians are giving too much credit to their Creator and not enough to the young magician...well who exactly invented humans and heroism and, yeah, probably magic, too? Jeez...give credit where credit is due.

It still surprises me that Dragonslayer was co-produced by Disney...entirely too much blood and nudity for your average Disney live-action flick. Ah, well...they don't make 'em like THAT anymore. My one gripe regarding an overly "family friendly" tone is when the guard captain vehemently says, "You meddler!" Instead of the more appropriate "You bastard!" or "You peasant whelp!" Ah, well...had to keep the PG rating I guess!

It IS a good film. The characters are realistic with their own genuine motives. The pragmatic guard captain...the idealist princess...the king that doesn't believe in hocus pocus but is willing enough to try his hand at changing a little base metal into gold. The wizard who, while wise and potent, still wants to make sure he looks good for the gawking proles and isn't above using a little flash powder for good effect. The grog...excuse me, valued henchman...that has to carry all the gear but has nothing but praise for the benevolent old master that deigned to allow him to cook the eggs.

Even the chick, Valerian. One might ask, hey, she's a little fast to put on a dress there, huh? No she ain't. Why the hell do you think she was willing to hike a hundred leagues to look for a savior? She a damn teenage girl, even if she was raised to be a tom boy...she'd sure as hell like the opportunity to wear a dress and dance with a boy...shorty apprentice-sorcerer or not!

Look, I am a huge fan of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings triology, and I say that as a pretty big Tolkien fan...the damn things always choke me up and bring a tear to my eye (no, not for the plight of Frodo and's the damn Rohirrim charging to certain death...gets me every time!). But prior to those certainly Oscar-worthy films, I can't think of a single fantasy film of better quality than Dragonslayer. Hell, in some ways it may even be a bit better. I can only hope that when Jackson produces his new Hobbit flick, he takes a page from Dragonslayer when designing a mean and realistic Smaug.

Hell, what's Peter MacNicol up to these days? Maybe he can play Bilbo! After all, he's fairly short and he's got the curly hair...and he's got to be about the right age as the esteemed Mr. Baggins was when he set out on his little journey...someone needs to get hold of Mr. MacNicol's agent....
: )

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Monsters, Monsters Everywhere

Just taking a quick break...well, actually I was watching Top Chef, and I am getting ready to go to bed...gotta' get up at 6am again tomorrow. Just wanted folks to know I finished monster #70 tonight. I'm pretty pleased with how its going, though I'm more verbose than I probably should be (hey...these monsters are a bit more complex than your average giant rat), and I'm afraid I'm running long. Right now, the monster chapter is 14.5 pages (that's two collumn, 10 point font) and I set aside 16 total pages for the monster section. Thing is, I'd like to have at least a page worth of art (interspersed), and I've got 9 monsters left that I want to add...five absolutely need to be in (there's a magic item that kind o depends on 'em), but I might be able to abstract 'em down to a single entry...though truth be told, I'm not sure they NEED that much space.

Damn you Monster Manual II! I need to stop looking at you and simplify, simplify!

Case in point: many of the monsters present in my B/X Companion are of the "legendary variety" (oh, I have one or two homebrewed critters, but most are based on mythology and the ponaturi). So, for example I simply HAD to add a phoenix. Why? Um...cause they're kind of big in mythological culture.

The MM2 has an entry for a phoenix. It is seven paragraphs long, not counting the stat block. Most of it is lists and lists of spell-like powers. My phoenix is three paragraphs long with a total word count of 243. I like mine better...hell, maybe I should post it so folks can compare.


Armor Class: -3………….No. Appearing: 0 (1)

Hit Dice: 9+9****………….Save As: Cleric 17

Move: 360’ (120’)………….Morale: 12

Attacks: 2 talons, beak………….Treasure Type: Nil

Damage: 2-5/2-5/2-5 + see below….........Alignment: Lawful

The phoenix is similar in shape and magnificence to a peacock, though they are twice as large (wingspan of 8-9’) and colored a spectacular red, orange, and gold. They give off a palpable heat, and attacks from a phoenix do an additional 2-8 points of damage per hit to anyone not protected against magical fire. The phoenix itself is immune to heat and cold, as well as poison and disease, is immune to mind affecting magic or polymorph, and automatically sees through illusions.

Renowned for their great healing ability, the phoenix will generously share its curing gifts with any individual in need. Their mere touch can cure disease or serious wounds, neutralize poison, or raise dead. A phoenix may also use restoration and rejuvenation, but will only do so for the most Lawful and deserving creatures as doing so greatly drains them; after performing one of these latter spells the phoenix may not use any healing power for 24 hours.

A phoenix lives 1000 years but is truly immortal; at the end of its life cycle it bursts into a white-hot flame from whose ashes the phoenix will be reborn in a fortnight. The same occurs if the beast is slain (they are only harmed by +3 or better weapons). Those standing within 10’ of a burning phoenix suffer 10-80 points of damage, and any weapon used to strike a death blow will be burned to a cinder if less than +5 in value.

But, yeah...even though I like mine better I don't want to stray TOO far from the stuff already in the books (both AD&D and BECMI when such is available). After all, some of this was puzzled out to be consistent with other monsters already in the game, right? Can't be giving a phoenix a claw attack of 3-18 or something when a red dragon only does 1D8, after all. At least that's MY thinking.

Of the last 9 monsters on my list, 5 have absolutely GOT to be in the game. The other four I really like, and of those 3 already have stats in AD&D. Kind of. Well, really only one (the Marid) but the other two are partly based on creatures already in AD&D...and for that reason (and since they're not REALLY mythological/legendary), I might just drop 'em.

Can I fit seven more monsters and still have space for stuff?'s gonna' be tight, though editing and clean-up might help. I'm tempted to stay up, NO! Must sleep!

Okay, going to bed...the beagles are already snoozing.

; )

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Art Work Needed (B/X Companion)

By my reckoning, the Tom Moldvay Basic set uses about 9 pages worth of graphics (art, maps, etc.), NOT including charts. The Cook/Marsh expert set uses about 7 pages. That's out of 64 full pages, including the cover leaf.

Personally, I've always felt the Expert set felt a bit sparse in the art department and while some pages were positively inspiring as a kid (mainly Willingham's pieces), others felt...well, lacking. Do I really need a picture of a narwhale or a water termite? I'm not sure....

So, I'm going to shoot for at least 8 pages of interior art. I've already got a rough sketch of the cover (call it a "working sketch"), and at least a couple artists (maybe even four) lined up, I'll probably be soliciting anyone who's interested in contributing to the thing. Not that I'll PAY people anything, of course...but then I'm not looking for anything super-fantastic, either (about on par with the original B/X rule books; i.e. small black&white line drawings).

'Course people who contribute will retain all rights to their own art, and (if I use their piece) will definitely get a free copy when the thing is finally printed up.

Anyway...let me finish the other 58 pages first...39 down and 19 to go!
: )

Progress Report

Just so you ain't wondering...

After wracking my brain to grind out a B/X version of the mind flayer, my brain somehow got jump-started and I've been banging out the B/X monsters the last two days for my B/X Companion. When last we [stalled] a couple moons back, I was at 28 total write-ups out of what looked to be a 75 monster list. In the last two days, I've almost doubled that number to 48 and refinded the list somewhat (though somehow "refined" means increasing the overall number to 78...don't ask me how that happens...). And that was actually just getting warmed up...I'm starting to pick up some real steam now.

[no, I am not adding the mind flayer/thought skinner to the mix]

So right now, I'm riding the wave of creativity/inspiration. My wife's leaving town tomorrow, which means I'll have free evenings to (hopefully!) be productive. I'm looking at Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and salivating...if I can knock out 15 pages before Saturday (when I have other plans) I'll be almost home with this thing!

I should probably do a spot check of the original B/X rules to estimate how many pages of art I'm going to need....

Wish me luck folks! Or godspeed anyway!

[hmmm...I guess 48 is not really "double" 28...ah, well...]

Sunday, November 29, 2009

B/X Monster: Psionic Threats


Armor Class: 5…………No. Appearing: 1-4 (1-4)
Hit Dice: 8+4***…………Save As: Magic-User 11
Movement: 120’ (40’)…………Morale: 9
Attacks: 4 or special…………Treasure Type: B,G,N,O
Damage: 2 or special…………Alignment: Chaotic

Found only in sunless caverns deep beneath the surface, "thought skinner" is the name given to a truly evil and alien humanoid race. Dangerous in the extreme, thought skinners consider other humanoid races to be little more than cattle to be enslaved and (eventually) devoured.

Thought skinners are of similar height and build to humans, but their skin is a sickening mauve color, rubbery and glistening with slime, and their eyes are dead white with no pupil. Their heads end in a serrated, star-shaped mouth surrounded by four, thick, purple-black tentacles. In melee, the 'skinner will attack with these tentacles, lashing onto its opponents head, and burrowing deep into its opponent's skull. Within 1-4 rounds, the thought skinner will reach its victim's brain and draw it forth, instantly slaying the individual (the number of rounds this process takes is equal to five minus the number of tentacles that hit in combat).

However, thought skinners avoid melee combat when possible, instead using their formidable mental powers. The thought skinners can project a blast of psionic energy 60' long by 20' wide at its furthest end. Those caught within the blast must save versus paralyzation or be stunned, unable to take any action for 2D6 rounds. 'Skinners generally use this ability when hunting, stunning their prey to allow easy feeding without struggle.

Thought skinners have a number of additional abilities they can utilize, a product of their highly developed intellect. At will they can levitate, charm person, and use ESP. Although these are the equivalent of magic-user spells of the same name these powers, like the 'skinners' psionic blast, are NOT magical in nature, and cannot be detected as such, dispelled, or prevented by an anti-magic shell or similar.

Some 'skinners have exhibited other powers, including the ability to walk on water and other liquid surfaces or project their minds and bodies through the walls of reality to reach other dimensions and parallel worlds. It is rumored that an entire city of thought skinners lurks somewhere deep within the earth, but no surface dweller has ever verified its existence.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Scourge of the Slave Lords (Part 4)

[continued from here]

And finally we come to the 4th and last module in the Slaver series, the whole reason I decided I wanted to write about these four modules, A4:In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, written by Lawrence Schick (author of the excellent S2:White Plume Mountain, of which much has been written) and largely illustrated by Erol Otus (again, of whom much has been written). So let me ask straight off the bat:

Were Schick and Otus the "cool kids of school" in the TSR workplace?

'Cause I'm reading through this thing and it feels a lot like the whole was mainly brainstormed from their minds, probably developed while dropping 'shrooms or smoking a fat joint and listening to Grace Slick sing about the White Rabbit.

No really...mushroom people that work with fungal alchemy and sit in bonding circles while sharing a group hallucination? The mechanics of the thing is one issue, but the Otus's psychedelic artwork is positively inspiring...which came first in this vision, Schick's words or Otus's drawings? I can't help but thing they did it together building off each other's craziness.

Not to take anything away from Jim Roslov, whose art I love and which is present throughout the module, but you'll notice the treasure of the Slave Lords includes a drawing by Ool Eurts (an obvious anagram), not Mr. Roslov. Schick and Erol are in cahoots, folks.

Well, maybe more on that in a bit. Let's talk about the adventure itself.

I can't for the life of me remember where I was (recently) reading about NOT allowing your players to be captured. How this was a VERY BAD THING. It was in some recent RPG I picked up, or perhaps an adventure supplement, but I can't seem to find the reference anywhere...perhaps it was in a book I was thumbing through (like the Serenity RPG) that I didn't actually purchase.

ANYWAY, the gist of this game's advice was to never have players captured, that capturing players was WORSE than killing them...that at least if they died, they could always make new characters. Capturing player characters is a method of de-protagonizing them after all...cutting their balls off, so to speak.

I wonder if that game designer ever had a chance to play A4:In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords.

For those that haven't read, played, or heard about A4 here's how it starts: the player characters are captured, knocked out, stripped of all possessions (including clothing) and left in a lightless, underground cavern complex. Even the spellcasters are left without spells.

Let me quote Schick's take on the whole "capture" thing:

Many players think of their characters in terms of their powers and possessions, rather than as people. Such players will be totally at a loss for the first few minutes of play. It is likely they will be angry at the DM for putting them in such an "unfair" situation. They will demand or beg concessions. DO NOT GIVE THEM ANY HELP, even if they make you feel sorry for them, Inform the players that they must rely on what they have, not what they used to have, and that this includes their brains and their five senses. Good players will actually welcome the challenge of this scenario....

...To escape, the player characters will have to make the best of the opportunities offered by the contents of the various encounter areas. These opportunities may seem meager to the players at first, but this dungeon contains more than enough material for the players to escape from any of the exits if they have the wits and resourcefulness to recognize and utilize it. However, this module is also a test of the ability of the Dungeon Master! It is a virtual certainty that good players, forced to rely on their own initiative, will attempt to use what they find to do things not covered by the rules. In these situations, it is entirely up to the DM to handle these requests with fairness, objectivity, and imagination.

Hot damn! I wish I'd had this module as a kid. THIS is a perfect example of "challenging the players" rather than the character or stat block. It's also a great example of what is possible with the older editions of D&D.

Schick has created a challenging and exciting adventure that really does force players (including the DM!) to use their wits. There ARE plenty of "found objects" throughout the dungeon that can be used to equip and outfit the characters, as long as the referee uses "fairness, objectivity, and imagination."

But can you imagine how this module would work with D20/Pathfinder? It wouldn't. Unless characters had some sort of "craft spear" skill they're going to be using their fancy feats with bare fists.

And what would they be using those bare fists against? A 3HD badger is plenty tough for 7th level character in AD&D that's fighting naked, but would barely register on the Challenge Rating meter in D20. After all, the whole CR system takes into account PC's "expected equipment for level." They're not supposed to lose their gear. Cries of an "unfair" situation? You bet...'cause D20 ain't designed to challenge the player.

Ah, well...I don't play D3 or 3.5 anymore so it's a non-issue.

Schick has done such an excellent job with this capstone module that I want to play the whole series just to get to A4...psychedelic mushroom folk or not (and by the way, I remember the myconid from the Monster Manual II, but I never used ' I would). I was slightly disappointed that Schick decided to blow up the whole Aerie of the Slave Lords....areas like Dragon Meadow and Drachen Keep were left un-detailed in A3 with the admonishment to keep players from exploring these parts of the map as they'd be "descried in the follow-up module." Instead Schick just covers 'em with lava and magmen and worries about his own little adventure. Which is cool 'cause his adventure is great, but it is a little annoying.

I'm reminded of the Phillip Jose Farmer-edited series The Dungeon, each novel penned by a different author. Author #1 introduced a green-haired love interest for the main protagonist and author #2 killed her off in the 1st chapter or so of the 2nd novel. Which would have been just fine (a series of novels with different authors will naturally evolve different from how the original author intended)...EXCEPT that Author #1 also pens the final novel of the series and has the protagonist once again waxing sadly for his green-haired lady friend...even though no other author has mentioned her in four books.

Fortunately, the Slaver series finishes with a bang and doesn't retread the ground Cook laid down, though I suppose one might consider an exploding volcano to be fairly reminiscent of Schick's own White Plume Mountain ending. Oh, well. Personally, I think that A4 offers something entirely new from other TSR modules of the time, and a real challenge to players, comparable even to the S modules...hell, moreso as players need to think outside the normal boundaries and parameters of the game, not just figure out colored key cards or riddles.

It's too bad there're no monks or assassins in B/X play...I'm afraid conversion of the slaver series would be exceptionally difficult much as I'd like to do it. Maybe I'll need to dust off my old AD&D books.
; )

Scourge of the Slave Lords (Part 3)

[continued from here and here]

All right, this series is running a bit longer than I'd originally anticipated (a problem with stream-o-consciousness blogging I suppose), and I've got plans for this evening (movie, then drinkies with friends)...hopefully I'll be able to bang this out and do it justice.

Continuing right where we left off:

A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords, despite having what I consider to be the worst cover art of the whole series, is actually the first module in the series that piqued my interest in the series as a whole...and that's saying something. One should not underestimate the value of cover art in helping someone decide to make a purchase and I'm sorry that Dee's color painting isn't nearly as good as his black-and-white stuff (oh, and just for the record, I found Roslov's art...especially the Elf!...on the cover of A2 to be the best of the series).

A3 has a LOT to recommend it. I said in my prior post that I think that the best published adventures each offer something new that helps inform play and gets players (and especially DMs) to take their level of play "up a notch." Aerie of the Slave Lords does that in several ways.

1) It's a challenging adventure, especially considering the level of characters involved. The storoper is not a total "F-You" type monster (it's auto-non-save attack only works twice), but it's pretty vicious. The shambling mound (a personal favorite) is pretty f'ing tough for the pre-generated characters or PCs of a similar power level. And the traps (especially in the entry level are pretty tough). A LOT of the monsters are of the "lone, tough" variety...the golem, the minotaur, the opposed to the lesser "horde monsters" (orcs and hobgoblins) seen in the first two modules...and how sick of those are we by the time we get to A3?

2) In addition to two dungeon areas, the module offers a complete "Slaver City" in the form of Sunderham. Granted earlier modules (T1, N1, D3) offered cities as part of their adventures but Sunderham combines the completeness of the Village of Hommlet (or N1) with the wickedness of Vault of the Drow. If you're playing A3 in a non-tournament style (i.e. sans time limits), Sunderham is a great town to explore and hang out...hell, evil PCs might even be tempted to switch sides and join a slaver guild!

3) The use of NPCs. I'm scratching my head, but I can't think of another earlier module that makes better use of NPC adventurer-types as villainous "monsters." The illusionist is excellent (and probably a necessary warm-up to A4!) and a great encounter for an under-utilyzed PC class. But the final battle with the Slave Lords is the piece de resistance. A showdown against five high level NPCs? With coordinated tactics mapped out? That's not something you see every day in an adventure module and is the truly "new" thing A3 has to offer. Other adventures offer one or sometimes a pair of adventuring class NPCs (a pair of monks in C1, a couple of high level Drow with lesser fighter "minions"). But the combination Fighter-Assassin-Cleric-Magic-User-Monk is pretty badass, and gives PCs a taste of "their own medicine" as they get to feel what your typical monster experiences when faced by heavily armed adventurers of different stripes working in concert.

I REALLY like A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords. At under 30 pages, it packs quite a whallop of adventuring goodness.

Scourge of the Slave Lords (Part 2)

[continued from here]

Okay, so what do I think of the Slavers modules individually? After all, I salute the effort in getting 'em all out and trying to make 'em a cohesive whole and I think they do a good job of that. But as individual modules? Seeing as how I like to rank my adventure modules separated into their component parts, rather than as supermodules....

Welp, I kind of have to rate them in other words, I feel A1 and A2 are the weakest individually, A3 I like a bit better, and A4 is definitely the crown jewel of the fact, the latter really deserves its own blog post (we'll see if that happens).

Now having said THAT, I would like to point out that I have only ever ran A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity. As mentioned earlier, I owned the supermodule at one time, but never had a chance to run it (or even finish reading it!) prior to somehow losing the damn thing. What this means is that my impressions are entirely academic, i.e. theoretical...the true measure of an adventure module is how it plays, not 'how it reads.' So until I have a chance to run A2-A4 (and I should probably run A1 again as well), how they compare to each other is a matter of (academic) debate.

But I can at least give impressions/observations based on a read of the modules with the eyes of an experienced DM.

A1: Slave Pits of the Undecity is the first module of the series, and is written by that master of B/Expert game design, David Cook. It certainly shows a couple of what one might consider Cook's "hallmarks." For one thing, it is set at what (in B/X terms) would be considered "Expert level;" that is, levels 4-7. This is right on par with his Desert Nomad series, the Isle of Dread, or Dwellers of the Forbidden other words, the levels where he has displayed a bit of mastery (in my less than humble opinion). The other thing is the inclusion of the insectile Aspis monster which definitely has a Sword & Sorcery (i.e. "pulp") feel to it that is also present in his better modules.

However, I can't help but feel disappointed in A1, especially in comparison to the other modules of the series. Perhaps it was specifically meant to be a "warm-up" to the other modules; perhaps Cook was not at his best when designing "tournament" modules (I note that he did not write/design any of the "C" - "Competition" modules for TSR). But much of the adventure simply feels like the monsters have been chosen only with an eye to providing the correct "level of challenge" for the characters (the proper number of humanoids, the occasional spellcaster or undead, a not-too-clever trap here or there). Perhaps because of the venue (i.e. tournament) there is little of the leeway or latitude allowed for creativity as present in Cook's other modules. Simply compare the thing to the open-endedness of I1:Dwellers of the Forbidden City or X4 and X5...the whole adventure feels constrained and, I'm afraid, a bit dull.

A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade, described by one review (per wikipedia) as a "good, workman-like adventure" is the longest of the series, being 40 pages in length and almost totally devoid of interior art. Personally, I find it incredibly interesting that Tom Moldvay was a co-designer in this module...this is the only AD&D module that bears his name as a designer. His other modules are all for B/X or the B/X-derived BECMI (his one module of the latter being a Master level adventure). Seeing his name on it is a bit like seeing Holmes' name on an AD&D module.

I LIKE A2 as a module, but I find it to be derivative...that is, it bears a lot of resemblance to the G1-3 series. Here is a fortress the players must enter. By stealth or by combat they must wipe out the inhabitants. Oh, then they find a scroll that tells them there's a DIFFERENT place to go to. Not much here that hasn't been seen elsewhere.

And as I said in my earlier post I consider published adventure modules to be a key method of informing D&D play. At least, they were in MY youth. You can read the rules set for a game, but without specific examples of dungeon design (Tom Moldvay's Basic set, for example) it can be tricky, putting it all together without a mentor to guide you. TSR's adventure modules worked as mini-mentors for those of us that were "self-teaching" ourselves to play. And while A2 is a nice little (or medium) adventure, it ain't teaching anything new.

Really. For example, it does have nice character: unlike the first module of the A series, A2 bothers to name its slave lords, give them some personality, and tweak them slightly with special abilities (the "blind" fighter that is immune to visual spells, the ogre with his ability to disarm foes in combat). But this isn't much different from King Snurre and Queen with the special auto-kill attacks, or Obmi and his slyness.

What I'm saying is that the best adventure modules of TSR's early years each provided something special to the developing DM: Tomb of Horrors gave us the "monster-less" dungeon, White Plume Mountain gave us riddles and special magic items, Barrier Peaks mixed sci-fi with fantasy, the D series provided the epic and wide-open Underdark, Shrine of Tamoachan mixed in Aztec mythology, Isle of Dread gave us a dinosaur "lost world," etc.. I don't see anything new in A2 that would help inform play, or help a DM "take things up a notch." And so, over-all it feels weaker than the later modules of the series.

Which it appears will have to be a separate post, based on the length of this one....

Scourge of the Slave Lords (Part 1)

I am not a fan of "supermodules." Hell, I even passed on a copy of GDQ1-7: Queen of the Spiders just yesterday, even though it was rated "the greatest adventure of all time" by Dungeon Magazine. Of all the supermodules TSR ever published, I've only ever owned two, and only one of those did I purchase. The only one I still retain in my possession is on "permanent loan" from an old buddy and it is T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil. As it is the only known version of the Temple, I will probably continue to retain it, although I find it fairly unwieldy to use (and have actually only ever used it to run the Village of Hommlet...whadya' know).

The one supermodule I actually purchased I did so at a time when I thought the idea of supermodules had merit, and that was A1-4: Scourge of the Slave Lords. At the time, I got it, TSR was no longer putting out the A series of modules, and as I only owned A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity, I figured the only way I would ever be able to run the entire series was to grab the supermodule when I had a chance. Sadly, I somehow managed to lose it (it's probably in bowels of my mother's cellar somewhere) before ever actually finishing a read through. Those supermodules were the equivalent of...well, of most slickly produced commercial RPGs on the market...too thick and weighty to actually get through. Give me a normal, under-30 page adventure module any day of the week.

So now I find myself typing at the computer with a small stack of modules next to me...the entire A series. In order they are:

A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity by David Cook
A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade by Harold Johnson with Tom Moldvay
A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords by Allen Hammack
A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords by Lawrence Schick

And I've had a week or so to read each of 'em in turn. So where to start?

Well, the first thing that jumps out at me is the fact that they were each authored by a different individual authors. And yet they're all fairly coherent. They were all written for a single Gen Con convention (Gen Con XIII in 1980, per the introductory notes of each). How exactly does that get done?

I mean who called the shots for Gen Con in 1980? Was Gygax acting as overlord (or "Dungeon Master") at TSR, setting outlines for "the minions" to write up an immense four-part saga to pit players from all over the country against each other in a timed, scored event?

I certainly don't know...I ain't a historian. And yet, I don't see much chatter on the blogs regarding this particular series. It certainly must have been a wild Con to have such a huge series of modules that people were playing in...I can only imagine gamers from different tables (players and DMs alike) comparing notes between did you deal with such-and-such? Wow, did that cloaker wipe out YOUR party, too? Man, my DM was a bastard...etc.

For me, a four-module series like this is pretty much a mini-campaign...and I mean "campaign" in every sense of the term, seeing as how the series is pretty much a military exercise against a vicious and well-organized opposing force. It is much more like G1-3 than any other series of modules...players know who their opponent is and have been tasked with wiping them out. There is no "hidden enemy" (Drow). There is no supernatural force behind everything (Lolth). The forces that have set the campaign in motion are hoping for some very mundane, real-world results...stop raiding our towns and kidnapping our people for use as slaves!

Heck, it walks a line that is almost "heroic" in that regard...though certainly, the powers-that-be may have hired scurrilous rogues of the worst kind for the mission. At least they are not being told to finish the job or their heads will roll (like the Desert of Desolation or the Giant series). Hopefully, they're getting paid well for their efforts.

Anyway, tying four modules by four different authors together for a single tournament in a single year is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Even the GDQ series took took several years to complete (Queen of the Demonweb Pits not being published till 1980, two years after the G and D series), and in some ways with less detail than any of the Slaver series. Oh sure, the G modules had encapsulated dungeons, but the D modules have huge swaths of "go ahead and make this up for yourself" areas. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. But as a training series (and my own personal experience with adventure modules is that they provide training for "how to craft an adventure") the A's are a better introductory type adventure than the GDQ series.

And in many ways a better introduction of how D&D can be played as in, a teaching aid to new players.

I'll explain what I mean by that in a little bit...

Oh, by the way...any readers who want to comment on their own experience with the A series...either at the 1980 Gen Con or more recently, please feel free. I've only ever run A1 myself and would be interested in folks' recollections...unlike, say, Tomb of Horrors or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, the Slaver series doesn't get a lot of blog time least not that I've read. Thanks!


Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving...I know I did (and to readers that don't celebrate the American holiday...well, I hope you all had a nice week!)!

I know no one will fault me for being a bit slack in my blogging the last couple days, but I have had the mental pistons firing and I've got a bunch of stuff that I want to get down in the next couple-three days before I forget about it.

First up a two part series on the Scourge of the Slave Lords. Having recently acquired all four of the original modules A1-A4 I've been spending my spare minutes devouring their contents and I'm ready to weigh in with my own judgement on this classic module (and I even bothered to review JM's archive o "retrospectice" pieces...I'm beating HIM to the punch here, which tickles me just a might). : )

Then I've got a piece on yet another difference between RPGs and fiction which is something I wanted to get to Wednesday, but Lord help me, I had a delicious turkey I was responsible for brining. And have I mentioned I'm hell-on-wheels when it comes to chopping/dicing and all-things-knife-related and a big ZERO in the marinade department? Thankfully everything worked out but it required my full attention. Want to get back to that.

Then there's a new thing I was thinking about this morning in the, what the purpose of playing this damn game (Dungeons and Dragons) is. No, it is NOT a philosophical treatise on "why we game" but rather a look at where we are aiming to go...which is a direct seague into:

A re-defining of experience points in the B/X game...this is something I've had in my head for months now, but haven't had the balls to put down on paper (or blog). I'm 99.9% sure it's going into my B/X Companion as an alternate rule set option, but the Companion, being short on space considerations is not going to have the theory behind it. This blog post is going to be the theory for all those design-interested folks.

And that's it. If I have extra time, I'll be doing up MY version of the mind flayer, and possibly talking about the most recent turn of even in my quest to find a B/X gaming group in Seattle (found an ad posted by a kid whose 29 and has "15 years of experience;" dude...I was playing B/X the year you were BORN, buddy!). But I might not get to that till December...I still need to grab a haircut and see a movie today!

Busy, busy, busy....

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Orphan Thanksgiving

This was actually going to be a longer post and maybe someday it will be...but the homefront is busy-busy the next couple days as my wife and I host our first "Orphan Thanksgiving" in the new house: a collection of about a dozen people (and two babies) that have transplanted to Seattle and that have no family with whom to hang out.

My own family IS from Seattle (except my wife), but Dad lives in California these days and my brother is still in Tennessee or North Carolina (I don't really remember), while Mom is up in Whistler (B.C., Canada) for the next several weeks. Guess I'm a local orphan myself!

So shopping, cooking, cleaning, and (of course) eating and entertaining will all be on the agenda for the next couple days...but not blogging or writing. In fact, I'm changing the title of this post and will save my original topic for another day...maybe Friday. I figure many of you will be a little busy anyway over the next couple days.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nope, Not Gonna' Do It

I' ve decided against throwing psionics into my B/X Companion, intriguing as the idea may have seemed last week. There are three reasons for this:

- B/X monsters aren't psionically inclined...which means I'D feel inclined to include a whole slew of them in my Companion. Not only are there space considerations involved with such a thing, there is the potential pitfall of throwing psionics on monsters that wouldn't generally have them simply to include more critters that use the new rules. Quality over quantity, dammit!

- No ret-conned campaigns...people who've been playing B/X for years with nary a whiff of psionic activity and suddenly a bunch of psychic critters come out of the woodwork? No thank you. I hate this kind of thing.

- No ret-conned players...I hate THIS even more. When the Master Rules introduced weapon mastery the real bone wasn't the power-hog factor, it was the sudden retro-conning creating super-swordsmen out of high level characters. Same goes for the RC (and Gazetteer) introducing non-weapon proficiencies (i.e. skills) to the game system. Keep It Simple Stupid is Axiom #1.

So while I appreciate the illithid and would love to throw in some similarly psychic-types for my B/X rules, well...I'm gonna' pass. Maybe I'll introduce a half-squid monstrosity with mind-blowing powers in some future B/X module. Well, I guess there's already the kopru, right?

[hmm...this also means that any future B/X conversions of AD&D modules will be totally non-Psionic; kind of puts D1 on hold, huh?]

Monday, November 23, 2009

B/X Krull: Player Characters of Krull

Not all of the standard B/X classes are available in the Krull game setting. Players are confined to the following choices of character:


Wise One




FIGHTER – Although great fighters do not make great husbands, they’re excellent for killing slayers. The fighter class is the same as in B/X with the following additional abilities:

Dual wield: instead of using a shield or two-handed weapon, a fighter may wield a dagger or short blade in his or her off-hand. Only one attack is rolled, but damage is rolled for both weapons if a “hit” is scored. Only the higher damage roll is used (damage is not added together).

Lightly armored: a fighter wearing leather armor or no armor may double their normal dexterity bonus to Armor Class. For example, a character in leather armor with a 16 dexterity would have a total bonus of -4 (Armor Class 3). This bonus is lost if the fighter wears a shield or armor heavier than leather.

WISE ONE -- The wise one draws his power from the divine spirit and his knowledge of the natural world. A mystic of the wilderness, the wise one is similar to a cleric in most regards with the following exceptions:

Freedom of movement: the wise one may not wear armor heavier than leather and will not carry a shield. He must be unburdened to walk the wilds.

Freedom of spell use: no meditation or study period is needed to perform his spells; he chooses the spells he wishes to use based on daily ability (determined as if a cleric of the same level). The wise one may require the use of certain herbs, totems, or magic stones to perform magic, but in general the DM should assume the wise one has a full stock of such items.

Limits of wisdom: the following spells are not available to the wise one: light, silence 15’ radius, continual light, growth of animals, create water, sticks to snakes, create food, insect plague. If a spell is unavailable, neither is its reverse spell.

MAGIC-USER -- The wandering wizard is no easy role. Magic is hard come-by in Krull and training scarce indeed. The following special exceptions apply to the normal magic-user class:

Knowledge is power: a magic-user learns one new spell per level. The level of the spell learned can be from any level, though no higher level spell may be learned than the level of the magic-user himself (so a magic-user could learn a 4th level spell upon achieving 4th level, but not a 5th level spell). All spells learned are known and need not be memorized on a daily basis.

Power limits: a magic-user can only cast a total number of spell levels per day equal to his level of experience. Thus a 5th level magic-user could cast five 1st level spells, OR one 3rd level and one 2nd level spell, OR one 5th level spell.

Mishaps: a magic-user must succeed at a percentage roll to successfully cast a spell from memory. The percentage chance of success is equal to his Intelligence x5%. Failure to cast the spell correctly may result in an amusing or dangerous mishap (as determined by the DM). Mishaps do NOT count against the total number of spells a magic-user may cast per day…in other words, a magic-user could cast any number of mishaps per day!

THIEF -- These scoundrels are the exact same as thieves described in the B/X rule sets.

CYCLOPS -- The only non-human class available to PCs in the Krull game setting. Cyclops characters are large (generally over 6’) humanoids with the ability to see their own death. A character must have a minimum Constitution of 9 to play a Cyclops; Strength is their prime requisite and a high strength gives them a bonus to earned experience. Cyclops are treated as HALFLINGS in all regards with the following exceptions:

Exceptionally hearty and strong: Cyclops roll D12 for hit points instead of D6. All Cyclops weapons do 1D10 damage plus strength bonuses if any and they do not lose initiative for using a two-handed weapon. A Cyclops wishing to purchase armor must pay 3 times its normal cost to size it to their bulk (note: because of their size and the amount of metal used in their armor Cyclops in chain or plate armor may not use their stealth abilities in the wilderness). Cyclops do NOT gain a bonus to AC when fighting large monsters.

Exceptional throwers: Cyclops’ great strength allows them a +1 bonus for throwing weapons and allows them to add their strength bonus to damage.

Poor depth perception: while their strength allows them to be exceptional throwers, Cyclops are unable to use missile devices (bows, crossbows, and slings) accurately and avoid them.

Know their time: Cyclops know when it is their time to die. A the beginning of each game session roll an 8 sided die; if the roll is LESS THAN the character’s level, they know they will die at some point during the session. The DM should allow the player to choose the time and place of his death. NOTE: even though the die roll may indicate it is NOT the Cyclops time to die, the Cyclops may still be killed through normal misadventure like any other PC; in such a case the Cyclops was either blind-sided or simply refused to admit to himself that it was his time to go.